My Trip to VONA

I celebrated my birthday a week ago. You might remember from past blog posts that birthdays tend to freak me out. But this year was different. For the first time since I finished high school I did not spend my birthday in a blind panic about what I wanted to do with my life. That’s cause I know what I want to do. I know what I am. I am a writer. I can’t tell you how much heartache I’ve caused myself because of fear of claiming this dream. I remember many a phone call to my mother, crying because I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Truth is I always knew what I wanted to do, but I didn’t have the courage to say it out loud. But now I saw it loud and proud. I am a writer.

Now, as much as I believe in speaking my future into existence, saying it is not enough. I have to put the work in. In the three years since I started my MFA, I haven’t spent my time blogging because I’ve been concentrating on getting published. I’ve had some success. I published an essay “Kurova Guva” in the Australian journal “Tincture Journal”. Apogee journal published my essay “The Rotting of the Sun”, an essay about what I realized about the lingering effects of colonialism when my parents and I went camping for the first time. I also had my short story “Finding Mermaids” about njuzu on the shortlist of the 2015 Short Story Day Africa Prize. But for every success, there are ten rejection letters. I’ve reached a plateau with my work. I’m stuck in a place where I don’t receive form rejection letters but rather personal letters telling me that I’m not quite there yet. So, I applied to VONA Voices the only multi-genre writing workshop for people of color in America where I will hone my skills and hopefully find a supportive writing community to help me reach the next stage as a writer.

So why am I telling you all this? Because I’m hoping you might be able to help me on the next step of my journey to being a professional writer. I have been accepted to VONA and I’ll be attending the “Political Content in Memoir, Poetry and Prose” with Elmaz Abinader at the University of Pennsylvania. I received a half-tuition scholarship but I’m going to need help to cover the rest of the costs of this workshop. So why VONA? VONA will give me access to a community invested in the same social justice goals as me as well as a community that understands the challenges of being a POC writer in America. Furthermore, VONA is the kind of opportunity that leads to more opportunities. Several writing retreats like Hedgebrook have special funding reserved for VONA participants. And often when people in publishing are looking to add diversity to their line-ups, they look up VONA past participants.  You can learn more about VONA here: http://vonacommunity.org/community/.

The story I will workshop at VONA is about villagers in a small border town in Zimbabwe in the months leading up to independence who no longer know which side they’re rooting for. As with all my work, this story complicates the narrative about Zimbabwe to open up conversations about what it means to be Zimbabwean. Please help me become the writer who can do justice to this story and many more in the future.

Help if you can and help spread the word.

www.paypal.me/ChidoMuchemwa

https://www.gofundme.com/ChidoMuchemwa

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Petina Gappah and the Imposter Syndrome

It’s finally here. Petina Gappah has finally published her first novel The Book of Memory. I am so excited! So just imagine my disappointment when I tried to buy the Kindle edition of the book earlier today only to discover it will not be available in America until February 2nd, 2016. That’s a long time to wait, but I will wait. Because Gappah is always worth the wait and frankly, I can’t afford to buy the book from the UK at this moment in time.

Anyway, to make time go by faster as I wait, I’ve been trawling the internet for the various interviews that Gappah has done for the book. In all of them, she’s asked the same question. Why did it take six years for the book to come out? And her answer is imposter syndrome.

In an interview with Lauren Beukes at the Open Book Festival in Cape Town, Gappah said “It’s a wonderful thing to win awards, but the prize was completely unexpected, and it feels like overnight you are a different person. People are looking at you with a slightly more critical eye, and despite the fact that the reviews were very positive I felt that I had conned everyone, and that they would soon find me out. There’s a phrase that’s funny but it’s horrible, one-hit wonder. I was terrified of being a one-hit wonder. All feels well, your book is selling, but privately you are going through a terrible time and you are doubting yourself.”

It’s quite heartening to know that someone this talented has doubts about their abilities to consistently create good stuff. It makes me feel better about my own doubts. Doubts seem to be a frequent companion to writers (and everybody else really) and maybe trying to get rid of them isn’t the easiest thing to do. Perhaps it would be better to accept their existence and still create despite the doubts.

And here is my absolute favorite quote from the Beukes interview.

“What I’ve given myself as a mission statement is to explore Zimbabwe in its complexity, and to explore the multiple factors and identities that make up Zimbabwe. That’s what I’m interested in. I’m not interested in presenting a cookie cutter version of what it is like to be an African writer. I’m interested in exploring the different ways of being a Zimbabwean.”

Can I just copy/paste this into my artist’s statement? This is exactly what I’m trying to do. And I love that she calls it a mission statement.

And here‘s a link to an interview with BBC Radio 4.

 

New Work at Tincture

So much of Chivanhu feels like this, people whispering around you never fully telling you what is going on. I used to think that it was because I was a child and they felt I just needed enough information to let me do as I was told. However, the older I get the more I think that as a people we no longer know why we do the things we do. We’re just going through the motions because we’re afraid to find out what might happen if we don’t. What if these ancestral spirits turn out to be real? If we did not perform the kurova guva then my uncle’s spirit could be wandering in the wilderness for all eternity. No matter how much we say we’re Christians, we find it hard to discard Chivanhu. It always calls us back. Even in Mass, it calls to us. The drums beat their ancient rhythm tugging at something long forgotten in our souls. Once again, we feel that familiar sense of longing but we cannot really say for what.

Above is an excerpt from my essay “Kurova Guva” which was just published in Issue Ten of Tincture Journal. It’s available for purchase from Tincture, Tomely, Amazon, Kobo and Google Play.

Of Cats, Bathrooms and Fears

I am afraid of a lot of things. I’m scared of most animals, especially puppies. For some reason, baby animals seem to scare me more than their full-grown selves. I have several stories about the silly things I did as a child to avoid dogs. I stopped visiting one of my favorite aunts because I was terrified of her huge brown dog. He was just so big and he loved jumping up on people. I always felt like he would jump up at me, knock me down and maul me. Then there were my grandmother’s cats. It felt like she had a million. I was very young at the time, so my memories of these cats are slightly sketchy, and I probably exaggerate, but there must have been at least 20 of them, all different renderings of black and white, from the one with a black body, but a white stomach, and white feet, to the completely black one.

I remember walking into the bathroom once and finding one of the cats sitting on the edge of the bath. I froze in the doorway, unsure what to do. I couldn’t turn back. Mother had told me to go bath! But I couldn’t move any closer to the creature. It looked up at me, down at the tub and then back at me, and I knew it was thinking, “This silly child wants to take a bath, but I don’t want to move.” So it continued eyeing me as if to say, “I dare you to try and move me. Ndiedze!”

I could have spent an eternity standing in that doorway, paralyzed between two fears: fear of what my mother might do to me if I returned without taking a bath, and fear of this cat that I was sure would scratch my eyes out if I got any closer. But then my mother came up to me and told me to stop blocking the door. I got out of her way, and she walked up to the tub with the bucket of hot water. She hardly gave the cat a second look as she nudged it away. I quickly got as far away from the door as I could as the cat slunk out of the bathroom.

I spent most of my first semester of grad school feeling like that six year old girl, terrified by what was in front of me but knowing I couldn’t turn back because I have to make this MFA thing work. And I spent my time hanging back on the edges waiting for someone to tell me I was in the right place. I can’t tell you how many times I said to myself “What am I doing here?” What is this crazy, awkward, weird girl from Harare who can’t write about anything except Zimbabwe doing in freaking Wyoming? The answer is I’m trying to become a better writer and waiting for someone to tell me I’m worthy isn’t going to make that happen.

So much of grad school is standing up and saying I want it. I want that research grant. I want that award. I want to present at that conference. I want to do that major research project that terrifies me. None of these things are going to fall in my lap. No one will seek me out for these things. I have to pursue them despite worrying that I’m not qualified for such things.

I’ve been staring warily at all these opportunities, eyeing them like they are that black cat waiting to scratch my eyes out because I’m not good enough. But who am I to decide that I’m not good enough? Who am I to decide that someone else is more deserving? Who am I to count myself out?

So my motto this year is “It’s not my job to count myself out” or as Mindy Kaling puts it, “Why the fuck not me?”

Life is too short to spend any moment of it being held hostage by fears, especially by the fear that you might fail. Life is hard enough without having to cotend with you being the roadblock in your own way. Leave the job of deciding you’re not good enough to someone else. Your job is to try.

The Blog is Back

I have to produce an essay for my nonfiction class on Thursday, so now feels as good a time as any to return to blogging. Safe to say that Graduate School has not cured me of my terrible procrastination. In fact it seems to feed it. Between teaching, classes and just trying to get grips with a new place, I’m left too exhausted to write, the thing I’m here for.

Wyoming is…different. I’ve been here for almost two months now, but it’s such a new experience that I really don’t know what to make of it yet. It’s weird being standing at the front of the class with the authority of teacher. In my head I’m always thinking, “But I’m just Chido. Why are these students looking at me like I actually know something?” But I do know something, otherwise I wouldn’t be here.

The hardest adjustment though is being so far away from family. I’ve lived 1200 miles away from the closest family member. I can feel quite despondent when I think about that. Inevitably, I ask myself “Why am I here?” When I was in Denton, I never seemed to have a satisfying answer. An English degree didn’t quite seem reason enough to be so far away from home. I could have gotten that in Zimbabwe. But now, I ask myself why I’m here and instantly I feel better and can’t help but smile. I’m here to get an MFA in creative writing, here to experience a new part of America, here to learn my craft on someone else’s dime.

After 8 months of lollygagging, I’m back to actually working. My brain hurts from all the thinking and reading it has to do. But I have to admit, it feels great to be back in school.

Hey, It’s Good to Be Back Home Again

When I abruptly stopped blogging in the middle of my thirty-day blogging challenge, I never thought that it would be almost three months before I returned to the blog. I was swept up by the helter-skelter of moving and it is only now that my head is bobbing above water. I last blogged on the 18th of April from the coziness of my first apartment in dear Denton. Now, 3 months, 2 countries, 3 cities, one bus ride and 5 flights later, I’m back. Here’s what I’ve been up to.

“Sometimes goodbye, though it hurts in your heart, is the only way for destiny.” – S Club, ‘Say Goodbye’

May marked the end of a beautiful 5-year love affair with the city of Denton. Saying goodbye made me sad, yet I knew that I had learnt everything I could there. Denton had given me all she could, and it was time to move on to new things and new lessons. But I’m still going to miss Denton, especially The Candy Store on the Square.

“Don’t fear failure so much that you refuse to try new things. The saddest summary of a life contains three descriptions: could have, might have, and should have.” – Louis E. Boone

I spent most of June in South Africa taking in the beautiful sights of Kwazulu Natal. There really is no place like Africa. It took me a little longer than usual to get back into the groove of African life. I kept telling my mother, in exasperated tones, that people in this place have no respect for personal space. Personal space – that is definitely a concept a picked up in America.

There really is nothing like returning to a place that hasn’t changed to see how much you have. The last time I was in South Africa, I went to the beach every day hoping the ocean would tell me what to do with my life. Obviously, it didn’t. The ocean has no answers. But now I returned to the ocean with none of the fear, anguish and confusion of two years ago. And with the benefit of hindsight, I can see that I always knew what I wanted to do. I just didn’t have the courage to say it out loud. But now I can boldly declare I AM A WRITER! Instead of thinking of all the things that could go wrong, I try to think only of the things I can control. I can’t change the current book market. I can’t change the odds of getting published. But I can show up every day at my desk, ready to write, ready to revise, ready to work at making my dreams come true.

“Home is where the heart beats the loudest and proud.” Freshlyground, ‘I am an African’

And now in July, I can finally say I’m home. It is no accident that my return to blogging has coincided with my return to Zimbabwe. This country inspires me. I didn’t get any writing done in my first 2 years of college. I kept trying to write stories about my new environment and failing miserably. Only when I started to write about Zimbabwe did the proverbial dam break.

The pace of life in Zimbabwe lends itself to writing. People just aren’t in as much of a rush as people in America. And here, I have no responsibilities, no job, no classes to go to, no homework. All I have is time.

And with that folks, there’s really only one thing left to say. I’m back where I belong.

Happy Independence Day Zimbabwe

“Who is a patriot? He is a person who loves his country. He is not a person who says he loves his country. He is not even a person who shouts or swears or recites or sings his love of his country. He is one who cares deeply about the happiness and well-being of his country and all its people. Patriotism is an emotion of love directed by critical intelligence. A true patriot will always demand the highest standards of his country and accept nothing but the best for and from his people. He will be outspoken in condemnation of their short-comings without giving away to superiority, despair or cynicism. That is my idea of a patriot.” – Chinua Achebe, The Trouble with Nigeria

I love that so many Zimbabweans are talking about how proud they are to be Zimbabwean today, but I hope that y’all remember that being a patriot is more than just saying you love Zimbabwe, wearing a shirt that says “I Rep Zim” or having a Zimbabwe flag hanging on your wall. I hope that you’ll still feel this pride when you wake up tomorrow, and on any other day that’s not Independence day. And I hope that pride will lead to the courage to say “Things are not right with my country. Things have to change. What am I going to do to make it better?”

Happy Independence Day Zimbabwe