This week was not as productive as I had hoped it would be. And by not productive I mean nothing was written. It was Spring break and take a break I did. Since there is nothing to report on the writing front, I’ll share with you an important realization I came to.
When we were kids in Zimbabwe, there was a game that we liked to play called Country Game. You would draw two circles, one large circle, and a smaller circle in the middle for the caller to stand in. You would divide the large circle into pieces, one piece for each person playing and everyone would get to pick which country they wanted to be. Everyone wanted to be the USA or England and no one wanted to pick somewhere poor like Burkina Faso or Zambia. Once everyone had picked their country, the caller would shout out one of the countries and everyone would run as fast as they could from the circle until the person whose country had been called ran back to the circle and yelled stop.
This game is such a great metaphor for my generation who find themselves scattered across the world trying to find better opportunities than those in Zimbabwe. We’re everywhere: America, Australia, Russia, South Africa, Nigeria. Just like in the game, we’re picking the rich countries trying to escape the poverty in Zimbabwe. I positively squealed with delight when this analogy came to mind. It was just so perfect. And I carried it in my head for a year, bringing it out from time to time to smooth out the edges, preparing for the day when I would commit it to paper. This was going to be my first Freshly Pressed blog post. I was sure of it!
So imagine my dismay upon reading the first chapter of NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names and discovering my perfect analogy used excellently by a writer much better than me. She stole my idea!
“Soon we are all busy drawing country-game on the ground, and it comes out great because today the earth is just the right kind of wet since it rained yesterday. To play country-game you need two rings: a big outer one, then inside it, a little one, where the caller stands. You divide the outer ring depending on how many people are playing and cut it up in nice pieces like this. Each person then picks a piece and writes the name of the country on there, which is why it’s called country-game.
But first we have to fight over the names because everybody wants to be certain countries, like everybody wants to be the USA and Britain and Canada and Australia and Switzerland and France and Italy and Sweden and Germany and Russia and Greece and them. These are the country-countries. If you lose the fight, then you just have to settle for countries like Dubai and South Africa and Botswana and Tanzania and them. They are not country countries, but at least life is better than here. Nobody wants to be rags of countries like Congo, like Somalia, like Iraq, like Sudan, like Haiti, like Sri Lanka, and not even this one we live in. Who wants to be a terrible place of hunger and things falling apart?” NoViolet Bulawayo, We Need New Names
Obviously, she did not steal my idea. She does not know I exist. But she does know the country game as do all the people who played it as a child. The leap from the game to the Zimbabwe diaspora is not large. Probably many people have made the same connection.
So what’s my point? If you come up with a good idea, you’re probably not the only person to have thought about it. So don’t bury it in a corner waiting for the day when you’ll be qualified enough, smart enough, relaxed enough or brave enough to make it happen because somewhere out there, someone is probably working on the same idea. You better beat them to it.
Writing Lesson of the Week
- England ‘divided into readers and watchers’
- The allure of an old-fashioned pen pal
- A piece of the Wall: Teju Cole’s essay on immigration published entirely on Twitter