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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What is it about birthdays that makes me go a little crazy?

The day after I turned 20, I stopped sleeping. I thought it was the stress of approaching finals, but two weeks into summer, I was still getting only 2 or 3 hours of sleep a night. I told my sister who said, “Well, when did it start?” The day after my birthday. That’s when it clicked. I was so terrified by the fact that I wasn’t a teenager anymore that I stopped sleeping. That was the first time I was struck by birthday anxiety.

21 wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be, but still there was anxiety. 22 was depressing because it was the first time I had ever had to go to school on my birthday and that meant I didn’t spend it with family. Now 23 is a few days away and I feel that anxiety once again. I’m quite grateful that I postponed graduation because the combination of the fear of graduation and the anxiety of getting older would surely have led to a nervous breakdown.

What is it about birthdays that makes me crazy? I guess at birthdays the noise of the sands of time passing through the hourglass get a little louder. You realize you’re getting older and that time is moving much too fast. You carry out an assessment of your life and realize you haven’t done half as much as you thought you would have by this time. When I was younger, I had very definite ideas about what I would be like when I turned 23. I thought I would be awesome beyond belief. But I’m not. I’m just stuttering along trying to figure out what I’m going to do next.

When I turned 20, I freaked out. I felt I needed to know exactly what I was going to do for the rest of my life and I could not sleep thinking about all my options and all the opportunities for failure. I was at the end of my first year of college and officially, I was still an undecided major and the uncertainty was driving me crazy. Here’s a little excerpt from my journal just to illustrate.

“I keep wondering whether I’m messing up my life, whether I’m picking the right major, how I’m going to pay for college, how I’m going to get a job in South Africa, how I’ll be able support my parents when they retire and where I want to raise my kids.”

Is it any wonder that I kinda lost it? I was trying to figure out my entire life at 20! I totally overreacted, but looking back I see that good has come out of birthday anxiety (though I still think I need to stop getting so worked up). Maybe I should be grateful for this anxiety. It reminds me that there is no time to waste and that I need to work harder to achieve my dreams. The pressure to do something meaningful leads me to making important changes.

My anxiety at turning 20 ultimately led to me declaring myself an English major, a decision that made me deliriously happy at the time. I could not stop smiling because I was so happy that I was finally doing something that I loved. At 21, I chopped off all my hair which led to my becoming more confident. My biggest fear about cutting my hair was that I wouldn’t be pretty. After I cut my hair, it no longer mattered what others thought about my appearance. I loved the short hair look and I loved how low-maintenance my hair was. When you do things that make you happy, what other people think just doesn’t matter that much. At 22, I decided I was boring. So I introduced some color to my wardrobe and decided to rediscover my curiosity about the world. This led me to creating Curious Chido and this blog has made writing fun again. It’s reminded me why I’m a writer.

So, this year I’m embracing the anxiety. I’m recognizing it as me struggling to get out of a shell that’s grown too small for me. It’s not a fear of aging that makes me anxious when it’s my birthday; it’s a fear of getting to the end of my life and having regrets for not having made the years count.

Please tell me I’m not the only one who acts strange when it’s their birthday! Comment below and let me know how you deal with birthdays. In the meantime, happy birthday to me 🙂