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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I Write to Learn

I’ve been busy all weekend starting to put together my applications for getting into MFA Creative Writing programs so I’ve been thinking a lot about writing. In my statements of purpose, I try to explain why I write, and so far the answer that rings truest for me is that I write to learn. Whether it’s about human nature, or about history, I write because there is something I don’t know or understand so I write a story to figure it out.

This is especially true when it comes to Zimbabwe and Shona culture. There is just so much I don’t know and even more that I do without understanding why. Sometimes I feel like I’m a bad Zimbo or Shona woman because I am sometimes so clueless about our culture. I can go through the motions but don’t ask me to explain the process. So I write stories about people trying to navigate their way through the culture and as they discover the answers I discover them too.

Judging by the traffic that finds its way to my blog, I’m not the only one looking for answers. The most popular Google search terms that lead people to Curious Chido are some variation of “Jacarandas Zimbabwe” and “Red Msasa Trees”, but the next 3 popular search terms are all about traditional beliefs, mitupo and whether Chishona and Shona culture are still relevant. There is a dearth of information about Zimbabwe on the internet and it bothers me. Zimbabweans pride themselves on how smart and educated we are. Why isn’t there more information easily available? When I go to the library to find books about Zimbabwe, the vast majority are written by people from England or America. Even when I search African journals, the articles about Zimbabwe are often written by somebody else. Yet the traffic to my blog suggests that Zimbabweans are looking for answers about themselves.

So I spent quite a few hours of my Sunday afternoon pondering the question of why there aren’t more Zimbabwean academics, or even just couch nerds who like to curate information about Zimbabwe. I even started working myself into enough of a state to write a rant about Zimbabweans just not being proud enough of their culture. “Why aren’t Zimbabweans writing about Zimbabwe?” I wanted to say.

Then I remembered that NoViolet Bulawayo’s first novel We Need New Names just got shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. And I remembered that a new Charles Mungoshi book has just been released. And I remembered that I’m going to get my MFA so I can keep writing stories to learn more about my country. Zimbabweans are writing still. I just wasn’t looking.

Happy Monday y’all.

Figuring Out What To Do With Your Life: Paralyzed By Choice

“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.” Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

When I was little, probably around 6 or 7, I told my aunt that I wanted to have a different job for every day of the week. That’s right; I wanted to have seven different jobs. I can’t remember all the jobs now, but I think I wanted to be a judge on one day and a teacher the next. I wanted to be a doctor because I wanted to help people and I distinctly remember wanting to be an air hostess who worked a long-haul flight on Thursday nights. Don’t ask me why Thursdays. And on Sundays, I was going to be a lay-preacher. I also planned on having 30 children! I remember my aunt’s surprise at that particular idea. “Asi Chido, nguva yacho unoyiwanepi?” When are you going to have the time to do all this? She doubted me, but I was certain that I could do anything that I put my mind to.

Two things strike me most about this memory. First of all, I’ve never been really good at narrowing down my career choices to just one thing. There is still that six year old in me that wants to be everything. I want to an English teacher so that every student who passes through my class will know how to construct a proper sentence. I want to run a literacy program that provides books to children all around Zimbabwe. Sometimes I imagine myself as a lawyer because you have to be a lawyer first before you get to be judge. Then there’s the idea of being a sports journalist who stalks the Proteas. I think about getting a PhD in Sociology because I love studying people. And at the end of the day, in all of my daydreams, I go home and write stories because that’s just what I am, a storyteller.

So here I am, months away from graduation still looking longingly at all the fruit on the fig tree, terrified to pick one, which brings me to the other striking thing about that six year old me. I used to believe that I could do anything I set my mind to. There was no room for doubt because there were so many things that needed to get done. But then I grew older, I made mistakes and I realized that sometimes you can try your hardest and still fall flat on your face. I cannot do everything. I will never be a doctor because biology and chemistry bore me to tears. And the air hostess ship has probably sailed. The fruit on the tree have started to rot and it’s because I’m not making a decision. I’m so scared that I’m going to make the wrong decision that I’m just sitting here waiting for some aha moment when everything will suddenly be clear.

The problem is “You can’t stay in the fork of the road forever. If you don’t decide, life will decide for you.” The reason I picked the famous excerpt from the Bell Jar as the lead-in to this post is because the narrator was paralyzed by the need to choose. She had all these opportunities in front of her, but they amounted to nothing because she could not choose. She could have been any of those she wanted, but none of those dreams came true because she was too scared to make the decision. Sometimes I say choice is overrated, but those are the words of a spoilt brat and my mother didn’t raise any of those. She raised me to be brave and that’s what I need, just enough bravery to say that this is what I am going to do and the commitment to work hard to see it through.

What do you think? How did you decide what you were going to do with your life?

Snowy Days and Mondays Always Get Me Down

These days, when I am feeling homesick, I always think of Harare in spring, when the city is a sea of color. All the tall Msasa trees bear leaves in all shades of red, yellow, orange and purple. Slowly the colors lighten to a bright green that darkens to the forest green that announces the arrival of summer. Soon after, the jacarandas and flamboyant trees start to bloom. I can almost see it before me now, almost hear the bees buzzing. The avenues are lined with the delicate, fragrant violet blooms of the Jacaranda tree and the deep red flowers of the aptly-named flamboyant trees. The fallen petals form a rainbow carpet on the avenues of the bustling city.

I’m feeling homesick today. It’s been a cold miserable day. I woke up this morning to a white Denton. I was quite surprised. The weatherman hadn’t said anything about snow! There’s something about snow that seems to bring out the inner child in everyone. People just seem more playful, and I overheard quite a few conversations about what people used to do when it snowed when they were kids.

Since I grew up in Zimbabwe, I obviously have no fond memories of childhood snow days, but the cold weather had me dreaming of home, of warmth, of summer rain and of days of dreaming about getting on a plane and going to America. Well I made it to America, but when I was a child, I never realized how homesick I would get. The start of the semester always leaves me with mixed emotions. There is the excitement of new classes, new projects and getting closer to achieving my dreams. But I also feel sadness because it feels like the more I commit myself to my dreams, the harder getting home becomes. I love being an English major. I’m excited about applying for Grad School and I really want to be a writer, but there are no jobs for English professors in Zimbabwe. Living off your writing isn’t really a possibility in Zimbabwe (not that it’s all that easy in America).

There’s a Drake track called “Closer”. On it, he samples Goapele’s song “Closer”. There’s a line I misheard all the time. She sings, “Sometimes it feels like I’ll never move on”. For over a year, I thought she was saying, “sometimes it feels like I’ll never go home.” I think it’s because when I’m thinking about my dreams, I can’t help but think that I may never go home permanently.

I’m getting higher, closer to my dreams,

But sometimes it feels like I’ll never go home.

Sometimes it feels like I’ll never go home.

Monday Motivation: Dreams

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

Langston Hughes