“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.”
I’m having another lazy day. I’ve started three different blog posts, all which look promising, but all which require a lot more concentration than I’m willing to give at this particular moment. It was a long day at work today. I actually did some work for a change, and my brain is fried. So I’ve spent the last hour staring at my wall waiting for inspiration.
This isn’t just any old wall. It’s my wonderful wall of inspiration.
On this wall, is many a reminder to get back to work when my mind starts to wander, like it has the last hour. The center-piece of this collection is my “Creative Process” Poster.
I am currently stuck in the yard of indolence. My brain seems to have already checked out for the summer even though I still have a whole month of work to go.
Anyway, also on the wall is my favourite T.E. Lawrence quote about the dreamers of the day, probably dearer to me because it’s AB de Villiers’ favourite quote. There is a picture of Jesus with the words “Jesus, I Trust in You.” Pretty self-explanatory that one. The nun who gave me communion lessons gave that to each one of us on the day of our first communion as our congratulatory gift.
I think of another nun when I read the quote, “The pain of discipline is miniscule compare to the pain of regret.” My high school piano teacher was a German nun in her nineties. Her motto was simple: Discipline, diligence and dedication, of which the first is the most important. That is probably the most important lesson I learnt at the Convent. Last summer, I wrote a blog post about my piano teacher, and reading it now, the part that sticks out is “The most important lesson I learnt in those piano lessons when Sr. Loyola would hit my fingers with a stick was that nothing can be achieved without discipline. Whatever you’re doing in your life, you’ll never excel if you don’t have the discipline to do the work every day.”
And that’s why I’m showing up today, stringing together a couple hundred words, putting myself through these 30 days of blogging even though all I feel like doing is watching Netflix with a pint of Half-baked. You have to show up everyday if you’re going to make progress.
PS: What do you think of the recent photo heavy posts? One of my resolutions for this challenge was to experiment with the blog and photos was something I’d never done before.
I’m feeling like a room without a roof!
I woke up this morning at 6am humming “Hakuna Matata”. In the shower, I was singing Pharrell’s Happy. I walked out of the apartment to a gorgeous sight. It was a monkey’s wedding. There was a light drizzle and my heart leapt up at the sight of a large rainbow stretching across the sky. The sun was just above the horizon, a bright orange ball with warm rays stretching towards me.
Well, the sun is now hiding behind some nasty grey clouds, but still I feel happy. I’m just so freaking happy! I’m going to Grad School y’all!
I didn’t sleep the night before the first time I had a story critiqued in a creative writing workshop. I could not turn my brain off. All night, the same three questions ran through my head. What if they don’t like it? What if they think it’s stupid? What if they think I’m a terrible writer? I was in such a nervous state that around 6.30 am, when light began to creep into my room, I resolved that I wasn’t going to class that day and instead, I would be dropping the class. An hour later, I realised I was being completely ridiculous. How would I ever know the answers to the questions if I didn’t go to class?
So I went, dragging my feet, feeling like someone was wringing my intestines. I sat in my usual corner, barely listening as we workshopped the first two stories. Then my turn came. I stared intently at the desk. I didn’t want to look anyone in the eye as they shredded my story to bits. I was so scared that no one would understand my story or that they would all just think it was a horrible story, but guess what? They actually liked it!
I tell you, it’s an intoxicating feeling knowing that someone was entertained, someone laughed, or someone cried because of something you wrote. There is no feeling more gratifying than knowing that your words moved someone.
The thing about applying to graduate school is the process warps your vision. It’s a long process and somewhere in there, you forget why you’re going through this all and focus only on getting in. You forget that you’re the one who writes and hand over the authority to someone else to tell you that you’re a writer.
Today, I’m remembering the words I wrote to myself when I got back from that first workshop.
“I don’t know why other people write, but for me having someone come up to me and tell me that they loved it, or that it reminded them of something that had happened in their lives, that is amazing… I think somewhere this semester I finally made the decision to be a writer. I have always said I want to be a writer, but now I am a writer, putting in the hard work required for success, trying new things and actually letting people read my work. Being a published author is my goal and I’m feel like I’m finally on the right path:-)“
Today, I’m reminding myself that I’m the one who decides that I’m a writer. I’m the one who decides the next step.
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
I am currently in the hardest part of applying for graduate school – waiting. All the statements of purpose have been written, every writing sample tweaked until it squeaked, every recommendation letter sent and every application submitted. Now, the only thing to do is wait.
I think the craziest part of the MFA application process is how it takes the fun out of the very thing you are trying to achieve. Instead of writing, I find myself despairing about the low acceptance rates. Instead of starting new projects, I’m wondering, “what if I’m not good enough?” It all ends up feeling like by applying, all I’m doing is begging the admission committee to tell me that I’m a writer.
But a degree in creative writing doesn’t make you a writer. Getting an MFA doesn’t turn you into the next Jhumpa Lahiri. Writing and revising do that. An MFA gives you time and space to write, a community to encourage you and great resources, but ultimately the only thing that can turn you into a decent writer is showing up every day at your desk ready to put in the work.
So today, I’ve decided to get back on the writing wagon. It’s back to 500 words a day for me. And to help me reach those 500 words, I’m introducing two new series to the blog. The first is #writersrole. There’s a hashtag there because I’m hoping to spark a conversation not just on this blog but on Twitter as well. I will explain more about it in the first post of the series, but what I’m examining is whether it is fair to assign writers a specific role, and if yes, what role. The second series is the Weekly Writing Round-up where I track how much progress I’ve made and some of the lessons I’ve learnt.
I’m quite excited about the two series and there will probably be other changes on the blog. Exciting times lie ahead!
In the meantime, I leave you with a quote I’ve stuck above my desk to remind me that talent means nothing without discipline.
“Some people have greatness thrust upon them. Few have excellence thrust upon them – they achieve it. They do not achieve it unwittingly by doing what comes naturally and they don’t stumble into it in the course of amusing themselves. All excellence involves discipline and tenacity of purpose.'” –John William Gardner
Blog Tagline on 1 January 2013: This skin and bones is a rental; no one makes it out alive.
Blog Tagline on 31 December 2013: The Growth of a Writer’s mind
The whole story of my last year can be told in the simple change between these two taglines. It was a year in which I stopped telling myself to follow my unnamed dreams. I finally gained the courage to say out loud that I am a writer. I went past imagining how awesome it would be a published author, and actually started working towards the dream.
Not enrolling in a writing course in the spring semester forced me to abandon the box of writing prompts. The sight of a blank piece of paper waiting for my ideas left me afraid, but by committing to putting down 500 words a day every day, I overcame my fear. By accepting that there is no perfect, just potential, I stopped denigrating myself for not being as good a writer as I wanted to be, and instead started putting in the hard work to improve. There is no shortcut to success, just hard work.
Whenever I started to lose steam, something would happen to remind me that there is no time to waste. I graduated college this year, five years after finishing high school. Sometimes high school feels like it was a lifetime ago. How did five years go by so fast? Days pass by slowly but years seems to speed along. There is no time for “Ndicha-” or “Tomorrow, I will…”.
And that’s why in September I disappeared from the blog, only to resurface now. I spent those three months making sure I graduated and applying to MFA programs for creative writing. There is a very high chance that I will not get in, but I did it because I knew that it was something I wanted to do in this lifetime, and life is too uncertain to defer dreams. However, whatever the outcome, I will keep on writing.
So am I crazy for giving this writing thing a real go? Am I delusional for thinking that I’m going to be the exception when so many writers face disappointment? Am I foolish for not picking a more stable career like medicine or law? I don’t know, but what I learnt in Church the other day was that everyone in the Bible who we consider brave now looked foolish before they looked right. Moses looked foolish staring at the Red Sea with the Egyptians bearing down on the Israelites with just a stick to part the sea. Peter looked foolish stepping out of the boat to walk on water to Jesus. What got them through was faith and faith is what I have.
One last thought on the taglines though. The tagline may have changed to reflect clearer goals, but the words are still not my own. Here is to 2014 being the year I start to own my writing voice and here is hoping that you own your voice in whatever you do.