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

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.

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.

I’m a Writer because I Come from a Tribe of Storytellers.

I’m a writer because I come from a tribe of storytellers.

From a grandmother who casts a spell around the fire.

From a father who can captivate any audience

From a mother with special way with words

From Muchemwas with exploits waiting to be told

From a family that is never short of words

From a place whose stories have  too long gone untold

I’m a writer because I come from a tribe of storytellers.

Don’t Let It Break Your Heart

For some reason, Coldplay’s been making me cry lately. I don’t know why, but at the first sound of Chris Martin’s voice, I get a little tear in my eye. It’s not completely strange to be moved to tears by Coldplay. I’m sure there are quite a few of you out there who’ve gotten choked up over Fix You, and who hasn’t cried to The Scientist after a bad day? But Charlie Brown? Princess of China? Really, it’s the whole Mylo Xyloto album that gets me going.

Is this what writing has turned me into? An overly emotional creature who teeters from deliriously happy to tears in seconds? One minute I’m feeling confident and buoyant, the next I’m reduced to a blubbering mess by the sight of the blinking cursor on a blank Word document. I have all this time to write, yet I can’t seem to string together enough words to create a coherent story.

That’s when the Coldplay comes in, the soundtrack to the self-torture of writing when the muse is AWOL. “Just keep writing,” I whisper to myself, “Just keep writing.” And in the background, Chris Martin pleads with me once again, “Don’t let it break your heart!”

Back to Writing

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

Curious Chido – The Growth of a Writer’s Mind

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.