Monday, August 27, 2012

Dear Writer

Dear Writer,

A story has to start from somewhere. I start mine from the heart. I have often been told, follow the rules of Grammar, get your facts right-show, and don't just tell a story. I listened for a while, and then I stopped. I reckon I had to stop at sometime. Truth is I lost myself in the process. My arms were up in the air and my feet were pulled in every direction. When they said, 'jump' I did so and in time I realized it was all for show. They expected me to make them laugh. They expected me to make them swoon. I did all this. Every writer has a soul. It is their soul that they lay bare for people. Just like every artist, they see the world and put it down on paper. Some use ginormous words-others simple words-but it is all said. If you open your heart to joy, it will find you. But you have to be on the lookout for joy. Open your eyes and see it coming, for a tear can be wiped away, just as easy as a frown can be turned into a smile.

I don't know if writing is all I ever wanted to do. I don't even know how to define it. All I know is the pen belongs in my hand. I can sit up till dawn just talking to myself. Yes, I often write letters to myself. I write letters to people who I have never met. I also write about their fears and hopes. I can make them tall, short, plump or skinny. I can even decide who walks out on the other and who forgives. In my attempt to tell a story at times I encounter chaos. At times the Villain does something to redeem himself and at times the Hero goes against his principles. But, it is hard. It is hard to write a sentence and be told it is not good enough. It is painful to write a story for ten years and get shunned that your writing is not good enough. It gets hard when you are told 'write something more African.' I have heard these more than fifty times. I wonder why I even bother. Why does public approval matter? What does someone's approval mean to my work? I have often heard of Story tellers. They are ancient. Some still live to tell tales but with print and electronic media they have been forgotten. My Grandmother says they ceased living when we started wearing clothes. At times I listen to her stories and laugh. I often hear her singing in my sleep. She haunts my dreams like a vengeful ghost. What was good about these story tellers? Well, they attracted an audience. When I ask my Grandmother why they did so, she says 'what use is telling a story if there's no one to listen to it?'

Here I am seated on my bed typing away at 10:17pm. I have no audience but me. Am I enough to warrant a narration? In those days all a story teller needed was a drum. He'd tuck the drum under his armpit and hit it as he made his way across a village. The very first Story Teller she encountered was "Okello wuod Ogolla, Wouyi ma koyao dhoge to pinje te chiko itgi, nyathi munyuol kagoyo bul!" (Okello, the son of Ogolla, a boy who attracted the world's attention, who was born beating the drum)

She'd laugh about this too. She'd say that Luo's are proud. They praise even the unborn. It was a chilly evening. A girl was getting married and her in-laws had come to negotiate on the bride price. Okello had gone through the village calling people. He'd hit the drum thrice and call out 'If you don't hear it from me, then it's not news.' He would break into dance then ask all the beautiful girls to show that they owned the land. I asked why he said that given that men seem to have the say. She then said that Okello had to create some controversy. She'd look at me and ask, 'what use is any story without some controversy?' I have a degree in Psychology. In my library alone I have read over five hundred books last year. I have read beautiful stories to those that left me dumbfounded. I have also read that there is no good book or bad book. There are serious books and cheap books. The latter statement I got from my Literature Professor. He said that if any book hit the New York Times Bestseller list and stayed there for a year or less then it was cheap. If it stayed there for over a Century then it was serious. In his class I read more books by African writers that thrilled me more than any Detective novel I ever read off the New York Times Bestseller list. I asked my Grandmother once if she would read my story. It was my first book. She laughed and told me to tell it to her. I couldn't. For how could I sit beside her and remind her of her Son's death? I have never told her about it to date. And maybe she is right; some spirits will forever walk beside me. She often says that some ghosts are meant to live. They live not to haunt us but to remind us of why we are alive. One such ghost she says is 'hope.' Any writer reading this has had their share of it. You may have hope that one day you'll break into print, but with every rejection slip it fades away. It's like mist that clears as soon as the sun is up. It is like the rainbow that appears for a few seconds. Funny thing about hope is that, it is always there with you. You might say you have lost all hope, then one day just the remark 'that story is good, I liked it' from a stranger or a friend's friend brings back the glow in your eyes. Then again, what do I know about writing, uh? So when I approached a publisher and he told me 'we want an African story' I smiled and walked away. For when you want to publish, you are selling your soul. There is no such thing as simply telling a story. You are reaching out to an audience and they have every right to either hate you or love you. For most Writers they seek love, but love does not manifest itself unless it's source and motives are pure, so would you deem yourself pure? You sit in front of your computer and type. It all falls into place and after plenty of revision, you print it out and send it to a publisher. The publisher then tells you to give him time to read your work. Some read, others let it gather dust in their store room, others simply look at it and tell you they are swamped. Everybody wants to read a good story. Everybody wants to know what happens to the hero and the villain, but no one wants to sweat finding that out. I reckon that's why Mark Twain said that 'classics are the books people know but never read.' They make you stop to think about what you just read. Unlike the cheap books that make you simply read on for the thrill. Cheap books get you on the edge of your seat and after you toss them aside you read another and forget the first. It's like saying hello to everyone. It is 5:53pm, and three days later as I conclude this thought…write not because you have to make money, write because there's a story you want to tell, there's a ghost in you that has to be revealed, your soul and the pen are one, write and write and share what you have, let the world spit at it, adore it, ignore it, or tell you to get a real job, but write because there are stories to be told and generations that need to know what it means to live, breathe and cherish story telling.


Picture is courtesy of Google


How can one change the world if one identifies oneself with everybody?