I have been well aware of how writing is not really seen as a career worth taking seriously from the time I was nine years old. In class 4, my English teacher gave the class an assignment to write a composition about what we wanted to be when we grew up. Everyone had these wildly generic answers, doctor, lawyer, judge, engineer… I on the other hand didn’t want to write about that.
Sure I had some aspirations of being a veterinarian or something animal related because I loved NatGeo and nature documentaries by the age of nine. However if my reaction to Mufasa dying was anything to go by [my sister would always get into trouble when I watched The Lion King because I would be inconsolable for hours so my parents just assumed she had beaten me and punished her – and I could barely tell them that it wasn’t her; I was weeping so bitterly] I don’t think I had the stones for it. I could have, but I chose not to. If I had actually written about it I probably wouldn’t have this story to tell, but here we are.
At the time I was madly obsessed with K.A. Applegate. How she could write a mad series about pre-teens turning into animals and how you couldn’t trust the adults because they were most likely possessed by a snail in their brain [a theme i’ve obviously carried into my adult life]… I wanted that. I wanted to elicit those emotions that I went through reading Animorphs and other books. I needed to. It felt like a calling. So, that’s what I wrote and handed in, very proud of myself.
The next English lesson was when the books were being returned. I was given mine first and I thought that it was another lesson where I would be praised for having such a great story [lol it used to happen] but LO AND BEHOLD I opened my book to see a goddamn 17 out of 40. That had never –and never did again, just saying –happened to me. WHY…Was it because of my pencil [I could see that it wasn’t as sharp as it could have been]…was it my handwriting [how and I had won best handwriting the year before]…what the fuck was happening.
If she had said anything like that I wouldn’t have been distressed. I would have been hurt, but i would have understood the reason behind the poor grade. As I came to find out, as she dragged me in front of the entire classroom, I had failed because my composition was not realistic. I clearly remember her cackling incredulously and asking how I could possibly want to be an author. I was instructed to write a totally different position because i was ‘much better than that.’
Fast forward to high school aka the worst four years of my life. I hated literally every second in that school but my more unpleasant memories involve invasion of privacy. I discovered that a group of girls used to read my diary when they could. My response was to then start writing absolute bullshit in it just so I could pinpoint just who they were whenever I heard ridiculous rumors about me. [They really should have figured it out when I was writing about doing coke. We were in high school for fucks sake. [That came later, so you know, be careful what you put out into the world.]]
Somehow, this silly game I was playing [and obviously losing] gave me the idea for a novella I called Circle of Life [do you see this Lion King theme…] The story had the most convoluted plot and the characters were based on the girls I hated. When the book began to circulate [novels were banned -you read set books only-we were pretty starved for entertainment] the very same people who i was OBVIOUSLY talking about would come up to me and ask to read the book knowing full well that it was them – because my dragging was exquisite. If there was ever something that affirmed my skill it was that. Hashtag turning bullying into art.
I can’t remember exactly when it was I fell out of love with writing. All I know it was just around the time I started getting paid for my content…which is weird. One would think that once someone adds some monetary value to something you were already doing as a hobby, it would fuel the passion of doing it, right. WRONG.
I left high school and floundered about trying to make sense of it all. I eventually ended up writing for a parenting and lifestyle blog, even despite having absolutely no desire for kids. [this would come back to bite me in the ass. Men [sometimes women] who were appalled by my total lack of interest of being a mother would Google my writing and defiantly present my words back to me, as if being able to rattle off points about when you should get your kid a pet proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that i was clearly the best vessel for their seed.] i was an intern getting paid for writing two posts a day, a measly 10k a month, but it paid my minimal bills and cab fare, and i got exposure to audiences that previously had never heard of me, so i wasn’t mad. For a while.
I was writing for someone else’s blog, on topics they had decided on, and they paid me to fill out their pages. Meanwhile my own creative endeavours suffered because of this decision to immerse myself fully into someone else’s. This is what i wanted to do, right…i wanted to write. Writing for myself didn’t pay the bills, this did. Over time i came to realise there is nothing worse than relinquishing creative control of your content.
I began to harbour a growing disdain for the entire advertising industry, for being so closed minded, for not rewarding bloggers for just being themselves. It’s not that i wanted an award simply for showing up. I was just irritated at the One True Path of Kenyan Blogging – putting yourself in an arts and culture-parenting-lifestyle box padded with Safaricom friendly content. All this compromise, which might not even work, before you’re even considered to be worthy of a few extra thousands [which you will chase for months.] By 80 percent sheer luck and 20 percent talent [something I can only admit now] I found myself in that box, yet everything inside me begged for freedom because nothing i was doing was an honest representation of who i was.
My internal conflict and inevitable burnout led me to resign. You’re only as good as how much content of yours is floating on the interwebs though. Since the express yourself train was leading nowhere i decided to find work in publishing. Shame on me for going in starry eyed and thinking that finally i would have a platform to share my brilliant ideas with the world. The horrible things i endured in the Kenyan magazine industry will be documented at length in a different post, but tl;dr the total disregard for mental health, the constant threats of termination, the mtadoism of being paid upto two months later [or never] for work done was crushing to my spirit and i would not recommend it to any creative who has even one shred of self respect. Unless you’re in the mood of picking up a prescription pill habit, which if you are, godspeed.
Which is where the tail end of 2016 found me, in another country, living a lie of a life and numbing the pain i was in [and subsequently inflicted on the ones closest to me] with partying, drugs and alcohol. Fear and Self Loathing in Kabalagala. It was the rockstar life, with all the skinny white women and cocaine and suicidal thoughts that come with it. Best believe i came very close to suicide, several times, what with all those pills lying around [the ease at which you can get prescription meds in Uganda is unbelievable…she said, setting off the East African opiod crisis.]
That manic nightmare eventually came to an end and i returned to Nairobi to sober up and figure out what the fuck i was going to do next. And for months i did absolutely nothing. It was a struggle to get out of bed. I couldn’t bear to read other people’s writing so i disconnected from every social media site that could expose me to that. I couldn’t deal with the fact that i had lost my mojo somewhere along the way. I talked myself into believing that i could never reclaim it, and this led me to delete most of my writing from the internet.
I would occasionally creep out of the house and try to reconnect with the outside world, and each time i noticed how the world could not have given a fuck about my absence. Everything continued as normal, and it was unbearable. I spiralled into depression and was more or less killing myself while staying alive. I had metaphorically shit myself and was rolling around in my own feces, and the flies I attracted were my only company.
It should not be surprising that in this extremely low point in my life, i decided to return to the publishing industry. Despite knowing everything i did, i still went back, and of course it played out in the exact same manner, if not worse because the pay was less and there was absolutely no job satisfaction. I resigned defeatedly again and left for Western Kenya, because if the fresh air and serene atmosphere wasn’t going to clear my head, at least I’d have food in my stomach.
It was here that i rediscovered journaling. Even despite the fact that i was feeding my high school bullies fodder in my diary, there was still something very traumatic about having your extremely personal space being invaded, and therefore i had completely refused to write my personal thoughts down for 10 years. There was no great epiphany that got me to start journaling btw, in fact it was because i met the weirdest man in my life and since i had no social media i was going to tell myself.
The more i journaled about the mundane the more i realised that i had forgotten who i was. I had disconnected entirely from my inner child, and in doing so had let her down so badly. The first few days of journaling i cried bitterly into the pages every 10 minutes or so, dealing very poorly with the realisation that I and I alone was the reason behind my stagnation. Yes, I may have worked for life sucking parasites who destroyed any sort of happiness there was to gain from writing but there is nothing special about that. There is an unwritten guarantee that there will be others, probably even more arrogant and self destructive than any of the ones I have experienced before. The real enemy I had to face was myself.
I have often put myself down as not being good enough as a writer, and many writers, even the greats that we idolise, struggle with this notion. Despite having a strong support system that constantly encourages me to put my ideas down, I have been my own biggest detractor for the longest time. I drowned out all the positive and wallowed in the negative. Any badly written article I read was somehow a reflection on my own writing [this person was confident enough to hit publish and you can’t lol keep that shame and never write anything] and any piece that was above average was something I could never even hope to string together even in my wildest dreams.
Rediscovering journaling was the push I needed. It was an extremely huge hurdle that I had once thought I’d never be able to overcome, something I allow myself to be very proud of. it was also hugely satisfying to see the swirling mess of thoughts and ideas that filled my head translated onto paper. It made me happy, but it wasn’t enough; there was an itch that I wanted scratched.
In this refreshing interview, bell hooks talks about honest assessment of one’s value. In review of her own work she told herself that she had written a really good book and advised herself to take some time in silence to be thankful for her smart mind and for the gift of those thoughts. ‘I don’t think i would have been able to do that 20 years ago. I would have had some notion that ‘oh, you’re so full of yourself, ‘rather than, ‘i can have an honest assessment of my value.’
If all this was really about getting back into the groove of writing then I would have been satisfied with scribbling my thoughts into a journal. However my desire is much deeper than that. I want to synthesize these thoughts, ideas and emotions into something I can share with the world. The language we use, the words we connect with and relate to and the stories we tell impact how we interact and function in the world. I believe that’s my value, and see no better way to put this belief into practice other than by writing.
I realise that losing myself, making the same mistakes repeatedly and hating the entire process enough to think of giving it up was just life redirecting me back to square one. Back to the starting point of a childhood passion of mine, one that I neglected and allowed the world to bastardize. Now that I can clearly see how much value I have for this outlet, I am more determined to nurture and grow my creativity. I hope you are willing to join me on this journey. I for one know I’m going to enjoy the hell out of it.