You Are Not Alone

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So 2016 began and you have never felt so alone. And right now I don’t just mean in the lacking of a go-to-guy. You’ve started to realize that you spent more than you had planned to and saved a lot less than you should have, you still dread family gatherings because some of the people you grew up around are terribly exhausting, you fell out with old friends and made new ones whose company still left that lonely-in-a-crowded room feeling you were trying to escape. You’re still at the same job you’ve sworn to leave for the past year to whoever will let you rant about it, your love life is typically non-existent, you wish you could drink to wash off the flat taste of your existence but you kinda don’t do that anymore, you’re still mean to yourself and bitter and critical of everything and everyone in your life. Even the new look is a new look on an old face you don’t even like so you only really enjoy it when people point out how “nice” you look because you are “finally growing out your hair”.

You are not alone.

I got hijacked towards the end of 2015. A stupid decision to go back to the office and look for a missing purse started me on that road. The purse was on my office chair. I ignored the urge to take a taxi to town with the friend who had brought me for company and moral support. She lost a bunch of stuff too and got hit on account of my seemingly suspicious silence. Then we got left near Mathare, practically in the middle of nowhere. I was scared out of my mind. Literally. Because I got a panic attack when we finally got help at the Moi airbase. I know there are worse feelings, but helplessness and fear have to be in the top five that exist. And regret. Upside, we came across a handful of wonderful soldiers who told funny stories and played music on their phones to help us relax. One of the best reminders that there are still good people left. They let us stay until the adrenaline dropped and we started to feel tired and cold. Thankfully, we still had our ATM cards. They gave us fare to town and hailed down a matatu which took us to the city.

Days into the new year, I was at the Mater Hospital maternity ward sharing my most secret thoughts with a girlfriend going through painful contractions. We went into the delivery room together and I witnessed the birth of Maya at 2123 hours. I spent the night at the hospital and left the following day at noon. It was the first time I had entertained the thought of having a baby for more than an hour at one go.

Then I met Oyunga Pala at an open forum he was hosting, where we talked around women and women issues, and he paid me a wonderful compliment. My week was made. I grew up reading this man’s columns. He is part of the reason why I decided to write, because he did it with such a wonderful ease. And he held you hostage from start to finish. Also, he wrote on issues affecting men and women from the perspective of men. I was oh so young and I wanted to understand men as much as I could, so Oyunga gave me some closure. I got to write my blog address in his notebook and take pictures. Again, week made.

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Last weekend, I attended a reading where my short story had been accepted at the Amka forum for a public critique. The writers of the submitted pieces remained anonymous and I listened with utter pleasure while Tony Mochama, a ruthless critic when he thinks your work is crap, praised my work for several minutes. Week made. Add to that that I had three of some of my closest girlfriends present to root for me and make it painfully awkward to sit through such lofty praises from the rest of the group.

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A good friend of mine on a Being Mary Jane bender mentioned that she wanted to put up sticky notes in her house to help her get herself together. If there is something I happen to know about not feeling like you have life figured out, it is that it can leave you feeling as if you are a waste of time. That and the sense that you are all alone; which is worse when you have been talking about going back to school for two years and two of your friends are finishing off with their Masters and a third is just starting. Which takes me back to the beginning.

You are not alone.

You will sometimes find yourself spending your time at a job you feel is only good for the paychecks. Or dealing with writer’s block for the third time in the last quarter of a year that has seen your peers put out brilliant work and get published. You will struggle to get out of bed for a while and then stop trying to get to work at all when you realize that your input is not as valued by the top management as it was in your first year at the company you work for. Even the Ted Talks will cease to help. You might stop exercising and still lose weight and feel down-in-the-dumps a lot and oscillate between overeating junk and coffee and not eating at all.

You are not alone.

Things will start to fall into place. Your close friends will start looking out for you. Or family lunches will force you to leave your bed. The house will start to get cold so you will step out for some sun and wind up buying some fruit to have with the pancakes you have been craving. You’ll be okay.

And honey, you are not alone.

Drop the mic & go find Sarah.

I finally got to talk to my girlfriend, Lily, after a long time. She left for Glasgow about a year ago and we haven’t spoken much since then. Until yesterday. We were on phone for about five hours.
In our glorious reunion, our blogs came up and Lily suggested that we write letters to our younger selves and put them up as blog posts. Brilliant idea, I thought. Then I came across this post and realized how much I did not know I needed to have known when I was younger. The fact that the author of this post is twenty seven was of particular significance to me. I’m turning twenty seven on Tuesday.
I still plan on putting something together and forging it into as candid a letter as I can write to my twenty year old self. Meanwhile, allow yourself to be inspired by this oh-so-lovely and oh-so-honest post.

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“What were you like at 20?”

Her text came through this morning in the middle of my writing hours.

I had to pause. Walk away from the computer. Find a space on the floor where, if you sit in just the right spot, the sunlight will flood through the window and cover your knees like a soft, thin blanket.

I honestly haven’t given much thought to who I was at 20 years old. That was seven years ago. I was a junior in college.

I responded to her text with a bunch of scenarios:

When I was 20, I had my first internship with the city’s newspaper. I wore high heels and strut around the campus center like I was really important— an absolute boss.

When I was 20, I was enamored with a boy who would read me Walt Whitman poetry at 2am and then take me for walks…

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Don’t Think, just Y.O.L.O.

Everyday above ground is a great day; remember that.

-Pitbull

I have an open admission about being me and I have been worried about what everyone else would think and say. But I published a story about same sex attraction. Before that, it was a string of (maybe not too) sordid affairs. I have always wanted to tell those stories that we encounter, think about, hear about, but conveniently leave out of the internet because – other than human resource due diligence from a potential employer – there are a still some issues that people do not like to be associated with. Depending on your upbringing, surrounding, religious leanings, etc.

That aside, for a bit at least, I decided to go on a Y.O.L.O. train. I let go a little. I stopped trying to be a good girl for a bit. Although I’m not looking to develop a drinking habit, I did go to the coast of Kenya with girls (girls I don’t know as well as I usually would like to before taking a weekend trip with them) and I made embarrassing dancing videos. I’m not yet trying to earn Katy Perry’s respect by buying bottle service with rent money, but I did come back to no cooking gas and very little money for food and fare to work.

Things are working out quite nicely, without too much drama, and I am experiencing a few more instances of perfect over-flowing happiness than I have in a while. I’m also taking the time to consider why I do what I do and why I refrain from what I don’t do.

I especially enjoy not foreboding joy as much as I did before; because living in the moment teaches you how to stop worrying about the future you have no guarantee of seeing anyway.

Lunch with Samantha

rosemary chicken in thick tomato soup and rice boiled with peas

rosemary chicken in thick tomato soup and rice boiled with peas

Have you met someone who makes you feel absolutely amazing about who you are and what you have? I finally did. Again. If there is anything I have come to learn to stop taking for granted, it is the presence of wonderful people around me over the past couple of years. I took this for granted until I once had an epiphany. I was seated at a fast food joint somewhere in Nairobi with a couple of new friends in the poetry and writing circles when I stopped to listed to the laughter and arguing and debating. I was finally starting to feel perfectly happy for several minutes and hours at a time.

I made a friend out of an acquaintance some weeks ago. We now work in the same office, although for different companies, and have a few mutual friends from work and in the music and poetry and writing circles. When she walked into my little “studio apartment” yesterday, Samantha literally squealed with excitement over what I had done with the space. And she would not stop for several minutes.

I’m one of those people who doesn’t believe that a compliment is genuine until I have real proof that it is. Or until I have been told over and over – without, of course, getting annoyed by the repetitiveness. However, if the compliment comes from a man. I will usually assume that he is just being fresh. Should I hear the same thing from three other men, I will likely believe it to be true. Unless they’re brothers. Or friends. You get my point.

Sam ate the lunch I’d made and asked for seconds and thirds. This morning, she said she’d woken up thinking about the same meal. I packed the large batch that was left in my saucepans and brought it to the office to share with everyone else. The other thing about me is that I love cooking for people. I take time to prepare and cook myself an amazing meal from time to time, but the real joy for me is in cooking a lovely meal for several people – close friends are a personal favourite – and watching people go for more or ask to take some home with them.

Lunch with Samantha got me thinking about the things I love to do and am actually good at. One of those was (and still is) singing. I’m not claiming to sound like Sarah Brightman, but I can do the old hymns a lot of justice. If all goes well, I should be joining an old friend at the Mater Hospital this coming Wednesday for a bit of singing around the wards. I think it’s time to give more time to the things I love to do, because nothing beats that sense of fulfillment and completion that comes with pursuing what speaks to your spirit. Also, I’m craving some of that perfect happiness I have started to experience a little less lately.

Dear #KenyanMen

First of all, I have been dying to put up this rant. And I’m not going to go on about how dishonest, lousy, emotionally unavailable or immature Kenyan men are. Because many Kenyan men are honest-to-God, wonderful, emotionally intelligent, sensitive, mature and hardworking human beings. My issue today is with those who manage to piss me off whenever I have to take a bus or matatu.

Why the heck do you sit with your knees so far apart?! I am not a touch person. Meaning I don#t like touching even the people I like needlessly. So imagine how much less I want to be close to a man – or woman – that I don’t know! And I’ve heard that you need to keep your berries well ventilated, but do you really have to do it at my expense? I have knees too. And thick thighs. Sort of comes with being a woman. Add to that that I’m black and we have a real problem. I’m not asking you to squeeze the life out of yourself (ha), but do try and share the space. A bus/matatu is a public means of transport, after all.

I like big guys. The fit kind. Broad shoulders, muscle, etc. Like aerobics instructors. I just don’t like sitting next to most of them in a vehicle because they still expect to fit snugly into a seat that obviously cannot allow us both to rest against the back of the seat. I’m not asking you to deflate your arms before you sit next to me. I’m only requesting that you don’t fall into the seat, often sitting on a small pinch (literally) of flesh on my thigh and shoving me against the window. If you pick the window, you sometimes leave me sitting on three quarters of my butt cheek – with my shoulder open to generous bumping from anyone using the aisle. So for goodness sake, please lean forward or rest your arms on the headrest in front of you or let half of your butt cheek hang out. I assume that all that muscle you’ve been building can handle the strain.

Stop yelling across from me to your buddy across the aisle. Your breath is okay, but there’s something invasive about having someone lean too close so they can make small talk with someone else THROUGH me. And when I let you sit with your buddy, don’t give me crap about it. I’m being nice, not a spoiled brat. I would mind if it were a woman doing the same, but there’s that weird part where you’re a strange guy in a woman’s personal space so there.

About that personal space thing, though. How about you don’t sit funny so you can nap on the ride home and wind up falling against my shoulder. That is awkward and uncomfortable and awkward some more. How about you sit up straight so that you feel as if you’re about to fall (on to the aisle instead of burdening me with your dead weight) so you’ll wake up? Because I’m all for being nice and considerate, except for when it involves letting a guy I don’t know lean against me while catching a few winks.

In summary, keep out of ma personal space and we’re good.

Have a nice ride home, will you?

Dipping my toes

A friend sent me a link to this post and it left me feeling so hollow with sadness that I had to share it. Not because I simply want to share my misery, but especially because it rang so sincere.

chanyado

It was a Thursday when I found out my ex-husband had a child. I never did like Thursdays. At my desk, in between writing radio scripts, with Bob Marley blaring in the background, I did the math. We were still married when he fathered this child. Still sharing a bed, sharing a surname, sharing dreams. It was only three years later, after the divorce papers were signed that I now found out. Google snitched. Facebook confirmed. I may have never known. Perhaps one day on a Thursday evening, many years from now, in the middle of the supermarket at the tampon aisle, I may have run into a teenage girl with the green eyes of a man whose heartbeat was once my lullaby. These eyes would have haunted me all night, as I tried to figure out how she stole the eyes of a child that was supposed to be…

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A Little Painful Reflection

Everyone thinks that being able to write is a truly marvelous thing. Sometimes it is. Other times, it’s such a struggle to keep the thoughts from spilling out of your nostrils that you have to hum really loudly to outdo the incessant projection of your fantasies into your real world. In case you still think this to be a wonderful experience, do read on.

I have a problem with using my words to express exactly what I’m thinking. Add to that my often delayed response to hurt and shame and you have a bubbling cauldron of trouble.

So now that you have a background, I’ll share a little story. As previously stated, let’s take a hypothetical angle to this. Okay? Good!

An old friend of mine – let us call him Peter – recently pointed out that I reek of independence. He obviously did not mean the good kind. He was not the first person to point that out. In fact, he was the third male friend to have cited this observation and so it sucked big time to hear it said to me a second time in under two weeks; the third strike would occur the day before yesterday. In the spirit of applying what I have learnt from Brene Brown about developing shame resilience, I started thinking about the things that trigger feelings of shame in me. This is where I go out on a limb and share, on the world wide web, what it is that makes me feel vulnerable:

  1. Asking for help. I don’t mind being needed, but I hate to feel needy.
  2. Reminding a close friend/relation that they owe me money. This makes me feel like a petty and exacting person every single time.
  3. Feeling like a third wheel. Sometimes, conversations happen around me that I cannot contribute to because I don’t watch TV, I haven’t been up-to-date with movies, I don’t read certain books, I have been so busy at work that I have lost touch with a couple of friends over the past few months (let us just count all of this year).
  4. Saying “No, thanks” when everyone is in on ordering pizza for lunch again or going out or meeting up or visiting a mutual friend. There are days – sometimes several in a row – when I would prefer to remain at the office alone or walk home alone or sit in my little house alone and just be with Michael Buble or the dim lights that seep into my room when the lights in my house are off.
  5. Feeling as if I need to explain my decisions/choices. I get defensive a lot. Even when it doesn’t show (which is not often). So finding the words to explain why I do not feel like: tagging along on an idea or taking one for the team or doing it with everyone else or not being a party pooper is a hustle. How do I put it frankly without boring you with too many details or coming short of explaining what I mean to say? Wait, why am I explaining my need for alone time to you anyway? I don’t like sitting to complete a half-done to-do list late in the day/night and having myself to blame for getting arm-twisted into something that may have been important but was definitely not urgent.
  6. Coming off as bossy and coming off as indecisive. The former leaves me feeling as if I am stuck in a tunnel and waiting to get run over by a giant truck traveling in my direction at 100 miles per hour. The latter makes me feel as if I’m in a perpetual state of falling down a cold bottomless abyss.
  7. Falling short. Whether it is of expectations at work or at home or among friends, family and strangers. I do not like to let people down where I should have been more capable of handling an issue whether on a professional or personal level. I have been told that I do not like blame and I have confessed to having the guilt conscience of a nun (although the opposite is also true if I should manage to block someone or something out of my mind completely).
  8. Like my rabbit breeding business which failed twice before even kicking off. The blame went round and round in my head until it landed smack where it started – with me. The worst part is not that I lost what was my life savings at the time, it was (and still is) that I lost my business partner’s money too. And it doesn’t help that he says that he signed up for it with the risk of failure in mind.
  9. Getting called out out loud. I hate feeling like a live manual whose every move and habit and likely breakdown have all been mastered. I don’t like most statements about me which start with: “Wait and see how she’ll react to…” or “You’re going to make her…” or “This is where/the part where she (will)…”. I don’t like experiencing the overwhelming and exhausting need to prove myself to people I care about. Trying to prove them wrong, a natural reaction for me, is equally painful and emotionally exhausting.
  10. Feeling dismissed. Have you felt as if you were there for someone more than they were willing to be there for you? Have you been willing to listen and be present, advising gently without fixing, only to never really feel as if you were receiving the same patient willingness to listen to your own hurt/frustrations? That is the one thing I feel I need to learn to get over.

I just realized that I am feeling pretty about myself right now. So I’ll stop typing now and get into bed before I actually break down.

I really hope this helps someone.

P.S. I wrote this last night. I’m feeling pretty good about myself today.