The Writing Journey – 2015, 2016, 2017 Highlights

I have a lot to be grateful for. Usually, when I start a post or conversation like this it is as an attempt at channeling some frustration in my personal life. So what I really want to say, aside from how glad I am that this year has gone better than I had though it would, is that I am learning (ever so slowly) how to focus on what is actually working for me.

When I was younger, I dreamed big literary dreams. I imagined myself telling stories of civil war from an insider’s angle. I actually imagined myself traveling to different parts of the world to expose the happenings therein amid gunfire, mass displacements of entire communities and widespread fear. Then I grew up and simply wrote stories which I tucked away in notebooks, then later on Facebook, and finally on my blog.

Today, I would like to celebrate how far my dreamy tales have come – from the fourteen year old dreamer who signed off her make belief newspaper articles as Christiane Amanpour to the just concluded Nairobi leg of the Jalada Festival.

I will let the screen shots speak for themselves

pictory 1

pictory 2

pictory 3

Friendly Fire

Road Trip

StoryMoja 2015

FREE FALL

“Hello Claire.”

“David?”

“You’ve been avoiding me.”

“Yes. No use in lying. I’m predictable”

“Yet I couldn’t predict this.”

Neither did. I no longer know what to do with myself around you and we have been friends for fifteen years. You made me comic strips and let me copy your Math homework. I read your English compositions, wide-eyed with wonder because your stories were something out of this world; fluidly worded and intriguing. You were the lanky, awkward boy who cared nothing for my unkempt hair and flat chest.

“Could I get a blank pass?”

“That’s what you want, Claire? To ignore what happened and not bring it up again?”

Maybe if I lower my voice a little it will not come off as dismissive.

“Nothing really happened, David…”

“That’s not at all as I remember it…”

“Stop. Please.”

There’s no denying that things are still awkward, but I need to stop replaying the feel of my dress getting slipped off my body and my hands tugging at your belt before your cell phone rang. 

“The way I see it, there’s nothing to say that we can’t figure out without words. I got tipsy…”

“We.”

“What?”

We got tipsy.”

We got tipsy, a big mistake was almost made, your phone rang. The universe spared us a lot of trouble.”

“Fine. This isn’t it, though. You know that, right?”

“The rule is that a blank pass means we don’t bring it up again. We’ll live through the weirdness and life will go on.”

“That simple?”

“Yes, David. That simple.”

“I disagree. I won’t be able to help you zip up or down without taking you back to Saturday night. You will stop taking wine around me for a while and hide your favourite black dress in a box. You will not be able to stand too close to me, so you will stop offering to help with my tie. The jokes about my belt buckles will also stop.

“Is that all?”

“No. Then there’s Laura. You will not want to be in the same room with her, even when it’s while I’m on phone with her. I will try to make you feel better, in vain. I’ll call you in a few weeks, after you’ve started picking my calls again, and we’ll have a drink on your balcony. Only because I will show up at your door when I’m sure that you’re in. You’ll change out of your little shorts as soon as I step into your living room, I won’t be allowed to help in the kitchen, and you will be annoyed when I try to make eye contact. Then I will try to look at you, to really look at you, because I will also be masking that lingering question: What if? Until then, I left you at Brew Bistro at 10.30 p.m. just before Victor arrived. Now I’m done.”

I want to stop you from leaving, but I cannot find my words today.

P.S. This last piece, Free Fall, got me selected for the Nairobi Jalada master classes which took place a week ago.

 

The Mrs.

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Recently, someone spotted me doing the dishes at a  hangout with people who fall in that “more than business associates but less than close friends” category and she blurted out:

“You’re typical wife material.”

I’ve always detested that statement. Long before Chimamanda Ngozi came into our lives and reminded us that marriage, though lovely and good, is not something that women (or men) should aspire to.

Everyday, I am learning that being different in this regard is frowned upon. Try mentioning publicly that you do not want children even though you like them (worse still if you don’t) or that you do not have any plans or intentions of ever getting married. You will literally start to feel the temperature in the room rise or fall.

Back to the story…

I walked away from this well-meaning human being with a tight smile creasing my face, drying my hands on my jeans because I was fuming. It was so bad I wrote down a rant on my commute home and (sort of) finished it while dinner simmered on the cooker.

“Settling down sounds a lot to me like bringing a speeding car to grinding halt. The phrase makes me think of a pacifier, sticky with saliva, which you put into the mouth of a fussy baby to make it quiet down so you can attend to other important things.
So when someone tells me that I’m typical wife material because I enjoy cooking and have been socialized to accept certain gender roles (especially those of women as home makers), when you assume I’d make a good wife because I clean to clear my head and because my finances have been in order all my adult life, or because I, in spite of my city upbringing, do not drink (even wine), know how to talk to children and do not shy away from dirty diapers and serving friends’ relatives at family functions I have been invited to as a guest, when you casually drop that seemingly wonderful statement, understand why I get squeamish.

Essentially, in my own eyes, I become the woman a man settles for after he is tired or bored from dating and sleeping around with the fun girls who smoke and drink Tusker or Guiness. I am the brakes forcing a man out of his youthful recklessness. I am the new box of Kericho Gold tea or the white bitter Mara Moja tablets in the palm of his hand which he will take to relieve himself of a bad hangover. I am the chewy teat-shaped piece of rubber in the mouth of a babe who needs to stop fussing about “those other women” – the kind he feels he cannot take back home to his mother – so his parents will approve and attend his wedding genuinely overjoyed and easily expect to be visited on weekends and have their grandchildren raised in a Christian home. This wife, in my mind, is simply someone to bear a man’s name and bring forth other carriers of his name so his lineage will not be cut off.”

The summary of the rest of this rant is coming to as I type this as follows:

My Christian upbringing causes me to be look upon marriage with a hallowed awe. Even though I had considered it momentarily because of my own issues – including loneliness and convenience and that creeping influence of a “why not?” mentality when surrounded by “people who are doing it”, moving in with a romantic partner felt like, and still feels like, a misguided attempt at something good. Like good intentions carried out in an improper manner, so to speak. This, I must point out, is my opinion based on my beliefs. Yet I am almost thirty and still enjoying the warming glow of the sanctity of marriage from afar. I was raised by and around strong women who worked for what they had without the expectation of support from a man even when it was present. Four of the most influential presences in my life are single or divorced or in their second marriages with very open-minded partners. I dated one man, a wonderful partner who respected me and treated me like a friend and an equal more than anything else. So in my mind, single motherhood is more normal that marriage.

The funny part is that I picture myself getting married when I am older and wiser and more settled, myself. Since nature will not allow me the luxury of having children then, I would rather plan for her/them now so that my new role as a wife and partner will not be too muddled.

Happy Sad Memories

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I’m nursing another sore throat. As far as I can recall, I used to get two or three of these every year and now they are like phone calls from your Grandma about when next you’ll visit or whether you now have a boyfriend.

The main reason why I don’t like being sick, over and above the discomfort of a fever or stubborn pain, is the helplessness that comes with it. I have never suffered from a condition so debilitating that I had to be cared for too long – except that one bout of pneumonia almost 10 years ago, and it was nice to have my mother bring me soup and feel my forehead and kiss my cheek, but I have helped to take care of very sick people. And one of those memories came flooding back to me while I stood by my window at about 2 a.m. last night, wondering what it really felt like to be utterly helpless while also grateful that mine was just some discomfort that I felt sure would disappear with a lot more hot water sipped and gurgled at intervals.

When Jane first collapsed from some chest pain on a weekday, she was carried off to the sick bay and cared for there until she was well enough to sit up on her own and eat or get fed. In my high school in my time, there was nothing particularly extraordinary about students suffering severe asthma attacks or fainting from chest pain. Limuru bore the sort of cold you read about in books. Cutting or biting would best describe how it felt on your skin. On foggy days, visibility could blur from as little as four or five feet away, so that shadowy figures emerged when you walked across the school field on a particularly chilly morning. Just thinking about it makes me sad. I have never really liked cold weather. It is one of the reasons why I am glad that we don’t have winter in Kenya. The cold and rainy June to July stretches do it for me.

Days after her first incident, Jane got weaker and her fainting spells increased in number. As the head of a religious society she was a member of, I checked in on her when I could. The whistling sounds from her mouth or nose – I could not tell which at the time – left me feeling wary. I did not understand what it was like to struggle to breathe, such a seemingly natural and effortless action, but I felt sorry for her. Very sorry. The exact scene that played in my mind was the day we, the older members of aforementioned society, had to help Jane take a bath because we felt it would do her some good. I spoke with her, assuring her loudly for the benefit of those in the shower with us, that this was not a big deal and that we had helped care for older folk the same way when we closed for the holidays. It was a lie. I kept my eyes averted from hers, so I start with her feet. Out of nowhere, Jane reach for my hands and grabbed hold of them and started to whimper. I have never forgotten the look of absolute defeat on her face when I asked everyone to leave us while her hands remained clasped around my wrists.

I’m in a strange mood today. Somewhere between an eternal gratitude for good health and well-being and little white lies we can tell to make a bad situation a little better; somewhere between this dense degree of gratitude and this sad little place where I know I cannot explain away human suffering. Because even with the assurance of a better day to come, a Heaven for the righteous and long-suffering, it still hurts to hurt.

Jane did start to improve that weekend. And something between us shifted, drawing us closer and strengthening us both for the days ahead – for when I would help a younger little girl take her last bath before she died hours after I had told her that she would be okay. In my mind, I knew that she did not have much longer left. So we sat in the sun and talked a little and said nothing for a while and I left for my place while she died in a cold and empty ward all alone.

This is largely why I gave up any plans to practice clinical nutrition. Because like every person I know who can be described as strong, I have a soft and heaviness within me. It isn’t all bad, though, this little crevice of my existence from whence so many of my personal issues stem. Why not? It’s the same place where I draw all my empathy and atypical and selective capacity for patience and warmth.

New Year Old Things

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One of my favourite things about almost turning thirty is how certain I feel around/about my life. That’s not to say that nothing freaks me out anymore, or that I am no longer fearful. But a lot has changed. I have developed a weekday routine – around work and the occasional coffee or dinner date after 5 p.m., I prefer to turn in at 2230 hours and wake up no later than 9 a.m. – even on my off days, I have mastered my cycle and what that means for my mood, food preferences, need for company or “alone time”. I’m not there yet, but I have figured out a lot about what I can and will tolerate, what I like, what I love and what I want.

It’s a beautiful thing to be feeling this settled, because my early and mid 20s were a nightmare in this regard. I felt uncertain and insecure about anything and everything and though the anxieties and insecurities will crop up every now and then, I am now able to go:

“Shut up! You’re not helping.”

“Regret is useless. You can’t change what has happened so let us see what we can do going forward.”

“It’s okay not to be okay all the time.”

I am happy to be on track with my miscellaneous expenditure – I have finally loosened the spending noose and I cannot stress how liberating it is – and I am still saving a good fifth of my salary. I’ve made plans to travel later in the year – maybe twice instead of the usual one trip – since this is a big part of what I intend to do for as long as I have life. So far, I have been to Munich, Darmstadt and Vienna (2014), Diani (2015), Arusha (2016). I see Europe getting a few more visits in the future, but I would also like to go to Zanzibar, Dar es Salaam and other parts of Kenya – especially the coast which I can never get enough of and the Rift Valley because of all the camping, hiking and lake viewing potential therein. I’m making time for family and friends – more for the latter because the former I can  deal with best in measured dozes.

Other than practicing more gratitude, I plan on getting a grip on my temper – surprise, surprise – and growing more patience and giving meditation a try for both the anger and impatience issues. I also want to attempt surviving the year without getting excusively and severely attached to an emotional/physical non-platonic male partner(ish). A good friend calls these non-arrangements: situationships.

Mismatched

Until about three months ago, I did not feel any intense need to behave like a girl. I took pride in dressing for comfort and having a hold on my spending habits and caring little for the idea of marriage.

Then I started to work with and for women. And the rainy season began.

This morning, while walking to the office from the bus stop, I was thinking about how quickly things have changed. I now talk about babies and have two pairs of heels at the office. I resisted the temptation to join a merry-go-round with the colleagues, but I’m the one who made a call to the United Women Sacco office and scheduled a Friday afternoon talk about fixed deposit accounts and emergency loans. I can’t stop of thinking of dyeing my now short hair – which I must admit I cut short so it would be neat for work. And I care immensely about being taken seriously at work.

The worst change is the growing need to be understood. In typical artist fashion, I have descended in the deep dark abyss with a sign that reads: No One Understands. I have pretty amazing friends. They are emotionally intelligent and tactful and most of them are not out to prove points or win arguments. That’s what I call real social support, real social capital.

But…

It’s now raining and between beating traffic, dealing with the blithering cold, planning for the holidays and simply dealing with life, I am feeling quite alone. Confusingly, I am also experiencing the need to be alone a lot. I’ve grown more impatient and irritable and my greatest comfort is now in loud music, exercising to the point of exhaustion and sound sleep. On occasion, I wish I had a hookup for every other dull weekend, but I still don’t want anything permanent. Not yet. And that mushy Chris Brown song, Little More, has been blasting through my headphones at the office all morning. I’m beginning to wonder whether the evolutionary programming finally caught up with me.

I kid.

I had hoped that having my BMI drop to 19.9 with a body fat percentage of 21.1 would leave me feeling inspired to effect more life changes. Outside of my physical health. What the hell is this? Wait. I might know what this is about. I finally have control over my work situation and my health, but there’s a gap on the personal angle: the friend zoned almost fling from 2015, the fading long distance romance of 8 years and the 6 month long crush which flared up after 4 quiet(ish) months.

 

Same old. I’ll go away now.

Broken 

A good friend shared this post with me. I can relate to it to some extent. I am so glad we are finally having the conversation about loneliness, social anxiety and depression.

Mind Conversations

When I was growing up I knew I was going to be successful. I loved school and my grades were in line with my dreams.I imagined having a family, a beautiful house, a nice car, gorgeous kids and taking family vacations, everything looked so real.I just couldn’t wait to grow up.

Last year, as the year was coming to an end, I almost lost my job and things didn’t get better after that, so I decided to quit my job and figure my life out. Everything wasn’t going according to plan. I finished school, got good grades in campus, got a job then another then another and now I was tired of looking. So I decided to start my business. It seemed like a great idea. Now all my childhood fantasies were on the way to becoming a reality. I had a few friends to back me up on the…

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Treat Her Like a Lady: Part II

The mind of a woman has the capacity to capture exact words and phrases when she is in a highly emotional state. You’ll pick details about a day or night such as the weather and sounds around you, who was wearing what, and some random crap like that bright red Toyota or a matatu tout calling out for passengers or a low flying airplane. If you add to this mix the fact that you’re also artsy, you have the most varied color palette from which you can paint experiences. The possibilities are truly endless. It’s an intensely beautiful gift, but also a heavy burden; depending on what the canvas displays. Negative feedback is magnified and hurts deeply for longer when you possess the ability to replay the tape of the circumstances surrounding a difficult conversation with fine detail. The high of a romantic encounter can leave you craving another “hit” especially because of how wonderful the script of linguistic prowess and iron clad comebacks appears in your head – in high definition video. This too is a good and bad thing; you go through intense feelings love/like/lust and this often causes you to develop an addiction for the romantic phase of relationships. When the fizzle dies down, you’re out – running around all rife for shenanigans and also “jonesing” for another encounter.

I think you get the picture.

My last post was a sort of rant about the downside of being one of the girls that guys refer to as one of their own boys. I promised to celebrate, anonymously, the men who have made being one of the boys worth my while. I admire courage. And for me,,nothing spells courage like vulnerability.

These are parts of some of my most cherished conversations I have had with men with whom I have been, and am, friends. Naturally, some of these statements are paraphrased, but a number are written as they were said (and/or as they are remembered ):

  • I’m afraid of how comfortable I am with myself around you (After sharing a deeply personal story)
  • I still have your key. In case you forgot. And so you know that you can call me if you’re ever stuck outside your house at 1 a.m. (Following a few months of falling out of touch)
  • I want you in my life (Quite out of the blue)
  • If I took you home to my mother, considering the girls I’ve taken before you, she would puncture the holes in my condoms herself (In a drunken state)
  • You’re my buddy for life (Towards the end of our final semester in campus)
  • I’m here if you ever need me, if you need to talk (After I refused to say what was bugging me)
  • Walking you to the bus stop is not always about you; I feel good about it too (Because I thought I was being an inconvenience, but he didn’t know)
  • You’re the only person I’ve given my spare key. You’re the only one I trust with my house (A telephone conversation following a bad fallout)
  • You’re part of a dying breed of women (At a party in the presence of mutual friends)
  • Whenever you take off your glasses, you turn on your pretty and it’s distracting
  • You have an amazing body, but the sexiest thing about you is your mind
  • When I make my money, I’ll remember you (After we had been talking business)
  • I was rewatching Casino Royale and the conversation he (*) has with the bond girl made me of think of you. I called because I realized the script sounded like your writing and you would appreciate the tact/wordplay… (Drunk dial following a few months of silent treatment)
  • Most women your age don’t think like you
  • You are pretty special
  • Relax. No one has it all figured out in their twenties (During a quarter-life crisis breakdown)
  • Stop shutting people out. Don’t be alone when you’re not okay (Same as above)
  • You’re it. You make it (a relationship) look so easy
  • You’re good with people. I don’t have that (Childhood friend)
  • I feel like I can really talk to you
  • Your mind is a beautiful thing (High school friend)
  • I prefer you with your natural hair (After I complained about a headache from getting new braids)
  • I’d be lying if I said I wished you well (When I said I was applying for school in Europe – a few months ago)
  • I don’t know what to say, because I didn’t want you to go. I don’t want you to go (When the uni application fell through because of a few last minute hitches – about three weeks ago)
  • Congratulations! You got in and that is a big deal (Because I got acceptance letter from said uni – almost as soon as I had picked his call after sending a text about the application fall through)

There you have it. I’ll go nurse a vulnerability hangover for while and prepare for a long-awaited sleepover.

Have a wonderful weekend, good people.