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Tale of a Budding Writer: The Blessing and the Curse | Peace Habila

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My teachers in primary school didn’t have a specific name for my ‘condition’. However, they all agreed to the fact that I was a unique learner. To make excuse for the lack of nomenclature, they tagged me a child living with a ‘learning disability’. They also felt this ‘learning disability’ was compounded and amplified by my stubbornness and sheer laziness. For that singular reason, the rod or staff of Moses wasn’t spared or left inactive. It was shared abroad, gloriously; and my body bears the marks of the impact of the rod and staff of Moses.

I didn’t and couldn’t comprehend why I was constantly flogged. In fairness to them, my role as the ‘goalkeeper’ of the class was worrisome. To me, they didn’t just have the right eyes to see what I saw during my lessons.

School was fun, no doubt. Yet, I kept failing: my grades were annoyingly poor, poor as defined by the standard of education in Nigeria. It feels like a paradox because I wasn’t given to play; introversion kept my tongue tied to the roof of my mouth and got my imagination on a spin. While my mind was always busy and active, my body and lips remained as cold as a morsel of frozen leftover eba, so helplessly cold.

What exactly was my challenge? The challenge many would rather call a curse.

In hindsight, here is what I think: my mind was too colorful for most of my teachers to comprehend. My photographic memory worked faster than my willingness to accept undetailed information. I took the pain of painting the picture of all events before attempting to solve the task at hand. That was a challenge in itself; a problem that got me into a lot of trouble.

Here is what I mean. For instance, during math lessons, word problem was my best topic. So, If, for instance, a teacher asked a question like “Mr Ade had five apples, he gave Bimpe three and ate the remaining. How many apples did Mr. Ade eat?”

To solve that question, I would first imagine Mr. Ade as a tall, dark, lanky Yoruba man with six tribal marks generously distributed on his face, three on each side, who lived in a not-so-fine house. I would work out all the details about his room in my head before mentally moving over to Bimpe. I would visualize Bimpe as a tall, fair and beautiful lady who walked into Mr. Ade’s house to beg for apples. My mind would then x-ray the apples. I would picture the green ones and the red ones. I would picture the ones with spots and blemishes.

Those details would be thoroughly analyzed and the drama in Mr. Ade’s house perfectly acted before I would commence the journey of counting the apples Mr. Ade gruesomely smashed in between his teeth.

In most cases, I was rudely interrupted by the glorious expression, ‘submit your books’; my blank book, of course. I was always flogged for being so slow at processing and completing a play in my mind. You may choose to call it learning distraction or something fancier.

What made it so difficult for me was the fact that at that stage, my challenge wasn’t properly understood to even attract any form of help.

That points to the fact that each talent needs skills to enable the custodian of such talent find a space, a voice, and a safe space to impact the world positively. It is possible to be gifted with a vivid, colorful mind. You however need the right skills to help you write out your thoughts in a unique and equally colorful way.

Before I left primary school, a new teacher was employed. We were in primary five when she joined the school. She was revered, but I only saw her tender heart. She picked interest in the girl with the ‘learning disability’. In a twist of fate, she became my first audience, the only audience interested in the many stories in my head. She started by tasking me to narrate how to prepare my local delicacies. My face would come alive during those short sessions with her. I would itemize the details and processes with precision.

Then my grades improved. How I became the only pupil to pass the Federal Common Entrance Examination and qualify for the interview in that school is still a mystery.

To me, getting an audience, a patient one at that, was my biggest blessing. My tales, expressed in multi-layered colors of confusion, began to find cohesion. The questions asked mid-way into my narrations cushioned my determination to arrange details in chronological order.

When I left elementary school, I buried my mind in books. I fell helplessly in love with literature. I started off with plays, but my forte was for details. I switched to poetry. There, I found succor in the warm embrace of words and brevity. I would savor words, simple, or complex until they melted in my soul like candy on a hot Saturday afternoon.

I was billed to turn out an accountant or an economist or someone important in the Social Sciences. Well, that didn’t happen because after signing up for 8 subjects in the Social Sciences, I had one slot left to complete the required 9 subjects. Yours truly jumped at Literature-in-English. It wasn’t an accident or error of event; it was just an avenue to love my mind by romancing the imagination of other creatives. I didn’t recover from that journey into the fiction world. I read a lot of literary texts, the primary goal was to prepare me for WASSCE, SSCE and UMTE. It prepared me for a life I find priceless, to say the least. I remain grateful for the intensity and pressure that accompanied the preparation for the examinations.

My second tour into the literary world was at the university. It left me a victim of addiction: an addiction to the smell of old pages of books and the flavour of words in my mouth. At this level, I was looking beyond the storyline of other writers. It was an opportunity to meet the writer and his or her characters through the pages of scented papers with the help of psychoanalysis. It was beautiful discovering, how human experiences are ultimately the same yet diverse.

I enjoyed consuming works of literature, but would occasionally scribble some poems in my diary. And since my audience was no longer in my space, it became convenient to consume without giving back to the society.

Thankfully, my training in Stylistics gave me the opportunity to learn how to write in a way to reflect my style or uniqueness. I knew from that point that my objective as a writer is to tell a story in the simplest but interesting way possible. Relatability has always been a goal to me thus, making my work less audience selective.

But I didn’t jump into publication with the speed of light. I stalled until that part of my creative life became numb and cold and almost dead.

Years after years, my then cold creative life felt normal until the abnormal became the new normal. It was like a positive energy and a negative energy’s fight for control. Well, this abnormality intensified in 2020; it sprang up forcefully and spread itself upon us. We had no hiding place. We somehow were forced to reconnect without our inner selves, our insecurities, or face the haunting claws of depression. When COVID happened, the world stood still. We were forced to confront our cold sides.

It wasn’t a switch-and-a-button kind of experience. I was practically pushed and willed back to writing by an old friend who, by chance, had read a few lines written by me. We got talking since we both didn’t know how best to save the world from COVID. That talk gave birth to a better idea and that got me writing allegories and essays.

That experience taught me the need to be my audience. That knowledge gave me the guts to start publishing on my timeline on Facebook. My writing gave me the safe space to express the way I see the world; the way I interpret the events in my life as well as the way I express or share the colours on my mind.

My story might not be as fabulous as many amazing and exceptional writers out there, but I am bold to state that it takes a lot of guts and more to attempt the transfer of monologue and rays of light on the screen of our minds to paper, and it takes a lot more to allow another eye to see or another soul to feast on our writes in the early days as writers. The feeling of vulnerability at that stage can be tangibly overwhelming. We question our creativity and then assume the role of critics.

In all sincerity, it comes from the fear that we are not qualified to be awesome or that gifted. We ponder on our supposed inadequacies and soon we are overshadowed by self-doubt capable of sabotaging our efforts. This self-doubt is expressed in the form of withdrawal and lack of consistency.

Like most writers, I went through this dark phase on my journey as a budding writer. I count myself privileged because mine was short-lived. Help came when an older friend, a writer, shared a link with me on a fateful Monday morning.

He encouraged me to participate in the weekly essay competition organized by Cmonionline to help with my consistency. And like most ‘doubting-Thomases’ in the world, I stalled for no excusable reason.

A day came when it was heavy on my shoulder and mind that each talent or skill thrives on the wings of consistency. I knew at that point that writers are just like craftsmen. The more we engage the art, the better we become at it. Our mistakes and flaws do not always defer our uniqueness; they are our opportunities to be better at our craft.

I joined the bandwagon with so much hesitation. Feedback after feedback got my wobbly feet on an elevator of light. The judges were kind to share neutral opinions and observations about my style of writing. It was at that point that I knew it was time to not just write but create a style, an identity for my art. I found out that description and details come easy to me yet, I enjoy brevity. Merging the two and maintaining a unique flow of thought and diction that were both coherent, easy to understand and highly relatable became the challenge. I guess that too was pretty obvious. Insights came when I looked up Brevity.com, as recommended by a judge on Cmononline.com.

Has the commitment to embark on this journey been smooth? No. Is it stressful? Yes! Is it rewarding? Absolutely!

I love to think of this journey in the light of a budding flower. The true beauty of a flower at its budding stage isn’t always obvious. It is covered by layers and layers of protective parts that shield the eyes from meeting the flower in its true glory. When all the conditions for growth are met, these protective layers begin to give way for the emergence of the flower. Sometimes, these protective layers wither and fall off. Sometimes, they remain there as support.

Each phase of my journey as a writer gives me the opportunity to be better, to maximize my true potential, and to fully emerge in all my glory. It is fallacy to claim that it can be achieved in a day. Rome wasn’t built in a day, so also you can’t write your name in gold in history in a day. It takes sweat and blood and a lot of discomfort and excitement. The eyes must see the world beyond the ordinary, the mind must interpret the chaos of life creatively and it must be presented with depth, style and sophistication. That is the known way to write one’s name in gold in history.

This journey is a lifelong commitment to growth and charity. I am not where I want to be. I want to get to the peak. The peak, for me, is not having a lot of books and essays to my name. That would definitely feel good, but that’s far from my target. My goal is to get each soul that reads my work to feel seen and heard as he or she identifies tiny pieces of his/her person neatly crafted in my writes.

Achieving this means more work of daily deferring the odds, limitations and challenges that accompany life. It is a call to a commitment to consistency, capacity development and gratitude for the opportunity to share with others. Like a wise craftsman, my resolve is to sharpen my work tools to the degree of impact I wish to make. This may include intentionally identifying support structures in communities that enable creativity to flourish. It also includes opening up to new ideas of presenting my style and writes to the public.

I am not overly ambitious in a way that is unhealthy and disastrous. I have learnt from my experience that taking a step at a time, be it baby steps or bold and definite steps, validates the existence of opportunities to learn, unlearn and relearn.

Mistakes are part of a writer’s journey: just the same way we journey from our first draft to the final draft. That journey through the stages of writing: pre-writing, drafting, writing, editing and publication tells of the fact that beauty can emerge from ashes and that in every curse there is a blessing and our ‘troubled’ but colorful minds will continue to emit beauty that an average mind can’t help but wonder.

 

About the Writer

Peace Habila, a resident of Jos, Plateau state is passionate about creative writing. She wrote in via peacehaila2017@gmail.com

 

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