I do not know if I am terribly in a need of some writer courage – or any other kind – and because we sometimes underestimate how powerful a single thank you can be, my tongue feels burdened and has chosen my hands to speak. Therefore, with simmering anxiety in my belly, an utter lack of will in my spirit, and a couple of thoughts that will not fade, I feel the need to peel away and share about the night I walked on fire. My encounter with Taiye Selasi, author of Ghana Must Go.
[Kamasi Washington – Clair de Lune]
There is hardly a time where I will be or think I am completely comfortable in my skin except when I decide to write. Between the lines has always been a safe space where I can be myself without apology and lay my most intimate thoughts down – let them be. In a way, as I birth them and hope the emotion they carry is passed on to a new parent. I can freely butcher, tear, mold and weave the English language that has tied my native tongue in whatever way I feel. It has never been about anything else. Writing is just a cathartic outlet for me to channel the dementors in my mind and try to remain sane – a losing game.
Like kicking a ball into the net or threading a needle; I wish it were that simple, but it turns out otherwise. My neurotic desire for perfection is a quality I take very seriously – perhaps too much – and seems to have spelt doom for me as I spell-check my paragraphs. Overthinking each line and critically examining all the metaphors meant my writing had to match up to some idealistic unattainable standard I had conjured. It had to feel like some tired, forced high art rather than sincere communication. Failure to achieve this just made writing even more difficult- half the time I end up disillusioned, dissatisfied and depressed. Focusing too much on style implied unknowingly sacrificing the heart of any creative art, which is meaning or communication, although I failed to realize this. I think it’s a problem most creatives face in between shaking their influences and finding their own rhythm.
Am I actually good at this or am I trying too hard to be something I am not? “Crippling self-doubt versus absolute narcissism,” as they say.
For whatever reasons I, together with most of the world, spend outrageous amounts of time Forrest-Gumping through Twitter and its raffle of opinions too broad to be boring and too serious to be ignored. Its variable reward constantly reinforces the addiction, which we will all deny. On some random day, it decided to remind me of why I might be addicted (I really am not). A tweet from the Ghana Must Go writer announcing how stoked she was to be speaking in Accra soon.
At that time, aside her interviews and amazing TED talk I did not really know Taiye Selasi the writer. Most of her short stories were lounging in the paid section of the internet along with her debut novel, Ghana Must Go. For a number of reasons I did not have access to them. Yet, my interest had always been piqued by her art and I wondered if this was the time I could experience her magic first hand. Cue the goose bumps and anxiety.
However, after a series of unreplied tweets inquiring about the event, I wondered how I was actually going to participate. My social anxiety defense mechanisms kicked in after some days and I buried all hope of hearing her speak or possibly interacting with her in a coffin at the bottom of my subconscious. For my kind, meeting someone is always a chore so avoiding the encounter entirely is embraced with the intensity of a final goodbye.
Things like that don’t just go away. I had already pledged that year to put myself out there and work for the things I want. I could not stop going back to the tweet, imagining the experience and itching at the possibility of improving my writing or getting some feedback from an actual writer who probably had all the angst I am experiencing at this stage. I wasn’t spellbound in fanaticism, but in desperate need of direction and the couldn’t help but wonder if I would find it in her words and finally get to a copy of Ghana Must Go.
The ball and thread again.
It was the night before and I was still ambivalent. I went to my favorite personal superhero for advice and she managed to sternly talk me into going. Gathering all the courage in the world my back could carry, I google mapped myself to meet Taiye Selasi.
I arrived at the venue at about a quarter an hour before it was scheduled to begin. It was at one of these new mega structures that are springing up in Accra and casting an intimidating shadow over the soul of the city. I could already feel disappointment in the frigid air as I walked into the building; this was clearly not a space I was welcome to or allowed to be in. I found the room the event was to occur in after rattling my clearest English and reinforcing my swagger with unshakable confidence. I had almost pulled off a magnificent coup and could already picture myself bragging about it.
Again, the ball and the thread. The kind lady flipping through sheets at the door informed me that my name was not on the guest list that was strictly by invitation.
I had come so close that I could hear the expectant chatter of the patient audience settling down to enjoy themselves anytime the huge doors I was not allowed into swung open. I began to feel like a fool for actually thinking I would succeed. I had come too far to give up although my success was not within my sphere of control. I managed to stutter some words out of my mouth and was asked to wait.
Shivering in the cold lobby, a tall dark woman in a yellow jumpsuit crept up from behind me; her footsteps like ghosts. Her eyes dodged any prolonged looks as the lady with the sheets made some remarks whilst referring to me with her eyes.
“Please let him in.”
Despite my inability to recognize the writer I had come to hear speak, I had not felt happier in my life. I mumbled something that must have been some semblance of a thank you, evident from the brightness of my eyes and smile, and the sheer relief I radiated.
|sigh, please sigh|
Sometimes you hear exactly what you need to.
What happened in the room was nothing like the experience I was brooding over. I did not get Ghana Must Go [I got her daddy’s poetry though]. I did not get to interact with her. I did not get to gain her approval I presumed I needed. I did however get exactly what I need but never realized: purpose.
If there ever was a time I was absolutely certain I had to write, it was then. I am probably interpreting what went down wrongly, but they spoke on family, writing, forgiveness and finding each other, and becoming father and daughter and friends. The combined wisdom of her and her father led me to understand that writing is only as important as the meaning it communicates and as powerful as the honesty behind it, all impossible without skill.
I left that cold hotel too hot for the even colder night, with every nerve ending in me completely electrified. I still cannot decide if I was lucky or earned it, but considering how much I need vim, I will give my victory to courage.
As I continue to strive for perfection and communicate honestly in equal measure, I try to keep in mind that night I found myself in a room with Taiye Selasi and her writer-surgeon father Lade Worsunu. They spoke the words I needed to hear to a very small audience of friends and family, and I, a shameless gate crasher who had no business being there, probably benefited most. The whole thing appears serendipitous but it was all down to me siphoning confidence into my being, going for what I want and actually believing I could get it.
Writing is hard and even more difficult and unattainable without courage, confidence, and self-believe not just in your skill or story but in the power of your voice. There is no training manual or formula. The more I come short, the more I realize it is all about experience and the ability to brave that experience. You need confidence for that, like most successes in life. Being your biggest Stan can go a long way.
Thank you Tayie Selasi for a wonderful experience. I finally got to read experience Ghana Must Go and as you are probably tired of hearing, it blew me out of this galaxy. Now, as I float through an inter-dimensional space back to earth, I realize I have to make it all worth it.
Written by Hakeem Adam.
Circumspecte offers insights and perspectives on business, development, lifestyle, culture, careers and human interest issues related to Africa and Africans.