Tuesday, April 5, 2016

What I Learnt From Blogging About Myself

I started a blog about my life (some version of it, really), kept it up for six years and then closed it unceremoniously. The last part, I was told, was an anti-climax so I re-opened the blog. Before we dive all the way back into oversharing my life, here are a few things that occurred to me about writing a personal blog.

1. You can get trapped in performing your own art
My writing was meant to stretch the range of my craft. Yet, it would go into the world and represent itself as a window into my soul, sexuality, personal life or state of mind. Of course, my writing came from inside of me. So it was inherently related to me. Was it strictly a cry for help, an invitation to play naughty or a declaration of battle? Hardly. Yet, when it was interpreted as such, I felt compelled to respond as if it, in the first place, had been. I become a radical advocate for the perspectives I blogged from. When readers reached out, over my often bleak poetry, I took their sympathy. When some people extrapolated from the naughtier writing, I got carried away pushing my boundaries.  I am not entirely sure how to feel about all that but please be kind.  If, in life I imitated my art with you, destroy all evidence thereof. Please. It is the noble thing to do.

2. It improved my writing
Especially in the years when hardly a soul read it, the blog was good for my writing. They say writing is a muscle and it must be exercised. I have never been the kind to keep a journal. I talk to myself, instead. So, blogging was how I exercised that muscle. It improved my writing and perhaps because it did, I started getting some attention. That’s when things got tricky as above and below.

3. You create a first impression that is hard to get past
Piece by piece I collaged a seemingly full portrait of myself. It proved to be a trap. Often, when I meet people for the first time, the novelty is mine alone. To them, I’m a known character or more accurately, one piece of the character. What piece I am, depends on what post(s), they have read.  Jokes don’t land with people who have already decided they loath my feminist ideas. Trying to pass myself off as a fully complex human being with people who come to the blog for those sex posts is like trying to store oxygen by closing my fist. But perhaps the most disturbing consequence is being seen as fair game for harassment online. The trolls. Those trolls. May their groins itch forever and may their hands be too short to scratch them.
4. It may kill your patience for more rigorous writing
As an occupational writer, I used to be able to graciously take two, three, even five rounds of edits and copy reads. Having to research and report before writing was the minimum I could do. Then I started blogging -- typing out 2500 words in a single sitting and publishing it without a second glance. Now, when I have to write for an editor, their comments on my work hurt me.  In an almost physical way. Even just the anticipation of them, makes my original drafts stiff. Oh, and researching before you write… Isn’t that just tedious?

5. It is a real-time invention of your own history
On the occasions when people asked me why I blogged, I would say, “because I exist.” And, I maintain that is a fine reason to. Being as self-aggrandising as the kind of person who writes about herself for six years, I tend to remember all my life experiences as having been truly remarkable. I don’t remember chatting. No, I pertook of conversations that spun minds around. I won grand arguments or brought down the bar roof, trying. My one-off meetings belong in great literature, even if only for their off-colouredness. The interpersonal dramas that I have been party to, will definitely result in interesting scenes at my funeral.
The extent to which my memories of self are accurate, is irrelevant. I wrote them down. My life experiences as I want them remembered; as I want to remember them. That makes them real or at least the most real account of my life out there. A written down account. All other accounts are merely hearsay.  Now I know how all those dodgy people in history tricked us into erecting statues of them all over the place. And I have taken some of that for myself. It should feel corrupt. It doesn’t. It feels very good indeed. I don’t know if you can reinvent yourself but you certainly can invent your history. I recommend it.

Normal broadcasting of intimate details will begin shortly…

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Emily Naluyimba

My girlfriends remember little boys they were 'shy for' in P.4 or shared packed snacks with in P.3. I remember her: Emily Naluyimba. I wasn’t shy for her. I just liked sitting with her, back when watching laundry dry, was an entirely legitimate use of one’s time. What else did one do with a Saturday morning in primary boarding school? Perched on the sills of shutterless school windows, Emily and I, watched other kids gleefully pair up to wring bedsheets; holding the rolled cloth as if it were rope in tug of war. I remember her going on about things I considered nonsense: how SST was going to be much harder in P.5, Jackie’s mother who lived in America, Faisal who gave girls bad touches because he was always in heat. It was nonsense but she was welcome to go on about it for entire mornings. The memory of her voice still makes me think of sunny mornings. 

Hailey and her 'Emily Naluyimba'
I loved Emily. That would be why I sent negative energy, before that was even a term, to the people in her life who were not perfect. I sent hate towards her stepmother who mistreated her (as all stepmothers seemed to do in those days). I sent a lesser dislike towards her little brother for existing and therefore making her responsible for him. When he lost his books, she was responsible for finding them, or crying about it when they could not be found. 

It’s my first of those ‘cry about it’ memories that I hold dearest. Initially, I didn’t even know she had a brother. Then one day, I run into her shaking up a little boy who looked both scared and defiant. She was tired of looking for his books, she said. She was just going to let the teacher beat him up for it this time. He had no defence of himself to offer. They stared at each other for a few seconds.  Then she burst out crying. I was completely stunned. Up until that point, I had not realized that you could deal with your problems by crying over them. Really. The option just had never occurred to me. 

How would I have come to such a revelation anyway? Peer culture was that when teachers or parents beat you, the right way to react was, not to. You held your muscles tight, braved the beating and walked away stoic. It’s what we did. It was pretty clear that those who cried did so only to manipulate the adults into administering a lesser beating. Worth a try, I suppose, but I never saw it work. 

In the house where I grew up, nobody cried. Maybe they didn’t have reason to. I don’t know. I just never saw anybody cry. 

Once, at a funeral in the neighbourhood, I saw a mother cry over her lost baby. But that is a different kind of crying. All I remember taking away from it was the ritualistic dimension. After the funeral, I went home, took my dolls to the back of the house and lined them up for burial. I duly dramatically wept over each before burying it. I was throwing myself about, slapping my thighs, heaving loudly in preparation for the last doll burial, when I heard my mother’s footsteps approach. My instinct was to immediately cut the act and break into song.

So, no. Crying hadn’t occurred to me as a real thing until I saw Emily cry. It was a real gift. After seeing her cry, I started to genuinely cry over my problems too. It is a gift that I have drawn on, countless times since. Through those incomprehensible years of childhood depression, as regularly as I needed to, I found a quiet corner of the school and wept my heart out. Every month when PMS storms in, I take care of it by allowing myself a healthy bawling in the bathroom. On that night when I couldn’t be in the audience to watch my child perform at the National Theatre, I waited for my roommate to fall asleep, buried my face in the pillow and let it go for a good hour. It is how I deal with life’s impossibilities. I cry like Emily would.

Emily was also the first to teach me about heartbreak. It’s funny that they call it heartbreak. The term promises you a particular dramatic moment of righteous pain. Heartbreak is in fact a passive being left behind. It is learning that you are no longer on the same page with someone because your paths quietly diverged at an irretrievable point in the past. It is being made aware of that divergence in a manner too passive for you to push back or reform for. It is hoping, hiding from the truth for so long, that when you eventually accept it, crying about it isn’t appropriate. Heartbreak is an unmarked grave. 

I didn’t think she was gone when she didn’t report to boarding school one term. I thought her parents were just being late. That they would bring her in, the weekend after. They didn’t. Still, I didn’t grasp that this meant I would never see her again. P.6 started and ended. Still, I hoped. P.7 started and ended. It was some time in secondary school that I finally realized that I would never see Emily Naluyimba again. That I needed to find another best friend. It would be university before I would find another truly best friend.