Creatives, creativity and Salmonella

Creativity can be somewhat bipolar, don’t you think? On one hand, it can be beautiful, expressive and free-spirited and on the other, difficult, mind numbing and depressive. I’m using the term creativity here to refer to the state of being creative and the state of being A creative. In addition to that, with reference to the negative aspects associated with being creative, I find myself getting rather interested in finding out why what makes us so great, what makes us tick, also seems to have the potential of destroying us or turning us into the worst versions of ourselves.

In my ongoing journey as a creative, I have been on that dark side. You know it. The one accompanied by loud voices in your head telling you that you are terrible at whatever it is you believe to be your life’s work, your best work is behind you, no one will pay for your art, just STOP! The chicken from your lunch will probably give you Salmonella… That voice gets pretty busy.

I’m not here to give any answers. Don’t you just hate it when people say that after introducing some deep topic? I digress. I’d like to share a TED Talk by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, which has greatly inspired me during one of many dark moments.

What she said about creativity was very timely and helpful to me in my struggle with creativity. I believe it’s applicable to pretty much anyone creating anything. I believe that all my creativity comes from God, the Creator, and listening to Elizabeth (given the number of times I’ve watched this, I think we’re on a first name basis) say all these interesting things about creativity helped me somewhat snap out of that downward spiral of creative depression and self-loathing if I may call it that. I hope that you find this as inspiring as I did. Do your job. Keep showing up. Keep creating.

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They’re calling me ‘author’

It was a brief, polite email. One sentence long. “Kindly let me know when you will come over to our offices to sign your contract for the above book as you pick your author copies.” ‘Author copies’. I smiled when I read that. They’re calling me an author now. And a contract, how adult!

I never anticipated any of this when I walked in late for a writing workshop that was part of the Storymoja Festival in 2013. Storymoja was holding some of their September festival events that had been interrupted by the tragic events of Westgate over several weekends in November. I had signed up for this writing workshop thinking it would be a one-time here-are-several-tips-to-make-your-writing-better sort of thing. It wasn’t. We were learning how to write fiction for an adolescent audience. Everyone was seated in front of a laptop or tablet or iPad looking oh so serious and writerly, quite unlike me, scribbling in my palm-sized notebook with a pencil.

The workshop carried on for two more weekends. We learned about plotting, character development, dialogue, descriptions… the works. The end goal was that we would all produce creative fiction that would impart life skills to an adolescent audience. Such lofty goals, I thought. I couldn’t possibly do that. I would attend the workshops and all but I probably wouldn’t end up with a written book. At least not now. I have a job, internships and a Master’s degree to think about. Also, procrastination, among other creative problems. It couldn’t be done by me.

December 2013. First draft done. 4338 words. I receive great feedback and promise to refine my work.

January 2014. Half of second draft done. The deadline for our final drafts is almost up, they say. Pretty sure I will not meet it. Could I defer my work to the next publishing year? I’m not even sure I’m on the right track. You’re on the right track, keep going, they say.

March 2014. My second draft hasn’t budged. They’re extending the final drafts deadline to sometime in April. I think I can make that. I’m about to finish my second internship. I might have some time to work on it. I could actually do this!

May 2014. A few additions and revisions to the second draft that’s about half-way done. The editor is hoping I can make the 2014 publishing year (wow, I’m beginning to sound like a real author). I may have given up on that but I won’t tell her this.

26.5. 2014. The editor is getting concerned. My manuscript is due for KICD (Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development) submission (so it can be used in schools) on July 17 and it needs to be reviewed, copy edited and illustrated. Do I still expect to send it in? She asks. Sigh. Why did I commit to this? I don’t say this. You will have it by tomorrow. I say this.

29.5.2014. 1.21 a.m. I email my second draft.

1.56 a.m. Thank you, she replies. Editors don’t sleep, do they?

9.6.2014. My final draft is ready after incorporating the editors’ recommendations on my manuscript.

24.10.2014. They’re asking for a dedication and author bio. Whoa! This is big. “To my dear parents… who have always believed in me.” Too cliché? I don’t care. It’s true.

17.12.2014. I email next of kin details. Serious stuff.

17.3.2015. 1 p.m. I’m battling the afternoon heat and my limited lunch hour to rush to the Storymoja office to pick my author copies and sign my contract. Minutes later, I’m smiling to myself as I exit their office, author copies and a copy of my contract in hand. I have a published book. I can’t believe it! I keep looking at my name on the cover. It doesn’t feel real. I’m smiling at the illustrations. Even better looking than the characters in my head.

“Every story of success is a story of community,” said Jeff Goins, a writer I look up to. I obviously did not do this on my own. Many thanks to Juliet Maruru, the ever patient, ever gracious editor, Ian Arunga and Mellitus Ogana Ogana for the design, layout and illustrations which I love, Muthoni Garland who was such a great teacher during the workshops, and Storymoja at large for this wonderful opportunity to do something I never thought I could. Thank you to my fellow workshopmates for their support and encouragement, and everyone who read my drafts and urged me on or gave me feedback. Most of all, I’m unashamed to say that I could not have done any of this without God, my dear heavenly father without whom I am nothing.

If you’d like a copy of the book, please email me – egicovi@gmail.com – and I’ll be happy to arrange for you to get one or three. The bookshops listed here should also be stocking it by now.

There she is! Mwende. 🙂

I seem to have lost it

Recently, someone asked me what my passion was. I was about to say writing, then stopped before the words escaped my mouth. I felt I wasn’t as passionate about writing anymore. I thought I would not be at all genuine by saying that but would only be doing so for the sake of conversation. So I risked appearing boring and unfulfilled and said that I was yet to find my real passion.

I scarcely touched my phone on my journey home that evening, something very uncharacteristic of me, I might add. I stared out the window the whole way, not seeing the familiar trees, buildings and places but thinking, worrying that I didn’t have a passion, which made for a rather sad existence. I’m turning 25 soon. I should have found that by now, right? What is it about turning 25 that makes that need to have everything figured out so urgent? I worried that I had very few things figured out. I got off the matatu and walked the short distance home, deep in thought, replaying various conversations I’d had that day regarding life, in my head. I’d had interviews for two of my articles with individuals not much older than myself who oozed passion for what they did. These left me challenged to find my own passion yet rather sad about the stark realization that I lacked this fountain of seemingly everlasting zeal for life.

Enter a chicken sandwich and two episodes of Suits and all these important life questions were neatly folded and stacked in a far corner of my mind. I never cease to be amazed about how easily distracted I am. Food and hours of mindless TV are the epitome of distraction in my books.

Image from http://authorashleysanders.blogspot.com/2011/04/burning-passion-to-write.html
Image from http://authorashleysanders.blogspot.com/

These thoughts were revisited about a week later, interestingly after yet another interview. My interviewee that day was a lesson in humility, calmness, fulfilment and other great qualities I hope Future Me will possess. A very accomplished man, yet painstakingly humble, gracious, and generally unrushed by that hustle and bustle synonymous with our Nairobi. How does he do that peaceful monk thing? I kept asking myself, but I digress. The man spoke wisdom of the ages. Well-thought out sentences laden with great wisdom about life and living. No wasted words. It was one of the most illuminating interviews I’ve done to date.

It also turned out to be one of the shortest interviews I’ve done to date. I kept going over my notebook to see if I had missed any questions I intended to ask. We had covered everything in less than hour, with 10 minutes to spare, in an interview that usually took me close to two hours at times. I was enjoying myself, in the moment, hanging on his every word. Taking it all in, more for myself than for the story I was going to write. Then it dawned on me, the reason (rather, some of the reasons) I do this writing thing.

It’s these rare inspiring conversations, life lessons and experiences I get to live through, vicariously nonetheless. The frequent chance to evaluate myself triggered by these encounters, the excitement of meeting new people and making new connections. The incomparable honour of telling someone’s story.

I do have a passion after all. I had just stopped feeding it. Nurturing it. I expected it to always be there no matter what. I needed to remind myself every so often why I write. I had stopped seeking to learn as much as I could about the craft.

I’d like to tell you that I regained my zest for writing, that I’m back on track, and can’t wait for the magic that will happen once I put finger to keyboard and eye to white screen, but that would be a falsehood. I am getting there nevertheless. I’m taking steps to get that fire burning once more. More of fanning the dying embers of a fire that once was, at this point.

I’m trying to learn new things about writing, seeking to mentor others younger than me who may be interested in writing, finding new ways of writing, breaking away from the mundaneness of routine, et cetera. These are just a few examples I found after reading and researching on ‘how to regain lost passion.’ I never thought this would be a Google search I’d find myself doing one day. I suppose I thought my passion would always be there, but evidently that isn’t the case.

Now I feel like a pseudo Thought Catalog. This is what happens when you turn 25. 🙂

What are you passionate about? How do you keep your fire burning?

How do I love writing? Let me write the ways.

I fear I’m losing my ability to write; the same way one loses an ability they don’t use. I’m afraid I’m out of practice. Several people have asked me, “Hey Edna, when is the next riveting blog entry filled with your delightful writing coming up? It has been a really long while. We just cannot wait!” To which I say, “Fear not loyal followers! Your noble concerns shall be addressed before you can say ‘web log’. For I have an entry in the offing. Your loyalty compels me…”

Ok, I lie. They just ask, “What happened to your blog?” Also, I don’t talk like that and most people don’t even call me Edna. About my ability to write, I fear it’s slipping away. In helpless little squirts. I have not been writing as much as I should. See, I am a writer by profession, so I’ve just been doing the bare minimum. Writing for my job. Never writing for myself, which is criminal for a writer, might I add.

So is this an attempt to validate my aptitude for writing? To have you tell me that I can write and that I should keep writing? Maybe. Probably. Tell me I can write dammit! 😦

Au contraire, this is actually a post to tell the world why I love writing. I will refrain from complaining about the craft. I think we writers tend to complain about writing, writer’s block, and other unpleasant things we have encountered in the course of our writing one too many times

Why do I love to write?

 1. Ease of self-expression. I find there are a lot of things I have the boldness to say on paper that I may probably never say. Also, some things sound better written, than said (hence, Unsaid But Written 🙂 ). Maybe it’s a personality thing that I, being introverted for the most part, find easier to do. Speaking of which, I still owe you a post on one of my favourite subjects – temperaments. But I digress; writing knows no bounds when it comes to self-expression for me. There are probably very few emotions that I cannot express in writing.

2. A chance to speak to the world. Most of us want to be published and read. Widely read if we’re lucky. I want to be known for my writing. I want to influence, motivate, provoke thought, and inspire emotion. I want to make you laugh! I may never get to travel the whole world and meet millions of its citizens but I’d like to reach the world through my writing. Another thing, I’m not much of a public speaker, though it’s a skill I’m trying to learn, so writing gives me this chance to speak to many, without necessarily physically addressing them.

3. A love for words. Words are just wonderful! Some roll off your tongue with such ease and elegance. Some are music to the ears! Some have a taste, smell or particular look or feel to them. I love these little critters we call words. I love learning the correct pronunciation and spelling of each. I love the way they join to form beautiful phrases and sentences. I love how they give meaning to communication. The words I love at the moment include schadenfreude, chutzpah, and pizzazz. Words are just delightful! I’ve been using that word – delightful- a lot in recent times.

4. Narcissistic tendencies with delusions of grandeur. I cannot begin to explain to you how big of narcissists writers are! I think every writer has to admit to being a little self-absorbed. Yes, you journal-keeping, blog-post writing, note-scribbling writer you! Part of me lives in my own little world where my life is being filmed, documented and watched by an imaginary audience that laughs (like in comedies) when I do or say funny things, says “Ooohhh.” or cries with me when I’m sad and rejoices with me when I’m happy. They’ve actually been watching the show that is my life since I was a child (like in the movie ‘The Truman Show’). As a child I, at times, addressed this audience. *Crickets* Erm…I think I’ve said too much.

Moving along swiftly… I feel this is the same drive that usually makes you want to document your thoughts/life in a journal, blog or autobiography. A lot of times, your writing is about you. Your writing is coloured and shaped by how YOU see the world. It’s rather difficult to write from another’s point of view, so mostly, I’ll write about what I am most familiar with – ME. Hey, look at ME writing about why I love to write!

5. Paid to do it. Writing is earning me a living, among other interesting opportunities that cannot be monetarily quantified. I have learnt a lot of new things, and had the privilege of meeting a number of interesting individuals who have both challenged and inspired me. This is actually one of the best things about writing for me. Learning, meeting people and seeing places, which I hope to do a lot more of, God willing.  Not to mention the pride that comes in calling oneself a ‘writer’. *Ahem* Refer to reason number four.

Do you love to write? Tell me the ways.

Writing thus far

I’ve been writing for close to four years now and have been published in a few publications here and there, including  good ol’ Unsaid But Written, which is not really a publication but a blog. My blog. 🙂 I’ve made a few observations in the course of my esteemed vocation. It’s interesting that writing does not get easier as time goes by. Neither is it guaranteed that your writing will get better with time. You’re only as good as your last piece in this field. Sadly. Today you’re a star, riding high on that literary wave. Tomorrow, you’re wading in a murky, shallow pool of nonsensical words.

Every time you think you’re used to writing or used to the natural order of things, you encounter Writers Block (which is increasingly being dispelled as a lethargy-induced myth by one of my editors), lack of ideas, lack of motivation, hunger, anger, laziness, Twitter, scones (they’re on my desk as I write this), among many other challenges facing today’s writer. Saying today’s writer may be incorrect. I mean, I cannot imagine the challenges faced by writers of yore. Really, I cannot. My hardships must pale in comparison to theirs.

Writing with feathers must’ve been quite the task. The tip of the feather probably must’ve blunted or broken severally. Not to mention running out of ink. Or chicken, among other poultry or exotic birds that I imagine were the source of these writing implements. Or choking on tiny feathers accidentally ingested. Inspiration doesn’t seem like it was a problem then. Look at history. They’ve probably exhausted all the stuff that could be written about!

Currently, I write for a local family magazine. Some days are good. Sometimes I write stories from what initially seems like NOTHING (and I’m not sure the use of caps here emphasize the nothingness I’m referring to). I end up feeling like superwoman and I resort to using phrases like, “Who’s your daddy? Er…I mean mommy. Who’s your mommy?” Somehow daddy sounds more hard-hitting.

And some days like today, actually right now, I want to yank the wires out of my computer and throw it out the window, which would probably not do much damage seeing as our building is not storied. Sigh. I mean I have a great story sitting on my computer. A great story about a great person. A hero by all means. A great inspiration. Someone who NEEDS to be written about. I have more than enough information to write the said story, yet I cannot. It is an awesome story in my head yet I cannot translate my thoughts into 2,000 words of a great read. Also, the editor is waiting for said story as I blog.

Am I afraid I will not do any justice to this man’s story? Yes. Will I write the story anyway? Again, yes. Will I ask another question for effect, that I will then proceed to answer? Yes.

What is the moral of this blog post? I’m not sure. I haven’t blogged in a while. But that is not why I write this.  Maybe we need the drug they had in the movie Limitless. Maybe we need some sort of inspiration injection. Maybe I need to see something amazing and be infinitely inspired. A talking monkey or an actual pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. I know none of these seem inspiring but none of you should doubt it because you haven’t seen them. I just need some inspiration. Any inspiration.

The ‘desert island’ question

Disclaimer: Written on a long, cold and boring Monday at work. May not make much sense.

I’ve always found it interesting that people are asked about the things they would bring to or if stranded on a desert island in interviews. I always wonder:
a. If one were stranded, wouldn’t the option of what to bring be off the table?
b. Why would I want to be on a desert island in the first place? It’s DESERTED.
c. Why do people think that it’s one big holiday? If it’s a DESERT island, doesn’t that already mean that it has extreme weather conditions, no people or if at all cannibalistic islanders, no food, and dangerous pre-historic/‘thought to be extinct’ animals like in Ice Age?
d. Who first came up with this question?

All the same, this is a common interview question and it’s probably going to be there for a long while before someone comes up with another one like, ‘What would you bring if you were stranded on the moon?’ which really is a no-brainer, and raises the same questions I’ve asked. I know I’m over thinking this and I do that a lot. In fact, over thinking has inspired a couple of blog posts. Evidently, this is one of them.

Moving along, do you have any idea what a desert island is? According my trusty old Thesaurus, a desert island is a remote tropical island, typically uninhabited. Wikipedia says that a deserted island or uninhabited island is an island that has yet to be (or is not currently) populated by humans. They also say that a desert island is denoted as such because it exists in a state of being deserted, or abandoned and that an arid, desert climate is not typically implied.

This means that, contrary to what I said earlier, a desert island may actually be awesome, with white sandy beaches, an ocean, palm trees, hot bikini clad natives serving cocktails…ok that last one was a long shot, but you get the picture. However, this does not take away the possibility of what I had mentioned earlier, you know, extreme weather, weird animals, and cannibalistic inhabitants.

What to bring to a desert island? Yes, practicality does not apply much here but you have to at least think of stuff that would actually be useful there, right? I’ve observed a number of interesting responses to this question. Here are a few common responses and my thoughts on them:
1. Internet connection- as awesome as it would be to have this, I doubt Safaricom or any other network has a ‘desert island roaming’ package to offer.
2. Lip balm- Will you really worry  about chapped lips on a desert island? Also, you may have to eat the lip balm later, especially if it’s one of those fruity, nice-tasting ones. Or maybe use it to cook?
3. iPod- It will be fun at first, but will run out of charge and become useless.
4. Laptop – Also cool at first but will run out of charge, hence unrealistic.
5. Cellphone – I doubt you’ll have any signal plus you’ll eventually run out of charge, but hey you never know. May come in handy.
6. Guitar – Realistic, even if like me, you don’t know the first thing about chords. Think of the songs you’d write, and maybe later on release a ‘Desert Island’ album.
7. My family – *Sigh* again, being stranded on a desert island is not a holiday. Leave the family out of this. Especially if there are kids.

Some of these things are rather unrealistic. It seems that people did not learn much from watching Lost or reading Robinson Crusoe. So ignoring the fact that you may not willingly take yourself to a desert island and the other fact – that you would not have an option of what to bring if you were stranded- here’s what to say the next time you’re in a high profile interview or someone randomly asks you this question. The list is not in order of importance, and is in no way exhaustive. I guarantee that you will sound smart and cool at least seven times out of ten 😀

1. A pen, and lots of writing material to document your desert island experience, and maybe make a manuscript for a book you may write later on. Something like On The Edge Of Humanity: The (insert your two names here) Story or something like that. I’m sure you have other more creative titles.
2. A couple of books to while the time away plus you can use them to light a fire later on. The Bible would be included in the list of books, but would not be used to light fires.
3. A GPS tracking device or a compass for obvious reasons.
4. Lots of water.
5. A mirror. No, not to make yourself pretty because no one really cares, but you can use this to make some sort of signal for rescue.
6. A torch/flashlight to make signals and also for use at night.
7. Food. I’m thinking canned foods.
8. A rope(s) to fell tree branches to make a shelter, for firewood, make a swing like Tarzan’s or one just for fun. It can also be used to strangle small animals for food.
9. A knife to kill small animals or to sharpen wooden weapons for hunting.
10. A lighter or matches – To provide a source of heat which you’ll need to roast small animals and insects which you will have to eat at some point after your food runs out, and also for warmth.
11. A nail cutter- Can you imagine how long and monstrous your nails would be after a while?
12. Ketchup or some other sauce – If you have to eat gross stuff it’s only fair.
13. An extra pair of converse shoes because your shoes will wear out, and also to at least look cool during rescue 😀
14. A camera to capture a coupla sunsets, take a few pics of yourself in utter despair, plus a few pics with the islanders, if there are any.
15. Board games – Nothing like a game of monopoly with island inhabitants! 😀

In closely related matters, if I were stranded on desert island, I’d hope to run into a friendly desert native, who I can teach stuff like Robinson Crusoe did in that famed Daniel Defoe book. Well, she’d also teach me stuff. I’d name her Girl Thursday (or whatever day of the week I find her). I know that’s not very creative of me but Crusoe kind of set the precedent. I’d however like to point out that I would not treat her like a slave. Though I’m thinking that things may get rather awkward one day on that island when we’ve exhausted all food resources and Thursday and I have to resort to cannibalism. Anyhow, what would you bring to a desert island?

Feelings and emoticons

I have a lot to say about emoticons, which may be ironic because they are used to express what words cannot or do not. For those who may not be in the know, an emoticon or a smiley is a representation of a facial expression such as : -) (representing a smile), formed by various combinations of keyboard characters and used in electronic communications to convey the writer’s feelings or intended tone. Yes, it’s in the dictionary and thesaurus…at least the recent ones.

Who invented them? Who decided that a colon and parenthesis looked like a smile and could be used in written conversation? Who decided that a semicolon could make a naughty wink, a star could make a kiss, and so on?  You’ll be surprised to find out that the digital smiley face turns 29 this year, which is older than many of you reading this…and the writer as well (I take pride in my youth :P).

One professor Scott E. Fahlman from Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania claims (well he also admits that there’s no hard evidence that he was the one who started the smileys, and that it’s possible that someone else could have had the same idea) that he was the first to use three strokes – a colon followed by a hyphen and a parenthesis – as a horizontal “smiley face” in a computer message, according to msnbc.com’s Associated Press.

This Fahlman dude apparently posted the emoticon in a message to an online electronic bulletin board at 11:44 a.m. on Sept. 19, 1982, during a discussion about the limits of online humour and how to denote comments meant to be taken lightly. Scintillating.
Moving along…not necessarily in a swift manner, I feel that these genius little creatures have really changed the face of communication as we know it.
Anyhow, there are a number of matters pertaining to emoticons that I’d like to address.

The Inappropriate
As genius as they may seem, I find some of these emoticons inappropriate. For example ;-( I don’t know who came up with this one, but don’t you find it rather inappropriate to be winking when sad? Unless you have some sort of eye disorder or are psychologically disturbed, it is quite unusual.

The Noseless
It seems that I’m the only one who has noticed that noseless emoticons seem more expressive than…well, nosed ones. There’s something about their lack of this mid-facial protuberance…AHEM :D…that somehow portrays more emotion than their nosed counterparts. I’m talking about : -( vis-à-vis : ( Doesn’t the latter seem sadder? Same goes for : D and : -D. Doesn’t the former seem much happier? How about :-* , doesn’t :* seem kissier? And so on…you get the picture. I rest my case.

The Strange
It seems hese little creatures have not been left behind in the online revolutions (well, from a bit way back :)). This : -) is the conventional emoticon. There have been several variations of it including the noseless one. For instance (: which, apart from being noseless, is upside down. There’s =) (which I find rather cute :)) and also : o) , :>) , :=) and  :4) Notice how the nose changes. Revolutionary, isn’t it? FYI, I made the last one up – the one with the number 4 nose…viva la revolution de emoticon! 😀

Other strange ones…that need to be done away with are :-[ , :-< and ;> …seriously, wharrathiz?

Still on the revolutionary emoticons, you’re probably aware of the 3D and the active/animated emoticons (some of which I find a little bit creepy). Next, I think we should have talking emoticons…and do away with writing altogether as these emoticons make a forceful take over of written communication as we know it.

Emoticon overuse
A large number of people, yours truly included, are guilty of emoticon overuse and misuse. I blame it on my friendly nature. I always want people to be at ease around me and I do the same thing virtually, I suppose. Most of my online conversations involve a vast array of emoticons, sticking out my tongue, and what not.

What do some mean?
For a while, I was at loss as to what some of these emoticons really meant. Do we need some sort of emoticon civic education for the online population in our country? Maybe.
I learnt not so long ago that this :-“ means blushing. Why and how? I do not know. I also had no idea that %-) means dazed or silly, %-( means confused and :-X means lips are sealed. Apparently :-# also means the same.

Bet you didn’t know these: 😛

!-( means black eye
!-) means proud of black eye…SMH
$-) means won the lottery, or money on my mind
%-{ means ironic (how now??)
((())) Lots of hugging (initials or the name of the one being hugged can be put in the middle)…(very interesting)
(::()::) means band aid, meaning comfort..(awww :))
:+( means got punched in the nose
+:-) means priest
+O:-) means The Pope
-) and :-J mean tongue in cheek
%-6 means brain-dead
%-\ means hung over
=====:} means snake
=):-)= Abraham Lincoln
( 8(|) Homer

This is by no means a comprehensive list. I just picked the ones I found to be of interest. You can find the rest somewhere on the World Wide Web.

Replacement with words
Some emoticons feel so real. Every time someone goes like O_o , I can actually feel their raised eyebrow. This particular emoticon has also led to me raising my eyebrow a lot more in actual conversation…but that’s beside the point. Also when people use O_O when talking to me, I can feel their eyes bore into me. I may be taking these too seriously, though that is also not the point I was making here. Will these creatures ever replace words? Will someone ever invent an emoticon alphabet, say in 2018? There are endless emoticon possibilities in the foreseeable future.

Emoticons for disease and other states
I think we should have emoticons to express disease and other states. For instance, could :-.( be used to say that, “I have a zit on the top of my lip?”  Could ::| be used to say that “I’m seeing double?” :   ( to indicate a long face (literally)… Or :-{D be used to say that “I’m growing a moustache?” You be the judge.

My own inventions
I once came up with my own emoticon inventions in my secret lab. People don’t seem to understand them though. Or maybe they’re just haters. I think that’s it. I came up with : -? to indicate a questioning look. Pretty nifty huh? Yeah I know. Wait till I patent/copyright/TM it.

Oh wait there’s also :4) which I made up earlier. Can someone say emoticon revolution…uh…up in here? (Evidently, I’m not so great at being cool 😐 )

If a picture is worth 1000 words, an emoticon has to be worth at least 937.

Of Interviews and Chocolate croissants

In my line of work (construction :P) I, at times, get to interview people for profile articles. I have had a few interesting experiences as a result of this, which I suppose may warrant a blog entry or two. This is not one of those ‘How to’ pieces. Well, maybe it is. You decide.

Interviews are great! Mostly. You get to meet many interesting people and get to know many intimate details of their lives without having to tell them yours. It’s quite fascinating really, the amount of information you can get people to give you about themselves in the name of an interview. It is, in a sense, a polite form of snooping. Professional snooping.

But I digress…disregarding my previous sentiments about interviewing, what you need to know is that it is getting people to tell their story through you, and hopefully inspire others or solve a problem somewhere, depending on the needs of the reader. Don’t only think of big shot celebrities here. One of my lecturers rightly said that everyone has a story to tell, so it could be anyone from Jeff ‘All Kenyan’ Koinange to the guy who roasts maize by the roadside. In my course of interviewing, I have made several observations.

I have met a good number of my interviewees in restaurants and have resolved never to say this “Do you want to order first?” Never say this. Seriously, don’t. It is a vague and ambiguous statement that you may have to pay for. Literally. I once interviewed someone, let’s call him 4d (X gets old) and I made the aforementioned statement. When the bill was brought he said, “Thanks by the way.”

I could not bring myself to tell him that when I said that I did not mean that I was going to pay. Plus he’s a really nice guy…a real nice guy…*staring into space*…anyway, I paid for his drink. Thank God he had the heart not to order something expensive. That’s not even the worst part. It happened again! Yeah, I know :|. The second time was with someone else who I will call 7r (I really had no problem with algebra so allow me to use these abstract labels). I was very careful not to make THE statement but somehow I ended up paying for his beverage, and I realized it two days later after finding the receipt in my wallet. I must’ve been quite moneyed (I’m avoiding the term balling here) at the time. I don’t know how that happened. Thankfully, both of these really nice guys never ordered anything expensive. I still laugh at myself when I think of those two incidents. Point is, be very clear that you are not going to pay for anything. Unless you want to.

Still on the restaurant vibe (I hate to use these expressions but sometimes they seem so fitting) ensure that you finish your food before the interviewee gets there. In essence, get there well in advance, more so if a restaurant is your rendezvous (oh yeah! I cannot quite tell you how great it feels to use that word in a sentence 😀 )

If you, like me, love to enjoy your food, and sometimes close your eyes as you chew and swallow…as the chocolatey goodness of that warm chocolate croissant melts in your mouth and your taste buds explode with…sigh…I digress for the umpteenth time, what I’m saying is that you will at one time or another meet for an interview in a restaurant and you will want to order that chocolate croissant you have heard so much about. You will want to enjoy that croissant with that creamy café latté…and you will not be able to do this with a complete stranger sitting across you. Getting there early (enough to eat) is always a good thing.

Sometimes, you’ll interview someone who has similar interests and you will be tempted to talk about yourself. Trust me, you will get the urge to say stuff like, “Me too!!”, “I thought I was the only one who did that!” or even “You too?!” Don’t do it. It’s not cool. If you really have to, don’t do it more than twice.

Maybe it’s just me, but at times there seems to be this…uh…gesturing with my hands here but you can’t see it 😦 …let’s call it date-like awkwardness that accompanies interviews, more so when they involve people of opposite sexes (I refuse to be dragged into the pettiness of including the ‘other’ option :P). You don’t know me. I don’t know you. I’m here to tell you about myself. That situation comes with a bit of awkwardness and tension. Don’t crack jokes if they are not your forte. You WILL make it more awkward. On the other hand, the interviewee may be kind enough to give a polite “ha ha” so you may try it I suppose. Small talk is great. I’m great at small talk and it seems to have worked for me so far. I will go on and on about how great the chocolate croissant I had earlier was and how you should try it…and no, I will not pay for it.

Last observation, people will always be curious about you. Don’t expect to get away with all that info about someone without giving him or her some of your own (I know what I said earlier, but it’s not always the case). I’ve been asked how long I’ve been writing, how long I’ve worked, do I like dogs (that’s not really true) et cetera. Don’t be shy. Give appropriate answers. Don’t be stingy with information, but also don’t go on and on about yourself.

All in all, my interview experience has been great. I have made great contacts, met remarkable individuals, been inspired, and had one too many chocolate croissants, and for that I am thankful. 🙂

Get your club out!

“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club,” said Jack London, an American short-story writer and novelist of the early 1900s. There I was,  a few hours ago waiting for the needed inspiration to somehow dawn on me and help me come up with an article that could end world hunger, create better housing in slum areas or something life changing. Inspiration wasn’t forthcoming, so I switched to the “club approach” which also didn’t work very well.

I’m not sure what exactly won the war over my writing, if at all there was a winning. Writing is a wearisome task. Writers are always faced with the challenge of writing new material. As if that’s not hard enough, they may have to write about mundane topics like relationships or Barrack Obama and end up racking their brains for days (or even months) searching for something that has never been said about these topics before. Then there’s the writer’s worst nemesis, according to me, Writer’s Block.

After reading some of the articles in our local dailies and magazines, it seems to me that the youth (who largely constitute these writers) are being faced by lack of inspiration for writing. I can’t remember when I last came across a piece of writing that, and I lack the words to say exactly what I mean here, to say the least blew my mind. Consequently, I feel there’s a large number of youth out there, including yours truly, who are being faced by lack of writing inspiration, which I mostly refer to as Writer’s Block.

Writer’s block is like a recurring disease that you never get completely cured of. This article may for the most part be a result of this ‘disease’. For me it counts as a contemporary social issue, seeing that it affects many youthful writers of my day. So address it I shall. Writer’s Block is actually more serious than you may think and has been found to be closely related to depression and anxiety, according to neurologist and author of The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer’s Block, and The Creative Brain, Alice Weaver Flaherty.

There are chronic cases of Writer’s Block, considering the case of Henry Roth, another American novelist and short story writer, who suffered from it for sixty years. It was caused by unwillingness to solve past problems and depression. What I’m trying to say here in so many words is that if you find you are suffering from what you will probably think is a case of chronic Writer’s Block (till you read the story of Henry Roth), you should evaluate yourself. There may be underlying issues that may be troubling you inwardly and causing you to lack inspiration for writing and well, other things in life.

Away from chronic cases of Writer’s Block, here are four simple causes of it given by writing-world.com. Writers are sometimes not ready to write. You may not know what you want to write about at times, which means you are not ready to write yet. Writers are sometimes also afraid to write as a result of various factors including comparing themselves with other great writers. Thirdly, writers often try to compose in their heads and fail to go through the stages of effective writing that are prewriting, planning, composing, editing, and proof reading. Lastly, writers sometimes start in the wrong place. You don’t always have to struggle with the first sentence. You can start elsewhere and work on your first sentence when you have the rest of your work. This doesn’t necessarily mean that starting with the first sentence is wrong.

All is however not lost. You probably expected this last paragraph to give you some workable solutions, to your “chronic problem”, and so I shall not go against writing norms. Writer’s Block does have a cure. Cures, to be more accurate. Some will leave you shaking your head at their absurdness. You may be well aware of others, like taking a break from your computer or writing station to get your thoughts in order, or going for a walk. There’s one suggested by Merlin Mann on his blog 43folders.com which I found quite hilarious- explain to a stuffed animal or cardboard cut out what you’re really trying to say. There’s also the very commonly used free writing approach, where you sit down and write anything that comes to mind. It would not be possible for me to exhaust the numerous remedies available. You should nonetheless know that Writer’s Block happens to the best of us, and should thus not beat yourself up over it. Inspiration is, after all, what you should be going after with a club, at least according to Jack London.

Note:
This was part of my final project from my Magazine and Feature Writing class. I decided to post it here because:
1. Writer’s Block is not cool. It took me roughly three hours to write this, after racking my brains for a looong time…then at the 11.5th hour, I saw a bright white light…that turned out to be a passing car…then after a while, I decided to write about Writer’s Block.
2. I want to look like I’m doing something with my blog.
3. Lists are cool :D…I’m not really making any point here.

Note (2): It was in 2008 when Obamamania was all the rage, hence the reference.