When You Are Writing, You Are God & Other Lessons | A Farafina Workshop Memoir

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When you are writing, you are God.
—Aslak Sira Myhre

 

June 21 – Day One

“Tell us one thing you like and one thing you dislike?” she said. I lied. I said I liked history, art and culture. Actually I like sex, loud music and dim smokey bars. But I wasn’t ready to say that to a room full of strange Nigerians. What if they misunderstood? Or laughed? It’s not the sort of thing a Nigerian woman my age says.

If it comes easily to you, discard.
—Chimamanda Adichie

 

Diversity and Identity

Age. I try not to think about it. Not in that I’m-this-age-and-should-therefore-behave-like-this-or-be-treated-like-that” way. I hate being called ‘ma’, ‘mommy’, or ‘madam’. I feel pressured to perform age. I do not want to perform age. But I do anyway. Another loaded feminist issue? Or a race issue? Or maybe a class issue? Or an intersection of the three? Someday I will write about it.

“Please call me Lesley.”

“You remind me of a South African woman I met at my last workshop,” one of the participants says to me.

And Aslak keeps calling me Sheila.

I really wish people would get to know Lesley.

The age of the Farafina 2016 participants didn’t cross my mind till I sat down with them and looked into their faces. Most of them are young enough to be my children. Some so young that I would have a word with my sons if they brought them home.

Listening to these young people reminded me of the obvious clichés.

‘Age should be a bridge,’ I think. ‘Not a gap.’

Nevertheless, the workshop is a safe space and we are asked to suspend our judgments. We name it Sacred. We also have a young woman that escaped the 2014 Chibok abductions with us. And an undercover reporter. Young people discovering their sexuality. People constructing their identities. Living stories about surviving, healing and becoming.

Go where it hurts because then it matters.
—Aslak Srye Myhre

 

Farafina Insomniacs WhatsApp Group Chat

Someone sets up the Farafina Insomniacs group on WhatsApp. It makes group communication more relaxed and open. I’ve avoided group chats so far. The constant notifications while I’m working and the drain on my battery were not worth the poor quality of conversation and information.

WhatsApp Group Chat –

25/06/2016 12:37: Feisty: why are we starting a new group?

25/06/2016 12:37: Foxy: Touchy is in the other group

25/06/2016 12:38: Feisty: is it necessary?

25/06/2016 12:38: Missy: Feisty please it is…we don’t want to trigger her

25/06/2016 12:41: Sisi: Btw, Touchy is my friend o

25/06/2016 12:41:Sisi: She’s been so sweet all day

(12/07/2016 10:19: Squeaky: I’m realising I might never use the word ‘trigger’ again in anything I write because of you guys, and I kind of don’t mind.)

What isn’t made into narrative isn’t part of the world.
—Aslak Syre Mhyre

 

Karaoke Night Out

On Saturday night we went to a karaoke bar. Kunle sang ‘Stay’ with so much heart. I took a chance and sang the only song I really own, “Bohemian Rhapsody.” I sing as if I’m a 7 year old standing on a stool, in front of the heavy dresser mirror in my parent’s bedroom singing ‘Fly Robin Fly’ into a hair brush. Or standing on the coffee table and singing along with Sony and Cher on the TV. As if no one else is there. This is how to write. Belt it out.

“You can’t pander to anyone’s expectation when writing,” she said.

WhatsApp Group Chat –

25/06/2016 23:03: Feisty: Please who is singing and killing it?

25/06/2016 23:09: Titi: It is Lesley o.

25/06/2016 23:09: Tricky: Lesley Yaaay!

25/06/2016 23:09: Tricky: Mimi be killing everybody at the Mortal Kombat game!

25/06/2016 23:14: Titi: Cocky was the bomb too.

25/06/2016 23:14: Titi Beautiful night.

25/06/2016 23:14: Titi: Can we all go back to the hotel now, please?

25/06/2016 23:14: Tricky: Yes ooo

25/06/2016 23:15: Titi: Akintunde be scattering game anyhow.

25/06/2016 23:18: Feisty: Oya come back home. I have milzed you all.

25/06/2016 23:18: Feisty: I can’t sleep. I can’t write. I can’t eat.

Feisty stayed in to work on her assignment. It was the best at the next reading. Should I have stayed in too? Writing is always rewriting. Most of the assignments I submit are rewritten once or not at all.

“I know I can do better if I could just rewrite it again,” I think to myself each time I submit an assignment. The lure of the night life kept my performance average most of my life. Because excellence is about going the extra mile.

“How many times did you rewrite Half of A Yellow Sun?” I ask her.

“Seven times.’

To make it art, you have to rewrite.
—Chimamanda Adichie

 

How A Short Film Got Made by Farafina 2016

We talked about serial kissers, serial quitters and serial killers a lot. We even wondered if all the talk about serial killers might trigger the serial killers among us. You never know what baggage the people you meet carry. Nigeria’s first serial killer thriller is still waiting to be written.

 

WhatsApp Group Chat –

26/06/2016 10:26: Lofty: So guys, Aoiri wants us to shoot a movie.

26/06/2016 10:29: Lofty: “Let’s use the energy!” He said.

26/06/2016 10:30: Feisty Will there be blood? Can I shoot a gun or just kill someone?

26/06/2016 10:31: Feisty: Oya o. Ideas for script or we have a script?

26/06/2016 10:33: Ducky: If there’s blood, or a stabbing, count me in!

26/06/2016 10:44: Lofty: Keep in mind that we’re not making an epic. The fewer scenes and locations the better “energy” is limited…

26/06/2016 10:46: Mimi: Suggestion: why don’t we pick a ’round’ story or two of ours that we’ve written as assignments and work it into a script?

26/06/2016 10:47: Foxy: Maybe we could all suggest stories to act out during lunch

26/06/2016 10:47: Mimi: A story that’s short but powerful

26/06/2016 10:48: Foxy: So we can go through all that we’ve done so far since Umar mailed them to us. And suggest what to act at Lunch

26/06/2016 10:49: Foxy: But nothing too triggering sha

“Kuku Kill Me” an iconic two-minute Naija Indie blockbuster starred Ifeoluwa Nihinlola, Kunle Ologunro, Miracle Adebayo, Aisha Abiri, Abimbola Ige and Chika Jones. It was directed by Umar Turaki, written by Chika, Aisha, Miracle, and Umar, filmed by Aoiri Obaigbo and screened for a select audience after our last dinner together.

 

Kenyan Writer Binyavanga Wainana Was There

He introduced us to Kenya-American artist Wangechi Mutu. Wangechi explores the similarities between misogyny and race, and the hierarchy of race and gender through surreal collages and installations reminiscent of Picasso’s cubism. Her visual art inspired some of our most creative work.

Facebook Status: Akintunde Aiki June 27 · 

#Farafina2016 – Binyavanga does this to you: brings out the beast in your writing. The Final Ceremony.

“Technically the story is perfect, but I don’t feel her,” he says to me about Chidimma, protagonist of ‘Sunrise Hotel’, a short story I spent months writing. The same story Chimamanda enjoyed so much she invited me for this workshop. He tells me about a character he used to write when he was still in the closet. ‘Am I in the closet?’ I wonder. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

“You’re still hiding.’ he says.

Twitter @MzAgams Jun 27: When Binyavanga thinks about our submissions before commenting, he moves his lips & jaw like he’s chewing the words we wrote – #Farafina2016

Write what you know.
—Binyavanga Wainaina

 

That Bridge

In between writing assignments I sit at the upper deck of the Bush Bar of our hotel overlooking the lagoon, drinking coffee in the morning and beer at night. Feeling the ocean. And watching That Bridge. Watching people moving on That Bridge. On foot, in cars, on bikes.

Facebook Status: Lesley Agams June 30 

I took a walk on that bridge.

All the way till I could see my hotel then I turned around.

I do not jog. Who wan die.

As usual I found my self wondering about these people jogging on the bridge in the early morning.

I’m disappointed. The people I see up close didn’t look nearly as good as they looked from a distance. Their eyes are wary and cunning. Their expressions shielded. People drive from all over Lagos to jog on that bridge.

You either have to know a lot more or imagine a lot better.
—Binyavanga Wainaina

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At The Closing Ceremony

As she gives me my certificate Chimamanda tells the world she will be the first one to buy my book. “Odogwu Nwanyi” she calls me. My only regret is I didn’t ask someone to take a picture of me with her on stage. And I didn’t bother to struggle for a vantage position during the group photograph so I got pushed to the back. If you don’t look well, you won’t see me. And in some pictures, at some angles, you don’t. That’s how I always got the bottom pot of the jollof rice in secondary school.

I’ve been writing since I was 10: journals, diaries, memoirs, poems, short stories, plays, movie scripts, essays, and cheeky articles like the ones in EsquirePlayboy and Cosmopolitan. I remember tapping out stories on my father’s old manual Olympian typewriter. I was even a reporter and women’s editor for a local newspaper once. As I collected the certificate, I knew in my heart this was the first day of the rest of my life.

The first rule of writing: to be a writer, you have to write.
—Aslak Syre Mhyre

 

That Was Just The Beginning.The Conversations Continued After We Left.

WhatsApp Group Chat –

06/07/2016 08:37: Lofty: The conversation in this group is like a stage play with different acts and different characters at any given time.

06/07/2016 11:55: Tricky: Phew. This is one group you want to read through the “one million unread messages”.

Drama isn’t just people talking.
—Eghosa Imasuen

 

The Heat Is On

06/07/2016 18:13: Bubbly: Meanwhile, Guys. Do you all feel pressured now? Like the writing community expects your texts to be top notch now that Adichie has taught you herself? Like is it just me. So many book clubs want me as “guest” and I am like why? One even said they will send a Limo. I just feel like the expectation and attention is overwhelming and I don’t really deserve it! What do you guys think?

Insecurity is very important for a writer.
—Eghosa Imasuen

 

Metaphor Is the Palm Oil We Eat Words With

WhatsApp Group Chat –

09/07/2016 09:10: Cheeky: Lol. My entire Farafina experience is down to music. A team reminds me of Nnamdi, Ama and the Karaoke Night. Strange songs remind me of Lesley. Panda reminds me of Aisha and Naza.

09/07/2016 09:10: Cheeky: Igbo songs remind me of Nwa Nsukka’s dance steps

12/07/2016 08:33: Ducky: Metaphors are how I make sense of this world.

12/07/2016 08:33: Ducky: Some one hiding is pulling a Chisom.

12/07/2016 08:33: Ducky: A funny and curious person is pulling a Pamela.

12/07/2016 08:33: Ducky: A Lofty person is pulling an Umar.

12/07/2016 08:34: Ducky: Someone writing stories populated by fantastic characters is pulling an Aoiri.

12/07/2016 08:34: Ducky: An Nnamdi is self-explanatory.

12/07/2016 08:34: Ducky: Someone who likes money more than life is pulling a Chika.

12/07/2016 08:35: Ducky: An aspirational person wants to be like Monye, wants to cook with stove.

12/07/2016 08:35: Ducky: A prim and proper person is trying to be Muna.

12/07/2016 08:35: Ducky: We all know the Kunles in our lives.

12/07/2016 08:36: Ducky: Bestfren bestfren and Ama enters your life.

12/07/2016 08:36: Ducky: Someone who wants all the good men in a group for herself is obviously a Mimi.

12/07/2016 08:37: Ducky: Like snapchat and smile a lot and you are defined sharply.

12/07/2016 08:41: Ducky: All I’m saying is, I’m always making judgements, ascribing attributes to people. It’s dishonest to pretend like I don’t.

12/07/2016 08:46: Feisty Fierce as fuck, I think describes Lesley

12/07/2016 08:46: Cocky: Fierce as fuck

12/07/2016 09:03: Me: Ife is the Barb of Ogbomosho of No Internet

12/07/2016 09:05: Cocky: Aisha the goddess of Iwale

If you overdo metaphor, it suggests a lack of confidence. 
—Chimamanda Adichie

The Conversation Has All The Elements of a Good Story: Drama, Intrigue And Humor

WhatsApp Group Chat –

11/07/2016 21:14: Shady: We can call it CHIPAM Investigation Services

11/07/2016 21:14: Shady: Or maybe even CHIPAMA if Ama is down

11/07/2016 21:16: Squeaky: Please I want to join. Let’s make it CHIPAMABIM

11/07/2016 21:17: Lofty: I’ve registered.

11/07/2016 21:18: Ducky: I can see where this naming thing is going, and it’s not good.

11/07/2016 21:18: Ducky: Let Chisom and Pamela just have their company jejely.

11/07/2016 21:19: Snoopy: Bimbo why must you join everything?!!!

11/07/2016 21:20: Snoopy : Chisom I’m down for CHIPAMA lool

11/07/2016 21:20: Cheeky: CHIPAMABIMCHI

11/07/2016 21:21: Mimi: CHIPAMABIMCHIMIM

11/07/2016 21:21: Ducky: This is beginning to sound like a company of chipmunks created to form a monopoly out of nuts.

Comedy: an absurd unexpected outcome.
—Eghosa Imasuen

 

Bloopers Happen Too

WhatsApp Group Chat –

13/07/2016 12:21: Crusty: Les, of the fierce fuck

13/07/2016 12:24: Me: ‘fierce fuck’???? How would you know?

13/07/2016 12:35: Crusty: Nnamdi gave you the title na.

13/07/2016 12:36: Me: I don’t think he used it in quite the same way

13/07/2016 12:42: Cocky: Please o

13/07/2016 12:42: Cocky: I said ‘Fierce as fuck’

13/07/2016 12:42: Cocky: I’m innocent o

13/07/2016 13:39: Me: Thanks Nnamdi. Kinda like he said ‘children turn him on.’

Words are powerful. You need to be careful using words.
—Chimamanda Adichie

 

 

There are no rules if you can get away with it.
—Eghosa Imasuen

Originally published by Brittle Paper on 2016/08/15

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On Writing (I)

Its cool in side the bar. Outside the sun blazes with all the intensity that one would imagine appropriate to the desert. The Sahara desert or the Nevada desert or the Kalahari desert. Or the desert sands of the Arabian peninsula. We call it the Middle East now. The Theatre of War and Strife, perpetually dominating the evening news whether you live in America or Nigeria. But this isn’t the desert. Its central Nigeria, Abuja, the shiny bright new Federal Capital City. Except its not new anymore. Its beginning to look shabby and frayed around the edges . The paint gradually fading on the imposing federal buildings and private residences in the twenty years that I have lived here.

 

The condenser of the industrial fridge kicks in with a roar intruding into my reverie.  I look up and notice that the power is back on. It is 2 o’clock in the afternoon. The hottest part of the day despite what the geography books tell you. The heat has accumulated by 2 o’clock by 4 o’clock every body should be wilting in the shade but the natives never stop moving, bustling around, hustling. There are only so many hours in the day no matter how hot it may get. The desperate don’t rest and don’t wait for the sun to go down like the few of us lazy ones. The natives don’t like to go out at night. The dark has always held terror for them. Everyone wants to be back home or as close to his or her house as soon as possible after the sun goes down. Only the fool hardy elite and their sidekicks risk the malevolent night spirits to roam the numerous pubs and drinking parlors scattered in the dwindling green spaces left in the concrete city of wide bitumen roads.

 

I stare out of the glass wall into the parking lot. The bar isn’t open, I come here to work in the daytime till the proprietor my friend comes in at 6 pm to open for the evening customers parched from the heat and sun. Cold beer at the end of a hot day is the only slice of heaven they can afford. Its a neighborhood bar. A bit too upscale for the area its in. The customers are few but loyal. I pace around the small space like a caged lion or tiger.  Or maybe like a panther, a black panther. I always liked the black panther best. I pace a lot when I’m thinking something through, when I’m looking for a way out or a way in, whats the difference I wonder to myself.

 

I turn and stare at the Macbook Air sitting open on the table. Its bright screen stares back at me reproachfully. The light slowly fades as the power saver turns off the screen. Stories and ideas run around in my head but refuse to stand still long enough for me to capture them. Writing at the speed of thought is impossible and so is going back over the road I came. Rewriting is torturous. I don’t want to go back but I must. I stare back at the now black screen and resolutely turn it back on. The short story I have spent three months struggling over sits on my desk top.  I am not satisfied with it but I ignore it. Start something new.  Go somewhere else, in a different direction.

 

Sometimes I wish I could plug in a cable and down load all the stuff in my head, have someone transcribe it for me and read it 20 years from now. My writing always seems better after the passage of time. I’m never happy with anything I just wrote. Sometimes I forget a piece for weeks, months, years and when I come across it and read it again I look to see who wrote it. Was that me? Not bad.

 

Its hard to decide what to do. Work on my novel or work on that job application. I want to lose myself in my writing but I have to get a job. Paid employment is a necessity right now even though it is a luxury. Without an income life is drab and boring and monotonous. There are no options no choices no action only an endless pause. Like a car stranded in the middle of no where with no gas.  Or like a movie that has been paused. It will continue from the very place it stopped but the wait is interminable, agonizing to my restless spirit.

 

I decide to write. I just had a good interview.  They will let me know. The next application can wait till tomorrow.

 

I can never write fast enough, the words tumble out in a rush, incomprehensible without a rewrite and an edit. I will stick to it and let the words pour out. I may have a thousand stories echoing in my head but to retrieve just one would bring satisfaction, a single legacy that I can leave on my demise to say, hey I was here and this is my story.

 

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