I have fragments of stories. Story lines grabbing at the seams of my conscious. Scenes of people, noises, tears, words said with quivering lips, trembling fingers, thick, heavy words that come out in choked voices. Feelings swallowed, that cut their way down the gullet like pellets of glass. But, these fragments aren’t coming together in part because the holidays are approaching, but also because I’m occupied with a fiction writing class this month. So I have resigned myself to talking about my year. Some of it anyway.
I am currently reading Elena Ferrante’s Neopolitan novels. I discovered her when I started watching a HBO series based on her novel, My Brilliant Friend. It’s about the evolution of a friendship between two girls who start on a level playing field and then life breathes and tangles their stories like strings in the wind. It’s entirely in Italian; even so, it was fascinating enough that I sat through the subtitles with a keen interest until the end.
Then I couldn’t stand not knowing what happened next so I went in search for the books. They’re in English. The series does not depart greatly from the book and even the actors do a good job of imbuing the characters’ emotions. Elena writes about feelings in depth, and particularly the conflicting ones, so I find the books more thrilling than the TV adaptation.
This year I have read an average of 1.5 books a month. That is to say I have finished reading 13 books and I have a list of books I have read and abandoned in the middle that is just as long.
I have also finished writing two novels. They began with a scene that came to me one day. A woman in a nightgown, peering down at her errant husband through the slit of a curtain in the wee hours of the night. I was enduring a particularly strenuous stretch of nights consumed by insomnia and many thoughts rattling around my head like a loose washer in an old washing machine. I felt a kinship with this woman, this character. The idea gave me life and in turn I gave her life. I named her Njambi. I wrote about her days and nights and her voice came easily to me.
Through the canvas of her picturesque life another voice pushed through, demanding to be heard. A much stronger character who prevailed throughout the story despite the fact that I was not at all certain that I could master his voice, his words, his motivations. He chose the name Kagwe for himself because he does what he wants. He tells his story as he pleases. I try to temper it, I wrestle with myself, with him, all week until it’s Thursday morning and I don’t have a story. Then I yield. I concede to telling the story as he wants it and suddenly I have a story on Friday morning. He is an intruder. He interjects even on the story of Mel and Jonathan in the second novel. He makes my telling of the stories a circus because he is my strongest muse.
The others make me labor. Their motivations are complicated. They are erratic. Elusive. Like a mercurial lover. I have to chase after them. Coax them. Ask them what’s going on in their heads. Pretend they don’t wound me with their silences. Stepping in their shoes gives me a headache and a wet nose. But Kagwe is steadfast. He comes to me when I am still, like a butterfly to a flower. He tells me what he wants without being cajoled. His wife. His girlfriend. His whiskey. His cigars. And for the threads of the cosmos to bend to his will. To warp time and space and make it possible for him to have it all at once. He is audacious. I love him.
I have had huge internal struggles this year. The quiet ones that subdue you when you’re sitting on the toilet seat, or steal away your peace when you turn in the night so that you lose your sleep and wake up tired of your own inner voice. I have learned that there are things that are meant to pass through us and that to lock them in is to allow them to fester. To go green. To create a habitat ripe for rot from the inside out. So I have tried (with much agony) to unlearn my repressive tendencies (and while at it embarrassed, perhaps even assailed a few good people with raw emotions and left them speechless).
I have found meaning and catharsis in pouring myself into something I love. I have bloated then trimmed my social media presence. I have learned the emptiness of politics and the futility of talking or writing about it. I have discovered the value of good dialogue in a movie. Destination Wedding especially left that impression on me. I have savored the simple joy of a glass of wine in solitude. I have learned how a good music album can carry you through the year. I have experienced for myself how exercise rejuvenates the mind. I have inched closer to attaining the life I have been wanting for myself and for that I am grateful.
I am grateful to all of you who have supported and rewarded my labors, each in your own ways. I wish you love, light & good vibes this festive season. See you on the other side.8