Keep Pumping Debris Into That Vacuum

Just about last week, I had one of those inferiority complex-triggered meltdowns. The kind where I convince myself that everything I have ever written is trash, and tell myself that I should never write again.

The trigger for this meltdown was silly, as my meltdown triggers do tend to be. I had been browsing, and chanced upon the spoken word poet, Koo Kumi’s tweets, where he was publicizing some other poet’s Instagram account. Her name is Tryphena Yeboah, and he said she had the best Instagram account in Ghana. While that may have been quite the exaggeration, after I took a gander, I couldn’t deny that I was blown away entirely – by the amazingness of her poetry, deliberate layout and filtering, and quotes form other, far more famously acclaimed poets of colour that she read. I was amazed at how amazed I was, even while there were only averagely 50 posts on her account.

So, what did I do? I liked her pictures. I followed her. I closed Instagram. I went on a Twitter rant about how I was going to retire from writing forever. I reopened Instagram. I deleted most of my Instagram poetry, doing a full sweep through my profile. I considered deleting all the poetry on my blog as well, but that process is long, and I am lazy. But the bottom line is that I was shaken. Badly.

In that moment also, I realized that I am a fraud. Just about a few days before this meltdown, I had said something to one of my very great friends, Tronomie – which came back to me in the midst of all my false thoughts. Tronomie does this thing where he listens to music he thinks is absolutely amazing, and then declares to himself and whoever will listen that “It’s things like this that show me that I’m wasting my time with this music thing.” I hate it when he does this, I swear. He’s literally the most musically genius person I know at this point in my life. Cross Jon Bellion’s production skill with Gallant’s voice and you have Tronomie’s fundamentals.

The thing I had said to him, though, in all gravity and seriousness, was this:

“Do not let your admiration of someone else become deprecation of yourself.”

And as I was saying it, I believed it. But me in my fraudulence, in the middle of that meltdown, couldn’t see how it was possible that I had been writing anything more than rubbish next to this girl who should have been by all rights, selling internationally by now. Fraud? Yes, fraud.

More importantly, though – do I really believe, even after the heat of the moment, a week later, that I write trash? Yes. Absolutely. So what am I going to do about it? Keep writing, of course. Am I going to henceforth keep my poetry safely locked up in a notebook so no one else can read it? Absolutely not.

I do not regret deleting all the posts I deleted. I will not regret doing it again some time in the future. Deleting, purging, is cathartic, healthy at times. And I’m in control of my profiles. If I don’t like something being on them anymore, I see no legitimate reason to suffer through having it be accessible.

The title of this post came from a poem I wrote, called These Are Not Questions. Pumping debris into a vacuum is now one of my go-to phrases when I feel the futility (both real and imagined) of just releasing and releasing and releasing all these words that sometimes feel like they are serving no purpose. This is for the moments of “put the pen down” and “never pick it up again”. (All phrases from the poem.)

So, if I am indeed producing rubbish – debris – why need I keep pumping it into a vacuum? Because it is the only sensible course of action. If there is anything mortally worse than pumping debris into a vacuum, it is piling up the debris inside yourself.

This isn’t about the vacuum. It’s about me, and my relationship with the debris. A wonderful human being whose name is stylized EDWVN, told me something profound: your job as an artist is to make art to the best of your ability. What happens after you put it out really doesn’t have to be your problem. In any case, many times you can’t control its reception and interpretation.

The motto of Vision Inspired Music, the record label that has changed my life faster than anything ever, is “We do it for the art.” And that’s the simple reason why it’s necessary for me to keep pumping debris into this vacuum – because I do it for the art. The art need not suffer for my own insecurities.

While I fell apart publicly, as I tend to do while I have Internet connection, I received a DM from another wonderful friend called Barbara. She quietly reminded me of one of the world’s most famous poems, the Desiderata, by Max Erhmann – a poem which a few years ago, I had had nearly memorized. Particularly these lines:

“If you compare yourself with others,

you may become vain and bitter,

for there will always be greater and lesser persons than yourself.”

Additionally, to conclude by quoting another of my own poems, Stop Waiting For Permission., I must ask: While you are sitting there sulking about how poor a poet you are, instead of getting off your stupid butt to actually do the work that will eventually make you better maybe, “Who told you the world would wait for you?” Because it won’t.

-Akotowaa

 

Both Cheeks On Board

Note: I wrote this in like February 2015, when I had only just invented the term “lexivism“, and way before Dead By 27. Interesting fact: this is at the back of the same notebook as the first draft of Anti-Indoctrination is in the front of! I’m now posting it because I had a recent conversation with a friend that reminded me of it.

Fortunately or unfortunately, I am not referring to the cheeks on my face.

My aim is to eventually become a full-time writer. (Yes, I write about writing a lot. You were in for that the minute you stepped into a lexivist’s space.) Like, that is my primary goal, and what I’m working towards. Not a Something Else and then Writer on the side; but a person whose primary profession is writing – and the other income-generating dilly-dallying on the side. LOL, isn’t that ridiculous? Nope.

Here’s the thing: because a lot of Ghanaians see writing as some side-thing, some hobby that you can get published for, a lot of the stuff we produce isn’t up to professional standards. It’s only up to amateur, hobbyist standard, you see. I’ve at least seen a number of locally published books – and honestly, sometimes I just bore. Spelling mistakes abundant, as well as other errors and sometimes, it looks like the work went through zero editors; if they didn’t, then these editors are doing nothing and should be replaced. The binding sometimes is poor or uncomfortable, and the books themselves are not marketed well. How then, should we be able to view writing as an income-generating profession, when it is so unprofessionally handled that it generates so little income? There we go!

“Ghana, where my parents live, has no credible local publisher.” – Taiye Selasi.

Even aside from the industry’s slacking, the writers themselves, since they are so satisfied with the whole writing thing being a side job, are really unconcerned with really mastering their technique in the whole writing game. After all, it’s only “on the side”.

This, in my opinion, is the reason for the multitude of half-assed (do you get the title of the post now?), poorly edited books and novels and whatnot, which I cannot ever believe a serious writer would have been satisfied with before they distributed. The reason Ghanaian authors don’t make a living out of their authorship is because they are not serious enough to WANT to. Yes, of course, there are factors on their own, such as the illiteracy percentage of the population (which may soon be its own blog post/piece), but I feel like illiteracy of other people should not make you compromise on your own quality. We are so satisfied where we are, and so many times, our authors don’t go international.

Here is my issue: if I submit to all the pressure coming at me from many sides that it’s basically a circle; if I listen to the people who insist I take up another career and do my “writing things” as a side job…then I could end up where the other authors are: confined to a local audience whose taste for quality is low enough to be satisfied with mediocrity; just another one of those books for tourists; another writer with half-baked novels. I’d have half-assed my work.

A couple of my favourite Urban Dictionary definitions for half-ass:

1.

“The act of doing something without motivation or care as to the quality of the object at hand. To not give a sh*t.”

2.

“Something done poorly, a bad job, a rushed task the person could have done better at.”

 

I want to dedicate myself full-time to the profession I’m into, to produce maximum quality work, and put literature from at least one Ghanaian (not Ghanaian literature, mind you; I said literature from a Ghanaian) on the map! Quality and dedication: the two things too many of us are missing. And yet people see in me a desire for both, and that scares them. Lord knows why.

In summary: I am working towards making my writing my full-time profession (with any other interesting income-generating activity on the side) as soon as I can possibly manage it, because I am vying for actual quality and dedication, and be one step close to breaking the ideology that a Ghanaian cannot and should not be a full time writer. I don’t want to half-ass it. I want both my cheeks on board!

-Akotowaa

We Should Quote Characters

When I read this post after writing it, I was amazed at how much it sounded like a classroom lesson. Writers do this thing where they tend to become lecturers. This isn’t my intention, ambition, aspiration, whatever. I’d be terrified if I knew teaching was in my future! Why is this happening to me?!

Also, perhaps after or before this post, you should read my old post, The Author.

We Should Quote Characters

Some fictional characters are capable of saying some pretty profound stuff. And I think it’s perfectly okay to want to quote the things you agree with, or which resonate with you, from any book. The potential conflict arises between whether you’re quoting an omniscient narration, a first-person narration or a third-person character. These thoughts were inspired by some of the things I’ve seen floating around on social media, some legit conversations I’ve had (on social media) and this writing was ultimately fuelled by my deeper reflections upon these things I’ve observed.

 

AUTHORIAL INTRUSION

Fiction, by its very definition, is not “true”. At the same time, an author cannot really write what (s)he does not know, or truthfully choose to be completely uninfluenced by what (s)he believes in. But the fact that “authorial intrusion” even has the name it does is evidence of two things for me:

  1. Clearly, not all fiction is exactly what the author thinks/knows. Otherwise all fiction would be 100% authorial intrusion, and authorial intrusion wouldn’t have to have a name.
  2. When an author injects his/her own self in what is meant to be a fictional story, it is as if (s)he is being an intruder in the tale; never mind that (s)he wrote it. Intrusion can only be performed by someone who does not originally belong somewhere.

Admittedly, there will probably be many, many times that narration or dialogue will reflect a raw, undisguised view of the author, or a character will say or do something exactly the way the author would have done it. But NOT all the time. This is why you should check yourself when you quote (things in general but particularly) fiction.

  1. You can’t ever forget to think about context! What are the other words and circumstances around whatever you’ve quoted? Where’s it from? What happened right before the narrator/character said that?
  2. Remember that the views of a narrator or a character may not necessarily reflect the exact views of the author.

 

CHARACTERIZATION

Imagine how awful it would be if every single character was just a variation of the same person: the author. I don’t think that would make for a very good story, even though there’s probably someone on this planet who could manage to write and pull it off.

Characterization is an important technique both in creating an authentic plot, and creating credible characters. In order to be believable, they cannot all be the same. They must at some point have different or opposing views. After all, what’s a superhero story without a villain?

Yeah, sometimes too, quoting from villains is legit because Darth Vader and The Joker can say some pretty profound stuff – but the point is that even if they came out of the writer’s head, they are the character’s words. And characters too have flaws which may be entirely different form the author’s personal ones.

If, for example, I created a fictional character who was a sexist pig, I couldn’t let sensible gender-related stuff be coming out of his mouth. But would you then cut out the context and character from his words, declare that the words reflect my beliefs and run after me, the author, with a pitchfork, calling me unworthy of my vagina? Perhaps some of you would, too. After certain things I’ve seen about humans, I’ve all but given up.

Exaggeration is part of characterization. When I read The Princess Bride by William Goldman, I remember thinking that not one character was credible. But the writing and the story were brilliant and hilarious for particularly this reason! But of course, exaggerated characters would tend to say deliberately exaggerated stuff. It’s dangerous when people who consume quotes treat them as absolute truths, when they were really just meant to be comical – even if there is truth implied within the meaning.

 

TECHNIQUES

Written stories are made of language, and if language has techniques, so does fiction. The techniques I am most interested in now, however, are the ones which are used for the actual message to be conveyed in a very backwards manner.

 

SARCASM

Take sarcasm, for example. You say the opposite of what you mean, in order to make a point. If you quote a character speaking in sarcasm, wholly believing in your heart in its truth, I wonder if your brain isn’t made of fruit.

I’m kidding.

Somewhat.

LOL, no I’m not.

Some of the most incredibly sarcastic words I have ever seen come from Oscar Wilde’s book & plays. His characters’ personalities are so colourful and absurd that 90% of the time, I can’t even tell if they believe what they’re saying or not, much less whether Mr Wilde does. But Oscar Wilde is a fantastic writer, and usually when I want to quote him, I do it because I found something someone said funny or ridiculous, and most of the time, I would like to accompany it with a photo/screenshot, clearly showing who said what before and after what. It seems tedious but I feel like for a man as wild as Wilde, context is of the utmost importance. It’s the controversial people that you have to watch, you know?

I would also like to take this opportunity to say that Tyrion Lannister is a genius, and bless George RR Martin for particularly him and his quotability.

 

IRONY

Quite similar to sarcasm, though this can be employed in the progress of events, rather than just in speech.

Let me reference myself here, because I can most accurately speak on my intentions as an author because I am the only author whose intentions I am entirely sure of. When I wrote Puppets, I wrote it with the intention of being ironic. Authorially (this isn’t a word, is it?), I intruded, only in the speech of a character called Solomon – which is weird because he was based on a friend of mine, who would probably never have said something like what he said in the particular dialogue I am thinking of. But aside him and Dawn, I hated nearly every other character I created, and downright disagreed with nearly everything they said. They were not being sarcastic in their speech. But the intention was to use them to highlight how wrong and stupid I believed they were.

 

METAPHOR

I don’t need to tell you how dangerous it is to wrongly misinterpret metaphors. Especially if characters make them. Especially if the story is the metaphor itself. Because if you get one thing wrong, you’ve got the whole thing wrong. Like a follow-through maths question.

 

 

In summary, this is my message: I think it would be very helpful to alter popular culture to effectively translate the norm to quoting characters rather than authors when it is characters who need to be quoted.

-Akotowaa

It had always been easier to write about anguish…

It had always been easier to write about anguish. It was the most distinct feeling, even while being the most ambiguous. Either way, it pushed the words out, regardless of whether or not it all even meant anything.

The pain of it was riddling. It always was; impossible to figure out and incapacitating. It came over in waves, and it took only seconds for the tide to reach its peak. There was no warning. There was no solution. There was only emotion, which asked only to ebb and flow as it pleased. Such things could never be controlled.

The beginning of the wave stemmed from the shifting of tectonic plates deep within her heart. The pain was viscous, overwhelming, impossible to swim in. It rose like bile from the chest to the throat, strangling, ready to choke, further up to the nose, which rejected it – and sniffling was the result – and then to the eyes, which watered with emotion, and afterwards, to the head, which frizzled with painful discomfort. Anguish spread like a wave, like a virus. As a wise man said through a wise character, this was the thing about pain: it demanded to be felt.

Those unfamiliar with it would never truly understand how absolutely crippling it was. It required its own space. When her hand eventually cramped up from the writing, the only other options were the foetal position and the “knees-to-chest with arms wrapped around the calves” position. Neither was preferable. Neither was appropriate. But the worst part was the eyes. Those stared clear and true at nothing. Anguish incorporated the art of looking without seeing: of functional blindness. It commanded the monopoly of her senses like an attention-hogging toddler. Pain demanded to be seen, heard, felt, tasted, smelled, stroked, to encompass completely. And she got mad when people did not know how to respect her space.

After writing till the climax where her hand ceased to work, the only remedy was to last it out. On lucky days, sleep claimed her. On others, the only thing to do was to wait for low tide; for the tyrant called pain to release its grips on her heart and promise to be back soon, to relieve her of her well-deserved comfort.

-Akotowaa

[I wrote this in July of 2015 – for those of you who are ready to begin bombarding my inbox and DMs with “What’s wrong?”s. I’m not ready to start explanations.]