I hold on to things.
I come from a family with pack-rat tendencies. My grandmother still has most of her furniture, luggage and household items from her time in England in the early 60’s and 70’s. My mother refuses to get rid of our old school notebooks (I’m talking primary school) and my father doesn’t throw anything away. Ever. And don’t even get me started on my aunt.
Things tell stories. Things have memories attached. A wave of nostalgia lies waiting among dusty old pictures, recital programmes and yes, even those old school notebooks.
My notebooks (and legal pads, and journals) from high school hide treasures in their bindings. I sweep cobwebs and dead insects off the cover a notebook labelled ‘Music’ and halfway through explanations on semi-claves and metre I wind up in a story about a teenage girl trying to survive high school. Not me. A girl in high school that I made up.
I wrote a lot of things back then. Short stories with weird foreign narratives, long stories that I never finished, poems, songs. Emo poetry and songs. The early 2000s were a strange and trying time. For everyone, not just millennials.
But I never shared any of these stories and poems and songs. I didn’t enter any competitions, didn’t read them aloud to my friends (and this was a thing we used to do. Every lunch time, at the netball court behind the auditorium), didn’t share them with a confidante (as other used to do with me). I just kept them locked up in lines of notebooks that now lay forgotten in cardboard boxes.
Even now when I write stories and poems (I got over my emo phase so there are no more sad love songs) I tuck them away into neatly organized documents and computer folders. I journal, flexing my muscles in private writing with the hope that the strength will be built without any tests of endurance. Like a marathoner training for a race he never runs.
Among my limited displays of writing skill, there are stories of success and failure.
(Disclaimer: I’m only talking about original writing. In my heyday I used to write fairly entertaining Harry Potter fanfiction. Not all of them embarrassing either).
For about two years I semi-regularly contributed interviews and book reviews to Susumba.com. It was my writing on display to, how did my editor put it? Build a portfolio.
Last September at a poetry event hosted by my high school alumni I read three of (what I thought were) my best poems. Crickets.
But just last month, I learnt that I’d been shortlisted for an award I didn’t even remember submitting pieces to. I had spent 2018 half-heartedly submitting polished up old and new poems to different open calls ad hoc. Okay, two. It was two open calls. And one of them thought my writing was good enough to be shortlisted.
I say all this to ask. If the writing only stays in a closed up book, if the words stay in my throat or just behind my fingertips. Am I still a writer? If I long to tell stories, if characters come to me unbidden on beautifully lonely country roads and linger suffocating in my subconscious. Am I still a writer? If I neglect my creative space for months on end because I’m too afraid that the words will not be perfect. Am I still a writer?
Of course I am.
I’m a writer whether or not the words come out. I think like a writer, dream like a writer and pluck words from pictures like a writer. Writing isn’t only what I do, it has always been a part of who I am.
Stories are in my blood, I just need to open a vein.