I’m sure you have, at some point, thought; I need to start writing again. You once took a stab at writing but then life sort of happened; you got a new career, made some decisions, your life took a different path and writing ended up on the back burner.
But that itch didn’t quite go away. It just lurked around in your subconscious and, often, it gets stimulated, stirred and the ache to write pulsates like a festering antiseptic wound.
You love words; you love when they spoon together. You love that low beautiful hum when they get into a rhythm and when they purposefully and singularly strive to build emotions.You keep beautiful sentences in your head, next to the dreams you are embarrassed to share with anyone. You are a closeted writer. And you need to come out.
One day you might do what everybody in your shoes eventually does; you might start a blog. You will write about “your life” or “your observations” of life because your observations are more astute, more revelatory, more third dimensional and people will sit up to read what happened to you in a matatu or at church. Or you might even write about your passions. If you look terrific you might write about your love for clothes using your long legs and curves to push readership. And eventually, you shall be known as a blogger, which is a word I have become increasingly cynical of because of its limiting connotation.
If you become a blogger you might get nominated by readers for the annual Blogger Association of Kenya -BAKE – Awards whereupon if you are lucky you will win, like I did this year – Best Creative Writing Award. Third time in a row. Happy days. Thank you, again.
You must be wondering, OK so what does the winner of the Creative Writer category take home? The short answer is cool things -at least that was the case in previous years. But who does short answers? So here is a long answer.
For my trouble this year I received a lovely plaque. Of a woman. A Maasai woman, to be precise. Last year I won two awards; Best Blog of the Year and Best Creative Writing Blog of the Year. I got two Maasais that year, both male. They have been sitting on my shelf at home for the past year, staring at each other, wondering who will blink first. So you can imagine how these two Maasais were thrilled when they saw me walk in with a female Maasai. Spears will be planted in earth. Maasai babies will be made. A nation shall rise.
This year I got an Infinix phone from Tecno Mobile. Don’t pretend you have heard of this phone. Wait, have you? I hadn’t. To be honest, for me it sounded like a pharmaceutical company that manufactures antibiotics. But it’s actually an android phone that feels plastic-y. Like if you left it in the sun for too long it will just harmlessly melt away.
I was happy to learn that it costs a little over 6,000 bob. I’m not sure if that is before or after VAT, but I can always confirm if you are in no hurry. On the box it promised me 500-mb of free data upon activation. 500mb. Free. Whoa! Goodbye wi-fi -for an hour. But wait, activation to what? What does one do to activate? No further instructions could be gleaned from the box, just the words 500mb free.
For purposes of context, I have a Samsung Note 4 currently, (excellent phone), before that I had the Samsung Note 3-neo (lousy phone) and before that I had the Samsung S5 (brilliant phone), so going by this trajectory you can imagine my glee when I was told I had won this antibiotic worth 6K! It placed me on crossroads; should I let go of my Note 4 and magnanimously embrace this gift? So I did what any noble man would have done – I handed it over to the house help. Only problem with this gesture is that the house help is Kisii, and sometimes she will play radio loudly from her phone while doing laundry – those dreadful Kisii songs where everybody sings in shrill, shrieky voices. I pray this Infinity phone, or whatever it’s called, doesn’t have a radio because I may have to one day leave her phone in the sun for long period of time.
The other goodie I received along with the phone was a Tecno power bank. Of course. Because who doesn’t need an extra power bank? Nowadays corporates are giving everybody power banks. Power banks are the new calendars. But mine was silver and came branded – bikozulu.co.ke- just in case I lose it and someone finds it and goes on my FB wall and says, “Hey Biko, I got your power bank, if you want to see it again alive you will have to bring me 20K, in unmarked bills. Carry the money in a brown envelope and meet me at the corner of Denis Pritt and Chaka Road at 4am tomorrow, come alone or you will never see your power bank again!”
The other goodies included stuff from the sponsors – Airtel. Well, when I heard they were the Gold sponsors of the awards, I thought, who knows these big boys will pull a rabbit from their hats. And they did pull something out of the hat, only it was a t-shirt. Hang on, don’t cheer just yet, it wasn’t just any t-shirt, it was a branded t-shirt. Red and white. 100% Cotton. Made in Kenya. And on the left side, around the breast area, is a red blotch with the words: Unlock your potential. For a moment I thought that perhaps I was required to attend an open-truck roadshow and dance to Fally Ipupa for hours on end. Or maybe it was to be used during an open-bus triumphant parade through the streets of Nairobi. No?
I don’t know about you but I have always wanted to own a branded shirt with inspirational words. You know, something I can wear to a bar. Or to a wedding. Or to a nyama plan. Anywhere where I will get complimented and have an inspiring conversation: “Hey nice tee Biko! Where did you get that from?” “Oh, This? I won it at the Bake Awards, courtesy of Airtel.” This is the kind of t-shirt that can die for the sins of all branded shirts.
But then I suspect that this gift of a t-shirt could be more than just a gift. That it’s a tool for irony that Airtel has employed, one which will be lost on shallow people like me. Could it be that they built the irony on the phrase , “been there got the t-shirt?” Is the joke on me, finally? Does Airtel actually have a sense of humour?
Here is the cherry on the pudding, the folks at Airtel, figured (on their own) that I’m a Medium size! I don’t know how they guessed my size right! I don’t know if my writing sounds like I’m medium size but they did. If anyone at Airtel is reading this, please tell me how you could get this t-shirt size right! I’m astounded by your astuteness. Can you guys also guess my shoe size, but only for shits and giggles?
Whatever it is, it is indeed a fine time to win a writing award.
The other goodie from Airtel was those nametag holders that you hang around your neck. I’ve never been employed long enough to wear these things, so some posh person told me they are called lanyards. I wondered why the good folk at Airtel could possible think that I, or any blogger for that matter, needed a branded lanyard! If I had a poodle, I’d tether him with that lanyard – if I was being cruel. But then later I thought of keeping it because one day if I ever need to commit suicide I think it will come in handy. I will be found dangling from the that thing with a note that says, “I’m sorry but I couldn’t unlock my potential. I just couldn’t!”
The last gift I received from Airtel was a notebook. Spiral. Branded. A notebook for the love of God! It’s not a notebook with inspirational quotes on it (not counting the “Unlock your potential” wise words on it), it doesn’t have drawings or fancy watermarks. It’s just a notebook.I figured the only reason they gave me that book was because it’s a magic notebook that will, I don’t know, unlock my potential just in case the t-shirt and the noose doesn’t quite get me there.
I’m not one to look at a gift horse in the mouth, but truly these gifts have thrown me into a spin, they have confused me. Dumbfounded is me. I wonder what their intentions were because it’s unlikely that I will turn the t-shirt into my Friday-best. I don’t see myself wearing it on a Saturday for a whisky plan. I don’t know what my neighbours will make of me when suddenly they see me ambling around the estate in a branded shirt. I’m not fashion forward, maybe branded t-shirts are in vogue. Are branded t-shirts in?
No matter, I doubt if I will use the notebook, maybe if it was a branded Moleskin I would. That might unlock my potential.
Writing isn’t easy as many writers like to pretend it is. It’s a labour of love. You don’t sit before a laptop and have words simply roll out; you egg them, you seduce them, you cajole them until they come out. And so, after you have toiled and battled through the demons of the pen for a whole year, to be commended with a 6K phone, a t-shirt, and a spiral notebook, you can’t help asking yourself; is this how much these guys think of my art? Is this the vibe I give? Do I come across like I would appreciate a lanyard? Why would anyone think I’m a medium size anyway? Does medium size insinuate that I’m starving? Struggling with my trade? At the very bottom of the professional food-chain?
To be honest when I went to pick my gifts from the BAKE offices (I wasn’t around for the ceremony) it felt like I was in high school and my team had won the national debating championship and we had been handed these gifts of t-shirts and notebooks. Were the loaves of bread and sodas handed out at the ceremony perhaps?
To the folks of Techno and Airtel, I don’t know what the rest of the categories won but I suppose since they are quiet they are happy with it and so this question is only on my behalf; why a t-shirt? why a notebook? and why a lanyard? Are these – in your books – the tools a creative writer can use to unlock his/her potential? How many chaps sat in this meeting that decided that the person who won this category deserves a lanyard?
Ps. Last quarter we organised a very successful Writing Masterclass. We had twenty people in a class at The Panafric, from various professions – PR, NGO, budding writers, corporate, lovers of the written word – and for two and a half days we shared ideas on how to write better.