Wednesday, 15 October 2008

The Writing Life - From the Archives

I am in Uppsala.
Thousands of miles away from Asaba, Nigeria, where what you are about to read was written.
And thousands of hours away from the time when it was written.

I was a participant in the British Council Literary Mentoring Project, Crossing Borders. My mentor was the British playwright, poet, short story writer, reviewer, broadcaster, theatre historian and musician Michelene Wandor, and my task was to submit six writing assignments (short fiction) over the course of nine months. Michelene encouraged me to document the writing process surrounding each of my assignments. This "commentary" was written to accompany Assignment 4.

I
Friday November 4 2005. 10:15pm

I’m in my room in the pharmacists’ lodge of the Okwe Government Hospital, Asaba, Delta State. I am trying to type out the portion of my Assignment 4 story that I wrote earlier today (around midday) while at work in the pharmacy, but my laptop is very very disagreeable tonight. It has crashed twice. My room is in a mess – the kind of mess I think only I am able to pull off.

On my bed are the following:
An undressed pillow
A torchlight
A black comb
A wristwatch angled like a like a bird – the straps are like the wings
A white towel
A roll of toilet paper
A jotting pad
A new tube of Close-up toothpaste
A Compaq laptop
A sleeveless top
A copy of Wasafiri
A black Bible
A digital camera
Four packs of Indomie noodles
A pile of clothes jumbled together
My elbow
Some plastic bags

Unable to find space on the bed are two identical purple buckets, a pair of black leather sandals, a pair of new rubber slippers (bathroom slippers), a pair of cloth boots, an unzipped traveling box filled with my clothes. I can see three books: I WAS WRONG by Jim Bakker, disgraced televangelist; THE TEMPLE OF MY FAMILIAR by Alice Walker, and IMMEDIATE FICTION – A Complete Writing Course by Jerry Cleaver.

What happened to Bakker in the late eighties is like the stuff of fiction. Here was a man who had dined with Ronald Reagan, George Bush Snr, had been aboard Air Force 1 with Jimmy Carter, and headed a multi-million dollar Christian Empire (Television Network, Holiday Resort etc); only to slip into adultery, and then be charged and jailed for financial fraud. His empire was stripped from him, and eventually collapsed, and his wife divorced him. The Temple he once owned and lorded over rapidly became “The Temple of My Unfamiliar”. His amazing accomplishments rapidly became Immediate Fiction – memories that teamed up with prison guards and tabloids to torment him.
But I’m aware that Bakker’s story can only be the stuff of autobiography. It seems too dramatic for fiction. I am apprehensive about this story I am writing. I need to pull it off – 3,000 words of it, and hope I do not end up in a dead end. I don’t want to have to say I WAS WRONG.

II
I have just finished this long overdue story. It is 6:05 pm, Saturday, November 5, 2005. I am sitting on my bed, typing onto my laptop. The music of Enya, the Irish singer is playing on my Media Player. The ballad playing as I write this is one I first grew familiar with on CNN, used as some kind of theme song.
Enya does all the voices on her tracks, no matter how many they are. She lays them on one after the other in a studio, so all those voices you hear are actually the same person. Isn’t that how writers too work? In the studios of their imaginations, laying voice upon voice, emotion upon emotion, building nuance upon nuance, blending character, and hoping to God everything comes out as one unified whole, with no rough edges, no off keys.
Writing is a lonely business, like a lot of Enya’s ballads. They seem to tug at the darkest emotions in you. Writing sometimes brings out the demons in you, and forces you to watch them taunt you on a (blank) page.

3 comments:

rayo said...

enya, that one is 'return to innocence' Tolu. first post giving insight to u as a person. lol @ being so scattered but i probably beat u at that sha. btw does doing this (writing the experiences surrounding ur writing), influence ur work in anyway, as in does it help?

Tolu Ogunlesi said...

Rayo,
you think you beat me to being scattered? nottoworry, let's wait for the 2012 Olympics! :-)
Re writing about the experiences surrounding my writing, it helps only in the sense that it's a way of practising descriptive writing...

Anonymous said...

No condoms on that bed, or were they not worth mentioning? lol.