The Writer’s Block

Writer's Block_Mind

I.

“What exactly do you want?”

“To write.” The words carry an intensity about them, enough to have her wrap her fingers around me and smile.

“You can write,” she says. “I’ve read your works and… they are beautiful.” She stares into my eyes. “And you know it.”

“Yes, yes, I do.” I drift my gaze away. “That’s the past. A writer’s worst enemy is his last story.”

“Did you steal that?”

“Did I?”

“That line – your worst enemy is your last success.” She breaks our hold. “You stole it. Plagiarism. You just stole that line.”

I’m smiling now. “It’s not so bad a thing.”

“Oh, it is.” She sidesteps to allow a student go into the hostel. “A writer’s not supposed to steal a line.”

“Hence the word, modify.”

She slaps my hand. “That’s not fair. You being a writer doesn’t mean you can just bamboozle me with words.” Her lips are twisted in a funny grin. “Bamboozle.”

“A big word,’ I say.

She nods. Our eyes are trained on each other. She spreads her arms. I sneak in. She pats me, working her hands towards my back, like a masseuse taking the pain of a day’s labor away. I feel my heartbeat steady, my blood thin. The stone that’s been tied to my chest slips off.

“Thank you,” I say.

I hear her nod. The sun begins to settle.

“You will write,” she says. “You will write many beautiful stories for me. And for…”

Then she lets go and walks in.

II.

The class isn’t holding. I idle at the second of many steps ascending up the lecture theatre and sweep my eyes along the rows of foldable seats. The students disappear few minutes later, leaving a handful of zealots perched on seat, textbooks before their faces. I unzip my bag and walk towards the socket.

It takes seconds to set up, and I’m entering my fear landscape again. The blank screen. It’s been blank for nineteen days now. Every morning, I wake and only manage to say, “Thank You Lord” before I repeat the I-will-write-today mantra. Every night, just before I say, “Thank You for today, Lord,” my mind sniggers, “You did not write today.”

I position my fingers on the keypad and stare at the white board at the theatre’s frontage as if my muse is tied to it. Nothing comes. My head is blanker than the page before me. I tap a word. Two words. Many words. A paragraph shapes. A scene. Then, before I can process, I wipe everything off.

I stare at the blank page again and nurse how easy it is to destroy. And the pain of creation.

My gaze flips to the top left corner of the screen. Half past 10. One and a half hours before she comes – not adding the minutes she’d expend trekking from LT1 to Bancroft LT. I consider the students lost in different worlds – Physics, Organic Chem., Logic and Philosophy. Their faces are grim, sober, in the way an employee gets when her buddy is handed the thank-you-for-your-services letter. I identify with them, with the staidness.

If someone came into scene now, he might comment, “The boy behind a laptop must be very serious with his work, considering he didn’t spend up to a minute ambling his eyes before refocusing his attention.” But if he leapt to the laptop, he would say, “Oh, he’s just lazing about.”

It is so easy to switch opinions.

III.

“What did you write?”

“Nothing.”

She doesn’t stare with wide eyes. She simply nods and maintains her pace. “You just sat for two hours and wrote nothing.”

“Not really.”

“Okay.”

We trek in silence. Silence has been a fragrance in our relationship. The night I asked if my friend, Dave, was her boyfriend, she was silent for a minute before she said no. When I suggested we take permission from Dave before we proceeded, and Dave in turn shook his head, it was his quiet laugh that let me know he was joking. The previous semester result had me doing 120mph, but it was her silence and her warm fingers that kick-started the miraculous.

The silence this time feels different. It’s like what’s exists when two friends visit with each other a day after one was raped while the other was flogged, like what happens when your ex’s partner dies and you pay the obligatory condolence visit.

It’s dangerous. It smells like fire.

IV.

“That’s it?”

“Yes,” the other girl says. We met her outside the lodge. She was wearing a skirt, her hair packed in a bun.

“Is that why you dressed to the nines?” I ask.

The girl smirks and runs in, leaving us alone.

“So…”

I turn and face her.

“What are you gonna do about it?’

“Nothing,” she says.

“Nothing? Your mum’s sick.”

“I heard the first time.”

My lips part in reflex. I stutter steps backward and eye her. I want to yell at her for being so passive, for not considering her friend who was waiting for her return.

“I should go,” she says.

I say nothing. She draws near and hugs me. Her body is stiff, as if enclosed in a transparent glass box.

“I’m sorry,” I say.

“Say it,” she says.

“It just feels like I wasn’t made for this. Like all I learnt about writing and storytelling has been vacuumed. Like I don’t know how to show again, and all I can do is tell. I read a book last year about writerly expressions. How you’re supposed to spin some sentences only writers are capable of. I hate my mother, but I would kill my father before laying a hand on her. That’s writerly. These days, writerly expressions evade me like I’m contraband. And… and…”

She sniffs the air on my neck, till my breathing matches her. The air begins to get cold.

 

V.

I call her before bed.

“I’m going home tomorrow,” she says. “I should be back in time for 207.”

“How’s mum?”

“She would be well.”

“Okay.” The walls of the room are festooned with words. I find a suitable sentence and read to her.

“Sometimes, silence is golden,” she replies. “Failure too. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight,” I say.

 

P.S: It’s been a long time since I blogged. In the period of hiatus, I’ve been learning design. Do you see the fading ‘block’ in that image, replaced with mind? That’s the motivation. Positive words. Thanks for reading.

How You Know You Are Busy 

The beep-beep comes again. Softer this time, because it’s WhatsApp. Your mum. She wants to know if you’ve completed the research she asked of you. Your fingers fly off the keypad and unto the phone as you punch a harried response.

I.

You wake with cramps in your biceps. You feel like you just pulled a freight train across a field stretching 1,000 miles. You lift your neck to turn at the window and hear a crack, like the nerve connecting your torso to your head just snapped. You run your hand slowly over the back of your head and bring it away wet. And clean.

No blood.

A sigh escapes you. You notice the wetness extends down the front of your arm, slipping over to your open palm. You shrug and roll off the bed and stop at the last second, just before you fall four feet. You remember then that you aren’t in the king-size bed at home, but a hand-me-down, please-manage foam, and you’d have landed with your head had you not halted.

You remember a lot of things too.

You remember that your tutorial manual is squeezed against the wall, the way a man’s face might be wrinkled if slapped by a door. You remember that the tick-tick-tick reaching you is coming from a clock your roommate found at the physics lab. He’d placed it over the slab above your closet to alert you when morning breaks. You squint through the glass panes and catch the sun scudding across a clear sky.

You jump.

You land with your palm facedown and breathe. Breath. You remember that you need to breathe often, that a pile of clothes is squeezed under the wooden doors of your closet, that the smell wafting into your nostrils is from the clothes, that you just sent a pot flying when you jumped, and the pot contained oil-stained water, that you still haven’t attended your assignment, that…

Breathe. You are remembering too much. You shut your eyes and breathe. Breath.

II.

You stare at the screen in shock. Two messages glow. The first is an alert. A credit alert. You know the fee just zoomed into your account, somehow. The whole shebang you charged the man. He surely crossed the border of your agreement. His words dilute with your thoughts: 60 percent upfront, the balance later. And here, he’s sent everything.

You scroll to the other text. You see the man’s name: Mr. Adebayo, and forget to breathe. Or maybe the room is drained of air. Maybe the woman hovering at the marker board has evaporated the gaseous content of the room with her incoherent explanation.

She’s saying something like, “Boltzmann’s constant is…” You lose the rest of the sentence. Her name is Laide. But you call her Dr. Laide, with the doctor boomed over the Laide. You are used to it, the weight tied to titles on this side of the globe. Your heart goes icy when she walks towards you. Her eyes are on you, as if she’s the mind-reader in X-men. She smiles, a grin that says, “I’d get you.” She walks straight past you like you are just a molecule.

You don’t blame her. There are over 500 in the lecture theatre. She probably would be incapable to place your face. You love it that way – the unknown student.

A beep explodes from your phone. Your reaction is reflex. Your left hand bolts and slams down on the speaker. You freeze in that posture. No one turns your way. Heaving, you review the text. It’s from Mr. Adebayo. He’s awaiting your response. But you can’t think up one. You don’t know how to reply this notification.

I need the design in three hours.

III.

The second finger of your left wrist is dead. Feels dead. You drag it across the mouse embedded in your laptop as you modify a circle. Get an external mouse, your friends had advised. You’d refused, the way a fly refuses to heed instruction before it ends up in the liver of a monkey.

The beep-beep comes again. Softer this time, because it’s WhatsApp. Your mum. She wants to know if you’ve completed the research she asked of you. Your fingers fly off the keypad and unto the phone as you punch a harried response. You are barely done when another one chirps. Class rep.

“Emmanuel, where are you? I’d be submitting the assignment by four.”

Your brain bursts.

Your eyes flit to the analog clock embedded in the top right corner of the laptop. 03:28. Thirty-two minutes before you mail the design. Exactly the same time you have to complete your assignment and get it across to the rep.

You race to your closet, grab the manual, rummage for a pen. You settle down by your workspace and scribble through. The answers come to you the way a newly-wed would go to her husband. You are done in seven minutes, saving three. You call a colleague and meet him at your doorway. He disappears with the assignment.

The time is 03:44. You work like a mad, irritated tiger. Another beep. You do not check. You flip your mouse to the pentagon tool and draw a star. You paint it with colors. You are still amazed at the wonder of graphic design and Corel Draw. You complete the flier design just as the last second dips into four pm.

Your phone beeps. It’s angry. Like a boxer losing control. You slide to receive. Mr. Adebayo rushes through his words, as if he’s in a mental institution and cannot be caught. You nod and close Corel Draw. A dialog box pops up and you press, ‘no’, absently.

Mr. Adebayo says, “Is it ready?”

“Yes. I’m forwarding it to your mail –”

A chirps ends your sentence. You scroll to the file containing a few designs and click the most recent one. A blue circle swirling informs you it is loading. You breathe. It feels so good to breathe again.

The page loads. Your eyes bulge. The design is incomplete. Your brain jogs down the last few minutes. And then, like the finger of God taking a peek at you in a stormy night, you remember…

You did not save the design.

****

P.S 1: This kinda reads like my typical day, save I still get a gob of things done. 

P.S 2: There’s no image. More on that in future posts. 

Imagine That. Now,.. Imagine This. 

​”As a writer, you read all books – good and bad. You learn what works from the good ones. You know the pits to avoid from the bad ‘uns.” – Stephen King (paraphrase)
First, in my opinion, there are no bad books. Badly written ones, maybe. There are books poorly crafted, books with a plot that has been fleshed in exactly the same manner a thousand times, books with grammar so poor you’d think they jumped from first draft to printing press. But there are no bad books. You, of course, are welcome to disagree. 
But that quote did factor into my decision not to read Imagine This by Sade Adeniran as I thumbed through the first pages. 
“It’s a diary?”
My host looked up and shook his head. “Written like one,” he said, and I knew it never would make my reading list. No amount of persuasion, not even having the novel in proximity for two weeks could change that. 


So, one night, when I walked in and spotted the book in a closet, the you-should-read-all-books guy in me said, “You are reading that book.” Sixteen hours on (plus sleeping and eating and tackling a few chores), I closed the last page and sighed; an interesting read. Here goes the review. 
I learned this week that reviews are intellectual and emotional. The intellectual considers the structure – grammar, flow, pace, setting, redundancies, cartoonist characters… The emotional delves into the emotions. Hence, I’d be dividing this in two parts. 
ONE

The best worst thing that could befall a writer is… not writers’ block. It is having to develop a novel through the lenses of one character, that is, one point of view. The author not only did it well, she made it enjoyable. There were instances where I longed to peek at the mind of another character – Lola’s father mostly – but the denial is why people read fiction. They want something. They don’t get it, and neither does the hero –  Lola. 
Lola starts the book at nine, ends at nineteen. She’s the typical I-was-born-in-England-but-returned-home-due-to-some-unpleasant-situations girl, save she doesn’t live with her father on arrival. She’s sent to fourth-finger-related relatives (uncles and aunts from my mother’s brother’s family). She starts the journey with a father and brother and an absconded mother and ends with no father, no brother, and a mother she speaks to in the last chapter. Amazing story. Plot, pace, style, voice, all awesome. I got reminded of some words – asinine, affable, sagacious, antepenultimate – because the hero had to learn new words. Maybe a few cliched events, but heck, there’s nothing new under the fireball that lights the day. 
I have a few issues, however. There are a bit too many deaths, the type allowed in thrillers and horrors but not Nigerian literature – except there’s a war, which wasn’t recorded. Two, as a result of one of the deaths, twelve or fourteen year old Lola fasts forty days and nights, drinking water for the first 23 or so days. Who does that? It isn’t impossible, yeah, but these are spiritual things, not what you do because you want your bro resurrected. And she did pull through. And she did get her wish. 
I’m not saying it’s unrealistic – emotions do get the better of us, but then, hmm… 
TWO
Now, my name is Michael. To be clearer, I’m a Christian. So, when I began to read serious fiction, I steered clear of anything not Christian fiction – Nigerian lit, genre fiction, cross-genre fiction, classics. Only John Grisham squeezed himself to my reading list, and I jumped over every sentence that started with ‘He smoke a pack of Marlboro’ and ‘The beach was warm and swarmed with bikini-clad women’.
Naturally, Nigerian/African lit was the last thing I opened up to. This is why: they have a way of leaving me cracked up. Fiction is supposed to answer questions, yes, but also give hope, joy, gratitude, excitement, encouragement, relief, maybe a little sadness. But if everytime you do something, you feel like you’re at the edge of a cliff and all you see are tracks of tears and you can’t just resist shedding them, you should be careful. 
It didn’t catch me as a surprise when I experienced the same emotions when I finished Imagine This. The character felt like me, too much like me, and she wasn’t exactly happy throughout the story. 
This got me the most – she let her boyfriend explore her for the first time the night before she broke up with him. Twas bad. Looking back, I see it was a literary pun, not to the girl’s life alone, but to the whole script. She gave up what she treasured most and got what she desired the most, albeit in totally different ways. 
Got me shaking my head pitifully. 
But that’s it. I’m done. I’m reading more genre fiction in the coming weeks. Now I can go back to The War is Over by Andrew Wommack and be my good self. Till we exchange again, keep reading. And yeah, there’s an excerpt:
11th August 1979

Dear Jupiter, 

Ronke and I got into a fight and I broke a bottle of ice water on her head. There was blood and water everywhere and Father and her mother have taken her to the hospital. I’ve locked myself in the room… (Page 96.)

Block F 

​Ugh. 

Exclamation expressing disgust, horror or recoil, says Wordweb. Disgust is not what I feel. Neither is it recoil or horror. Perhaps ‘ugh’ covers it best. It’s like having prayed and prayed till the point of being drained of words and all you utter is a full sigh. Like fetching bucket after bucket into a plastic barrel and then heaving at the last pour. Like punching keys away through the night then hitting the nearest couch for four hours – waking and giving a long druggy yawn. 


That’s how the past few weeks have left me. Without syllables. Imagine that predicament for a writer (and we all are writers, we don’t just face the work). I’d go through each routine while humming, “I’m going to sit my butt and write. Really am,” like the grasshopper making mental notes to gather food against winter only to find itself starved then. 
Over the weekend, something happened. So many things. And one of the results is this – blogging. No, I didn’t forget the need to blog, or how to write. Neither was I deprived time. I just couldn’t put together a blog. Well, not anymore. This one is called Block F. 
The block has no entrance or exit, bordered by intertwined steel wires with holes tiny enough to swallow a newborn’s fist. It has to its left Block C and Block D as rearguard. A trail of white paint runs on all four corners of the block.
A boy comes out of Block D, wearing dark shorts. His face, hidden in the darkness, is pressed into wrinkles. His shirtless tummy is as flat as the decrepit land before him. He takes a step and coughs. He spits loudly into the gutter, taking in the splash. Another fellow grouches, “you people are the ones keeping this hostel dirty.”
The boy closes up to the guy, one hand balled, the other balancing a bundle. The grouch quickly looks away and retreat, bread and beancakes in both hands. He must have had too much, the boy concludes, while he is in dire need. The boy watches him disappear and hisses, then clears his throat and spits again. It’s a missed shot. The boy steps over the pavement supporting the walkway and is hit with an overdose of howling wind. He doesn’t shield his chest. 
He takes another lazy step. A mass of white light blinds him. Sheathing his eyes, he gathers his bundle closer. The lampbearer is now at him. He mutters a weak, lifeless, “sorry” and is in Block B in an instant. The boy considers trailing him, dragging him by the neck and beating him to excitement. He lets the thought fade. Wind picks intensity, accompanied by rumblings in the sky, like a kettledrum cadence. 
The boy smells rain. 
He hastens steps, crossing patches of grass before arriving at the concrete floor. He unties his bundle and retrieves a thick cotton which he spreads slowly. He picks the only other item in the bundle and lays atop the cotton. The boy steps back, assessing, like a mason supervising a project. He smiles. He steps on one end, facing his entry point, and goes on his knees, as if participating in a liturgy. He utters no words of reverence. 
He doesn’t know when he sleeps off. His last thought is the rain been like drops from an Alaskan river. 

Seven Lessons

This would likely make the records as my shortest blog post so far.

It’s eleven pm. The whir of a copter’s propellers drift pass my window as I pen these words. Here are the things I realized or stumbled upon as I waged through today.

  1. A stitch in time saves one. A stitch before time saves nine. A stitch after time is no stitch.
  2. It doesn’t matter how the day starts, or how the day ends. What is of utmost concern is this: How did you make people feel?
  3. Zooming into each day with goals should actually encourage flexibility. Having a deadline means opportunity to provide a fella a lifeline.
  4. He who can keep his tongue can control his whole body. But to do that, you have to keep your mind. Transformation.
  5. You might not be the best in your field despite years of practice, but you are the best you. No one can do you better.
  6. Keep at it. It pays.
  7. Take account of all the good things you’ve enjoyed, and don’t be affected by them. Be pushed to your knees in thanks. Get back and put in more efforts, and finally, do all like you’d never do another.

So, there they are. My shortest blog post, shy of midnight posting. Thanks for reading.