I write my stories from their centre going out. When I open a new blank page, I hit the Enter button two, three times – then absentmindedly another three, four times – then I start to write. This first sentence that meets the page, the idea in this sentence, this is the story’s familiar pulsating heart. Take this away and you take away the heart of the story. And when all else has changed in the story around it, it is this one sentence with which I will recognize the story as one of my own.
Marilynne Robinson once said that every writer knows where the strength of his story lies – that there is usually an image or a moment that is strong enough to centre the story. If they can see it, they can enhance it. My strength, my strength is in this first sentence.
My weakness is in my intros. Intros are the last thing I write in my stories. I wing most of them. And sometimes, because I’m on deadline, I leave a gaping hole between my by-line and the first line of the story. I let this slide here on the blog. But when you’re engaging with an Editor, it is a debilitating exposure: “You can’t just slap readers with a story. You can’t expect every reader to guess what you wanted to say when you haven’t said it. Can you, really?” Uhm, I suppose not, I mumbled.
I agreed that my intros need more work. I said I will practise them.
Which I did.
Now I have intros but no stories to go with them.
And for a long time, I let them sit around stewing, maturing. Waiting for their story to materialize. But doing so, the novelty of the idea starts to wear off. It rots. It becomes a burden carrying around. Maya Angelou said that there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. That it’s a relief to get it out.
I say it’s all of that plus that feeling you get when you take off a tight bra at the end of the day.
This here is my relief – a story of intros with no stories. Heads with no bodies.
There’s a scene from Criminal Minds that has tattooed itself in my memory. Criminal Minds is a TV series about solving crimes of murder committed by sick intelligent Americans. It’s a bloody series. Bloodier than the image of bloody heads I am painting here.
Sheema Moore plays the character of one of the crime-solvers. The brawniest and sexiest of them all. He’s all about black tight tees, a taut ass and lip-gloss. Hehhe. Oh, and the phrase ‘Baby gal’.
The scene I speak of is from Season 2: Sheemar Moore’s character is in his Chicago hometown for, I don’t know, something. But while there, he is accused of a childhood felony which resulted in the death of four of his boys.
Sheemar Moore is brought in for questioning at the local precinct.
He’s alone in the interrogation room. It’s dimly lit. The only thing you can catch sight of before the camera zooms in on his face is his glossy lips. Heehe. Sheemar Moore looks as knackeredly sexy as he always does. But today he looks even the more sexy because he’s mad. Roar.
The interrogator checks into the room. He’s a hulk of man with a face moulded roughly from dough. A pale shirt and suspenders peek from beneath the flaps of his oversize jacket. He slouches. You can tell he’s a man struggling with personal reinvention.
Hairy hands carry a box, one of those fancy ones with the slots on the sides to fix your hands in.
Sheemar Moore knows what’s happening even before the interrogator speaks. But he lets him – the interrogator – speak anyway: “I have evidence that can put you away for a very long time.” Pause. “A very long time.”
Sheemar Moore snorts. Lips curl in disgust, brow frowns like an Angry Bird. It’s a tactic Goddamn it, he knows the box is empty. He says – and this is the part which kills me anew every time – Sheemar Moore says, “The FBI invented this stuff, you simple bastard.”
As a freelance writer, I have three things for breakfast: First, I have a microwaved meal of left-over from last night’s dinner washed down with a fresh pot of tea.
I don’t sit down to eat. I prance around the kitchen floor practising my dance steps, or filtering my thoughts, or writing intros in my head such as these ones. Life, I believe, has a finite list of the people it allows to sit down for a proper breakfast. The list includes such people as millionaires, features on the Forbes list, anyone who’s been to New York, restaurant owners, nursing mothers, and infants. People who have choice and people who don’t.
I stand still over the kitchen sink only long enough to down my tea. My obsessive disorder asks that I clean up after myself.
Second, I read from Harvard Business Review. I read the magazine online because I can’t afford the print version. HBR is prim and humourless, picture yourself buttoned up and tucked on a wooden seat with a straight back. That’s the HBR. HBR’s webpage is plain and to the point – no colour, no scrolling text, no goofy images. It’s like some blogs I know (ahem, fcbett much). Their paragraphs are chunky. And sometimes when I am halfway through a page, I will get bored and scroll down to see how close I am to an exit.
I read from one page. Take notes. And save the rest for tomorrow.
Finally – and this is the part I look forward to the most – I read from Entrepreneur.com. Entrpeneur.com is the best friend I made this year. Literally. I log into my Facebook just so I can get their updates. The updates are spit to my timeline with no apology. No, not spit. Spit is understating it, they vomit them out. Entrepreneur.com vomits.
Entrepreneur.com is one of those enviable chaps who deserve to always be called by two of their names. Like akina Robert Ndegwa. Mark Bor. Mercy Kairu. Anthony Kiprotich. Chris Kirubi.
If you don’t deserve to be called by two of your names, mark my words, you will never sit down to have your breakfast.
I read eight posts on average a day. Yeah. Entrepeneur.com reads likes it’s about too much fun, though.
I am wary about too much fun.
Surgeons and shoemakers. God made them on the second hour of the second day – I imagine God swivelled his chair around splitting his efforts between the two. And what He distinctively put in the surgeon, He put also in the shoemaker: the workmanship in those hands, those Gifted Hands. Hands with the finesse for needle and thread.
Before I moved to where I live now, I lived in a suburban neighbourhood where I could run and jog along the private and paved streets without the possibility of compromising my own safety. Nobody does this where I live now. It seems suspicious.
I exercised for one hour every Sunday morning – I jogged until I got to a lonely crescent road that was Amazonian in its heft – it hang low with green trees and leaves scattered along its tarmac. At certain spots along the crescent, the trees bowed into each other; their foreheads touched and their branches locked into each other like fingers would, creating alternating pockets of light then shade as I ran down the road. The air here was virginly dump and crisp.
I ran four laps around the crescent road. Then I turned around to jog back home.
After months of these Sunday mornings, my running shoes gave in – the sole of the right shoe started to hang like a snapping jaw.
I don’t know how I found this shoemaker in the midst of suburbia that morning, but I did. I took the stool then rested my socked foot on the pedestal he invited me to. And as I sat there watching him stitch the sole back on, he stopped being the shoemaker everyone saw and became the surgeon God intended.
The irony is in the audience.
It’s fight night tonight. Mayweather vs. Maidana. It’s the second time this year they meet in the ring. A boxing match is about footwork and punches straight to the head. Speedy blocks and technique. Facial expressions? Maybe. Maybe not. Swagger, yes.
It’s also show night tonight. It’s the second time this year a Saturday night finds me at this seedy strip club. Strippers – no one knows what their faces look like. We follow their waists, thighs and bottoms. And their personal technique in synchronizing all three. Facial expressions? Maybe. Maybe not. Swagger, yes.
But there’s an irony tonight, on this fight night: The stripper on stage now, she’s the entr’acte between the wild ones that come before 2AM and the wilder ones after 2AM. She’s a thick girl, the type of girl Dear Doris craves. No swagger. No personal technique. Too expressive in face. Cellulite and unsightly dimples slather her thighs and bottom. She’s too thick to hoist herself up the pole. So she dances around it and fixes her eyes on me. It’s awkwardly magnetic.
She reminds me of something Al Pacino said. Al Pacino said he favours the derring-do of performing onstage over onscreen because it feels as if the audience is another character in the play. That they are part of the event. Al Pacino remembers once, in ’72, making a strong connection with a pair of penetrating eyes in the audience. “The focus was so intense, so riveting that I directed my performance to that space,” he said.
I bet you neither Mayweather nor Maidana share his sentiments.
But the stripper, on this fight night here with the stripper, this is an Al Pacino moment.
I break the connection when the three chaps I am sharing the table with groan. Maidana wins the fourth round. His first, it’s now 2-1. The audience on TV cheers.
I look back to find her gone.
When will you write about me, Bett?
The question, as it always does, comes from an anxious chap who is slighted that between all his chutzpah and temerity, I have not found anything worthwhile to write in a story. This time it comes from my pal Mucheni.
Mucheni is an artist who has too much character for my liking – he uses a bandana for a handkerchief, untreated shells hang from his locks, and he’s a vegetarian who gets nauseated from the sight of choma. He only prays when it’s raining. He doesn’t use deodorant because he realized that the smell of underarm sweat is a pheromone for most women. He’s a brandy man.
Mucheni’s hustle is film scripts. He works from his living room wearing nothing but a watch and kikoy. It’s the rule more than the exception for him to not wear any underwear when he’s writing. Something about his creative process. He takes coffee breaks and cigarette breaks on his balcony after every four hours.
He has one toi, a love child whose paternity we question. He jokes that he picks up his parenting skills from following the conversations on Family Guy.
But I forgive his anxiety because he’s smart. Well-read. He has a razor-sharp wit that can chop your insolent ignorance into a thousand pieces, before he stuffs them down your throat. You know, I have to study before I see him. Read the newspapers and shit.
Oi Mucheni, if you are reading this, here’s the head I promised you.