fra: full of chutzpah

My first piece of writing to ever be published was this one, as a Guest Post on Bikozulu’s blog.

When this piece made its debut, I thought it stale – it had been over 60 days since I had written it and it had sat around in my C-drive simmering, marinating. Then it went stale.  When I wrote it, it was clear and relevant; I was happy with my work. When Bikozulu was ready to run it, not only was it stale in my mind, but it also did not make any sense. Can you imagine that, a writer not able to make sense of his own work? I believe its relevance had run out.

It was not until several months later I would realize the importance of this piece in shaping me as writer. Let me break it down to you:
First, when a seasoned and celebrated writer like Bikozulu takes your rookie draft and thinks it is a good enough story to run as a guest post – raw and unpredictable as it were – this becomes the stamp of approval we young ones seek early in our careers. As a toddler gets his first pair of shoes telling him that he can now walk in the sun on his own, so it were for me.
Second, Bikozulu was the first and last writer I ever tried to please. The desire to please another, other than myself, started with this piece and ended after three of such. There’s an author who said that this desire to fulfill others’ wishes is harmful in life but it is lethal in writing. As a writer, you are always your own best judge. Always.
Last, how his readers received this post. It was received with passion alright; only that the passion fell on extreme ends of the stick. I was disemboweled and decapitated. Acknowledged and accepted. Recall that quote from the movie the Braveheart? The voice-over when the lead character, William Wallace, was killed at the end of the movie: “After the beheading, William Wallace’s body was torn to pieces. His head was set on London bridge. His arms and legs, sent to the four corners of Britain as warning.”

That was me and my piece: William-Wallace’d.

I took the punches like a big girl, and pieced myself back together. Then, I opened a fresh page and drew a line straight down the middle. I sifted through comments, one at a time, jotting down the takeaway points on either side of the page; a first step towards sharpening my tools. When I was done, 70+ comments later, I noted the imbalance; one side of the table far outweighed the other. But the message was clear: I needed to practice my writing some more.

The title up there was its original title.


I told Biko that I can’t write to save my life, that I can’t produce an album tighter than Just A Band’s ‘Sorry for the delay’ or top the design of those kitengee jackets that are suddenly all the hype. No, I cannot.

I am a critic – it’s what I am good at. I am the kind that congregates at Rotten Tomatoes and Pitchfork.

Biko take back your mic and do what you do: ‘tell stories with your eyes closed’. Oh, you want me to close my eyes? It shall help, yes? No.

Okay, here goes me shedding off my anonymity.


My name is Fra Ternity, and I am a critic.
‘Hi fra’.

I like for my name to be written in lower case, no breaks in between. It’s over before it begins, really leaves nothing to chew on. fra. Get used to it.

To put food on my table, I strut around one of those firms that issue opinions on balanced books and control environments. I ‘critic’ for a living.

I have disobeyed a majority of the commandments of the social bible and I am self-confessed traitor of IT, art and science. Ssshhh, don’t tell them am here; if you do, I shall be drowned in colour, hanged with a cross-over Ethernet cable before am spun around until my centre of gravity is repositioned to my fingers – do not tell them am here.

As I pen this, I have ear phones stuck into my ears listening to Dashboard Confessional’s ‘So long, so long’. It has been looping for the past six and quarter hours. I am trying to dissect it to find out what makes it such a classic thus the reason I have it as the only item on my playlist. Understand that the classics are not known by all – if it’s too famous it becomes ordinary, too unheard of and it means that it wasn’t all that. It’s a fine balance. Ordinary means that its typical music writing, typical means that it lacks that factor that can only be discovered by ilk.
The album? The album is Dusk and Summer from 2006.

Again, it is what we critics do – we have to make sense of what makes it tick {or not tick, for that matter}. So you wear it out by letting in play on and on and on. Plus, I am gathering intel to produce My Band sometime in the future. Quit laughing, I am serious now. In exchange for this post, Biko has pledged to buy an album for himself and each of his fans. Plus advertising space right here on High School when am launching the album. He told me that it would clutter the page ‘I like it neat and trim’. I retorted something about ‘supporting local talent’ that went ignored. I am not aiming to go platinum but hey, a gyal can afford to be greedy, can’t she?

I am a Libra. I think in bullet points and a sought of relational manner – most of my ideas are linked to the arts – music, photography and words. I am as analytical as I am careless – I want to lay the firewood right before I jump right into the boiling pot. Like any other artist, I have a signature – mine is in the braces { }, and not brackets ( ). Brace yourself; brackets are going to be so old-fashioned someday!

So the other day, some folks got meddlesome, found out who I was and were curious to know – how did you recognize that the word supply was running low, eh? How come you were able to see critical battery when we were thinking longevity? He’s a darling of the pen gods for crying out loud, a favourite of the wizened chief! If we needed to make a sacrifice to appease the gods to end the drought & bless us with rains of words and harvests of stories, he would be the one we would sacrifice. Whenever the king was not in the mood, he would be the one we called upon to placate him in his chambers with his tales and banter. The budding writers looked up to him and approached his presence with reprieve, forgive our writers sins, they begged. Toni Braxton bit her tongue severally in the past because she’d been mentioned over 852 times, and counting, in the last 2 years alone {those stats are real, by the way}. His pen never seemed to run out of ink, his stores were always in bounties of words, humour was completely unprepared, word-play was unequalled – my garr! Rumour has it he has penned over 3,000 articles and blog posts that shall slowly be released after his death; Tupac style {I shuddered at that one}.
So what did you catch that we didn’t, they probed.

I mumbled something measly about being a seasoned critic but they dismissed it as bull.

I was cornered. So I sat them round the fire to give them the juice: it takes one to know one.

Burnout is a real bitch; and it is rife in this industry of mine. When you spend your days crunching numbers and ‘validating’ events that happened months ago just so you can have some ‘deficiency to report’, it is like life hands you a palette that is devoid of the colours green and yellow and orange; it hands you a palette that turns your mood into as sombre as the colours in it. You get sucked in from the insides in shades of lilac and beige. And that, that is not cool. But there’s a beauty in that. Hold on, there’s a beauty in that. The beauty is that you can work/walk around fully colourless on the inside but put up a front that everyone else needs to see on the outside. Yes, I can afford to be a zombie for months on end.
It is a sequence of events that starts with the passion jumping out of you and quickly transforming itself into a new being, a person, a replica, a shadow. A person I shall name {for no real reason} John Kamau, JK. JK follows you around; JK grows bigger as he sucks the music and colours out of you. You barely notice. The things that define you slowly start to exit one by one and sit cross-legend in a circle staring back at you; they hang around loosely watching JK from afar. JK has taken over and the worry about this imbalance. By Jove they worry for you; they worry that the space in you that belonged to them has now been taken over by this ‘cloud’, like a cold front that leaves the sea but hovers instead of crossing through the island.

It is only the day that you realize how ‘tiny’ you have become that you look within and without. You notice that it is quiet and colourless. When you are so small that you can now literally ran across your laptop’s keyboard to type the letter ‘p’ then dash across to type the letter ‘a’ then back to ‘i’ and that’s when you hit rock bottom because you are out of breath from running from yourself; picture Benjamin Button pulling a David Rudisha across the track. You give up, you give in. In that moment of self-doubt, as you are panting wearily with your hands resting on your knees and head staring down at your feet, JK grabs you by the collar of your shirt, dangles you in front of its face, and squashes you under its thumb; like a smoker does with a cigarette butt under his shoe. The game is over. And your passions look away to shield their eyes from this debacle that had been foreseen from the moment that JK sent out invites for their eviction party.

Heavy choices have to be made here – you can either bounce back or walk away. It is more like a bargain really. But like I said earlier, a gyal’s gotta eat. So you bounce back, painfully, and tackle JK down. And those things that once defined you find their way back in – one by one, the music and the colour find their way home. It takes plenty of time, and effort but they become characters again – they find their place and create a united front to make JK vanish. They pray, and I pray, that he has vanished for good.

Burnout is a real bitch.

Now back to Dashboard Confessional, and what’s that you said about a ‘control weakness’?

How the girls could turn to ghosts before your eyes,
And the very dreams that led to them are keeping them from dying.
And how the grace with which she walked into your life,
Will stay with you in your steps,
And pace with you a while.
So long, so long. So long, so long’


Demigods: meeting our favorite writers

Comments (5)

  1. The Real G

    I remember this on bikozulu. hahahaha. You were Williams-Wallace’d alright.

  2. Peaches

    You are a brave girl. And you write well. Am inspired by you and am proud of you.

    • fra

      Thank you for the kind words Peaches.

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