BY BETT KINYATTI
Imagine you’re 25.
You live in South B with your aunt because your folks retired to Naks and someone in the family had to stay behind to tend your raggedy millennial ass. Your siblings – two big sisters and a bro – are out of the country raising their own versions of a modern family. You miss them.
It gets lonely in the digs with just your aunt sometimes. Most evenings she’s asleep by the time you get home at eight. She barely eats yet she fixes elaborate dinners daily and leaves for you to find them in these large Tupperware glass bowls with plastic lids that have a lingering whiff of garlic. You usually spend the rest of the evening alone, in your bedroom upstairs, overstuffed and roosting in your own sins.
You intern as a brand strategist for a kiosk on Ngong Road. It doesn’t seem like a kiosk when you see it from the highway under construction, then you walk through its front doors and see the cracks in its veneers.
Everything in here is under construction. Even their goddamn website.
You can’t wait for the day you’ll get the hell out of there. What keeps you walking through those doors every morning is your boss. A pleasant Kale chap whose family is from the edge of the Mau Forest. He wears badly fitting khaki pants and seems like a distant relative of Belio Kipsang, that education chap. He smells like some soapy cologne.
You like your boss because he’s invested in you as a person, not as a brand strategist (whatever the hell that means). He’s always probing you about what you want for yourself. What are your goals for this quarter? What’s that you listen to on your ear buds? Hook me up with some of your weed? He sorta reminds you of your Ol’Man back in Naks.
What you tell no one is that you have a habit that has grown into a wild beast you can no longer contain. So you contain it in a locked room in a corner of your mind. You can hear it growling ferociously behind that door. Pacing. Seething. Gnawing for a way out.
It frightens you.
It used to be like a pet, this habit. It was a puppy you loved to roll around the grass in your backyard with. You’d smoothen down that tuft of hair at the top of its head that stubbornly plonked back up again after rubbing it. It would nuzzle its nose to the back of your ear; that tickled you and made you feel like a mum, in some twisted unexplainable way.
Sometimes you’d sleep with it. Anyone can guess you’d showered with it a couple of times but you’d never say that out aloud. One time it began to rain while you guys were out for your evening walk. The pup sneezed and you took off your hoodie and draped it over him. You said ‘aww’ and brought it closer to the warmth of your chest; you didn’t want him shivering and catching a cold later.
The puppy grew because you fed it when it needed to be fed. Pavlov’s dog of conditioning.
Now it’s a vicious hungry lion. A lion you can neither tame nor tether to a leash. It has the aura of Scar from ‘The Lion King’ – two-sided, potent and unpredictable.
A devil when provoked. A killer when confronted.
One day, you show up on my WhatsApp without warning and say, “I have a problem, Bett. I need help.”
You say it in one word. A word that captures the ugliness of your indulgence.
Let’s give this bad indulgence of habit a name. Let’s call it Beetle Juice.
“Why can’t you just… stop?”
“ I’ve tried stopping.” You exhale into the phone. I can picture you holding it in your limp hands, defeated. There’s an emoji for exhaling but no one exactly knows which one it is on WhatsApp. You may use it and the person on the other end imagines it means you’re constipated.
You carry on. “I’m still trying to stop. I go four days then I backslide. I’ve tried journaling and praying and keeping myself occupied but eventually I go back. I’m identifying the triggers, though.”
You go on to list the triggers. It’s seemingly innocuous stuff. Stuff that you and I encounter and engage with every single day, you’re probably engaging with it right now. Sometimes I go out of my way to find these triggers because I tear into them as a loose pastime. The only difference here is, it’s meat to my person, but poison to my pal.
“How have you been able to go four days?”
“Sheer will,” you say. “Long hours at work.”
“And you can’t sustain this?”
I hear your voice tremble in the chat. You append your ‘apparently not’ with a sad-face emoji. It’s a real sad-face emoji. I don’t think you’re holding back a fart.
“Because I’m addicted. I look for excuses to have it. It becomes an itch I have to scratch. I tell myself, ‘Look, you’ve had a long day, release the tension. Maybe one hit will release the creative juice. It’s healthy. You need this. It’s OK. Just have one more minute of Beetle Juice. Just one. You can have weed later. You’ll use it to numb the guilt.”
I leave the chat hanging there.
What would you do? How do you break this bad habit, how do you tame this ferocious beast in the wild into a pet? Tame it so you can cuddle it on the couch in one moment then smother to death in one fell swoop, in the next. How do you kill this bad habit?
I’ll go first.
Everyone has had a bad habit they’ve had to battle with at some point in their lives. Everyone. Even The Pope.
I had a bad habit at 24. I had another when I was around 13. I won’t tell you what they were because I’m still embarrassed about them.
I’m realising now that the bad habits germinated and sprouted as I was coming of age and into myself. At 13, adolescence was about to rap at my door. At 24, the quarter-life crisis was looming in the horizon.
I suppose I’ll pick up another habit as I get closer to 40, Inshallah. It won’t be a bad habit though, it’ll be an extreme one. Something so out of character, so perplexing that they may not recognize for a minute there.
Now I’m 34 and I still have some terrible daily habits.
I had – and still have, on the occasion – a terrible habit of not keeping time. I have another terrible habit of procrastination. Now I’m developing a new terrible habit of stuffing my face with sweet unhealthy things.
Muna helped me overcome the habit of poor timekeeping. She needs to get to school by 8.30. I feel horrible when she’s late to school. I know she’s late when the teacher on duty has shut the gate on that pathway that leads up to the classrooms. I feel more horrible when Muna says moanfully, “Mummy, teacher is not there to hug me.”
Surely, if I’m not going to keep time then let me not keep time for my commitments, not Muna’s.
As soon as I drop her, I’m good and ready to prepare for whatever meetings I have in the day ahead. I’ve not been late for anything (during the week) since Muna began kindergarten this year. That girl should stay in school forever.
The procrastination habit is now the Mount Kilimanjaro in my life.
Here’s a list of those things I’ve procrastinated of late.
The obvious one is posting consistently to this blog. Dusty Rugs is to go up Mondays, my copy on Wednesdays. I almost never meet my Wednesday deadline. Not because I don’t have a story to write, but because I have built the bad habit of not writing at all. I may draft it then leave it hanging halfway – like a surgeon who walks away from the OR halfway through a procedure and leaves the patient bleeding to death on the table. I kill my own ideas and my stories when I leave them incomplete.
I have newspaper and magazine columns and I never miss to file my copy. Ever. I’m the same person who writes the words that go to those pages, so what’s the play with Craft It?
I’m the bookkeeper for my chama. I haven’t sent the books in dinosaur years. I keep telling myself that no one bothers to read them, anyway. That my chama mates see my email and scroll down in fast forward. Or if they open, they can’t make heads or tails of the balance sheet and profit & loss account.
I also tell myself that I’m on top of things – I’m aware of the contributions that are coming in monthly, and the investment-returns cheques I have my PA deposit to the bank. Mostly, I study the bank statements when DTB emails them monthly. So yes, I have a rough idea of where we stand. No one has stolen anything from us. Money hasn’t been swallowed into a crack in the ground. DTB hasn’t used our money to fund global you-know-what.
I’ve procrastinated my morning runs.
I procrastinate responding to emails and WhatsApp chats. An email is OK because you can open it, ruminate on what’s in there then mark it back as unread so you can action it later. I wish WhatsApp would introduce this feature. I wish I could unblue-tick a blue tick, then have a chat as unread. That way I know to return to it later, when it’s time to be on WhatsApp.
I procrastinate posting here, to the blog. I’ve said that already. I’ll say it again because it’s a really really terrible thing. Craft It will make money soon but by letting the procrastination get in the way, I’m gluing us with inertia to retrogressiveness. I’m delaying reaching that cash destination. Actually, I’m procrastinating my own payday.
The Zanzibar post (from my July trip) is quarter way done. Some weeks back I told myself to cut the bullshit and post stories daily as I wrote them in the morning. Lower my high standards and fling them out the window, really just write stories with the first-draft standard. I had fun. A lot of it.
What fascinated me is that I was done with my week’s jobo by Wednesday. Thursday I began jobo for the week that followed, Friday afternoon I took Muna for a swim.
What else? We moved house recently and there’s stuff I’ve been meaning to buy for the kitchen and bedrooms. Silly interior decor items that these days give me such oddly immense delight. I began with steam, now the steam has fizzled out.
There were baby pictures for Muna I’d intended to print, mount and hang up on our photo wall. I wanted June of Frames Kenya to to the job for me, as she has all the other of our family pics. Shit went so badly that someone I’d lent my SD card to (ahem, Wangui, ahem) misplaced the card with the photos. I was a genius for not backing them up elsewhere. So there goes my baby’s pics.
Oh, and there’s invoicing. I run a couple of biasharas where I’m the finance head and part of my JD is to invoice our clients. It’s such boring work, Jesus. Listing quantities, yawn, doing the math of this item by these quantities then summing up to get the total. Yawn. Amending the invoice. Checking it for accuracy and completeness, yawn, then sending it through. God. B.O.R.I.N.G.
What else? My passport. Goodness me, my passport. I’ve missed a work trip to Cape Town with Google Maps because my new passport isn’t ready. GB had been singing the same song since January, “Renew your passport. Renew your passport.” And I hit back with the same chorus, “Kwani where am I going? Where am I going?”
So yeah, it’s not stuff that can cause a heart attack but it’s all feeding the procrastination habit. Spoonful by spoonful. Little drops into the large ocean of inefficiencies, unreliability and slack. I’m missing opportunities and losing time.
I know what my problem is – I like to have preludes to an event. Mind and mood prep. Pre-gaming. I want foreplay. I read yesterday from someone wise that said foreplay is overrated.
I need to breathe. I’m reading this e-book titled ‘Practical Personal Development’; it’s a seeker’s guide to conscious living. Couple what I’ve picked up from the book and listing down my bad habits here, today, something in me has shifted. There’s been an awakening. Ha-ha.
Let’s pause this here so it can simmer. I’ve exhausted my word count, anyway.
Next week I’ll suggest how we can smother Scar to death and discard his Beetle Juice.
As I exhale, it’d like to hear from you. Think you could share some of the terrible habits you’ve been battling with a while?4