I Write What I Think – The Gatvol Blogger
Welcome to my blog.
I am the Gatvol Blogger. Gatvol is an Afrikaans word meaning fed up, frustrated, pissed off, etc. I Write What I Think is my space to spit out a mouthful. You probably don’t know this but I am opinionated. I am full of shit. I am. There is no use pretending I’m not. It is my default setting. Everybody has an opinion. Some are more adept at expressing it. Some rarely do.
Opinions are shit. We all have it within us. It’s in our heads and working its way through the digestive tract enroute to the “S” shaped part of the colon, also known as the sigmoid. And when the head or colon is full of it, the brain determines if the contents are ready to be released.
The average person excretes about a ton of shit a year. You can imagine the tonnes of opinions or shit a person carries in a lifetime. That’s a lot of weight to carry in our heads. I guess you understand why you feel lighter, relieved or as if a weight has been removed from your shoulders after talking about what’s on your mind, or a rant. The sheer weight of shit in your head can crush your soul if you don’t express yourself and let it out. Mental constipation drives people crazy. That is why there is a multi-millionaire industry created for people to talk to charlatans and shrinks full of shit. Society is sick. You with me.
Yeah, I think a lot about shit. I write about it too. I am going to share a lot of it with you. I hope you don’t mind. You know, I’ve been told I have a chip on the shoulder. But I don’t care what people think. Their perception of me doesn’t reflect my reality. I am what I think I am. I am not here to live up to anyone’s expectations but my own. Neither, is anyone here to live up to mine. That’s why I write what I think. Now you understand, I am full of shit.
I am not the only one. There are millions, if not billions, of Joe Bloggs, Toms, Dicks and Harries out there and they are full of shit too. But some think their shit is the scent of lavender. World leaders are full of the most shit. From their elevated positions at the pinnacle, they are shitting down on us. It is raining hard. The world is full of it; we are swirling, drowning in it and rushing down the drain together.
Pardon my breach of propriety and vulgar application of the queen’s English. She has the shits too. She was recently hospitalized because of it. But doctors and journalists used a fancy and sanitized term that made shit sound posh. Call it turds, logs, feces, or by any other name but it is still the same thing. O God save the queen. No one is immune from it. It is the great leveler.
Don’t diagnose me, please. I don’t have an obsession with shit. Apart from talking and writing shit, I love reading books and writing. I read both fiction and non-fiction. Someone once told me – I can’t remember who or if I read it somewhere – great writers are great readers. I am the exception. I do what I know best. Every student of writing is constantly reminded “write what you know!” I don’t know much about science. I don’t know much about law. I don’t know much about medicine, geography, mathematics, etc. I know shit. That why I Write What I Think because I am full of shit.
I studied creative writing. I have two degrees in the same discipline. But I have shit to show for it. They are useless degrees. They left me with no skills whatsoever to pursue a more meaningful or noble career. The whole business left with the propensity to talk and write competently about shit. Traditionally, in Africa, children are encouraged to pursue traditional careers such as law, medicine, teaching, accounting and the likes. However, they are monotonous pursuits that stifle the artist’s impulse to self expression. It causes spiritual and creative degeneracy.
I have attended numerous social functions and incurred some uncomfortable moments with my African brothers. You know how it is. The evening is set to music. The conversation flowing. The food and drink are going down. We are laughing and discussing every topic under the sun. There is an awkward silence. And someone asks “what did you study?” I don’t see the trigger. Maybe, it is a thing amongst my African brothers. Maybe, it is snobbery. Maybe it is a form of self validation. Maybe, I am too sensitive and read too much into things. I don’t know. I listen.
“I read law”, A replies.
“I did an accounting degree” B says.
“I pursued medicine”, C says.
I miss my cue. All eyes fall on me like a sea of spotlights. My tongue is sandpaper. I shift uneasily.
“So what did you study?” someone asks.
I tense and grow self conscious. I reply, “creative writing”.
The response is predictable. “Huh?” they reply accappella.
Brows furrow. They scratch their heads, lean forward and point ears in my direction as if they are hard of hearing. Not again, I think.
“CREATIVE WRITING”, I say raising my voice.
They look at each other and ask, “what is that?”
“C-R-E-A-T-I-V-E W-R-I-T-I-N-G”, I reply hysteria seeping through my highly strung nerves.
“Ok”, the uncertain replies come punctuated with slow nods. “So what can you do with creating writing?” they probe further, evidently vexed.
Here we go again, I think. I take a deep breath and simultaneously curse silently. I am not sure if I am trying to explain to them or convince myself. I reel off a catalogue of possibilities as I’ve done numerous times before. It is like an unspoken charade repeated in different settings with different actors.
“Well – a scriptwriter, screenwriter, journalist, novelist, copywriter, and the likes”.
Confused grins ensue.
“I can even write speeches for politicians”, I add with a hint of mischief.
I watch my prattled words lodging into their faces. I grin. I can hear their thoughts ticking like clockwork. I sense the tide changing.
“Have you published anything?” someone asks hesitantly.
I compose myself before I reply, “I am working on a novel. I have published some short stories and poems. But I am currently working as a journalist”.
Explanation over, I see the changes from vexed to appreciation. The Rubicon is crossed. Unless a writer has won a major prize like The Caine, The Guardian First Book Award, The Booker, Commonwealth Book Prize, etc. or the writer is a poet laureate and received a lot of publicity, they go unnoticed. It is even worse for the unpublished writer. They are perceived as happy go lucky. Budding writers are misunderstood and rarely appreciated. But it is one of the hazards of choosing writing as a career. You are reduced to the life of an artist until the big break comes along – if it ever does. Charles Bulowski published his first novel at the age of fifty. That is like several lifetimes waiting to hit the big time. There are no guarantees in this industry.
Writing is a profession or a pursuit which is considered irrelevant in developing economies in Africa. This is the view of a lot of Africans. It is considered an indulgence. It doesn’t help anyone. It doesn’t add significantly to the gross domestic product. Most people are struggling with bread and butter issues and any loose change is for such things like clothes, medicine, school fees, travel, bills and more pressing concerns. People don’t have disposable incomes to spend on novels. Books are not foremost in their consideration.
The publishing industry in Africa is virtually non existent. It is there but in a sorry state. The distribution networks are poor. Major bookstores are found in the major metropolitan areas. They are rare in the rural areas where a great number of people still live. Some still don’t even have access to clean writing water or electricity. However, the advent of smart phones and tablets is transforming how people access information and communicate. They skipped the PC and laptop phase. Even newspapers and magazines were considered by many to be luxuries they couldn’t afford. This makes it harder to publish books. Technology is also providing writers with new challenges and platforms to develop content for this market. There is hope. It is not all gloom for the aspiring writer. E-Books have the potential to change the game.
Africa holds 10% of the world’s population but produces only 2% of the global output of books. The west accounts for about 30% of the world’s population but produces about 80% of the world’s titles. The statistics are mind boggling. However, they show that Africa develops very little intellectual property which makes it a consumer of products from abroad. I guess it is nothing new. As long as Africans, don’t develop intellectual property, they will lag behind and other people will write and shape the perception of Africa and Africans. Although writing and books don’t account for much in terms of the GDP, its importance to society outweighs it economic cost and benefit. The role of writing and books is crucial to education, development of literacy, growth of a national culture, production and distribution of knowledge relevant to the nation and a sense of intellectual community.
It is hard for a writer to make a living from their writing in Africa. If one entertains dreams of writing they are viewed as shying away from hard work. Normally such people are called marombe in Shona which means a vagabond or a loafer. It is a derogatory term. This is why many aspiring writers are forced to abandon their dreams and pursue a 9 – 5 job or a career with a regular income. Thus aspiring artists or writers are reduced to skeletons in their own closet.
When you are trying to find your voice as a writer, you are often viewed as unemployed or wasting time. It is a struggle for a writer to find their niche. There are huge socio-economic, political and historical factors African writers have to contend with. Even famous African writers like their western counterparts moonlight as professors and doctors lecturing on the university circuit abroad to supplement their income. Therefore, it is a universal struggle for writers all over despite their background to earn a living solely from their writing unless one is a J.K. Rowling or the likes. Writing is like a game of Russian Roulette. You gamble and take a leap of faith and hope you can beat the bullet.
I have a problem defining my role as a writer. That’s assuming I have one. My duty if I may call it that, or my impulse is to write, write and write. People or critics who read my work are the ones in the best position to define my work.
I am a writer, an artist, a creative soul. I am water. I take the shape of the container I find myself in. If you pour me into a gourd, I become the gourd. If you pour me into a bucket, I become the bucket. I am water. I come in many hues: I am phosphorescent like diamonds falling against the backdrop of the night sky’s dark cloak; I am turquoise blue, green, dark brown, black or russet clad. I am predictable; I am unpredictable. I am still and reflective; I am a flash flood, a tsunami crashing in waves, flattening, uprooting and sweeping away everything in my path. I am cold, lukewarm or scalding. I am shallow, I am deep. Take me as I am because I am water. Always anticipate the unexpected. Water is my nature. Water is my totem. I am flexible, evolving and a work in progress. I am always recreating myself and mastering different mediums and modes of self expression. I can’t say where the ideas come from. But I think writers and poets have written whole books about places they go to find their ideas. Writing is my habit. In the past, I used Facebook as a quick fix while I worked on projects on the side. However, my writing on Facebook tends to be more reactive and less proactive. It is a poor illustration of who and what I am. This is why I decided to start I Write What I Think.
When I started my BA, we were encouraged to start a blog. I never did. I thought about it for years but did shit about it. I couldn’t settle on a topic or direction to pursue. I am still undecided. So I am going to share fragments of my writing; hopefully a fuller picture will emerge like putting together the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. I always wondered who would want to read my work. I am not an interesting person. I don’t have anything worthwhile to say. I know shit and write it because I am full of shit.
Blogging freaks me out. It petrifies me. The thought leaves me palpitating and sick. There is something about putting your words into the virtual world. You become more self aware of yourself. I am afraid of people trying to psychoanalyze me through my writing. I don’t mean to sound vain. I know it’s crazy: I am a writer yet I am petrified of people reading my work. However, I am taking a late plunge into blogging to provide an outlet for my thoughts. I will share my published and unpublished prose and poetry here. I will showcase my social commentary, topical issues, works in progress and other forms of self expression. I will share my insight into publishing, world affairs, tips on writing, etc.
I am a lazy bugger but I hope I’ll update this blog regularly. I guess a writer or artist like a musician, athlete, ballerina, footballer, etc. has to practice their discipline daily to develop their competency. Please join me on this journey. I hope I will surprise you as much as I surprise myself. There are those who might see me as refusing to do constructive work. But I refuse to compromise on the things that help me maintain my sanity and develop my own spiritual and intellectual development.
I remember as a young boy discovering writers such as Ngugi wa Thiongo, Chinua Achebe, Dambudzo Marechera, Shimmer Chinodya and Charles Mungoshi. I was stunned. It was a revelation that black people could be writers. I fell in love with the idea then. I cherished the dream ever since and pursued it. Steps like this are taking me closer to attaining that ultimate goal. That was a mouthful. I feel relieved. I hope you enjoyed my shit. I’ll be back.
P.S. I don’t take comments but donations are welcome. I am joking. I told you, I am full of shit!