Writing, I have learnt, is about a time and a place. I am not claiming to speak a universal truth, just what my experience has taught me. It could be a truth about others, and then again it might not be. But it is a truth about me; a self-revelation and maybe, especially in times of drug induced self-analysis, an epiphany. That truth, simply, I write better when here. Here being the ‘old neighbourhood’. The place where what later became known as A Kenyan Urban Narrative began. The space, next to and a little to the left of Mutua’s kiosk, where we sat on stones, sipped on Napshizzle and wrote.
I have spent the last few months in and out of this place. In and out of this place trying to track old friends and make new acquaintances with the hope of reconstituting The Potash Book Club. In and out of this place trying to find an entry back in and be able to, once again, call this home. My successes have been way too few and far in between. Most of the old friends are long gone; most of the new acquaintances are too young and ‘intellectually’ distant from me. It really is a shame about the kids that hang out here now, they idle away their time just like we used to, but they do not indulge their mental faculties in the same way we did. They drink a lot more than we did and read a hell of a lot less. Which is polite for: They read nothing.
In truth, I have had only one real success, here, in the last two weeks. I have been writing. Writing seems like the only way I profit from being here. And when you think that it is the writing that took me out of this place, to begin with, and about the only thing I took with me, then it seems as though that has always been the worth of this place to me. But it isn’t and it shouldn’t appear to be so. This place gave me writing and a lot else too. A lot else like friendship and the camaraderie and firm bond of a shared experience. Family. At least all that when it lasted because I do not feel it anymore.
Trying to reconnect with this place, I feel like all the things that this place gave me have been stripped away and all that is left is the writing. The writing that seems to come to me, words and sentences instinctively forming in my head, the moment I enter this neighbourhood. The only thing being that then more I stay, the more time I spend talking to people here, the swifter the words and sentences arrange themselves into paragraphs.
Over the years, after I first left, I felt as though my writing was getting bland. Worse still, I felt as though I had lost familiarity with my writing voice. That I had even no story left in me to tell. Sometimes, agonised to tears, I would come down this way. Come down in search of both the muse and voice I believed I had left behind. But nothing. All these trips turned out to be were pilgrimages to the past of a writing me. A past not grand in itself but at least one that was insurmountably better than my present. A present of more craft and less art. A present of words correctly spelled, sentences well punctuated and, alas, no story.
It is then that I realised that the audiences might be out there but my writing lived down here. So, with big little steps, I have been working on my return. My return to this place where what later became known as A Kenyan Urban Narrative was born. A place where audiences will elude me but my writing will get better. A place where I can write and write and hope to be read, at least, when I am dead.
And with yet another, perfunctory Hello World of a blog post behind me, do allow me to return to the real writing.