Updates on the writing, reading, Covid-19 and everything in between

It’s the last week of August and Covid-19 containment measures have been in effect in Kenya for 524 days. We have had lockdowns, curfews, issues and we are still experiencing the upheavals and grief.

A few minutes past midday on a sunny Sunday and I am on my second cup of coffee listening to Usher’s song, Trading Places, thinking of how best to share what’s been going on in my life in the past two weeks or so.

I got to travel to Nairobi twice, sometime in Mid July and on August 13th and discovered art and food at The Nairobi Street Kitchen eatery in Westlands.

On Writing: If there is something I have been loving this month, it’s writing and rewriting scenes of a book that I thought I would not publish but something about going back to a story you let gather dust has me loving the characters and working on completing their story.

On Reading: I have been reading more books this month. Perhaps the greatest shock to me was how brief Annie Proulx, Brokeback Mountain is, 55 pages! I nearly had a heart attack just wondering how a 2hour movie could be born of 55 pages! Other books I’ve read this August are:

I am currently reading: The Illuminator by Brenda Rickmann.

Aside from enjoying reading and writing, something that I have been deeply committed to is watching Korean Dramas on Netflix and this August, there have been awesome shows that kept me glued to my phone late into the nights and let’s just say that once you start watching a K-drama there’s no stopping until you get to that finale! So, here are some shows that I absolutely loved this month:

There are rising concerns about the spread of the Delta Variant and for someone like me who has to work in communities visiting public schools, I find myself always traveling with hand sanitizer and masks, so much so that now when I get home, I shed off my clothes and take a bath before doing anything- somehow, I find it interesting how people in the rural areas respond to Corona, one old woman told me that ‘death is the one thing all of us experience, if we live in fear, always looking over our shoulder, we may stumble and fall to our death because we look back and not forward.’ Schools will be taking a break for 3 days from this coming Thursday and I look forward to traveling home, just to have tea and evening walks with my Mom, maybe she’ll weigh in on the current book I am writing.

Have an awesome week ahead!

A Hundred Little Things

For as long as I can remember, I have been responding to the name Benjamin.

A lot of people say that my mother loved her Bible lessons more than she did her own culture. So, inasmuch as I was born at midday instead of according me the name Ochieng’ she declared me Benjamin and added in my father’s last name Ooko so people could know who I belonged to. This seemed to please Reverend Father Augustus but never my father or his people and sometimes when I think back to everything that I have experienced, it seems that lighting started striking me the moment she gave me that name.

My Father, Ooko, what of him? Well, on the day I got tired of staying enclosed in my mother’s stomach, he was deep inside Nya Lela, his new wife who reminded the thing between his legs of how stiff it still could be. I remember all the men singing praises of Nya Lela as the only woman whose breasts remained firm even after bringing forth four children with my father, one after the other, you would think it was like eating and dispelling ground nuts.

As word would have it, my father saw me when I started making use of my feet.

There are things that to this date do not seem like truth but if you’d have been born in that home, under the rule of Senior Chief Ooko, then you too would believe me. When my mother told me about this, I laughed, sometimes when she would want to cry about the way he ignored her, she would go into her kitchen and carelessly adjust the logs that she fed the fire.

Excerpt from A Hundred Little Things- which is long overdue for publication!

Ushering in a new month: Writing goals

We had some light showers this morning and I am happy I got to stay indoors. August has come with its blessings and call for action when it comes to writing.

I did get to read a book I have always wanted to read: A Fort of Nine Towers by Qais Akbar Omar 🧡 and he narratses what it was like growing in Afghanistan, when war broke out, factions increased and what it meant to be on the run in your own home in 389 pages and towards the end he is right. He did bear this grief all his life and he passes it to the reader in such a way that it I couldn’t help but wonder how many times he broke down writing this book. If you could spare a moment, look it up online and buy a copy from whichever retailer you can access.

I am learning to call myself out on writing that needs work and this is because I got to read what I had written so far before submitting it for printing and it fell short of my expectations.

This week, I get to focus on revising that draft and following through on publication and I can’t wait to see how it’d turn out.

That’s all I have in my mind today. Have an awesome week!

Wallet Activism by Tanja Hester

“An Activist’s work is to keep chipping away at a big problem over time, not giving up when things are hard and not getting discouraged when change comes incrementally rather than in big bursts.”

Have you ever thought of the impact your financial decisions have on the environment, economy or simply put every bit of the value chain that it took to get something into your possession?

I will admit that I cannot help but think often, but following through on my actions or changing my habits to match my talk is something I haven’t done. The furthest I have thought about a financial decision is evaluating the true cost of what it means to have a refrigerator- because since getting it, I spend more on my electricity bill than I did before I had it.

In this book, Tanja explores where our money goes, what we spend on stuff- in small and large scale and even something as important as the food we buy, clothes we wear, houses we live in, electronics and so on. I love how detailed her research in, because not only is it convincing, it is challenging- a call to action, to review our spending and investing habits.

She shares 4 fundamental questions to ask yourself to help you make better decisions as a wallet activist and these are: for whom? can everyone do this? is it too cheap? and finally What am I funding? She explores various issues in each chapter geared toward better understanding the impacts of our financial decisions and especially how companies do their very best to manipulate consumers.

Rating: 4 stars

This is a good book not just to read, but to discuss with friends and colleagues- to see oneself in the larger scheme of our capitalistic world. Thanks Netgalley for the eARC.

About the Author

Tanja is the author of Wallet Activism: How to Use Every Dollar You Spend, Earn, and Save as a Force for Change (coming November 2021) and Work Optional: Retire Early the Non-Penny Pinching Way. She’s a former political consultant and journalist turned activist and early retiree. Visit her website: https://tanjahester.com/

Updates on the Writing life, June scares and July expectations

I choose to be happy on this day. It’s a sunny Sunday with highs of 26 degrees Celcius. I woke up today at 6:34AM to do laundry and finish braiding my hair and since then, I have been listening to songs on my playlist and drinking cup after cup of coffee. I am officially on my fourth cup.

We are 4 days into July and June was a scary month for me, for I realized how weak my body could be and the mere mention of being on supplements to keep me safe scared me. However, I did manage to get in more sleep and read more books but write absolutely nothing when it comes to my WIP. What I excelled at was watching Korean Dramas on Netflix late into the night and working on my work reports.

I would absolutely recommend the following dramas: Warm & Cozy, Man to Man, Healer, I am not a Robot and Tomorrow with You.

From March I have been buying more books to read and my June and July book hauls demand attention and I look forward to reading them in the coming months.

I am also looking forward to starting a professional certificate course to further improve my skills and knowledge in my field. It feels great getting back to some kind of structure and I can’t wait to see this through.

On future projects: The Miles Morland Foundation Writing Scholarship call for applications have been released and I’ll do what I always do, submit my application and keep my fingers crossed. I have been working closely with my Mentor/Professor who always critiques my writing to see to the release of the next book “A Hundred Little Things” in the first week of August.

My expectations for this month are:

  1. To improve on how I take good care of my body, from eating healthy ( more food rich in iron and calcium)
  2. To think positively of myself and what I do.
  3. To wrap up most of my work projects.
  4. Visit family and friends
  5. Have a weekend road trip- just to see another town, experience somewhere other than where I am right now.
  6. To watch some more K-Drama. My absolute favorite being Nevertheless– because in a way, Na-bi reminds me of a water-sign. She’s been hurt but she is still hoping for love, and with Park Jae-eon, she knows he’ll disappoint her but she is willing to give it a shot.

On Life, Living, and Little Instructions from Jackson Brown

A few years ago, Jack Brown jotted down a list of fatherly advice for his son as Adam left home to begin a new life as a college freshman. That list became Life’s Little Instruction Book, the phenomenal guide that has sold more than five million copies.

So, I came across this book on Academia and you know those itty bit titles that make you scroll down, read and change positions as you flip page after page after page? Yes, this was a good one to read and here are 10 instructions that I loved:

  1. Do a good job because you want to, not because you have to. This puts you in charge instead of your boss.
  2. Don’t take good friends, good health, or a good marriage for granted.
  3. Never type a love letter, use a fountain pen.
  4. Spend your life lifting people up, not putting people down.
  5. Don’t judge a man’s wealth by how well he’s dressed, but by how well his wife is dressed.
  6. When declaring your rights, don’t forget your responsibilities.
  7. Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.
  8. Be forgiving of yourself and others.
  9. Give thanks before every meal.
  10. Don’t judge people by their relatives

So far, my Friday’s been good, I woke up feeling unwell had a quick visit to the clinic and turns out what I do have is a sore throat and signs of a bacterial infection so with lots of antibiotics and the stern warning to take things easy, I did something extra- I cooked. I thought the best thing that I could do to feel good was make chicken stir fry and spaghetti and I even took pictures to gloat!

On writing: I am still at this and working my way back to a routine that involves writing at dawn because I have learned that I have more time when I wake up that I could use to write.

On reading: I am in the company of good books and having read Before the Fall by Noah Hawley, I am currently going back and forth between two titles: Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave and Are Men Necessary by Maureen Dowd.

Have an awesome weekend. Stay safe wherever you are!

4 Lessons Learned from Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

Writing Down The Bones by Natalie Goldberg was published the year my elder sister was born. I read it on 18th and 19th May of 2021 and thirty five years since it broke into print, I found such comfort, understanding and encouragement reading what she had to say on writing- as art, expression, truth and life.

The book is only 171 pages and from the foreword to the appendix, she draws a lot from Zen and you’ll come across quotes from Katagiri Yoshi a lot. Here’s what I get to keep in mind after reading it:

  1. Claim your writing. This is something I struggle with. Hearing someone say they loved my book, or a character so much that they want to talk about him/her or even that they hated my work- and with the star rating index, anything short of a 3-star review is enough to have me put my music player on shuffle. She shares how important it is to claim the good and bad- to accept that you wrote it.
  2. Write anyplace. I do this a lot

“Take out another notebook, pick up another pen, and just write. In the middle of the world, make one positive step. In the center of chaos, make one definitive act, just write. Say yes, stay alive, be awake. Just write. Just write. Just write.”

3. Go further. Here she talks about going beyond our comfort zone and says that sometimes when you think you are done, it is just the edge of beginning.

4. Don’t marry the fly. I laughed so much reading this chapter because I have felt it as a reader. Sometimes when I read a book and I am following what is happening, there are certain sentences or details that throw me off- and often I feel like the author lost me, or that the author’s trend of thought changed and Natalie explains why this happens. Simply put she says, “If the writer wanders, then the reader, too, will wander.” In another sense, details are important but if you focus on one detail so much you may lose the reader.

And finally a phrase that I couldn’t resist:

“Writers live twice. They go along with their regular life, are as fast as anyone in the grocery store, crossing the street, getting dressed for work in the morning but there’s another part of them that they have been training. The one that lives everything a second time. That sits down and sees their life again and goes over it. Looks at the texture and details.”

A copy can be bought on: Amazon

Questions to ask an Author

I read something like this somewhere and it was more about an author saying that there are questions he wishes he was asked, not the common stuff like his writing routine, books he loves reading or what he’s working on. I got derailed and lost the link when I got the notification that the next episode of Descendants of the Sun that I’d been watching had finished downloading.

As a Writer, there are questions that come to mind- the kind that somehow get me talking more about my writing and love for writing so, I wrote down the questions I’d love to ask myself and answer them here. Let’s do this!

1. What is the one book or the first book that made you cry?

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. It is still the only book that I weep whenever I read it.

2. Does writing energize or drain you?

Sometimes, especially when I am writing dialogues, I feel energized. There are days when I am drained or rather more exhausted by it and when I feel like this I either press on then sleep immediately after or read a book instead.

3. What is your first experience of the power of words?

I think it is more when I was nine years old after my Dad passed away and suddenly his presence, the conversations we used to have, his voice felt like it only existed in my head. I also had a teacher in Primary school who often said I would not amount to much and I dreaded his lessons or just running into him in school- I think back then what hurt me most was knowing that adults could be so mean to children.

4. Did publishing or has publishing your first book changed the way you write?

Look, this one right here is something I cannot shy away from. I started out writing romance and posting novellas and short stories on smashwords (here’s my author page) and then tried out historical fiction with the first series I posted on Amazon, The Currents Series, and loved it so much that after reading that first proof copy I found myself writing more historical fantasy books set in Africa/ Kenya to be precise.

5. What does literary success look like to you?

I feel like this is more about having your book on someone’s bookshelf, it’s pages crumpled or turned so many times, highlighted, or set aside because it is the one treasure they keep reading. This could be with just one reader, or two or many…so much so that they talk about it, quote lines or simply share insights learned from the book. On the author’s side, it is also more about the feeling that ranges from elation to exhaustion just by writing- a commitment to waking up to words.

6. What was your hardest scene to write?

I wrote this book, Sifuna, and published it here in Kenya. It has one scene where the main character, Sifuna, grabs his fiancee, Dorothy and pushes her to the wall and spits on her- I wept when I wrote that.

END

There you have it, six of the many questions you could ask an author!

Goodbye September and Hello October!

It’s the last day of September and I often feel a certain kind of warmth when a month ends mid-week because I am guaranteed a weekend in the first week of the new month! Well, that was before COVID-19 struck and decided to shake us up!

So, on Monday our President decided that well, the curfew is still on for 60-days and stretched the time to 11pm- 4am. He also granted permission for bars to open and my absolute relief was that schools would still be shut until we are better placed to contain the virus. What sucks about this is that the funding they received from the World Bank and other donors goes into their stomachs and not towards the health facilities!

On books: I was going through my Goodreads “READ” page and discovered I have read and reviewed 165 books so far and some of the best titles I got to read were in June (34 books in total). This month, I read more paperback copies and here are some of the titles that kept me company:

I am currently reading “EndGame by Derrick Jensen” and enjoying drinking lots of tea as well…

On writing: I am taking part in the 10k-Novel Writing Challenge that would mean writing 1000 words every day for the first 10-days of October.

I have been watching Never Have I Ever as well and in a weird way, I am now #TeamPaxton because at least he’s single and his sister called him out on how awful he treated Devi, whilst Ben is cute and considers Devi equal and brilliant- he’s still got a girlfriend, an athletic one as well, so hey…that means he’s got a decision to make!

My September song is definitely: Be Praised by Aaron Moses & Naomi Raine off Maverick City’s Vol 3, part 2 album

And, the greatest thing I have done this month is keep up with my laundry! It’s been refreshing knowing that I don’t have any dirty clothes waiting for me to clean them up and fold them!

In the previous update on life and staying at home post, I said I was struggling with consistently working out and this past three days have been a good run for me, I get to do some squats, push-ups, mountain climbers and 20-second planks in the morning and evening and I feel pretty good about it.

I am looking forward to October and we’ve got 93 days left until 31st December 2020, so live as best as you can, love as hard as you can and be kind- the world needs gentleness.