Saturday, 17 October 2009
What one sets out for
There are times when we meet certain people or have those experiences that make us question things we hold as true or set sharp lines between things we never saw the need to distinguish. I know a guy who in trying to stay true to his Dandy image of wanting to be among the elite, the higher class, tells these stories, that are beguiling at first, but after questioning them, one begins to see the incredulity and falseness of these stories. He knows that I see him as a bullshitter and that I wonder why he must keep telling these lies. But his defense and reply to what I felt was sort of profound. He said "Do we not have the right to lie? That it is in lies that we know who someone is, that it is in identifying our lies that we know what we truly want but conceal". I think that this guy, a friend I guess, wants me and people to believe that at the core of every lie he tells is truth. But there is the suspicion that he wants people to keep listening to his stories, regardless that they are mistrustful of it, until they begin to accept it as his truth. This man made me feel the strong need to separate the inventiveness and creativity in stories and books from deception.
When I was in elementary school, we would have these talent display shows at the end of the term. Some would whistle a hymn, sketch a Super-hero on the black board, but I was that big-headed, quiet and skinny kid who would go up to tell a story and transform into a different person. Most times I would retell a story my father told me and my other siblings in those evenings when NEPA usurped electricity from us. Other times, I would give my own version of an English book or Disney cartoon that I had previously seen. While telling these stories, I knew my classmates loved them and I saw my teacher's amused and sweet look. I saw how their faces changed at every twist and turn of the story and I would, sometimes, infuse my own twists to make these stories even more intriguing. Other short books that I wrote as a kid were meant to dazzle, whisk the reader out of the present into another world, an over-hanging sphere.
My father still reminds me, inadvertently embarrassing me, of the story The Chronicles of Lady Koi Koi that I wrote when I was thirteen. My story tried to give the origins of Lady Koi Koi as being a disturbed, high-heel wearing, morose and middle-aged matron, who was mistakenly killed by some students in an all-girl school. It described how the paranoia of these girls created in them a fear of the dead Matron-a fear which spread to other all-girl high schools in Nigeria. My stories, these days, are nothing like this. I think I now write, obliviously perhaps, with the idea that I need to reveal truths or shed from myself things that worry me. I don't think there is anything wrong with this only that this desire that hangs over my head, sometimes comes in the way of invention and lessens a beautiful story.
To tell a lie is to conceal truth, to try to dissimulate the real, and I do not think stories set out to do this. From what I hear from writers and what I feel, when writers begin to write a story, there is often the need to free from themselves a small, seed-like idea in their mind. As soon as this small idea is written,planted, it begins to grow on paper, quickly, other times slowly. But after that phase is over, what follows? What then does the writer set out for?
I felt different ways after reading Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss. My feelings bordered between awe and disappointment. The prose is brief and yet she still has these nice sentences like how she writes about "Opera houses where music molded entire audiences into a single grieving or celebrating heart, and where the applause rang like a downpour". Yet there is the narrative voice, pessimistic and bleak. One feels that she wrote the book, after a bout of severe guilt at her position in the scheme of things and also disappointment with the world. And the book is her way of setting out to reveal these sad things about the world, and maybe assuage her guilt. In the detached way the book is narrated, I did not feel the delight that I feel when I read sad stories. This is were my disappointment rose from.
Perhaps writers and storytellers reach a point where they feel that their fiction must have some semblance to truth, to the realities of the day. Maybe as we grow and life burdens us with more complexities and worries, we feel that it is not enough just to write dazzling stories. That we must infuse in them those things that tug within us. Regardless of whatever it is one becomes; a stoic ponderer of society, a lover of Esoteric Poetry, an award-winning novelist, I guess one should borrow from the storytelling of one's childhood. It was not lying then, it was something else.
I once hesitantly asked this friend of mine if he writes fiction. He doesn't, he has tried, but cannot write good fiction.