I trust this meets you well, and happy. Permit me to send my love to Ma, Omi,Fefe and other members of your constituency. Ke du? How is the white-man’s land? I hear it is Autumn there: the season of shedding, harvests, falling leaves and rebirth. Here it is rainy season 2. The august break is over and the rains have resumed in earnest: waking us with the sweet petrichor of drenched clay, lulling us with rhythmic beats on the rooftop….
In other words we are fine. (Fine is such a lifeless word. Maybe I should say we are alive. But are we? The way many of us drift through the day? Hmm. I trust that you will understand though, you are an elder. Elders know these things.)
I am tempted to meander. It is easier, to beat around the bush, than confront a spitting cobra face first. This is different though, I am writing to you in faith. Faith that you will understand. Faith that you will sift my chaff for seeds. I am a soul that needs an ear, not a belly dance. So I will be straightforward– Pa,I need your help.
I can’t pinpoint the time and place, of this problem’s birth. Maybe it has always been there. Maybe I have always harboured a thirst for writing that lifts. Maybe it is something that was just waiting for the right conditions. Maybe not.
But from the minute I heard about blogging the Caine Prize, something in me changed. For the first time I read a creative piece with the frown of a sceptic not a reader’s smile of bliss. It didn’t stop there. I found myself writing about it, in two blogposts over two days. I thought I was free then. Alas, the torture had just begun.
After that, everything I have read has been with the critic’s stance: pen in hand, frown on face, and a resolve to kiss or kick.
Reading for fun is hard now. In the first sentence or two I am thrown off never to be seen again. I mope over things other people can’t see. People rave about Americanah’s realness, I count the -nesses and the -ilys.
Friends have become foes. My amateur attempts at trying to kick their work into shape is seen as a mini assassination attempt. I feel lonely Pa, and alone.
Worse still, the books and stories that leave people giddy with glee, make me scratch my head and squint. People enthuse about a story’s perfection, I wonder about its loose ends. I am worried Pa, I am, I don’t want to look ninety when I am twenty-nine.
I love words. I love Literature. I have loved her my whole life. Drama,poetry, fiction or non-fiction, I love them all. This metamorphosis of mine is something I don’t understand. If I become a critic, won’t that take all the joy out of my life?
I want my innocence back, that, and the feeling of naivete. I want to read through work without looking for rapture and find the little bright spots within. I want to be insulated from bad writing with the soft safe cushion that Ignorance is. I want to be happy again, to read freely again, to believe the best of everything and be blind to mistakes.
Besides, I am also a writer. I want my work to be appreciated, doing hatchet jobs is dreadful Karma. A peep at Michiko Kakutani’s GoodReads page confirmed my suspicions: critics get no love. Despite having worked in the ‘Industry’ for twenty-five years and winning a Pulitzer, Ms Kakutani had just seven GoodReads fans. Ouch.
It is probably late for me to restore my critique virginity. But, I still hope something can be done: tightening jellies, soap, anything. There has to be a way. There has to be a balance. There has to be a way to read, write and critique without becoming a killjoy or a charlatan.
So, Pa, please tell me what I must do. I want to read with reckless abandon, write with courage and passion, critique with the impartiality of the surgeon’s scalpel: keeping the good and carving up the bad. I want to tell the truth and keep my friends. I want good Karma, for when my own imperfect work hits shelves or mailboxes or blog’s pages. I want to make an important difference, in a good way, for my readers.
Show me how Pa, I know you can. Thank you for reading this far.