What the right skill can do for you

Reading & Writing

I think I have always loved reading.

When I was younger (since I keep being reminded by my friends that I am still young), I liked reading Goosebumps. I must have been 12 years old. I cannot remember any story in particular but I remember the goosebumps that I got.

Back then, I could not afford a book so I did what most children do: I borrowed. I remember reading the likes of Nancy Drew, Cinderella, Kaka Sungura and Rapunzel.

If you are Kenyan and have followed the 8-4-4 system, you will understand me when I say that there comes a time when you cannot read a novel due to the pressure of exams. So, my reading skill dwindled as time went by.

In secondary school, we had set-books to read. Some of which I must say were not that interesting. I do not know if it is only me but I particularly hated the pressure to read a book because I was going to be tested on it. I did not want to know the end, I was forced to know how it ended. I find that I did not enjoy the books as I would have loved to. I did not get to analyze them and get to understand what writers like Shakespeare in The Merchant of Venice were trying to teach us. All I wanted to do was to pass and it did not matter what I got from the book.

I see now what a mistake that was. As Sunny Bindra wrote in his Sunday Nation column, 24th June 2018 “The why and how of reading books”:

You read for the sheer joy of reading, and if not for joy then for expanding your mind. You read books because the real benefit comes when you stay with an author for a period and follow a story or argument or thesis through to its conclusion, rather than merely flitting through short, scattered pieces. You read by making the time (less time than you might imagine); by being disciplined; by setting priorities; by following a regular rhythm.

Now that I am more than a decade older, I have learnt to appreciate writers more. As I open a book, I travel with the author through his story. I share the pain, joy, laughter, optimism, hope, love and care.

I am an amateur in the reading world like in many other things but as one reads, one stops reading for the sake of only expanding the mind and starts reading for the joy it brings and I find it hard to leave the novel or book. It could slowly become an addictive drug and I think that is the reason why Sunny Bindra mentions being disciplined. We have to make the time to do it but we also have to have the discipline to stop and do other things till the next time. I could also add being disciplined by checking the books we are about to read.

When about to read a book, I look it up on a book review website http://www.delibris.org/en/ to know what I am getting myself into. As I had said previously, I share the journey with the writer. I basically let the author show me the way of his thinking. If you have read a book by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, you will understand what I am talking about. The man explains feelings so well that one can relate. Well, I do not want to be taken down the wrong path.

I do realize that I am venturing into the world of writing and it is funny because I was always bad at composition. Well… Bad is a strong word…Let us say rather that I was not good at it. Thinking about it, I realize that my teachers in high school and primary school wanted me to write interesting stories and the nearest I came to that was when I re-wrote a story our teacher had read for us from a composition textbook.

To encourage myself and all of you to write, I will share something I got from a book that I stumbled upon by the name “Aspects of Composition” by Billie Andrew and Ruth Gardner and they actually set out to convince the reader to write. I must say that my reason for reading the book was to learn, as the book suggests, the different aspects of composition.

The first reason they give is a quote from Michael Hogan, who wrote a personal essay in late 1975 as he was serving time in prison. I shall just quote him as I think a paraphrase will leave out a lot of important information.

..One of the most common experiences in prison is the    gradual numbing of emotion. You can’t openly express rage or fear without putting yourself in a position where you are certain to kill, be killed or spend a fantastic amount of time in the Hole. So, even though rage and fear are the natural emotions to feel in many prison situations, you suppress them, you hold your mud, you stay cool. Your wife leaves, your father dies and there is nothing you can do in the cell block. There is no acceptable outlet for your grief. The guy in the top bunk doesn’t want to hear your problems &.

Michael Hogan continues to write and I quote:

I was lucky because I got out of solitary before my loss was irreparable. I met Charlie Green and got into the writers workshop newly begun at the state prison under the sponsorship of the Arizona Commission on the Arts and Humanities. A very dynamic and persistent woman by the name of Nancy Pierce had convinced the penal authorities that such a program would be therapeutic. I do not think that she could have even begun to imagine at that time just how right she was.

Billie Andrew and Ruth Gardner state that:

Such effects resulted in part because self-expression is stimulating, but also in part because creating something- a poem, a few lines of prose- that someone else listens to or reads with interest is satisfying.

Just as some persons are deadened by too much, persons in the full tide of life who have many things to interest them, many persons interested in them, many things to do, a schedule always to keep up with, a deadline always to meet, can also become alienated from themselves.

Now I know that the next excuse will be our fear of people not liking what we write and to an extent, they have the freedom to. But you and I have the freedom to write as well.

We all have a paper and a pen so why not write. Of course, you start, as in Michael Horan’s case, with a fair poem and bald statement but it shows what is happening and it releases you from the emotion you wanted solace from.

The last reason I had and you may have too for not writing was my fear of sharing thoughts. One comes to realize that this is precisely what one has to share.

A golden rule: in order to write well, have something positive to say, something to communicate…


by MM