Finger on the Pulse — May 18

A lot has been happening in my life lately. Well, probably a lot has been happening in everyone’s life lately — but I can only speak expertly on my own life. One thing I have been thinking about in the past month is rhythm, the rhythm of life. What determines the beat that we dance to each day? Each week? Each month? Each year? Each lifetime? I’ve realized that often we dance, unwittingly, to tunes set by others. We know the perfect life drill: get born, go to school, get a job, get married, get kids, raise the kids, retire, die. We know the day drill: get up to the annoying tune of an alarm, shower and brush your teeth, dress up, get stuck in traffic on your way to work or school, pass the time by scrolling through social feeds, work or attend lectures 8-5, get back home tired, eat supper, retire to bed — repeat. We follow these rhythms not because we want to, but because it is what seems to have served those that came ahead of us, it is what seems to serve those around us. And there’s probably a good reason we live our lives this way, something evolutionary, or more likely, something cultural. I am at a point in my life where I get to set my own rhythms — albeit briefly — and it’s got me questioning traditional rhythms and even the wisdom of having rhythms in the first place.

One of the major rhythms I am working hard at establishing is with my writing. I have always wanted to write consistently but something has always stood in the way, sometimes of my own making and other times something I could not control. With this in mind, I am building discipline into my writing, adding a layer of structure to it. Of course I want to write every day because, as Bikozulu says, you have to fan the fire in your hearth if you want it to burn. I am building that discipline using several tools: a daily writing goal of 750 words, a dedicated writing time (6:00 to 7:30 AM), a daily word count tracker (which I got from writing coach and author Tomi Adeyemi whose debut novel Children of Blood and Bone is blowing up the charts) and a writing/publishing schedule. I am in dire need of a writing accountability partner so the invitation is open (holla at me – I promise to be a good writing accountability partner in return).

I am also looking for (and creating) writing formats that can build patterns to my writing — while also being experimental and creative with the art. One thing that I have seen several bloggers do is a regular ‘taking stock’ or ‘things I am grateful for in month X’ post. Usually the writer will have a set of questions or statements that prompt them to think through and share things they are experiencing or dealing with at that point in their life. While at first I thought such pieces would reek of self-absorption, I realized that, far from that, they are a small window into the author’s life and experience. I love reading them because I always find several nuggets of resonance in such pieces: a shared struggle, a reminiscent experience, a mutual feeling. For the writer, I imagine, they provide rare moments to reflect, to place a finger on their pulse in the midst of the chaos that life often becomes. Furthermore, I am pulling myself away from social media so I can have more control over my life, time and attention; these finger-on-the-pulse posts are my way of leaving a small window to my life and experiences open. Not that it matters to the world, really, but it matters to me.

So, leggoo!

I am learning: how to really pay attention to life and the world around me, again. To notice the details, the motions, the signs, the colours, the shades of colours, the sounds, the textures, the sights, the smells, the patterns, the nuances, the colloquialisms, the tones, the undertones, the gestures. I am creating time to create — to learn to create. I am taking photography classes online and reading books on writing fiction and poetry. And I have noticed a common thread across all these arts: you cannot create something fresh and powerful without paying close attention. To make a brilliant photo, you must pay attention to the light, and the shadows and the lines and the colors and the arrangement of elements in the scene. To compose a poem that resonates, you must pay attention to (and highlight) the little motions, images and feelings of life that most people would rather ignore. I believe our phones (especially social media) have a lot to do with our loss of attention (see my 5000+ word essay on this). I am unplugging more, meditating, taking breaks and looking out more deliberately into the world around me.

I am hoping: I find people to adopt the five kittens that Whiskers, my adopted cat, gave birth to last week. I am not in a position to raise them as I will be leaving the country in less than three months for my Masters. Yes, I know I should have spayed the cat but things happened so fast. One day there were two male cats running and growling outside my window, the next Whiskers had a belly the size of a grown-ass pumpkin. I kept postponing the vets appointment as deadlines piled and so here I am living in a house with 8 cats (not even being hyperbolic about this one). Please, please, please if you want a cat or know someone who would like to adopt one (or two or three – us cat people we don’t judge), hit me up, please. (Update: my mom got someone to adopt two, but three are still up for grabs. Hurry!!)

I am realizing: that I am powerful beyond measure and so I shouldn’t limit myself to other people’s definition of what I can and cannot be or do.

I am listening: to a lot Fela Kuti, Eric Wainaina’s oldies (especially his first album Sawa Sawa) and Patoranking’s Suh Different. This month I have also listened to a lot of J. Cole — his latest album, KOD, is fire! I also watched his 94 minute interview with Angie Martinez which was refreshingly honest and thoughtful, classic J. Cole.

I am reading: The Poetry Home Repair Manual by Pulitzer-winning poet Ted Kooser and Tin Man by Sarah Winman. I started reading the pair on Sunday and I’ve put more time into the poetry manual than into the novel. I’ve realized I am gripped more by non-fiction (probably because I spend more time writing it) but I want to keep my reading (and writing) balanced. Tin Man has a rather difficult style, for me. For instance, Winman doesn’t use speech marks, throws a character into the mix without really introducing them and moves from description to dialogue in a manner and speed that jumbles my mind. The story is great though so I’ll keep at it. This month, I have also read The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone (I am working on a review of this). I also read an adult romance novel The Allure of Julian Lefray by R.S. Grey — which Sheila stayed up reading and so I had to read to find out what sort of book keeps a girl who had only read high school setbooks two years ago flipping through pages past midnight. Maybe in it I would finally discover the secret to happiness or something, I told myself. I never found the route to eternal nirvana but the book turned out fine.

I have also been reading plenty of essays and short stories. Some of my favorites from the month include:
  • The Jambula Tree, the short story by Monica Arak de Nyeko which won the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2007 and inspired the Kenyan film Rafiki, which you might have heard was picked for the Cannes Film Festival but was banned in Kenya because it went against “popular national values”. Hopefully one day we will watch the film. I watched several videos of Wanuri Kahiu, the film director, and I love her!
  • How Much Land Does a Man Need by Leo Tolstoy.
  • The Death Row Book Club, a personal essay extracted from a memoir by Anthony Ray Hinton on
  • Japan’s Rent-A-Family Industry by Elif Batuman on The New Yorker
  • A Long Story by Barcelona star Gerald Pique on The Players Tribune.

I am watching: more movies with bae because most of our TV shows are on break. Last weekend we watched Sully, a biopic starring Tom Hanks which is based on the story of an experienced US Airways pilot who’s, ironically, under investigation for making an emergency landing on the Hudson River in New York City after encountering a flock of geese some minutes after take-off, saving all 155 souls on board in the process. It was such a powerful story of leadership—Sully is gracious, calm and refuses to take personal credit. It’s also a study in high-stakes decision-making, pitting machine-generated algorithms against human instinct. This weekend we were watching Zootopia, the Disney animation, but both of us fell asleep in the middle—which speaks more about us, not the film. Funny thing is: we got the idea to watch it from this matatu we took that was decorated with posters from the film. 105 to the city, mat za Kikuyu ni zii!

I am loving: challenging my body’s limits by going to the gym three times a week and cycling my bike more. I hadn’t been to a gym since college—around late 2014—and so the first session was harsh on me. I woke up the next day with pains all over my body (especially my back) but two weeks later, my body is used to it. I go to the gym in the afternoon which is perfect in two main ways: this is the time of day my concentration is at its lowest (so it makes senses to do more physical work) and there’s barely anybody else in the gym apart from the instructor (so I don’t have to feel intimidated by people lifting shit double my body weight). I certainly could be more consistent with my cycling—I am doing 100 KM per month, which I want to push to 200 KM. (I wrote an entire 3000-word article on my love for cycling.) Last Saturday I went to the gym for an hour and a half and then did a grueling, uphill ride for an hour later in the evening. I didn’t think I could push my physical limits this much; I am loving it!

I am missing: my Learning Design team at Nova Pioneer. These guys were the best, really. It was such an honour working with such a talented yet humble bunch of people. And for my farewell, they made me a tear-jerking video punctuated by meows and teeming with precious moments we shared in our time together. We had so much laughter and so many intellectual discussions—all of which I miss. I am comforted by the fact that even though we are not workmates anymore, we’re still friends (and I am still in the WhatsApp group).


I am accepting: that sometimes I will spend 20 hours writing something that only 5 people will read in full—and that is okay. As long as I give my all to the stories and enjoy the process, I have done my work. Of course it’s great to get a bigger audience but that can easily get into your head. Plus the time spent marketing and “community building” is time that could be better spent writing. I realized that if you write quality, timeless stories, they will get readers for themselves over time if you make them publicly available. Chema chajiuza. There’s this 20-page research essay I wrote about the complicated relationship between North-Eastern Kenya, the rest of Kenya and Somalia. Initially I wrote the essay for a college course on Somali History in the fall of 2013 but then I published it on Medium many months later. No one paid attention to it immediately but when I checked a couple of years later, it had been read thousands of times and become more relevant over time. As Jamaican crooner, Chronixx, puts it in his song Likes, Make dem know success don’t come overnight/ Make dem know a substance over hype/ Dweet fi di love mi nuh dweet fi di likes.”

I am wondering: what it will take to rid our country off corruption. The other day I eavesdropped on a strangers’ conversation on corruption in Kenya. Both of them were not mad at the fact that billions of taxpayers’ shillings had been stolen in NYS Scandal Season 2, but rather at the fact that they were too insignificant to get the opportunity to get a piece of the booty themselves. This is where we are as a nation. Yes, there is outrage on Twitter but most people would not bat an eyelid if they found themselves in a position to pile millions in their accounts at the expense of the nation. Just a month ago the beautiful story of a virtuous matatu conductor who returned thirty thousand shillings ($300) to a passenger went viral and our faith in the humanity of fellow Kenyans was restored. But here we are again: the star of NYS Scandal Season 1 has been promoted to a Governor’s mansion, fingers are pointing blame up and down and Wanjiku, growing weary of constant outrage, now wants an equal shot at stealing too.

I am failing: at putting my new shower-cap correctly and thus ruining my baby dreadlocks at the back of my head. But on the up-side, I went for a locs retouch and the folks at the salon were amazed at how fast my hair is growing. One of them ventured to ask if I was applying fertilizer to my hair. The fellow working on my locs responded by attributing the growth to the magic of his hands: ni mkono joh. A phrase that made no sense to me—turns out it is salon lingo, I learnt from Sheila. I used to think my hair grew too slowly but I realized that was because I used to wash and comb it daily. Now that I wear a shower-cap and a sleeping-cap (yeah, I said that out loud), my hair growth has decided to overcompensate and I am here for all of it!

I am excited: to go upcountry and check on my one-month-old maize and avocado trees. My mum sent me some pics—most of the trees have caught on but a few are drying up and need to be replaced. Of course being a human being I’ve obsessed over the handful that are dying but now I want to go and see and celebrate those that triumphed their first month of growth in the shamba. I am getting a new low-end DSLR camera and so I am really excited to go take some shots of the avocado trees (plus the landscape over there is super-picturesque!). While it’s sad how the rains have caused flooding and loss of lives and property, they have also been a boon to many farmers across the country—hopefully food production rises and we build better storage management systems so we’re not begging for food aid next year.

I am giving: more of my time to my friends and family. The last year has been packed with activity and I have created little time for my friends and family. Now, I am making more frequent trips to Nakuru and more calls/texts to my friends. There are some close friends I haven’t had long conversations with for close to a year and I want to correct that, especially now that I have a bit more time before I go back to school.

I am grateful: for the belief that other people have in me and my abilities. I consider it one of my greatest gifts that I have people in my life who often are more confident in me than I am. I am thankful to those who have pushed me outside my comfort zones, nudged me to apply for opportunities that I feared were beyond my current skill levels and continued to celebrate me even when self-doubt ran up on me. It is because of your confidence in me that I can now listen to the gentle voice within whispering, you can do more; you can be more. Thank you.


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