Friday, August 22, 2008

Old Notbooks, Beginning New Ones

I have gone back, further in time than I ever thought, in this move from country to country, town to town, to the one liners that used to define my life I wrote in some tiny notebooks, with no covers now, I used to buy, a boy who knew one or two streets in a city he thought he would never love more, would never be unfaithful too.

There’s Camus with that first stunning line that never ceases to amaze, “Mother died today. Or, maybe yesterday; I can’t be sure,” from his novel The Outsider. Some call it The Stranger. It is not the Camus line that has stayed with me all through my reading and feeling life though it is a line I could understand and that spoke at a time when you could hate and love someone at the same time and believe you hated them when your hate really concealed a deeper love than you wanted to acknowledge anymore.

But that was not the Camus line that has lived with me, trench coat wearing author who nearly made me take up smoking because you smoked, that is not the line. Or the Jesus figures in The Plague that had me staying after school, to miss a hostel orgy, because staggered under the load of pain these characters incarcerated inside a city’s walls were going through mirrored certain mental prisons and I wanted to know how was it all going to end. No, not lines from The Plague, a book I dread to read again but I know I must read once more when I’m ready.

Camus you have been with me because, “In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer,” though I have never touched snow and felt my fingers becoming cold and brittle as it melted through them, I have carried those lines with me, from Camus, all my life. Albert Camus too, his heritage much debated; French Algerian or Algerian French or Algerian or French, in the years when I did not know the name of one African author and I needed an author a white man had endorsed as great, reeling from Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, John Milton, Spencer and I did not want to go with the slave narratives of Frederick Douglas anymore. So there was Camus.


“There is never any ending to Paris and the memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other. We always returned to it no matter who we were or how it was changed or with what difficulties, or ease, it could be reached. Paris was always worth it and you received return for whatever you brought to it. But this is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy.” Ernest Hemingway!

Of all the authors in my modest and shrinking library, it is to Hemingway for the last five or so years I have continually returned! Outdoors man of American literature, famous drunk and backstabbing envious friend, womanizer reputed to need a new wife for each new novel and hater of his own mother, mocker of his father, macho bearded like 19th century Victorian writers, masquerader among the modernists, most famous writer of the 20th century, Spain praise singer, bull fighting aficionado, Hemingway taught me what D.H. Lawrence meant when he said, "Never trust the artist. Trust the tale." Nor the critics either! You’re the best critic of what you’re reading, never forget that.

The writer did not have to be a timid pussy or interested only in writerly things, Hemingway taught that. Of course I could have learned all this from Tolstoy but have you seen how fat War and Peace is? Then again R L Stevenson was never a stay at home writer but he did need the cuddling of wet nurses all his life and have you read the topics of his essays? Okay, Jack London was so adventurous he was once the nicknamed the Prince of I think Oyster bay in his pirating days but who is going to take seriously a writer whose most famous creations are talking dogs in the wild? I needed Ernest Hemingway, racing through the novels and then I found A Moveable Feast, Makerere University library, my second year of an otherwise wasted three years.

In a few days, maybe a week at the most, I should be reading Speak Memory by Vladimir Nabokov. I have been warned that it is perhaps the best written memory book. But I have heard such trumpeting before for other memoirs and books that fall in this gray area, lately Soyinka’s Ake. I have that book on my shelf too, unread still, because I’m not yet ready for Soyinka. It has taken me years to be ready for Nabokov though dirty mind that I’m, yeah, I used to own a copy of Lolita, read it, was thrilled and gave it away though it is a book that induces minor orgasms in a reader throughout. Maybe Speak Memory will dethrone, I have loved the Russia Nabokov speaks of way back since I started reading Gogol’s Dead Souls, read his short stories, discovered unsung gems like Oblomov, then the Chekhov’s. Ah!

The things I could tell you about Chekhov and Maupassant and Flaubert and oh my, I read the love letters of John Keats to his girl with a delicious name Fanny! Could they choose ‘em or could they choose ‘em! There’s a whole essay, an article, a film, an art gallery show in the lovers and wives of great writers. Oh my! Did you know that actually Joyce day so seriously celebrated by academia enshrined in one of Joyce’s letters to Nora celebrates the first day, “without prompting from Joyce, Nora slid her hand inside his trousers, grabbed his member, and pleasured him to orgasm, in the first sexual act Joyce had never paid for.” I could have kicked myself! James Joyce Day is actually celebrating famed writer James Joyce’s first, how do the English delightfully put, wank!

I love James Joyce’s The Dubliners by the way. Those short stories, unsurpassed yet! To be poor is romantic in retrospect but Hemingway was so right that “hunger was a good discipline.” But when it comes to the novel, when it comes right, F. Scott Fitzgerald! The Great Gatsby, Tender is the Night; in those two novels are all the novels of some writers who have written a whole library shelf of novels. Baby, I still love you because…

“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms further…. And one fine morning----

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne ceaselessly into the past.”

It is still the most beautiful ending of any novel, written anywhere in the world, I have ever read and I challenge you to quote me a better one. I dare you!

This is for the writers and the readers who love the writers, who, not turning up their noses and sensibilities, Chaucer-like, dive into the murk of their everyday and make their pages pulsate with the lives and concerns, the beating heart of life, want to say…

This living hand, now warm and capable

Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold

And in the icy silence of the tomb,

So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights

That thou wouldst wish thine own heart dry of blood

So in my veins red life might stream again,

And thou be conscience-calm’d--- see here it is---

I hold it towards you.

John Keats

Thursday, August 14, 2008


I borrowed five books to read and it turned out only one was worth reading, a Bret Easton Ellis-The Informers, and I’m certain Ellis is as getting tired of being compared to F. Scott Fitzgerald as I’m of reading his work and finding his over moneyed New York types tiresomely predictable with an ennui from a life of too many options and not the will to go down one well mowed lane and living.

There was a time when a year did not seem to end, when a month seemed forever and I was in school, waiting for October and November when the newspapers became more colourful with red sleighs and bells and Punky Brewster and Different Strokes had merry tunes. Now the days whizz by and its four months left to 2008 and the time seems so little and I still have so much to do, so much I planned for this year yet to be accomplished but I’m not in despair, just a little taken aback when all this time passed and how come.

There was a book by Tom Robbins, there was a book by Margaret Atwood, there was a book by some woman called May Cantwell with the worst type of memoirs-the syrupy kind, American Girl, there was Frederic Tuten with his deplorable attempt to make Tintin grow up, what the fuck? I loathed all was before me and was complaining to myself when I remembered an American writer who wrote The Last of the Mohicans who was challenged if he could do better than the writers he was complaining of wasting his evening and money with their terrible writing. Apparently he could.

Well, I read his adventure yarns too long to remember exactly what was in them, Daniel Day Lewis reminded me recently when I happened to watch a DVD of The Last of the Mohicans, so I went out and also got There Will Be Blood because I cannot watch one Daniel Day Lewis movie and I’m thinking of getting Gangs of New York again because Lewis was mesmerizing in that one too. I read the Gangs of New York book too and boy could that guy write, a journalist who could write! There is another book in Aristoc Booklex I got my eye on by him too as soon as the money piles stack up. But what I really want is a Daniel Day Lewis collection.

I began to collect one of Morgan Freeman when my heart stopped at the Yahoo! news flash that Freeman had been in a car accident and he was in a stable but serious condition. You never know how much an actor means to you until you think he is about to die or God forbid, actually dies like Heath Ledger did though since Ten Things I Hate About You, I had not found Ledger that compelling, he was always too self aware of how much he could act well to actually get out of himself and act better than he did. A comment on IMDB about Freeman reminded me why I love Freeman so much and why I still scroll through the mostly gibberish of wall posts on such fora… a fan said that if he could have one Hollywood dream come true, he would like his life to be narrated by Morgan Freeman in the Hollywood movie version of his life, if he ever stops being a fan and actually does something more meaningful than being a Dilbert government clerk.

I used to love Keanu Reeves this way. Before the Matrix Revolution and all that came after. I still Point Break. Then again I’m a fan who thinks Tom Cruise has never made a better movie than Cocktail. I have this theory that like in life, in the body of movies an actor makes there is that one movie where you see the actor making a career choice: for the money or the greatness, and I think Keanu Reeves and Tom Cruise made their choices in those movies, chose the money. Sometimes I think Johnny Depp did that too after the first Pirates of the Caribbean, duplicating a delicious creation of his fertile mind to the ludicrous gayness he is now. I weep for him. Yeah, I love movies like that, been watching a lot more of them than I have had a chance to do in many months, thinking of beginning a column in any newspaper that will let me a serious critique not just of one movie but a whole history of movies, actors, directors, a mesh of all I have watched because I have watched as many movies and I have read books, I hope there are a few more people out there who would like to know what I think of some and some periods of film, excepting series which I cannot bring myself to watch no matter how much the delicious joys of Grey’s Anatomy are preached to me, 24, One Tree Hill, whatever, I have even stopped watching Smallville which once was a secret addiction The Phantom once found me espousing as the reason to join a certain video library. I will not yet write about series.

So you’re wondering is Daniel Day Lewis my favourite actor? Not really. I do like the quirky story about him that he momentarily stopped acting for a long while to learn the craft of shoe making and supposedly makes great shoes. I thought having a fall back profession was taken by Lewis to the lowest level possible though I must confess I would like to wear a Daniel Day Lewis shoe. By the way! Let me say this and get it out before I forget, American Beauty is a piece of shit movie, yeah Ernest I said that. American Beauty is a pretentious piece of shit movie masquerading as French existentialism. What a crap out. Better to spend your hours watching The Usual Suspects, there Kevin Spacey was truly great and you can learn from there why Sean Penn will never make my list of the greatest actors of his generation no matter how many people sing his praises.

I want to make a list of the greatest erotic films I have watched. Just for just. Movies to make you cream your pants. Movies to make you take out that brandy and forget it in your glass till it goes flat, the curtain edges lighting up because you watched them till morning. Movies that make you go to bed and whisper words you have not whispered to the sleeping form in bed because after them, you cannot sleep until you have emptied, ha!

Then I want to make a list of books so dirty, so subversive, dripping wet with sex, novels that make you hide between library shelves because you do not want anyone to see the flaring of your nostrils as you read, books that describe in detail the sweatiness of sex, uh, Lady Chatterley and Lolita nothing, let’s pay a summer’s visit to the Italians and the Spaniards, and some of those Latin Americans like Marquez who have hidden delights One Thousand Nights of Solitude hide in their confession robes, I want to do that too.

Movies and books should not be dead things but pulsating beings, uncontrolled and crazy and real as that scene from Divisionz that makes you understand what Donald Mugisha is talking about when he talks about guerrilla movie making, yeah! Come on! Movies and books should be as unsafe and scary as when you enter a clinic for a blood check up and you’re waiting for the results of the HIV/AIDS test you asked for, and just for a moment as the doctor goes through his required counseling, you think you just might have the disease, movies and books should be like that, real life! Take a Sylver Kyagulanyi song lyric and see your life, uh huh, I want to make real for you like that!

What am I saying to you? I want books like On the Road by Jack Kerouac and Last Exit to Brooklyn by Selby Jr or the Tropic of Cancer by Miller or The People’s Graduate by Austin Bukenya, fuckit, even Moses Isegawa’s Abyssinian Chronicles is realer, give me that! I’ll take a racist movie like Gone with the Wind, a full of historical lies Sound of Music as long as it pulsates with felt life, a desire to take the cup of life to the lips and drink fulsomely because life is short, life is brief, it does not matter how you live it or at what grade as long as you live it fully, do you get what I’m saying? I want art like that. I want to talk to you about art like that. Better to be wrong and passionate than right and lifeless. So what am I saying to ya?

I’m saying these last four months of the year now that back on Ugandan soil I’m going to go for the Kadongo Kamu singer and the Bobi Wines and the Priscilla’s and the Bella’s and not one Isaiah Katumwa jazz show because these other guys speak the truth of Ugandan life as surely as Chaucer and Boccaccio and Dante did of their Dark Ages and if you find me drinking to Paul Kafeero and Philly Lutaaya, it’s because they were our poet laureates. I’ll spend these four months finding the truest and the illest again, and damn it, I’m going to make some real great art too, and be a part of them too!

Friday, August 01, 2008

At 28

There was a time when what is happening to me right now would have happened then, I would have broken down and wept. Wailed and perhaps allowed myself to be broken. I have not.

I have lost everything. Or nearly everything. I’m the land lubber who has been tossed into a fast flowing river and I have never swum a day in my life, I do not own a life jacket. I used as a child to have screaming nightmares of dying in water, drowning, watched one of my brothers nearly drown when we were crossing a river as a child, and I’m in the water fighting for my life now.

I knew 2008 would be a pivotal year. I did not appreciate my knowledge until right now. There are a few years I can never forget. Years of significance, years that changed me, years that took away or gave me, years that brought certain people into my life and saw the exit of others, years in which I loved and was not loved, years in which I was loved and did not love, years when I did not learn anything and years when I opened my mind.

1989. 1996. 1997. 2004. 2006. Now 2008. These have been my defining years. In each of those years, I changed. I was changed. I might have changed others too. The greatest change yet though must be this year’s. If you knew me before 2008, you will know that I’m not who you used to know. It was a frightening realization for a time but I’m getting used to it.

A friend in grief asked me if I thought those who are going to die young do know they are going to die young. I said yes. If a day ends and the hours do not seem many enough for all you wish to do, you’re going to die young. You’re also going to live more.

When you’re young, you’re wiser than you know and then you grow older and you meet people with no dreams and they want to take away your dream. Sometimes without even knowing that they are doing that. They shake you. They leave you doubtful and you forget the wisdom you had as a child and it will be very many years before you’re as wise again. If ever. Lost in the desert for more than 40 days and 40 nights. Weeping, searching, hungry in permanent night.

All the Princes of darkness will descend with their allure. The friends you lose now will cut to the quick. The lovers you meet will remain on your conscience. Your wrongs will not leave you alone. All the old solutions will not work anymore. A question of your early 20s will demand an answer; Fight or Run?

I have lost a lot of things in 2008. Precious carry-a-longs’ that I used to pack first. Promises I started living before I had ever made them. Dreams that came unbidden. Decades’ treasures in less than a day eternally lost, Sunday 13th July 2008. Heaven and hell are not that far apart. Residence in either is sometimes a choice you make without understanding what you’re doing until you’re inside.

If Entebbe is home then Jinja is Mecca and that three hour night riding boda boda man John the Baptist with the ragged jacket he gave me as a present. There are people who save you and afterwards ask no price. If you’re lucky in this life, you will meet them in places you least expect. Like a year ago in the waiting lounge of Entebbe International Airport about to board a plane to Juba, Southern Sudan, for the first time. We do not choose our saviors, our saviors choose us.

It took Jinja, three weeks, and residence in a house with only the clothes I had traveled in to realize that I had lost the things I needed to lose at 28 to become a man.