I wrote the main body of this post three years ago. In an email discussion I was having with a couple of people I had just met. It was a heady time for me, very exciting, meeting these people, slowly making up my mind that yes, I wanted the life they were living and learning from them how to live that life. In the process of deciding what in their lives though I did not wish to ever be a part of my life. Some of them lived a life that I heard a line in a movie called Shortbus captures perfectly, “It’s like the 60s, with less hope.”
In the months immediately before and after this email discussion, I wrote some very good work. Many Ugandan newspaper and magazine readers remember My Favourite Part of Kampala. Nicestories.com fans remember Why I Hate Shakespeare and I still receive emotional emails from college students who identify with the anger with which I wrote that article. I wrote in that time also Uganda’s Literary Scene Today, Late Sunrise Nights and began to write an article titled Night Kampala Showers I have never let anyone read because it became something so much more than I had planned it to be that it frightened me.
2006 was a significant year for me. I may have said this before. I had so much less than I do now and I wanted so much. It is from this place that email comes, those states of mind I was in, about to implement some hard decisions, let go of some people, try for a dream.
Of course you have been here before. I suspect you know all this but it does not lessen the freshness and shock of its discovery by myself. Edith Wharton or some other American writer said that the world is made of two or three stories but that each writer keeps on writing them in their own way generation after generation because it is incredible anyone else could have felt the way they found those stories in their own lives. Very true!
I cannot believe anyone knows what I want to tell you both yet the thinking reasoning part of me knows very well it is all old news. But it is incredible. I know now, I think, what is the greatest killer of Ugandan writers.
It is not the lack of a reading culture which renders serious writing a clown’s job. It is not the poverty which many writers all over the world anyway live in and always managed to produce great literature.
It is not the lack of government or public recognition that a class of artistes called authors separate from journalists exist in this city thus making us invisible like beggars are invisible to the complete munakampala.
Neither is it the lack of a literary background, a history against which to measure our efforts, look for inspiration and guidance, feel we are continuing and a part a tradition that enfolds us like the protection of a family circle.
It is not the rooted capitalist mentality that has merged into our culture and thinking that prides material possessions over spiritual and mental growth.
The greatest killer of Ugandan writers is the solitude of the task of being a writer. I don’t mean this in the act of writing which is really not lonely when the writing is coming well.
I mean the total wasteland the writer has to confront when immersion in his/her writing ceases for a time and he looks up and all around is aridity. The million thronging people round him/her who might as well be dumb or even inanimate objects because when they try to speak to each other, it is as if they are speaking foreign languages to each other. Henry Morton Stanley meets Kamurasi.
This lack of similar minded souls and minds to commune with, to think and argue and test and, yes, love each other is what kills the Ugandan writer. A lonely profession is made unbearable by living in solitary confinement in an overcrowded prison. It is the aloneness that kills.
As for love, fuck it!, there is no love for one trying to be an artist. In the two or three hours when a room is borrowed and there is supposed to be love, love is the furthest thought on either mind.
He is wondering whether the guy he has borrowed the room from might come earlier than usual and if he will have enough time to clean the bed and clear away the lunch or breakfast or snacks they, she ate from.
She is wondering whether any of the neigbours saw her enter the room with him. Whether there is anyone who lives here who knows her or her brothers or her parents. She is wondering whether he will think her cheap and dump her after this. She is wondering whether he will give her money for transport for the taxi to go back home.
How can there be love when a part of me remains aside, the devil in the corner, notebook open , pen scribbling, amused smile on lips noting not only precariously perched on top he is and how his knees hurt, what is under this damn bed sheet?, but also the moans or they acting?
How can this be love when all is imagined so intensly before anything happens and when it is happening, the writing is taking place? There is no love for the artist. No experience even.