A Writerly Communion

by Maria Kakinda Birungi

A string of miraculous coincidences is what happens when on top of the fully catered for #Writivismat5 workshop, facilitated by Nick Makoha, I land on the quote “First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.”* Because if there’s a significant lesson I took away from the workshop it is that I am a writer because I write. Consistently. With the determination of a mother giving birth. My existence is not necessarily dictated by my feelings. I have to show up to my writing space, with honesty and self-knowledge. It all sounds very technical, right? Wrong!

Let’s first backtrack a little.  Tuesday 11th July, 2017(Day one); call me superstitious, but excitement may be good only in little doses. One ought to be careful not to pour too much of it lest it flows over the brim. So imagine my concern when I lay in my bed, the day prior to the beginning of the workshop, designing how things would probably unfold and what to ultimately expect. This can be disconcerting because 1) when things don’t go as planned I might momentarily convince myself I look better with a bald head. Or 2) imagine that feeling of being underwhelmed about everything. So as the morning hours drew closer, I had to remind myself to be calm almost every few seconds.

I was delighted (still am) at my expectations having been flouted and totally surpassed.  Yes, we as the participants, read each other’s work. Yes we critiqued it. But the four days were so much more than that. Makoha would ask one of us participants, a seemingly ‘simple’ question, which one would ordinarily think is easily answerable. And one question led to another and another; all questions requiring an answer, which would divulge a plethora of past experiences. The questions entailed the deepest form of self-reflection; digging up the past. Sometimes a happy one, most times a buried memory one was happy to forget.

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As it is expected with strangers on their first meeting, we were at first very conscious of each other. Somehow, it is as if with each ‘writerly exercise’ that we were tasked to do, masks gave way to our true selves such that by the end of the four days, we had collectively experienced each other’s vulnerability. I kid you not when I say we cried and laughed together. We felt each other’s pain. We experienced each other’s eureka moment. We lived each other’s dreams.

And the overall lesson learnt here: LOOK AT YOUR PAST WITHOUT JUDGMENT AND REVERE THE JOURNEY. And yes, memory is an unreliable thing, constantly changing an event until it may be unrecognisable when placed side by side with the original form.

One of the other things that I was thankful for was that Makoha let us in on his writing process; on his personal development as a writer. It was not just a ‘tell-tale’ experience, but also a ‘show’ experience. We sat with him in the ‘poet’s chair’ on a Thursday evening, as he read his poetry and launched his debut collection ‘Kingdom of Gravity.’ We lived his earlier years of despair and loss. We rejoiced in his triumphs and reveled in his mended relationships. We drank from the same cup of determination. It was humbling  for him to tell us that we had potential. But what is potential that is not fulfilled? What is potential without hard work? As much as we got to reveal a part of ourselves, he did the same; revealing a part of himself to us, as if urging us on the significance of vulnerability.

In some of our sessions, we had the pleasure of some of our work being critiqued by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi. She lent insights on the art of story-telling. Supplementing the sessions with another experienced view on what works and what doesn’t. It was interesting really to observe the growth within the four days; the confidence in ourselves as writers and also the confidence placed with one another. Trusting ourselves to critique each other’s work, to guide each other along and asking each other the ‘tough writer questions.’

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One of my favourite moments was when Makoha asked us to individually name what we had learnt and to acknowledge each other for our strengths. I hadn’t experienced that amount of good will among aspiring writers in a while. The end of the experience left me feeling like; I AM STRONG. I AM ADEQUATE. I AM VULNERABLE, which is fine because that means I AM A WRITER. I get to decide what I AM.

Would I like to rewind the experience? Would I recommend any aspiring writer to implore their god for an opportunity of the same? Would I say I left the experience better than I came into it? Those would be three unhesitant nods from me. Thank you Writivism for the priceless experience we were gifted with!

*Quote by Epictetus.


Editor’s Note: Maria Kakinda Birungi was part of the #Writivismat5 Kampala workshop which was facilitated by Nick Makoha in partnership with University of Bristol.

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