Last week was an extraordinarily difficult week for me professionally, personally and medically. Usually when I go through periods in my life that challenges me, I normally recline into my shell, remove myself from whatever situation I was in before, to reassess what part I may have played in the situation I found myself or to access the best and most positive options I have moving forward.
When I get into this mode, I usually find an inner therapeutic peace and strength from within. Due to the fact that I am a temperamental person, the older I have grown, the more I have adopted this mechanism as a way of staying afloat in a world filled with the most unpredictable and disquieting distractions.
It is when I get into this zen mode that I am able to fully access certain situations from a more objective and calmer point of view than I probably would have done so before. And it is when I am in that calm mode that I enjoy doing two of my greatest hobbies; which is to draw and paint art pieces and write.
I find myself to be very lucky, because I am able to do one of the hobbies that I enjoy best on a regular basis. However, with the good comes the bad and given the fact that I do write on a public platform, there is a certain requirement to engage with some of my readers, even at times when I don’t feel up to it.
For the record, I have made it very clear in the past that I do not read comments written on online sites, where I do not have the ability to respond. It may sound strange to some because it follows that a writer should be able to read and even learn from some of their feedbacks, but it’s my prerogative, I write for myself and that is how I choose to roll. Mainly because I do not want what I write to be defined by a reaction I may have to an irrational response but rather based on my personal opinions.
I do, however encourage my readers, who want me to see their comments and wish for me to respond to them, to reach me on Twitter, Facebook, my e-mail and through SMS on a line that is held by a third party.
I choose to do so because I provide a service which I believe is in the public benefit and while I welcome constructive criticism, there is no way I will allow some prepubescent yob, who has not earned the platform to express themselves in the same way I have or some exasperated, chauvinistic and bigoted nonentity who skulks behind an outdated and grubby keyboard to derail my pure intentions for my people and my country. Only I define what, when and why I write.
Inconspicuousness unshackles enmity, we’ve learned, and the customary online abuse riot undermines the complexity required to write opinion. But just as it is my prerogative not to open myself up to any unconstructive anonymous comments, it is the prerogative of the trolls who probably have nothing better to do, to continue trolling the internet.
But this weekend, when I was in the zen mode I spoke about earlier, I did something that I don’t usually do. I went into a random blog, which I was not aware regularly published my articles, and I proceeded to read the comments that followed. While I found the negative and unconstructive comments comical and flippant, I was shocked that there were so many of them. The shock wasn’t so much about the negative comments that were said, it was more of an amusing surprise that little old me and my little old views typed on my little old laptop had so much power to envoke such strong emotions from strangers. I strangely found it quite empowering and even encouraging.
As I read on, wrapped in this weird feeling of euphoria, there was one particular comment from a young lady that caught my attention. Hers was one of the non hostile comments.
In her comment, she came across nervous and unsure. Maybe wary of the group of hyenas that had huddled themselves in a herd ready to pounce on anyone who was pro-the writer. She spoke about her interest in writing but couldn’t bring herself to do it when she reads the kind of vitriol targeted at some of us collumnists on blogs. She must have been surprised when she got an annonymous reply asking her to follow @hanneymusawa on twitter. I’m sure she never really thought I was the one who had asked her to do so, but she did follow me on twitter. Through twitter, we were able to communicate through private messaging and eventually we got in contact with each other and spoke over the phone.
From the conversation we had, she told me about the passion she has for writing but was too scared of being judged or writing the wrong thing. I asked her whether she thought that I ever considered that some of my writing might be wrong or wheather I believed that everything I wrote was right. To my surprise, she said that, because she sees a confidence and conviction whenever I write, she was convinced that I totally believed that whatever I wrote was right.
I found that really amusing because, as I told her, I frequently second guess, not so much the way I write, but more the perspective I adopt in the topics I write about. One of the greatest lessons that my father taught me is that ‘perspective is reality’ and people usually only see the reality of things from the standpoint at which they are at. That’s why there’s always two or three sides to every story, because each perspective is a reality within itself. So he has always told me, in whatever situation I find myself, to try and look at the situation from the point of view and assessment of another person. Although I try to adopt that, not only in my writing, but in my everyday life, one is only human and can never always be right and one will always make mistakes.
Of course as a columnist one is inclined to write things they believe in and are passionate about, but oftentimes, as I explained to the young lady, I find that it is midway an article that I surprise myself and find out what I really think about issues. There have been a few times when, it is after I have written on a certain subject that I then have a rethink and wished I had thought otherwise. I guess it is all part of the learning process in life.
When one has been writing for as long as I have, which is well over a decade, one gets to a point where they dont always overthink about the effect of what they write. Confidence is a disguise most writers use for keeping up appearances and deadlines, after which, slumping on the sofa, one ponders on the source of such confidence. This, of course, has its way of leading one to crippling uncertainty. Which is all part of the motions most writers go through. And I told this young lady that I bet that even the best writers have experienced this.
In terms of the concern this young lady had about being accurate about everything she wrote, I explained to her that, as a columnist, I find that it almost becomes a trend to digress and generalize because that is the nature of the beast. Unlike Scientists, the quantities don’t have to be exact. It doesn’t matter to most writers that there may be an equal number of female ‘professional’ chefs as male chefs in Nigeria. As long as the general belief that most chefs are males, then for the purpose of our columns, it is enough for us to generalize chefs as males. If she chooses to write, as long as she is careful not to be misleading or defamatory, certain generalization is expected. And as a Nigerian, as long as she upholds stadards that tradition requires, heeds the family rule of what is appropriate for consumption, and is clever enough to select words that sneak past the sensitivities of an overly sensitive society, she will be alright.
I told her that if she really wanted to be a writer, it would have to be something that she enjoyed and was committed to doing. For example, I explained to her that writing is not a profession to me but a hobby that I enjoy profusely. First and foremost, I am a Barrister and for me to write several weekly colums must be because I enjoy the art of expressing myself through writing.
But of all the advice I gave her, the most important was for her not to allow anyone to define who she would be as a writer. If writing was what she wanted to do, she should never let the criticism define who she is or what she wanted to say. My initial advise to her was to do what I do and not read random and anonymous comments. But if she was one of those writers who was always curious about the feedback to her pieces, then as long as she has the clear conscience and passion to do a good public service, and she was scared of the reaction of trolls and haters, then she should use the negativity that she fears to motivate her and light the fire she needs to start writing. She should not let the people who will always be ready to belittle her by virture of her gender, appearance, race, tribe or age define her as a writer, or as anything else for that matter.
I bet her that when she begins writing, no matter how negative a response she gets, as long as she is consistent and earnest, it will be the success and truth of her work and triumphs that will define her, not her detractors.
And, even besides writing, I advised her that in life generally especially as a woman, she cannot let negativity define who she is as a person. Her life was provided to her by God, but it was put into her hands by God. Her decisions and her choices about her writing and the emotions that would be generated by the feedback she gets are hers and she shouldn’t give that power to anyone, just like I don’t.
My conversation with this young lady was a good ending to a week that had began very hard for me. And instead of completely falling back into my shell, I did something out of the ordinary by reading comments from random sites, which I never do. And within that process I met, councelled and encouraged an extraordinary young lady, whom I hope to see very soon on the back of newspapers and on blogs.
And eventhough she says I did a lot in giving her courage and confidence to start writing, I think the person who benefited more from our communication was me; because after speaking to this young lady, I had overcome and conquered the challenge that accidently brought me to a point where we began our communication.
I wish her the best of luck and will always be here to advise and encourage people who wish to express themselves in a creative and positive manner and embolden them not to allow any negativity to distract them in anyway or define who they are.
I hope my communication with this young lady inspires another young writer or anyone else in the way she moved me. I hope to see her name at the end of her articles very soon. Good luck to you sister. You know who you are… hopefully soon, so will everyone else.