I met a painter who is an older man at a party yesterday. It was for a brief moment. This was one of those events where people show up by themselves and then attempt to find company. I think he felt weird because everyone was so much younger and seemed to know one another. A mutual friend did introductions. She declared he was a painter while he hung his head shyly. Then she declared that I was a writer while I squirmed uncomfortably in my seat.
The discomfort didn’t go unnoticed. He said, “It’s difficult to talk about oneself, isn’t it? It’s taboo.” It was such a grown-up thing to say.
“It is difficult.” I said. “But these days no one will hire you if you’re not good at talking about yourself.” I thought back to how annoyed my seniors got when I mumbled and talked my work down. I thought back to my messy CV. I’m always thinking that I will get to doing it some justice. I never find the courage to.
“So, writing,” he continued. “It must be like an addiction.”
“Like an addiction. You must love it so much. Do you publish anywhere?”
I thought about my abandoned blog. And my abandoned novels. And the job that pays me. And the one that I’m learning from. “It’s more like a sickness actually.” I told him.
Two minutes later he wasn’t in the group I was in anymore. He had moved several seats away to once again be the awkward lurker in the party. He wasn’t a weirdo. He dressed weird but that could just be my conventional idea of a-proper-way-to-dress talking. He had a colorful, probably self-made bag one would consider exotic on an Instagram model. He wore funny shoes and his dirty hands clasped his drink with an out-of-place pink umbrella. Greying hair and a solemn face. He was an artist. But you had to look closely.
My blog has not died. And neither have I. Not really.
I think once every few years I need to take a hiatus from talking about myself in long letters addressed to no one in particular. Calling yourself a writer is not an easy job. You sometimes make money but then you also wanna sit down and think about the writing you do for your soul as opposed to the one you do for your food.
When I say food, I don’t just mean the one you put in your mouth. But also, the one you fill up on at parties like the one above. The one you get from the way people look at you when you answer the customary networking question, “What do you do for a living?” Their eyes sparkle in interest, they inch closer to listen to what you have to say. Sometimes they tell you they’ve also wanted to be writers at some point but didn’t for one reason or another. But when you seem like you’ve figured it out, you become interesting.
I break away from these conversations and always think, “Why did I say I was a writer?”
I do write, but do I?
Friend 1: It’s not just that you are a writer. You do alright. But it’s also that you know that if the need came about for you to write, you are able to put words together and formulate stories in a way only someone who would call them self a writer can.
Friend 2: I hate calling myself a writer too. I hate it. I mean to write all the time. I used to write but now it feels so pretentious. And there are all these terrible writers in the city and I find it difficult to just call myself “writer” like they do. Also, I’m probably just terrible at it.
Friend 3: Is it about having people recognize you as a writer and call you that? If so, you have failed.
Friend 4: Who makes these rules that you have to follow really? You ever stop to ask or do you just follow because it’s easy money? Because it worked for someone else? There are certain cultural questions you forget to address I mean what even does it mean to be a writer in Addis Ababa today?
I have made a few more friends in the past few months. I call them friends not because I understand them and care about them enough to want to see them all the time but because I have a rich respect for them. I’ve met all around artists and thinkers even though they aren’t very old or very well read. They are however, either very culturally aware or deeply ambitious about things. I don’t hate that.
I have become much less opinionated. I blend right into the forgettable but I’ve learned that helps people be more open to telling you certain truths. Sometimes they say shitty things but if you don’t really respect them, you’re less likely to want to punch them in the face.
Painter guy wasn’t wrong but I don’t think it’s really that hard talking about yourself. I’ve had to introduce myself to several circles of people so many times until one day I was doing it among friends and the words just got caught in my throat. I hated saying them.
I ended up just simply not talking. The group ended up drawing their own conclusions that I was having an off day and I was left alone for the rest of the session. I can’t express how good it felt not having to say anything about myself that time. And I did it a few more times and it felt good then too. It was utter relief.
But then if I don’t talk about it, no one will know. And perhaps my soul will starve and so will I.
I love the contemporary life we live today. It’s a turmoil of ideologies and expressions, it’s a tug of war of times, it’s a race to outshine one another, it’s a beautifully tragic love story. It is everything. As the rainy season draws in, I think of sitting in café windows by myself, thinking of the romance of being called an artist by those who think the label isn’t for them but for those who sit comfortably alone in crowds of people at loud parties wearing weird looking shoes and colorful bags they made themselves. Or better yet by those who do think they deserve the label and are willing to share it with me.
I wonder if it’s more important to be everywhere at once hoping you hit the right targets at some point. Low impact but passable. Or if it’s more important to go full speed, headfirst at that one target you see for yourself. If it’s better to paint the badge across your forehead telling everyone you are a chosen lamb. If it’s better to find good cheerleaders to tell your story for you so you can pretend to be humble and not really good at talking about yourself. Or if it’s better to just tell the truth all the time. Even if sometimes that truth gets caught in your throat and you’re much more comfortable with silence instead.
You see, I don’t really think it’s difficult to talk about yourself. I find it’s difficult living with what you’ve said about yourself.