Celebrating East African Writing!

Characters Ripen. Plot Rots. Author Walks. By Muthoni Garland

Itty bitty characters/ Sitting on a page
First comes Gladys/ Then there’s Morris
Then here comes the madman in a baby carriage

“Okay just so everyone is perfectly clear, I’m Gladys. You’re Morris. Is the madman the one Muthoni, our author, is developing for that definitive book about Africa?”

“You mean the one where the truth of modern Africa is finally told?”

“No I mean the one she will never finish.”

“Ahh but you see, grandiose illusions keeps her going.”

“I bet she’s gone off to practise her Booker/Pulitzer speech again!”

This is time out. Time for us to breathe. Time for us characters on the page to be who we really are. Well, until Muthoni’s cooked her husband’s dinner. He slaves over Cadbury chocolate all day earning the keep in order for her to indulge in the dubious privilege of writing about us.

We think we are in the middle of a story. Let’s analyse how it starts.

“I think it’s a silly rhyme, a clever idea but a silly rhyme.”

“Clever and cribbed my friend ! It comes courtesy of Toni Morrison’s Bluest Eye. She’s just read it you see.” If there’s a single pea hidden under the mattress, crafty Morris will always be the one to find it.

“Nah, as a woman I can tell it’s about more than that. Muthoni’s trying to create dramatic interest right from the get go, trying to grip you by the throat and hammer you down the floor choking…waaaaaa!”

“Grip me by the throat…… who is she talking to? If I’m a character in her story, how can she be talking to me?”  Morris asks a question I cannot answer, so like any slick politician facing an unexpected dent in the polls, I sidetrack.

“Look, for all we know you may turn out to be the madman. Madman Morris. Morris the madman, maybe that’s the missing link in her rhyme.”

“If I am mad she’s lost the plot!”

“Or created a new one. Diversion. You know Muthoni’s never afraid to wander off, hobbycat across the southern monsoons of the Indian Ocean.”

“Well I call it inconsistent, all this chopping and changing. Think she’s God? Oh that’s sounds so cliché comparing God and editing but the point remains, inelegantly said.”

Sometimes Muthoni makes Morris smart. But most times she thinks men only click boldface and cannot see what lies behind prettified italics.

“Hey be kind, Muthoni created you.  She could blow you away.”

“No. she loves too much. Absolutely loves people. Loves their stories. She will not kill me. Must not kill me. Would she?”

“Morris, it depends. Depends on whether or not you stay interesting”

But he raised a good point before my diversion. About point of view I mean. Now he has me thinking like her, like a 40 year old amateur author I mean. I ask (who?) whom is this argument-cum-discussion targeted to? Her mentor? God? Me? And what’s more important, a) the points raised, b) keeping to the plot, c) us, the characters in the story, or d) the stranger characters who will judge the outcome?

This is confusing, potential readers of this unfinished story, so let’s leap back into her writing, land in the middle of the story.

Muthoni had Morris rape me a couple of pages ago. I am about to bear his child. I haven’t decided whether I hate him. Cheez!  You’d think I’d know how I feel about something like that. But NO, Muthoni is an explorer, Stanley seeking Livingstone, not a Japanese salaryman dropping by the geisha club on his way home, yet again, yet again, yet again.

“One biggie going for her, or maybe it’s a general thing with you women, she’s not afraid to tackle big emotional themes. Digs with a giant hoe. Really goes for it.”

“Late bloomer, just found herself that’s why. Late bloomers are never afraid to come to the dinner table with a huge appetite to polish off all the desert!” I can relate to this because she’s made me 47 and has me dealing with issues like, this rape and menopausal fertility.

“You women and your touchie feelie, eatie sweeties! Personally I would rather she had me milk an elephant than all this rape and pillage!”

“What you’re saying is she needs to work on the balance between humour and pathos.”

“No, my dear Gladys, you will not trap me there. All this internalising is like inbreeding, bound to fuse some key genes.”

“Yes, if only Muthoni would relax, let us speak for ourselves rather than this control thingie magie, this constant editing. We need some consistency.”

“I know exactly what you mean. For instance, on page 4 you have sharp, shiny black irises swimming confusedly in hot, white, potato-soup eyes. Come to page 9 and suddenly your soft brown hazy look entrances me to rape you. I am not entranced now I can tell you. I am confused! Who are you?” Morris is steaming. ”What colour are your eyes?”

“Sweat the detail, eh, that Muthoni doesn’t, but I mean more than that. I am talking about character consistency of personality (ahem, forgive the pseudo learned language). She needs to give us room to breathe, room to be.  Look you rape me on page 9. I am angry enough to plan your murder on page 12 but by page 15, I remember, thank God, I am SAVED!  So now I will probably have to wait for my/our baby to grow to see if it can finish off what I started.”

Morris is quick on the uptake, “What, you think this is turning into a saga?”

“Maybe, maybe not. But I’m glad Muthoni remembered I am saved. Funny how she seems to understand what it means. She strikes me as too cynical to be saved herself. You know, the type who like the trappings of church, the moral teachings, the communal fraternity and the hymns, yes, she probably gets into a secret lather watching all that Speaking in Tongues, Hallelujah Amening. She builds all that good stuff into my character, but deep inside mmmm, I have my doubts about her Christianity.”

Insider-Interruptus. Break’s over. I have to surrender to her now. Yes, Muthoni’s back at the laptop punching us with action and feeling. In other words, furthering our story.

The first thing she does is give us second names. So now he’s Morris Motomoto and I am Gladys Wafula. Oh, oh, seconds later he’s Maurice then back to a less pretentious Morris but this time last name Moto, singular Moto rhyming with English motor. She’s clearly had too much after-dinner coffee. Praise be to God she’s currently concentrating her energies on him.

It’s a drag the weight Muthoni carries around of making this Africa thing understood e.g. simplifying names so as not to confuse or put readers off or something. Could it be political-correctness confusion gleaned from her years in America? Could it be because she’s married to a punctilious Brit?

Why not trust the story to carry its own weight?  She is, after all, the very person who decided that I keep my ill-begotten baby (via Morris’ rape) contrary to what my world thinks.  Maybe Muthoni can’t yet separate us, her creations from what she herself does or thinks.

A pity because I hate her politics for a start. All this whining about the unfairness of the African situation. Let me tell you something that’s universally true. We all scratch our hairy itches at that giant stone called motivation. All blood is red. All hunger is hunger, pain is pain, need is need.

Need. Maybe what Muthoni needs is encouragement. You know, strokes to push her along, point her in the right direction, polish her song. I don’t think she is even a quarter sure of herself as she puts on. I hear that’s how it is with these Michael Jackson types. Flashy in public, shame at home.

She’s stopped writing about Morris. I have him back to talk to. She’s gone off to another file. Let me peep across the screen, its always good for a laugh.

Muthoni does not disappoint. ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, I thank you again on behalf of a humble African……….’

Morris is delighted. With Muthoni gone on this tangent, he is safe from pillage today. “Humble, shmumble, Booker, hooker, vanity is thy name!”

But I feel for her, “Airy, fairy castles may get in the way of her writing, make it harder to focus on our story, but I am sure she means no harm. See, look, she’s already blowing the Booker words off the page.”

“Yeah, but some of our story’s flying off too.”

“Trust her. She’ll go looking for it.”

“But will she find the words? And in the right voice? Will she assemble them right? Will we come back whole?”

She does have a habit of day-dreaming up stuff and then can’t quite remember the details later. And a deadlier habit of putting stories aside for months on end. Torture.

Try and imagine this torture, me raped, and pregnant long enough to break a damn record.  Morris Moto or Motomoto shifty-eyed or shifty-tailed depending on your perspective. Finally there’s her, our author, yes Muthoni, creating yet more characters to add to this africanenglishamerican stew. That’s what comes of living too long away from home.

Enough already.


2 comments on “Characters Ripen. Plot Rots. Author Walks. By Muthoni Garland

  1. Moraa Gitaa
    December 29, 2008

    Hilarious it is! I will definitely try it!


  2. Njeri Tunguru
    July 24, 2009

    Wow, this is truly a work of art…and that church bit, I absolutely am with you Muthoni. Keep practising that speech-you just might need it.Brilliant!! I like!!


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