(This is more of an aside than an official blogpost. I started posting chapters of my novel on the site under the Being Ilia heading, but because of the format I’m using, I realize no email goes out to people following the blog. So, if you’re interested in reading my novel, which is being ‘published’ as a serial with a new chapter each week, you’ll need to go directly to the site- no email will appear in your inbox. I’ll try to have it up by Friday each week. Enjoy!)
When God – this morning- said
Let there be light again,
I was sleeping behind dark curtains.
Day was created,
dreams of green quickened at the light,
all love burst forth
into the glowing space
around the eucalyptus trees,
and I slept while the
weaver bird announced that it
is more than Good.
I wonder if something
might be lost
in the translation from Hebrew-
translated from Divinity-
because this aged morning
the petals of the frangipani blossoms
curve toward each other
in fine glowing lines
and the spider web fringes
the wet grass with silver
and the hawk glides
through blue space in
a terrifying perfect spiral,
those newborn mornings
earned more exuberance than
At the moment this feels like the bravest and most foolish thing I’ve done in a long time, but I’m putting up the first chapter of the novel. The reason it feels foolish and brave is that I’m not convinced I’m proud of it, not convinced it’s worth sharing with the world. On the other hand, I can’t bring myself to throw it in the virtual garbage can, so I’ll just swallow a bit of pride and it offer it up to any readers who may be interested. It was never intended to be profound or change the world, it simply was my creative play time, my warm-hearted diversion from a world that many times over the years felt heavy and hard.
It might take me a few weeks to figure out the best format for posting, for keeping the chapters easily organized and accessible. Bear with me. I’m new to this novel publishing schtick. At the moment, the chapters should appear as a drop down menu if you hover over Being Ilia at the top of the page. If you do read it, let me know, tell me what works, what doesn’t. If I’m going to expose myself to this kind of literary vulnerability, I may as well become a better writer in the process, and you, the reader, are my best shot at that. Some of you may have read versions of the first few chapters years ago- it’s embarrassing to admit how many years ago they were first written- but bear with it, I did move beyond those first chapters eventually. My goal is to post one chapter a week. Feel free to hold me accountable to that.
And so, for your reading enjoyment, I offer Being Ilia.
J reads a poem aloud from my favourite anthology, sounds out the words slowly- lipped, she-bear, cattails– stops to describe cattails to me, how they look like hotdogs, how there is a bouquet of them in her favourite Naivasha cabin. She drinks jasmine tea out of a grey clay mug, her nails are rimmed with dark dirt, there are holes in her leopard print tights.
P stops on the sidewalk, bends at the waist, bowing to a fat creamy slug. Its skin- do you call it skin?- is wet and translucent, crisscrossed with perfect delicate designs. Its antennae reach with slow elegance for messages in the air. We all gather around this creature of earth and water, an alien from a planet we’ve never considered, admire the way it eases across the cement, unfazed as it graces us with this glimpse of its slimy existence. We step over it into the grey morning.
The rainy season should have ended months ago, but the rainy season disregards this obligation, makes its own decisions. As P and I walk up the hill to pick up her sisters, rain begins to fall in thick roaring sheets. She shouts to me from beneath her umbrella, “Well, this is dramatic!” We laugh, watch rivers form in the gravel road, watch the shapes around us blur behind thick wet curtains.
We listen to opera in the morning, just because we never have. M sings so loudly as she makes her bed that I assume it’s part of the recording. I smile at the thought of famous opera singers as children, bellowing down the hallway.
J comes into my bedroom, jittery, restless. She says “My fingers just have to be baking. Please, mom, let me bake.” I smile at this impulse that is so foreign to me, swallow my complaints about a messy kitchen this late in the evening, give her permission to make pancakes. She recruits P and they giggle on wooden stools, spill flour, lick spoons mid-stir. Their secret ingredient is more than a cup of my imported chocolate chips. Their pancakes are buttery and chocolatey and completely their own. They clean up the mess and as I lick chocolate from my fingers, I am learning so many things about loosening my grip on their lives.
When P is sick, she fits under my arm, curls into the curve of my waist, settles her head against my ribs. I remember that she is still small, fragile, that she used to squirm beneath my heart, that our blood used to mingle in our veins.
The leaves of the banana tree flutter in the morning like shredded flags, long lines snipped into their sides in perfect symmetry, letting light shine through, bright and yellow. The stem curves gracefully, glows, the greens move like water.
J traveled all the way to Morocco to discover the smell and taste of rose water. Now she has her very own bottle, holds it like a porcelain doll. We bake pink meringues, sticky and soft like melted marshmallows. She runs her finger through the syrup left in the pot, picks small crumbs from the parchment paper, follows the smell of rose water around the kitchen, a scent she’s been missing all these years.
A bee eater glides by, parallel to the grass until it falls and spins, pulls up before it touches the grass, returns to its leafy throne with its unfortunate breakfast clamped tight in its beak, a termite who woke this morning unaware of the sacrifice it would make today unheralded, no martyr’s prayer, no saint day. The bee eater bobs its tail in gratitude.
M slips a small paper tile beneath my door, blue and purple water colour melted together, a shaky LOVE painted across the bottom, a telegram from a distant soul.
I’ve been away from this virtual space for a while, packing, traveling, meeting far away family, returning home. I don’t yet know how to keep writing when I’m out of routine. I know that if you’re a “real” writer, you’re supposed to write every day, no matter what, that the definition of a real writer, in fact, is someone who has to write every day, who can’t live without it. I unfortunately do just fine spending weeks away from computers and journals, feel happy and content drinking coffee with my sister on the porch of a Spanish hotel, watching the sunrise from a Moroccan rooftop with my husband, napping whenever I have the chance. There’s a disappointment in this, I guess, a slight bafflement as to why it’s so easy for me to leave writing behind for so long, why I’m not scratching notes on foreign serviettes, recording beautiful moments on my phone, trying to squeeze some journal pages into my Christmas holidays, like a real writer ought to. Maybe I’m living freely beyond obligation and imposed standards, or maybe I’m lacking the discipline that would keep me grounded and growing. Maybe both.
All that to say, I’m in Nairobi again and finding my way back to words, though they feel like distant strangers. I forget what I used to write each morning, can’t fathom how I ever cobbled together a poem. Part of me wants to rebel, to leave the word documents closed and spend the morning reading, tidying up, going out for coffee. I look with some envy at people who feel no need to write anything, who are fulfilled and productive without writing a word. But I know that even though I may not meet the official requirements of a real writer, even though I procrastinate too often, have happily been away from this writing for too long, I can’t stay away forever. For me, these words are home, and for now, I’m glad to be back.