Finding Your Voice
There was a time in 2012 when I became inspired to write my own memoir after reading several autobiographies of great men. So in a span of two weeks that time in 2012, I sat down on my father's computer desk and wrote a memoir even though I wasn't a famous figure. The memoir I wrote was riddled with lies, exaggerations and plagiarism because I hadn't discovered my own voice back then. And I wrote it in such a hurry that I now wonder how it would have become the best-seller I wanted it to be. I didn't succeed in having the memoir published.
But my efforts were not in vain because I learnt valuable lessons in the process of submitting the memoir for publication. Among the lessons I learnt is that most renowned publishers don't deal directly with authors; they deal with literary agents. I also learnt from one literary agent about an American called James Frey who authored a fake memoir that brought Random House Inc. to its knees. Given the lies, exaggerations and plagiarism that were in the memoir I hastily wrote in 2012, it seems I was destined to suffer the same shame as James Frey. Oh, how I thank God that my memoir wasn't published!
Well, I had always had a habit of plagiarizing other people's writings ever since my days in high school at Starehe Boys' Centre. Like one time when I was in Form 2 in 2003, I extracted a passage from a textbook called Integrated English and submitted it in an essay-writing competition. I didn't emerge a winner in the competition, something I am now grateful for because I would probably have been found out as a plagiarizer.
I continued with that bad habit of plagiarism well into my adult life. When I was applying to four top American colleges in 2006 for instance, I copied a recommendation letter from a book titled How to Get into Top Colleges that I borrowed from Starehe Boys' library. I edited the recommendation letter to make it suit my case, took it to a certain teacher to sign it and then mailed it to the four colleges.
Since the authors of the book from which I copied the recommendation letter had consulted admission officers of the colleges I was applying for admission, I am sure those who reviewed my application discerned that the letter was a product of plagiarism. Little wonder that I wasn't accepted into any of the colleges. I was such a big fool.
Then sometime in 2012, I sat down to listen to Sajjid Chinoy's 1996 valedictory speech at the University of Richmond while writing down its contents after failing to find the text version of the speech in my Google search. (I have always loved listening to that speech ever since I was in Starehe Insitute in 2006, and a few years ago I got to know from the internet that Sajjid Chinoy is the current chief India economist.) After writing down the contents of Sajjid Chinoy's speech that time in 2012, I shared it with my friends on Facebook and via email as if it were my own original story. A few friends complimented me for the story including George Waithaka, a graduate of the highly-esteemed Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Encouraged by the compliments, I emailed the story to the "Nation", Kenya's leading newspaper. "Nation" didn't publish the story, and as is the case with the essay I submitted in an essay-writing competition in high school, I am now grateful that the newspaper didn't publish my story as that would probably have led to tarnishing of my name if someone realized the source of the story.
And then in 2013 when I was running for a political seat in that year's Kenya's General Elections, I copied several paragraphs of text from Barack Obama's The Audacity of Hope and pasted them into a story I was writing about how my campaign was unfolding. I then emailed the story to my friends as it was my habit.
One of my friends called Moses Mutoko, who was then an undergraduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, was so impressed with the story that he sent me $10 for my campaign. To be honest, I didn't put forth a spirited campaign as I narrated in the story using Barack Obama's words. I was just being dishonest.
In mid 2016 when I re-branded this blog to what it looks now, I resolved to give up lies, exaggerations and plagiarism in my story-telling hobby. I have followed that resolution to the letter and in the process, I am finding my own voice. And I am discovering so many interesting facts to tell that I wonder why I previously resorted to lies and exaggeration to jazz up my stories.
My dear reader, I beseech you to also find your own voice. Imitating other people's manner of writing and speaking won't take you anywhere as was the case with me. And as someone once wisely put it, "It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation." Adieu!
RECOMMENDATION: If you've enjoyed this story of mine on finding your voice, you might also enjoy another one I wrote sometimes back on "The 8th Commandment". Just click on that link in blue to dive straight into the story.
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The 'If Poem'
A couple of weeks ago, I narrated in this blog of how I attended "working party" when I was in Form 3 at Starehe Boys' Centre. As I explained, "working party" is one of the most severe punishments at Starehe during which culprits are forced to work shirtless for three hours on a Saturday afternoon. Thankfully, that "working party" I did in Form 3 was the only I attended in high school.
Well, I had been crucified for another "working party" earlier on in my high school career but through tactical manoeuvring, I evaded doing it. Okay, let me tell you the full story.
When I was in Starehe, my stay in the school was sponsored by an American called Mr. Mark Moore. I was required to write a letter to him every term as a sign of gratitude for his generosity. A staff member in Starehe named John Odor was charged with the responsibility of ensuring I wrote the letter on time.
One term while I was in Form 2 or Form 3 (can't recall the exact year), I failed to present my letter to John Odor before the required deadline. And guess what! During lunch the following Saturday after the deadline day, I heard my name mentioned in the list of "working party" culprits. John Odor had gone ahead to fix me for the severe punishment.
Hearing my name mentioned in the dining hall during that Saturday lunch greatly perturbed me. As soon as lunch was over, I went to the office of the then Starehe Boys' principal, the late Mr. Yusuf King'ala, to appeal the punishment.
I found Mr. King'ala talking to another man in his office, and I was courageous enough to interrupt them and present my case to him. With tears cascading down my cheeks, I told Mr. King'ala that I had been fixed for "working party" by John Odor for not penning a letter to my sponsor yet I had written one but failed to present it on time because I hadn't found John Odor in his house.
At first, Mr. King'ala adamantly refused to waive my "working party" punishment on the pretext that John Odor was an adult (not a student prefect), so his decision couldn't be questioned. But I continued pleading with him to save me from the punishment which I thought was unfair.
After he listened to my cries and pleas for several minutes, Mr. King'ala finally relented and promised to investigate the matter. He wrote me a note which I took to the captain in charge of "working party" that afternoon. The note saved me from the punishment. And Mr. King'ala never bothered to follow up on the matter as he had promised. So the issue died down. My dear reader, that's how I evaded doing what should have been my first "working party" at Starehe.
I seemed not to have learnt a lesson from that disturbing experience because later on when I was in my final term in high school in 2005, I again failed to write a letter to my sponsor on time. This time, John Odor didn't crucify me for "working party". Instead, he asked me to write the "If Poem" by Rudyard Kipling thrice on foolscaps and hand them to him - a punishment which I found fair.
The "If Poem" was framed on a wall in the Starehe Boys' library. To be honest, I had never bothered to read the poem till John Odor forced me to write it in my final term in high school. And even as I sat in the library copying the poem during that final term in high school, I didn't give a thought to its message - a further proof that we can swim in the sea of knowledge all day and still come out dry.
It was only months later in 2007 when I was a first-year student at JKUAT that I began to reflect on the words of the "If Poem". I came to find the poem so inspiring that I memorized it when we broke for long holidays after my first year at JKUAT. As the years rolled by though, I lost my ability to recall the poem from memory as I got sidetracked by other issues.
Over the past two months, I have rekindled my interest in the "If Poem" and memorized it again. I can now comfortably recite it word for word. But memorizing the poem is not as exceptional as living it. For me, the poem's most difficult advice to live by is "[filling] the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run". I however have this belief that I will soon assimilate the advice by being constantly forgiving of myself and others, and feel that forgiveness in my heart.
My dear reader, I encourage you to study the "If Poem" as well in your free time. It's a wonderful piece of literature that can make you wise, witty and effective. Over to you!
RECOMMENDATION: If you've enjoyed this story of mine on the "If Poem", you might also enjoy another one I wrote a few weeks ago on "An Unfair Punishment I Once Did". Just click on that link in blue to dive straight into the story.