On vanity, lunacy, and the writing life: The writer is us

by Ikhide R. Ikheloa

Writing is vanity. Staring at those three words forces me to confront the detritus that the poor judgment that passes for my writing life has made of my existence. Why do we write? Dunno, I wake up and I write and write and write until I fall asleep. There is absolutely no reason why I should be writing, certainly not this beautiful dawn with the sun beginning to peek shyly out the sky’s curtains.

Why am I writing? I shouldn’t be writing. I should be taking a walk, mentally counting all my dollars (well, imaginary dollars since I currently have none) or engaging in wild luscious fulfilling sex (another impossibility since my lover since fled the house and will only return abused, used and physically broken from slaving in the salt mines of Babylon. I imagine any suggestion regarding amorous adventures would inspire her to call the police to come haul my black ass out of her existence. She still rues the day she fell in love with my words (her words, she did NOT fall in love with me, she says) instead of falling in love with the class dunce who is now a highly regarded hard working thieving multi-billionaire politician in Nigeria. My lover has a tee shirt she wears to bed every night that screeches in garish red, “ONLY A FOOL FALLS IN LOVE WITH A WRITER!! SMH” My lover is not a fool.

Writing is lunacy, the lunacy of vanity. Why do people write, why? Why do people even read these things? I write, but I mostly read. I have read a lot of stuff in my life, I mean serious headache inducing stuff and you go, this is madness. Take the great Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka. Now, that is how to be mad and vain. It is humanly impossible to shut him up, he is a mad man. All of his life, institutions, people, and now the Internet have conspired to try to gag him, you know stuff things in his mouth, tape it shut and hope he never utters a word again, ever. It never stops him, he keeps writing.

In 1969. General Yakubu Gowon, Nigeria’s dictator du jour got so tired of Soyinka’s nonsense, he jailed Soyinka and put him in solitary for several years just so the world would be freed from his cacophony. That Man took the toilet paper he was given in jail and wrote an entire book, The Man Died, on said toilet paper. Now, that is lunacy and vanity, your belief that the world is so enamored of your words of wisdom, it cannot wait for you to crawl out of prison to hear you.

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Well, you all know that Soyinka is famously obtuse er incomprehensible. Need any proof? Well, have you read his novel, The Interpreters? Did you understand it? I didn’t and I have read it several times. Take this sentence: Metal on glass jars my drink lobes; what in the hell does that even begin to mean? The Interpreters was required text in my youth and I know many class dunces who simply walked out of school and took up armed robbery rather than be forced to deconstruct such “nonsense” (their sage words).

My strong belief is that it takes a deft combination of genius lunacy and vanity to foist Soyinka’s literary madness on the people. And so when the military put Soyinka away in a dungeon millions distressed Nigerian school children flooded the streets in jubilation, chanting, “Our Tormentor is gone, The Lord is Good! All the time!” Have you read Soyinka’s poems? They are incomprehensible to mere mortals. In literature class, I used to pray to the Lord for our mean teacher not to call upon me to explain any line in Soyinka’s Abiku. These perplexing lines terrorized and terrified me:

I am the squirrel teeth, cracked
The riddle of the palm; remember
This, and dig me deeper still into
The god’s swollen foot.

That poem gives me painful flashbacks of my school days, I should sue Soyinka for allowing his vanity ruin the joy of my childhood. The man even wrote a poem about his greying hair, who does that? He sure did, read this and please explain to me what he just said:

 Hirsute hell chimney-spouts, black thunderthroes
confluence of coarse cloudfleeces – my head sir! – scourbrush
in bitumen, past fossil beyond fingers of light – until …!

Sudden sprung as corn stalk after rain, watered milk weak;
as lightning shrunk to ant’s antenna, shrivelled
off the febrile sight of crickets in the sun –

SMH. And his narcissism has been fueled and funded by a gleeful West; for this and other literary subversions, Soyinka was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1986, a decision that so infuriated Chinweizu another bad belle vain writer, he denounced it as “the undesirable honouring the unreadable.” Hehehehehehe! SMH. Some argued that this was a case of a miffed kettle (Chinweizu) calling the pot (Soyinka) black.

 To be clear; I am joking, I am not picking on Soyinka, I love The Man. I love the man; he is a genius and a global treasure. Besides, the man is famously thin-skinned and I don’t want to incur his wrath lest I be the source and inspiration for his next tome, who wants to die? Besides, he has singlehandedly saved my marriage. Enh? How?, you ask. Well, my lover adores him, simply because of his cute little poem, Telephone Conversation, that adorable tub of superciliousness. Whenever I am in trouble, reciting that poem loudly always gets me out of the dog house. Also, my lover thinks Soyinka is cute. Guess who is not coming to dinner at my house? Soyinka! SMH.

I am not picking on Soyinka, but please, take any writer, take your favorite writer and you will soon find that what drives him or her is a punishing insecurity, a raging emptiness, a yearning for something that manifests itself in the dysfunctions of vanity. The writer is us, what you see are your anxieties and insecurities glowering at you. Ask any critic who has ever as much as written a negative word about a writer’s work. In fact, google the term “literary critic” and you will come face to face with the vitriol of writers punishing critics for as much as suggesting that perhaps their latest work is only good for mulching the garden, shredded, that is.

I once suggested to a writer that his work needed, well, more work. I was visited with the opprobrium reserved for armed robbers. The poor soul called me a conceited ignoramus and berated me for not declaring his work, Pulitzer Prize winning material. I am still in therapy from the abuse. You should have seen this piece, typos everywhere, clichés running riot all over the place. Read all about it here, my feathers are still burning. I do understand, it is hard to stand by and watch your baby criticized, I would know, I have children and I have reserved the hottest part of hell for anyone that dares criticize my adorable kids. I must say it hurt me immensely to be called a conceited ignoramus. I am not conceited.