Breathe in…

and then out!

Yesterday, I had the privilege of speaking at a conference for teen writers.

The Association of Nigerian Authors has been partnering with my alma mater high school for a long time now, so when they decided to create the forum for teen writers, my former school accepted to host the inaugural session readily.

I was invited to speak on how creative writing had contributed to my life. I don’t know why I was deemed fit to speak. The lineup of speakers included the National president of the Association, himself a stalwart of Nigerian literary arts, 2 very prominent professors of literature, the director of one of the foremost creative arts institutes in the country, there was even a visiting scholar from Ghana. And here I was – a doctor, without any literary work of my own to boast of. Just that I’d been opportuned to be one of the first people to benefit from ANA’s partnership with my school. They had created forums and incentives for young writers and I had won a couple of prizes for creative writing, won a number of state and national essay competitions and been published in their anthology. I was sawdust compared to these Giant Sequoias.

Now, my alma mater is in another city, at least 2 hours from here and I couldn’t extricate myself early enough from my duties at the hospital, so I came in after my scheduled time had already passed. Somehow, they still made out time for me to speak. In any case, I would have been thoroughly satisfied just to have attended the forum without speaking, but the opportunity was a great one.

Maybe they warmed up to me a little bit more, because I was closer to their age, but as their wide starry eyes gazed upwards towards the podium, I told them that I had no more information than the great masters who had spoken before me. I told them that everyone experienced life in a different way and that everybody’s story was important and deserved to be heard. Before one’s story can be heard however, it needed to be told. Who better to tell it than he who owns the story itself.

I told them a little bit of my own story. I had always had the desire to write, but I never felt I could come up with anything good enough that someone else would want to read. Then we had a new English teacher sometime during my pre-teen years in school. She had asked us to write a composition on the best day of our lives to that point. I can’t really remember what I wrote about, but I remember her calling me afterwards and commenting on my work. She pointed out how I’d gotten it right a number of places and showed me many other places I could have done better. In retrospect, I think she did that for all of us. I reminded them that the difference between those who go on to live their dreams and those who don’t, lay in how they respond to something like that. In my class then, many other people took it personal and disliked her afterwards, but I noted her corrections and wrote the essay again, even though she hadn’t asked me to. I was happy when she smiled and told me how much better I had done. It proved something to me, that it wasn’t a question of ability, I could actually write well enough, if I was willing to put in the prerequisite effort.

It is this that drives me to continue putting my prose writing to practice as I do on this blog. It is what drove me to work and get better at my poetry. I feel the same wave of pride and fulfillment whenever I get a like or comment on anything I write, no matter how solitary. I feel the same depth of appreciation for everyone who reads me here or elsewhere.

I equally told them that while I could not offer them much more information than they had already received, I could only offer them some inspiration. Now here’s the thing about inspiration. Inspiration is one half of the breathing movements. When we breathe in, it’s called inspiration. The key here is that the act of breathing in is done by the person in question. So, when we say that someone is an inspiration, it doesn’t mean that they enable us to do something that we couldn’t do or empower us in some special way. What happens is this- We take in their story, their life, their challenges, their actions, their essence. Much like breathing in air rich in oxygen. The air reaches down through the airways into the blood and flows down to the individual cells, where the oxygen triggers certain changes at the intracellular level that results in the production of energy. A similar thing happens, when we breathe in these words, these tales, these molecules of motivation, they reach deep down into our consciousness and awaken us to the hidden potentials we have within us and makes us wonder- “if this person could achieve this, despite all the difficulties and challenges they had to deal with, why can’t I?

When once we have taken the first step of breathing in, it has the potential to change something within us, and put us in the right frame of mind to change ourselves and change our world. When we say someone inspires us, they actually only do little more than present the fragrant essence of their stories and deeds. We then breathe this essence in, it changes something inside us, such that when we breathe out, we breathe out better deeds,  a stronger drive to succeed, the strength to overcome the defying odds and to achieve what we had always wanted to achieve. 

I hope my perfume is strong enough to fuel their dreams and help them mould those dreams into stories that will be read and enjoyed by many.


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