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On Time: A Reflection

Ehae Longe




From my perspective, there is no vocation as intimately linked to the concept of time as writing. Even the declaration, “I am a writer”, took many years of grasping at my confidence, of gathering strands of it, for me to assert. Stating that “I write” seemed far easier and more truthful. This is because there is another struggle of time at play here — Am I a writer by virtue of knitting words together, or am I only a writer when I am published? Is it a question of being or becoming? As weighty as this entry-point is, it is certainly not the only battle with time that I’ve had to face. Even now, seated at my desk, I am living in many parallel moments — warring with my past, my future, my present. 


I see the past as a source of inspiration. My stories and poems are often linked to people, emotions and places I have experienced. “Write what you know”, a piece of advice that many writers hold on to, isn’t something that I have to remind myself to practise. It is simply what I need to do. It has been the way that I have processed pain, preserved memories, and made sense of the life I have been given. In the cities I have lived in (Lagos, London, Paris), or the many places I have travelled to, I have painted people into corners of my mind, and preserved parts of conversations, with the knowledge, even in those moments, that they would serve as characters or dialogue. And through my words, the past is recreated. It merges with fiction and becomes something new. In the words of Anaïs Nin, “we must write to taste life twice. In the moment and in retrospect.” The work of writers is not only inspired by the past, but also becomes a reflection on it. In this way, the past can be both useful and revelatory. However, the past has also been an obstacle at times. Every so often, my pen is crippled by memories of rejection. Chapters in my past that are too painful to unearth, made dark by their tall walls, present themselves as dead-ends. These chapters, these memories, threaten to take up the space where my curiosity and creativity live, and it is an effort to shake them out. To let the words flow once more. 


As a writer, I find the future very hard to ignore. On the most basic level, writing is creating something out of nothing. And even within that process of creation, even now as I am some way through this piece, I can’t help but imagine what it will become when it’s fully formed. When it’s rounded off with the final dot. I spent four years working on several drafts of my most important project to date, and every morning, I sat down to write a little fraction of it — so small, so insignificant in the grand scheme of the work. But it was the excitement of the growing pages, of the developing story, of my words taking shape, that kept me going. It is the pride in watching it transform from a pebble of thought, so light and flimsy, to something solid, real, meaningful. As Beatrix Potter said, “there is something delicious about writing the first words of a story. You never quite know where they’ll take you.” And it is this craving for the transformative power of creation that makes writing such a wonderful craft.


However, there are some ways I wish I thought less about the future. Even as I’m here at my desk, sieving my thoughts into this essay, I’m also imagining you read these words on glossy pages. In the four years I spent working on my project, I pictured myself at bookshops looking at my published work, and at podiums, reading my words to an audience of adoring fans. The first layer is creating the thing, which is admirable, and the second layer is what happens next. It is the desperate need I have to succeed, to be seen, to be read widely, to be published. To “blind my haters”, to prove everyone wrong, to show that I was right to invest in this writing thing. There is something so Nigerian about it, but universal too. To want to “excel in flying colours” at everything I do. Because, it feels embarrassing in some ways, to be seen to have invested so much in something, and not reap the objective rewards. I told someone recently that it might damage me to let myself believe that I might not get the kind of literary success I envision. And I meant it. But I realise that this is not healthy. I have control over the work— over what it will become in terms of its form. Over the way I choose to tell my stories, over what words I will use, over whether I show up every day to put the words down, or I don’t. But I have no control over what happens when it is finished. According to Elizabeth Gilbert, “the results of my work don’t have much to do with me. I can only be in charge of producing the work itself”. I made something. I attempted to welcome more beauty into this complicated world. Shouldn’t that be enough? Titilope Sonuga exhorts us to “create something that will outlive you”. To leave a legacy. Even if there is no one to bear witness to that legacy, my words will exist. As long as I share them in some way, they live outside of me. They will attest to the fact that I was here.


Then, there is the present. There is the struggle to make time to write. To wake up early, before I become everything else that the world defines me as, so that I can be this too— a writer. There is the stubborn stance I take, my arms outstretched, to keep the rest of my life away from these precious hours when I get to be part of the wonder of creation. From my desk, which faces a Paris side-street, I try to block out the noise of wandering tourists, of Parisians speaking in urgent French, of barking dogs, of whizzing scooters. I try not to think of how I might be a bit hungry, or what I would like for breakfast. I try to forget the emails I must answer when I start my day-job, when I become a finance girl. I try not to look at the time as it is moving, always moving, constantly changing form on the upper right of my screen. I try to drown out the worries I have about what I’m making, whether I’m worthy to make it, whether I’m doing it justice. I try to forget any emotions I’m feeling that don’t contribute to the work before me. 

 

So, what is left, then? This is what I have learnt. I have had to fight many battles to call myself a writer, to be one, to write. But the greatest battle I have had to fight is against my own voice. Against my tendency towards self-doubt. Against my fear of uncertainty and the future. Against the noises, the rumbling of a scary world. But this is exactly why writing is so important. As Ray Bradbury said, “you must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” Here and now, at my desk, I am drinking in my own words. I am swirling them in my mouth. I am savouring the taste. In this moment, I am writing. And this moment is everything.

 

 


 

Ehae Longe writes prose and poetry and is curious about many things. She also works in finance in International Development. She grew up in Lagos and lives in Paris after 15 years in London. These dualities— of passion and of culture — form an important conversation part of her identity and inspiration. Her writing has been published on the platforms of Brittle Paper, Márọkọ, and is soon to be in AFREADA. Her poem was also featured in a published collection (Sọ̀rọ̀sókè: An ENDSARS anthology). She shares her words and wonders on a platform called inktippeddreams (substack and Instagram) and hopes to inspire others to do so too.

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