On Life, Living, and Little Instructions from Jackson Brown

A few years ago, Jack Brown jotted down a list of fatherly advice for his son as Adam left home to begin a new life as a college freshman. That list became Life’s Little Instruction Book, the phenomenal guide that has sold more than five million copies.

So, I came across this book on Academia and you know those itty bit titles that make you scroll down, read and change positions as you flip page after page after page? Yes, this was a good one to read and here are 10 instructions that I loved:

  1. Do a good job because you want to, not because you have to. This puts you in charge instead of your boss.
  2. Don’t take good friends, good health, or a good marriage for granted.
  3. Never type a love letter, use a fountain pen.
  4. Spend your life lifting people up, not putting people down.
  5. Don’t judge a man’s wealth by how well he’s dressed, but by how well his wife is dressed.
  6. When declaring your rights, don’t forget your responsibilities.
  7. Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.
  8. Be forgiving of yourself and others.
  9. Give thanks before every meal.
  10. Don’t judge people by their relatives

So far, my Friday’s been good, I woke up feeling unwell had a quick visit to the clinic and turns out what I do have is a sore throat and signs of a bacterial infection so with lots of antibiotics and the stern warning to take things easy, I did something extra- I cooked. I thought the best thing that I could do to feel good was make chicken stir fry and spaghetti and I even took pictures to gloat!

On writing: I am still at this and working my way back to a routine that involves writing at dawn because I have learned that I have more time when I wake up that I could use to write.

On reading: I am in the company of good books and having read Before the Fall by Noah Hawley, I am currently going back and forth between two titles: Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave and Are Men Necessary by Maureen Dowd.

Have an awesome weekend. Stay safe wherever you are!

4 Lessons Learned from Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

Writing Down The Bones by Natalie Goldberg was published the year my elder sister was born. I read it on 18th and 19th May of 2021 and thirty five years since it broke into print, I found such comfort, understanding and encouragement reading what she had to say on writing- as art, expression, truth and life.

The book is only 171 pages and from the foreword to the appendix, she draws a lot from Zen and you’ll come across quotes from Katagiri Yoshi a lot. Here’s what I get to keep in mind after reading it:

  1. Claim your writing. This is something I struggle with. Hearing someone say they loved my book, or a character so much that they want to talk about him/her or even that they hated my work- and with the star rating index, anything short of a 3-star review is enough to have me put my music player on shuffle. She shares how important it is to claim the good and bad- to accept that you wrote it.
  2. Write anyplace. I do this a lot

“Take out another notebook, pick up another pen, and just write. In the middle of the world, make one positive step. In the center of chaos, make one definitive act, just write. Say yes, stay alive, be awake. Just write. Just write. Just write.”

3. Go further. Here she talks about going beyond our comfort zone and says that sometimes when you think you are done, it is just the edge of beginning.

4. Don’t marry the fly. I laughed so much reading this chapter because I have felt it as a reader. Sometimes when I read a book and I am following what is happening, there are certain sentences or details that throw me off- and often I feel like the author lost me, or that the author’s trend of thought changed and Natalie explains why this happens. Simply put she says, “If the writer wanders, then the reader, too, will wander.” In another sense, details are important but if you focus on one detail so much you may lose the reader.

And finally a phrase that I couldn’t resist:

“Writers live twice. They go along with their regular life, are as fast as anyone in the grocery store, crossing the street, getting dressed for work in the morning but there’s another part of them that they have been training. The one that lives everything a second time. That sits down and sees their life again and goes over it. Looks at the texture and details.”

A copy can be bought on: Amazon

Questions to ask an Author

I read something like this somewhere and it was more about an author saying that there are questions he wishes he was asked, not the common stuff like his writing routine, books he loves reading or what he’s working on. I got derailed and lost the link when I got the notification that the next episode of Descendants of the Sun that I’d been watching had finished downloading.

As a Writer, there are questions that come to mind- the kind that somehow get me talking more about my writing and love for writing so, I wrote down the questions I’d love to ask myself and answer them here. Let’s do this!

1. What is the one book or the first book that made you cry?

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. It is still the only book that I weep whenever I read it.

2. Does writing energize or drain you?

Sometimes, especially when I am writing dialogues, I feel energized. There are days when I am drained or rather more exhausted by it and when I feel like this I either press on then sleep immediately after or read a book instead.

3. What is your first experience of the power of words?

I think it is more when I was nine years old after my Dad passed away and suddenly his presence, the conversations we used to have, his voice felt like it only existed in my head. I also had a teacher in Primary school who often said I would not amount to much and I dreaded his lessons or just running into him in school- I think back then what hurt me most was knowing that adults could be so mean to children.

4. Did publishing or has publishing your first book changed the way you write?

Look, this one right here is something I cannot shy away from. I started out writing romance and posting novellas and short stories on smashwords (here’s my author page) and then tried out historical fiction with the first series I posted on Amazon, The Currents Series, and loved it so much that after reading that first proof copy I found myself writing more historical fantasy books set in Africa/ Kenya to be precise.

5. What does literary success look like to you?

I feel like this is more about having your book on someone’s bookshelf, it’s pages crumpled or turned so many times, highlighted, or set aside because it is the one treasure they keep reading. This could be with just one reader, or two or many…so much so that they talk about it, quote lines or simply share insights learned from the book. On the author’s side, it is also more about the feeling that ranges from elation to exhaustion just by writing- a commitment to waking up to words.

6. What was your hardest scene to write?

I wrote this book, Sifuna, and published it here in Kenya. It has one scene where the main character, Sifuna, grabs his fiancee, Dorothy and pushes her to the wall and spits on her- I wept when I wrote that.

END

There you have it, six of the many questions you could ask an author!

Goodbye September and Hello October!

It’s the last day of September and I often feel a certain kind of warmth when a month ends mid-week because I am guaranteed a weekend in the first week of the new month! Well, that was before COVID-19 struck and decided to shake us up!

So, on Monday our President decided that well, the curfew is still on for 60-days and stretched the time to 11pm- 4am. He also granted permission for bars to open and my absolute relief was that schools would still be shut until we are better placed to contain the virus. What sucks about this is that the funding they received from the World Bank and other donors goes into their stomachs and not towards the health facilities!

On books: I was going through my Goodreads “READ” page and discovered I have read and reviewed 165 books so far and some of the best titles I got to read were in June (34 books in total). This month, I read more paperback copies and here are some of the titles that kept me company:

I am currently reading “EndGame by Derrick Jensen” and enjoying drinking lots of tea as well…

On writing: I am taking part in the 10k-Novel Writing Challenge that would mean writing 1000 words every day for the first 10-days of October.

I have been watching Never Have I Ever as well and in a weird way, I am now #TeamPaxton because at least he’s single and his sister called him out on how awful he treated Devi, whilst Ben is cute and considers Devi equal and brilliant- he’s still got a girlfriend, an athletic one as well, so hey…that means he’s got a decision to make!

My September song is definitely: Be Praised by Aaron Moses & Naomi Raine off Maverick City’s Vol 3, part 2 album

And, the greatest thing I have done this month is keep up with my laundry! It’s been refreshing knowing that I don’t have any dirty clothes waiting for me to clean them up and fold them!

In the previous update on life and staying at home post, I said I was struggling with consistently working out and this past three days have been a good run for me, I get to do some squats, push-ups, mountain climbers and 20-second planks in the morning and evening and I feel pretty good about it.

I am looking forward to October and we’ve got 93 days left until 31st December 2020, so live as best as you can, love as hard as you can and be kind- the world needs gentleness.

Weekend plans and everything in between

Hello weekend! Is that you? I’m looking forward to staying indoors, drinking tea and reading books- yes, I just bought 12 new books making my tally come to 18 unread books and now they are staring at me like I am doing them an injustice by not picking them up.

I have been on a roll, watching series like I am paid to do so. Let’s just say that so far, I watched: Summertime, Never Have I Ever and Love, Victor! I’m a sucker for romance and drama, so far let me just state that I can’t wait for the second seasons of these shows and if I am still as interested as I am now 🙂 I’ll probably catch up!

On work: I’d say my week has been eventful. I am happy that we are wrapping up most of the projects and this means completed classrooms and happy schools and their communities.

2-classroom block constructed at Kitare Primary, Suba North.

On writing: October is fast approaching and a friend recommended that I join the 10k Novel-writing challenge and when I read the invite I nearly fell off my seat “10 days. 10,000 words. Are you ready?”

I love a challenge just as much as I am freaked out by it because I’ll be on the road pretty much from the 7th to 12th October and so getting to see this through scares me so much that I’ll attempt it! So, how about it? If you are looking to get some writing done, work on that schedule and pace that you so desire, how about joining the 10K Novel writing challenge? SIGN UP!

On studies: I’ve been taking online lessons, doing my best to participate in the New Heights Fellowship Program and so far, I am learning that I can always do my best, pursue and serve excellence in everything I do and I am also challenged to build more leaders in the communities I am working in.

On publishing and book sales: Look, I’ve been on the receiving end this past week especially regarding Zuri: The Chronicler of Enzi! Phew! If you got the book and read it, is it truly that deep and difficult to read? I need to know…

I took time to set up the publication of “IN THE QUIET” and this is because I have been exploring digital publishing in Kenya and I enlisted the help of a Tech-Expert I know and absolutely admire to help me with this and as they’ve been working on this, I have been editing and revising the book which I hope to share with you at some point this year. I just want it to be the very best version I could share with the world.

I am looking forward to being more courteous and keeping my word in all that I do. Have a lovely weekend wherever you are and I am sending you love and light and a ton of positive vibes.

Updates on Life, Staying-Not fully staying at home, reading and writing

182 days since we got the #stayathome verdict from the Kenyan government. How are you holding up wherever you are? What have you learned in 2020 thus far?

One thing is certain: we have 108 days to the end of this year and I for one, find myself more aware, present and grateful for every moment I experience.

I have been reading more books because I joined this awesome whatsapp book, admnistered by Prime Book Hubs and simply put- they post books for sale and you get to reserve a copy, pay for it and they ship it to you. So, I’ve been buying books and my first September haul includes a book loaned to me by my sister which I just finished reading.

I absolutely devoured Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan and if you are into books that are set in bookstores with some hidden secrets or puzzles, you’ll love how technology meets print and ingenuity in this book.

I am currently reading Lucia, Lucia by Adriana Trigiani.

On writing: Let’s just say that I need to travel a bit, change the environment I’ve been in- read more, or just kickstart my brain into actively writing this next book. I’m taking a leap going into non-fiction and I am learning that it’s not that easy to string words along. Research takes time and I am forever at the phase of “would you tell me that again?” and it’s driving me insane. I need some patience juice! No sugar please, just the patience juice.

And, how do you know you’ve got your writing mojo?

For me, this involves shopping for stationery and nothing speaks to me more like pencils in the dozens! So, I decided to put everything I’ve got working for me and share a picture, just to prove that I am not losing it, or rather, that I should open up a stationery shop…

Whereas the Ministry of Health provides us with COVID-19 statistics daily, I find myself inclined to document and journal what I’ve done in a day, and this is what I call, taking stock of the things that I may have overlooked that made my day.

  1. I decided to cut down on processed sugar and this is my third day without it.
  2. I’ve been changing my sleep cycle; now I go to bed by 10pm and get up by 6am. I am working towards going to bed by 10pm and waking up at 5am.
  3. Pitching articles to various editors is something I hoped to do this year and since last month, I’ve sent out 2, hoping to send some more and explore long-form article writing as well.
  4. My Mom is a huge advocate for Education and it gives because she taught for 30 years. Her challenge to me this year was not to give up on fellowships and scholarships because every year I send out at least an application for a fellowship and 2 Masters scholarships- and I get turned down. I got so close last year and it tore me apart- and she told me, not to give up, if I could come in fifth, then maybe I’d get it.
  5. Fitness is not easy. I can write everyday, because I worked on getting this done, but working out has been a challenge that means installing and uninstalling fitness apps- working out two consecutive days then quitting, so I’ll stick to walking. It may do me some good.
  6. I finally gave my visual threshold a chance- and watched two series: The Witcher and Cursed...and can I just say that I am looking forward to the next seasons? Who would have thought that grunting could say so much- because Geralt of Rivia, in The Witcher grunts in response to almost everything!
  7. Comedy! Yes, I’ve always loved Trevor Noah and this month, I discovered K-Von Comedy.

I am looking forward to reading more books, a bit of travel for work because we’re focusing on WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) projects this round-and most of the schools I’ve visited are in dire need to latrines, hand-washing stations, access to clean treated water and most of all- in need of some infrastructure development.

Have a wonderful week wherever you are.

New month, some new expectations and old fears

Hello September, it feels like I was enjoying the first week of March and then I blinked and you were at my doorstep!

Well, how are you holding up wherever you are? I’d say that this first day of September holds promise, but if there is anything I’ve learned during this COVID-19 pandemic is that you can plan all you want- but the universe still reigns, the only control you have is on your thoughts and how you choose to react to whatever happens. So, I am choosing positivity and let me tell you, it’s working out…slowly.

I read some good books this past month:

If there’s a movie I’d love to watch this month, it’s gotta be Love, Guaranteed- and it premieres on Netflix on 3rd September.

On writing: I haven’t written anything for most of the past two weeks and my sleep cycle is suffering more because I am worried about work projects and feeling like I have to do much more to impact the lives of children in terms of accessing quality education. I feel like I need to revise “In The Quiet” and explore the option of printing copies but even that is scaring me out of my wits.

I’ve received some good reviews of Zuri: The Chronicler of Enzi and I keep asking myself , what next? When and how? So, once I work myself to the right headspace, I’ll start the next writing project.

  • I carry the fear that we’d be staying at home longer due to this virus and also the fear that I may miss out on getting the facts right for my upcoming project.
  • I’m hopeful that I’ll get lots of writing done and ready for publication in the next two months.
  • I’m also super hopeful that I’ll stick to my workout regime this week, okay, let’s just try this week and see how it goes!

Until then, I’ll be reading one of my favorite Poets – Billy Chapata‘s upcoming release “Flowers on the Moon”

Book Review: A Cobra’s Bite Doesn’t Hurt by Anil Nijhawan

The first line of this book reads:

Your Highness Mr Narendra Modi,

The story: Kalu, kidnapped from an orphanage at the age of fourteen and trained to pick pockets, is forced into a gang of thieves in Bangalore. When Babu, their ruthless gang leader, murders his best friend Ramesh, Kalu – fearing for his own life – runs away to Kolkata. While still being pursued by Babu he meets and falls in love with Tanya, a stunning and gifted career girl from an upper middle-class family.

Sir, if you ever come across a cobra unexpectedly, my advice is not to stare directly into its eyes.

Oh, I love the ingenuity of this book!

Who would have thought that it’d be in the form of a letter and not just any letter but one addressed to the Prime Minister of India and from a Street Urchin nonetheless. I love Kalu’s honesty and what hurt me most as I read this was how he took me along those streets in India, the hopes of children, the hurt and betrayal they experience at the hands of adults, the corrupt police and I was even angered by how the depiction of politicians in this book rings true for most of those in my country, Kenya. Same goes for the police!

The mode of storytelling is refreshing, for Kalu uses an old Sanyo recorder to talk to the Prime Minister. He admits that having grown up an orphan, first in an orphanage and then in the streets, he never learned to read or write.

Kalu’s charming, naive, sarcastic, hopeful…nostalgic, a hopeless romantic and sometimes, in reading you cannot help but weep for the children out on the streets of India as he depicts them and the lies and neglect that led them there.

Modiji, my Sanyo voice recorder did not start this morning. I had to hammer it several times to wake it up. Hope it lasts to the end of my story. In Japan, they would have thrown it away by now. But, we Indians don’t discard anything easily; we know how to recycle.

Rating: yellow-star-mdyellow-star-mdyellow-star-mdyellow-star-mdyellow-star-md

Buy a copy at: Amazon


About the author:

Born into a Punjabi family, Anil Nijhawan’s early schooling was in Kolkata, at the infamous (people have contradictory opinions) South Point School. His teacher of English, the charismatic Mr Utpal Dutt, an actor and a scholar of Shakespeare and English literature, instilled in Anil the love of English language at a young age. Anil Nijhawan now lives in the UK with his wife Adarsh and a family of gold fish in the garden pond. His career has embraced working in the computing industry and running his own business.

Visit his site: https://anilnijhawan.com/

Hope When Your Heart is Breaking by Ron Hutchcraft

Harvest House Publishers

I had one of those days. The kind where the weight of the world is on your shoulders and nothing seems to make the cloud of sorrow hover farther away from you.

And a colleague at work told me what I often say to her, “look on the bright side…” and I was tempted to bundle her up and throw her in the lake, because there was no bright side, no silver lining, no lesson to be learned…I just wasn’t feeling it and lately it seems like I am spiraling in this web of sorrow, hopelessness and just despair.

So, reading this book felt like my call for help, because taking a walk wasn’t helping, music was making me cry, and I couldn’t eat or sleep.

The author draws lessons learnt from his life. He shares his loss, grief and how he worked his way into living what he shares in this book and honestly, it was so refreshing to find my pain understood by another simply in him sharing his own hurt.

He expresses this connection better;

People may not want to hear your message. But they will listen to your scars.

He explores grief, faith and what it means to hope against all odds. And now, with what’s happening in the world- reading this felt like someone lighting a flashlight in the dark. What still baffles me about his writing and theme- is the power of choice. He constantly shares that there is a thin line between hurt and healing and that’s the power of choice.

At some point while reading this, I came across this question, he asks:

Is a hammer constructive or destructive?

Yes. It depends on what you do with it.

The publisher states that: Hope When Your Heart Is Breaking is an honest look at both roads, and how your greatest loss can lead to your greatest gain. Author Ron Hutchcraft writes from the deep well of his own devastating loss and grief, and points us to the practical steps that lead to peace and wholeness.
This book is a pathway to hope—a road map through the pain of grief and loss. Be strengthened by a new closeness to others and to God. And make the decisions that lead to comfort, growth, and life.

Truth is, it draws from various texts, stories and instances in the Bible and makes for a comforting read. So, if you’ve lost someone you love, a dream, a part of you, or sometimes you find yourself traveling with a bag of past trauma then, this would be something worth reading.

Loss leads to grief and in grieving we have choices and you too have a choice just like the author says:

The hammer will change you for better or worse. But it’s not the hammer that decides whether hurt or hope wins. We do. By the choices we make.

My take: 4 stars

Am I feeling better? No, I am feeling challenged to do something about this cloud that I can’t shake off and it’s not to look outside of me, but to look inside and to me, right now, that’s way better than anything I had expected when I started reading this book.

I’ll get another cup of tea and continue writing out what’s eating me inside.

Get a copy: here