Toward the end of 2016, I chanced across articles in Penguin Random House Canada division’s Hazlitt magazine, filed under “The Year In…” I discovered very many brilliant writers, of diverse provenances, writing from Canada. That’s the kind of 2016 I’ve had: a Christopher Columbus year, a year of stumbling into precious things, crashing into golden moments. And for this I am grateful.
This crashing wasn’t always positive. I had a girl. I visited Calabar. I lost a girl. In Calabar, losing a girl increased the urgency for me to enjoy the historical city. I circled three night clubs in one night, drank with people I hated in the morning, made plans with a guy whose number I deleted a week later. I thought recklessness cured wretchedness.
When I emerged from the bowels of the Domestic Wing of the Murtala Mohamed Airport, I realized my pain was waiting for me in Lagos. Calabar had saved me to the extent it could. When the heart breaks, it breaks. I wrote a small bad novel. I wrote another one. I started a third. I took short courses. I wrote short stories. I devoured the Paris Review interview archives. My pain dwindled.
In July, I moved apartments. From the dustbowl of Ipaja to the serene, crisp air of Omole. I’d lost a girl because, among other reasons, we lived distances apart. Moving here, had we not stopped dating, I wouldn’t have lost a girl. It’s nice to have Ikeja holding a scimitar to your back. Prompted by this new environment, I started work on a novel I’d outlined loosely in Ipaja. For ninety days, no phones or social media: product – 55,000 words of a first draft. I wrote more short stories.
I lost a girl, yes, but then I found women. Ottessa Moshfegh, Zadie Smith, Susan Sontag, Jia Tolentino, Rebecca Solnit, NoViolet Bulawayo, Akwaeke Emezi, Lesley Nneka Arimah, Cheryl Strayed, Taye Selasi, Chloe Caldwell, Emma Bracy, Brit Bennett, Panashe Chigumadzi, Lola Shoneyin, Chinelo Okparanta. I was helped by these excellent women in ways I couldn’t possibly articulate without pressing deception on myself. I lost a girl who gave good head. I found women who gave really good brain.
I read internet articles bounding well into over three thousand. I bookmarked things. I stalked some of the women in the previous paragraph. I found Joshua Ferris, Etgar Keret, Ben Lerner, Robert Coover, Saaed Jones, Colson Whitehead, Teju Cole. I wrote more short stories. I found great music. I got great albums.
In October, I got my first writing contract. Eight pages long, I signed on the seventh. This is it, I said. Only way from here is up, I said. I piled form rejections. I piled personal rejections. I rubbed them together and submitted more.
In December, I published with the Commonwealth, became a Commonwealth writer.
I found more brilliant women. Sharon Wishnow (J). I read Jezebel.
You’d be forgiven for thinking I lived two years into one. You’d be forgiven.