Rub It Off On Me

by Dennis Mwamba Katongo
(Johannesburg )

Life didn't mean to bring me down, but looking and reading about other people's way of living, in that solipsistic way we often come to other people's stories, I start feeling blue about the state of my creative life.

Having landed, back, in Kabwe after "cleaning the hell out" of Kitwe and Copperbelt University's self-portrait crackles and with the urgent expectations of a young man "heading for the fantastic small town lights." My own grand plans, when I moved back to Kabwe from Kitwe some ten years ago, centered not around overcoming the folk scene but, to make it by using my over 140 IQ and intelligence.

To my hat-tossing delight, I landed a job at Hungry Lion, a fast food subsidiary of Shoprite. While other people's lives, my age at that time, was feisty confidence from the get-go, it took me a while to speak to my superiors without a squeak.

Still, in other people's determination, I see more than a bit of my former self. I have come to realize how faint my big-small town dreams have become. Where, I wonder, did my ambition go, feeling every one of my 34 years-and, startlingly, a pressing hollowness veers my heart.

Whatever happened, kid, to your own sparkling potential? Is there "any" way to point yourself back towards the fantastic light?

For a while, busy with my own family and the J.O.B (just on bread)-not exactly on autopilot but lacking the old juice I'd come to miss-these questions come to drift round my head like a dark scribble of tumbleweed.

Perhaps the dip in my drive is part of the course. This is what guys do-right?-dial back their expectations when they realize the odds of achieving the great things they once imagined for themselves are still stupefyingly slim? I've actually had a pretty good run: leading my life in a unique way to most guys from that small town; leading a bunch of people who looked up to me for guidance and tackling bigger and bigger assignments with a speed and alacrity I didn't know I had in me.

Lately, though, that lovely feeling of-whump!-connecting with the ball, swimming for the fences, has been vanishingly rare. Some days it's even rare to think there was once a higher purpose to work than keeping me in disposable nappies and that gold liquid in brown bottles.

They say "be careful what you wish for," but I sometimes wish I didn't read as much as I do because some of the things I read come back to haunt me. I read a book some time back, I can't remember the title. This writing, though, I remember and it's one of those haunting me right now. "in their twenties, optimistic, determined people may in fact experience their most creative decade." By 30, "most are still ambitious but know there's a game to be played to just hold on (to their J.O.B)," and have absorbed the dispirit lesson that "some organizations punish excellence or standing out from the crowd and reward mediocrity."

This tells me that my diminished ambition fits a common pattern. Still, unable to quit, peeping at my life through other people-prism, my thoughts keep drifting back to the seven years I worked for Hungry Lion with a crew of over a dozen or so bright young men and women starting up their first jobs.

You could practically see the quivering, the quasi-embarrassing longing for greatness. We were like ponies lined up for a race, nervously whining and eyeballing and occasionally nipping each other as we waited for the gates to fly open, without a clue about what we could do.

I wonder if reconnecting with my old workmates might help me re-tap that energy and brush the dust off my once-pink-and-shiny hopes. One obvious drawback about ambition is that it always threatens to veer into arrogance, to turn us into jerks when we're competing for promotions and perks.

But the mother of all my worries is now that I am a father, that I don't have what it takes to get into the game wholeheartedly, the way I want to, to grow as a writer, to put in the hours of necessary reading and late-night tappity-tap-tapping at the keyboard to recover my determination.

This is where I'm hoping a little of, (Edem - Post Newspaper, Zambia; Nelly Banda Muti - Post Newspaper, Zambia; and Bitchbrew - Roberts-Sunday World, South Africa), these guys' uncanny verve and efficaciousness will rub off on me. They're complex, thought-provoking pieces I can't believe these guys pull off so consistently. How do they do it? I have to feel that fuel.


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