What Will I Do Before I Die?

A bucket list? That list of things I must do before I die?

I do not remember at any point in my life making such a list, but sometime during my teenage years, an insane desire to write novels gripped me, and this flared into a ridiculous quest to make a living out of telling stories. So I guess the cliché items on my bucket list would be things like “get published,” “win an Oscar,”get really famous like Werner Herzog.” But the nightmare of trying to get a decent break makes those ambitions rather childish.

To live a quiet life, without any ambitions other than to eat grass. Now that’s something!
And it’s times like today when you wish you were pursuing other goals in life. When you wish you were a teacher in a primary school in some unknown village, with the only ambitions being to get drunk after screaming at pupils all day long. Times like this when you get a rejection letter from a film festival, after you paid a hundred dollars in submission fees and another forty to the courier. When you feel like the biggest job you’ve done in your career is worthless.
Like Reiza said, “Don’t worry. 10,000+ other filmmakers got a similar rejection letter.” But the whole thing with trying to be a filmmaker, or a writer, is that you don’t want to belong to the slush pile. You want to be among the 180 films that got selected out of 11,000+ submissions—and when you eventually get to see some of those 180 films, you can’t tell why they picked them and not yours! It doesn’t matter that just a few weeks before, you were celebrating because another major festival accepted your film in one of its programs. That is past. This is present. And the rejection will feel sour in your mouth until the next bit of news either makes you feel worse, or lifts you out of the gloom.
To tell stories, or die trying, should be top on the list!

So what is it that I really want to do before I die?

I could spend the rest of my life trying to figure out the answer. I know it is not to get published, or make a film, or win an Oscar, or win the Booker prize—though that is something I have pursued for nearly twenty years now! Since I was only fifteen. I still remember the first day I picked a pen and started writing on my exercise book. I was curled up at the bottom bed of the double-decker, in a long room which housed forty other students. Dirty dormitory. Mill Hill Room 6. St Peters College, Tororo. Everyone was in class at that time, and like the delinquent I was, I felt dodging class was cool. So I would louse in the dorm all day reading novels instead of “real books.”

There was this mean, big boy in my dormitory. A prefect, if I remember. He saw me writing, didn’t say anything, walked out, and returned three hours later. When he still found me writing, he got curious. He knew I couldn’t be copying notes, because I wasn’t the kind to think about class work until about one week to examinations. He came over, tried to read my illegible handwriting, and couldn’t make sense of what he saw. He asked, “What are you writing?”

“A novel,” I replied.

He started to laugh. He grabbed the book from my hands and ran out. I tried to chase him but he was too fast for me. He ran laughing. He went from dorm to dorm, showing it off to people to encourage them to laugh at me. “Dilman is writing a novel! You people, see! Dilman is writing a novel!”

Sure enough, the laughter built. And amidst the laughter, came the whispers, “Dilman has run mad.”

Over the next several weeks, groups of students would come to watch me huddled on my bed, silent as a dead fish, writing. They had smirks on their faces, a glitter in their eyes, a confirmation that I had surely run insane. How could I think of writing a book?

A few months later, I confirmed my insanity when I sneaked into a train, and off  I went to Nairobi, to talk to the East African Publishers to publish my book. I sold my textbooks and some of my clothes to raise the ticket, and to have enough money to east while in Nairobi. The train journey lasted 36 hours, but I could not afford the food on board. I was starving when I reached Nairobi, but ambition burned like a mad fire in my heart and propelled me to look for publisher’s office. I got it after six hours of bumbling about, a village boy lost in the vast city.

But I finally found the publisher’s office, and I thought I would walk out a rich and famous boy. The receptionist who received me had the same smirk on her face, but she was kind to the little boy who stood in front of her desk, with five nearly tattered exercise books which he was calling a novel. She simply said, “We don’t accept handwritten work. Go get it typed.”

I came back to my senses. I could not type, and I did not have money to pay a typist. I returned home—after a big adventure in Nairob, which I am going to wite about someday—and resumed my studies. I passed the Senior 4 exams by a miracle. But I did not give up on trying to write that book. I did odd jobs during the holidays, enrolled for computer lessons, and took typing lessons (Mavis Beacon, wherever that program vanished to!), and by the time I finished university, I was a typing pro: 60 words a minute.
Well, back to the question, if my bucket list has no item that concerns writing, then what is on my bucket list? To travel and see the world? I know that’s another burning ambition I have. It’s one of the reasons I packed my bags and went to live in Nepal for two years, a country I’d never heard until I got an offer to work there. Now that I’m back home, I’m already thinking of hitting the road again, going to some far away country whose cultures I know nothing of, and living there for a while. Like a drifter.
To see the world, and experience different cultures, is in the list.
To love and be loved? Well, that’s close. Really close, but it’s on every human being’s bucket list. It’s part of the human psyche. So it doesn’t count.
To have babies? To climb Mount Everest? To photograph the beautiful sunsets at the lakeside? To beat my girlfriend at karaoke? To write a bucket list? Ha! I must certainly do that before I die! I must come up with a list of things to do before I die, before I die! Hahaha. Very funny, Dilman.
I better go and see a shrink. Maybe he will tell me what I should put in my bucket list.
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9 thoughts on “What Will I Do Before I Die?”

  1. Welcome to the group! I am going to enjoy your work, I can see that. So, writing a bucket list is on your bucket list. Okay, one day you will not be too busy to get 'er done and then it will be time.

  2. Never stop dreaming of getting discovered in Film–never get discouraged when it comes to writing the novel. SO many people do NOT have the passion it takes to get there. You most definitely have the passion! And you will NEVER know if you make it until you try!! Great post 🙂 Cheers, Jenn.

  3. There is no such thing as a childish dream, or at least, there is no shame in having the heart and faith of a child when it comes to dreams. We should all hang on to that as long as we can.

    Don't give up. Never give up.

  4. Thanks all for the encouragements.

    @Joyce. They used to laugh at John Grisham too? Wow. Hope I can follow that path!

    @Word Nerd. I agree. It's childish dreams that drive the world.


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