Today on Pearls And Heels we feature Juliet Maruru. Juliet Maruru is the Communications Liaison for the 2017 Storymoja Festival which will happen in Nairobi on September 27th to October 1st. Juliet says “I am primarily a writer and editor, and have over the last few years used my skills in that field in different variations as a freelance writer, as an editor for online magazines, as a staff editor at Storymoja Publishers for the young adults’ line known as Life Skills, and as a social media marketer and online content editor for the Storymoja Festival in 2013 through 2015. I also participate as a mentor for younger writers through creative writing workshops for teenagers. I am a person living with Lupus ( Systemic Lupus Erythematosus) and Founder of She Blossoms, a non-profit that works towards Lupus Awareness, Early Diagnosis & Care Advocacy for persons living Lupus and related Chronic, Autoimmune Diseases.”
Describe your typical day.
My days start at about 5 am. Between 5 and 7 AM, I work through breakfast and lupus medication regimens which can be taxing. After which I can settle down at my desk or get out of the house. Most days I work from my house in the early morning. I write, edit, and develop material for either Storymoja Festival or She Blossoms depending on which has priority on the day. On some days, I will leave home for meetings at some point during the day. Mondays to Fridays are reserved for meetings pertaining only to the Storymoja Festival. She Blossoms gets weekends and some evenings.
Because of the fact that I live with Lupus, I have to pace myself so that I don’t burn out which is one reason my employers graciously allowed me to work from home and manage my hours. It is the fact that Lupus affects me so adversely that also means that if I have to go for meetings with teammates or clients, I have to make arrangements that do not involve my travelling in a matatu or driving myself. The current solution is to have a member of the family (my mother every time) drive me there. I am further blessed to have teammates who have taken it upon themselves to understand my condition, so they often pick me up and drop me off, which also means in case of an emergency then I would be in their care.
Three times a week, I make sure my day includes an hour of moderate exercise in the gym or a walk with my dog Guillermo. My day ends early. Most days I am done with dinner and retire with a book by 8 PM. Except for weekends when I might have friends over or go visit with friends.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I knew pretty early that I wanted to be a writer and a teacher. Except for a weird second when I wanted to be an aerodynamics engineer, mostly because I met someone who was and I thought he was so cool. But then he took me to his job and I didn’t like the smell of plane fuel. And overalls. I decided not to be an engineer so I wouldn’t have to wear overalls. I was 12.
If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?
Probably nothing. There was a time I wished I had a straightforward trajectory for my career. Which would have been high school, four or five years of university, maybe another 2 or 3 of post-grad and then some work experience.
Instead what I have is loads of experience, a 2-year diploma in Early Childhood Education, loads of more experience, a diploma in creative writing, another in publishing, and some credit in communications and management, and lot more experience which adds up to quite a a credit score that I am proud of. I have trained and worked with some of the best in the field of writing and publishing. I’ve met incredible people working as a writer and in festivals. I just hope to keep learning and meeting more people!
What would you say are the top three skills needed to succeed at your job?
Awareness of the sheer amount of creativity around us: My job at the Storymoja Festival requires me to be in tune with the creative circles in Nairobi and to be capable of communicating with both individuals and groups in such a way as to bring them in tune with the festival programs be it for marketing purposes or for programming reasons.
I chose to run She Blossoms as a meeting point for the Arts with Health Advocacy. As a result, my work as a Lupus Awareness Advocate requires that I be aware of, and acknowledge creativity and see how it can work in tandem with health advocacy.
Endurance: To be honest, this is not some kind of metaphor. One of the symptoms of Lupus is Extreme Fatigue. I get tired easily and it is often easier to give up on a day rather than say pace myself, take a break then continue. I’ve had to learn that the key to be in anything, in the long run, is to rest. So I build up my endurance by taking rest breaks during the day. And taking rest days during the week. And on occasion when I’m in a Lupus Flare, I will ask for several days away from work. This seems rather strange but it has helped me endure much longer at work rather than completely burn out and not work at all. I’m very fortunate to have employers who understand this situation, and so I give my very best back.
OrganizationalSkills: Due to Lupus and the issue raised above, I have to be extremely organized because I have very little time and so much to do. I organize tasks and meetings in order of priority. It’s also very important for me to have a balance, between my job and my private time. Working that out and sticking to it can be challenging so I keep a calendar and I make sure I stick to it.
As a professional how is it working in Nairobi? Is Nairobi open to what you do or what could be better?
With my work both as a freelance writer and while working for Storymoja or She Blossoms, the fact that Nairobi has readily accessible internet access might be expensive but it’s there and plays a huge role in how I access information and disseminate it.
There’s also just the right mix of creative energy in Nairobi. Who doesn’t want to be right in the middle of it?
My one huge challenge with Nairobi is getting around. Doesn’t matter if you jave or uber or have your own car. Nairobi is insane when it comes to traffic jams. (Yes, I hear there are places that don’t have traffic jams anymore). To make matters worse, I live in Ongata Rongai and have to come to work in Nairobi. So I have to deal with Nairobi traffic jams then go to my country and deal with my traffic jams!
What motivates you?
The people around. I love watching and listening and being inspired by the people around me. So it is very important that they be vibrant, creative and inspiring. I hope that I can give back that kind of energy to them as well.
How do you define success?
Ripple Effects. I don’t expect to make a tsunami wave of a change in the world. But I’d like to leave ripple effects every day, small positive impacts that I can see tomorrow and know I had something to do with. That’s success.
Who has been your greatest inspiration?
My mother. For not giving up despite the most difficult burden a parent could face. She keeps going, keeps me going, and makes me want to inspire someone else.
What is your favourite aspect of your job?
The Writing part. I like creating content. I like writing up ideas, storylines and scripts.
What would you say are the key elements to being successful?
Plan. Think ahead. Be resilient. Keep at it. Work smart. Goals are very important. Celebrating achievements is important too.
What advice would you give somebody just starting out in your line of work?
Learn the skills, then play around with the creativity. I feel that a huge part of being comfortable in your place as a writer is first understanding the right way to do things, before trying to break the rules to show off your creativity.
What has been your most satisfying moment in terms of career?
I’m still working towards many of my goals as a writer and editor. In 2015, I was pleased to help 4 authors develop their work right up to publishing. There was an immense sense of accomplishment in that, although of course, the hard work was the authors’.
I feel like my work with She Blossoms is a parallel career and worth a mention. In September/October 2016, we completed the 2nd annual Lupus Awareness campaign which culminated in the She Blossoms for Lupus Concert curated by Lahani’s Kibali Muriithi. It felt like a sort of birthing of a movement.
What makes you happy?
Books. Time with my dog. More books. And on occasion, the sense that I’ve helped a person living with Lupus understand that he or she is not so alone in the fight for their life.
What are your hobbies? What do you do in your non-work time?
Read. Play with my dog. On good days, Guillermo and I get to walk together which is awesome for both of us. On tough days, I write while the dog pretends to be my muse. Living with chronic illness means there’s lots of empty time that you learn to fill, so I’ve basically watched all the TV shows ever made. I’m toying with the idea of picking up embroidery. That would be something.
Where do you see yourself in around 10 years?
Doing a variation of what I’m doing now. And reading and writing more.