I feel like younger folks on the internet should feel freer to share their thoughts and their mental growth in public than they do now.
The thoughts of older eyes watching has made me so apprehensive of everything I decide to share. Far from making me more inclined to discern wisely what is worthy or appropriate to be shared, it has begun to make me disinclined to be truthful, honest or transparent. Because “what if they read it?” Writing this post alone, recognizing how dangerous it is, and deciding it should go on the internet, has been such a stressful thing for me, and that’s why it’s coming out now, even though it should have been written and released in like, 2013. But other than helping several societal facades to prevail, I don’t see what work my silence, or the silence of any of the youth – especially Ghanaian youth who are suppressed so often and so automatically that they don’t even know they’re being suppressed – does.
I have serious trust issues with adults, especially adults of the Ghanaian variety, and they never seem to stop giving me reason to hold on to them. I mean, we all love our parents but we have to admit they can be a tad extra. Like when it comes to issues such as us reading great literature like the Harry Potter series as kids, or when we witness them circulating photos of our queer classmates in their WhatsApp groups and gossiping unfavorably among themselves, or when they send us to pastors for exorcism-like prayer when we are depressed or not strictly heterosexual or when we no longer believe what they believe about God or the universe, or when they make us pursue careers we hate, or even when they…read our blogs.
Here is my story (which hasn’t necessarily ended):
I started blogging when I was fourteen. It was a serious thing for me. I thought of myself as a revolutionary in the now. Not as a future revolutionary. In my head, I had the capacity to be the voice of the people – the people about whom I cared most: teenagers. After all, who better to speak on angsty issues of the Ghanaian teen than a Ghanaian teen herself? The name of the blog came from such “radical” thinking in conjunction with my love for wordplay: “The Mind of Fourteen.” (And it was supposed, when you said it, to sound like “The Mind of Our Teen.”)
My fourteen-year-old self had two problems she had never had before.
- She had developed some sort of long-lasting deep sadness.
- She had been rudely and somewhat suddenly awakened to several things she believed were wrong with society, most of which concerned – in school, church and home alike – matters of academia or scholastic affairs.
At the age of thirteen, Ivana (for she had not yet fully grown into Akotowaa) was now beginning to understand the kind of pressure being put on herself and many of her classmates for the sake of academic excellence. Before her thirteenth year, hardly any of it had been difficult for her in particular. She had been the kind of person to have Disney Channel shows or Trace Top 20s playing on the TV during exam time, even as she revised her notes. She had all these secret memorization tricks that got her coming up overall first in every single examination, every single term.
What she considers the first straw in her rude awakening was that one afternoon, she witnessed one of her classmates being rudely and inconsiderately berated in public, in the school car park, by his mother, for being an idiot, for not being as smart as Ivana – why couldn’t he be like Ivana? It was one of the most humiliating things she had ever seen a parent make her child go through.
She soon learned of how several other classmates were brutally lashed at home with canes and belts by parents who used the idea of “Ivana” as both hero and demon; they were beaten both in the name of “Do you think Ivana does this in her home?” and “More beatings will come if you don’t pass Ivana this term in your exams.” Learning what my existence was doing in my own classmates’ lives had begun my fracturing process – and I had no one to talk to about any of it. Which of my mates (whom I began to fear, for what I believed was good reason, all secretly hated me) would want to hear lamentations from the person who was triggering their parents to make them so miserable in the first place?
In that year, I came second in my exams for the first time ever. By this time, I had been depressed for about two months. My taking second place was a momentous event, because I had never seen anything less than first in my life, from Class 1 to Form 2, and everyone was tired of it. But I had suddenly been pushed out of my comfort zone; in addition to my four or so extracurricular activities, I was now taking classes after school and during the weekend sometimes, and trying to balance all of it – and write, as I loved to, for fun – I began to crack. The cracking, from the outside, may not seem that deep; she moved from first position to second, and so what? But it was so, so deep.
The extra classes, though I did not find them useful, were for an entrance exam for a high school I eventually did get into. (I will deny that I went to high school with all my heart, though, and several times, I have found myself wishing I’d just failed that exam), but before that happened, my relationship with my father got more strained than I’d ever thought possible.
I was a fortunate, privileged kid. Not exactly wealthy or loaded with surplus, but never would I have considered myself poor. I had been given everything I needed to succeed, nearly from birth. But once I turned thirteen and the weight of expectation got too much, when for the first times ever, I was cut to my core by being repeatedly told by my primary benefactor in life, literally my patriarch, that I was ungrateful and rude – for being what I now see was merely being overwhelmed and caught off guard by being faced with real stress for the first time ever – I was hit so hard that it turned into deep sadness. It is a heartbreaking experience to have so many slurs thrown at you just because you are tired. (Just for the record: my father and I did have a talk about this, at the end of that year. It may not have been so immediately successful then, but some progress and some reconciliation takes years, several explosions and several mistakes. We’re still not quite there yet, but we also aren’t where we were in 2012.) So that is where it started: right at home.
At thirteen, I began to have questions. They were mainly about two things:
- What it meant (or didn’t mean) to be academically successful.
- What it meant (or didn’t mean) to be a Ghanaian teenager.
Some of the questions looked like this:
- Am I stupid for lack of experience? Does having lived longer guarantee higher intelligence?
- Am I smarter than my classmates because I get higher marks than them?
- If studying equals good grades, how is it possible that I achieve all that I achieve even though I spend my life watching TV?
- Don’t pastors have anything better to preach to the youth than “don’t have sex” and “do well in school”?
- Why is it so important to everyone around me that I pass this high school examination?
And so on.
Naturally, these questions translated into a lot of writing, and for the first time, I began sharing my musings in public at fourteen. Just a depressed adolescent trying to figure out depression and adolescence – and I was proud of myself; I thought I was doing a superb job. I had a blog that was gaining readers from goodness-knows-where, that peers were finding they resonated with, and most shockingly, that parents/adults were reading and finding impressive, constructive and useful. (I suppose I must not have been as too-known and sarcastic then, because as for now dier, adults and I are not very good friends at all, LOL.) Because I was so proud of myself and believed so hard in the things I was writing, and saw that I was having an impact, I decided to share my blog URL with my parents.
This. Was. A. Big. Mistake.
Rather than the pride and approval I was expecting, I was met with far more dissent. Questions like, “Why are you posting such things on line? They’re personal. You don’t say such things in public” or “Why are you always writing about negative things?” kept coming up. My father actually took my email and subscribed me on my behalf to some weirdo positive-motivational-Buddhist-spiritualist woman’s blog, and so I was receiving lots of emails periodically of what I honestly thought of as – but was too scared to tell my father – empty-worded BS.
A trend I have discovered when it comes to Ghanaian teens and their partially-progressive parents: talking to parents is relatively easy – until, suddenly, there are serious things to say.
I began to notice something: when I sent my parents a link to something I wrote, I would always emerge from the reception of their feedback feeling futile and worthless. It was an awful cycle. Then my father began doing something else: telling me what I should be writing about – which, in effect, meant telling me what to care about, and not only this but implying that what I already cared about, was already bursting with passion about, what I was already writing, was not worth it, at least not as relevant as the things he was telling me to write. (I am sure he didn’t realize he was doing this. I’m sure he thought it was an expression of pride in me. But several people, not just adults, seem not to realize that what we think is pride in other people is simply a projection of our own pride. Of course, I too am guilty.) My parents were my biggest antagonists. I couldn’t take the pressure anymore. I deleted my blog.
I have a very intelligent friend, whose parents kept a hawk-eye on her blog content. Anything with even a hint of unconventional thought or just a tad more societally challenging than was acceptable, and then it would turn into a “come to my room tonight and let’s discuss what this thing you’ve posted really means” kind of situation. That shut it all down, and the frequency of posting trickled to a sad end.
I don’t think I have ever told this story, the real reason I quit blogging the year I began. The partially false, “official” story was that The Mind of Fourteen would have no more reason to exist when I turned fifteen, so why not let it go? (For anyone who believed that was true, I have questions, LMAO.) I deleted The Mind of Fourteen long before my fifteenth birthday.
Several months later, though, I missed sharing content online; it had felt fun and fulfilling, and there was something of a void in the space blogging had used to occupy. I wanted to start a new blog, but I was done with being vulnerable; I just wanted to blog about a few interesting and funny things that happened in my life. Even so, I was not intending to ever share my URL with my parents. Like, ever.
I began blogging my life instead of my mind, and that’s how I began telling stories online. I got into writing short stories too, thanks to Flash Fiction Ghana and Antony Can-Tamakloe, and aside things that happened in my own life, I began to tell my grandfather’s stories too; they were far more interesting than mine, anyway. Of course, I needed his approval, and then he deserved to read his own stories, as told by me, so I sent him URLs of the things I wrote about him. He absolutely loved them. My grandfather has always been one of my staunchest supporters in the whole storytelling business. And he never tried to dictate what I wrote.
My life, however, has never been particularly exciting, although my head has always been too full. I soon realized that my initial plan to blog only about real life events was not sustainable. At the same time, when I turned fifteen, the circumstances of my life, especially with regards to school’s social climate and the deterioration of my friendship group began to make me feel that overwhelming need to expel again. Thus, my new blog began looking an awful lot like my old one in terms of content.
Fascinatingly enough, it began gaining popularity again, and thanks to several people, I found myself at the Ghana Blogging Awards in 2015. At this point, it was obviously impossible to keep it from my parents that I had a blog – given that they had to drive me to the Awards and whatnot – and that it was being read and appraised by several people. And I had relapsed, after a very temporary respite, into deep sadness. LOL. The cycle restarted. I was berated for expressing my sentiments and experiences online; it was unbecoming to speak of such sadness in public. And several crying sessions of impossible-to-articulate rage led me to publish, for instance, “Don’t Tell Me What To Write!” (It’s not a very nice or censored post, because it came from a place of intense frustration by several, several adults – and also probably because I am a very rude and angry child by nature.)
So I eventually did the best thing I could: I ignored everyone, became a lexivist, and decided to do what I wanted. Mostly. I don’t think I’ve ever been as transparent as I wished I was online. Because there are eyes everywhere. And those eyes are stifling and terrifying. Those eyes are probably reading these very words. I do want to try getting back there, though. This process unfortunately involves blocking whoever it might be necessary to block on social media to avoid excessive wahala.
Anyway, I’ve been wondering how many stories are like my own (I already know of one) but at the end of the day, children too have brains and I do not think that within the constraints of wisdom (don’t go and post any personal details that are going to get you kidnapped or robbed, are you mad? I don’t even want any of my relatives to be using the map feature on Snapchat, LOL) we need to be free to explore ourselves as children, build connections, make new friends, expose ourselves to both fans and haters, and figure out who we are (in public if need be), without the harsh and unforgiving gazes of our parents (and other older relatives and snake-under-grass adults) on us from microscopic lenses. It shuts a lot of us down way too early and makes a lot of us angry for way too long. And I know we can’t correct the past – but even if we can’t bring our parents back into this discussion because we think they’re too far gone, we can have these discussions among ourselves so that we don’t turn into them.
In conclusion, a slightly related poem, called “Run.”