Note: I wrote this in like February 2015, when I had only just invented the term “lexivism“, and way before Dead By 27. Interesting fact: this is at the back of the same notebook as the first draft of Anti-Indoctrination is in the front of! I’m now posting it because I had a recent conversation with a friend that reminded me of it.
Fortunately or unfortunately, I am not referring to the cheeks on my face.
My aim is to eventually become a full-time writer. (Yes, I write about writing a lot. You were in for that the minute you stepped into a lexivist’s space.) Like, that is my primary goal, and what I’m working towards. Not a Something Else and then Writer on the side; but a person whose primary profession is writing – and the other income-generating dilly-dallying on the side. LOL, isn’t that ridiculous? Nope.
Here’s the thing: because a lot of Ghanaians see writing as some side-thing, some hobby that you can get published for, a lot of the stuff we produce isn’t up to professional standards. It’s only up to amateur, hobbyist standard, you see. I’ve at least seen a number of locally published books – and honestly, sometimes I just bore. Spelling mistakes abundant, as well as other errors and sometimes, it looks like the work went through zero editors; if they didn’t, then these editors are doing nothing and should be replaced. The binding sometimes is poor or uncomfortable, and the books themselves are not marketed well. How then, should we be able to view writing as an income-generating profession, when it is so unprofessionally handled that it generates so little income? There we go!
“Ghana, where my parents live, has no credible local publisher.” – Taiye Selasi.
Even aside from the industry’s slacking, the writers themselves, since they are so satisfied with the whole writing thing being a side job, are really unconcerned with really mastering their technique in the whole writing game. After all, it’s only “on the side”.
This, in my opinion, is the reason for the multitude of half-assed (do you get the title of the post now?), poorly edited books and novels and whatnot, which I cannot ever believe a serious writer would have been satisfied with before they distributed. The reason Ghanaian authors don’t make a living out of their authorship is because they are not serious enough to WANT to. Yes, of course, there are factors on their own, such as the illiteracy percentage of the population (which may soon be its own blog post/piece), but I feel like illiteracy of other people should not make you compromise on your own quality. We are so satisfied where we are, and so many times, our authors don’t go international.
Here is my issue: if I submit to all the pressure coming at me from many sides that it’s basically a circle; if I listen to the people who insist I take up another career and do my “writing things” as a side job…then I could end up where the other authors are: confined to a local audience whose taste for quality is low enough to be satisfied with mediocrity; just another one of those books for tourists; another writer with half-baked novels. I’d have half-assed my work.
A couple of my favourite Urban Dictionary definitions for half-ass:
“The act of doing something without motivation or care as to the quality of the object at hand. To not give a sh*t.”
“Something done poorly, a bad job, a rushed task the person could have done better at.”
I want to dedicate myself full-time to the profession I’m into, to produce maximum quality work, and put literature from at least one Ghanaian (not Ghanaian literature, mind you; I said literature from a Ghanaian) on the map! Quality and dedication: the two things too many of us are missing. And yet people see in me a desire for both, and that scares them. Lord knows why.
In summary: I am working towards making my writing my full-time profession (with any other interesting income-generating activity on the side) as soon as I can possibly manage it, because I am vying for actual quality and dedication, and be one step close to breaking the ideology that a Ghanaian cannot and should not be a full time writer. I don’t want to half-ass it. I want both my cheeks on board!
Note: If my phrasing and diction make you think I’m self-righteous, I apologize ahead of time.
It almost feels like right now, my whole life is centred around lexivism, and around fighting for myself and others’ rights to pursue lifestyles within the arts and entertainment industries. It’s in my blog posts, my tweets, my stories, my Facebook updates…And it only just hit me today (I’m writing this on 19th Feb 2016) that the people who have aspirations that merit the approval of those I am fighting against, could feel oppressed.
It was a strange idea to me when I began to think about it. Like, how can you be feeling oppressed when I’m the oppressed one? Everyone loves your decision! Why are you oppressed? Until I came to the conclusion that it’s me. They feel oppressed by people like me, of course! Who else fights so vehemently against the idea of becoming what they want to be?
Let me describe the incidents that incited this writing properly:
A few days ago, I posed a question on my social media, asking why all the new entrepreneurial ventures and shops in town seemed to be run by foreigners. Answering my own question, I said it was because the Ghanaians were too busy being doctors, lawyers and engineers. Of course, I was being exaggerative and satirical and classically Akotowaa. But I was still vaguely upset when a Facebook friend (who was African, but incidentally not Ghanaian) passionately expressed his concurrence, mentioning a classmate whose aspiration is to be a lawyer, and describing her as “what was wrong with Africa” or something like that. My response to his comment was that he should leave her to follow her dreams; that we need lawyers too, of course.
Now today, during school, my class had interactive sessions with a few alumni, and one of my classmates (who seems to be unable to hold himself back whenever there’s a microphone and an opportunity to speak into one. LOL, if you’re reading this, you know who you are.) asked the panel of alumni how to deal with the discouragement from others when one wants to pursue the creative arts. (Sounds like a legit question, but I’m really tired of it. I think its askers usually have their own answer that works for them and don’t need anyone else’s response. My answer is to start a project like Dead By 27, and embrace the hate by turning that too into sarcastic art.)
Nearly directly after his question, the classmate that had been referred to in my comment posed a question to the alumni which would have probably sounded like a legitimate inquiry to me – if it didn’t sound so much like a deliberate retaliation/ counter-attack in my head. She asked how to deal with the pressure of people reacting to people like her “conventional” aspirations like they were too mainstream and telling her things like how she was only in it to please/ be like parents, or get money or whatever. I found myself wanting to yell, “We are the minority! The people who aren’t applauding and fawning over you for your sensible and practical dream are the MINORITY! What pressure are you talking about? Try having 90% of the people around you shooting you down every day, including your own parents!”
But I didn’t say all this stuff at the end. At least I held myself back after I angrily whisper-shouted the very first question, and acted like it never happened. (Except that I wrote it all down. Right now. In the previous paragraph.) And I didn’t not say it just because I do in fact respect her dream – and any doctor’s dream or engineer’s dream. I also didn’t say it because I conceded that it was possible to feel oppressed, pressurized and threatened by a minority. Why? Because sometimes our loudness can make us look way more present and threatening and numerous than we actually are.
The thing about us is that we are louder and more aggressive because we have been harbouring years of frustration and pent-up anger. So much comes out of us because it feels like people aren’t listening. So we have to be louder. Also, it’s difficult to quit complaining when the system ain’t changing. Ask Black people in America.
So I see why with loud and angry people like me around, the apparent “conventional” would feel oppressed, even if they are the approved spawn of the original oppressors. And it works this way with lots of prejudicial systems in the world, as far as I can tell.
What Facebook Commenter Dude said on my status was uncalled for, I believe. That is where we must draw the line. We can’t start to undermine other simply because they are lifted up by the people who undermine us. At the same time, we simply cannot give up the fight to rewire the society to make them finally SEE US.
Classically, in many civilizations, people attributed the things they didn’t understand to the gods, or to something supernatural. Thus, a lot of belief systems were born. Where does the sun come from? Oh, it’s actually a god. Thanks, Akhenaten.
What are earthquakes? Oh, Titans are fighting, and Poseidon’s mad. My daughter is sick; her temperature is high. Now, I have no clue what a “fever” is, so it must be a fire demon inside her, heating her up. Stuff like that.
So, after about 17 years of existing in a Ghanaian society and being exposed to quite a few real and virtual people of other nationalities and cultural experiences, I believe I am entirely qualified (please note that I am being partially sarcastic) to state the four things which I am pretty sure will guarantee that you are either a wizard, witch or bewitched.
For so long, we have lived in cultures rooted in social practices. What is a private study room? What is a quiet library? What kind of nonsensical time-waster is “people-watching” while sipping coffee? Oh no. We don’t know what privacy and solitude are o, please. Sometimes, even sex could be an outdoor public act. It’s not about your personal life; it’s about our culture. So now, when your relatives come to visit you and you get bored after two hours of pointless conversation where all the important topics have been exhausted, and retreat to your room, it’s antisocial blasphemy. Don’t do that ish, man. Come downstairs so aunty Something-or-the-other can tell you how your nufu has grown or so that uncle Whatsisface can ask you if you’ve found a girlfriend yet.
Okay, but on a more serious note, we don’t seem to be able to understand that introversion is a thing that exist, even – gasp! – among Africans! I’m tired of people looking at me strangely because I don’t enjoy loud parties or going clubbing for hours on end. I’m rather exhausted from the irony of how much people like to talk about how the youth don’t read enough, but I get blasted for being antisocial because I read a lot.
My favourite activity, writing, is a solitary one. But people will take it upon themselves to worry about my mental health and social life on my behalf. Of course, it can’t possibly be natural to enjoy solitude. Man is a social-creature, and as such, he must be surrounded by other social creatures 25/7 (Yes, I added an extra hour!), n’est-ce pas? If at any point, you human, a social creature, would rather be alone than engulfed, there must be something spiritually wrong. It’s an evil spirit. We rebuke it!
This is a fun one. I wonder if people got depressed in Ancient Africa, and if they were oppressed due to others’ denial. The way the recorded history of Africa is, I doubt I will ever find my answer. But I find it hard to believe that every African was always mentally alright, never suffered from anxiety, or was never even born autistic.
However, for some reason, we believe it’s a myth on this side of the world. We, who have some of the most religious and superstitious countries in the world, can’t believe in something that we can’t see manifested on the body. I guess somehow, it makes sense. If we don’t like believing in what we can’t see, it makes sense that we worship(ped) so many physical idols and crafted statues to appease our senses.
“You’re depressed? What kind of disease is that? Get on your knees and pray to God to unbind you from that spell that your neighbours have cast on you, oh! I’m sure it was that woman down the road. Ever since her husband died, she has been trying to inflict her own sorrow on others. Tofiakwa!”
Sometimes, it sounds funny, but it’s really not when people start offing themselves not just because of their ailment, but because of a simple lack of understanding in their own communities. It really is nonsense. Despite all my religious joking, I’m actually a Christian, and time and time again, it amazes me at the “Christian” community’s lack of willingness to simply understand each other, so they can actually be useful. Talk about being exhausted of members of your own community. We’re unconsciously excommunicating people all the time.
I bet you didn’t expect this one. But it’s there! See, let’s do a simple survey. All you West Africans who were banned from reading Harry Potter or any book of the sort when you were younger, raise your hands! (My hand is up.) You’d be surprised at the number. My grandfather got the first three HP books for me on my seventh or so birthday. My mother seized them all and handed them to the semi-literate house-help to keep. Apparently, if I were to read Harry Potter, I would become a witch. Interestingly enough, I never had the Wizard of Oz seized, or even Sleeping Beauty. Some witches are more witchy than others eh? I don’t get it.
My favourite animals are horses. My favourite fictional animals are unicorns. But you, let me try mentioning the words “unicorn” or “dragon” in the house and see how all eyes except my little brother’s cloud in alarm. A close family member has called me “bewitched” behind my back before, in all seriousness, no jokes intended. I don’t know how to make you understand. Perfectly practical parents gave birth to a daydreamer daughter who’s always writing and can’t keep her head out of other worlds, and it ALARMS them to ridiculous extents.
Incidentally, on an entirely unrelated note, I don’t know any Ghanaian fantasy and sci-fi authors. That is not to say that they don’t exist; I just don’t know them. If you do, though, be sure to holla at me in the comment section or tweet at me @_Akotowaa. (Anyway, shout-out to Nnedi Okorafor for being awesome!)
The crown on the cake. This is the best one. Wahala don come if you, in your black skin, born to respectable parents who have toiled for years to put food on the table so that you can clear it and wash the dishes, as well as open the gate and pass them the remote, dare to come up and tell them that you want to be an artist. A de3n? All those school fees they paid, and still, no sense was knocked into your head? You want to waste this quality education? Tofiakwa. Please, we are paying in advance for law school. Gyae saa nkwasias3m.
Now although I’m not blind, and can see that Paulo Coelho is Brazilian, his story strikes so close to home. When his parents found out he wanted to write for a living, they sent him to a mental hospital. When he came out, they thought things were fine – not knowing, he had joined a theatre group. *hands on head emoji* They found out and sent him right back, where he underwent electroconvulsive therapy. That’s basically when they give you electric shocks until you pass out. The man’s biography is insane. I feel like if we could do some here, on this continent, we would. Our only remaining alternative, however, is to send us to the pastor so he can pray for God to cure us of our ambitious folly (which clearly comes from an inner demon who makes its host reject sense).
I imagine that there are parents who would love to perform an exorcism if their children were ever rebellious and bold enough to stick adamantly to their aspirations. After all, you must be possessed if you insist on following a career path that leaves you entirely broke. Right? Right? Sigh. Sometimes, I feel like I’m so done with this place.
So there you have it: 4 sure-fire ways to tell if you’re a wizard, witch or bewitched in West Africa. Do you pass any of the tests? I display all 4 symptoms on a daily basis! 😉