Terror + Taking A Semester Off

At six years old, I wrote my first end-of-term examination of primary school, in Class 1. I emerged with the overall first position in my class. The same happened the term after that and the term after that. Then throughout Class 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, Form 1, and two out of three semesters of Form 2 (the term I wasn’t first, I was second) before I transferred schools. Altogether, I’d been overall first 23 times, which is wild to me whenever I think about it now. My intense experience of the effects of ranked success at a young age didn’t leave me unscarred.

When I was 10 years old, my father enrolled me in a graphic design course over the long vac. Four times each week, I was taking lessons on Photoshop, Illustrator, CorelDraw and more, and all my classmates were adults between their twenties and forties. During one class break, I was talking to one of them, a man probably in his thirties. He expressed how impressed he was with my intelligence and my ability to keep up with the course. During that conversation, I remember telling him my fears that all my “smartness” was a succession of flukes with an expiry date, and that one day my ability to succeed with barely any effort would just… stop. He said it wouldn’t. I didn’t believe him.

That was a smart move, because it happened a few years later.

Starting approximately from my first year in high school, my ability to succeed with minimal effort began trickling away. I’d always known theoretically that this would happen, but as it was happening, I couldn’t help but feel defective. No logic could explain the sudden intensity of my struggle to me. In the transition from one level of formal education to the next, I’d lost my superpowers.

I don’t think I’ve ever regained them or that I ever will.

So far, I have spent five semesters in tertiary/higher education institutions. Four out of five have been difficult and depressing. For three out of five, I have been some degree of suicidal. The most recent semester, which began in July 2018 and ended in November of the same year, and which I spent in Cape Town, South Africa, was psychologically the worst of them all.

When I express statements like this to my mother, she always wants to narrow the problem down to something specific, logical and straightforward enough to attack. Trying to make her sufficiently understand me is always difficult, but in this season, it seemed particularly impossible to give her anything close to what she wanted to hear.

The combined elements that made up my Cape Town semester suggested that it should have been my most enjoyable one yet. I had escaped America—the country that had been trying to suffocate me—and was back on my own continent. I was living with—or a handful of minutes away from—my best friend in the whole world. I mostly enjoyed the subject matter of my classes and admired my professors. I had a wonderful mid-semester break trip to another African country. I was financially secure. I should have been killin’ it.

Instead, I wanted to kill myself.

There was the stuff I was relatively used to: days of immobility, not being able to shower or get out of bed. Constant crying. Interspersed insomnia and hypersomnia. Normal. A lot of things were relatively new: the violent and spontaneous effects social media had on me and my consequent, too-frequent deactivation (software, databases and algorithms didn’t take kindly to my erraticism, I can tell you that); trying to cut myself open with blades; feeling a terrifyingly clear division between two internal personas like a schizophrenic Jekyll-Hyde experience. But I still think the most awful new thing was my sudden inability to write.

I wish I could explain how deep and jarring this was. Writing, for quite a while now, has kept me alive. No matter how low I’ve gone, I’ve always been able to write. It’s been my anchor in nearly every storm. Many times, I can’t even pray, and when I can, I do so in writing. Naturally, not being able to write scared the living daylights out of me. I couldn’t help but conclude that if the spirit of writing had left me, then my breath and sanity were certain to follow. If they wouldn’t do so on their own, I was invested in making it happen myself. I decided I never wanted to see a day of 2019; I had to make sure I died before January.

My academic life during my Cape Town semester was difficult and challenging and brought me immense anxiety. I was late on a few papers, missed a lot of classes, spent inordinate amounts of time trying to just comprehend homework instructions, and had all but given up by exam time—but even I could tell that my reactions to my academic difficulties were disproportionate to the true intensity of the difficulties.

It was about school, but at the same time, it wasn’t. I just wanted to not be alive anymore. I wanted to quit everything. Including struggling so hard to succeed in an academic system I thought was BS anyway. Including trying to build a life of future stability for myself when I had already decided there was no point to my existence. But there were, in fact, real reasons why school seemed to be making me crazier than most of the other factors in my life.

Most of it goes back to my childhood and everything I have internalized about academic success, its role in my life and future, how it factors into my parents’ and other relatives’ pride in me, how deeply ingrained it is into my perception of my own self-worth. I was terrified—no, petrified—of failure, and I still am.

Above all, it is the mechanics of my upbringing that keeps doing me in. It often feels like there’s robotic programming within me that determines what I will do even if I don’t believe in what I’m doing, even if I don’t want to do it. It determines how I feel no matter how much my mental perception stands in opposition. I know that academic success doesn’t dictate my worth as a human being. But the mechanics of my programming render me unable to be any type of relaxed when I’m not executing, or at least attempting to execute, stellar performance. I can fix my mind, with as much determination as possible, that I’m not going to let some measly assignment stress me out—but mechanics make my whole body tense up when a deadline approaches, drive me to harm myself if need be, just to get the work done in the end. Mechanics have me constantly performing even when I want to let go, then constantly feeling wretched for performing because with all the counteracting evidence, how will I ever get people to believe that I’m not doing okay?

Add this all to my many other struggles. Anxiety, my relationship with suffering, my friendship struggles and heartbreaks, my relationship with my body, my refusal to take care of myself… I was tired, and the world/my life felt far too much for me. It was as if everything crescendoed into cacophony in my ear. I knew what I needed, if there was any hope of recovering my health or will to live, was for everything to stop so that I could work through things, a step at a time, without the anxiety-inducing threats of deadlines or mandated tasks. I was already dying, but school was accelerating the process several-fold. I knew, without having to be told, that if I simply powered on, attempted to “weather the storm,” or “hang in there,” and try to finish school uninterrupted, I would soon succeed in killing myself. Without a doubt. It was clear to me that my life was at stake—but would it be clear to anyone else? (The people responsible for paying my school fees, for instance.)

 

“How can I fail?”

I asked this question several times to myself and aloud, in the presence of my best friend. I just couldn’t fathom it. Me and failure? The two just didn’t go together. If I failed, my world would end. I felt like I would rather kill myself than fail—even if I believed that giving myself permission to fail was probably the only way I’d be able to make it through my Cape Town semester. I was burned out, but I had to make it out alive, to crawl out of the fire on my hands and knees. If I could just survive, giving up the worry that I had to be stellar, giving up the anxiety about how much money I’d be wasting if this semester ended up counting for nothing, giving up the notion that I was worth nothing if I couldn’t ace my damn semester abroad. I was so high-strung, I had to release pressure and relax—which meant not taking the “necessity” to succeed as seriously as I did. It meant giving myself permission to fail, if I just couldn’t do what was demanded of me without permanent damage to myself. But the thought of failure elicited a visceral and violent reaction from me. I might start heaving whenever I thought about it.

The day I texted my parents an essay explaining that I couldn’t take it anymore, I wanted to kill myself because I was already dying, and that I refused to go back to school the next semester, fear of failure was all I could think about. I kept wondering how my grandparents would react, if or how to explain to them what was happening to me. I thought about the consequences of possibly having my graduation date pushed back and what it would feel like to watch the people I’d started school with graduate and leave me. I thought about what it meant that I, and not them, was suffering to this extent, why I needed a resting/healing period and they could just carry on uninterrupted.

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But then I was (and am) also afraid of rest. I don’t even know how to do rest.

The fear of failure is pervasive. It influences your relationships with time and with productivity. I always feel like I should be doing something “productive”, no matter my state of health. I’m not yet good at respecting my tiredness. Rest makes me feel like I am wasting my life and failing at something, and so even doing nothing gives me anxiety. (Highly ironic, since, when my life feels overwhelming, nothing is all I want to do.) The idea of taking a semester off terrified me partly because it meant resting, which, to me, was synonymous with being on the straight path to failure.

Even before I came back home, I knew that the concept of rest would be difficult for many family members and people back home to understand. I was perfectly right. “So, are you going to be taking classes at the University of Ghana?” “Are you going to find a job?” “Are you going to set up a business project?” “What are you going to be doing?” Every time I get asked any of these questions, I go into a slight panic. I want to scream, “I know how to keep myself busy, okay? Why can’t I just exist without all this wahala?” (How I’ve wished there was a way out of existence.)

Things have been relatively manageable at home over the Christmas + New Year break, because it’s a legitimate break. But when February comes and I’m still in Accra, dealing with the comments and questions might get harder. I feel the pressure of needing something more than “trying to stay alive” as a valid explanation for what I’m doing while off school. The pressure is murderous.

During the pre-decision, decision and now post-decision seasons, I’ve been wrestling with triggers about the value of my life. Are my life and health worth these attempts to preserve them? Shortly after I set my decision in stone, I was speaking to my favorite cousin, who said to me that he was happy it was just a break, that I hadn’t decided to quit school entirely—because he knew the value of a degree and how stressful my life would be without one. I have no doubts at all that he meant well (how could he not?) and was only trying to be helpful, but his “advice” felt so dreadfully violent to me that I began to cry when he gave it. Did he not fully understand that I was very ready to straight-up kill myself, or that trying to live this perfect, prescribed life would kill me? For me, his advice was just further “proof” that high performance and avoidance of failure were more important than my literal presence on this earth. I couldn’t be a Failure + Alive. My only options were to either be an Achiever + Alive, or just Dead (from trying to achieve).

Even after I’d declared my decision to my parents, I spent several days and weeks wondering if I was making the right one. And then, if I concluded that it was the right decision, I would be angry at myself for not being healthy enough to just go back to school and finish, like a normal person. In any case, my doubts about whether time off was necessary were cleared when my body tried to finish me in December. If I wanted to keep my life, powering on stolidly was not an option.

So, this is where I am now. In Accra, wrestling with rest. Watching my colleagues return to the groove of academic life. Trying to want to be alive. Knowing that my path is the correct one and yet still being uncomfortable with the fact of that. And writing, always writing, because this is how I know how to stay alive. The terror hasn’t gone away, but the acceptance will soon, I hope, be loud enough to drown it out.

-Akotowaa

SA Journal 6: The Academic Part (Finally)

“How is school?” Well, school is a colonial institution designed to promote elitism within every sphere of the world that academia penetrates and produce a caliber of humans that promote the institutional hegemony while being made to believe they’re revolutionary… or otherwise keeping them too busy with “knowledge” production and consumption for them to do anything actually revolutionary, thanks for asking. 😊 Oh, you meant, like, what classes am I taking and stuff? Oops, my bad. LOL.

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One of the most common questions I’ve been asked since coming here is how I’m finding the university system here in comparison to my experience of college in the US, so that approach is going to frame this post.

On a surface level, the differences between the two systems are obvious. A small, liberal arts college near Los Angeles with a student population of approximately 2000 students (6000 if you count everyone in the college consortium), against a huge university in Cape Town with a population of about 27,000. So, the number of students I pass by on a daily basis is definitely one big difference. To be honest, I’ve found myself wishing from time to time that I actually had gone to a huge traditional university rather than a small liberal arts college. (Put this in the context of the fact that I hate school and would rather not be in any institution at all.) Frankly, I like the freedom of being able to disappear. Here, lectures are lectures, and ideally, there are far too many students present in the hall for either professors or peers to meaningfully interact with all of them. If you don’t want to speak during class, you don’t have to, and you can get away with it for the entire semester if you’re playing your cards right. Also, especially on days when I cannot get out of bed to save my life, I’m grateful to be able to just not show up to class, without the pressure of teachers attacking me when I enter the room the following day, trying to act like nothing happened. If I had to guess, I’d say each of my classes has a lower-bound average of 70 students and an upper-bound average of 170 students technically enrolled. As to the number of students that actually show up regularly to lectures? Well, that figure is… LOL. As in, one of my classes is lucky to have even fifteen students per lecture.

Courses and majors here are arranged according to “faculty” and all the classes I’m taking are placed under the Humanities faculty, which is the only one I can speak on through experience. The general structure of things at UCT is that each undergrad class has lectures three times a week, which only last, on average, for 45 minutes. That’s the length of a lecture period here, and some lectures (or tutorials) may take up double-periods, which means they will be almost two hours long. Now you may think that being in school for 45 minutes, 3 times a week is a mere walk in the park, but that doesn’t take compulsory tutorials into account, nor does it indicate the irritation of sometimes having to walk thirty minutes up a mountain for one 45-minute class and then walk 20 mins back down the mountain because ta-da, you’ve finished for the day. (My Thursdays dey bore.)

Tutorials are these sessions that split the large classes into sections of averagely 15-20 students each, and are led by tutors rather than professors, although professors can also be tutors. The purpose of tutorials is to essentially, as I see it, replicate the ideal atmosphere of a tiny, liberal arts school classroom. They are supposed to be places where you can freely converse (with guidelines sometimes) about lecture material, ask for clarification, express personal opinions, and talk about assignments. As for me, I have found that while many lectures and a significant portion of the content I’ve been exposed to here are stimulating/relevant, tutorials tend to be downright useless. Unfortunately, it’s the tutorials for which mandatory attendance is enforced and from which consistent absence will result in being disqualified from writing end-of-sem exams and consequently, failing. Yes, the more useless one mmom is the one with consequences. It frustrates me to no end. Thankfully, we’re at the end of the semester and I can run away from them forever.

Tutors who aren’t professors are usually post-graduate students of some kind, working towards their Masters’ or PhD. Typically, they don’t attend lectures. Out of my three tutors, only one is present in actual course lectures—and that’s because she’s also the course professor. Tutors do sometimes have guidelines about what to discuss during the tutorials, but I must say, I don’t think whoever writes the guidelines attends lectures either. Tutorial conversations often end up being confused messes/wastes of time where the neither the tutors nor the students are really saying much, and then we end up talking about the prices of the new iPhones or, if someone is feeling gracious, being released early. I’d always rather be sleeping.

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What classes am I taking!? (Maybe I should use past tense since this is basically last week of lectures.) I’ve been taking 3 classes: History of South Africa (from the 1800s), a Media Studies course called Media, Power and Culture, and an African Studies course about Globalization in Africa. Undergrad degrees here are typically three years, and all my courses are second-year courses.

My disposition towards classes at the beginning of the semester was very different from my disposition now. I was incredibly excited at the beginning of the semester, mostly because of the lecture content and the professors. Most of my professors throughout the semester have evidently been extremely intelligent humans, possibly evenly split between male and female—and it has both surprised and pleased me that I’m not being forced to sit in rooms just to be bullshitted to. What I’m saying is: them dey talk sense. I’ve also been pleased to see many of my own personal sentiments reflected in their lectures. More on this later.

Although the African Studies class has interested me more in the recent past weeks, for a long time, my history class was my favorite class, for two main reasons: First, my history professor for most of the sem, a South African Indian woman, is one of the smartest individuals I’ve ever been taught by. It’s been a good while since I’ve been struck in awe of a professor. (Actually, the last time was two semesters ago, when I enjoyed school for the first time in several years. That guy had entire pages of novels memorized and he also builds trippy, philosophical, life-sized wooden objects based on W.E.B. Du Bois texts in his free time. Bloody brilliant weirdo.) She clearly knew exactly what she was talking about all the time and made no pretenses of neutrality. She always made it very clear which side of history she was choosing to be on and whose lens we should be learning it through. (Not the male, white or foreign one, that’s for sure.) Which brings me to my second point:

The content wasn’t a generic run-through of timelines, like I’ve unfortunately experienced with my African history classes back in the US. Here, I’m not being taught things in the format of X happened, then Y happened, all because A happened earlier, and that’s the only way to interpret that. Instead, the approach has been much more personal and localized. Most of our required readings were written by South Africans, about very specific events or people, thankfully not generic, “neutral,” general histories written by British white men. Reading the analysis of the Zulu AmaWasha guild’s origins and initiative, learning about Charlotte Maxexe’s feminism, reading Sol Plaatje’s accounts of events written in real-time, or seeing Sofasonke’s grandeur through my texts (when I was able to satisfactorily read them) brought me considerable pleasure. I remember thinking, “For once, I am being taught history the way I want to be taught history; not with an overarching “sense of things” and a few specifics, but with a lot of specifics, contextualized by an overarching “sense of things” in the background. It goes to show, I think, how many events and names my professor mentioned in the class that no-one—yes, including South African students—had even heard of. In that regard, I’m grateful for the class’s content.

My Globalization in Africa and Media Studies classes haven’t been quite as spectacular in terms of diversity of content, teaching style approach, and actual education. There’s really only a handful of things from both classes combined that I can honestly tell you I hadn’t known before—and these things were often peripheral information, not exactly what I was supposed to be taking away from the lecture. Cases in point: the medicinal quality of dassie (Afrikaans word for rock rabbit) poop, or the existence of the Tallensi ethnic group in Ghana. (Yes, I am Ghanaian. Yes, I had no idea.) At some point, it felt like the very same information kept being reiterated in different assigned texts and by different professors. (A note on professors; rarely would you have a single prof for each class all semester. There’s usually a main prof called the Convener, who teaches majority of the lectures, and then a rotation of guest lecturers that handle 1-3 weeks each. My aforementioned history class had the least amount of rotation, with only one guest lecturer other than my Convener, and the former covered only three weeks.)

The most exciting thing for me about these latter two classes, was that many of my frustrations with the current fundamental structure of the world were, for once, articulated in the classroom by professors who got me, rather than gaslighted me. One professor in my Media Studies class (some Coloured man whom I’m now slightly in love with—and apparently, he’s a spoken word artist too!) traced many of our societal problems, as Africans belonging to a shared continent as well as in relation to the rest of the world, back to “modernity,” which he insisted should be called colonial modernity, and I was like, Yoooo, this is what I’ve been saying, fam! And some other lecturer from my African Studies class spent two weeks explaining how (higher) education as we know it today, as an institutional way of managing knowledge production and distribution was literally created for the purpose of being a colonial tool (check it bro, the timelines coincide), and I was like, Thank you! Is this not what I’ve been trying to say my entire life?

These kinds of things were satisfying to a point—because I was immensely grateful that these topics were being sensibly addressed somewhere. On the other hand, they soon led me into a peculiar kind of despair, resulting from the incessant articulation of problems. The despair isn’t because there aren’t solutions; it’s because there are, but either not enough people seem to be regarding them as emergencies/even consciously acknowledging them; or because the world systematically co-opts or strikes down insurgents. Depressing. Furthermore, my gratitude that these problems were being addressed soon fizzled out because then I started questioning why I was being required to sit down and be told things I’ve known about the world from time. (Admittedly, not everyone already thinks the way I think, but if they don’t, I hardly think a one-week guest lecture series is going to seriously transform their lives. There were quite a handful of intellectually stubborn individuals in my classes.)

One thing I’ve truly hated, though? Assignments. Their submission and weighting within the course is handled with such formal strictness, even though the assignments themselves are often given with confusing/vague instructions, are often nonfa tasks, and ultimately useless. (Purportedly, they’re useful for exam preparation, but I think exams are also ultimately useless, so there’s that.)

In conclusion, I feel like if there were a way to combine the bullshit-lacking informational content I’ve received here (minus tutorials) with the lax performance/deadline rules of American liberal arts college, it would be significantly less torturous than either on its own. That’s my final take on the structural comparisons. (Of course, the ideal would be to abolish the institution of higher education entirely, but since y’all don’t want to hear me, I’ll just personally walk away from it myself and suffer the consequences. Send money if you love me, because I’mma probably be broke soon. 😊)

-Akotowaa

Summer ’17 Lessons/Lowlights :(

Yo. Life is hard. (Definitely not the first time I’m opening a blog post with this. Maybe I should make this my official sign-in. Sigh.)

This summer, I made what I truly consider one of the worst decisions I’ve ever made in my life. I’m so used to my stress being an effect of circumstances I couldn’t necessarily control, effects of “the system.” As for this time, it was my decision that I made, although I hesitate to call myself an idiot for it, since there were certain things I don’t believe I could have foreseen. But yo. I have been stressed.

This awful decision was about my summer housing situation. Kids, y’all better learn from this.

So my college actually offers rooms to live in over the summer. But at the end of the last semester, everything about and around me was such a mess that I and my summer employers ended up missing the deadline for applying for a summer room. While my employers tried bargaining with the director of housing on my behalf, and him declaring he could make no promises yet, but would open up available rooms if there were any left when he was done doing his job, I was left to look for alternative options.

It turns out I had a colleague – not a friend per se, but an acquaintance from work – looking for roommates to temporarily live in a truly gorgeous seeming house belonging to a professor who was leaving for a while. Now, you see, I hate making decisions, especially when they involve deadlines and money, so this stressed me out significantly. The house was gorgeous yet more expensive – but guaranteed if I took action immediately. The college was familiar and somewhat boring for that fact, far less expensive, yet not guaranteed. And if I didn’t get it, as a consequence of not having taken immediate action, I would have nowhere else to go.

As is predictable of me, I moved towards the certain, immediate action, as opposed to the uncertain wait. I began to rationalize all my reasons to make me feel better:

  • It was a house off campus, and it would be refreshing to be at least temporarily removed from monotonous scenery
  • It had a kitchen. Several dorms on campus did not – besides, there would be fewer people sharing it.
  • It had a pool! How cool would it be to have access to a pool during a hot California summer?
  • It had air conditioning! Very few campus dorms did, and I’d heard several stories of students having to sleep in their workplaces or academic buildings to avoid melting in their beds at night.

Yeah. So I was thinking that with all these perks, surely it would be worth the extra money? LOL. No. (And listen, I am not trying to throw shade at anyone. I know how easily sharing my stories tends to get me in trouble, but I swear I’m not trying to throw shade.)

Honestly, I should have known better. There are facts about myself I deliberately ignored that came back to bite me in the back, front, top, bottom and all damn sides. Fam, I am an introvert. I don’t like living with people. I don’t like necessarily shared spaces. I don’t like dirt. However, when space must be shared, I like it when everyone actually acts responsible for their share. And, despite my distaste for shares paces, I do have the background and upbringing that makes me extremely uncomfortable with dirt or ugly mess. (Thanks, Mummy.) So, if the sink is dirty, I want it clean so much that I will clean it. Same with the shower, the trash can, the stove, the dishes in the sink…But Lord above, I am not a housemaid.

This was the summer that I realized that college kids really are kids. Like, kids. I mean, I kind of knew. Last semester, one of the (I assume because it makes sense) boys just kept leaving the toilet seat sprayed with urine like his hands spasmed every time he tried to pee, and also would hardly flush the toilet. And because I’m extra, I put a note on the stall door warning them I’d curse them with Ewe witchcraft if it continued. (No, I am not joking; I swear I’m not. Ask Tronomie, I sent him a picture of the note.) But what makes the difference once you live on campus is that every two or three days, housekeeping staff comes and resets the bathrooms (and kitchens) to default. If they did not exist, I am certain the state of campus facilities would have been as awful or worse than they were in that house this summer.

In summary, between the health-hazard-like state of the kitchen and a cat trying to jump into my tomatoes whenever I was trying to cook, between empty contact lens packets all over the bathroom floor and around the sink, wet clothes in the shower constantly, people I didn’t know always being present when least expected, random multi-instrumental jam sessions, a mosquito-ridden backyard, clothing items at the bottom of the pool, an unsightly pile of trash growing, AC time having to be conserved for the sake of the electricity bill et cetera…Yeah bro, I had to leave. None of it was worth anything.

Let me make this clear: in no way do I think the people I lived with were “bad people.” What they were, though, is different from me. And different people can be comfortable with different kinds of living spaces. And from what I saw, it seemed like I was the only unbearably uncomfortable one. I shall not dare to make the claim that any one of them should not have been living there; it was I who was the odd one out. As usual. It’s not our fault we were raised differently. So, yes, I had to leave.

I postponed it for so long because of guilt and financial responsibility. The situation was such that if one person’s contribution was detracted, the debt would be way higher than it already was – which was, apparently, already bad enough. And I had already been granted a significant discount on what I was paying, so it just didn’t seem fair. But most importantly, what was really trapping me was the lease that I’d signed.

Fortunately, I found out that my summer campus room was still being held for me by some sort of fortunate accident, and I would be able to move back if I wanted. But I was thinking I could be strong, stay uncomfortable in the house until summer ended. After all, several people have been through worse in life, haven’t they? But my resolve cracked in about a week, LMAO. It was making zero sense that I was putting my sanity through a destructive process when there was clearly a way out. The opportunity cost was the money. I found myself soon crying to my mother on the phone. My parents encouraged me to prioritize my mental health. And so, facing the loss of more money than I had ever lost in my life, and feeling like the most naïve, irresponsible fool for it, I moved back to campus, trying not to give two pesewas about anyone’s hurt feelings.

There were numerous, stressful failed attempts to get someone to take over my room or raise enough money to pay my debt. In the end, God came through and delivered me from financial hardship in semi-random, stunning ways (I swear, prayer works, y’all) and my quality of life generally improved at least threefold when I was living on campus again. But it doesn’t change the fact that this was one of the hardest lessons I’ve ever had to learn in my life about decisions, responsibility, prayer, boldness and tolerance.

 

Anyway, now that I’m done talking about that nightmare, a few other lessons:

  1. Dealing with hate. (Related: I Lost My Voice.)

I have learnt that I do not know how to do it. My best friends encourage me to ignore trolls and will go out of their way to list the ways the trolls are invalid. It’s still hard, though. I’m still bothered by things I can do nothing about. I can’t change the way people think. I can’t help that people will continuously read what they want to read and see what they want to see. And that’s depressing. And the best I can do is to keep reminding myself what my work is (definitely not fixing haters’ brains) and to keep doing my work no matter what, because that is what I am useful for, and that is how my purpose shall be fulfilled.

  1. I hate having to eat.

I think my least favorite part about classic adulting is just having to find food. Fam, food is expensive, cooking takes long, washing and cleaning takes longer, and even deciding what to eat at all is stress. (If you’ll remember, I intensely dislike making decisions.) Now I know why my mother has a weekly rotating schedule of what the family is having for dinner every night. It’s not now on The Day Of that you’re coming do decide. My mother is a smart woman. Anyway, why can’t I be a Twilight Vampire? I don’t freaking want eating to be a necessity. If food were a luxury that I could maybe get when I wanted or could afford, as opposed to being rendered irritable and dysfunctional without it, honestly, that would be the greatest.

  1. I seriously, seriously might die if life ever puts me in an 8-5/9-5 job.

Like, seriously.

This summer was the first time I’d ever experienced working full-time. And truly, I enjoyed the experience because the work was fun (or, more fun than a lot of work in a lot of places) and the people were good. Those didn’t stop me from getting bored, though. You would have thought working in a creativity/design center, surrounded by both artistic and STEM creatives would keep me entertained. But chale, the monotony of waking up every morning to go to the same building saf drained me so much. The work itself wasn’t strenuous, yet I found myself nearly non-functional during weekends, fully able to sleep for over ¾ of the day from some irrational type of exhaustion.

My God. I am such a restless spirit. If I must work for others to make a living, Lord Jesus, may I be a freelancer, or a traveler, or some sort of thing that neither requires me to be home all day or in some standard building all day. You made me this way, so You know that kind of life is not for me. So, sweet Jesus, do it for ya girl. Amen.

So yeah. Those are my lessons from the summer. =)

-Akotowaa

Reflections After My Second Semester and Stuff

Note: if you read me a lot, this post will probably be over-familiar and monotonous. I considered not releasing it at all, because I’m more tired of my own repetitiveness than you, TBH, but at this point, the things on my chest are becoming chao, and they need to clear off. Also, I planned on posting this like 3 weeks ago, and time is really passing, so I just want to get it over with.

Consider this something like a continuation of the blog post Reflections After My First Semester. It could have been frightfully long, but I had the foresight to plan little blog posts to complement this one, kind of like little prequels, so I can gloss over some things and so that this post may be more focused on the academic sides. So, in short:

For God-knows-what reason, I fell back into depression. (This is what Retrograde and the Nightmare is about.) But still, I wrote. Not nearly as much as I wanted to, but a bit. You can read more about that on She Still Wants to Live.

Part of my being generally upset and unsatisfied with life, the social aspects of feeling like I must keep up with everything and everyone, is captured as personally recollected and as observed about others in On Results.

Other aspects of my social life, reflections upon my self-ostracization and the reasons for it, are captured in The Initial Illusion of Being in the Pictures and So I Have a Problem With Nice People…

One thing I don’t think I have mentioned in any of my prequel blog posts is death. In fact, throughout the academic year, it has seemed like there has been a series of deaths, by professors and students alike, across the five-college consortium in the city, which has seriously affected the general atmosphere of just about everything. To top it off, in 2017, as I tried to keep up with Ghanaian news, it seemed to me that we were experiencing some sort of suicide epidemic, and that was highly alarming. Unfortunately, the tragedies of death, and its tolls on all who are associated with the deceased in any way, seems to just be continuing into the summer. More and more thought, these days, goes into the decision to open my email or social media. There are so many effects of the death on the living that I don’t even know how to write it into the overall experience, other than mention the helplessness grief leaves behind.

So now, the less social stuff.

As some of the readers who keep up a lot may know, 2017 has been my “excellent” year, or at least it was intended to be. The problem is that my semester has felt so, so far from excellent. It became yet another point of contention between me and the academic system, the apparent impossibility of achieving excellence. I could see that there were so many assignments, readings, so much required of me, that I could not possibly give anything the attention I believed it demanded. Achieving excellence in one thing/academic class meant that I would not have the time or energy remaining to do some other task at all. So, if I wanted to, at the very least, get by – which appeared to be my only option – I had to put the bare minimum into things, then if I had time or energy, add more to something or the other. And this really, really hurt my heart. Yes, I know it’s apparently a common experience with many college students but I struggle too hard to see why it should be so at all. Here was someone dedicated to excellence, who was half-assing her whole life. I wanted to beat someone up but usually had nothing and no one to direct my anger and frustration towards. I remember walking back and forth between buildings, trying to get myself organized to work, on the verge of tears, thinking about how “I have to choose what to fail at.” (I literally cried these words to Tronomie on the phone.) So yeah. My semester was less-than-excellent, at the very least, in effort. Also, I can’t function when I haven’t been sleeping. Also, I became coffee-dependent. Like the rest of America. HashtagDrugAddictsNoBeWeedSmokersAlone.

I started to design my own fantasy educational structure for myself. For myself, not for a country, not for a college; for myself. I feel like when things start trying too hard to suit a mass, they become disfigured. So I designed this thing for me nkoaa. It involved intense focus on one thing at a time. Baako pɛ. One-on-one sessions with a mentor that would be far more knowledgeable than me in whatever s/he was teaching me. A single “class” more like an apprenticeship session, maybe for a few hours a day, three to five days a week, no deadlines, no homework, just a love for learning and desire to acquire on my part, and a dedication to the impartation of knowledge and the cultivation of excellence on the instructor’s part. But some things are too good to be true, or to work for you, and the world is a rather cruel place, not like I didn’t know already. So, although I will keep wanting this thing so badly, I will probably resign myself for writing it into a fictional something eventually.

In other news, I have decided that the liberal arts is a scam, regardless of what I wrote in LOL so this liberal arts distin actually works, eh? And I’m not even talking about how liberal arts schools are still secretly and openly filled with people looking to continue into law/medicine/other STEM fields, and find the liberal artsiness of their general education requirements the most tiring part of school. I’m talking about how even liberal arts are not ideal for people who do not like (traditional) school or formal education. Because it’s still formal education, and people like me will continue to be unable to put our hearts in it.

I realized, somewhere between the end of first semester and the middle of second semester, that there was absolutely nothing I cared about enough to want to major in it. It was a huge struggle, to come to terms with realizing that although I was now here in a liberal arts school, where the whole world was now telling me that I could finally “follow my passion” and major in something I was actually “interested” in and all that jazz, that still, nothing appealed to me.

I decided not to be an English major for one thing because the English classes and even professors, were just too white and too academic for me, where academic equates to deep-to-the-point-of-irrelevant, and incoherent. It sounds like I’m being super harsh, but I’m trying to be honest about how I have felt.

Up until now, the only academic class I think I have really enjoyed has been my African History to 1800 class – and not just because of the actual subject matter of the course, but all the side-things I’ve discovered that would make great stories once remixed. (See “On Results” for extended thoughts on learning stuff you were not necessarily supposed to learn.) And the English class I took last semester just felt like a truckload of BS. It was on Victorian/Romantic literature and some of the poets and novelists were great, but the class and professor seemed to leech the soul out of them for me. I had intended to write about my experience in that class sometime in December, but the way it’s June and I’m still sitting on all my words, I doubt it will happen before 2020. Or ever.

So, my second semester, I took really interesting classes. I’m assuming that has been the most interesting combination of classes I will take for the rest of my college career: Astronomy, Drawing, Media Studies and James Baldwin. Going to class, any class, made me tired, and so did all homework, most of which I didn’t do well anyway.

Astronomy was cool in the beginning: foundations, history, mythology and the like. Although the reading and resource materials were excessive and overwhelming nearly from the beginning, it was intriguing because history and stories are the things I like. And then the physics started becoming more and more prominent in the course and I swear it would take me about two weeks to understand one theory. I spent far too much time in my professor’s office outside of class hours, monopolizing his time and attention, blasting him and making him explain one thing he’d spent ten minutes on in class to me three times over, for like twenty minutes each. He told me he liked that I was dedicated, at least, to figuring things out and spending so much time on them. But for one thing, I suspect he was incredibly tired of me and my frustrated, impatient, rude, slowness; and for another, I wasn’t dedicated to jack. I just wanted to barb the thing and go, but I wasn’t barbing, so I couldn’t go, because if I went without barbing, I wouldn’t be able to rest or sleep, because that’s apparently the way my cursed brain is programmed.

My Media Studies class was so full of dense, academic readings which I found neither comprehensible nor necessary, most of which I stopped even trying to go through in the first place. My James Baldwin class was full of readings (that is, even outside the original texts by Baldwin and associated writers like Richard Wright and Ta-Nehisi Coates) that I didn’t understand, and people talking about personal or sociopolitical issues about being black or queer in America that really just went over my head, or felt too academic or abstract, or felt impossible for me to connect to the designated material. Both of these classes reminded me how much I hate academia, and would rather be the artist making stuff and making news in the world than be the person teaching or formally discussing within the confines of lecture halls and academic publications, the things that people in the actual world are doing. More and more, it has felt to me like the academics are removed from the world and are looking at it from behind a two-way mirror, while on the other side, artists and other human beings carry on, unbothered about being treated like observations in an unethical social-science experiment.

So, this is how I feel about just about every field I can study in school, just because I’m studying it in school, and this is why I can’t care about anything enough to want to major in it and why I think liberal arts is a scam. It’s just taking culture and stripping it similarly of tangible relevance, making it fit the format of traditionally academic stuff. Just because we’ve mentioned Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt in the class, doesn’t make the class seem relevant to what I perceive to be the real world. So if anyone wants to give me money so I can drop out, that would be appreciated.

On the whole, I became a pretty nasty person this past semester. Having conversations with me, I think, became a pain for other people, because I was just being depressive all the time and it can be super draining to be around a person like that for extended periods of time. I broke several people’s hearts too, including Ekko’s and Tronomie’s, with my intense sadness. I became even more of a room hermit than I already was, always hiding, sleeping or crying in my room and I suspect it annoyed my roommate more than a bit that it felt like I’d annexed the room, but I fear I didn’t have anywhere else to go.

I don’t have much hope for next semester. I’m tired of having hope. Either I resign myself to permanent misery within school, or I find a way to leave. I don’t expect to enjoy my Africana Studies major, to be honest – and I’m taking three more AF-related courses next sem, but I lowkey don’t care about any of them… yet. I might find that I enjoy some of them more than I thought I would once I start taking them, but that’s such a hopeful thought, you know. I also highkey am sick of being ignorant, so hopefully, I learn something through my chosen track. I feel like I’ve learnt some pretty helpful things already, even if they were small things I took from big classes.

I realized I never explained exactly why I decided to do an Africana Studies major as opposed to an English major: I figured that an AF course would actually be more helpful to my literary career on the whole, based on the kind of stuff I want to be writing. A lot of it is fantastical, and if the rest of my courses are any bit as helpful as my African History course and even my James Baldwin course, to some extent, have been with unlocking my imagination, giving me new things to think about, and considering and reconsidering African and Black non-African identities, then I’m going to have a lot of material to work with; way more than I’d have had if I’d just followed a straight-up English path. So maybe I’ll just focus on a literature discipline within the AF major. It makes more sense to me.

Highlight, though? Even though I already touched on this in The Initial Illusion of Being in the Pictures, I’m incredibly grateful for the African community in this college consortium. The Ghanaians outnumber every other African nationality, I think, which is incredibly strange for me because for once, we’ve outnumbered the Nigerians. The African women, in particular, I have found, have formed a very reliable support system and I love it and I love them.

Other memorable things that have happened:

I taught a lexivism class.

I had a revealing conversation with an Uber driver.

-Akotowaa