Work, Worth & Wages: My Transition to Professional

At the beginning of 2015, I coined a word: “lexivism.” It’s a noun, which has several definitions, all of which hold the essential meaning of “lexical/literary activism.” If one advocates for literary arts, one is a lexivist. If one believes in the power of words, whether written or spoken, one is a lexivist. If one has a great love for reading, or books, or poetry, or if one uses these as means, forms or avenues for activism, one is a lexivist.

I coined this term as an offensive and defensive response to the negativity I was continuously met with from people who disapproved of my career aspirations: namely, my desire to write for a living. Aside what I believe are the effects of very unfortunate social conditioning that teaches people to devalue the arts as career options, many people’s problem with my aspiration was that this career wouldn’t make me money—or at least, not sufficient amounts of it.

As a young lexivist, my method of combating the negativity essentially amounted to writing regardless, and figuratively plugging my fingers into my ears and screaming, “Lalalalala…!” (Oh, also, lots and lots of tears.) What I didn’t do, however, was immediately start looking for ways to make money by writing, just to spite people. It’s not like I wasn’t constantly anxious about finances and how to grow into a self-sustaining adult. The truth of the matter is that, despite my theoretical labelling of myself as a lexivist, I firmly believed I, in particular, had no marketable talents or skills worth paying for. And yes, I am fully aware of how absurd this sounds, but insecurity is very difficult to shake.

Last year, a friend recommended me for a freelance writing gig, which I ended up carrying out to completion. Not only was this my first ever freelance gig, it was my first time earning money specifically and exclusively through the use use of my writing and editing skills, which I’ve already been practicing for several years without being paid for it.

Fixing my rates was a remarkably stressful experience. From having worked other jobs before, I knew what a low rate was and conceived that I shouldn’t accept less than my usual minimum. But every time I thought about increasing the rate, I would panic, thinking through the description of the task I had not yet started. All I could think about was how technically simple it was, and thus I told myself repeatedly that anybody could do it; I wasn’t special. Hadn’t we all (in this case, Anglophones) learnt English grammar in school? Wouldn’t I consider it totally ridiculous if I outsourced a task like this and received the kind of price rates I was thinking of asking for? Heck, I might never even consider outsourcing a task like this; I’d be able to do it my damn self!

WorkWorthWages1

I convinced myself that my employers’ lines of thinking mirrored my own. The rate I set at the end was very low—right at my base, possibly even lower—but the rate had also been set based on how easily I thought the assignment would go and how long I thought it would take.

Surprise: it was way more intense and time-consuming than I assumed it would be. I exhausted myself thoroughly in trying to complete completing it, between academic and domestic life in an unfamiliar country. I realized what I’d done, essentially, was undersell myself.

  • Fact #1: Writing is hard.
  • Fact #2: The skill of good writing is one I possess to a reasonable degree.
  • Fact #3: The second fact in no way negates the first.
  • Fact #4: The skill of good writing is not one that every classroom-educated person automatically possesses. (Now that’s the real brain-borster.)

Number four, I found out the difficult way, in the midst of completing the assignment. As baffling, occasionally frustrating and often amusing as the experience was, I appreciate how enlightening my first freelance job was. This, more than anything, had finally helped me realize, through experience and not just through lexivist theory, that this lyrical skill that I had was indeed worth paying for. I saw properly, for the first time, how necessary professional writing/editing skills truly were, especially to professionals who are not necessarily proficient in it.

This assignment was the first to make me realize how much anti-lexivist rhetoric I had internalized, despite everything I’d been telling myself for approximately three years. Without this assignment, who knows how long I would have taken to finally dare to set foot in the professional world of writing, in recognition of it as a literary profession that I am capable of?

At the end of the day, though, that particular assignment was far more technical than creative. It’s all the work opportunities I’ve had since then that have really thrown me off-guard. The idea that I could be and have been and am being paid for my creative skills, to produce a creative work (albeit according to someone else’s guidelines) or simply to talk about creative work which I have previously put out or performed for free, has been blowing my mind, thoroughly. It feels like only over the past handful of months have I really started being a lexivist in practice instead of solely in theory—and all not even by my own efforts. Literally every single time I have earned money for a lexi-related thing, it has been by virtue of referral from others who clearly believe in my skills more than I do.

I really just want to take time to acknowledge this, and to be able to express my immense gratitude to everyone who supports me as actively as all my referrers so far have done. That’s bona fide lexivism, whether you know it or not. And, especially as a person who has difficulty recognizing my worth, putting myself out there, or promoting my work, heaven knows how much I need such help.

Now that I have, to some degree, conquered the hurdle of believing that my talents are indeed worth wages, there’s another huge obstacle course ahead of me; the summation of it all is “balance.” I have previously written on the unique, low-capacity configuration of my body and the consequent necessity of learning how to adequately care for myself as I go through daily life. To many, unfortunately, “fast” and “efficient” are synonymous in a non-negotiable way; but “slow” is currently the only style of work that honors my mind and body. I’m inclined to believe, also, that “slow” may be the style of work that adequately honors the work itself. I have no desire or intention to compromise on the creative and technical quality of work, or to dishonor the creative process an assignment demands, simply because I am being employed to create it. The tricky part, now, is figuring out how to honor my body and the work, and my employer(s). (Woefully idealist of me, as usual. I expect to get over it eventually, don’t worry. Life has a way of being uniquely rude to idealists.) As with many important things, I don’t expect it to be easy. But then I remind myself once again that I never have to navigate something difficult alone. God dey—always. ❤

-Akotowaa

About That Time I Taught A #Lexivism Class (OMG?!)

About a month ago (as you can see, I have fantastic time-keeping blogging habits) most people who take interest in my life saw my Snapchat and Instagram stories about me teaching a class on “lexivism,” a term I completely made up, which is virtually unknown outside of this blog and my personal social media accounts. Most people had the same questions:

  1. OMG! How did this happen?
  2. So cool! How did it go?

And now, I shall finally answer both.

How did this happen?

There is a program called Splash that originated at MIT about 60 years ago, or so I’m told, where high school students come in to be taught by college students. The program has since grown larger and been adopted by other higher learning institutes across America, and now the consortium of colleges I’m in has its own similar program, called Claremont Splash. The idea for Claremont Splash is for the students of the Claremont Colleges to teach any subject they are interested in, which ordinarily wouldn’t be taught in a conventional classroom setting. You get to design your own class from top to bottom, and even choose the length of the class and how many students you would like in yours. And so I heard about it from my sponsor, who’s a sophomore, who thought that such a program was really up my alley. So I signed up when the time came, and I created my lesson plan the day before I had to teach it. (It’s not like we don’t already know I’m a wizard with time and planning and stuff. *flips hair*) Shout-out to Tronomie for staying up on the phone with me until 1 a.m. Cape Town time helping me create the lesson plan last-minute. As usual.

the class
A really bad picture of the class.

How did it go?

I designed my class to be 1 hour long, and made my maximum capacity for students 10. Surprisingly enough, the class got full. I hadn’t been expecting even two people to sign up, for a class based on a term that nobody knew. My maximum capacity was so small because for one, I don’t like people very much and I don’t believe in my ability to deal with too many of them at a time; for another, an intimate class for wholesome discussion was what I was aiming for.

 

Now I’m going to actually walk you through the lesson.

Part 1: What’s In A Name?

I thought it would be a good idea to start a lexivism class off with names, because our names are probably the most useful words we know. They are our identifiers, and our placeholders among people and in society. To set it off, I began with explaining the legend of my own name.

Even I am surprised that I’ve never blogged about the meaning of my name, but now’s as good a time as any to do it, I guess.

I was named after my paternal grandmother, and when I got to high school, I realized I had never known what my name meant. So I decided to ask my grandma, and lo and behold – she didn’t know what it meant either. She referred me to her sister, who is possibly the oldest woman I know (about 95 years old) and expert on history and legends surrounding our family. She told wrote a note that my dad delivered to me in the boarding house, telling me what her cousin had told her when she was a child, about the Akoto name.

First of all, the name in all its different forms runs in the family. I got to take a look at some of our family’s historical documents, and from about 1800, I’ve seen people in the family called Akoto, Akotoa, Akotaa, Akotowa, Akotowaa, and the list goes on. My grandma and I are Akotowaa (double A). I have a cousin called Akoto and another called Akotowa (single A). It’s probably going to keep getting passed down for centuries more.

In her note, my great-aunt told me two stories. One of them was fairly practical – which is probably why I can’t remember it. (It’s not lost, though; it’s in a notebook back in Ghana. Next time I go home, I’ll look for it.) The second one was much more absurd, amusing, and that’s likely why I remember it so well.

The legend: In an ancient Akwamu village, there was a chief who had several wives, the first of which was pregnant with a child who was prophesied to be the greatest leader the Akwamu people had ever seen. One day, the chief was out and the heavily pregnant wife was walking around the palace, and she came across a plate of delicious-looking and -smelling food. Unable to resist, she ate all of it. The chief came back and was enraged that his food had been eaten. After all, he was the chief, and that was basically sacrilege. He called for a confession from the culprit but nobody came forward. His hand forced, he declared that whenever the culprit was found, they would be sentenced to death. Upon discovering that the culprit was his precious first wife, he could not take back his word, so the execution had to take place regardless. The people, however, would not stand for the savior of the nation to be taken away from them before he’d even had a chance to live – so a C-section was performed on this woman to retrieve the baby, and only after this was she killed. Because this baby had to be reached for and fetched out of the mother’s stomach directly, they called him “Akɔ tu,” as in, something like “[someone] has gone to pull [something] out”. The many factors of culture turned the name into Akoto. So, to quote verbatim from my great-aunt, Akoto means “that which was fetched or brought forth (for its anticipated value).” So I told the high school students all of this, and understandably, they were like, Whoa. (Same tho’.)

After this, I handed it over to them, and they each said their name and what it meant. Aside this being interesting and lexical, it was a great way to incorporate self-introduction into the lesson itself. See, I’m smart.

I predicted that not everybody would know what their name meant – fewer people than I expect usually do – so I had my Google page pulled up on the projector, ready for fire look-ups of name meanings. This, it turns out, was a great thing to plan for, because only one person out of the 9 who showed up had any clue what their name meant. So a few minutes were spent watching people discover the meanings of one of the most important words in their lives and watching them register how their names just might influence/have influenced their identity. That was fun.

Part 2: Who Is A Lexivist?

This is where I explained what lexivism was, as broadly as I could. Lexivism, I believe is an encompassing term that so many things can fit in, and I suspect it’s just going to get broader as time goes on.

The few definitions I gave them were:

  • “A word activist”
  • One who believes in or advocates strongly for the recognized value/significance of words.
  • An activist who operates through literary means (poetry, prose, essays, or any media that incorporates words).
  • A lover of words.

People take charge of terms and use them in interesting and creative ways. I asked them to imagine, if lexivism truly takes off in my lifetime, what could it possibly mean, say, 50 years after my death? Who really knows?

Parts 3 & 4: The Birth of Lexivism & Its Lexical Composition

Here, I said essentially the same thing I said in my blog post “#Lexivism: It’s A Movement,” but with a photo slideshow to help me tell my story! They were mostly DB27 pictures.

The summary: Once upon a time, there was a girl called Akotowaa who loved reading from a very young age. By the time she was ten years old, she got it into her mind that she was going to be a writer, and so she started writing stories. But whenever she told people she wanted to be a writer, they would shoot her down as if she’d said something offensive. They would pronounce poverty and starvation on her future and write her aspiration off as silly until she eventually began to doubt herself. But then she realized that she was African, she was Ghanaian, she came from a long lineage of lit culture, history and storytelling traditions, and had a pool of stories that were waiting to be told. She saw the irony in a nation that prided itself so much on its arts and culture constantly putting down those who aspired to use their lives and careers to exhibit it. So she decided that against all odds, she would write, and make her aspirations a reality. And, to top it off, she would be an activist on behalf of anyone who was in a situation similar to hers, who dared to aspire against society’s expectations, and as she used her art to realize her own visions, she would simultaneously use her words to advocate for these people. And this cause, she termed “lexivism.”

I explained the lexical composition of the word “lexivism,” which is also explained in the blog post I referenced earlier. Basically, the prefix “lex-” is for any word-related word. A vocabulary set is called a lexicon, one who writes a dictionary is a lexicographer et cetera. We all know what activism is.

lexivism's lexical composition

Part 5: Making Words

After that we did a fun little exercise where anyone who could think of a situation where they have once needed a word but either couldn’t find the right one or knew that it didn’t exist would tell the class, and then we would collectively work to come up with a word that meant exactly what we wanted it to mean. It’s an interesting exercise breaking the rules of language while following the rules of composition and meaning.

One girl brought up a need she once had to describe a kind of rigorous movement that no existing word could truly capture. She ended up with the word “trampede.”

Another talked about how she couldn’t find a word to describe the physical size of her cat when she was a kid. She made up a word that baffled her parents entirely, but it was so long ago that she couldn’t remember what it was.

Another person wanted a single word for what to call it when your foot fell asleep. We had a LOT of interesting suggestions for that, and we brainstormed around the word in much the same way as “lexivism” was formed: we had two categories, one for “foot” and one for “sleep,” involving all the connected words we already knew that made the parts of the word we wanted to take logical. For example, for “foot,” we had “ped” as in pedestrian, orthodpedist; for “sleep,” we had “dorm” as in dormitory and dormant/”somn” as in insomia and somnambulism. In the end, though, most people settled on the word “footingling” to describe the sensation, which was a very amusing turn of events!

the board
A Really Bad Picture of the Board

Part 6: Lexivism in Practice (Discussion)

This is the part where we talked a lot about lexivism in general, and the discussion started getting slightly political and philosophical. For one thing, after I asked, I realized that many people had come to the class because they were generally interested in activism. So we had a discussion about identity and how new words had to be created to accommodate for the broad range of identities we had now coming up, in any form. Misogynoir, womanism et cetera. We talked about the word “Chicano,” and how the need for it, as opposed to “Hispanic” or “Latino,” had only arisen from the increased migration of Hispanic people to America. The word Chicano exists to describe the American of Latinx descent. If Americans of Latinx descent did not exist in increasing numbers, there would be no need for the word.

We also spoke a bit about culture mixing, and how hybrid languages were rising – like Spanglish. Of course, I took that opportunity to bring up Twinglish and even pidgin, and the roles they play in expression and society.

Then we talked about the trials of a limited vocabulary, and someone brought up George Orwell’s 1984 “Newspeak,” which excited me because a large part of the book was focused on the subplot of the government revising the English language to decrease the vocabulary dramatically, for the reason that if people have less words to think in, they will think about things less (critically) and essentially become stupider. I’m paraphrasing, of course, but I promise you, it’s in that book, and it truly struck me when I read it because hello – it’s true. Imagine having a vocabulary so limited that not only can you not call a skyscraper and a bungalow by two different words, but you can’t explain how they’re different either because the words to define saf don’t exist.

A lot more discussion happened but I honestly can’t remember it, so you’ll have to be satisfied with what I’ve already written. LOL. (Of course, if you have cool thoughts, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.)

Part 7: Anti-Indoctrination (Conclusion)

Can Akotowaa teach a class without adding spoken word to the whole show? LOL. We closed the class with my first ever spoken word video, obviously a lexivist poem which you really should have watched by now, “Anti-Indoctrination“.

And so concluded the class.

That’s it for an introduction. It’s interesting to think about what you could do if you first of all had more than an hour, and second, the opportunity to stretch it out into a months-long course. Any ideas of what that would look like?

[After the class, this really sweet 14-year-old girl came to talk to me because she’d been so inspired by my story and the video because she was going through nearly the exact same thing with her family. This kind of thing is what makes all the stress worth it. Yes, there are people who might have a bit of fun – or be bored out of their minds, of course – with a wacky class like this, but there are some people who will walk out emotionally touched by it. And I’m glad I did that for at least one person.]

-Akotowaa

 

Both Cheeks On Board

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:

1.

“The act of doing something without motivation or care as to the quality of the object at hand. To not give a sh*t.”

2.

“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!

-Akotowaa

I made another word: “Loquivore”

And once again, I feel like its meaning is very obvious from its nature. Just like my previously-made words, it’s a fusion. Lexivist (lexical activist), ecfiosexual (ecfio- Latin word associated with creation, and sexual), and now loquivore: loqui + vore.

Definition: One who is partially dependent on intelligent conversation for stimulation. (Or something along those lines.) A trait that may be characteristic of some sapiosexuals.

Roots: “loqui” as in “talk”. i.e. loquacious, interlocutor, somniloquy (I swear this is a word, but as I write it, there’s a red squiggly line under it), soliloquy. “Vore” as in, omnivore, herbivore etc.

So, a loquivore is one who “feeds on conversations”.

The History and Necessity of its Creation

I have discovered that I am a creature who needs nourishment in at least two ways: one of these ways is physically. The other is intellectually. To understand it, try to transfer the same concept of physical hunger to intellectual hunger; you need food periodically. When you do, your body starts giving you signs. Rumbling tummy? Feelings of emptiness? And you can choose to ignore these signs, but it does get uncomfortable after a while.

In the same way, my mind can feel seriously undernourished. This results in restlessness and agitation, which have, on many occasions, frustratedly led me outside of my room to just…go and stare at the moon or walk around for a bit, when there’s no one close to talk to – as if these things can sufficiently distract me from what I truly need.

My mind feeds on (what I deem as intelligent) conversation. I suppose we can also transfer the ideas of diets and preferences to the intellect? I need it so often that sometimes I can barely function without it. And sometimes too, I just need to release – like, throw my thoughts into a pensive or something. It’s like indigestion. Or congestion.

I lie alone sometimes just…craving conversation. Oftentimes, this is when some of my fiercest Stockholm Solomania battles happen. It’s difficult to explain the relationship between my desire for solitude and my desire for interaction.

Why can’t the internet satisfy me, depending on who’s online? I don’t know. Face-to-face conversations are like heavy food. And online conversations are like snacks that take quite a while, if ever, to truly fill you up.

For something that exists, there must be a word – even if no one but me experiences this sensation. So here I am: a self-proclaimed loquivore.

-Akotowaa