Does how you're feeling really matter at all?
My mum complains about how I speak, how I refer to people my age and those younger than me. I call myself a boy, even though at 31, I have no right to that claim.
I am a man, and I’ve been a man for a while. But still, when I think of myself, the only word that comes to mind is boy. I judge myself for this. It’s part of my failure to launch, a symptom of what I consider to be my failure to adult. So when I meet those younger than me, the 27 year olds, the 25 year olds, the 21 year olds, the only word that comes to mind to describe them are boy, girl, baby, and child. I don’t mean this to be any affront on their legal adulthood.
Anyone above 18 can join the army, consent to sex without legal issue, get married, but I wonder about whether or not they’re ready for all of these things. Of course, there are those who adult when they’re 10, or 13, or 15. I understand that these things happen. Pushed by life, forced by circumstance and the constant quest for survival, some of us have no choice but to seize responsibility.
I’m a little bit different. At 31, I am no different from how I was when I was 13. I’m still unsure of myself, insecure. I’m still figuring things out. Responsibility, connection, relationships, independence… It feels like I haven’t moved at all. With all the real ramifications of being over 18, a legal adult, this feels like a failure of self, a failure to launch. Every where I look, there are those who I think have done far better than I. They, they’ve held down careers, they have plans, they have children, they have investment portfolios. I think you need all these things to work in the world, to be perceived as successful, but when I look at myself, really look at myself, all I see are the things I should have done to keep abreast, to draw level with the people I grew up with, but the fact of it is I did not do these things, the things I should have done to win.
It would be one thing if there were reasons, real reasons, why I didn’t rise to the occasion, but there aren’t. Mental illness, existential crises, doubts about self, are hardly reasons or excuses because everyone has them. For some of us, these things are insurmountable challenges that get in the way of progress, for some others, they’re trivialities in the pursuit of greatness or self realisation. My brother, who I love dearly, who I idolise lazily, says that I must not want the things I want badly enough. He says that if I wanted them, I would make the sacrifices necessary to achieve them. He says that if I wanted them badly enough I would be single minded in the pursuit of success, that the negative thoughts would come, and that I would ignore them altogether. There’s nothing to be achieved by thinking, being so caught up in analysis that you have no energy for the doing. Feelings are irrelevant. The only thing that counts is the doing. Nobody talks about how Elon Musk feels when he does what he does. Nobody asks about how Isaac Newton must have felt when he saw the apple fall and decided to come up with the theory of gravity. Nobody asks how Serena feels before every tennis match, the doubts, the nerves, the nausea, that must plague her waking moments and her nightly ones too. She’s been trying since 2017 to equal a record set by Margaret Court, 24 Grand Slam trophies, a Herculean feat.
She gave birth to her daughter, Olympia, in 2017. It was a difficult birth. I read the details of it like a bit of an idiot. I am not a woman. I have been reasonably healthy all my life. There are medical terms, health conditions that I read about, health conditions that I understand, but at the end of the day, I know very little about how they feel. My mother’s told me about the Caesarean sections she had to bring my brother, my sister and I into the world. She’s told me that they hurt, not necessarily in the moment, but certainly in the after. It is a pain I can understand but not imagine. How did she feel? What were the things that went through her mind? Was she changed forever by the trauma of it? A girl at 24 bringing a child, my older brother, into an uncertain Nigerian world in 1987. In that year, the New York Times said there was “entrepreneurial hustle amid economic depression, a fraying social fabric amid a liberalising political climate.” A girl at 27, in 1990, bringing another child into the world, going through labour in the middle of a military coup? A young woman at 32, in 1995, watching the doctors as they pulled my sister out of her womb. What was she thinking about then? Was it Abacha? The Nigerian equivalent of Voldemort?
In the years before then, there’d been coups and religious violence, and corruption. In the decade before, Nigeria had bet on oil, earning $100 billion in those 10 years. By 1987 oil prices had crashed and the country found itself $21 billion dollars in foreign debt, an urban population dependent on foreign imports and a rural population that could no longer feed the nation. How did she feel then? Can you imagine it? Her processing the state of National Affairs with the uncertainty that a new child brings? The anxiety she must have felt as postpartum hormones coursed through her veins? There’s a moment I remember after the birth of my sister. My mother was weeping, seemingly without cause. I wondered why. I assumed it must have been the joy she felt. My sister was a beautiful baby. She was one of those ones that had the mark of God’s love on her brow. It remains with her still. I know now what I didn’t know then, that tears are never just happy, and they’re never sad, they are the cathartic expulsion of all overwhelming emotions and sensations. Everything that is too much to bear finding release through tired eyes. I also know that sometimes, crying is not enough to feel better.
I wonder about Serena too. In September 2003 her sister, Yetunde Price was killed by a bullet wound to the head in Compton California. Between 2002 and 2003, Serena won 5 Grand slams out of a possible 8. She’d also won 4 of those in succession: The French Open, Wimbledon, The U.S Open, and The Australian Open. In the next two years between 2004 and 2005, she only won one, the Australian Open in 2005. And then there’s the birth of her daughter, the undeniably lovely Olympia. In the 3 years since that birth, Serena has made 4 Grand Slam Finals, and 2 Grand Slam Semi Finals. In the 3 years before her maternity leave in 2017, just after the Australian Open, she won 4 Grand Slams, she made 2 Finals and then 2 Semi Finals. We want it for her, the 24 Grand Slams, we want her to succeed, to do something no other woman has managed to do in the open era. I hear the comments about her, the pressure we exert. But are we helping, are we hurting, or do we simply not care about the woman in the middle of it all? Is it not enough that she lives? And if it isn’t why not?
The more I learn about people, the more in awe I am of them. I know of a woman who had 7 miscarriages before she had two children. I’ve heard people ask her why she didn’t have more. I’ve seen her glide around the question with wit and grace. I think of what I’d have done if I were in her shoes. Maybe I’d have survived one miscarriage without killing myself immediately, but after the second one, I’d have said, “Fuck this. Fuck you. Fuck everyone. Fuck everything! Adieu myself! This is not what I signed up for.” And that’s just one example.
I don’t know what you’ve lived through. I know that life is as generous with misfortune as it is with fortune. I know those who’ve lived longer than I have endured far more than I. I particularly applaud those we call black sheep. The one’s who’ve fucked up so terribly that whispers abound whenever they walk into any room. The one’s who’ve turned every glancing blow life has puffed at them into foundation for armour.
It was my 31st birthday recently. I hated so much that I am now so old. I hated so much that I haven’t done everything I’ve wanted to do. There are reasons, but reasons, should they stop you from achieving your desires aren’t anything but excuses. I thought about all the times I’d given into despair because of them, the lows so low that they produce a rage so severe I feel compelled to destroy myself. I thought about how much self loathing they’d produced within me, and how much time I’d spent dealing with these feelings. It occurred to me then, that life, is only supposed to be lived, regrets, failures, and successes included. In moments of weakness and in moments of strength we must play the game, even when we know we will very likely lose. I think this is the beginning of adulthood, and it doesn’t matter if I no longer think this tomorrow, or next tomorrow, or the month after that, or the year after that. All that matters is that I’m there to pick up my shit, put it in my baggage, and continue moving forward, until my physical body literally collapses from the effort of it.