Driving yourself insane can come in many forms. It could come in pretending you can’t stand someone you like. You see them and think, ‘Huh, if I was put in a closed room with that one, goodness.’ You hear them speak and your stomach flips and fills up with rainbows. You look at them and see yourself in the countryside growing old together but then when they come around you behave as if they are not in the room. You don’t even lift your head from your phone, yet your heart is racing and you are falling apart but you don’t dare say a word because in your head the sun will detonate and the world will implode.
In private you turn their social media upside down. You know what they ate for dinner thirty-six weeks ago. You know their favourite hangout joints. You’ve scrolled their timelines to the time they were in campus. ‘Heh, long hair did not look too bad on her either,’ you think while grinning. On many a cold night you turn and toss and zoom in their Whatsapp profile picture a couple of times before falling asleep and it’s no wonder that they are often in your dreams feeding you strawberries. But then you bump into each other and you pass them the same way you would a tree.
But that is not the worst kind of insanity. The worst kind is the one where you deny yourself a thing you love. You know you could be a brilliant designer, photographer or writer but you build a case against yourself. You say things like, “Everybody is doing it, I won’t be any different.” “I am not as smart or hip as that group.” “What will my twitter followers think?” “No, being small and invisible suits me.” You fight with yourself and it eats you up, slowly at first then it picks up pace and becomes rapid like rust on old metal and you hate yourself and become bitter at the world. It’s the quickest way to grow white hair.
When I was shuffling excel sheets at my first job I dreamt of being a copywriter. The thought of selling ideas for a living made me dizzy with euphoria. The hilarious bit was that I was working in the finance department of one of the biggest advertising agencies in the country yet I couldn’t sum up the courage to knock on the creative director’s door and tell him, “Look, I’m a damn good writer. No, scratch that, I’m not just good. When I pick up the pen I’m like Mozart but with words.”
I would sit at my lonely desk from nine to five and look at the big projects they were working on and my mouth would fill up with vinegar. The creatives were a floor below me. I’d frequent that floor because there was a pool-table and a bar and I secretly wanted to be close to what I loved. I would look at them in their coloured hair, eccentric clothing and charisma, and I would admire them. I don’t know what I admired more, that, or the giggling customer service girls in their tight, short skirts and high heels who used to swarm around them.
The admiration quickly faded into resentment and eventually, hate. That is what fear does to you. It not only robs you off becoming the best person you can be but it also makes you hate the people who have the gall to go for what they want. I would look at them in their coloured hair and sneakers and resent them for living the life that I wanted. A life that was so close yet so far away because of phantoms that I had built up in my head that made me hide under the bed even when there was no monster to hide from.
I almost went insane convincing myself why things wouldn’t work. “Hey, they don’t even like you.” “It’s about knowing someone.” “You don’t need another no in your life.” The saboteur went on like a raving mad man and I fell for his fodder, hook-line-and-sinker every time.
I remember there was a time I applied for a copywriting job in another advertising agency. I was called in for an interview. She looked at my credentials then looked at me the same way you would look at a cow wearing a denim jacket and red bottoms. “You work for the biggest agency in the country, why not start as a copywriter there?” I had no answer for that. I couldn’t possibly start telling her about my inner saboteur who thinks that the people there don’t like me, that it’s not about what I can do but about who I know.
I went around mad and bitter and I wasted two years beating myself up; two years that I will never get back.
Eventually I knocked on the creative director’s door. Yellow guy. You could never be able to tell whether he was happy or sad because he was always wearing the same poker face regardless of whether it was sunny or raining stilettos outside. If that was the prerequisite to being a copywriter, I was screwed. You can usually tell everything I’m feeling by looking at my face.
I was shitting bricks walking into that office. I had ripples of sweat in my palms and on my upper lip. I half-looked at his face and at his desk and told him, “Look, I think I can do really well as a copywriter here.” His poker face didn’t waver. I couldn’t tell you what he was thinking about, probably the left-over dinner he left in the fridge that morning. “Give me your email, I will send you an assignment and we will see how strong you are.” was all he said. The earth didn’t stop rotating that day. I didn’t start breathing with my earlobes but something changed. That was the first day of many that I wouldn’t hide under the bed because of an imagined monster.
PS: I know there are a lot of you who are working to be writers. I don’t feel as if the guest post model works. You have to be somewhat seasoned for your submission to be accepted. So here is what I propose. If you feel you have the writing juice in you, come up with a piece of at least a thousand words and send it to me on firstname.lastname@example.org. I will work with one budding writer a month, tell them what is working and what isn’t. Give you in a few minutes pointers that took me months and a lot of books to learn. After that we will publish the post here as a collaborative effort between you and me and hopefully, afterwards you can pay it forward to one or more budding writers and the space can grow.
Biggest litmus-test when picking someone will be their grammar. I don’t want to correct typos, punctuation and phrasing errors. I want us to work on storytelling. If this feels like you, shoot me an email. If it feels like a friend shoot them a message to shoot me an email.
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I like to think of myself as a reader who writes, a Pan-African who thinks with the tips of his fingers, but when I'm not molesting the keyboard I'm usually destroying yogurt (not Frusion) or staring into the vastness of space.