I learnt to play guitar and piano at seventeen.
“I dunno, this highlife/jazz/afrobeat thing isn’t for me. I love the power of rock chords, the singsong of distortion, the melancholy of minor sevenths, the twang of fingerpicking. I like soulful and slow, deep and sonorous, not crashing and banging. I want sheet music that moves, slides from one emotion to another, soundtracks to perfect dreams. And I want this as something to share; not as a packaged product, but as a part of myself I offer to my family, my friends, my loved ones. A birthday song, an anniversary tune, accompaniment to dinner. I want to be the heart in the small things.”
“Wait,” they said. “So, what you’re telling us is that you want to waste all this time studying music, buying expensive instruments and equipment, practicing for hours, but all you want to do is play for yourself? Don’t you know God gave you this talent? It belongs to Him! You must use that gift in the Church, give something back. And you can’t waste such a gift, you have to reap it. Make buyable music, the one that can be jammed anywhere — see what Korede Bello did with that Godwin? Yeah, that! Record some singles, get a Twitter account, buy followers, befriend OAPs, open shows, brand yourself!”
(I’m still the heart in the small things. I’m a very good heart in the small things).
In my fourth year at University, I decided I didn’t want to pursue my course after graduation.
“I dunno, I’m just going to finish up this Civil Engineering thing and move on. Don’t think I’m going to practice. It holds no awe for me, no satisfaction. It tugs at no strings in my soul. I’m better with visual design, see? I enjoy it. It does something to me and I want that.”
“Ha!” they said. “After a whole five years? Don’t give us all that talk about what you want, following your dreams, blah blah blah. Be realistic. How will you feed your children with design? You’ve spent five years already, you can’t just start afresh. What? Happiness? You’ll find happiness after the pay starts rolling in. When you take care of your family well enough and they’re happy, you’ll be happy.”
(I currently work in Visual Design. I’m happy).
I started taking writing seriously in 2013.
“Hey look, I’m serious about this writing thing, okay? I don’t know about an MFA, though; doesn’t look like there are a lot of programs out there supportive of African Crime and African Speculative. I’ll just go the way of experience, of treading fresh paths, of breaking moulds. A focused workshop here, some tailored sessions there, lots and lots of practice and rejection, failing and learning. Maybe I’d get there by forty, or sooner. Or not. The journey will be worth it, anyway.”
“So, let’s get this straight,” they said. “You want to do this, but you won’t go to University for it. Who’ll take you seriously, then? Oh, because you’ll work hard or what? Pfft. Who has that helped? And this stuff you write about spaceships and monsters and crime, what’s that about? Don’t you see who’s making the bookshops? Why can’t you write like what Chimamanda writes? Or all these people getting signed by RandomHouse and Cassava? That’s what, literary? Exactly. All these your weird and funny stories can’t get you anywhere, please.”
(I’ve published in four Pro/Semi-Pro markets since then. No MFA).
I’m unlearning the tickbox mentality.
“I’m not sure about kids. Not like I don’t like them or anything, but I want to have kids because I really want to, not because it’s a tickbox. Go to school, graduate, get a job, marry, build a family. Check, check, check. Until I’m absolutely, entirely sure I want to do something, because it makes me happy and complete, I think I’m going to hold off.”
“Haha, they laughed. “What d’you mean not sure? That’s because you’re overthinking it. You’re not even meant to think, just do. Unless you’re gay. Oh, you’re not gay? Whew! Okay, but you can’t be telling anybody these things, that’s just plain silly. What do you mean you’re serious? So you want to be an irresponsible man chasing women about in his old age? So you won’t give your mother grandchildren? She doesn’t want your sister’s own, dammit, she wants your own. What’s wrong with you? This discussion is over, please leave here.”
(The discussion is not over).
I’m learning that sometimes (most times, if you’re Nigerian), you have to be selfish.
“Don’t do it.”
“It’s not the way.”
“The way of whom?”
“The way of whom?”
“God, you’re stubborn. What will people say?”
“They’ll say what they want.”
“So you’ll bring heartbreak to your family? To your friends?”
“I love my family and friends, but it’s I who’s going to live the life. They’ll come around.”
“They won’t. They’ll ostracize you.”
“Well, if it comes to that…” *shrug*
“So you’ll give up everything to pursue your own heart’s desires, just like that? No regard for their dreams and hopes for you?”
“Dreams or expectations?”
“Does it matter?”
“Expectations, they can have, but dreams should be mine.”
“Wow. You’re so selfish.”
I’m learning to question everything.