This originally appeared on misteragyeman.blogspot.com on November 24, 2014.
Thinker, tinker. Use your hands once in a while. From your cave you have eaten miles And swallowed kingdoms, have you? Have you? Tinker, thinker.
Recently it’s been whispered that my country has become a ‘failed state’. I thought about it for quite a bit and decided to fix it. Then I thought some more, about what I could do.
Results are inconclusive.
In my teens, when I first considered the poor world and its desperate need of a hero, I determined to heal them with fantasy books modelled on the ‘Eragon’ universe. Later I discovered ‘Things Fall Apart’ and started planning for life as a conscious African writer. I was young; now I’m old. Now, I’m concentrating on remembering to wash my dinner plate.
As a child, I was quite confident with my hands. I would try anything that looked interesting, armed with good intentions and nothing else. My enthusiasm was considered by Fate, and things didn’t blow up in my face as often as you’d think. But now I am old enough and aware enough of myself to admit that I haven’t done much that is tangibly useful.
I am grateful for an intuition which allows me to comfortable grasp creative concepts, but for a very long time I would just randomly strike out- in music, literature or visual art- vaguely interested to see what would happen. I had an conception of the audience or user which ranged from apathy to hostile resistance. I argued that I did things for me. It’s a valid point. Problem is, I didn’t really. I just did things. The ‘for’ didn’t enter into my calculations.
This attitude resulted, as it usually does, in very perishable products. Drawing would fade in beauty in days; the singular ridiculousness of my inventions would become apparent in very little time. It turns out, whims pass. I’m aware of this now, but I’m still not over it. It’s a deep-rooted philosophy which I have to chip at everyday. I often catch myself making things just because they are fun to make. (Or planning to make them, which is more likely.) I don’t scold myself for doing this; fun things should form a respectable percentage of any healthy life. The difference is that now, I do not try to convince myself of the thing’s usefulness. Problems are tangible, practical things. Naturally, their solutions should follow in this vein.
You may know somebody like me. Generally, when we see a functional problem, our most direct contribution to the solution is informing others of its existence. Our strong point is intuition; when we see something wrong, we know it’s wrong. Sometimes we even go further to understand why it is wrong, and how to fix it. But then we stop. As far as I can tell, this failure to move on to the actual doing isn’t conscious.
When we are small, we hate this sort of person- the sort of person I’m trying not to be. Grownups identify problems, then ask us to fix them. They see the dirty thing, and it fills them with disgust. We do not particularly mind the dirty thing, and it comes as a surprise to us when we are informed that we are expected to clean it up. This sort of thing is even more painful when some unattached grownup has a problem, and our grownups generously offer our services to fix it. And then, even more painfully, they modestly dismiss the gratitude offered to them. It is hard on children.
But then children grow, and forget these clear distinctions between doing and talk. In my time I have produced many fine rants about the government. Did these wonderful essays offer solutions? The fact is, when you’re writing that particularly pithy analogy, that paragraph of dripping sarcasm about the Honourable Minister, you feel it’s as useful as actual electric power. True,If they could somehow connect our brightest satirists to the grid, I have no doubt that we’d be fine.
We aren’t though. Living on the internet as I do, I see more commentators than actual doers. For every positive story of a real change made, there are 1.7 musings on whether Ghana is worth loving. There is no such thing as Ghana. There is family and friends who give us love, and miles of cable which run our self-publishing operations, and carpenters and farmers and those extraordinary people who deal with our rubbish. As an artist and a marketer, I can only inspire and enable these people to do what they do. Inspiration is a very good thing. But it lacks nutrients.
There’s a fan keeping the flies off of me now. It wasn’t working before, and I sweated and itched in silence. Then out of desperation, I plugged it in, and noticed that I could still hear the motor purring. Fired with a ridiculous idea, I pressed the motor and the front… fan cage thing together- and the blades began to turn. I can’t tell you how proud I feel right now. I am just waiting for my friends to come in and see me, enjoying the fruit of five seconds’ labour. I wonder how I’d feel if I’d actually built the thing, as technical school guys apparently do. My best friend planted beans after we finished in JSS. I laughed at him. Mostly because beans are just funny, of course.
But also, I thought it was silly of him to waste time playing with dirt when we could be learning code or something. Problem is, until we transcend our carbon-based biology as a species, beans will remain more useful than Java. But I’m not talking about that. I’m musing about the perceptions. Our technical schools lack funding. People who admit to doing Vocational Skills get used to the awkward pauses. This won’t be fixed by increasing funding for science labs. I wonder if I will ever have the need to make my own salt from prepared solutions of dilute HCl and NaOH. It’s not entrepreneurship either; at least not entirely. There’s a lot of entrepreneurs now in Ghana, but mostly in the service industry, where creativity most matters. The service industry creates wealth and value in ways which are hard to distinguish from textbook economic bubbles. It’s only sustainable when founded on a good strong base of makers of food and machines and such. You need people who can take raw materials and make them helpful. (‘Helpful’ is working gear, as opposed to couture.) Also I hear there’s an impending shortage of plumbers. Plumbers aren’t typical makers, but we do need them really badly.
You may notice I haven’t actually given any tangible solution. Possibly you’ve read all this with a slight sneer, waiting to see how I sum up. Of course this stuff isn’t new, you say. Where’s the magic fix to back up the speculations and the philosophy? As usual, I don’t have the answer. I am just starting the conversation.
That’s all I know how to do.