This originally appeared on misteragyeman.blogspot.com on January 23, 2015.
Pixels are atoms of colour.
It’s always distressing when I have to do image manipulation. When you zoom in on that crisply defined outline, suddenly the skirt begins to melt into grass, and the masking tool becomes a measure of your failing sanity. The changing of the calendar year evokes the same reaction in me. I mix up the numbers until 2008 seems like anything between 2 and 10 years away. Beyond this organic Y2K glitch, I fail to see how the year is ‘new’. It was harmattan yesterday; alligator skin still present today. Some people forgive debts and grudges on this day, which is especially impressive when you consider that they did it just because the earth drew an oval around the sun. Most of us are less generous; we just shoot some harmless explosives and bestow harmless hugs and kisses, and begin intimidating the green new year with targets and deadlines that its many predecessors couldn’t achieve. Then we go back to sleep on January 1, and dozens of other cultures get to pick their day to have a party. The Islamic calendar has around 354 days, so within 2008, they had two.
I know I sound like the Scrooge of New Year. I was. Now I don’t mind even the noise pollution as much as I used to. Also, the hugs and kisses are actually quite nice. And I enjoy coming up with original resolutions for the year. Two years ago, I resolved to expand the surface area of my goatee by at least five millimetres. My word was my bond.
But behind all the hipster cynicism, I recognize the new year is as good a time as any to reflect on the previous year. As you step back from the dots, they gradually come together into a sensible picture. So what did I gain last year? What did I lose?
I lost illusions. Generally, I’ve lived a sheltered life. There are parts of my community that I only explored a year or two ago. Accra used to be an adventure for me, a magical wilderness into which my supportive family would venture to find me clothes and supplies. Any time I got to go, the excitement spoiled my sleep. This year I began working and studying in this wonderful land. Now I know its ditches and traffic and questionable food, and I can monitor troski routes like a pro. (I got so good at sleeping in buses, I woke up one time in Ashaiman. Good times.) Of course, the job changed me in other ways too. I got to earn actual money, which wasn’t something I knew I was capable of doing. Also, I got to see the innards of the industry, this monster I dream of taming. It chafed to see my efforts going to support companies who have failed me as a consumer, especially because all that campaign money would be appreciated in actual product development. It didn’t have much to show me, but it was a useful experience.
I have gained humility as a result of these experiences. My improved perspective has complicated life, in ways. I’m beginning to understand that there are people I love who I can’t really respect, which is confusing and heartbreaking because I need the heroes. But most of the perspective has come to define my place in the world, and I find it perversely comforting to see how small that place is. As you feel your mind growing, it is useful to think how many other purring skulls there are around you, and how much farther along they might be in the process. I’m also learning to use advice and examples from unexpected sources, which is good.
I have lost ambition. I’ve always been inconsistent at work, but I used to have a clear direction. The world was going to scream manically at me, beg for autographs, and give me money. This mentality was slapped out of me, because a child’s scheming face is an irresistible temptation. Gradually I learned that life wasn’t that simple, and that there are lots of hardworking people who never get what’s due. More recently I have discovered that the world may indeed be willing to deafen and objectify me and make me rich, but I have no motivation to do the work. It turns out there isn’t enough money in the world for 10,000 Bill Gates. Or room for 10 Biebers, for that matter; fame means less today because of the people who you’ll share it with. Perhaps when the world is brave enough that artists get paid more for respecting us than insulting our intelligence, I’ll look into it again. I do have a really nice autograph, and my cheekbones were made for paparazzi shades.
In the place of ambition I have gained a modest burden to be useful. I still struggle with laziness, but I am now aware that it takes hard work to keep the world right-side-up. My will may be weak, but I’ve discovered what I’m capable of when I have somebody to shout at me. Next step: being useful before someone shouts at me. Making progress. Also, I’m learning where the good people are hiding. If I can’t help anything by myself, I know I can help someone who will.
I have also lost time. It seems almost pretentious to speak of wasted years at my age, but I have actually lost time. I’ve wasted time I could have spent learning, or working and being useful. I discovered quite scientifically that I was not a genius, but nobody else knew this. I didn’t have to go and show them. I also lost time being unhappy about things when it was in my power to change them, or adapt. I wasted time building walls I didn’t need. Even worse, I may have hurt my body. I have operated from an unconscious assumption that I wouldn’t be around too long, for reasons I’m afraid to inquire into. After a decade of the neglect this attitude brought, my body’s feedback system went all passive-aggressive on me. Now it’s waking up, and I’m very uncomfortable. I’m unused to hunger or tiredness or pain, but I regularly put myself in situations that bring these on, and now my body kindly passes the message on. I have hunger pangs and aching limbs and hurting eyes, and a dread of middle age.
But with age comes experience. (Sorry, but this sentence is a legal requirement for adulthood.) Finally I can laugh when somebody is labelled ‘anally retentive’; now I get the joke. I eat regularly, and sleep when sane people do- most of the time. And I seem to have learned to smile somewhere along the way. It is a weird smile, suggestive of cynicism and/or douchebaggery, which is as much a surprise to me as anybody else- still, baby steps. Also, I’ve tried things that most people will never have a chance to, which will hopefully serve me well in the practical, humdrum world.
And that’s my year. We say ‘where there’s life, there’s hope’. This is questionable; life isn’t a promise, it’s a victory. Last year, most of us lost people; some are gone for good. Even when we do need to let go, the loss hurts. I wish I could keep everybody and everything, but the grip grows weak. Words come and get in the way, and troubles, and sickness. I’m grateful that I made new friends. I am grateful that 2014 was all about personal struggles, because there are much heavier burdens that some have to carry. And I am very grateful for those who have carried burdens for me. Hopefully this year I can do the same for somebody.