On Academia vs the “Real World”

Disclaimer: there is no “real world”, nor is academia really separate from anything else.

Academia has been my safe space for nine years. Or all my life really. School is just pre-academia, a formatting that, should your personality match, encourages you to keep going, keep learning. Home, with a Doctor of Philosophy for a father, has always been an extension of the classroom – not in an austere, live-by-the-bell sort of way (though it was at times), but in a stimulating, you-can-learn-from-everything way. Game shows are not a waste of time but an opportunity to learn and memorise more. So that has been my whole life. And now it’s over.

My fears? To no longer be stimulated. No more deadlines, no more piles of articles and secondary literature to read. No more Jstor or Project Muse, no more abstracts to learn from in under 3 minutes, no more critical theories. But I never got to make an effort with Derrida! or Barthes! and I missed the class on marxism… I’ll never be able to join those conversations now it seeems. Then there are the Shakespeare plays I never read; not enough on postcolonial studies; what about in-depth black feminism? I’ve learned a lot, but somehow it doesn’t feel enough. And so leaving that world behind… am I really ready?

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Of course I am. I’m just hiding behind the safety of what I know. Of a system I know the inner workings of – what to do to get top marks, that 3 half-days are anough for 4000 words on the American West, that bringing Beyoncé into seminar conversations sounds good, just the right amount of recherché. I can read Keats in any of the greats and vice-versa, I’ve mastered essay-writing and can teach it to others.

Now what? The real world. Where my skills, really, are irrelevant. Or rather my detailed knowledge – Selfhood in Shakespeare, Sisterhood in The Colour Purple. The real world: new codes a different system, a whole new set of rules. Will I know how to play? Can they tell I’m a novice? Will I relive the awkwardness of teenage years, when I struggled to find my place, my way of being? Just as I had finally stoppped pretending, felt legitimate in my capacitites and skills – here we go again.

Excelling, for free, with my own satisfaction at stake was fun. Now they pay me: I have to show something for it.

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On the Importance of Seeing my Peers in Positions of Power

July 2017, Montreux

*When I see Solange, I see a woman, a sister. I know how she feels in her skin, I know how she gathers her hair on the top of her head as she slips into bed at the end of a long day. When I see her backing singers, I know the laughs that rose from their throats as they dressed and got ready; I know their measured breathing as the walked out onto the stage as the lights flashed on. When she says “I have a right to be mad”, I yell “Preach”, whisper my thanks, though no one can hear. When she tells us her body is tired and she doubted herself, I hear my own voice, and know what she means.*

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This strikes me because I’ve been to gigs, listened to interviews, taken interest in artists. But I feel none of this when I see male idols on stage. I feel no such connection to the rich and famous white men who grace my screens, the pages of these papers, their faces on billboards.

Now (almost) a grown woman on the verge of real life, I realise the importance of seeing my peers in positions of power – artistic, political, academic. I live in a society dominated by people who don’t look like me. My peers never wrote the laws, their voices weren’t the ones echoing through the marble halls of power. For too long, their very being was put into question, their voices never heard.

So today, Solange and all our sisters out there stand out as true inspirations and precious examples for me. Women to look up to, to show me how far I, too, can reach. When I see them, I know I can achieve. I, too, with the power of my voice, of my words, of my love, can make waves and succeed. There is nothing keeping me from strength, pride and a firm, steady stride.

If Bey, Michelle, Serena, Gaga – women who hurt like me, cry, feel, hesitate and hope like all of us – have that power on a 25 year old, imagine how powerful their silhouettes are on the minds of our little sisters and daughters. Imagine the effect these solid and flawed women can have on the self-esteem and confidence of girls growing up. Imagine all of us realising our potential, finding our voices and pulling each-other up to the light. It’s December 2017 and the power of sisterhood is finally proving itself undeniably to the masses.

And away from global stage, in my own times of hesitation and doubt, I have found reassurance and true power closer to home. Hungover mornings, sunny lunches, cosy rainy afternoons and endless nights spent with Lindas, Lolas, Claudias, Danielas and Patricias are priceless. Watching these women excel in their fields and be their own bosses while staying honest about womanhood and all its challenges gives me strength and the belief that our time is now. And girl, are we gonna slay – all the way.

Never again: Selfish.

There are words that hurt. Selfish is a destroyer for me. And it’s taken me a long time to understand why. While I am a generous, sometimes (borderline) sacrificial person, I think this makes me strong, and so it’s not what shapes my pain at the root. It actually runs deeper and earlier.

As a child, I was denied individuality. Motions to do things for myself were swept aside, seen as signs of weakness. If I expressed a desire to sit out of a group activity, it was made clear to me that then leaving me alone was punishment, exclusion. It was proof of my selfishness that I would rather have time alone than join in. Lila, the selfish one. That is how, through instances of punishment for individual thinking, the mechanism was installed.

Since then, I have been acutely aware that my duty is to others, to the family unit. Wanting something, anything, for myself is only a weakness, punishable, to be silenced and hidden at all costs. I have therefore developed a disregard for myself, my needs and desires; as a result turning me into an efficient family/team/couple member, always putting others first. But that game ends up with me in pain, feeling repressed and unworthy. 

So now that I understand, why don’t I just move on and be an individual ? Guilt. Guilt is the answer. Guilt and fear that I’m letting others down, that I’m being selfish. For standing up for myself, for being honest, for having emotions, for expressing them. Because now, in my head, there’s always a voice, a cycle of thoughts that’s ashamed of my individuality, at the imagined cost of others’ comfort and joy.

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I’ve started a process of recovery. I’m in the early steps. Of removing that voice, acknowledging it’s not mine but a childhood fear, that I can leave it behind. I’ve started to feel how rich a person I am. How the woman I am becoming deserves her own space, her free time, to have her voice heard, to not be scared.

So when you call me selfish, or self-involved, I cringe, I hurt, and scramble to self-efface, to have my presence forgotten because the voice inside says I’ve failed at my duties again.

That’s why I sing. That’s why I ask – where’s the room for my self love? Wouldn’t I do well to put myself first? Shouldn’t you, who are by my side, celebrate that?

Selfish is a word that hurts, and I hope now you understand. You wouldn’t tell me I have too much self love, would you? 

Lila

My name is Lila. I am Lila. I am she, she is me.

I am a writer, a reader. I am a listener, and a sharer. I collect things, and want to be better. I am a learner, a lover of things, a hoper.

There is a sadness in my heart, I am Melancholy. I am the mind stuck in the past, the overthinker, the forever in love.

Sometimes I paint my nails, and then I let them chip. I wear tight dresses, or give up and let it all go. I want to seduce, but still, always, be one of the boys.

I am Lila. Play of the gods. An entity of pleasure, something of a higher nature.

I’ll tell you my story, and speak it again. Everytime, I am more me, closer to truth, somewhere on this journey.

My name is Lila, I am she, she is me.

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And now I’m 25.