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29, Her Version of Events,

On Shakespeare

I remember Mr Apata teaching me Literature-in-English for the first few weeks of my 5th year in secondary school. 

He made us memorise Hamlet’s soliloquy in Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet. The soliloquy is made up of thirteen lines and I have carried the first four lines with me till this day. I am sure if I reread the soliloquy, the rest with come back to me.

I liked how the soliloquy captures the play’s plot, shows Hamlet’s inner struggles and foreshadows the play’s tragic end. I remember wondering at what point in the writing process Shakespeare wrote the soliloquy. Was it at the end of writing the play or the beginning? Did it serve as a guide to how the play progressed or serve to tie the story up neatly? Or maybe it wasn’t meant to be important and it is just another part of the play he wrote that has gained significance over the years of studying it. 

That is the beauty of studying Literature: the questions it poses, the ability to take apart a body of work and rebuild it to find meaning. 

My mum taught Literature-in-English for many, many years and when I was struggling with identifying which characters said what in Shakespeare texts, I went to her for advice. She taught me a technique that her father, my grandfather, had taught her when he helped her study for exams.

You see, both my mum and my grandpa studied English Language at both undergraduate and graduate levels. I find myself wishing I had followed in their footsteps; it would make it easy to explain my love of words, my desire to create with them and study what is created with them. Maybe I will get another life to do it, but I will keep crunching numbers until then. 

Here is what my mum said to me: “Ore, it is embedded in characterisation, each character has their mannerisms that filters into how they speak and carry themselves throughout the play. Understand each character, you learn what they say.“

So I went back and studied the characters, and discussed the characters with my mum and Grandpa. It gave new life to the plays, the characters became real people with emotions and feelings, and I could predict their actions and next steps and, more importantly, identify who said what for my exams and tests. 

I haven’t read a Shakespeare text since my grandpa left and, around the same time he left, my mum stopped teaching Literature as she transitioned from working at a secondary school to lecturing at a university, and gone was my ready-made Shakespeare reading group.  

But I have had “To be or not to be“ floating in my head in the last few months, and I think it is a sign to pick up a text again. 

29, Her Version of Events,

On Reading Habits

I was not born a reader. I believe some people are born with the love of written words in their bones. One such person is my brother, Dimeji; no one taught him to read. When I was 6, and he was 5, he said to my mum one afternoon, “Mummy, I can read now…” My mum was sceptical so she went ahead to test him, giving him different materials to read. When he successfully read them to her, she was both shocked and proud. 

How I started reading isn’t what I want to share today, but I have left the paragraph in because I like how it reads. 

Enid Blyton’s St Clare’s book series is what turned me into a reader; there are nine books in the series, six written by Enid Blyton, and the last three written by Pamela Cox. The books are equal parts preteen and teenage drama, and life lessons wrapped in one. Because it is a book series, I remember the urgency that consumed me, to know what happened to each of the characters, and the wonder of how a person created this whole other world that I could easily lose myself in. 

It’s the wonder of what each book offers that keeps me reading. This wonder presents differently with each book. Some books leave you with a sense of urgency, and you find you stay up through the night to finish reading it. Others cause you to think deeply and reflect on the world we live in and you take pauses to journal or read a section over again until you find meaning in the words presented. And there are books that you struggle to get lost in, and eventually, it is worth it when you do. The final category is the books that make it to the DNFR list – ‘Did not finish reading’ list – books that are simply not for you, and this is perfectly fine. 

I find that each book has its season, and sometimes you meet a book at the wrong time, so let it sit on the shelf till you are ready. In the same vein, not all books will be fast reads; some take longer to get through and that is okay.

Maybe this is about reading habits, but I am not entirely sure; just stay with me till the end, will you?

I love to read in motion, this is why I don’t mind Lagos traffic too much once I am not driving. My favourite place to read is the London Underground, earbuds in a seat near a car exit because my brain already knows people will walk past me at every stop and I just sit and read. When I am not in a hurry, I will take the longest route home, so I have more time on the train. Sometimes I pace, book in hand, pencil in my hair to mark lines I don’t want to forget or highlight sections I want to revisit. I am not sure why I do this, maybe the desire for motion is linked to my restless mind. 

Maybe what I am trying to say is that reading looks different for everyone; how we become readers and what keeps us reading. 

I learnt my first lessons on empathy from reading. My friend Derin explained to me once that “writing involves creating characters, placing them in situations and allowing the characters interact in these situations.” Through these interactions, I learnt that only a few things are black and white and even the ‘best’ of us are capable of doing despicable things. I’ve developed an appreciation of the different situations individuals are faced with and the subsequent decisions that are made. I find that I am less judgemental and tread with caution when dealing with people. 

I am always excited when I meet someone who has read Ayobami Adebayo’s Stay with Me. I have ready questions for the person about Yejide and Akin, the protagonists in the story: questions about their reaction to the discoveries made, what they would do if they were faced with the same situation. I still wonder if Akin really loved Yejide and if his version of love is desirable

Yejide Kilanko’s Daughters who walk this path started an important conversation between my mum, sister and I. My mum was saddened by the themes in the book and she asked if she had done a good job of protecting my sister and I. We talked about the failings of our society in protecting victims of sexual abuse and how it seems the only thing we have mastered is victim shaming. 

My views and opinions are constantly challenged by the conversations that follow the completion of a story, either internal conversations with my own thoughts or external conversations with others. 

Maybe this is about the benefits of reading but who knows at this point. 

The only thing I am sure of is that I enjoy reading, talking about books and sharing stories with people. 

Quick question, when last did you pick up a book? 

29, Her Version of Events,

On Working

I recently took a work placement test that examines your personality and identifies potential challenges that might occur on the job because of your personality and how you view life and work. 

“While Oreoluwa’s high drive for achievement may have led too many successes, they may be particularly uncomfortable with potential failure. This discomfort may drive them to overwork themselves or be overly perfectionistic at times, leaving them vulnerable to burnout.”

The extract above is from my result. I read this back to my friend, and she laughed at the accuracy of the statement.

Here is the thing, I suffered burnout for the first time at the start of 2019. I was tired, my mind was foggy and I became easily irritable; these were the first symptoms I experienced. I chucked it up to stress and promised myself that I would eventually find time to rest. 

What followed quickly is something I like to call ‘energy outages’: I’d be out of breath, then my legs would give way and I would have to sit still for about 30 – 45 minutes before I’d be able to get up or do anything again. 

On my lowest day, I called my mum to pick me from work because I couldn’t will myself to get up, and there was no way I could make the drive home. She came, drove me to my Uncle Niyi’s workshop, and they both took me to the hospital. 

The doctor ordered many tests. I spent the next two days getting pricked and probed; none of the tests gave definite answers to all my symptoms. The only clear thing was that my immune system was compromised, but ‘why’ remained the mystery question. After the doctor asked questions about my lifestyle, he declared I was stressed, and stress had compromised my immune system. 

It all felt bizarre to me. My body was simply giving up on me.

The course of treatment was two weeks of bed rest, drugs I was supposed to take every day for three months. However, because I was underweight, my doses were halved, and a three-month adult dose became a six-month regime for me. 

________ 

Your body heals, treating it is easy: you feed it right, exercise and rest; it is happy and on the mend. 

But your mind is another story, and I started to question myself. If I couldn’t take care of my body, then what could I care for? I questioned purpose. I wondered how and why I became this person, ‘a perfectionist’, afraid of failure.’

I didn’t find answers to all my questions. 

By the end of 2020, I was back where I was at the start of 2019, but I’d like to pat myself on the back because I spotted the signs early. I identified that it was within my capacity to take myself out of situations that encouraged and rewarded me for overworking myself. 

I outlined the following steps for myself:

Learn to rest: I find that I can’t shut my mind off from thinking about what I should be doing either for work or a personal project. When I take time off to rest, I beat myself up because I believe I should be doing something productive instead.

Understand why I approach work the way I do: By June of 2019, I was feeling better, and I promised myself that I wouldn’t let myself go again, but I let myself down. I realised that I couldn’t figure out why I am the way I am about working. I needed someone to help me understand myself and give me healthy tools for handling work better. 

______

The result from the test showed me my approach to work is still flawed, and there is still work to be done, things to unlearn, new habits to pick up, and the journey ahead of me is a long one but one I am committed to going on it. 

So, if you made it to the end, here are two questions:

1. Have you ever suffered burnout? 

2. Does your work bring you joy?

2020, 28, Her Version of Events,

Ageing

I have arrived at my late late 20s, my next milestone age is 30 and I find myself terrified of turning the big 30.

Here is why:

I have this mental list of things I want to achieve by 30, and many of the things on my list feel out of reach and this has left me disappointed in myself. Maybe I didn’t put ‘my goals’ first or put in the required work towards achieving them but, I am left with a sense of disappointment and the intense feeling that I have run out of time to do anything truly meaningful.

I went into this deep state of reflection, reliving my actions, beating myself up for not making better decisions and not walking away sooner from certain relationships. Shout out to self-isolation which provided me with so much alone time with my thoughts. Here’s the thing, I know it is a lie and there is still a lot of life that is ahead of me, a lot of time to achieve and do so much but, I need to get my brain to believe that it isn’t all over because I will soon be 30.

In the past month, after spending so much of this year feeling doomed, I decided to try a different approach and make a list of the things I achieved in my 20s, to remind myself of my happiest moments, all the beautiful places I got to see and people I got to share it with and focus on answering the question on why I feel doomed in the first place and get to the root of why I feel like I’ve run out of time. 

I don’t have perfect answers but I kind of worked out a few things: there are things that are expected of me by my parents and society; things that have ingrained themselves so much into my subconscious, things that I am finding hard to unlearn and have gained control on my perception of time. I realise that what I should be focused on is gaining control over my life by letting God have control, allowing my story to play out how God planned it and I should quit focusing on ticking items off an imaginary list. 

I can’t say I have fully let go and embraced where I am today because it is a journey, a gradual one at that, but I don’t feel the sense of defeat anymore. I am having more happy days, I am getting out of bed and just living, which is something I forgot how to do. 

My hope for the future is for a society that constructs better, one that will not mount pressure on how I need to be, who I should be and what I should have achieved by a certain age. I want to celebrate simple things like waking up in the morning and having a cup of mango juice while watching the sunrise through my window because those simple things matter.

I am not sure that there are profound lessons to learn here but if you made it this far, thank you for reading my rant and really listening to the playlist (Never Alone) below, they are songs that give my heart hope and steer my heart toward joy. I hope they do the same for you

Never Alone

Spotify – https://open.spotify.com/playlist/637sHdgsiaysiDHCsJWSRQ?si=ZhYKpYtAS6moBV8AV1AC_A