How to Be the Last

A Strange Note in guumà*

Like many writers, I try to follow a few customs of exceptional writers; to listen, question, stay curious, read widely, disown false beliefs, tell the truth, show up daily, move conversations forward. This too is true for anyone with a desire to excel at their pursuit; we shadow those ahead of us to pick skills of value and observe improvable qualities, relevant to our walk in life. This shadowing is a normal, necessary, activity that has not only seen to the becoming of individuals but has revolutionized our way of life. (Because shadowing means that we also question and critique what was and build on it to design what could be. In this way, the growth of the individual translates to improved approaches for solving old problems, resulting in the collective furtherance of our species.)

 

There is, however, a new kind of following that permeates our modern culture; a new kind of shadowing where we wear the footprint of another person, melt into their shadow, and lose our individuality. It is a kind of following born by our culture of hurriedness; our societal hastiness to achieve success at an early age, to get ours, to become. Becoming is a desire for arriving at a place in one’s life, where fulfilment meets ease and gives birth to happiness. It is a desire that is shared by every human being, each to whom becoming means something different; to move up the rank in one’s social status, achieve financial comfort, meet romantic partnership, duplicate one’s genome by bearing children, or leave a mark in history through one’s work. With our culture of hastiness, though, we are postured into a new approach to becoming that demands a turning away from individuality; that we appropriate the lives of others, adorn our feet with societal metrics for success, and, rather than reflectively use these collections to define our personal values and meaning of being, move at a pace that isn’t ours.

 

To understand this new kind of following is to understand the culture of hurriedness. To understand this culture of hurriedness is to understand the fountains from which it flows. Its sources. Cultures do not arise from thin air. They are the activities of a group, formed by the beliefs of a majority of people in that group. Beliefs are formed by our degree of exposure to the external world and our interpretation of it. Cultures are both formed and maintained by accepted beliefs and our repeated participation in said culture. To understand this culture of hurriedness is to understand our relationship with its internal source, desire.

 

We each burn with a desire for something; to be respected, to stay healthy, to gain a sense of freedom, to discover the things that bring us joy, to have a rewarding future, to become. Desire keeps us alive, pulling us through the arduousness of action and helping us live through the mundaneness of doing as we roll in and out of twenty-four-hour bells. To arrive at its fruition, desire not only calls us to act, but to act by looking outward; by shadowing and collecting and refining and improving. But it is also through this shadowing that we enter the culture of hurriedness. It is when we make contact with things outside our self that desire captures the what elses and we easily exit our individuality. It is when our desire competes with that of another person, that we welcome the anxiety of not achieving success at an early age, replicate the metrics that have led to the seemingly good life of others, and accept, as truths, the endless field of information with the promises to boost [your productivity in ten days. Your intelligence quickly.] and get [happier in six seconds. Rich quick.] and of how-tos. And although we can shovel through these distractions with qualities like focus and discipline, we see how they are heightened by our exposure to a larger community, through the internet, and accelerated by the urgency of being a young achiever.

 

As such, we have been ushered into a new kind of following that is unfocused on building individuality. A new kind of following that is made bare by our modern culture of hurriedness. A new kind of following formed by our societal hastiness to achieve at an early age, our constant exposure to the pictorial happiness of others, our measurement of becoming, according to the standards of others and society. A new kind of following that pressures us to quicken the actualization of our desires, to speed up time, so much so that we render our personal story irrelevant and individuality worthless.

 

Artwork by Marcellina Akpojotor
She Was Not Dreaming by Marcellina Akpojotor

 

It is an irony that encapsulates our world: that despite living in an age where the individual is told to embrace who they are and be themselves; despite living in a society where being individually opinionated trumps consideration for another’s opinion, we lack the fortitude to truly be ourselves.

 

To be alive, now, is to always be in a hurry; to move at a pace that isn’t ours, to look outside ourselves for validation, to map our path according to that of another person and measure our lives with the societal metrics of age. But before we became living beings, before we became injected with breath and were thrown into earth, before we learned to walk and talk and absorb the cultures around us, time was. And yet we see it as a tool with which we arrive on earth; a measure we possess from birth that we must use to map our journey on this mercurial planet.

 

This is true in a sense: time does map our journey. We move through the earth, first as infants, and mature through life until we age into dust. That is time at play—it is time in communion with our cells and nature. But it is time at play with life itself; in a manner that is out of our control, a manner that differs from how we wield time as a tool for claiming power in our powerlessness; to calibrate the outcome of our hope and capture a sense of control in this life where a majority of occurrences are outside our control. We treat time as a linear element, using it to sew the pattern of our becoming, programme our destinations and earmark our milestones as we age through life.

 

Society expects it of us: that we first find our feet as toddlers, after which we must tread the path of a formal education that remains constricted in how it opens us to the world. We must then, after—and during—our passage through this system, begin to find ourselves; to learn from the lives of others; to decide the kind of person we want to be, the kind of life we want to live, what path we must take for labour. And while this finding of self ought to usher us into our own lives, we often—depending on our environment—surrender ourselves to what others before us have done, using time to measure our becoming according to theirs; to calibrate our path according to how another person has lived.

 

Although society expects that we use time to measure our becoming, life does not. Life knows that we do not own time; that despite our attempt to coordinate our lives with time, despite our use of time as a tool for order and global communion, we are but occupants of time. Time belongs to life and the life we carry belongs to the earth, to the unpredictable, to the unfathomable. We lose things on our journey from planning to becoming; a loved one dies, we get into accidents, we become physically ill, our environment changes, our country goes into crisis, something in us dies, we find new dreams. Life knows something we do not see: that hurriedness takes away clarity. It places our focus on time, rather than timing. Timing means that our place in space and time are in sync. It requires the presence of self: that we slow down and listen to our own lives. And we cannot do this if we are swooshing past our lives; ignoring the validity of our personal experiences and archiving the knowledge of where we are coming from. Life knows something we rarely consider: that countless humans have walked this earth before us and that countless will come after we are gone, each with their personal story. It knows something we forget: that time is a highly subjective unknown.

 

Artwork by Marcellina Akpojotor
Study Time by Marcellina Akpojotor

 

 


1 Question for You

Are you moving at your pace?

 

As you think through this question, here’s what you should do next: Dig through how our desire for safety can transform into selfishness. And why we seek validation. And my contemplation of nothingness

 

*guumà is the Bade word for the number, ten (which, in the context of Strange Notes, represents the month of October). Bade is a West Chadic language, which is classified under the Afro-Asiatic language family. Bade is spoken by over 300,000 people in Yobe and Jigawa States in northern Nigeria.


 

Author’s Note

Thanks for reading. 

 

With a deep passion for learning, I constantly dig through books, articles, podcasts, and YouTube channels (like Pursuit of Wonder, Jubilee, Thoughty2, Omeleto, and The Furtur), whilst pondering on unusual art pieces. 

 

Digesting the works within these instruments of information helps me connect disparate dots related to our existence, and plays a part in the personal letters I write to you every Sunday.

 

Strange Notes are texts of existential questioning. Through these Notes, I draw on the connected elements across different fields and ages of life, to ponder on things that are intricately entwined with our existence. 

 

Each Note has three elements:

  • It starts as a question within my thoughts and ends with a question for your reflection.
  • It holds art pieces created by Africans.
  • It includes 3 enriching reading materials that, together, solidify the message within a note.  

 

I publish Strange Notes on the First Sunday of every month, and as you read, I hope that this note initiates a questioning about the fabrics of existence: the things that make us who we are and the activities that define life.