Courage Born From Disobedience aka I Used To Be Afraid Of The Dark

Fears… phobias are just a few of the things we often keep close to our hearts. We don’t like to talk about them for fear others will ridicule us or worse, use the knowledge against us. Fear is a powerful thing; it’s enough to start entire revolutions – or stifle them. Fear can win wars or lose them. And yet sometimes the smallest thing can help spark the courage you need to overcome that fear. I used to be afraid of the dark. “Used to be” because I’m not anymore. In fact, anyone who knows me knows I now prefer a dark room and night time to day time. All for one simple, ridiculous reason.

From the 7th grade onwards I developed an insatiable appetite for reading. This was a localised fascination, it had to be fantasy (and largely still is) simply because of the creativity it inspired within me. *I’ll discuss how I became fond of reading in tomorrow’s post.* However high school loomed and the work grew more intense. I would no longer have the countless hours to pore though fantasy and science fiction novels the size of dictionaries day in, day out. I had to be realistic. This is what my parents told me.

“Focus on school, read the books later.”

Now I know what you’re thinking. This post is about fear of the dark, what does it have to do with reading novels and high school? Firstly let me rephrase the term “fear of the dark”. I possessed (especially in my younger years) a quite incredible imagination as often is the case with youth. All I needed was space and time to create whatever universe my whims led me to. I only fell just short of the imagination Oscar for never having had an imaginary friend. I had an imaginary army but never the one friend who would take up space at the table etc for that would have been near suicidal. It was this intense imagination coupled with the housekeeper’s fascination with horror movies, ones I had to watch with her at all costs, that made me fear the dark for a long time… yes even into my teens.

So I would sleep with the light on. “I need to read,” was the typical response. It wasn’t nearly as intense as the phobia I wrote about earlier in my blog though. So long as I was already in bed with my eyes shut, I’d have been fine. But that was rarely the case so the light stayed on… until I was told to stop reading novels at night. I had to wake up early in the morning since my bus to school left at 0630. Immediately my mind went into detective mode because the love for reading was too great to let go instantaneously, much less for something as mundane as waking up on time for school. How to beat the system? That’s what I pondered for a few hours at most. The answer finally came.

“Good night. I’m going to sleep.”

Then I would switch off my light, proof that I was actually sleeping… only to go into my  blankets, produce my latest novel from under the pillow and switch on my Nokia’s torch. This is how I read Stephenie Meyer’s ‘New Moon’ in one night. I did this often enough that the fear of the dark evaporated. I needed the dark for me to do what I loved; read. And I read. I went through 6 to 8 books a month this way. In a school of 700 students the librarian new my name and would set aside new books for me to devour. So repetitive and exciting was the new habit that even my study habits tweaked to accommodate this mindset so that even now I’m extremely productive in the hours from late evening to early morning.

And that’s it. I told my parents about it a while ago and they had a laugh. It was silly beyond belief. But one can’t deny that it got rid of an unnecessary, hindering fear… even if it may have replaced it with a less than necessary habit. The young man no longer feared the dark… he was just borderline useless early in the morning.

Hey Brother, It’s Been A While

Dear Ayanda,

Hey there. It’s been a while since we last caught up… so this might be a long message. I’m sure you won’t mind too much.

Some interesting things have happened lately, most have made me very happy and others have made me ask questions of myself – that’s a good thing, right? The standout feature of my time away is that most of my waking hours are spent at work. The hours racked up in direct proportion to the responsibility I was handed. Funny how I think it’s great that I have this responsibility, yet I used to detest it. I’m winning trust and responsibility each and every day. The joy that comes with it proves it’s something I’ve intrinsically aspired for… trust. As a result I’ve worked loads of hours, encountered so many guests; all of different voices, appearances and temperaments. I’ve had to handle certain situations that tested wit and patience. I think I may have grown in confidence and eloquence. I’m also much better at timekeeping as a result, can you believe it? The downside is that I don’t get to chat with the family as often as I’d like to. It’s not great but at the same time I understand that they’re always there for me but I must also learn to do some things on my own.

Away from work I’ve been really looking at the relationships I’ve forged over the years. I remember reading somewhere that the friends you make at this stage in life will be friends for life. This makes me glad that I still chat with my good friends from high school. I’ve also recently learned to burn certain bridges. I must say it’s not an easy or pleasant thing to do but neither is cutting a tumour and though it sounds rough some people just shouldn’t be in your life. So I’ve said some goodbyes. I hope I’ve made the right decision.

I’ve met some new people lately. One or two interesting recent graduates. Arts and Sciences. I’m not going to lie, I haven’t enjoyed a conversation as much as the one I had with them in a long time, no offence bro. They just had different ideas and points of view. We discussed the purpose of a chair and how a chair should feel when our massive buttocks gracelessly plop on top of it.

I do hope you are well. I’ll fill you in with more details soon, I promise.

Yours forever,

Joe

No

No. Such a short and simple word yet for some reason I find it very hard to say lately.

“But I say no all the time,” you say. “Why can’t you?”

Well I can. I like to think I’m very good at saying no, maybe even among the best.

Q: “Wanna go…?”

A: “No thanks.”

Q: “Wanna try?”

A: “I’m good.”

Q: “Would you like…?”

A: “I’m perfectly fine but thanks for asking.”

This is how it would go on many an occasion as I relentlessly pursued independence – individuality. Yet I eventually felt shortchanged. I’d been closing doors to opportunities, gifts and friendships because of my affinity to the word ‘no’. My friends and family felt the barrier I was putting up. I was essentially isolating myself. I had to learn to do otherwise. I had to learn to say yes, and like most things I put effort into I learned it really, really well… in this case too well.

Now we’re at the other end of the spectrum. My incessantly saying ‘yes’ has had a detrimental effect recently. It’s taken away my time and has slowly leeches part of my joy. I guess it’s time to take that back by saying what I used to say all the time when asked to do something beyond my means.

No.

Call Me Morgan Freeman

A memory just flashed across my mind accompanied by a tinge of nostalgia. Someone (I know not whom) used to call me Morgan Freeman presumably because of my voice… you know, as opposed to my looks (I’m only 21 after all). I cannot for the life of me recall who it was or when they said it but I genuinely miss the nickname for one reason or other.

Maybe I should stop watching all those “best-acting” compilations on YouTube. After all, Morgan Freeman is in a lot of those.

So… Phobia?

Phobias. They are irrational aren’t they? To this day I don’t know the causes and how it feels to have one. I guess they are only irrational from the outside and perfectly rational to the victim. Victim – yes that’s the word I have chosen, because that is how I viewed the person who revealed her phobia to me. I wish it was so of her own volition.

If you didn’t know already, I currently work in the escape game industry or whatever you want to call it. What does this mean? Well, I interact with people of all ages, backgrounds, interests etc. who have decided to spend an hour (sometimes more) escaping rooms by completing puzzles using team-work and intuition. Most people know what they are in for, whether it’s a dark cell or an asylum, you’ll be locked up until you escape. It’s normally a great experience, trust me, I check up on all my guests to see if they had a great time, but for every normal event there’s got to be an abnormal one to skew the trend. For me that occurred two nights ago.

I gave my introductory speech setting the eerie tone. It’s something I’ve worked on, honed and am even now still perfecting. At this point it’s probably too good because at the end of it I either receive nervous laughter or a mixture of puzzlement and terror. They never know whether to take it as a joke or be genuinely terrified so they end up with a good helping of both. On this particular occasion I did my routine, making sure to have equal measure of eye-contact with everyone as I usually do. I should have seen the signs then… but for some reason I didn’t. One of the ladies there made prolonged eye-contact with me. There was dread in those eyes which I mistook for humour… I know, I need to hang out with people more. We proceeded towards the cell.

I split them up then I locked them up. As soon as the door shut I knew I’d made a mistake.

“No! I can’t do this! I need to leave!” she wailed.

Haha. I’m used to the jokes at this stage. So I look up to maintain my menacing façade only to be met by a tear-eyed look of genuine terror.

“I can’t do this! He knows about this…Why?”

“He” referring to her boyfriend in the other cell. I stood there stunned. This had never happened before, not to my knowledge.

“Let me talk to her.”

There was the only voice of reason in the group of seven adults, myself included. Sense penetrated the shock and my brain finally kicked into gear. I let the man out to talk to his lady while I shut off all the magnets and effectively reset the game to let her out. It all took about 2 min. It must have felt like an eternity for the girl.

She was beyond embarrassed. They’d done this as a sort of surprise outing and had no knowledge of her claustrophobia, apparently only her boyfriend knew about it. It was a powerful thing too, as soon as the magnet activated, shutting them in, she wasn’t having it. Fear grasped her senses and squeezed every ounce of will out of her, like an anaconda fully wrapped round its prey the fear squeezed and squeezed until she couldn’t take it anymore.

So she sat out the game. I did the best I could to comfort her. She sat outside on one of our couches listening to music. Sometime later I brought her a cup of water and asked if she was ok while apologising for the fiasco. She said she was fine and reassured me letting me know I didn’t need to apologise. But I could see the damage this had caused. I’d glimpsed the looks of incredulity her unknowing “friends” had shot her. So I offered her a window by letting her know they’d progressed into a much larger room than she was currently sat in and I could let her join them now if she wished. She declined. The shame she’d acquired that night paled in comparison to the fear that harboured within: the phobia of confined space.

I Am THAT Guy

I am THAT guy. That wasn’t always the case. I used to be that guy. I started out really petty, for what reason I will never be certain. I craved success and absolutely detested failure, I still do, but my attitude towards obtaining both has changed. Young Joe would pout if he lost. He’d think about it all day and all night and would not be consoled until he either forgot or won at something else. If I’d lost in a competition then whoever would have beaten me couldn’t be my friend. At the same time though, cheating wasn’t something I would take pride in. I remember a race I took part in, in 1st grade. We were meant to race to a building touch it, then return. I remember racing to the building, turning back without touching it, taking first place for the majority of the return sprint and… I still finished 3rd. In the end it wasn’t coming 3rd that hurt – it was doing so after having cheated. I didn’t talk to the boys that beat me, that was the way I was back then.

I liked being top of the class. In 2nd grade I didn’t; I came 7th instead. Who remembers what position they came in 2nd grade? I do, isn’t that odd? Well it’s because it pained me greatly. I went to the prize-giving ceremony and felt like a big helping of poop watching my peers receive prize after prize while I was relegated to just watch and clap. I vowed to myself that I wouldn’t let that happen again. I was beyond jealous and couldn’t even bring myself to applaud the winners.

That was the old me.

After teaching from my lovely parents and role-models as well as a bit of first-hand experience, I shed that skin off. I decided to be THAT guy instead. You know THAT guy? THAT guy who celebrates your victory more than you would. THAT guy who you can always tell your success stories knowing you won’t receive resentment, just encouragement and an supermassive dose of enthusiasm. Part of the transformation was being taught to value the success of others and never to moan when someone one-ups me in anything.

Use the success of others as inspiration, as motivation. Celebrate them as you would celebrate yourself and if possible, find out how they earned that success.

So what if we went in for the same scholarship and you got it and I didn’t? So long as you don’t follow me on the way home saying, “Sorry you didn’t get it,” or “I totally smashed you!” (You probably wouldn’t do that because you’re not a certified prick) I would be glad for you. I would probably want advice on how you edged me and feedback from those that made the decision so that next time I have a greater chance at the scholarship. Of course I would be sad I didn’t win it. I’m bound to be if it’s something that I wanted but I would also be happy that you did. I will strive to congratulate and motivate, “You did fantastic! You deserve it! Keep up the good work! Hopefully next time we’ll both get scholarships.” It’s in my nature now and whether you think it’s cool or not, I’m not getting rid of it.

That’s what I’m all about. Tell me about your victory, it motivates me to pursue my own. You need a hype-man to bounce your excitement off of? I got you! I am THAT guy, I like to say probably even the best THAT guy! If you didn’t know that by now, you probably don’t know me very well.

P.S. You can be THAT guy too. It’s so much more liberating than being that guy.

Zendaya On The Tube

If you didn’t know this already I have a unique fascination for celebrities close to my age, none more so than for the young lady in the title. You should bear in mind there are only three occasions I’ve ever gone full fangirl:

  • Agueroooooooooo!
  • Messi scoring past Edwin van der Sar
  • Meeting Will Smith

I thought that would be all… unfortunately I was wrong. When I saw her on the tube my eyeballs nearly exploded out of their sockets. I’m not proud of what I did next. I went berserk I tell you. Berserk!

ZENDAYA! (In the most rural most excited Shona accent I have within me.) It’s Zendaya!

I did this while shaking the person seated next to me. Perhaps if said person were a stranger I could let it go. It wasn’t a stranger – the person won’t ever let it go. Why? Because Zendaya… wasn’t actually Zendaya. 😅 She just looked an awful lot like her. That’s what I’ve been told. Deep down though I truly wish and feel that it was her. Nah, who am I kidding.

Next time I’ll say actually say hi as opposed to the overly embarrassing behaviour I exhibited.

P.S. the events in this retelling may have been embellished for comedic effect.

How To Show Off Right

Don’t you just get so annoyed when people show off? I do. A lot actually. I grow very annoyed at the beginning – it’s both intense and internal – then I’m at peace again afterwards. I let it go after telling myself that they don’t know what they’re doing.

I do wish I was always calm and nothing ever annoyed me but show-offs do… then when I found out I was one of them (albeit unconsciously) I was shaken to the core!

“I show off?” I asked increduoulsy.

Couldn’t believe it! So I started paying closer attention to myself… eventually I started noticing when I did.

What helped pick it up was that I was blessed with people that would let me know when I was doing something wrong (only after I’d given them permission to share such opinions… that makes me sound intimidating doesn’t it? But I’m a nice guy. Believe me.)

I got the hang of knowing when this awful behaviour would happen. Turns out there was a common theme.

I would show off with things that were given to me in some shape or form.

That’s stupid isn’t it? Well I came to realise that I came with nothing into this world… so everything that I have/had was given to me by someone else. Everything I’ve achieved is through someone else’s help whether I acknowledge it or not. So I have no right! I never did. Neither does anybody else… no right at all to show off.

“But it was all me. I worked for this so I can show it off.” I hear you say it. Don’t act like you don’t. Well at the very root of it all you’re a grown zygote that originated from a male and female, then there’s even more to that equation. Time to be grateful as well as humble.

But you still want to show off your ability. We’re ambitious us humans, we have an ego. I know that… I feel you. Lucky for you there’s a right way to show off. How? Well – not showing off. I know it sounds ludicrous but stop for a second and listen to this simple instruction.

Don’t toot your own horn. (Except perhaps as a confidence booster within yourself when you really need it.)

Work as best you can to perfect your talent in whatever role you play… once you do that – someone will inevitably do the tooting for you. And trust me, they’ll do so much – MUCH better than you ever could.