You know that game 2048? Well if you don’t it’s a game played on a grid of a specific number of blocks where each number takes up a block and by combining numbers, you remove blocks as two numbers become one number which is double the original, when all blocks are filled and you can’t combine any more numbers, you’ve lost. 2 +2 =4 +4 = 8 +8 = 16 etc etc. I started playing this game whilst dating someone who is studying engineering. His way of solving it was to figure out the algorithm for the game and win in the most efficient way, never making any mistakes. This is how a lot of people do things in life: solve issues in the most efficient way. I refused to learn the algorithm and sat for weeks playing this game my own way, by making things up as I go along until I finally got the answer 2048. A lot of people said to me that it was just too hard to do it my way because they never got the answer, so they just learned the algorithm. I remember asking myself what the fun is in playing if you know you’re going to win and you even know the method by which you’re going to win. I felt stupid for quite a while that I couldn’t figure out the algorithm on my own, but I was really chuffed with myself when I finally won after working so hard and not taking the shortcuts, it’s pretty obvious what I’m going to say about life here right now, if you catch my drift.
I felt stupid a lot of the time in that relationship. It was nothing that he did or didn’t do, he actually told me often how he envied the fact that I was so much more creative than he was. It was something that I was dealing with on my own and there was honestly nothing that anyone could have said or done that would have calmed my need for self-loathing. I had passed all my subjects at the end of high school, including maths and science which I understood but hated. None of my marks were particularly brilliant and none particularly bad. I was completely lost as to what to do after school. When you’re really bad at something, you at least have an idea of what not to do, but when you’re slightly above average at everything, that’s when things become tricky. It means that you’re intelligent enough to go to varsity, and you can get into most courses, but there’s nothing telling you exactly what to do or what not to do.
Many of my friends and family were already in varsity and majority of them were studying science degrees and many of my closest friends were doing engineering including my current boyfriend. None of the science degrees that I had seen seemed to be a fit for me and it didn’t help that I had confined myself to staying in Durban, my hometown, to study because that’s where my friends and boyfriend were. I had considered leaving of course, my brother was in Cape Town so I knew I had the option, but there was nothing specific about studying in Cape Town that allured me, besides living in Cape Town, which is a fantastic place. I was so anxious about my future and it just all felt so pointless and unnecessary.
I decided to take a gap year in Durban and clear my head; a year as a waitress should speed up my decision making process. And it did. It was a year of extreme ups and extreme downs. I was still conflicted about my future and where I wanted to go and who I wanted to be. For me, it was never about what I wanted to do, but it was about who I wanted to be. During my gap year, I decided that I wouldn’t study science simply because I could get accepted to the degree and pass it, because I also knew that I would hate it. I saw a lot of people around me struggling intensely to complete their science degree with only that goal in mind, passing, and it scared me to think that I was studying for a piece of paper stating my competence and not studying to better myself and expand my life.
One of the hardest decisions I ever made was to go to Rhodes and study journalism.
I wanted to learn more about the world and about myself and how can you do that if you do the same things over and over again with the same people? That’s what went through my mind when I applied. I didn’t want to become stagnant and caught in one a place when I was so young. I knew that I would grow and develop away from him and in ways that he wouldn’t understand and that it would probably lead to the end of my relationship. But I was in desperate need of a tangible and gripping adventure. I cared so much about what people thought of me and it chewed me up inside that I couldn’t engage fully with my friends when they spoke about their work. I covered it up with a lot of big talk about how humanities subjects are hard in their own way and that I chose something because I was intelligent enough to know myself better than to study something that would destroy my desire for knowledge and growth. But in the end, I felt stupid. I felt like I wasn’t good enough and that people were constantly making excuses for me like “she’s studying humanities but she could have done a BSc” or “she’s really smart, even though she does humanities”. Through all the jokes and being made fun of, I tried to keep a smile on my face even when someone blatantly called me stupid to my face. But when I was alone I tried to figure out if I was really as smart as I thought I was. People who are you friends think that anything they say in jest will be taken as such, but after about 6 months of the same jokes I was tired of being put down to make others feel better about their “superior intellect”.
To those people I say a resounding and earth shattering “fuck you”.
I can’t change the way you think. I won’t try to convince you that a critical analysis of a novel written in a post-colonial setting that makes you analyze every part of yourself as well as the actual novel is much more difficult in my eyes than equations. I won’t try to convince you that through my studies, I have been able to interact with people and learn so much about myself, my history and my privilege whilst you complain that you’re missing lectures because of disruptions. You can deal with science, and I’ll deal with people. There can be both and neither needs to be put down. I’m not putting you down; I’m putting you in your place.
I am smart as hell, we all are, in our own ways. No need to add context or degrees or pieces of paper.