On Being a Digital Nomad
I’ve always taken those lame ice-breaker exercises in which teachers make students partake, too seriously. I’m 15 years old, I sit in class that was meant to be a laboratory but they didn’t even finish getting the little taps in the desk sinks right. I tell a group of my peers, with the confidence of the sort of kid who now spends most of their time alone, that “I’m [middle name] Cele. I was born elsewhere, have been in Soweto far too long and belong to the world.” Nobody laughs but we move on to the next student swiftly and I never forget that moment or the itch I’ve carried for as long as I can remember.
The itch is a nagging desire to change everything, all at one. A desire to stop phoning the people I constantly speak with; to change my name and unstitch every tangible thing from the fabric out of which I’ve woven myself. I’m 13 and I choose a subject solely because the girls I’ve known for the first two years of high school have all chosen another subject (and because I like history). I spend the rest of high school not even greeting them in the corridors. I’m still 13 and I tear my aunt’s number from a real-life diary of phone numbers. When I was really young we were very close as her parents (my father’s parents) raised me but I’m tired of always being the one to phone her. I won’t speak to her again until I’m 19. As soon as I detach people’s beauty expectations from myself and my hair, I begin cutting, burning, twisting, and leaving it alone on my head.
The year 2014 was a really difficult one for me. I left another job and barely mourned the fifth anniversary of my mother’s death. 2014 was also the year I felt impossibly heavy for myself: My heart and mind both felt too big for my life. Looking back, I’m amazed at myself for getting through it in one piece. While navigating the mental health landmine, I became obsessed with the idea of getting out — getting away. I clung to the belief that if I left where I am and moved to somewhere KwaZulu, ’d feel lighter. I clung to it like a handle on precarious Zola Budd. In my mind, I believed once I moved I’d be better. I have a personal history with wanting to get away. The heaviness itself is never restricted to time: I’ve carried it as long as I’ve understood heavy. Even though I’m past the worst that was 2014, I sometimes roll over on the bed and find those feelings between my sister and I — stretched out like a familiar lover. Think of what Lorde says, in Buzzcut Season, “I live in a hologram with you.”
While in that hologram with the heaviness and craving KwaZulu, I imagine myself in a sex and emotions relationship with a beautiful Zulu man who caresses my thighs. He teaches me about people. We go for long walks every day and I talk to him in isiZulu during sex. Or maybe I just live in a small house with a lot of trees and I spend six hours writing things for people who are paying me. I take walks alone and lie on a grass mat under one of the big trees. I imagine fruit. In this idealised life, I get to walk a lot and be silent. My mind is forced to not work too much because I have a low-key job, an income and I’d get to be on my own. Unless I choose to invite the hypothetical man mentioned above. With my anxiety, quiet and bills being paid is my ultimate dream.
But this is all just wishful thinking. I can’t afford to go into the city let alone move to another province. I have too much time, too many feeling and a bit of BIS. My internet spaces too feel too small to hold all of me so I start with my abandoned tumblr. Poems and tags and bad stories disappear. Then I go after the tweets. I use a platform that lets me search and delete but it can’t go deeper than three thousand tweets. That barely makes a dent in the 50, 000+ tweets count. The nearly-three years of documenting feels too much. I’m embarrassed of some of the things I tweeted in the beginning; I feel so narcissistic I wish to undo all the retweets. It no longer matters to me how excited I was to reach five hundred followers I want out. I want to start again. So I shut it down.
As I write this I don’t even know what I sought from my digital nomadic behaviour because I didn’t even change my handle. I always joke (to myself) that if anyone misses me and wants to find me they always can. Maybe it was a fight to be seen on a new slate — one that wasn’t influenced by 2012 tweeting habits and follow Fridays. Maybe it’s my stubborn edge and the desire to remind myself that I can always change my mind. Maybe it was a way to feel in control when everything around me seemed to be doing its best to strip me of the ability to be in charge. Maybe it was a way to silence my mind, so what if I didn’t have rent and food money? I could delete an entire archive of my early 20s (two archives in fact) and I could reinvent myself if I so chose.
Sometimes changing my Twitter/tumblr name is not enuf. Sometimes cutting off my hair at the follicles won’t do. I have to erase myself and restart.
This was originally published in 2015 on HookahxHoes when it was still a thing.