Growing up as a nerdy-ish kid
…and discovering a superpower, and how to make space
I grew up loving books. I read every chance I got. I read while walking on the road, when I did house chores and during classes in school. In my first year of secondary school, a teacher caught me reading a novel spread out between the pages of my textbook.
My mum banned me from reading during term time after that.
I didn’t stop, of course. I just got better at hiding my habit. But by the time I got to senior secondary, I discovered that my habit was not very popular. More highly prized were ability in sports (in which I was spectacularly lacking), affinity for the ladies (a matter in which I seemed to have been genetically shortchanged) and generally being cool (at which I was confident of excelling, if only someone would have supplied a manual).
My deficiency in these more highly prized pursuits was not for lack of trying. But when you only get a spot on the team because there aren’t enough people for eleven a side and the only sense in which they’re fighting over you is to have you on the other team… Let’s just say you learn your place real quick.
I continued with my reading. At least there was no judging there.
Understand, I had no high ideals about any of this. I was just doing the one thing I loved, not trying to develop any kind of muscle, literal or intellectual. But the whole thing turned out to be early practice in sticking with an unpopular interest. And I won’t lie, my response, until I was out of my teens, was to fight back by saying, “Well, at least I’m developing my mind, you idiot.” (All in my head, of course—you didn’t say stuff like that out loud when you were skinny and had lost the only fight you ever dared put up.)
But over time, I’ve learned to see it differently.
I don’t particularly enjoy parties, for instance. I love small, intimate gatherings with people I personally know and care about, but the big noisy party we love in Lagos has never been my thing. I’ve always typically avoided them (often to the consternation of my friends), and the ones I have gone to, I’ve considered mostly a necessary evil.
Lucky for me, adulthood also brought the discovery of a latent extroverted side (from my dad) that I’ve since learned to sort of turn on for such situations, and that’s been super helpful (especially with the ladies part, and to a lesser degree, the cool part, sort of—or maybe I have sycophants around me?).
But I’ve never been able to keep even that turned on too long: it takes effort, and I’m always left feeling sort of drained, like a superhero who’s been pushing their powers to its limits. If it goes on too long, I sometimes shut down and become really quiet, and other times, I get irritable.
I know lots of people, though, who thrive on the party life, and whenever (as occurs often) I’m tempted to think, What’s wrong with them? I remind myself to also think: they probably feel the exact same about the way I read.
And if I wanted them to make space for my reading, I could also learn to make space for theirs, even if they didn’t return the favour.
Still, someone has to start things, right?