The Student Life – part 4: Finding My Niche

Everyone has that one weird habit, hobby or interest that they don’t really want anyone to know about. Maybe it’s something innocent, like your 3000-card Yu-Gi-Oh collection that you told everyone you threw out but still have hidden in your cupboard; or it could be something more taboo, like the weird kind of porn you don’t want anyone to know you watch. Whatever it may be, we all have an aspect of ourselves that we keep veiled from the general public for fear of judgement or ridicule. This is the story of how I decided to share something with the guys in Wilgenhof that I had never shared before.

To know thyself is to love thyself

I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a social situation where you completely stand out – even if it’s not obvious at first that you are standing out. It could be a scenario where you’re with a group of guys, chilling, when you suddenly come to the realization that you don’t share any common interest or hobbies. I was once in a situation where I went with a friend to a get together at one of his friend’s houses, and when we were there he disappeared for about an hour with a girl, leaving me alone with these people I had just met. That was the longest hour of my life: I didn’t get any of their jokes, I knew nothing about Fifa and I was definitely not interested in any girls, and those seemed to be the only three weapons in their arsenal of conversation. I completely hated it, and let my friend know this when he returned.

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Me, in situations that demand me to be social with people I can’t stand.

Now imagine that situation, only this time not with a few guys and only for a an hour, but with 212 other guys, day in and day out. Okay, the situation in Wilgenhof wasn’t that bad that I started hating it, but it was a bit annoying. I don’t play any sport and didn’t know most of the things the guys around me were speaking about. Most of them grew up in similar backgrounds: they went to either Afrikaans or English schools but came from Afrikaans families, and they all seemed to move in the same circles. There were one or two guys that I felt more comfortable with than the rest, but I needed to find something that would allow me to sort of “break” past this invisible cultural barrier I envisioned around them. Perhaps I was the only one who felt this cultural background divide between us, or perhaps it was felt by both parties? Whatever the case, it existed for me and I wanted to get past it.

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The only bond stronger than brotherhood is the strong nuclear force holding these quarks together.

They always say that honesty is the best policy; personally, I never fully agreed with this. I mean, there are times when telling a small lie is both less troublesome and more convenient for everyone. But when you’re in a situation where you’re trying to form bonds with guys – bonds that will last a lifetime – then the best way to do this is to be completely honest, and complete honesty does not come easily.

How can you be honest to people about what your interests and pet peeves, your likes and dislikes, your dreams and fears are, when you don’t even know yourself? You need to be completely honest with yourself about who you are before you can even think about spilling the truth tea with others.

So I decided to be honest with the guys. We would chill and talk sometimes, and I would be completely honest about everything that I could: I told them what I like and what I hate, what my views on god and religion are, where I went to school and the background I come from. I spoke freely and attached no shame to my words, and they listened intently and attached no judgement to their replies. Yet there were still some things I didn’t share, some things that I had kept hidden from everyone since an early age, and it remained hidden until the first Wilgenhof Culture Evening.

Everyone loves a bit o’ culture

I remember during lunch on the days leading up to the first culture evening where the announcement that “Anyone who wants to perform is more than welcome to,” was made over and over again, and still I remained apprehensive. I had numerous Smeagol-like arguments with myself over those few days, and they went something like this:

Come on, why don’t you just share a bit? What’s the worst that could happen?

Oh, I don’t know, maybe be ridiculed? Imagine standing in front of all of those people and hearing them snicker and cover their faces – I would die of embarrassment. 

So a few them laugh, what’s the big deal?

Fuck that! I don’t want people to laugh at me. Besides, worst things could happen. I could mess up the words; I could slip and fall while walking up to the mic; I could embarrass myself in so many ways; a meteorite could crash onto earth at the exact moment I open my mouth…

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I also have this kind of conversation with myself.

You get the picture. I was trying every excuse my overly-dramatic mind could think of to not perform at the culture evening. I had been writing literature ever since I was old enough to pick up a pen and form letters with ink, and no-one had ever seen the products of my mind. I was not about to share them with a throng of people I still wasn’t completely comfortable around. I was not gonna do it, definitely not, no way in hell, ha ah…

And then it was culture evening.

I had been drinking quite a bit of wine (I think I had finished a bottle or two already) when I saw the coordinator of the event, Jean, walk past me. Without thinking, without even making a cognitive note of where my legs were taking me or what my mouth was saying, I was asking Jean if I could read a poem that night.

“Sure,” he said, smiling. I asked him if the poem wasn’t maybe a bit too sexually explicit, and he reassured me that it most definitely was not. With that, he walked away and I was left standing thinking: “What the fuck?”

There were quite a few performances, and they were all talented. I remember sitting in the crowd, thinking, “Holy shit… holy shit… holy shit.” I had never been more scared. There had been no poems performed yet, and I was terrified that I was going to completely disrupt the momentum of the evening and bore everyone to tears. Again in Smeagol-like fashion, I told myself to shut the hell up and drink more liquid courage.

And then it was my turn.

Walking up to the mic, I recall pondering if this was how goats felt when being led to the slaughterhouse? It sounds dramatic, but at that time, with my heart jumping around like a schizophrenic on ecstasy and shrooms, my head in a drunken daze, time seemed to slow. I had to actively slow my breathing and try to calm myself before making a complete fool of myself. I stood before the crowd, cigarette in one hand and poem in the other, and prepared myself to lose my cultural virginity. I looked down at the page, opened my mouth…

… and all the fear vanished. My heart rate sowed, my breathing stilled, even my hand was relatively stable. The words rolled out and I heard them as if another spake them. As I stood there, reading the words out in a voice that sounded more confident than I felt, I realized that I was actually… happy. On the last line, taking a drag of my cigarette for dramatic emphasis before breathing out the last word, I felt a strange rush of euphoria stronger than any drug I’d ever taken before. Yes, I confirmed, I was happy. I had found something I enjoyed doing. As the applause and cheering broke me out of my reverie, I realized I had found a new love in reading out my poetry for others.

I had found my niche.

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This is what I felt like when standing at that mic.

 

 

 

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