I didn’t feel like going to the club. It was a Thursday, I was broke, and social situations were starting to feel like interrogations at a time when I needed to be alone with my thoughts. But Nairobi is Nairobi. There’s always something happening. My mind was distracted, but in a conversation with my body- they decided that going would be good for the partnerships I was trying to forge for the year. After all, I was meeting a friend, for a birthday gift they owed me. It would be rude to cancel last minute.
Getting ready. “Make-up set. Basic outfit. Do the thing with your hair that makes you look like you actually wanted to show up. Fuck. You lost *that* lip gloss so I guess…Arimi’s? That should work. Wait, mum said you have to cook the chicken. You have like two hours so you’ll get to that. Okay, you’re done. Not so bad. Now, where’s Mwenda? He’s outside? Let’s get going for that movie. Shit. Traffic – we’re going to be late, guess we don’t have to go anymore?”
I didn’t know what I was doing exactly, but I needed a drink. There are serviced apartments with a bar area nearby, thought we’d grab a cold one and scope the place while we were at it. Cider for 300 shillings? No smoking? Fuck. No smoking. I’m not even much of a smoker but considering how bad that day was, I could have used a drag. We sat there and talked about why they were playing nothing but Ed Sheeran covers. He said it was something about the ambiance of the place: secluded, cute pool area and all. Something about the music irritated me to no end.
Done with our drinks but my phone is at 44%. He wraps up an episode of Doom Patrol and offers to charge my phone for me. I agree, it’s almost 6 and I wanted to be at the club by 8.30 PM. Seems like ample time. Scroll, scroll, scroll through Twitter. It’s 7.30. My phone is at 95% by the time we leave the house. We walk to the club – it’s not very far.
And then it hit me.
I can’t remember what we were talking about. A conversation about people who make their art work for them, they maneuvered even if they eventually cracked – at least what the outside world refers to as ‘cracking’: leaving the formal education system at any point to get a breather and recalibrate your life to figure out why any of it matters – they still got to make considerable strides, probably larger than anybody at that time had ever conceived possible of them.
“But then there’s sitting in the shit and actually making it work for you. Getting out of it.”
“And since it’s a pile of shit, there’s a chance you won’t make it out.”
Shit. Mwenda’s still here.
He noticed that I’m in my thoughts. “He would understand your rant but you’ve given it so many times before. You don’t even know how to explain where it all started. Ah yes, the chicken. Blame it on the chicken. Why was Mum so mad about the chicken? You cooked it. You missed your movie but you cooked it. Because you only think about your friends? A friend you hadn’t seen in months took precedence over the chicken you were making for your family. Why, Nyaguthii?”
He knows it’s not about the fucking chicken, because you cooked it and left it on the stove for them to enjoy. But he lets me go on with my rant.
I stopped. It came like a flood and I’m glad I didn’t let it drown me before we got to the club, because I would’ve spent hours in the (very comfortable) bathroom at MUZE. Can you tell I’ve broken down there before?
It came in flashes and the thoughts and imagery were heavy enough to make me physically nauseous. The urge to die. Actually trying. Calling on my mother just a minute too late to survive. Actually surviving. Looking at the disappointment in my parents’ faces. The helpless look on my lover’s face. Dealing with the fact that it didn’t actually happen, and I have to keep on keeping on. Feeling as trapped as Jon Snow in the 8th season of Game of Thrones, like my character arc was done ages ago and they’re only keeping me alive to appease the telenovela storyboards they borrowed from.
He noticed the flood. I had to tell him what happened, but not enough to trigger him too. We’re not strangers to the demon of suicidal ideation. It knows us well. Visits us simultaneously. Makes us tea, spikes it with white rum and by the time we realize just how long we had been in its living room, weeks have passed and we have to rebuild, replenish and return to the land of the living because it chose us again. The ouroboros that has been my sadness has gobbled me up and spat me out like this for seven years now. I’ve forgotten what life looked like before it. I don’t remember because I never got the chance to see it.
It’s Gallery Night at MUZE. Janice Iche is showcasing her work. We walk in as she finishes her live installation- I know her as a visual artist but part of the exhibition included a performance piece titled “Life Excerpt”. A few friends had taped it on their Instagram stories so I got to see it, but wished I’d been there earlier. They said it was the most beautiful thing they’d ever witnessed.
There was a mattress right down the middle of the aisle, where the stage was supposed to be. She used it as her bed, propped up with one of her pieces, ‘Mutuma’s Departure’ – a piece inspired and dedicated to the memory of the late Jason Kalinga. The performance: Janice would get out of bed. Paint. Watch a film. Paint. Get back in bed. Get up. Paint. Interact with the piece. Get back in bed. She painted the words “I’m too much for most” on one side of the black canvas, and “Doing these things without support is hard” on the other.
PEOPLE JUST TAKE & TAKE.
YOUR FREEDOM IS FAKE.
I was taken by how raw these statements were. How much they resonated with how I was feeling at the time.
I’d been out of a job for about five months now. I quit my 7-7 job as I was graduating from law school and didn’t see any career progression where I was working, plus I’d landed a creative contract that would act as my parachute and give me time to explore something I’m really passionate about while continuing to give me the financial independence that I’d already established. I worked throughout school but it always felt like it was only to get me the money to fuel my creative pursuits and give me full control over it, without the fear of debt. Even so, I try to make sure that the job aligns with my personal values, in a field which I am qualified for.
The contract ended. As creative contracts go, time passed before I got word of any payment. I picked up smaller contracts to give me enough float but time caught up with me. As an adult, being broke means going back to dependence. A tip: contracts that don’t explicitly state when they’re going to make your payment are open to ambiguous interpretation. Making the contractor’s work sustainable for everyday life is a game where they constantly feel like they’re nagging for money that was promised to them. Money they could use to sustain other projects. To pay the bills, to continue doing what they love, free from the shackles of debt.
Dumping a 9-5 for creative living sans the cognizance of the issues that hamper its sustainability or establishing a cushion will char you from the inside out. Doing these things without support is hard. People do just take and take.
So how do you keep your creativity going in the midst of corporate bullshit?
Back to our night out.
Janice gave a brief speech thereafter. She talked about how the late Jason pushed her to exert herself into her art by preaching self-love. It’s always the first step: once you love yourself, once you’re comfortable with yourself, your art captures the same. For as long as I’ve known Janice, she has produced thought-provoking pieces in different art forms: music, photography, and now as a fine artist. She is always at the center of her art; she is a quintessential element of it in a way I can only compare to the late Frida Kahlo. Her experiences and the influence that others have impacted are stories she tells through her art. It’s inspiring to watch and experience fragments of her life in this way.
I believe in kismet. I didn’t want to leave the house, but if I hadn’t I wouldn’t have gotten to hear and see the things that I did. The interactions I had that night with other creatives and people navigating the creative industry in different ways was a message that I should continue to try, even when I am forced to consider otherwise. The urge to quit is always strongest when your life feels like it revolves around your bed. Don’t limit yourself to one medium of expression, either. There are too many ways to make your mark to limit yourself to just one.
Oh, and love yourself. You are important. No flowery language for that because it makes sense as it is. Do as you will with this information.
Nairobi nights, no sequels.
Sookie Murage is a dog-loving gin aficionado who spends her days conjuring concoctions with edible flowers & spends her nights as the flaneur of Kileleshwa. Sauntering about, thinking things.
Featured Image Courtesy of Royce Bett.