So one cancelled flight-hotel-stay-still-recovering-from-an-illness-gained-when-I-returned-from-Berlin-now-sending-late-tax-returns-in-a-dusty-room-in-lagos-over-dodgy-wifi-cos-ee-didn’t-unlock-my-phone-like-i-paid-them-to-please-never-use-them-wait-where-am-i-going-with-this-ah-! later, I find myself here again:
Last year, I wrote this blog piece’s predecessor (here) through a spurt of random inspiration as I was working abroad at the time. Strangely enough, I’m writing this in the same thread of of the last one but with a bit of sombre tone. But it’s not all dark-sidey. I promise.
Once again, it’s worth noting that I don’t write blogs because I find it hard to stay on track and to be honest, too many things happen for me to sit down and write without thinking of everything. Plus, I just don’t really like speaking about myself much.
I’m very much still the freelance photographer, filmmaker, poet, etc that I was last year so this piece is coming from the perspective of someone who basically lives on the financial edge.
2016 *shivers* has been one hell of a hard year. I’d argue it was hard for many on global scale. Alongside the personal L’s we might have taken, there were the global ones: Trump, bombings, natural disasters, Aleppo, favorite celebs passing away out of nowhere, etc.
And many (rightfully so) can’t take anymore. They’re done. Slumped, beaten and not sure where to look for hope. Many of us probably don’t feel we’ve done anything worth talking about this year. Maybe you feel you didn’t reach personal targets in work, love, play: life.
Quite frankly, many aren’t sure of where or whom to turn. Even now, writing this piece in some new place away from what I know, I feel you. For real. I came into year off the back of an insanely testing one. And as a freelancer, you do the math. Taking blows and running with it. Determined to see it through. I had plans for 2016 yo. Big ones.
Then right out of nowhere, 2016 goes: here take this L. And another one. And another one, don’t ever play yo-you get the point.
I lost work, friends/family to misunderstandings and death, opportunities, gear, energy, health time and more. I still forged forward with the belief that this was all part of some great process determined to make me stronger. I believed this especially since reading this quote:
“man lives to be victim to even greater suffering”
That is to say, whatever struggle I find myself facing, this isn’t where I fail. To be victim to greater suffering, also means to be victor over each one because there’s meant to be an even greater one coming. Does that make sense? It does to me.
So yeah onwards. But still, there comes that big L (pun intended) that knocks you for six and you want to quit. For me, that came in the shape of my friend, mentor, parkour coach and brother Brian Appiah Obeng. A pillar of the international parkour community, a budding actor and overall shining example of what man had the potential to be.
His sudden passing shook us all and burying him was a kind of hell for me. But even then at the funeral, I was reminding of his mantra’s and mine. How we lived for the risks/challenges. How parkour athletes took the fails and got excited at the prospect of getting stronger to beat them and add to the progress record. We just kept it moving.
So I took stock. I seriously thought about it. And then I relaxed.
2016 was tough. Yeah, sure. But it hadn’t stopped me from living. It only served to test my resolution. It tested my direction, choices, relationships. It tested me. It broke me down to the point where I could see myself scattered and pick up pieces that made me whole without the filler.
I understood myself, my place in the world and what that meant. It brought me peace. Suddenly, I had a progress report.
All the achievements I hadn’t celebrated because I was too busy focusing on trying to best last years record, caring about the next person, aiming for monetary gain, not enjoying the crafts/process, etc. I was killing myself through the work that was supposed to give me a lease on life.
So, as I’m typing this, tired as heck in a humid country where mosquitoes are snipers on the edges of mosquito notes waiting for me to slip up, I want to ask you to do yourself and I a favour.
I want you to take a sheet of paper (or 2, 3, etc) or your iPads, phones, etc. On it, title a page:
2016 Achievements & Lessons
and write them all down.
We spend so much time watching others that we forget to blow our own horns. You never tell yourself you’re dope for getting stronger, faster, better. You never congratulate yourself for making it through the day, not burning toast, forgetting to zip your fly, get that portrait, finish that commission, getting noticed, finding love, graduating, getting your dream job, your parents understanding you, frying the best portion of plantain you’ve ever tasted in your life or even understanding how cranes are built on top of buildings without using Google (no seriously, how Sway!?)
So list them. Go crazy. Be as specific as you can when you list them.
I keep a board pinned up with items from all the dope things I’ve done, places I’ve been and stuff. It reminds me of the times I thought I was done and then something dope came along and I was proven wrong. It tells me I’m not done. I know the list will tell you the same.
And here’s a hashtag for you: #TakeStockChallenge. Use it everywhere. Heck, let’s make it go viral! You don’t have to use social media if you don’t want to. It’s for you in in the end but if possible let’s encourage yourself and others to big up the efforts you’ve all made. 2016 was a brief second of torture that you overcame and you are well on your way to being the amazing version of yourself that you were always going to be.
Oh, before I forget, let me get you started with some of the things I’ve done this year:
- gone on a UK concert tour with Brandy as official photographer
- shot The Game, Noname and Jeremih in concert
- commissioned to shoot Katy B and John Newman for VO5
- commissioned by Expedia for a location shoot
- flown in and out of the UK 7 times for work
- toured with my US poets on a UK poetry tour
- had my work premiered on Saint Heron, VSCO, WeTransfer, Metro UK, blogs, etc
- both my Goddaughters turned 1 this year
- album artwork I created on Spotify
- exhibited work with my collective SXWKS
- directed my first film and had it screened at a sold out premiere
- won gear I couldn’t afford from companies I’ve dreamt of (InCase & Fujifilm)
- owning 3 cameras (at time of writing this) instead of the one I started this year with
- met Mick Jenkins and Noname (photographed both too)
- developed stable income and acquired stable clients.
- executed personal ideas
- learnt myself anew
and the list goes on
So do yours y’all and feel good about it. The future becomes that much more appealing especially when you allow yourself to enjoy what you do and congratulate yourself. No matter what it is r what you’re going through. You’re further than where you were the last time you felt down or unaccomplished.
It’s like I say these days: the world’s been yours. So write that list and buy yourself a virgin mojito. Yes. A virgin mojito.
PS. hit me up on Twitter (@JoladeO_), Instagram (@JoladeO) or email ([email protected]) if you wanna talk or something. We all out here together.
The older I get, I see that cliches are almost too profound for their own good.
As you get older, you tend to take stock, evaluate, etc. Happens more so at the end of a year than at any other time.
So here I am taking stock.
First off, it’s worth saying I don’t write blogs only because every time I start one it goes off topic (you’ll see) and I’m not trying to post about journeys I’m still on. I don’t like talking about myself/history at all. I’d rather let my work speak for itself and let others try and guess my story but since the point I’m trying to make won’t work without some real life examples, here’s some for the purpose of this blog piece.
Anyway: taking stock.
This December I found myself being flown back to Nigeria for work. A call one early Friday morning resulted in me being on a business class flight (man liiike) two days later. For work y’all.
I’m a freelance filmmaker, photographer and poet. Check out my some of my work on Instagram: @roninsteps_ (shameless I know) as my site is being updated. This year has been one huge test especially as a freelancer when nothing is for certain and money can be at an all time low for weeks at a time (shout out to all the companies and people who don’t pay invoices on time) but I’ve been blessed to work in the countries I have been to and Nigeria was the icing on the cake because I grew up there. It’s where everything started.
Now to my point.
I live at the bottom of a hill in an estate in Ikeja, Lagos. The area is by no means classy. It is the slum-slum-slums. But I call it home when I come back.
As a kid, I’d walk up that hill early in the morning or even late at night to buy bread, grind beans and do whatever I had to do. I’d sit in darkness waiting for someone to come home. Only a kerosene lantern kept me company. That and the islamic prayer calls that went across the evening air contending with the church choir rehearsals next door and the lights from people homes in the distance.
When there was light, I’d be in front of my father’s vinyl player listening to 70/80’s classics and when there wasn’t light, I was in my room reading all the books from mine or my mother’s library or writing my stories because I’d read every book there was.
Back then, the hill was symbolic of my hopes. To be up and out. To come down was to be in hell. Surrounded by a darkness that didn’t make sense because I used to live in a country where light came at the press of a button. To be 7 yrs old and alone wondering why your mother brought you to a place where things were obviously harder. To be a man before your time because your siblings and your mother needed extra support you hated being too weak to give. To be up till 1am because your mother refused to let you sleep until you learnt your timetables in time for school.
I went to secondary boarding school (JSS1 aka Year 7 in UK) at the age of 9.
The hill became a bush I had to walk through to fetch water to bath or drink with because taps didn’t work in the showers. Rooms housing 8+ students, metal framed bunk beds that creaked, mosquito nets that had holes as big as fists, grimy toilets, and incomplete school buildings, bullies that beat you, dorm rooms that snakes and rats would come say wagwarn and spud your toes, etc.
If you weren’t fast to the food hall, you wouldn’t eat.
Where imagination was key to mental stability or in truth: freedom.
Where creativity was a contraband you smuggled under school uniforms that weren’t yours because others stole yours and walked around in them with confidence even though your name tag was evident on the front pocket.
Everyman for himself.
Where we used our food items as currency to trade for other food items or even contraband snacks we smuggled into school to literally survive. Where lockers got broken into. Where rich kids could be broke in seconds because in a dorm, real recognise real and who your father is don’t mean jack to hungry teenagers.
Fast forward to now. Been back in UK for 11 years. Hackney raised. Lost friends to street violence, almost lost my life thrice. Seen the pusher life, seen friends places get raided, etc. Living where people expected nothing of us, where your skin made you a victim or a criminal, etc.
Yeah, coming back to Nigeria made me take stock. I found that all the environments I had lived in had prepared me for the next one.
The slums got me to appreciate the little things. To get used to darkness, read more, utilise time, learn about myself, to be self efficient/sufficient.
The hills got me used to walking, relating to all, enforcing reality to prevail in everything, reminding me of my home truth.
Boarding school made me stronger & street wise, used to harsh conditions and got me to learn to adapt to my environment. It also sponsored my creativity.
All these things came together when I moved to London and ultimately wherever I go. I couldn’t get lost in street life or take things for granted.
It’s allowed me to go against the grain to pursue my ambitions. (Next blog post maybe…).
I don’t know what it means to not adapt. Where people can’t stand smudged tables in Nando’s, I used to eat on tables that couldn’t stand. In boarding school, I learnt to how use cold water to make a pack of noodles taste better than anything I’ve ever eaten in my life. Even how to use paper, bunk bed frames and Milo to make chocolate bars. Where we used slippers for table tennis bats and used planks of wood as nets for the tables we put together.
The fact is, I’ve learnt to be grateful. That all these experiences have not removed anything from me but made me more well rounded in the life experience as a functional human being.
Yes. I hated it all as a kid. Took on more than I could as kid. I had wealthy relatives. With the big TV’s, cars, air conditioned homes, etc. I hated where I was from, who I was, you name it.
Then I grew up. I saw the truth. I was raised well. Too well. I just didn’t know it then.
Stock. With so much more in my history I can’t even begin to say how grateful I am to have those records. Many people wouldn’t believe the stories. A lot of friends back in Nigeria who have never left the country say they wish they could live in the West. They wish because they don’t know.
But yeah. Stock. Look back at where you came from, look at where you are. Be grateful. Celebrate yourself.
When I go back to Nigeria, I still live in those slums, I still walk up that hill, I still sweep my house, fill up generators with petrol, turn them on, handwash my clothes, etc. I’m still me. These things don’t take away from my career or me as a human being. They add to what I am.
I’m not going to sit here and post about all my endeavours since I left Nigeria but this year alone, this kid from the slums has travelled six times on a work basis, worked with Omarion, 50 Cent, Floetry, Fabolous, Stormzy, etc. Featured on BBC, Saint Heron, VSCO, worked with brilliant collectives, companies, brands and individuals I never saw coming, run workshops for BBC employees and more. Even short-listed from an open casting to be in a film with Idris Elba. A kid from the slums. Through poetry, photography and filmmaking. Ambitions that were shunned and I pursued regardless.
I work with equipment that isn’t up to current standards because I can’t afford it. It’s never stopped me. Sometimes I borrow stuff. I’ve adapted. Walked places, barely eaten sometimes and then some. But it’s all good.
It’s all part of the process and most of all, I enjoy it.
I’m not done yet.
These things were never my goals but they add to my existence.
Take stock y’all. You have more than you think. Go easy on yourself. You’re on your way.
Celebrate yourself. You deserve it.
Then keep going.
Don’t get complacent.
Pay your dues and appreciate and celebrate the ones who gave you a shot and support. Celebrate your friends and family.
Remember: the world is yours.
Hopefully this post helps any others out there who feel they’ve not done enough. You’ll always feel like you haven’t but you have.
You don’t have to be from my background to say you’ve done much. It’s all relative in the end. Just take stock and realise you’re more than your surroundings, you’re more than what/who you think you are.
I wrote this because since coming back I’ve been approached by kids just like me and I’ve been forced to realise that many aren’t so lucky and I can’t afford to be complacent. For the sake of the ones who can’t, I will.
PS: joy is an abundance of plantain and akara. Make me some so I know it’s kosher. Share this blog too.
Get at me if you have questions or anything else, it’s a lonely world out there yo and I didn’t make it here alone: [email protected] / @JoladeO_ (Twitter)