The Artist

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Art is what we do when we’re truly alive. – Seth Godin

You finish campus. You made Google, Wikipedia and photocopied PowerPoint presentations your friend and you managed to be an honor student. Your parents threw a small soiree in your honor and family friends came in their numbers to drink to your degree. You were an esteemed adult, a learned one at that and they chanted your praises, “When other students were wasting themselves with alcohol and mindless things you were studying, unlike your peers you didn’t embarrass us.” They chirped, lined up behind you and sung and danced and prayed you get a job because a job is the crown of education in our society.

The gods of 8 to 5 hear your family friend’s prayers and you get a job in a listed company in the sixth floor of an uppity building in the heart of the city. A job that discos out of your tongue nicely. When you meet your family friends you stand tall and confidently tell them where you work. You even leave them with something small for soda. Your parents are proud, you now visit them with a paper bag of shopping and they sing your achievement to their friends because after all your achievement is their achievement, “Uyu nitwathomithirie na akigia wira.” They will say as if that’s all there is to life and being a human being.

You will buy into the insidious hubbub and you will feel a sense of comfort and safety. If you get a cold you can run to a hospital like Agha Khan because you have a hefty health insurance package. You can eat in big restaurants and take instagram-filters worth pictures. You put your feet up. You’re living society’s supercilious dream. You got good grades. You got a nice job and you can now be happy. Only you’re not. As time lapses the boulder on your shoulders seems to grow heavier. Everyday you wake up to go to work feels like walking barefoot on hot nails and when you get there you feel as if you’re fetching water with a sieve because nothing ever seems to change.

You get to work and power up your desktop, and it shrugs and coughs as if taunting you. You call IT and they punch three button and your machine drags its feet open. You go to the printer, then back to your desk, get coffee, then back to your desk again, go for lunch then come back and try to kill the afternoon and you get this eerie feeling that even a goldfish uses a bigger chunk of its brain than you’re using.

You’re lucky and sometimes your boss makes things interesting by shouting at you for an assignment you did tinpotly because your heart was not in it. In fact you leave your soul and your heart at home and the only thing you carry to work is a shell of a body, tired muscles and dropping eye-bags that can carry a week’s shopping. You don’t even work that much but you’re always exhausted. The color is seeping out of your skin and you’re losing weight because your job is eating you up but you can’t leave it. Why? What will society think, how will I be able to pay my bills, what if this dream I have of being a writer, a musician, a photographer is just that, a dream. So you slave away and in doing so you kill a bit of yourself everyday.

It starts as a small glint, then it grows into a full raging inferno. You don’t know what tipped the scale, you don’t know if it was Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers or your boss’s salvos but you find yourself drafting a resignation letter and washing your hands from your job because society can bicker but it won’t be writhing and turning with you when your soul is unsettled. It won’t be there helping you through those difficult mornings and damn sure won’t be there when you’re awash with regret. So you walk, even though you feel a little bit guilty for that woman with tremendous arms, wearing a muumuu in your graduation party who prayed her lungs out for you to get a job. You walk, knowing that things will get worse before they get better but it will be different because this time round your heart will be in it.

In his book, Icarus Deception. (Good, good book) Seth Godin talks about Icarus. After his father Daedalus fashioned his wings he warned his son not to fly too close to the sun but Icarus disobeyed and flew too close anyway. The wax on his wings melted and Icarus the beloved tumbled into the sea. The part we’re not told is that Daedalus also instructed his son not to fly too low, too close to the sea because the water would ruin the lift in his wings. So you have to remind yourself to rebel, standup, standout and make a ruckus because it’s far more dangerous to fly too low than it is to fly too high.

I was in Strathmore University last Friday for an alumni forum to talk shop about how the education there has shaped my life and I met this chap with a CPA-K. That’s a full blown certified public accountant, someone Equity’s Mwangi and Centum’s Mworia would love to pat on the back. He quit his KSH 140,000 accounting job to pursue abstract art because he felt he was flying too low and he wasn’t living his truest life. I was drinking water from a bottle and I almost sprayed it on the boardroom desk in astonishment and respect.

There was a certain air of admiration for him because inherently people knew he was living his most authentic self and people are attracted to that sort of thing. They want to know the recipe behind it but there is no formulae. There is no clear cut way to being all you’re supposed to be. The answer is not in Wikipedia or in someone else’s story, the answer is in you. That itch in your heart that never quite fades but stops smoldering when you ignore it and bury it into something safe but depressing or make up stories to convince yourself that it’s not important.

The guy told us it wasn’t easy at first. The money he had saved up fizzled off and he started liquidating small assets and soon big assets followed and in time it got down to the wire and all he was left with was his passion and I wondered if it ever got to that would I really do it? Would I step up to the plate and see it through or would I cave in? Of course, it’s trouble-free to say I would but talk is cheap.

He tells us how some people won’t look him in the eye or give him the dignity of asking his name when they’re interacting when he’s covered in paint but says it’s okay because even the artists society considers to be ‘great’ didn’t have it easy either. None of them were ordained or preapproved and if they quit because it was hard or they didn’t want to put in the good work we wouldn’t be enjoying a lot of the things we enjoy today.

You wonder what would have happened if Thomas Edison got a nice job in the sixth floor of some building, we’d probably still be using candles and camp fires. If the Wright brothers sat with their calculators in accounts instead of building the airplane all we would be flying around are kites. Art does not want you to be obedient and follow instructions it wants you to reveal yourself, be a heretic and challenge the status quo. It’s scary, but what’s the alternative, flying too low and having the water ruin the lift in your wings, sticking to norm, ignoring your itch and having your Thomas Edison and Wright brothers blessing pass you by?

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And Guys thank you. Thank you for the congratulations on my book announcement and the guys who out-rightly came out and said it’s a must buy. Thank you for the comments and the ruckus you made. You guys made me feel like some great medieval writer like Tolstoy or Shakespeare. The cover dropped yesterday, thanks to everybody who gave it a thumbs up and sent messages saying they loved it. Thank you to the critics as well, I’m sure it will grow on you with time. We’re in the editing phase and if the stars continue aligning like they are it will be dropping next week Wednesday. See you then,

Adieu!

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