On Makeup, Mirrors and Filters

I love watching people. It’s incredibly fascinating to observe folks in their natural habitat. 

The randomness of it all. The predictability. The way social interactions evolve from mundane everyday niceties into intense emotional outbursts. 

I’ve witnessed people run over by vehicles, scuffles that resulted in broken bottles, lots of blood and a lot of wounds. 

Watch long enough and you’ll witness the dynamics of a riot, as a sea of bodies and voices jumble together in outrage. 

Ah, my favorite is watching relationships end and new ones begin right before your very eyes. See the guy smile and talk animatedly even as he tries to convince the lady of whatever it is he wants her to believe. 

The daily grind of a 9 to 5 makes people watching a luxury but I was recently able to rediscover the thrill of it. 

Between June and July, I took a pretty intense round trip to 5 states in Nigeria – Abia, Imo, Delta, Ogun and Ondo. 

I found myself watching people a lot on my trip. It was a relief because: 

  • I spend way too much time on my phone 
  • This was my first time seeing Nigerians from other tribes living in their natural habitat (the female bike riders in the East were a major highlight cos there were surprisingly many of them). 

People watching is pretty helpful for me. It helps me understand people. Something I don’t say often is I’m a bit of a dunce when it comes to emotional intelligence. More often than I care to admit, I usually say the right thing in the wrong way, and this can often cause more friction than I wish with people I care about. 

People watching provides a vast catalogue of situations and possible ways to talk to people. 

People watching can also be occasionally boring, so you make up backstories. Facial expressions, what they’re doing, and the way they walk or sit, clothes they’re wearing, the jewelry they have on, and even the state of their shoes are all raw materials for backstory. 

Well, during my travels, I met and interviewed a lady who wore a LOT of makeup. I’m not talking about just the regular touch up etc. I mean, heavy duty, massive face altering territory here. It’s fascinating because I began to wonder, what is she hiding? A scar maybe?

Or maybe she just wants to feel good about herself. Or perhaps she’s just tired of feeling undesirable and wants to be admired. Every damn time. 

Who knows?

But then, my thoughts drifted home. And I began to think about human beings in general. How we wear masks. How we are one thing underneath but we never really get the chance to come face to face with that version of ourselves. 

Mirrors. 

Look in the mirror, is that all they see? Is that good enough?

Social media has made authenticity a bit more complicated. Everyone is in everyone’s face about their views so it’s hard to decipher where your own thoughts begin and where others’ end. But even without Facebook, twitter and co. we’ve always been lying to ourselves. 

We’re our own best PR machines.

We have an internal narrative we carry around that colors everything about our lives – our self esteem, our goals, the kind of love we desire, the kinds we permit ourselves to receive, or give. 

But we’re flawed. 

We regularly overestimate our flaws. 

Someone says (offhandedly) that you’ve added weight and suddenly, you believe your waist is too wide, you’re unattractive and need to get on a diet, pronto. 

Someone made a joke about your nose and now, you’ve started googling the plastic surgeons in your area. 

Our self image is so fragile, all it takes is a jab and we come tumbling down.

Truth is, we rarely see ourselves the right way; mostly the way the world sees us. 

Makeup.

Thank God for makeup! 

Remember that PR agent I mentioned earlier, he lives for makeup.  And not just the cosmetic kind. 

If it’s a flaw the world around us has identified, he’ll cook up a makeshift fix for it.

A receding hairline? Try hair growth creams or a toupee. 

Someone called you fat? We cant have that so get on a keto diet please. Or a new girdle. 

Your ex girlfriend thinks you’re a broke ass? Nah, spend your savings on new garbs and bling and show her who’s boss. 

We’re professional makeup artists. 

Even our personalities are cosmetic. 

We want to appear more interesting, more open minded, more intelligent. 

So we alter ourselves. We feel we’re selling out so we tag it personal branding. 

Eventually, you realise you don’t even recognise the stranger staring back at you in the mirror. But hey, at least you have retweets and likes to keep you cozy at night. 

Filters.

Instagram may have made amateur photo editing a culture, but we’ve been adding filters to our personalities all our lives. 

No matter who you are, everything and everyone is trying to exert influence on you. 

And so we need filters. A discerning eye to keep us from embracing every thing the world throws at us. The one that sifts through opinions and fights to resist toxic ones. To keep me as me. And you as you. 

One of the best filters I’ve found are friends.

We subconsciously defer to them for opinions. The right compliment from a long time pal can change behaviors overnight. A strong rebuke by a mentor can kill bad decisions in 2 seconds. 

Eventually you realise that you only needed makeup because you were using wrong mirrors all along.

Maybe we should invest more in deliberate, healthy friendships.

That may be the best “touch-up” any of us could ever hope for. 

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Dealing with Insecurities

Insecurities.

We all have them.

From the day Adam discovered his ass was bare and ran into the bush to become an emergency tailor, we’ve all relentlessly tried to cover up our inadequacies.

Whether it is a superiority/inferiority complex, impostor syndrome, outsider syndrome, fear (in all its spectrums) or a cocktail of all of them, we all carry our unique brand of insecurity.

Some of us are privileged to know the insecurities ailing us.

We know it, but we’re helpless to fix it. There’s something broken inside us, and we’ll be damned if anyone finds out about it. So we’ll try hard to overcompensate.

For others, they’re oblivious of the inadequacy plaguing them.

Ignorance may be bliss for these folks but not for the rest of us who are their friends and family – we see their insecurities, and we’re left trying to manoeuvre our way around them on eggshells. This gets exhausting pretty quick (mainly because we have our own insecurities to manage, dammit!).

At the root of all our insecurity problems is the question, what will people think when they find out this about me? The answers we give to ourselves informs our actions.

This is why we hide. This is why we put on a show. This is why we wear masks.

So yeah, I have insecurities.

It seems I’ve acquired even more in adulthood than I did in my prior years.

I won’t say I’m an expert on dealing with them (even though there’s a case to be made concerning the fact that you’re probably the best expert on your personal brand of insecurity).

They say you bear these insecurities till you’re old and grey. If you’re lucky, you’ll start figuring it out when you’re closer to the grave. I’ve met a lot of elderly people who obviously don’t care what people think about them anymore. I guess there’s something about imminent death that makes people say, “Screw it! No time for bullshit.”

We all have to figure out what will make us say, “Screw it! No time for bullshit” before we’re old and grey.

That would be a great lifehack.

How I learned not to overwork (the hard way)

Time to ‘fess up.

I’ve been running on autopilot for a while, working my ass off, sleeping little and eating like a junkie.

Working for 3 different startups eventually takes a toll on you, even if you’re Ibukun Taiwo (good genes be damned).

And so, on Wednesday night, my body called for a strike effective immediately. Headaches turned to fever, turned to vomiting, turned to loss of appetite. I practically did not want to be in my body and my body showed me the feeling was mutual.

Everything job-related took a halt. And I burdened my innocent family with nursing me back to health. Honestly, I just wanted to get better so I could get back to working. But God had other plans.

Relegated to a bed all day for 3 days,  I got the chance to “think about my life”. And I obviously wasn’t heading the way I wanted. My addiction to work wasn’t doing wonders for my health obviously, nor for my relationships especially with God. So right there on the bed, I started making adjustments, canceling appointments, engagements etc. Found the time to connect with a few people over the weekend, went for a retreat, taught a bible study.

I’m grateful for pitstops like these, even though it doesn’t have to be something life threatening to get you to pause.

Work can be invigorating and empowering but ultimately it rings hollow. Even if it is something you “love to do”.

Next time, when you need to channel some energy into something, don’t let work be your first refuge.

The death of conversation; long live social media

social-media-connecting-the-world

Okay, I just had the longest week of my life, and I’m poofed. Need to lie down but then I’m depressed. And when I’m depressed, I write.

Why am I depressed? Well two things actually. The first is a pet peeve, the other is the motherlode.

I just spent the whole of today in the midst of people; talking to them, collaborating on projects together and meeting some new colleagues. I had a swell time, honest, but it left me drained. My personality means I’m more of a, “moments of solitude punctuated with brief spells of interaction with others” kind of person. But today, the script was totally yanked from under me. I had no time whatsoever alone with my thoughts.

I landed on my feet though. And I was in a nice mood all through. But now I’m feeling very, very drained. That’s the peeve.

Two and this is where the real issue is; What ever happened to conversation? You know, the kind that happens between people face to face? Nowadays, people rarely have conversations. They have competitions. One liners and comeback competitions. It’s almost like everyone’s trying to outwit, outsmart and outshine the other.

Who’s the most cynical? Who’s the most sarcastic? Who’s read up more? Maybe because the internet is near ubiquitous, everyone is expected to know something about everything, hence we have people unwilling to admit, “I don’t know.”

It’s a performance and I’m sick of it.

I’ve been feeling like this for a while but when I began working remotely from home, I wasn’t as exposed to what I’ll call Performance Culture as much. So, it was kinda in the background of my mind. But today, being in the midst of so many people, and for so long, I was really dying to connect with someone, anyone. There was none. I couldn’t help feeling isolated.

It’s like the rush hour switch is flipped on perpetually in our heads. No one has time for genuine conversation anymore.

Okay, this is starting to become a rant which is the last thing it’s meant to be. Let’s try to wrap this up.

It’s telling that our already short attention spans are getting even shorter. Twitter, Facebook and (insert whatever social network) have aggravated the situation. There’s a lot of activity and messaging going on there, but that’s not really conversation. To be honest, what we do on social media, for the most part, is marketing.

We present the best part of ourselves, trying to cover up the blemishes or at least, direct attention away from our flaws. This may be good for brands, but for people? Actual human beings with souls? Come on. I’m finding it harder each day to find those who are willing to be genuine and upfront about themselves while including their weaknesses, their doubts, fears, failures, and “worst” of all, their ignorance.

No one, is willing to be ignorant anymore. But I think ignorance is where we all begin. Just reading up on a wiki about a subject or listening to a podcaster talk about it doesn’t change your ignorance. I believe the only true way to knowledge is via interaction.

[Seriously looking for a way to end this post…]

I remember when I was in the University, I had lots of friends in Computer Science. They had this ritual whereby they would sit after class and have roundtable discussions. All the questions they were too scared or confused to ask in the lecture hall, they would ask at that table. And then people would share their thoughts. What impressed on me the most, and hasn’t left me since, is that the ignorance of a lot of people was a huge contributor to the flow of the discussions. People would interject discussions to ask questions and it would expand the scope of the discussion. Everyone was eager to learn and also to teach, if required. A lot of those guys today are currently running startups in Lagos that have gained much traction. Both the then-ignorant and the knowledgable.

Sadly, that’s a practise that is going extinct.

My last thoughts about this tonight hovers around something the Editor in Chief of Time Magazine wrote. There’s no way to say it better than she did so I’m just going to quote her,

And so, many conversations are fast, furious, [and] in binary form—Israel or Palestine? Hillary or Bernie? Taylor or Nicki? When so many sound so certain about so much, there is little left to talk about, no interest, no appetite, just attitude.

True conversation, the analog kind, face to face, ideally around a table, over food and drink, is perhaps the least efficient form of communication. It requires the patience to listen and the courage to learn, to be surprised, to arrive at a conclusion you’d never have foreseen when you set out from your home harbors. And it is fueled by the kind of questions you wouldn’t normally think to ask.

Amen to that.

As for me, I’m going to sleep with the hope that tomorrow, or the day after, or the day after that, there’ll still be people willing to have true conversations. And God will bring them my way.

Why Do You Write? The One Question Every Writer Needs to Answer

It doesn’t matter how many days or weeks (hopefully not months) it takes for you to search deeply and discover the real reason; If you consider yourself a writer of sorts (journalist, poet, novelist, or even satirist), you should have a tangible and truthful response to this question.

Mind you, this reason is for you, there’s no exam where your answers are going to be scrutinized. And I guess that’s a very comforting thought. Since there’s no right or wrong answer, you can answer truthfully. Brutal honesty is what it’s all about.

Answering this question for myself did wonders for my psyche – my motivation levels, my self worth and confidence. So i might be onto something here.

How did I get here? Well, let me start from the beginning.

I had quite a few deadlines this month, which I met . I also submitted my entry for a competition (which I’m confident I’m gonna win). The story didn’t all out suck (thank God), even though it didn’t start out that way.

When I first got the idea for the short story, I started out thinking, “Oh my God, this is going to be a game changing story, a mega rock mover, the invention of the microchip, all over again”. And I guess most story ideas start out that way. From my experience, nothing is more exhilarating than the conception of a new idea, the thrill of the new blank page. This is a huge contrast to the crippling dread that blank pages used to give me about a year ago.

So, I guess I have proved one of those age-long theories – you get better with practice.

What hasn’t changed though is the self deception that this time, the writing process from initial idea to final draft is going to be a slam dunk. By the time I was halfway through the four thousand word story, I was slogging through, tearing out my hair, psyching myself up and out in front of the mirror, pacing so many times around the room, abandoned the story twice and nearly gave up on my writing career. But something kept me coming back to the story, and about three days to the competition deadline, the story came together in a haymaker of an ending.

And then, the strangest thing happened. I finished writing the best story of my life so far and something popped into my head :

This writing thing isn’t so hard, after all.

You’re probably doing this right now:

...from reactiongifs.com

…from reactiongifs.com

Or if you are more conservative:

...from reactiongifs.com

…from reactiongifs.com

Seriously though, I haven’t been able to stop thinking like that since last week. I guess that’s what they mean when they say you are either a glutton for self loathing and self doubt or possess a lot of hubris to want to be a writer. Maybe both.

I’m not sure the process gets easier (we’ll find out soon enough), but I do know that actually finishing one story (or any writing project for that matter) increases your confidence, and makes you a little braver to tackle another project. It’s very handy to have a completed project to point to when the inner critic/bully shows up with his usual ‘you’re a crappy writer’ routine. Just don’t let it look at that completed project too closely otherwise, you’ll either be ripping up the work or jumping off a cliff, whichever one seems palatable at the moment.

Anyways, so, why do you write? It’s a question I’ve also been asking myself (whenever I’m not dressed in the “this writing thing isn’t so hard” garb).

One reason why this question is important is because, it informs all the other decisions on your writing journey, which has implications in other areas of your life as well. If you’re going to be serious about your writing career, it’s going to affect the people in your life, whether friends or colleagues or bosses or spouses or kids.

This is actually just common sense. If you want to buy a car, the first question isn’t how much does it cost, or even how much do I make? Can I afford it? No.

The first question is, what do I need a car for? Is it a lifestyle statement? Is it a necessity purchase? The need determines the compromises you’ll have to make. if it’s a first car, you don’t need to pull out all the stops (unless you’re trying to show that you’re moving up in the world). Second hand cars usually make up the first car purchase, at least for most Nigerians. Unless you’re working in Chevron, which makes my logic redundant in a way.

...from reactiongifs.com

…from reactiongifs.com

I may have overthought this car buying thing.

 

Why do you write? What for?

Answers usually range from ‘It’s a release’ to ‘it’s a hobby’, to ‘I intend to do this professionally’.

The key is to be deliberate about it.

If you’re just looking for a way to release pent up frustration, then you probably won’t obsess over every word. Just let the emotions bleed off on the page. But if you’re seeking critical/literary acclaim, you have to pay your dues.

Personally, I want to be a good writer, first of all. Before making money, before becoming famous, I really truly want to be an excellent wordsmith AND storyteller (they are two separate things BTW). Then, I want to be paid good money for my writing. That’s my reason for writing.

Craft before Cash. I don’t need the awards, it’s not a big deal. But I need the affirmation that I can write and write well. And people usually do that by using their money. Or not using it.

So there. That’s it.

Why do you write? Let’s hear it.