It’s the holiday season. You are late (as you always are these days) in sending this piece to publish. So let’s get right into it and run this interview, shall we?
INTERVIEWER: How did the year go?
BETT: I was ready to whine to you that 2014 was difficult, but Entrepreneur.com told me that one way to quit the negative energy and build positivity is to express gratitude. So I will express gratitude and mention the fun stuff instead. The stuff which made me smile in 2014: I turned 30. I am in good health, that’s not counting the teeth I had pulled out this year. I have four friends. I have my large family around me, my Ol’Man and my Moms and my six siblings. My kid brother got married, so I now have a new sister pal. One who got him a son, my nephew was born on my sister’s birthday. My niece is growing into a little lady. I am maturing as an artist. And best of all, I am still doing what I love.
What’s in-between the cracks of all that gratitude, where’s the big ‘but’?
I worry more than I am able to manage. I can’t seem to turn my brain off.
Is managing this worry a lesson you failed to learn this year?
Yes it is. But I will save it for next year.
So which lessons did you actually learn?
I learnt two and a half great ones.
First lesson, I don’t need to be prepared to be ready. It took way too much pain and sacrifice for me to learn that. Jesus. Preparation was my niche, man. Hours and hours of preparation. When I learnt that I needn’t prepare to be ready, I freed myself to focus on what was most important: getting things done.
But I offer you that little piece of liberating advice with a use-with-care caution in the fine print. When you operate as being ready but not prepared, be willing to accept a less-than-perfect product.
Perfection isn’t the mark of a job well done. Neither is it the key to get things to be well done. Perfection is a disease. You hear me? Perfection is a disease. Going after perfection slows you down, you focus your energies on the wrong things – you’ll get so wrapped up in the details you won’t get shit done on time. We need it done, not perfect.
Second lesson is the power of an idea. Understand, nothing comes to be before my idea. It exists only in my head. And it is my duty as a creative to build something out of that idea.
An idea is so bloody flimsy. It is sparked by such mundane activities – you are stepping out into the sunshine on your way to lunch and an idea catches you mid-step. You watch a spit bubble form on the corner of someone’s mouth, another idea. You turn over in your bed in the middle of the night and there’s another one. You are brushing your teeth, you look up into the mirror and oops, there goes another. You spy on a little kid digging into shorts to his buttocks or a watchman in glasses grabbing his crotch, because both think no one is watching, and there’s another. Ideas are everywhere. Living amongst us. Like ghosts.
I am really glad to have had the creative space this year to capture my ideas and give them a place to grow. To build something you and I can hold in our hands.
The half lesson I learned – and one that I tell my pals who have been laid off or a going through a change of lifestyle necessitated by a financial circumstance – is don’t be too quick to sell your moti. Especially if it is your first moti. Sell your unfertilized eggs, sell your hair, sell your soul. Hell, sell your distant cousin if you must. But don’t sell your moti.
I know that it only makes sense for you to liquidate the funds that a moti holds. But I offer no real solution to your circumstance beyond that. That’s why I call it a half lesson.
It was on the day that I watched mine drive away for the last time after I’d sold it that a certain loneliness crept up on me. And it was on that day that I heard a whisper say, Fuck, what the hell have you done? I think I cried. My hands were shaking so much I had to stuff them into my pockets to steady them. And the look on my face, Jesus, it was the look of all my fears combined.
Is that what you fear most, seeing the things you cherish slipping away from your grasp?
Right now, I fear time.
There’s this song by Snow Patrol, I don’t remember the title, but it starts with these lines: ‘Tell me that you wanna dance. I wanna feel your pulse on mine’.
That’s sexy, eh? Imagine your crush breathing those words straight into your ear, ‘I wanna feel your pulse on mine’.
So, hehhe, the chorus goes on to say, ‘I’m not afraid of anything. Even time’.
But hold on. Surely, you need to be afraid of time. Time is the Sun. And the Sun doesn’t care for anything. It rises in its time, goes through the day then sets in its time. You can’t ask the Sun to stand still or to shine a little longer or harder for your ideas to finish their day’s work. Can you? Fear the Sun because it fears no one.
What inspires your ideas to finish their day’s work then?
I am an album kinda girl. Unless you are a music junkie, you won’t have the patience to sit through an entire album. I do. I am listening to Tevin Campbell’s discography as we speak.
The thing with an artist’s radio releases is that he is out to almost please the commercial. Almost. But when you listen to his album back to back – on random and repeat – the artist robes and disrobes before you. You channel the artist. You get into his mind. I become obsessed with what he has created. I’ll carry it with me to sing later. I’ll steal his lyrics to update on my whatsApp status. I’ll quote him without warning.
I remember my week of Juliani. Man. I couldn’t quite quote him cause he sings in this hard core sheng that I can’t wrap my head around. Juliani is a brilliant storyteller, by the way. Here’s how he tells his stories: Boy meets girl. And boy will end up with girl. But what happens in between those two incidences is a story knitted in a word play of unrelated and witty one-liners.
When my music and my ideas come together, I create things I am proud of.
Being a creative who lives off of these ideas, is there a time you ever doubted how sound they are?
Yes. This year. In May then again in November. But it was pretty severe in November cause I also doubted myself.
It was a Wednesday. Early evening. I received an email, one which had good intentions, no doubt. I read it. I shut down and I didn’t return to my desk for two weeks. I flat-lined: I’d lie on my bed, my hand tucked beneath the pillow and stare at the ceiling for several hours on end. Any negative thought which crossed my mind, I allowed it to take centre stage and say whatever it wanted to say. ‘Look at you, fra. Eh? You’ve made a royal mess of things. Why do you even bother with yourself? You didn’t go to New York as you wanted. You didn’t become a millionaire. How far did you think you’d get anyway?’ Hate speech.
This was the first time I ever considered that maybe, just maybe, I had not made the right decision diving into this writer’s life as I had.
I had deadlines to meet and I felt as if I’m injured and bleeding as I wrote to meet them. It hurt, man. It fucking hurt.
What saved you?
Boredom. I woke up one morning a week and a half later and thought to myself, I am really bored. I need to get back to the grind.
If I am not writing for a considerable amount of time, I am at loose ends with myself. I write because it’s my hustle. True. But I write also because that’s who I am. A writer.
So I got back to the grind. And all the self-doubt just fell behind me. It’s like it hadn’t happened. Amazing, eh?
So is that what you are all about, writing? Yawn.
Hahahaa. I like to read. I just finished a novel by Nick Hornby. I got it for a bargain off the streets on Christmas Eve. I read it over Christmas. That’s why I am cussing so much today, cause Nick Hornby does the same.
I like to travel. I like taking walks. I don’t like to watch TV much cause it doesn’t engage my senses as reading does. But I am just about to finish all five seasons of Breaking Bad. Something unlike me.
And do you know why I am just about to finish Breaking Bad?
No. Please, indulge me.
I am just about to finish Breaking Bad because Stephen King thought it’s a good TV series. That’s the only reason why. That’s how impressionable I am.
Seeing as writers and writing influence you alot, has any of it changed how you look at people?
Yeah, it has. I realized that everybody is really just a child. Rather that the child within them may never ever grow up.
There’s this song by Fleetwood Mac that the Dixie Chicks did a cover of in 2002. Landslide. I first heard it when I was 18. It’s a song with too many questions, I don’t know if they ever found the answers to them, hehhe. Somewhere in there they ask ‘Can I sail through the changing ocean tides? Can I handle the seasons of my life? Can the child within my heart rise above?’
I see people sometimes do things and say stuff which can’t be explained away by any basic understanding of human behaviour. I mean, someone goes ahead and defies their age to bullshit you out of impulse. And it wasn’t until this year I realized what was truly happening: their inner child let loose.
When grownups are cornered, the child within speaks out. If you look carefully into their eyes in that moment you will see a child-like glimmer. You will hear a child’s laugh in their laugh. Even their voice takes on a high-pitched child’s tone. Hahhaha.
I learnt of this from my niece. She’s six. She’s a diva. And she’s a liar.
Are you ever a child yourself?
Yes, most of the time. All artists are children. But artists deliberately let their child loose – you’ll see it in how they play and dance with music and colour. Other people let their child loose too stylessly – in the lying and crying, throwing fits and reacting in the moment to their emotions. Pouting like a blowfish, not speaking to others.
It isn’t childish behaviour. It’s child-like. There’s a huge difference.
The angle of being a child which suits me best is one I saw in myself this year – that one has to unlearn in order to learn. Let me put that in the context of a story about my niece: When she started to learn how to write sounds and numbers, she’d write ‘p’ as ‘q’, ‘b’ as ‘d’ and ‘L’ like ‘J’. You know why she made the interchange? Cause man has a primal survival instinct which tells him that a mirror image is the same as the real thing.
So in order to first learn how to write, kids have to unlearn this primal instinct. Then write right.
I, little Miss Bett here, thought I had my shit together. I really believed I had in me all I needed to get things done right. But I got to somewhere, and I looked back to the oblivious interchanges I was making. I wasn’t “writing” my “sounds and numbers” right.
I have had to become a child again. I have had to unlearn to learn.
Is that still your plan for 2015 – to unlearn then learn?
Sort of. My plan is to keep at this. To keep writing. To log in the remainder of my hours. I have 10,000hours of practise to clock. I have only achieved a fraction of it so far.
My practise is writing 1,000words daily. Most of it is shitty, unpublishable stuff that doesn’t fit any platform whatsoever. But so long as it’s out of me and on the page, then my duty is done.
Is that your duty, to write us shitty stuff?
Hahhaa. My duty is to write something I know is good, to send it to publish and to share it. I used to worry about site stats and how many likes and Tweets my posts get. But that needn’t be my worry cause I can’t control it. Once I write, publish and share, I walk away. My duty ends there. My duty is to give my ideas a place to grow. And to…
… and to build something we can hold in our hands. Yeah. Yeah. We get that.
What’s your other plan?
My other plan is to Think and Grow Rich.
Nah, that’s not the right way to put it. That assumes no comparisons from 2014.
My plan is To Think Harder and Grow Rich.