This note is my way of sharing some gifts I received last year with you and writing my desires into existence, all publicly.
You’ll read this in 3 parts: the first part zooms into the past year, the second part shares three gifts received, and the third part captures my desires for the future, broken down here as goals for this new year.
Last year was a river, and I entered it thinking I could walk on water. The first shock came within the first months when a source of livelihood was zapped without warning, removed without a backup plan on my part. Still, I kept my feet in as a way to let hope move me forward. I paddled through with my hands until I met the same fate as the titanic, hitting an iceberg that shook my tenacity. That iceberg was a series of nerve-wracking experiences, and nothing was the same afterwards. I had to unbuild systems that once worked for me, relearn to find my feet when flat on my face, discover how to stay alive in a cloud of noise.
And ooh was there so much noise. The voices in my head dropping by every day with their disarming words. The memories of past shortcomings. Waves shaped like no passing through my environment. Still, I stayed in that water, hanging on by a thread, later surprised by how well a thin line can save your life; a thread that’s so much like another ordinary material that you don’t see how it’s keeping you together.
That line, for me, was Letters of Consolation — a therapeutic exercise I’d never thought of as anything else but writing. Prior to these moments, it was easy to only pocket Letters of Consolation in my identity as a writer — as something I simply show up to do — without seeing how those letters, too, have been my way of staying sane here. My lifeline. It took hitting an iceberg to observe that. It took depression and a freezing mental state to see that writing to everyone in the community was synonymous with having empathy towards myself. Self-compassion. Grace. A little arm of kindness around my being. A portal into seeing myself and appreciating every pore on my skin, every pulse of my heartbeat.
Alain de Botton observed in The School of Life: An Emotional Education that ‘In the midst of a breakdown, we often wonder whether we have gone mad.’ It’s (darkly) hilarious how true that was for me. There were days when I’d rather not get out of bed because life seemed too ridiculous of a hellhole to pass through. Days where I fancied the feeling of a kitchen knife in my flesh. Days where I’d feel my existence and not my self and imagine that my brain was a spool of thread tangling into insanity.
But I also agree with De Botton that breakdowns may seem like madness but they offer new chapters. As De Botton observed, ‘We’re behaving oddly, no doubt, but beneath the agitation we are on a hidden yet logical search for health. We haven’t become ill; we were ill already. Our crisis, if we can get through it, is an attempt to dislodge us from a toxic status quo and constitutes an insistent call to rebuild our lives on a more authentic and sincere basis. It belongs, in the most acute and panicked way, to the search for self-knowledge.’
Interior suffering leads us to a better life if we’re vigilant during such seasons. Of course, this isn’t the easiest act in the world. We don’t — at least I know I didn’t — think about the lessons we’re scooping when wandering around a dark tunnel. We’re too busy figuring a way out to concern ourselves with wearing a hero-like identity. Still, we become transformed. And that transformation requires self-presence requires attentiveness requires a way to take stock of our passage.
That, for me, was Journaling. Journaling helped me capture the emotions from those cloudy seasons, and a web of experiences that, when tied together, delivered several gifts, three of which I find fitting to repackage here and extend to you. These are gifts made over two decades of existence, but only cemented in the last 365 days; gifts that are making me and could add an extra layer to your skin too.
Till Dusk (Bloom Series). 2022. Raji Mohammed Babatunde.
The best gift you can give yourself is having a better understanding of who you are. Open this package and you’ll see a more grounded self. You’ll find a delicious love that sprays you with a better respect for yourself and teaches you a richer way to interact with the world.
By understanding, I don’t mean finding yourself — an idea I no longer subscribe to because the self is not a preexisting entity waiting to be found. We’re creatures of experience. We do life and it recolours the blood in our veins, thinning or thickening us into our identities. We’re always being shaped. Growing into ourselves in some way. Self-understanding comes, not by searching for ourselves, but by recognizing how we’re being shaped.
To see is to listen, and having a better understanding of myself has meant paying better attention to who/what/how I am. It has paid off in more ways than I can count. The very act of listening has unlocked parts of me I didn’t know could be real. It’s instilled stillness and strength in me, helped me trust myself and connect better with others.
So, listen. Listen to hear and befriend the world within you. Toss your ego aside and embrace your beauties and shames. Discard our human tendency to be single-minded and open your heart to your self. Smell the air. Perceive how you feel in the presence of different people in your life. Catch your reactions to painful and joyful experiences. Question systems. Rewind to the past and connect the dots. Enter therapy if you have too much to unpack alone. Journal. Sit in silence. Listen. Oh, listen.
Second Gift: Introspection and Becoming
Sometimes it’s not that you’re not good enough, but that you don’t realize how good you are and, perhaps, it isn’t the right time to enter that door you desperately desire.
This gift came after some career moves in the later months of the year. I’d closed a chapter with a second key source of livelihood, sat through a handful of interviews, lost my mind to anxiety, and failed a majority of those interviews because I had no idea what was inside me. Since my career shift two years ago, I hadn’t sat down to reflect on what my path meant for me, how my journey has shaped me, the salt and pepper I bring to the table as a creator. How those countless months — between 2017 and ‘19 — invested into starting and learning about businesses armoured me for this walk I’ve chosen. It wasn’t until I drew several parallels between my past and current field that life began to sound different. Doors are opening. I’m using my compass with a much clearer lens.
You get better chances by knowing what is inside you and remembering, telling yourself, as Eloghosa Osunde expressed, that ‘no one can take anything from me that they didn’t give me, and that most of the things I have that matter were not gifted to me by anybody with a body; they are mine from the inside, mine from my spirit, mine from my destiny. They’re not anyone else’s to take, and if they’re not anyone else’s to take, I can rest. No one can take me from me, hard as they try. No one can take me from me, fear as I have in the past.’
You are worthy, and no one but you can believe and live that truth. No amount of motivational talk would pump out your value. Make solitude your friend and reflect on your story. Reflections are too transformative to be labelled as pastime affairs. Learn to plant your value in the minds of others. Water your becoming with patience. Give yourself time to germinate and mature well into the life you want.
Third Gift: Self-Trust
Trust yourself. No one will place anything of value in your care if you don’t trust yourself enough to receive their offer. Trusting yourself comes with understanding who you are and setting standards for yourself. It comes with boldness, with the audacity that you can walk into rooms that are “not meant for you” and thrive. It comes with knowing that yes, you might fail, but that doesn’t matter because all failures are a menu of life lessons.
Trust yourself to know that you can walk away from a “life changing” opportunity that isn’t right for you and still be okay. Trust your intuition — that ancient dataset within us — when you sense nonsense. Trust yourself to enter difficult conversations knowing that it would liberate rather than hurt you. Trust yourself to open up your mind to new ideologies and perspectives. Trust your self with yourself.
In another life. 2022. Niyi Okeowo.
This is new for me, this open notation of some of my desires. Maybe it’s all a mistake. Maybe life will show me that you don’t tell the world your wishes until it’s real. But, who knows?
Part of living is being open to whatever happens. To be open is to be vulnerable and, as Bob Dylan observed, ‘being vulnerable is just another way of saying that one has nothing more to lose. I don’t have anything but darkness to lose.’ Besides, I’ve started and stopped way too many endeavours to not remember that every act is a basket of messages each directed to shape us into ourselves.
Part of living is being a child forever. Allowing ourselves to ask why? and how? and what is? and what if? I’m curious about the fate of dreams in the world. I want to know what it feels like to live with your wishes out in public, what happens when you drop a bit of your heart in an ocean of eight billion hearts. Do you lose it? Do you find that all hearts beat differently but each relies on the other for rhythm? How does that piece of your heart return to you?
This year, I’d love to
- Grow Letters of Consolation.
- Get better sleep.
- Add a new stream of income.
- Take art lessons (as fine art or dance).
- Start learning Spanish (I’ve procrastinated enough).
- Extend my creative work into audio/visual pieces (either YouTube, TikTok, or rebooting my podcast).
- Grow into ease with myself.
I know that life jumps ship, changes course, comes with winds. It’s not a fairytale. Never has been. It’ll take work and, for me, a new kind of focus. I’ve told life that I’m ready to try it on again. It didn’t really fit the last time, might be a bit loose around the waist this time. But we know how we relate. I make adjustments, life outgrows me, it makes adjustments, I outgrow it, we keep loosening and tightening our threads until it works. We keep dancing as long as the music keeps playing.
What is a dream? A vision yet unreal.
What is a vision? Whatever our minds paint, wherever our sights reach.
What can our minds paint? Whatever it wishes.
How far can our sight reach? As far as we want it to.
The Big Questions
What gifts did I receive in the past year, especially on the topic of self? What happens when you drop a bit of your heart in an ocean of eight billion hearts? Do you lose it? Do you find that all hearts beat differently but each relies on the other for rhythm? How does that piece of your heart return to you?
Thanks for reading.
If you enjoyed this piece, consider sharing it with a friend. It makes all the difference to me as an artist.
I started Strange Notes because I wanted an open space to ponder on existence. That’s still true. But here, too, is a body discovering itself. A house beyond borders that’s open to you, to selves in search of, to heads seeking rest. A room where thoughts turn to words turn to records and meet you.
I share notes on my questions about life, conversations with friends and strangers, and art that shifts something in me (and could in you too). In this place, there are no rules. Move the vase around the tabletop. Shift the curtains to the wall. Pull the rug to the ceiling. Daydream. Come, find, ask still.
I publish Strange Notes monthly (typically on the first or last Sunday of the month), and as you read, I hope each note initiates a question about the fabrics of existence: the things that make us who we are and the events that define life.
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