CHRONICLES OF A KENYAN CREATIVE

You try calling a couple of people on your phonebook. Nobody picks up. They have all seen the news. You are no longer in a position of power and influence hence they don’t see the need of hanging around you anymore. Reality hits you, you are all alone just like you started only that you are now old, unemployed and neck-deep in debt.

Starting out as a creative in Kenya is tough. No one is willing to give you a chance to prove yourself. The few who do don’t pay you a dime. They throw in the infamous line, “We are giving you a platform that will give you the exposure needed to grow your brand.” They say this with a straight face you would imagine exposure is a new cryptocurrency, never mind they will be making money off your art.

The family doesn’t make it an easier. They think you are blinded by teenage infatuations worsened by a rebellious attitude, hoping that you will soon get back to your senses. Relatives, lecturers & mentors wonder what went wrong. Trying to explain to them what you do for a living is pointless. “Someone pays you to play with your computer all day?” Financial institutions are not ecstatic about helping your business grow since they simply don’t understand the creative industry.

Driven by passion and a strong conviction to change the world you refuse to lead an ordinary life, working for a company you loath under toxic bosses all for a steady paycheck at the end of the month. Your friends loudly complain about it but lack the courage to leave their cushy jobs in pursuit for their dreams citing that they need to pay bills.

Cash inflow is unpredictable. You are clawing and scratching to survive. Your parents who are on the verge of disowning you pressure you to get a real job, make lots of money before you can pursue your dreams.

You pray and hope for a big break, however, it has been three years without a sign of success. You feel a tinge of jealousy whenever you scroll through Facebook only to see your former college mates doing so well in every aspect of their lives while you are struggling to make ends meet. Most nights you lay awake wondering whether you are indeed insane, misguided and an idiot like they say you are.

After struggling to establish yourself for several months without success you hit rock bottom. Frustrated, discouraged and disillusioned you decide to create one last piece of art before calling it quits.

Compared to your previous works it isn’t great but you still put it out. That poem, song, painting or writing that you feel isn’t good enough takes the internet by a storm. It is shared on social media thousands of times by people who had never heard of you before.

Now that you are an instant internet sensation everyone wants a piece of you. TV, radio and newspaper journalists blow your phone trying to book you for an interview. Soon enough the people you used to read about or watch on TV treat you with so much respect that sometimes you wonder if they are confusing you for someone else.

Thanks to your newfound celebrity status your life changes beyond imagination. You can no longer walk in town in peace. Complete strangers stop you on the streets. Ladies scream your name and ask for selfies. Neighbors can’t stop boasting to their friends of how they live next to such a high-profile personality. Even hawkers hike their prices whenever they see you, having seen your face on newspapers they imagine you have more money than you need.

Long lost friends, distant relatives and those who used to look down upon you back in the day reach out to you. They all say pretty much the same thing “I’m very proud of you…I knew it all along that you were destined for greatness” , suggesting you soon hook up for lunch.

Before getting dates was a struggle, suddenly you have a steady stream of admirers. Actually, you forget what it feels like to chase a woman. You transform your image to resonate with who you are now. What a better way than to have a new hairstyle that makes you stand out of the crowd and a signature finger sign for the innumerable selfies.

It soon hits you that all the TV & radio interviews don’t pay hence you have to find a way of footing your bills. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that the public has stratospheric expectations of you. They expect you to live in a posh apartment drive a German-made car and take a lady to Hilton on the very first date yet you have less than 10, 000bob in your bank account.

The pressure gets intense luckily you have a number of job offers from companies looking to cash in on your new fan base. You settle on one in the media industry since it will give you access and prestige. Since you now have a paycheck it is easier to get a loan for a new car, move into a bigger place and acquire the latest iPhone. You are a role model and inspiration to your fans hence you need to live like a successful individual.

Creating art for your brand becomes increasingly difficult as the company you work for demands value for every dollar spent on you taking up all your time and energy. Motivated by the cheques and the need to please your sponsors your art begins to lose its soul. Meanwhile, other young and hungry creatives are plotting to take over the industry. Nonetheless, it doesn’t worry you since you have a steady income.

Fame comes with lots of perks. You no longer have to queue, explain who you are plus you get invitations to all the hippest parties happening around the city complete with a reserved table, food and drinks on the house.

What you didn’t know is that the more famous you get the lonelier you become. You have an image to maintain this means no matter what problems you are going through you can’t show or tell the world. You regularly post pictures of you in fancy joints smiling broadly plus an inspirational quote.

Deep inside you are sad. You crave for human connection. A steady stream of meaningless sex does not fill this void. See everyone around wants something from you. You have no real friends. Those who claim to be your friends are only eager to profit from your relationship. They use your name to get dates, business deals and privileges that accompany it. “I know people bwana. Last night, I was drinking with Mark Maish who is a very good friend of mine and Senator…” You are a simply a strategic alliance. A credit card without a limit.

When you act like a moron, they just smile at you. Nobody wants to jeopardize the good relationship they have with you. No one is real with you. Even when you tell a stale joke they all laugh like you are Charlie Chaplin.

You begin drinking more than usual, smoke more than you should and start taking a concoction of synthetic drugs to numb the sadness and loneliness. It is all fun until you have to down a glass full of the hard stuff before breakfast and another before you go to bed. Since you are a celebrity, you can’t get caught taking cheap liquor or hanging out in shady joints so you take premium brands of alcohol which burn a gaping hole through your wallet. You ask for a salary advance almost every month to keep up appearances.

One morning you find out that the company you work for is trending top on Twitter. On checking the trend you find a press release announcing retrenchment of fifty employees citing tough economic times and digital disruption. Unfortunately, you are on that list. Keyboard warriors are having a blast celebrating your downfall. They gleefully rub it on your face. The worst part is that the company you have dedicated most your adult life to wouldn’t allow you past the reception now that you are fired.

Unlike other professions, creatives have no trade unions to champion their welfare, no job security or structures in place to help them save for retirement. Younger and more talented creatives who connect better with the newer generation are working overdrive to take the spotlight away from you. Therefore, constantly reinvent yourself otherwise you will fade out to oblivion.

That said, avoid spending all your money on maintaining an image or pleasing fake friends because when things go south, they will all abandon you without a shred of guilt on their conscience. Invest your money wisely and plan for the future because fame doesn’t last forever.

Written By Mark Maish

17 Comments

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  1. 3
    www.fabbo.tips

    The case is the same everywhere , not just in the creative industry… It’s upon you as an individual to make sure you NEVER wind up the victim… It’s a fight for power for everyone, friends and family included. Always keep in mind that people will always have their interests first… and the only person who truly cares about you is you…

  2. 10
    boniface

    Nice read. I agree with you Mark. Young people have been displeasing themselves at the expense of others. Actually the people who in the eyes of the society look “okay” are very lonely and weak inside. Talk of musicians, actors and comedians to mention three.
    In fact, the rich people remain rich buy acting poor. Poor people remain poor by acting rich. My last advice to young people is that you are not rich until you fly on a private jet without posting a picture on social media.

  3. 12
    brian

    Very informative mark. But it’s actually the reality of life. Living a lie leads to depression and that’s a serious recipe for early death among us young bloods.

  4. 13
    Stephen Onyango

    I like your articles mainly because there is always a lesson to learn in the end. Good one Mark. keep enlightening us with your knowledge.

  5. 15
    Linda

    It’s a good story and easy to imagine especially for all the creatives chasing their dreams…. I think you need to know yourself so you don’t get swept up with the fame…

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