It’s taken me five days to actually write this post. To be honest, I thought I’d be publishing this post somewhere far from South Africa’s borders, having just sat down for an amazing video interview with an artist I really enjoy. But I am definitely in South Africa. And I haven’t sat face to face with an artist since the week we found out the coronavirus was now in Cape Town.
So, I am disappointed. Not so much in us being in a global pandemic – I think there might be something(s) to learn from this period. I am more so disappointed that I haven’t yet achieved the goal I set for myself since my last day at my last job as an employee in April 2019.
Full disclosure: I never saw myself quitting. I loved The Paper.
Disappointment aside, since packing up my stuff, bringing home the footstool the late Waheeda gave me and becoming self-employed, I have learned a lot. I narrowed my findings to a list of five. If you can relate, please let me know in the comments.
1. I’m out here living that Eskom life
When K.O rapped about being in that power circle, I assumed he was talking about the kind of connections that could make him even richer and possibly even more famous. But in the year since I became self-employed, I wonder if that circle also includes the kind of connections that remind you that you’re valuable because you exist, not because of where you work.
My friends have truly shown up for me in times when I asked and in the times when I was too low to even think to ask.
They have linked me to work opportunities. They have voted for me, without question, in campaigns that I thought mattered. They have hyped me up in work that solely bears my name. They have clapped for me when I collaborated with others. They have invited me to events, despite my not being with The Paper anymore. They supported me and my work in hypervisible and private moments. And I am so grateful for them.
2. Black women pay
I know some of you are going to try and fight me on this. To explain that good payers have nothing to do with gender and race. But before you flood my comments section with that, please remember I am sharing my experience with you here.
In over a decade of working, I have never met a man, of any race, who wanted my work and was willing to pay me my rate for it. It has overwhelmingly been black women who sought me out, asked for my rate and didn’t flinch when I told them. Even those who flinch don’t press me to reconsider my rate. Sometimes they pass and come back when they have a bag for me. Other times, they tell me straight up what they can afford and offer other incentives and honourariums that make it clear that when they have bigger cheques coming in, they will still have integrity. In both scenarios, black women have always paid when they said they would.
That’s incredibly rare because so few black women hold the purse strings in music and media.
In the year since I have been working for myself, I have had a few months of back-to-back assignments that I truly enjoyed but what made those experiences even better is that I was promptly paid for great work. When you work for yourself, sometimes people think you are “out of work” and dangle a possible future cheque in your face in exchange for you working for free until there are sponsors. But black women have consistently assumed I am to be paid whether there are sponsors or not.
3. I need a seat at the table
For 12 months, I have done my work on the couch mostly and sometimes, in my Dude’s studio. I have to move aside equipment to work on his table. Being around microphones and cameras while I work in his studio has been more intimidating than inspiring.
So I know I need to get my own office space to stop feeling like I am in limbo and to start feeling like I am a self-employed professional.
People who have worked from home for years will tell you two things: 1) don’t stay in your pyjamas and 2) don’t work from your couch.
A year later, I believe them. If for nothing else, for the subliminal seriousness that working on an actual table suggests. It’s easier to get distracted or procrastinate or feel like your work isn’t real work when there is no designated place in which to do it. So: I need my own desk. And a cute chair. And a Lazi Mathebula rug. Now, that will feel like my office.
4. I miss The Paper
When I left, I made room for the fact that nostalgia about the “good old days” of The Paper would sometimes creep up on me in future. But I was not prepared for how deeply I would miss it, sometimes for what felt like days.
I started my career at The Paper, left, came back and it always felt like home. Even when the publication was transitioning, I still had the best colleagues.
I miss the wild music journalist who validated my voice when I was a baby writer. I miss the free-spirited editor who left copy for the kitchen. I miss the colleague I’d sing r&b songs with ALL. THE. TIME. I miss the quick-witted editor who could out-write all of us. I miss the super talented junior who loved the word ‘lit’. I miss the online writer who was so funny and sweet. I miss the writer who was too scared to follow her singing dreams. I miss the colleagues who have since passed on. Sometimes it’s the actual Paper that I miss. But mostly, I miss people. My people.
5. My name is my name
Even though there are aspects of my previous life that I miss, I don’t miss feeling like nothing without it.
For years, people would tell me that I could be a music journalist anywhere in the world, for anyone and still be dope. They would tell me to spread my wings, even if I don’t fly out of The Paper. They would encourage me to try other mediums. To build my own platforms. And I was always scared that no one would care about my work if I wasn’t the girl from The Paper. You can feel like the best and worthless at the same time.
Who would want to read my work if it only appeared on my website? I’m not famous, who would pay me to make podcasts? I don’t fit the pretty girl mould, who would want to see me interviewing on a video? And most importantly, how was I going to pay my bills without a salary? I don’t have the answers for these questions. I just know one thing: I have been shown so much love despite feeling unworthy.
And it broke my heart.
It made me mourn for how much time I wasted playing safe. For how much of myself I tried to fit into what was acceptable because I was too scared to try what I saw in my mind. For how I cheered others on but couldn’t see my dreams being a reality. For how much I put myself down. I hadn’t even considered this until the last 12 months. I had the epiphany and my heart shattered.
In her interview with Oprah, our Girlfriend, Tracee Ellis Ross said: “so many of the epiphany moments that occur are met with grief and tears and my own judgment.” That’s exactly what happened when I realised The Paper did as much for me as I did for it. I definitely cried when I had the epiphany that I was still valuable even when I was standing on my own. That my name is my name, and that’s word to Marlo Stanfield (and King Push, ha!).
The last 12 months have taught me a few lessons. And sometimes that school fees has come at a hefty cost. But I am so grateful to be here. I am so excited for what the future holds.
Have you left a job you loved? How was life after that death? Tell me in the comments section.