Interview: Abiola Ogunbiyi

In recent months I’ve become fascinated by the routines and day-to-day practices of creative people, because I want to know how they actually do it. Hence, a new monthly series where I interview a creator about how they accomplish anything at all in this busy, busy life. 

Abiola Ogunbiyi is quite possibly one of the most talented and hardworking people I’ve ever met— not only does she sing like a goddess, she’s a wholly remarkable actor, incredible writer and sometimes DJ. She is one of the smartest, brightest people I've ever met. From New York City to the West End in London, her creativity, determination and passion for her work continue to blow me away. Enjoy.  -- Mary

                                            photo by Crista Leonard

                                            photo by Crista Leonard

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When is a time you felt really successful?

Last year, I had an idea for a short film, based on the title of a film that’d recently been released. I self-produced the picture, and managed, as well as being the only actor in the film, to direct it, squeezing in shots in the rare moments when my videographer and I both had free time. I had to leave London for a theatre job so, with several YouTube tutorials, ended up editing it myself. I submitted it to some small festivals, and it was only accepted into one, which at the time got me down. When that screening came round, I nearly didn’t go, but my mum wouldn’t have it. She drove me to the cinema and bought 2 glasses wine and a slice of cake for us to share. About four films in, my film began. Seeing the opening shot on a screen that wasn’t my computer, and it being such a big screen in a room filled with people made me feel so terrified, but liberated all once, as well as incredibly grateful to my mother for never letting me play small. The film got a lovely response, and as the credits rolled, I thought of all the work I’d done to put the film together; it became a reminder to never set limits on what I’m capable of.

How do you deal with the continual ebb and flow of “success” as an artist?

As I’ve achieved some of initial goals I had in my teens and whilst training, success has taken a new shape; there’s a lot more fluidity in how I look at it, having now lived in a land where what was just my hobby is now my livelihood too. It’s now not so much of a want to “get every job”, as it is making sure I am consistently challenged in each new project, no matter how frequently those opportunities may or may not arise. Given my age and current responsibilities, I’m fortunate to currently be in a position to do that. The initial goals I had 3 years ago are nothing like the ones I have now, as I’ve either accomplished them, or no longer found them in alignment with the truth of the work I want to make. In terms of my own material, I try and see success as the making and completion of the work, rather than what comes after it’s done, so that any sense of judgement, and linking of that judgement to worth, is eliminated. It’s not easy, but I’ve found it to stop any chance of debilitating fears. I

What is your biggest struggle as an artist?

 In the words of Hamilton, the fear that I’m running out of time, and that fear stopping me from doing the very work that will eliminate it.

What is your daily routine?

It has slight differences depending on whether I’m in rehearsals, or performance, or neither. But there are some constants. I always wake up pretty early, do a quick morning meditation sequence, and then have a glass of hot water with fresh lemon whilst writing my day’s morning pages (Julia Cameron’s infamous creativity tool! It’s so great!). I like to get my workout in pretty early too, so I’ll go to the gym, or a yoga class when I’ve got more funds at my disposable (I literally lead different lives depending on job status!). Then I’ll cook breakfast, usually a hot bowl of almond milk, oatmeal, fruit, and various other Instagramable additions. If I don’t have a rehearsal or an audition, I’ll do a lot of writing. I’m currently preparing to film a sketch I’ve written, and am writing a spec script for 2 US sitcoms I’d like to write on. The day goes by with a possible meeting with a friend, or cinema trip (I’m a member of 2 cinemas in London, so I use my complimentary tickets). I always keep a notebook on hand for any ideas I get throughout the day. Then before I know it, it’s night-time. I’ll cook dinner (I’m loving sweet potato wedges and hummus salad right now), and then I always try and play a guided sleep meditation sequence as I lay in bed, to help me sleep and to give me a moment to evaluate the day gone by.

How do you get it all done?

Firstly, I’d like to say that I’m not sure that I do, at least not as well as I’d like to all the time. But I have a lot of to do lists. I also wake up pretty early which helps me use as many hours as possible. Music is my life-force; I have nearly 20 playlists of varying moods to suit the kind of work I need to do. Also: I drink coffee (although I gave it up for lent, and have managed to get just as much done drinking chai tea!)

What is your weekend routine?

I’ve really tried recently to embrace actually having a day off. However, if I have a quiet day during the week, I’ll treat that as a day off, and make sure I work on the Saturday. Two consecutive days off in London makes me feel guilty (which probably says more about me than London). But I do like to stay at home; the city gets so crowded on the weekend. I make my own food as often as I can during the week, but I like to cook something that takes a little longer in the weekend. The other week, I made two loaves of buckwheat banana bread. They lasted three days! I also try and do something with my 3 best friends from high school; they work 9-5 jobs so the weekend is one of our few chances to get together, catch-up and eat a lot of tortilla chips!

How do you afford to be an artist financially?

This is through a mixture of factors that have come together over the years, to my immense gratitude. Firstly, I have been very fortunate that in the 5 years and 9 months that I’ve been a professional performer, I’ve been employed for nearly 70% of the time (I worked that out!), which is actually above average for an actor. I spent two years of that time in two well-paying West End shows, and saved enough during both to keep me sustained in my “to-job” periods. Last year, I booked a commercial last year that allowed me a few months of more…financial dexterity shall we call it? But I am also very fortunate that I live with my mum in Central London, meaning my rent contributions are substantially lower that what others who live in London are paying, a privilege I can’t deny. I genuinely think that in this field, at least in the first few years whilst you figure out the way that it is going to work for you, it’s a case of taking one day at a time. The last 4 months have been tough, as I’ve invested a lot into getting more work that hasn’t manifested just yet. But I trust that it’s a period that too shall pass.

It can be expensive to make things— do you have a day job?

It’s difficult because I’ve never wanted to commit to something too tightly as I feel it’ll come at the expense of what I really want to do. I’ve worked on and off as a temporary receptionist, through a recruitment company, and still do. It’s actually been really enjoyable, as I’ve seen how a variety of companies operate, and how a number of factors affect the atmosphere and company moral. I’ve spent time at LinkedIn, Levi’s, Ralph Lauren, and Converse (where I was given a free pair!), and had experiences that have gone on to inform my work, and provide good material for some of my writing! I’ve also recently joined a promotional staffing agency. I learnt to DJ a few years ago; I really want to get back into doing that as a day & night job.

How do you manage stress/anxiety that is inevitable with putting yourself out there?

By distracting myself, and making more work as soon as it’s out there. But honestly, some sort of feedback has become unavoidable in this social sharing culture we’re currently in the midst of. I try and think of it like when some unpleasant news comes out about you, or your past. You just have to wait for more unpleasant news about something else and then you will be old news, leaving you to go about your life like you aren’t being watched. And really, it’s all on us. I really feel like we each are watching ourselves the most, and believing in that truly sets a great deal of that anxiety free.

How do you know when it’s time to rest?

I get sick, or injured. It’s awful, I know. Other than that, I just like to take a few days to a weeks’ break once a job ends.

How do you rest?

Not very well! Seriously. I still don’t really do it well enough, or often enough. I travel when I can; it almost completely removes me from any external obligations to work. When I can afford it, I’ll get a nice long Swedish or re-aligning massage. It’s between 60-90 minutes of always much-needed tension release.

 How do you manage the internet/social media?

Ah, the internet! The great paradox of our time. Well, I love it most of the time. Until I’ve spent too long on Wikipedia… But. When I set the right time limit, and am in a good mood, I can handle it. I find Instagram really fun; I think it’s because it uses multimedia, photos, and videos. I’m a sucker for an Instagram story. I actually recently deleted Twitter, but then re-installed it after seeing that it’s very helpful for my work. I have SelfControl on my computer, which my sisters recommended to me. It’s an application that allows you to create a “blacklist” of websites that you don’t want any access to, and even if you change your mind, there’s literally nothing you can do until the timer ends. So I usually set that to work from 10am-6pm at least. But I would really like to delete Facebook, but keep messenger. Is there a way to do that yet?

What’s your big dream? Do you have one? How do you set goals/set yourself up to achieve?

I would love two things, which I guess I would love to keep constantly doing. 1. To create a television show. 2. To co-write, co-produce and act in a feature film. I’m inspired by so many women across generations, who have led their films, or gone on to lead their own shows. Oprah, Brit Marling, Greta Gerwig, Issa Rae, Madonna, Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, Sarah Jessica Parker, I could go on and on… But also, by my fully representing myself, I want to do the same thing many of these women did for me, and empower women and girls who, whether at an age of realizing it or not, need to see themselves represented on screen.

Find more of Abiola's work here

most favorite green salsa

I know that resting is a big part of being productive, but sometimes it’s hard to believe that. 

I took two days off this week, really off, like didn’t open the computer, didn’t work, didn’t make a list. I didn’t do anything. I’ve been quiet lately. There’s so much change happening right now and in the world, that sometimes it’s been hard to have the energy to cook something new, let alone write about it. Lately, I subscribe to what my friend Lucy once called “beans, grains and greens” diet, which is basically what I eat 3 times a day, 7 days a week. On a good day, beans, grains and greens looks like this: 

I’m getting a CSA box as well, which has been the best thing ever, mostly because it means that I go to the grocery store a lot less, which is nice. 

Also, after years of searching, I’ve finally learned how to make my most favorite and most coveted salsa. I don’t know what it’s called (will find out soon), but it’s sold at most taco stands around town and is creamy and thick and addictively hot. 

To make it, roast 1 pound of jalapeños and about 4 cloves of garlic in the oven at 350, or under the broiler until they begin to char and brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Then, seed and devein the peppers (I like to do this under running water in the sink, otherwise it’s too spicy and makes my eyes water.) Toss the garlic, 1/4 teaspoon salt and the seeded peppers into a blender and puree. Then, while the blender is running, pour in 1/4 cup of vegetable or canola oil into the blender until the salsa has completely emulsified and is smooth. Or you can read someone else's instructions here

This is one of my favorite things, and is a total upgrade to a bowl of beans, grains and greens. It makes beans, grains and greens exciting. Which is saying something. 

Also— I wanted to let you know that there are some small changes on the horizon for this blog, which is also crazy, given how much I feel like I’m getting a complete life-makeover lately, but I’m excited. Anyways.

More soon. 

avocado pasta (again)

Well it's been a while. 

But in my absence, I've actually done a lot! Released two albums Like a Diamond In The Rough, You Shine with SMILE and LOOSE TOOTH with Dreamboat. Needless to say, I've spent the past month or so recovering. 

I think a lot about what it means to be someone who makes things. The main thought I think about this is that it's hard. But beyond it being hard, it's been deeply gratifying. We made cds and tapes and shirts and hats that you can buy and listen to and hold in your hands. And that is such a small thing, and it is also everything. I am proud, but also in a hungry way that makes just doing it once or twice unsatisfying. I want to do everything all over again, and do it better. 

Have I been cooking? Not really. I figured out another way to cook eggplant that I really like. (Cut the eggplant in half, cut a deep crosshatch into the flesh of the eggplant, douse with olive oil and salt, bake for about 20 to 30 minutes at 400 F, or until the eggplant starts to look melty and smell good.) Lately we eat large pots of soup, and last night I made avocado pasta. I've written about avocado pasta before, but I'm going to write about it again: 

To make it, simply boil pasta as you would regularly (or add greens or veggies to the boiling water as well, just like One-Pot Pasta) while the pasta is cooking, mash several avocados with olive oil, salt and red pepper flakes until the consistency is thinner than that of guacamole. Once the pasta has cooked and drained, pour the avocado sauce on top and stir to combine. Eat immediately. This dish sounds like nothing, but when it is cold in Texas and you are hungry, it is so so good. 

I hope it's warm where you are. xo 

 

One-Pot Pasta

One of the hallmarks of being young is that you move all the time. I moved again for the second time this year. Most of my shirts are in trash bags on the floor of my closet. I can’t remember the last time I went grocery shopping. 

my favorite flower in lieu of pasta pics

my favorite flower in lieu of pasta pics

A few days ago, I rediscovered something that I’d completely forgotten about— one-pot pasta. You boil a pot of pasta, and about five minutes before you anticipate the noodles being done, you dump in a bunch of chopped vegetables such as kale, carrots, zucchini, etc. Then you drain everything, pour it back into the pot and whip together some kind of quick sauce. For me this usually means an egg, a favorite cheese, and more salt. I love one-pot pasta for several reasons: 1) it is fast. 2) I am lazy. 3) I like the way the vegetables get so tender and salty. 

I can't believe that I forgot about this trick. 

The rate at which things happen is too fast for me to fully digest them. I keep waiting for the break, to do the laundry, pick the clothes up off the floor, buy more vegetables so I can eat more pasta, even little things like just going for a walk so I can think about everything. Of course the break never comes. 

Getting stuff done is pretty difficult. You lose your phone and in the words of my mother, who has seen it all. “It’s always something.” And what does it meant to be the hero in your own life? I also cannot remember the last time I actually did laundry. The neighbor downstairs told me I was playing music too loud, and of course I didn’t think it was loud at all. 

The ultimate point being, one-pot pasta is simple, and helps me keep it real. No frills, nothing fancy, just easy, quick, good food. Here’s a link to an inspirational Buzzfeed article about one-pot pasta that might give you some ideas. Anyways. 

Happy Labor Day weekend. 

 

Nachos

Marissa makes nachos in the oven. In my family, nachos eaten and made at home were a last resort because there wasn't anything else to eat. Apparently it was the same in Marissa's family-- except for the fact that they baked them in the oven (at 350 F for about 10 minutes)  instead of microwaving them.

Somehow, baking takes them from TV dinner to glamorous and fun. Also it makes the chips hot and crisp, instead of soggy with the weight of melted cheese.  (Rough life, I know.) Additionally she puts slices of radishes, tomatoes, avocado and minced jalapeno on top. Eating these nachos is a humbling experience, like going on a great date, or trying on the perfect pair of jeans or whatever-- one of those, "I didn't know life could be like this moments." The Point being that I'm going to make nachos in the oven all the time. 

I hope you are well. It's been raining here all week and I'm ready for the sun to come out again. Summer is winding to a close, which is unsettling because I haven't spent nearly enough time outside. I feel hopeful and a little nervous for the fall, there's so much to do and so much I want to do. In the meantime-- I'll be over here, eating nachos. 

xo

m

(PS Marissa was initially re-inspired by this recipe) 

 

Chimichurri Sauce

Has the pace of the world gotten faster? It feels like it's gotten faster. My brother tells me that it's because we live in a new age of "internet hyper-connectivity." 

Last week I stood on the shore of Lake Michigan and felt hard ridges of sand under my feet, the water was clear and cold. We sat on the beach and drank margaritas and soaked in the sun, afterwards my uncle made chicken adobo tacos which we smeared with guacamole and chimichurri and it was the best thing I've eaten this year, maybe ever. 

Lately I find myself repeating something my dad says all the time: "gotta keep the train on the tracks." Which is just a better way of saying "keep it together." Even as the world speeds up and up and up.

Here is a recipe for chimichurri sauce, it is not my uncle's, even though his is better. But it is still very good.  I hope you're having a good week. 

xoxo

m

Chimichurri Sauce

from Bon Appetite

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon kosher salt plus more

3-4 cloves garlic, minced

1 shallot, finely chopped

1/2 cup fresh cilantro

1/4 cup fresh flat leaf parsley

2 tablespoon fresh oregano

3/4 olive oil 

Combine vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt, garlic, shallot, and chile in medium bowl and let stand for 10 minutes. Stir in cilantro, parsley, and oregano. Using a fork, blender or cuisinart, whisk in oil in short pulses until just emulsified.