Saturday, August 6, 2016

Life is not a straight line

One of my friends has decided to come out. As a writer, that is. She's made some bold steps in her life recently: quit the nine-to-five, (stable) job; set up her own website; started her own literary movement online; decided to earn a living on an entirely freelance basis ... . She has decided to waste no more time building another man's empire, and is now concentrating her efforts on building her own legacy. I admire the courage it takes to walk away from the traditional model of security that we were brainwashed into, and pursue a heartfelt - though as yet unrealised - passion. I haven't as yet surrendered to the need I frequently feel for a similarly great disruption in my life.

Earlier this year, a young man with whom I am acquainted just got up and left his nine-to-five, and flew to New York to basically camp out in a studio to produce the album that was burning a hole into his heart - and head. He came back to Jamaica remarkably thinner - and yet somehow infused with a freshness of purpose and depth of character that left me feeling a need to re-meet him on these new terms. The energy he exuded was so altered - so transformed by his experience of tuning in to and pursuing the thing he felt he was born to accomplish - that I realised I would have to discard some of my previous beliefs about him and learn him all over again.

I ran into him on the street after his return, and we just stood there talking about how his brief experience with less-than-ideal circumstances had shifted his perspective, cemented his conviction and determination, and birthed a solidness in his personality that I had not previously perceived. I marveled at it, and wondered if it was because action - small though it may seem - had replaced what was once just a whole lot of raw desire, angst and ennui. I mused that when people start to take actions based on their personal convictions, and from an attempt to be as true to their authentic selves as possible, instead of just following the dictates of tradition, they tend to have a certain je ne sais quoi - a certain something - a resolute stolidness - about them that is often missing from those who never make the bold move or strike out on the road less traveled.

Widened experience widens horizons and perspectives. It grows people up and teaches them patience, discipline, maturity and persistence. I keep meeting it in friends from high school and college. The ones who were full of longing and have done something in the direction of those dreams are now full of a certain wiseness ... the best ones exude a calm understanding of placement, timing, persistence, and the unpredictability of life. You talk to them, and beneath the sentences runs a current of sagacity. Life has taught them something, and they have been gracious in accepting the lessons.

Then there are the ones who are clearly disappointed and disoriented. And have allowed it to hollow out their hearts (and faces), and chisel their cheekbones into hardened bitterness. Their eyes are shifty. They laugh and self-deprecate. While they are talking, they glance at you to see how you are responding, and if you are reading the emptiness or uncertainty behind their words - you can sense their fear that you will detect the facade and call them out on it. Or worse, call someone else's attention to it.

I'm not judging. I think on any given day, I can be a mix of the two. There are days when the courage and the calm comes and floods my soul with an ethereal peace. Then there are days when my eyes would rather remain transfixed to the pavement, instead of telling old friends harsh truths. On those days, escape, abandonment and bridge-burning seem desirable. It can be so easy to flee ...

... which makes me wonder at the courage it sometimes takes to stay. It must take strength, I think, to remain in a place that reeks stagnation, depression and death. For whatever reason, there are persons who will never take any radical step in any direction. They will never launch out into the deep. They will learn to tiptoe through life, live with their discomfort - sometimes a sacrifice for others - and  train themselves to draw on a reserve of ... something ... to get through redundantly unfulfilling days.

I think it shows courage in a different way. Doesn't it probably take more out of a person to remain discomfitted? It takes a certain gigantic cowardice, yes, but that actually requires enormous amounts of energy, time, and life.

What I've realised is, most of us never listen to our guts beyond hunger pangs. We tend to hold back, stay in the stream of conventional normalcy, and float with everybody else to that place of mediocre malcontent that most nine-to-fivers hit by the time they greet the big 4-0. And then they grieve the life they did not live because they never worked up the courage to kick the habit of mundane comforts. The gargantuan price we pay for sameness only seems deceptively small.

That's why these friends who have decided to step away from the path mapped out for them by society have earned my admiration, and given me much to ponder. They have decided to live driven lives. Is that much different from my somewhat spur-of-the-moment trip to Mexico earlier this year? What was I looking for in Mexico that I couldn't find in Jamaica? What did I acquire in Mexico that has left me feeling like my days in Jamaica are fast approaching an expiry date? Food for personal thought.

The point I wanted to make though, was that this friend who has decided to hone and offer to the world her writing voice, did a blog post in which she said she was, once again, starting over. I shook my head at that. Because life is NOT a straight line. And the impression I got was that she kept starting over with hopes of somehow one day achieving a straight-line history. She wants to look back and see a perfect trajectory from one direction. I used to think like that too. I used to announce every blog post after prolonged absences with a new determination to 'begin again' and 'get it right this time'. Then one day I realised I never got it wrong. Who defines what my blogging experience ought to be? Where did I - did we - pick up the notion that we had to live our lives in a straight line - in this perfect trajectory from Point A to Point B to Point C? What sold us that lie? And why did we buy it so easily? Why are we only now just realising the need to challenge this? These questions sometimes rob me of sleep.

Life is a crooked line. Pun intended. It's not even a line sometimes. There are gaps, and stops and so many curves. My friend keeps starting over, instead of building on what she did before ... because she thinks that not carrying through what she had started in a particular way somehow invalidates the effort. I grieve for that belief, and for the societal institutions that popularise and propagandise it. I realise that by not starting a new blog everytime I had a hiccup in my writing frequency, I established a body of writings that bear testament to my continuous efforts to get my thoughts out in some coherent verbal form. It gives me eight years of work to look back over. And to build on. It proves that my hiccups were conquered, and gives me a base to work from ... a history that is not a cute black point extended in one direction over large stretches of time. It's a mess of writings and words that tell a very human, mixed up story that gives glimpses into the growth of a mind.

I salute my friends for taking their leaps of faith. But I want to tell them to forget the straight-line approach. It never worked for Bell. That's why he stuck with the curve. I want to tell them to do him one better and go for squiggles and mushes and messes. I want to tell them to celebrate the crookedness of their paths, and I want them to realise that all of that mess of scrawling and bawling behind them led them here - to the moment when they stepped into their very own with new-found self-respect, self-reliance and self-determination.

And I want them to tell others who they meet along the way to not torture themselves for the absence of a straight line behind them ... and to make their path forward as uniquely artistic and authentic as possible - hiccups, ennui, angst and all.


Thursday, July 28, 2016

I won something ...

On Tuesday, July 26, I attended the awards ceremony for the Jamaica Creative Writing Competition, hosted by the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC). I was expecting to get one medal for one poem. I walked away with three medals and the award for best overall writer.

It was a very pleasant surprise, and while I did not tarry long to revel in the moment, when I got home after a very long night spent elsewhere, I had to step back, look at my loot ... and laugh.

The win represented a moment of classic irony. Of all the competitions I had entered this year, the JCDC writing competition was one of the ones I had the least expectations of. I had invested much higher hopes into other things - all of which proved disappointing.

Added to that, I honestly had not expected my poems to do so well. I had expected the short story to medal (it didn't), but I hadn't given much thought to my poems doing particularly well ... . So I stood there laughing and shaking my head at my obvious miscalculations. I stood there looking at and learning from the blessing of the unexpected.

It felt like a reminder from life to just cast your bread and sow your seed ... and leave them there, because you really don't know which one is going to prosper, or if they will all do equally well.

Ecclesiastes 11:1-6, The Bible
Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.
Give a portion to seven, and also to eight; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth.
If the clouds be full of rain, they empty themselves upon the earth: and if the tree fall toward the south, or toward the north, in the place where the tree falleth, there it shall be.
He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap.
As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child: even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all.
In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good.
True words. Very true words. My prayer that night was one of simple gratitude. I gave thanks for encouragement at the best of times, from the most unexpected places.


Sunday, June 12, 2016

The heat is on!

When I was in Mexico experiencing teeth-chattering cold, I made a vow never to complain about the heat in Jamaica again.

Know what? This heat deserves a complaint. It's so hot in the nights! Hot days don't bother me. The sun  comes out and does its thing in the days. That's expected. What I do not expect is for the nights to be so humid and miserable.

It's not cool at all. Pun intended. I'm downing glasses of water like a camel in the Sahara. I might soon be sleeping on a bed of ice. And these headaches. This pounding in the side of my head .... a result of the heat, I'm told. Not cool either.

One day, I'll be so well-monied and travelled that I will spend my summers in cooler climates and winters in warm places. This heat is motivation to work toward that dream with renewed urgency. I am NOT about this hellish nightmarish heat.

I always tell people I prefer to be too cold than too hot. In cold, you can always add another layer to get warm, but when it's unbearably hot, the only thing left to take off is your skin! It's truly miserable.

Anyway, I'm not complaining. Not really. Just a candid observation of sorts. :)

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Some Tuesday motivation

#GoGetIt #LiveYourDeam #NeverGiveUp #LiveUp #LookUp
This is the thing I remind myself (well, one of many things I try to remind myself) when life gets a little rough. There are days when I forget. There are days when I forget to be positive and think positive and act positive. Sometimes I forget that this moment is really just a moment and that it does not and will not define all the other moments to come ... . So here's a reminder for those of us who forget: treat a moment like nothing more and nothing less than a moment. And if you forget ... ah well, tomorrow, we try again ... :)

Saturday, April 23, 2016

I miss #Mexico ...

Hello, Jamaica. Hasta luego, Mexico!

It's been two weeks since I've been back, and I'll tell you what: the magic hasn't worn off yet. I think of Mexico and smile. It's a happy smile, but it's a secret smile. It's a secret smile full of special things only people who went to my Mexico, and met my Mexico people, and did Mexico things with my Mexico people would understand. It's an inside joke only the ones who shared this experience with me would know. You had to be there to get that it was fun, and different, and special, and definitely worth smiling about.

It's an accomplished smile, too. It's a 'yes! I did it!' smile. It's a smile that reminds me of the friends I made, the people I met, the experiences I had, the ways I changed ... . It feels good to be home, but it feels good precisely because I was away. Going away makes coming home better in some ways; worse in others; different in every way. I can't wait to go away again! :)

Ah, Mexico. Mexico made 'foreign' feel like home. My experiences there make me feel 'foreign' now, at home! I'm still regaining my bearings. I still feel a little jetlagged - but in soul, not in body.

I have internal jetlag. Physically, I'm fine. But in my mind? In my emotions? In the depths of me? I'm still travelling. It's weird. But it's true. I don't even know if this is the kind of thing I want to be blogging about yet, because I'm still figuring out exactly what it means and how I feel about it. But maybe this writing exercise will help.

I've always heard people say that travel does things to you: widens your horizons, broadens your perspective, facilitates self-knowledge, self-reliance, strength, etc., etc. Know what? It's true. Travel does all of the above. And it's awesome.

But somebody should have warned me that once you've been to the mountaintop, anything less will forever seem ... pedestrian. Once you've lived even a little of your dream in a truly fullsome way, that taste - that way of being - becomes addictive. Nothing else compares. Nothing else matters. So, forget the cold, the food woes, the bumpy bus-rides. My mind has graced them with amnesia. Now, all I remember is being at the airport, boarding the plane, going ... being gone. Being there. Meeting that person. Living in that place. Trying that new dish ... the feeling of being in a foreign place ... that feeling of living in the beauty of the moment ... and completely loving it.

It's ALL I remember. That feeling. That way of being. And I'm grateful, and hopeful, a little sad, a lot lost, but mostly ... grateful. Hasta luego, Mexico. I'll see you again. Hopefully soon.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

There are no do-overs ... live it UP!

Scenes from the #Guachimontones in Mexico.
Photos mine.
This is not for you.
This is for me.
For all of the wonderful things I will be.
For all of the places and people I’ll see.
want to be ready.
This is for me.

Have you ever felt like you’ve been dreaming for so long, you’ve forgotten what real life felt like? Like you’ve forgotten how to breathe and feel and be in present tense? There have been days when all I lived on was future. “Will be” became the propeller for my life: a seemingly endless reach into a vast unknown, a permanent stretch into next. That was me. That was my life. I lived looking for consecutive exits, skipping rapidly through chapters, like a screen director on a boring set, always screaming “Next!"
Then I did a somewhat crazy thing. I planned a trip, by myself, and left my country for a strange land for five weeks. Next time, it WILL be for longer - much longer ... hehehe.

Scenes from the #Guachimontones in Mexico.
Photos mine.
This is what I'm thinking with roughly three days left in Mexico. I'm three days away from returning to my beloved Jamaica. I kinda don't wanna leave my beloved Mexico. I feel like I have stuff to say to Mexico, and Mexico has stuff to say to me that we haven't said yet. I feel like the conversation is incomplete. Like I ought to stay longer and hear - in its fullness - what Mexico has to say to me.

Does that even make sense? I don't know. But I feel like going home is a break in transmission that I'm not fully ready for. I could stay here a little longer. Just a little. Just to listen. Just to hear Mexico talking to me.

What's done is done, though - and that return trip is booked! That's life. There are no do-overs. I did my Mexico trip the way I did it, and that's that.

Would I have done anything differently? Not by much. I mean, I would have travelled with seasoning to spice up some dishes; I would have let the bank know I was going to be in a foreign country for over a month, and spared myself a day on the phone trying to verify that I'm really me. But that's small stuff. The big stuff - the really consequential things - I wouldn't change any of that. It was a great trip. I liked it the way it was. And I want to remember it like that.

Scenes from the #Guachimontones in Mexico.
Photos mine.
I'm getting nostalgic and I haven't even left here yet. If you haven't figured it out yet, I'm kinda a sap. I like to think in philosophies. With some depth. (At least, I think so, lol). What I'm saying is: You only get this moment once. So breathe in, take it all in, and forget to feel afraid. Forget your reservations. They can wait till tomorrow. Or never. Don't let them in. Live! Live it UP!

All you have is now. So live. Live it UP! In Mexico, I definitely lived UP! And I liked it. That's the thing I'll take back with me to Jamaica - that ability to move past difficulties and differences and look up, and live UP. All you have is now, friends. And until you die, NOTHING can kill you. So LIVE! Live UP!

Scenes from the #Guachimontones in Mexico.
If I'd let fear reign, I would have never seen this first-hand.
Photos mine.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Random thoughts in #Mexico

1. So the days are winding down quickly. And I'm starting to get a little homesick. Or home-food-sick. Seriously. What I'd give for some curried goat. Or manish water. What I'd spend to get some stew chicken with yam and banana and fried dumplings ... *sigh*. And ackee and saltfish? Or a beef patty? I miss Jamaican food with a vengeance. This might sound bad, but it's the thing I miss the most: the look, smell and taste of food from Yard. I miss it. I want it. I need it. Bad bad bad.

I didn't even know Jamaican cuisine was so essential to my makeup. But listen, it's in my DNA. I need Jamaican food. I just need to at least SMELL some Jamaican food flavours really soon. Lest I die. Serious. The craving is real. FedEx me some flour dumplings, please. I'd be eternally grateful.

2. I have passed the test of a true Yardie: I have said 'yeah man' and didn't realise I was saying it. It's funny. You don't realise how much you say things like that till you have a chorus of foreign echoes repeating every cliché Jamaican thing you say. Then you realise how many of those clichés are true. It's funny.

I never even realised I had a strong Jamaican accent until I was teaching someone to say a word, and they said the word with a Jamaican accent. I cracked up, because, well, one, it was just hilarious to hear them trying a Jamaican accent, and two, I was like: oh my goodness! That's what I sound like to you? Shocking.

3. I have fallen in love with this little family I'm staying with. I really admire their work ethic, and how close they are as a family. They have a routine that works, and a structure that pulls them together. Family is a seriously super-big deal in Mexico. Watching them interact on a daily basis: how the boys genuinely love their mom and dad, and show that? How they play together, and work together? It's nice to see, and it's great to be allowed to be part of that - even for a little bit.

4. Speaking of family, I will NEVER forget the chaps I spent the last five weeks with. They are just too awesome. Fun times, you guys! Like when Mark and I taught y'all to willy bounce and bogle and butterfly and sweep ... . Or when we went to La Coltrane cafe and then went to Riu to learn how to dance la Barchada? Or the karaoke bar? Or the informal lymes in the apartments? Fun times. Unforgettables all ... :)

5. I've found the perfect return-home travel song. It's Cold Play's 'Fix You'. I've loved this song for a long time. But for this trip, the song somehow reminds me of my mother:

When you try your best and you don't succeed
When you get what you want, but not what you need
When you feel tired, but you can't sleep
Stuck in reverse ...

When tears come streaming down your face
When you lose something you can't replace
When you love someone and it goes to waste
Cold it be worse?

Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
I will try ... to fix you.

No matter how broken I am, she is always willing to try to fix me ... .
I love you, mommy.
See you in a little bit.
Hope I didn't do too much damage.