Show Your Work

I was going talk about identity and purpose today, and then one of my friends mentioned me in an Instagram comment about honest posting.

So instead I’m talking about social media representation, especially how sometimes Instagram and Twitter can leave us feeling ‘less than’. When you look at several smiling, sun-kissed, carefully curated and filtered images and then look at your own messy life you can wind up feeling disappointed and envious. God knows I have been “Best at Badmind” so many times, thanks to Facebook (this was pre-Instagram) and wedding websites like A Practical Wedding (yes, go and fall down the rabbit hole). Climbing out of that particular quagmire took years of practice and lots of growing up.

These days, even though I still struggle with feelings of inadequacy and impostor syndrome, it’s gotten easier to remind myself that what I see on Twitter & Insta isn’t really what goes on when the camera turns off.

A conversation I had with my partner (who has dabbled in photography) when I was trying to learn how to take better, more engaging Instagram pictures:

Me: This website just suggested taking lots of different clothes on a photo shoot in case what you’re wearing doesn’t match the background. 

Him: Yep.

Me: They said that the different clothes and accessories make it look like you took pictures on different days, so that you can spread the posts out over weeks without being repetitive.

Him: Yep

Me: That’s insane! Who has time for this?

Him: Um, people who take it seriously? It takes work. 

And then I got distracted by something. Probably baking, or the cats. Which is why my social media gets updated maybe once a month. Can’t have you all noticing the pictures are really from the same shoot.

I’m getting off topic.

I’ve come to learn that a lot of social media is crafted and staged. When I browse Pinterest for hours on end trying to find organizational inspiration, it’s so frustrating when the pictures are perfectly aligned just so. How do these rooms look when they’re lived in? All these mommy bloggers with young children cannot possibly keep their houses this spic and span all the time. What does it look like in real life?

Credit: jordankrogmanphotograhy

That’s more like it.

One day I searched for real life pictures and the results were refreshing. Limited, but refreshing. There were toys on the floor, blankets thrown everywhere, dishes on the table. But underneath the mess was a certain cohesion, a level of deliberateness that gave a stable foundation to the chaos. It’s so much more inspiring to see the behind-the-scenes work that goes into getting that curated, crafted end result; it’s so much more helpful.

If we’re all out here trying to live our best lives, and proud of it, what’s the harm in sharing the struggle that shapes the success? Congrats, you graduated from grad school but your Insta is all selfies at the beach. What about the late night studying? Awesome, you got promoted. But your feed is all parties and #gymlife. Why not talk about the coffee-fueled work-after-work that got you there? Cool, you post about #selfcare mani-pedis and yoga but what about the harder parts of self care like therapy and introspection?

I know the ‘rough work’ isn’t for everyone. God knows I hated having to do it in Math class. But for those of us social media users who are interested in the face behind the sunglasses or the story behind the popularity, this rough work is endearing and empowering. Showing the struggle reminds us that we’re not alone in it. Sharing the steps makes us feel like we can accomplish great things too.

At the very least, it’ll be helpful to figure out how the hell I can get that style on my bookshelf.

Pax.

P.S.

If you’re a nerd like me and love extra reading, this article on JSTOR is an illuminating and lengthy read on the topic of social media envy. Here is the link, and here is a tidbit:

Social media could help us feel less envious about vacations if it also celebrated quiet nights in; it could help us feel less envious of other people’s perfect children if it also celebrated the beauty of the bachelor apartment we just arranged to utter perfection. 

We could hold our collective breath and wait for Facebook and Twitter and Instagram to vindicate the diversity our strengths and contentments. Or we could do it ourselves: by demanding honesty and vulnerability from our online friends, and from ourselves.

Thoughts?

Dancing in Public Places

Do you guys know that video of the little boy yodeling in Wal-mart?

That’s me, but with dance instead of yodeling. Who even yodels in 2018?. My partner finds it hopelessly embarrassing, but whenever we buy our weekly groceries instead of walking through the aisles like a normal person I boogie and ballet my way from one frozen section to another. I pirouette around paper towels and cha-cha-cha past the chips and snacks.

I won’t lie, I’m no Misty Copeland, but I have rhythm and a certain amount of grace. I danced all the way through high school and university, so I’m not shy about my moves. More than once people have chuckled in my direction and my partner has had to intervene before someone runs me over with their trolley (accidentally, of course) but I still do it. Partly because it feels good and partly because supermarkets are really boring so I’m glad to provide some kind of entertainment for my fellow shoppers.

What I’m trying to say is, sometimes you should do the uncomfortable, silly, socially awkward thing because if people are going to laugh at you anyway you might as well have fun doing it.

coat-dancing-face-794062

Renewing my Vow

I logged in to WordPress today with the weight a month’s worth of guilt about not posting resting uncomfortably on my shoulders to find the cheerful reminder that today is my seven year anniversary with WordPress.com.

Waaaay back in 2011 I was halfway through my first year of medical school. I wanted to transition from personal blogging on Livejournal to public blogging on WordPress. I started wellreadrobin with the hopes of posting regularly about everyday life and sharing my story for others to see. This was my very first post.

Seven years later, have I accomplished that?

My posting habits are best described as infrequent, worst described as irregular and uncommitted. Blogging as a form of writing is a form of creative expression for me, providing an outlet for energies that swirl around ceaselessly in my mind. I’ve been dabbling in other types of writing – journaling is one example – but I always circle back to blogging as a gateway to writing stories. If I can commit to writing true stories here on the blog then one day I’ll be able to write real fiction. At least, that’s the story I tell myself.

So for the umpteenth time, I’m renewing my vow to myself, the same vow that birthed Project 52 (an ill-fated attempt to share one blog post a week for 52 weeks).

It’s only 52 weeks. Only 52 essays or stories or random, coherent streams of thought. (Is there an innate oxymoron lurking somewhere in that last line?).  Only 52 attempts at something that has eluded me for far too long, something I should be good at, would be good at if I dedicated time to doing it properly. 52 ways I want to improve. 52 things I want to share with the world. 52 times my better judgment failed me (or impressed me). 52. Fifty-two. That’s all I’m asking.

-Well Read Robin c.2011

The promise is to blog with consistency and a reasonable amount of frequency. Once weekly, no pressure. Just to see if I can do it. Lord knows I’ve got more than enough things to say.

Back to Wakanda

Why am I a writer? I am a devout believer in the power of words. The right story can change the world. My writing found its genesis in sharing my story, because who else  could tell it? Along the way I learnt to share the stories of others, stories I believe need to be told. The right story at the right time in the right ears can inspire a revolution.

I believe in the power of the Black Panther movie – not to catalyse a movement, or change the status quo but to spark thought and ignite a flame in the minds of people. Especially young people. To show them a different future, a different present, to show them possibilities they may not have considered, and to widen the horizons of their imaginations. Isn’t that what stories are for? They make us believe in things: magic, science, each other.

Ryan Coogler’s depiction of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s comic book king is making waves all over the world. The images of afrofuturism and black empowerment are phenomenal and people are responding in unexpected ways. In the U.S. and Ghana for example, grassroots campaigns have been started to give underprivileged children the opportunity to watch Black Panther. After Frederick Joseph successfully raised more than $30,000 to take Harlem kids to see the movie, the Black Panther Challenge took off online and people from all walks of life have picked up the gauntlet.

Black Panther showings in Jamaica began with flash in the pan fanfare when the well-dressed well-to-do thronged the theatres for an exclusive premiere. The movie continues to be wildly successful with shows sold out for weeks to come and three simultaneous viewings at the cinema in Montego Bay. Some of us have gone to watch Black Panther more than once – a privilege afforded to few. Let’s share some of that privilege. I propose a venture equally as exciting as the initial premiere, with more lasting impact. Let’s go back to Wakanda, with kids this time, so that the younger generation can see the superhero we never had growing up. Let’s get kids to watch this movie, just for the fun of it, and see what happens.

Back to Wakanda is a social activism campaign to raise funds for teens and adolescents in Montego Bay so they can watch Black Panther even if they can’t afford a ticket. We are starting with the Mandingo Youth Club in Mt. Salem.

We’re looking for sponsors and donors to help this idea come to fruition (non-cash contributions also accepted). Did you watch Black Panther once, twice, three times? Are you ridiculously good at planning stuff? Do you have links with people who can help this campaign thrive? If you’re interested in donating or just being part of this venture reach out to me here on WordPress, or on Facebook, Instagram or by email at stephenson.robyn@gmail.com.

Let’s make this happen!

P.S.
We accept donations via cash, Paypal or bank transfer!

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night

It’s the season of giving, also the season of receiving, marked by our usual rampant consumerism. Traffic and cashier lines lengthen as we scramble to find the perfect presents, decorations and baking supplies. The festive season is more frustrating than celebratory. Isn’t that right, Mr. Grinch?

But as little Cindy-Lou Who reminds us, Christmas is more than just packages, boxes and bags. In the spirit of the holiday I want to share ten things I’m grateful for in this maddening season.

1. Despite the upward spike in crime in St. James my family and I have so far been spared from any direct attacks of gun violence.

2. I can afford to by Christmas presents for the people in my life. Just a few years ago, I would never have been able to.

3. Barbados and a few other Caribbean countries voted against Trump’s Jerusalem agenda in the UN referendum. They give me hope.

4. Technology helps me stay in touch with friends who are travelling the world. Kind of like if the Wise Men had Skype and Amazon Prime.

5. Even though I don’t own a car, I have unrestricted access to one. And even though it isn’t perfect, it’s never left me stranded.

6. 2017 was a year of plenty forward momentum in my career. I am grateful that I continue to grow and learn so much as a primary care physician.

7. Christmas breeze ah blow! I am very grateful for my water heater that saves my toes from frostbite.

8. I recently got an oven and I look forward to brushing off my rusty baking skills. I am grateful for the promise of Christmas cookies.

9. A lot of people I know have to work this Christmas, especially at the hospital. I’m grateful that my Christmas holiday involves staying home, sipping tea and petting my cat.

10. These candles are making my house smell like warm cozy Christmas nights, and I love it.

What are you grateful for at this time of year?

The Only Culprits – in response to Glenn Tucker

Today the Jamaica Gleaner published a commentary piece from Glenn Tucker (educator and sociologist) about the “real culprits” behind child sex abuse. In the article, Mr. Tucker displays the same line of reasoning that allows rape culture to be so prevalent in our society – that of blaming anyone other than the perpetrator of the crime.

Mr. Tucker takes the point of view that our alternative Caribbean family structures are the main reason child sex abuse is taking place. He blames single mothers, absentee fathers, the revolving door of stepfathers – everyone except the actual person who should be blamed: the perpetrator.

I can’t argue that the way people raise their children leaves much to be desired. But as much grouse as I have with most parents in this country, there is no way I can condone blaming mothers and step-fathers for the actions of grown-ass men and women who prey on minors. Parents can do more to protect their children, certainly. But the argument that the blame lies entirely with the victim/victim’s parents is wholly reductive.

The entire tone of the piece is condescending and self-righteous, with Mr. Tucker seemingly placing himself above the “dalliances” of the hoi polloi – even so far as extricating himself from the responsibility of reporting suspected cases of abuse.

I know a mother who dolls up her daughter in nice short, sexy little dresses twice each week and sends her off to pastor for ‘driving lessons’. Four years later, when she became my friend at age 16 (do the math), she still did not know the difference between the stick and the ignition. This one is not likely to reach the courts, however, because she tells me gleefully that Pastor is “really, really good”.

Every citizen has a moral and ethical (and in some cases legal) responsibility to report cases like these, regardless of the child’s current age or the attitude of her parent. Failure to report abuse or suspected abuse is equally as heinous as committing the crime yourself.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing
-Edmund Burke

Then Mr. Tucker attacks the hard-working investigators of these alleged cases; an attack, which as a primary care physician, I take very personally. No agency or institution is completely infallible, but we have to believe that the overall thrust of organisations like CISOCA and the CDA is in a positive direction.

His sentiments completely devalue the efforts of governmental and non-governmental agencies alike. And he fails to consider the roadblocks of financial and human resource limitations, the constraints of our justice system and the inherent rape culture/informer fi dead culture. He, the indifferent observer, is content to blame the people actively trying to deliver justice instead of the people who are perpetrating the crimes.

But it’s the final paragraph that sends chills down my spine, when Mr. Tucker includes himself in the group of “dirty old men”, referencing I presume the population of mature men of power eliciting sexual favours from minors in return for financial assistance.

Because of the extent of family disorganisation in this country, it is us dirty old men who are keeping the bodies and souls of these ‘victims’ together, making them graduate from school. And university, in some cases.
Jamaica Gleaner February 6, 2017 (emphasis mine)

The meaning is ambiguous but the paragraph lends itself to a much more sinister interpretation. And I don’t think Mr. Tucker is the only university graduate who feels this way. If these are the opinions of the people teaching our children and leading our communities, it’s going to be a lot harder to fix our culture than I thought.

Gender. Sex. Silence. Survival.

All across the globe, gender revolutions are happening. And it’s not just in National Geographic’s January 2017 Gender Revolution issue. From the Women’s March in Washington D.C. (and others like it around the world) to the #saytheirname movement in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean, the concept of gender and sexual autonomy have become the prescient buzzwords of the new year.

So many changes are taking place in the landscape of gender – now we’re talking about it openly, for one. Compare the evolution of gender into terms like ‘non-binary’, against the potential backpedaling of the US government away from reproductive autonomy. What a time to be alive.

Of course, negative reactions are to be expected. When Loop JA posted their article on Trina, a Jamaican trans woman featured in the National Geographic issue, almost every comment disparaged the young woman – calling her ‘it’, saying she should have died in one of the many attacks on her life. And somehow in the same breath, being angry that she ‘chose’ to portray Jamaica as way more violently homophobic than it actually is.

It’s true that not all Jamaican gays/trans-folks/bisexuals experience life the same way. Jaevion Nelson (long time human rights activist) points out that by focusing on the most brutal stories we forget about the voices who are not so downtrodden, but equally important. There is no one way to be gay/trans/non-binary and Nat Geo should have considered that in their piece, instead of perpetuating the horror crusade that has become de rigueur in discussions about Jamaican homophobia.

This is not to say that there aren’t things about Jamaica that are downright horrifying. Take the recent travesty involving a Moravian pastor caught in a “compromising position” with a 15 year old girl. (Which is being handled terribly by the media, might I add).

The Moravian church has a lot to answer for, but the culture of silence isn’t only perpetuated by church-goers and elders. The silencing of young girls is so entrenched in our society that it seems impossible to break.

The silence of mothers should not be passed to their daughters. Daughters do not need to inherit the silence of their mothers.
–Ijeoma Umebinyo

Organisations like We Change JA and the Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre (along with dozens of human rights activists) are writing letters and editorials that demand an end to the secrecy. The #saytheirnames movement is growing.

But human rights movements always gather momentum really well only to fizzle out as the public loses interest. Right now everyone is interested in what WROC and the activists have to say but in another nine days those groups will be behind the scenes again, unobtrusively working to change the way our society thinks.

What great catalyst will it take to shake Jamaicans out of their indifference? When will one million women march together for gender equality, sexual autonomy, reproductive rights? Is it to be a slow, inevitable downward spiral, despite the desperate efforts of an enlightened few?

Will we wake up in time to save ourselves?

To the Fifteen y/o Girl (and all the others like her)

Dear heart,

I don’t know why this happened to you. Why the people who were supposed to protect you failed to do so. I don’t know why you had to be the one whose case made such a public splash. Why your darkest, most painful moments became a matter of great national debate. Why your life was suddenly split open.

I don’t know how you are coping, reeling from all of this. How you will recover. How far the other side of that bridge must appear. How alone you must feel.

But you are not alone. You. Are. Not. Alone.

And It. Was. Not. Your. Fault.

And You. Are. More. Than. This.

Right now it may feel like you will never be anything more than a victim, or a bad girl, or the centre of a horrible horrible story. But you will be. You are more than that and you will continue to be so much more.

It will take time. Healing takes time. And courage. And faith – in yourself, dear heart. It might seem so impossible now but there will come a time when you forget to think about this chapter in your life. When the pain hurts a little less. When you start to love yourself again.

You cannot yet understand how the strands of your life will recover from this hopeless tangle. But we must ask you to trust that you are strong enough and brave enough to survive this. If only because you have to.

There are hands and hearts waiting to help you. All you’ve got to do is ask.

Waiting by the Library One Freezing Morning

The pressed kiss of my buttocks
against the cold concrete is mediated by
the thin cloth of my jeans
This bench is a parasite
Across its placenta of 96% cotton and 4% spandex
it steals every molecule of heat
from my begrudging ass

In games of waiting I am a sore loser
with muscles aching and contorted from
spasms of shivering
teased out by every cold breeze
each of them lovers – must be
to garner such
instantaneous, overwhelming reactions

The wind caresses my face with ice
kisses the tip of my nose with frostbite
attempts other intimate contact
I would like to defer

There is nowhere to run,
only the cold confines
of this damn stone bench
pressed up against my backside
like some
unsolicited dance partner

I cannot wait
for this waiting
to be done.

Evolutions

The evolution of an illness is similar to the evolution a story.

My colds always start with sniffles and a tickle at the back of my throat. Except instead of a tickle it’s more like a yard fowl decided to gently graze for scraps on my soft palate. Naturally I get a sore throat.

The next day I have serious sinus issues. My nose is Niagara Falls – the rushing water and the dam all at once. I take cold medicine, which wins the battle but not the war. My upper respiratory tract infection starts to trickle downstream.

Because I don’t cut my nose off, all that Niagara falls goodness gets washed down into my bronchi and smaller airways. Two days later I’m coughing up a lung – that yellow stuff, so you know it’s infected.

Shortness of breath and chest pain go hand in hand with the hacking, reminding me this isn’t some simple flu and that I probably have a pneumonia (for the umpteenth time). This goes on for a week or so before I try to get help. When I give in to the less-than-kind remarks about my unhealthy appearance (thank you, work colleagues) it’s antibiotics and sick leave that doesn’t involve actually resting.

Despite myself I get better, though it takes the better part of two weeks. My body rediscovers its equilibrium, but the cycle is always poised to start again.

Like my cough started with some virion, stories start with an idea. A suggestion that replicates and multiplies into something significant. That grows from its point of origin towards some inexorable, organic destiny. Stories run their course despite us, whether they are stopped prematurely or reach a natural conclusion. And the writer rests, but the cycle is always ready to start again.