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.

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.

The Unfortunate Business of Death

Breaking bad news at one in the morning
Is not part of the prescribed medical school curricula
Real life has no point score for empathy
Patience
Directness
But conversations twist as they need
And break when they must into tears
Screams
Silence
Five minutes.
(Is an exam, not the ending of a life)

Chasing Creativity

The muse of inspiration is a very elusive fellow. The mole in Whack-A-Mole comes to mind, or that crafty Bugs escaping poor Elmer Fudd. Maybe it senses my subconscious’s mixed feelings towards creativity (like, why did I choose such violent analogies?) but whatever the reason inspiration is certainly not sleeping in my bed at nights.

Of course, if being inspired isn’t part your day job, it’s much harder to clear the cobwebs from your boxed up dusty mind at whatever odd times you can snatch to first be inspired then find the time and will and consistency to write or paint or choreograph. If you’re not in a state of continuous and conscious open-mindedness (as, for example, in my day job where being closed off happens whether you want it to or not) your task is that much harder.

My problem isn’t getting inspired though. I frequently think of topics I’d like to talk about at length, or story ideas to get on paper (someday) but at the exact moment of inspirational breakthrough I am nowhere near pen or paper or laptop. I’m in a taxi, or about to head out to work, or in the middle of seeing a patient and my brain goes ‘We’ll just file it away for later’ and it goes the way of the Dodo.

(I cannot be the only person whose brain does this).

The obvious solutions are to jot down a quick line on my phone so I can remember at least what I was so inspired about. Or to walk around with a voice recorder (or, again, use the one on my phone. Ha.). But, that quick line on my phone often fails to capture the essence, the vivre, of my brief excitement. The line goes dead and hangs limply in black pixels, mocking me with its wasted potential. Repeat ad nauseam.

Perhaps the real solution is to quit my day job and roam the streets, laptop or notepad in hand, digging for inspiration like a coal miner: grubby, starving and desperately grateful for the light of the sun.

Engage Me. Engage, Me.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that human beings love interaction. It’s one of those inescapable facts of life, like me quoting Jane Austen. We like interaction in all its forms: good publicity, bad publicity, likes on Facebook, retweets on Twitter, and comments on WordPress

Yes, comments on WordPress. Nothing feeds a blogger’s greedy little soul (and writers are always greedy for recognition) more than having people respond (thoughtfully, cleverly, desperately) to what they write. And in this age of instant gratification, no one is sitting at home waiting for fan mail. So it’s disheartening to write something that goes unnoticed and unremarked upon. It simply means that as a writer you’re . . . unremarkable. But this is not to be borne!

The internet is teeming with advice on how to write more engaging blog content. 16.1 million articles, to be precise. It’s a bit overwhelming, to say the least. And I can’t quite convince myself that it’s not all one big scam.

‘Listen to me,’ they’re all shouting ‘I’ve got the best advice on the web’. Maybe they do, they’re all saying the same thing. Do search engine optimization, host polls, ask questions, be witty, have great titles. All good advice. And yet a niggling feeling in the bottom of the stomach at the back of my head (there is in fact a stomach at the back of my head; it’s what digests the words) leaves me skeptical.

And the simple reason is this: all the bloggers I love to read don’t look like they’re following any of this advice.

I don’t read many (any) professional blogs; they’re all little bits and pieces of some suburban housewife/working mother’s life (yes, my demographic confuses me). I don’t see my suburban demographic carefully selecting their titles to pull in more readers, or liberally sprinkling keywords throughout their writing or even asking questions most of the time. Or maybe they do and make it look so effortless it’s unnoticeable.

Mostly what they do is write interesting, funny, or heartwarming stories about their lives. Or share pictures of Paris or their cats. Or talk about their insight into a particular issue that wandered across their mind some idle Tuesday morning. But it’s usually written in a way that makes it seem like such important content, content that I need to keep reading because I’m consumed by a desire to know about them and their lives and what makes them tick and how is it different from what makes me tick and how can I apply the principles they’ve figured out to my own life?

I want to mirror their methods, but I’m concerned about talking about myself too much on the internet, or I don’t have enough stories or this isn’t even really a personal blog – I only started it just because.

And my answer is this. You are interesting enough. Your life in Jamaica is just as interesting as their lives in Texas and Washington and South Africa. Your passions are not their passions but you have your own passions that people will love hearing about. You do things and you think about things and yes, you’re afraid of sharing most of the things you do and think about but 2015 is the year to beat that. It’s the year to do like Hemingway: sit down at a typewriter and bleed.

Colour Me: Quilt is Boldly Going

If colour is just a reflection of light
And all colour exists within my eyes
What colour am I?
-Quilt, Colour Me 2014

The Quilt Performing Arts Company has managed to ensnare and delight their patrons yet again with the performance of Colour Me, at the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts on Thursday evening. The production is slated to be their debut on the international stage at the Contacting the World festival held in Manchester, England later this summer. Quilt has spent the last half year attempting to raise enough funds for the entire group to make the trip but this close to the festival date, it appears as if their dream may yet remain unrealized. 10437548_850002021694461_8174548855808551016_n

Compared to previous Quilt shows, Colour Me is brushed with different strokes. Staying inside the lines of their cohesive theme, Quilt has created a design of masterful originality, like watching Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel take shape from a colour-by-numbers book. The company reflects light of all wavelengths, unhesitatingly digging beyond our superficial appreciation of hue to showcase the way colours colour our world.

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The cast performs Colour Splash.

Threads of poetry written by Maya Wilkinson (media director) and voiced by Leonie Forbes kept the production tightly woven. Colour Me unfolded like a flower: from seed to shoot and root then blossoming suddenly into an explosively vibrant display.

A few pieces (out of the eleven in total) merit special mention.

Colour Enslavement tackled gender stereotypes like a linebacker, with naked honesty and enough humour to keep the audience comfortable. Pink for Girls, Blue for Boys (led by the charmingly despicable Clarence Peart and Kalia Ellis) was a scathing commentary on the way we sanction masculine and feminine roles. A tad bit literal but perhaps the writer (Odain Murray) decided it was time to do away with metaphors in this particular conversation?

A magnificently irate Kalia Ellis castigates a shy Tiffany Thompson for being "too blue".
A magnificently irate Kalia Ellis castigates a shy Tiffany Thompson for being “too blue”.

A note must be made of the notable improvement in the group’s technique. The obvious gaps between the ‘dancers’ and everyone else aren’t as obvious anymore.

Pinkish-Red carried on the gender conversation by examining the tide of colours that mark a woman’s life and journey through a cancer that pushed her out of womanly red back to a girlish pink. It was an admirable performance by Joylene Alexander, and the voices of Sonishea McKenzie (crowd favourite, or more specifically, Fabian Thomas favourite), Jasmine Taylor and Tiffany Thompson carried this piece up into the heights of real emotion with their rendition of Laura Mvula’s She.

A broken Joylene Alexander bemonas her fate, shadow danced by Jasmine Taylor.
A broken Joylene Alexander bemoans her fate, shadow-danced by Jasmine Taylor.

The trio shines even more spectacularly in True Colours, a performance that garnered a standing ovation after it left the audience breathless.

In Colour Collision, Roxan Weber and Tristan Rodney keep a brisk pace with their sparking chemistry and highly commendable technique to the sounds of Broken Hallelujah (a personal favourite) sung by Clarence Peart and Tiffany Thompson. Perhaps the performance would have benefited from moments of slow choreography as well as fast, but choreographer Tristan Rodney appears to have an illustrious career ahead of him.

Colour Me may have lacked the gut-wrenching emotion of Quilt’s other shows but as Artistic Director Rayon McLean mentioned at the start, this show wasn’t meant to leave the audience sobbing at the end. What they’ve managed to create is a capsule of the human condition that can resonate on local and universal stages. Hopefully they’ll get the chance.

10345990_837313859629944_2148107827506769850_nPhoto credit (except first and last) to: Aston Cooke, playwright.
Photo credit (first and last) to: Maya Wilkinson, media artist.