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.

10360546_10152961503977782_4870957792560663779_n

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.

 

Blogs and Mirrors| a Review

Mirror Mirror on the Blog?

Last weekend I watched Michael Holgate’s new production Blogs and Mirrors at the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts. The cast comprised members of the University Players and the Ashe Company, starring Toni “Bella” Blair (of Youtube fame) and Rudolph Tomlinson. Supporting cast members included Desmond Dennis, Tiffany Thompson and Tiffany Smith.

Credt: nickphotoworks

Ebony (Toni Blair) and her monkeys.

Spiraling Plot

The musical stumbles through the lives of four characters: Ebony who has recently inherited her father’s company; Phil, her love interest; June who has fallen in love with a boy she met online; and Chidi, the boy online. The much-neglected plot spirals around underhandedness, deceit and the power of believing in yourself. Delivered spoken-word style, Holgate’s good intentions are received but he falls into the trap of telling instead of showing.

Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.
-Anton Chekhov

Wit vs Creativity

There was a smattering of well-delivered punchlines, and what it lacked in creativity the script certainly made up in wit. I found that the cast handled humour more believably than the serious issues. Jamaicans (maybe all theatre goers?) have a tendency to laugh when they feel awkward or embarrassed and the characters actually pointed this out. But I think some entertainment value was lost by erring on the side of too serious. I got the point, but maybe there was another way he could have brought across the same ideas with less proselytizing.

Highs and Lows

Thompson’s voice continues to inspire awe in her sassy rendition of the Magic Mirror; Bernard continues to play the mustache-twirling villain with masterful aplomb; and the monkeys’ moves were executed with laudable technique. But June’s character was incredibly annoying; Ebony and Phil’s romance has very little believability; and Blair’s delivery of Ebony lacked the feeling that could have brought her character to life.

Throughout the musical I kept losing touch with the central story, caught adrift in side stories that did little or nothing to move the central plot forward. But the original songs and dances were entertaining (if sometimes too long) and inspiring.

Pet Peeves

I have my own personal pet peeves. How come every time the main character is a girl the plot  dissolves into a sappy romance? Just once I would like to see a play where the happy ending does not involve the lead girl finding the man of her dreams.

Additionally (and this is a personal point) the second half took a religious turn that left me feeling somewhat unsettled. When I go to the theatre I don’t expect to find Jesus. I don’t have a problem with him being there, but it’s a bit like walking in on someone in the bathroom (the awkward kind of surprising).

Overall I’d give Blogs and Mirrors 4/10. It was entertaining enough, but there was really no “wow” factor.

Once Upon a Time (a Telecom Tale)

A long, long time ago in a land much like this one there was a kingdom called TeleCom and it was led by an aging tyrant. This tyrant’s name was C. W. J. and he was both loved and despised by his people; he only chose to be nice when it suited him and most of the time he was crotchety and mean. The people of TeleCom would complain but the Government would reply that that even though he was a terrible ruler he was the only ruler they had so they had better put up with him. 

Then one day a cold breeze from the north blew in D-Cel, a young and strapping hero who challenged C. W. J. to a duel for the leadership of the land of TeleCom. Because he was a new face (so much prettier than the old, ugly tyrant) and because he made many silver-tongued promises, the people of TeleCom fell madly in love with D-Cel and cheered him on during the long battle with C. W. J. The battle went on and on for years, touching not just the land of TeleCom but also the nearby kingdoms of Ecanami, Colcha and So-Siyiti. 

The battle rages still. 

The word ‘monopoly’ always conjures images of some oppressive dictator bending victims to his will (look at Hitler, JPS) so that the breakdown of any such monopoly will always inspire satisfaction in the minds and hearts of its victims. The outcome of such breaks is often forgotten by the history books (because by that time the chapter has ended), but the impact of the liberalization often stretches further than one first assumes.

 Economy

The Jamaican government liberalised the telecommunications sector in 2001 with acceptance of bids from Digicel and Flow. The emergence of two new companies would have likely meant an increase in the number of jobs available to the Jamaican populace. Indeed in 2010, Digicel boasted more than 1000 employees (Flow lagging slightly behind at more than five hundred).

The sudden increase in options for communication (cell phones, land lines and the internet) probably opened the doors for deeper interaction with investors both local and foreign, allowing Jamaica to experience more economic growth. It also likely helped that the new companies (and LIME, spurred on by it competition) were investing a lot of money to keep their businesses viable.

Communications expansion also means more avenues for business. The internet has become a thriving field of commerce and now Jamaicans can have a share of that pie.

But 13 years later, the Jamaican economy still isn’t what you’d call thriving. . .

Society

Investing in community projects, education, sports, you name it has become a branding competition among the telecommunications providers. The attention really does benefit the groups it is heaped on and one of the greatest advantages of liberalising this sector has to be the urge these companies have to spend money on people. They’re reaping profits, for sure, but they also give back with relatively willing hearts.

The boost in reliability of our communication (thank you Digicel’s million towers; thank you Flow’s unbeatable online speed) has likely connected families in a way they’ve never been before. The oligopoly that telecom in Jamaica currently sustains forces competition and constant improvement, which is all to the benefit of the consumer. Reliable communication is also a boon to education and even though most of our graduates can’t get hired, at least they can read and write at the tertiary level thanks  to reliability of communication that got them into university and helped them get their degrees.

A downside is that the popularity of cell phones, especially expensive cell phones, means an increase in crime rates. Reported or not, way more cell phones are being stolen now than they were before 2001. Because everyone must have more than one cell phone (to straddle both networks) and because the desire may outstrip the means some people turn to crime to get what they want.

Culture

Brand Jamaica is splashed across text messages, across Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. Liberalising the telecom sector split us wide open to cultural exchange and export.

The instant exchange of information and our ability to stay connected anytime anywhere (thank you Lime and Digicel 4G networks) helps us keep up with the Joneses in North America. This is a good and a bad thing – we’re always following behind the USA peepeecluckcluck. Do we really need another avenue that lets us do that?

Lastly, I’ve been wondering if the shift towards cell phones and away from landlines (a shift that occurred primarily after liberalisation) makes us more likely to go out instead of sitting at home waiting for a call. This might not be a cultural change so much as a cultural facilitation. It’s a lot easier now to keep in touch when you’re out after 1AM but we’ve been partying late for years, only now we don’t have to miss out on chatting to friends while we do it.

Thanks for reading.

*

Disclaimer: What I know about telecommunications and economy could fit in a newborn baby’s fingernail. What little I know of society and culture I have inferred from my own meandering experience. Digicel/the Observer asked for a blogging voice. Fiction is my voice. (At most, liberalised fact).

*

References here, here and here.

The Last Sun-Kissed Cloud

Let me be the last sun-kissed cloud
That receives the golden heat of your love
As you are
Pulled away

Let me be the last rain-dewed blade
Of grass
That your essence clings to
Cooling
Til morning breaks
And you are gone
From me

Let me be your last
Unbroken love
Skin branded by the heat of your touch
Heart chilled by the cool of your gaze, let me be
The last fire in your eyes
The last ice in your words

Let me be
Let me be
Let me be

Out-take | from a story which will never be written

“Do you ever wonder why some people become doctors?” Samantha asks the question with a serious look.

“Money,” Daniel replies without hesitation.

My eyes flicker to the steam rising from my cup of coffee. Ernestine leans forward, glasses almost reaching the tip of her nose, as she presses her elbows into the table.

“Love for humanity,” she whispers with determination.

Samantha smiles at her a little sadly. I can feel Benjamin shift behind me, out of my line of sight. His silence motivates me to speech. Keeping my eyes on the coffee, I murmur,

“Pressure.”

Samantha nods; I can feel Ben’s eyes trained on my back. Rene, however, plucks the cigarette from her lips and fixes me with a disregarding stare.

“Nobody’s forcing you to be here,” she says nastily.

Rene and I have never gotten along; I disapprove of her suicidal bent and she takes umbrage with my warped morality. So I barely even react to her outburst.

“Nobody asked you, Ren,” Ben growls. Like a protective papa bear. He’s like that these days, and sometimes I’m curious enough to see where it will lead. But not today. I offer him a slight smile and, ignoring Ren, and turn to face Samantha. She looks like she regrets opening the discussion.

“People don’t always get to do what they want,” I tell her gently. “Being an adult is about doing what you have to do.”

From behind her cloud of smoke, Ren sneers but offers no other comment. Samantha sighs. She’d like to believe we all get along in this circle of half-friendship but the truth is that our personalities generate an uncomfortable friction. A static electricity that puts everyone on edge.

“Which all boils down to money,” Daniel reminds us triumphantly and launches into a tirade on the dire straits of world economy.

I let his words wash over me as I sink back into my seat. Daniel is content to listen to his own voice for hours, and I . . . well, I would rather not think about anything much for a very long time.