Always a Winner!

This video is kind of blink and you miss it but, hey, I’ll take it (thanks, Alscess Lewis Brown).

I wish you could see what came before. There was a little dance off. You’ll remember I did a similar thing during my Musical Youth Schools Tour here in Antigua, specifically during the Antigua Girls High School stop.

“Shoulder-shrug, chest-pump, hip-sway, hop. Shoulder-shrug, chest-pump, hip-sway, hop… and Zahara’s body tensed up in anticipation of her cue…” – from Musical Youth

Both of these guys gamely took on the Challenge and, whaddya know, they were both wiinners. Because we’re always winners for trying.

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Three Quotes: Dreams

Okay so, I’ve been tagged in this three quotes challenge. When I decided to do it I opened my (nerd alert) book of quotes. Yep, I’ve been collecting quotes (the way some people collect…stamps) for roughly half my life. So I plucked three at random and, well, here they are:

“Now goes under, and I watch it go under, the sun
That will not rise again.
Today has seen the setting, in your eyes cold and senseless as the sea,
Of friendship better than bread” – Edna St. Vincent Millay (To a Friend estranged from Me)

I read this bit of verse for the first time in a book called The last of Eden last of edenthat was a favourite of my teenage self and which, though I haven’t re-read it in the many years since, I still have on my book shelf, still consider an all time favourite. For most people it’s probably another unremarkable, angsty, 80s teen drama  but then raised on the Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles, Some Kind of Wonderful, Ferris Beuller’s Day Off, and every John Hughes film of that era, I clearly have no problem with angsty, 80s teen drama and, true confession, find them anything but unremarkable. I identified with Mike, the main character in Eden because she was an angsty teenage wanna be writer, like me. The teenage years are some of the most transitional of our lives, rapidly, dizzyingly so (as I was reminded recently when writing my own teen/young adult novel Musical Youth), so when Mike sees her friendships changing and herself changing in the midst of it, and mourns the loss, I could relate; I was going through the same thing. Of course, back when I memorized this bit of verse (without even thinking to check for the source poem until many years later) I thought I did but I didn’t really know what it was to feel the heartbreak of a friendship dying…or fading into nothingness…these things would come later.

Incidentally, The Last of Eden is one of the books in the Cushion Club Wadadli Pen Summer Reading Challenge here in Antigua and Barbuda.

Harlem

“What happens to a dream deferred
Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun
Or fester like a sore and then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it sags like a heavy load
Or does it explode?” – Langston Hughes

This poem takes me back to a couple of places. It takes me back to the remarkable film starring Sydney Poitier and Ruby Dee sydney and ruby(two of the best to ever do it) built from a remarkable play by the gone-much-too-soon Lorraine Hansberry. I’m mostly sure I was in college when I first read the play; the film, it feels like it’s always been there in my awareness (I mean, it’s Sydney Poitier, right?). The reason why I associate the play with college days is because we did a production of A Raisin in the Sun in college. I was writing plays by then, soapy melodramas mostly (in retrospect) but we had so  much fun doing them and they were well received by the college crowd; considering our usual fare, we were ambitious with A Raisin in the Sun but maybe too young and naïve to appreciate what we were undertaking. We did it though. Yes, we, I was a part of the production too – I don’t think deliberately, pretty sure I was just supposed to understudy but then one of the leads had to miss one of her performances…or something. The lead will correct my sketchy memory of this if she reads this but I remember holding the plant as the family either prepared to leave its humble abode and move on up or settled into its new digs. It’s been a while since I read that one, too. Anyway, what does all of this have to do with the Langston Hughes poem.  Well, Langston I discovered in university. I remember wiling hours away in the campus library (such a huge library) reading his Simple stories and his novel Not Without Laughter (Dover Thrift Editions), but the poetry, the poetry man. Oh man. I fell in love with not just the way he used words but the urgency of his words even all those decades later when I discovered them. And of course I fell in love with the whole Harlem Renaissance period – but of that time, my favourites remain Langston and Zora, of course. The poem Harlem spoke to me then as a girl of very limited means with her own big dreams she couldn’t figure out how to make happen much less dare to believe in. Who, frankly, very Walter Lee like, felt trapped by her limited options. Hughes’ Harlem is eternally linked to Hansberry’s tale of Walter Lee Younger because the poem was part of what inspired the man who was the walking definition of the poem’s frustrations and most especially its climactic moment “or does it explode?” !

“Feel the fear, then let it go. Jump in and do it –
Whatever it is
If our instincts and path have led us there
It is where we need to be” – Melody Beattie, The Language of Letting Go

I’ve actually never read Melody Beattie but I remember when I first heard Feel the Fear… I was sitting at my desk at a job I’d hated before I started it (and it had done nothing to lift my depression) and a co-worker said it, and I grabbed hold of it and let it direct my path away from where I don’t want to be toward where I want to be ever since. I’m not one of those people who blithely declares I never feel fear or who kicks fear to the curb like something of no value. I feel that fear is a part of us, it keys us in to danger. That’s physical fear. It’s a survival instinct. Emotional fear though is trickier, it doesn’t get us out of situations so much as keep us stuck in them; stuck in bad relationships because we’re afraid of being alone, stuck at a job we hate telling ourselves we’re not about to give up our years of service as if when we ‘win’ and get that pension it’s the same as getting those soul sucking years back. I wanted to spend those years doing what I was passionate about, what I loved to do, what I had an instinct for …and that was writing. I didn’t want to lose sight of that, and I didn’t want fear to stop me from pursuing my dreams or doing anything I felt pulled to do really. And so I’ve not only embraced the scary high wire act that is the writing life, the freelance writing life no less, and been blessed with the opportunity to share my stories (read: my books) with people I’ll never meet, I’ve pushed through the fear to many of my life’s adventures – heart pulsing double time but exhilarated on the other side of the ride. I’m not going to lie to myself and say the fear of failure, fear of a hard crash, fear of making the wrong move isn’t there (I’m not going to lie to you and say I ALWAYS dare, always overcome the fear) but I don’t want that fear to make me content with staying stuck, and so I, to put it the way my long ago co-worker did that day, remind myself (and I’m a work in progress on this), to feel the fear, but do it anyway.

Okay, so, who to tag? Nine, right? Pulling at random, much like my selection of quotes …

Mindy Hardwick’s Blog
Pages Unbound
Booker Talk
Rainy Days and Mondays
Mary Robinette Kowal
Blogging for a Good Book
Austen Prose – a Jane Austen Blog
Chattinatti
Novels by Vanessa Salazar

I’m not sure I’ve actually tagged any of you, but if you see this, here’s what you do:

I – Post your favorite quotes or your own quotes for three (3) posts in a row.
II – Thank the person who nominated you.
III – Pass it on to three (3) other bloggers per quote, each time you post them.
IIIb – Or pass it to nine (9) bloggers if you choose to post all the quotes together, in the same post.

Sips and Verses…in Contemplation

The event was dubbed Sips & Verses; it was a fund raiser for the Government House Restoration Project on the evening of Saturday 27th June. It would feature local authors and poets.

A little background…

According to the Governor General’s Message in the event booklet, read in his absence by Governor General’s Deputy Sir Clare Roberts, “the Government House Restoration Committee was formed in October 2014 in response to the urgent need to restore the entire Government House property.” He announced that US$8 million is the target.

It begins with this… small, very small events in this stately place – and wandering, as I tend to do, through the dining room and other spaces, you get a real sense of its former grandeur, not as somewhere specifically lived in and homey but as a historical showpiece, which it aspires to be again. I have warring impulses when it comes to such places – an appreciation for history, yes; an awareness that such spaces do not comfortably accommodate the working class people who built this country (my people), also yes. And yet the poetry and prose we come here to share tonight, could prompt sober reflection on who we are, who we want to be, at this intersection of governance (which this house symbolizes), then and now.

Or it could just be an entertaining evening. Either way.

Sips & Verses is the second arts fundraiser in this space that I’m aware of – the first was an art auction, the pieces from which can still be seen hanging on the walls, prompting me to ask if the space is opened for public viewing of said pieces on a day. Speaking of the Public, when I shared the after-post re Sips and Verses on social media several people commented that they would have come out to support if they’d only known about it. So, there’s that. I did find out that while there’s no online presence as yet for the restoration fund that contributions can be made to an account at Antigua Commercial Bank. So, there’s that as well.

As I write this I haven’t sourced any pictures as yet, online or otherwise, except for those taken and posted to facebook by one of the other participants (my favourite of the night as it happens, with her varie-flected accent, breezy boldness and the deep-deep storytelling anchoring her love poetry, Kimolisa Mings). Hope she doesn’t mind me borrowing.

reading from Oh Gad at Government House 201511539740_10152910676497633_2586013048005010223_n

What else can I tell you of the night the readings were by turns sobering-slash-chilling (Claudia Elizabeth Ruth Francis reading from her international thriller Missing), wryly amusing (Dorbrene O’Marde, a reflection on Carnivals past wrapped in a critique of Carnivals present wrapped in a story styled like a letter between two friends circa early 80s that could easily be rewritten today), sassy-meet-saucy (a toss up between Michelle Toussaint’s last poem – sorry, Michelle, I don’t remember the name but it’s the one inspired by an Edison Liburd painting, the only one I got to hear after being summoned to move my car…and is not my fault, is there the police tell me to park, hm – and Joy Lawrence’s Mr. Fashion). It was a pleasure to hear Wadadli Pen alum Margaret Irish read one of her winning pieces, the Skipping Rope, and in conversation with her, to hear of her plans for publication of a children’s book and other things in the near future – go, Margaret. It’s a complicated time for me in my head and heart with so many things that are going on my country and in my world, but here was the simple pleasure of realizing something I continue to pour my heart and soul into is bearing fruit.

So, in the end, I don’t know if the organizers hit their target – I hope we helped them inch along toward the eight million, likkle likkle, as we say, full basket; certainly a portion of the proceeds from the sale of each book is going to the cause (a couple of copies of The Boy from Willow Bend and Musical Youth and a single copy of Oh Gad! have new readers) – plus there was the price of admission (no, no, no, it wasn’t just who soever will may come). And whatever else, it was nice to spend an evening soaking up the words of writers I enjoy, great to see words embraced and appreciated in this space (our version of the White House) where there is always a sense of occasion (if only for the police in their formal outfits, the Governor General’s Deputy and his spouse greeting folks in the receiving line, and the space which screams elegance) even if it is in need of restoration.

For a much more magical Cinderella reading of the night’s events be sure to check out Michelle’s blog. Hey, Michelle, you can keep my glass slippers…shoes were not meant to be torture devices.

To Be Messy is Human

In the movie Friends with Money, the Frances McDormand character was quite unlikeable…everyone in the movie thought so, every critic I read said so…and yet …her frustration at the person jumping the line, been there. But her calling out rude people for being rude (admittedly with great and increasing stridency) had friends and critics alike trotting out the C-word…no not that one, the one likely to have you prescribed mood altering medications…preferably by a professional.

From Fatal Attraction to Gone Girl to just about every episode of Snapped, there’s a part of us, if we’re honest, that …hopes we’d make better choices…but, on some level, understands…not the actions (poor bunny) but the emotions. Doubt it? Think back to every gripe session with your girlfriends. Now, yes, it’s a helluva leap from frustrated to homicidal (seriously, don’t make that leap) but feeling shafted, feeling betrayed, feeling frustrated, being messy as bleep, who can’t relate to that? It’s okay, you don’t have to admit it …don’t cry out loud.

Many reviewers of Oh Gad! even or perhaps especially the ones who like the book call out main character Nikki for her messiness. She’s emotionally distant; she carries grudges from childhood against one parent who is dead, and another parent who has moved on; she breaks up with a lover she doesn’t love enough, using his infidelity as a loophole instead of owning up to her part in the break-up; she falls for someone any sensible woman could have seen for what he was – or so several readers have said after the fact, and no I’m not about to call them on hindsight being 20/20 because we don’t know anyone out here loving the wrong man or maybe just the fact that he gives good love … nah that’s only in fiction (and really great love songs); she gripes and moans about her misfortunes, a contrast to her blunter (brutally blunt) sister who just gets on with it, because, really, life didn’t promise it’d be fair or smooth.

Nikki is also someone though who grew up feeling emotionally isolated because her father was distant and her mother was miles away on an island in the Caribbean – and I’ve conversed with enough daughters who have been shipped off for a better life to know that the reasons might be noble, a better life and what not, to know that often, to the child it still feels like abandonment. And I know women older than Nikki who still haven’t gotten over it.

I watch her struggle to let people in and, sure, she frustrates me but I also know that trust can be a fragile thing…and that this business of who we love and why can be complicated (and often without discernable rhyme or reason)…and that sometimes we don’t know the real deal when we see it.  To be messy is human.

I say this to say that I understand Nikki, and Selena (yeah, she’s in line for a smacking by many a reader-account, too), in the way that I do some of those other unlikeable women in fiction. Maybe like many a reader I want to smack them but I sometimes want to smack myself too and I think if more people were honest with themselves, their frustrations at the self-sabotaging behavior they see in the less-than-perfect woman walking around in their skin – her bad choices in love, her failure to let go of things etc etc – we might admit that part of the frustration characters like Nikki, Selena, and other unlikeable women inspire is just a wee bit of projection. Just a wee bit?

No?

Okay, maybe, maybe not (you know you best)…maybe this is just the defense of Nikki I promised I’d never write. Yeah, tell yourself this is just about another movie/book where the psycho bitch trope had your skin itching, Joanne. I’m messy enough (and honest about my messiness) to admit that my reasons might be complicated though.

And I say where is it written that women have to be good girls all the time – never admitting their neuroses, never acknowledging their fears and failures, never stumbling over nothing but their own bad decisions, never giving rein to their anger or frustration or feelings of betrayal, never giving themselves the luxury of being human? Where is it written that only men get to be messy in life and in fiction?

Other interesting reading on unlikeable women in fiction here here here …and other places, no doubt.

Thursday’s Throwback: Breadloaf

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In 2008, around this time, I was getting ready to go to the Breadloaf Writers Conference. See those mountains, and those chairs out on the grass, conveniently placed for you to write while soaking up the crisp, clean air…yeah. I enjoyed my time there…my daily walks by the river, our barn jam, the readings and master classes, the connections, the discoveries… I was there on an international fellowship as part of Ursula Hegi’s workshop (book rec sidebar: Floating in My Mother’s Palm and fellow fellow Will Allison’s What You Have Left: A Novel
…oh also Martha Southgate’s The Fall of Rome: A Novel..Preeta Samarasan’s Evening Is the Whole Day…okay, I’ll stop but suffice it to say that I bought more books than I sold that summer *smh*). I was doing a lot of reading as part of my purpose for being there, as well, as as a fellow I was involved in critiquing the work of other workshop participants.
I got the opportunity to read in the auditorium (another perk of being a participating fellow)…which…now I think of it might be my first really international audience… maybe, I think…needless to say I was nervous. You can maybe hear it in my voice…
Sidebar: You can find both stories read at Breadloaf in the anniversary edition of Dancing Nude in the Moonlight.

Finally, my Breadloaf experience was a (mostly) good one (hey, nothing’s perfect, right?). I do recommend it and have recommended other local authors for it because it gave me the distance, the space, the peace, the time, the quiet, the long walks and quiet days by the river wild, and the supportive community to hoist my flagging spirits, to find my Muse again, to, on returning home, pick up Oh Gad! again…and the rest, as they say, is history.

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TEDx Antigua and Barbuda videos uploaded

Let me just say this…as a born and bred Antiguan and Barbudan who loves this country of mine through good and bad, I wish wish wish we could rise above the base partisan crap that advances and elevates nothing… I enjoyed the TEDx Antigua talks because they were about affirmations and ideas, social engagement and, yes, conscious elevation…they were at once intimate and personal and more broadly resonant and thought provoking. As I said when I blogged it, we can do better, jack, but we have to mean to.

Anyway, if you missed it, it is my pleasure to share the video links of TEDx Antigua.

Here’s Lia, here’s Marcella, here’s Kai, here’s Mr. GomesI don’t see Calypso Joe as yet but will share as soon as I do.

Updated! Calypso Joe!

Meantime, my blogged report of the TEDx Antigua activity begins here…in case you missed it.

Just a reminder

…that when I’m not working on my own writing, I write for others; and I also coach and offer workshops. Whatever your writing or editing needs, wherever you are, look me up. I have no doubt we can work something out. Follow the links from this page for information on my services and, If you think you can make use of them, hit the contact me button.

If you’re looking for information on how you can support and/or register for the Jhohadli Summer Youth Writing Project, here you go.