Just Thinking on Some Things

When I hear of rape and ‘domestic’ violence cases, I think of my nieces and my nephews – what I want to protect them from (but can’t), who I hope they’ll be (but can’t determine). And my love and concern for them make it more and more difficult for me to move past what’s been done (or reported) simply because the person makes award winning movies or infectious music, has charisma or a winning smile. It’s not enough to make me forget all for a little wine up or wind down as the case may be.

I think of the ones close to home and further afield – my nieces and nephews and others I have mentored, I mean, and how for being a little smart-mouthed they might get clocked and even talk themselves around to believing they deserved it; or how overindulging at the wrong party may turn them in to the latest internet scandal with a long road to recovery and reclaiming their body and their reputation ahead of them.

Is it possible to separate the art from the artiste? Yes, but I swear sometimes these artistes don’t make it easy. We all make mistakes, we all have pasts; but some things cross lines for me…especially when there’s no acknowledgment, no attempt at ownership of the wrong.  My appreciation for the art may even still be there but it is tinged by this extra information my brain, my conscience can’t dismiss. While I may or may not know the person who was raped or hit  – I’ll still know it was a person, and I’ll know it could have been one of my own. That knowing makes it difficult to look away. I feel like while we must allow room for redemption, we also shouldn’t find it so easy to shrug certain things off and just go ‘long as though they’d never happened. And if we can, it makes me wonder about how much we really value our girls; and the boys we are raising and mentoring to do better.

Just thinking on some things.

New Moko, Game Changer

The latest issue of Moko: Caribbean Arts and Letters is, as usual, a cover to cover read. Kudos to the editors. High quality content and clean layout has made Moko a must-read for me as far as online (or offline) Caribbean literary journals go. I usually end up clicking through everything in the intended order: art to poetry to fiction to non-fiction.

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My favourites this issue in an order of my own selective making (most enjoyed down) are:

“An Exercise in Empathy”: An Interview with Diana McCaulay (interview)

Angels on the Southside by JR Mahung (poetry)

Poems by E O Kean

Poems by Shara McCallum

The Panchayat by Motilal Boodoosingh (fiction)

“From Many Sides” and “Ernestine and Me” by Olivia McGilchrist (visual art)

For Stepha by Racquel Henry (poetry)

“Navigating Caribbean Visual Language Through Digital Art Mediums” by Natalie McGuire (non-fiction)

Go Hide Your Joy, Boy by Celia Sorhaindo (poetry)

Timothy by Kirk Budhooram (fiction)

Juggling by Leesa Fenderson (non-fiction)

Poems by Kay Bell

Review of Nicholas Laughlin’s “The Strange Years of My Life” by Yaniré S. Díaz Rodríguez (non-fiction)

Sparrow come back by Jeffrey Dunn (poetry)

My story Game Changer can also be found in the issue.  It’s my second time being published with them; first time was my brief poem Children Melee and in Issue 7’s special issue in which one writer recommends another, I recommended Brenda Lee Browne

Check out all of Moko issue 9; you won’t regret it. Swing back by and let me know what you think of Game Changer.

For more of my journalled or anthologized stories, check here, AND pick up a copy of Dancing Nude in the Moonlight 10th Anniversary Edition and other Writings.

Puerto Rico’s First Gold

Mónica Puig has defeated Angelique Kerber of Germany 6-4, 2-6, 6-1 to win the Gold Medal in the women’s single tennis competition at the Rio Olympics. An emotional Puig wept through the singing of Puerto Rico’s national anthem, “La Borinqueña,” played for the first time at the Olympics Games since Puerto Rico began participating in […]

via Puerto Rico’s Mónica Puig Wins Olympic Gold Medal in Tennis — Repeating Islands

Springtime Friends in September

Response to another RandomMichelle prompt. Fair warning for adult language.

Margot had never had a favourite number, like her best friend Alana. Her number was seven. She does have a least favourite. It’s 40.
“I love it,” Alana said.
“Yes, but we long ago established that you’re not normal,” Margot responded.
“I think you’ve got that backward. You’re the one who said she feels like an alien. I’m perfectly human.”
Margot cocks open an eye lid, closes it hastily and covers her eyes with her arm for good measure. Light is her enemy.
“Aaargh aging sucks. My body feels like it’s mutating daily. I have enjoyed 20/20 vision my entire life. Now light hurts and my body hurts on waking, my limbs, my joints, I think even my damn hair follickles are rebelling against this damned decade.”
“It’s not so bad,” Alana responded. “It’s so liberating to be able to say exactly what you think.”
“Oh fuck you.”
“See what I mean.”
Rolling her eyes hurt but it had to be done.
Lying there, the fabric of the couch both hot and itchy against her skin, Margot allowed herself to feel thoroughly sorry for herself. She may have even squeezed out a few tears. She felt like one of those alien things in V who wore human like a skin over something greener, more reptilian, darker, and that greener reptilian thing had no love for humanity. In fact, it seemed determined to suck the life out of it. Suck the life out of her.
Alana kicked her just then, right in the shin, from the other end of the couch where she sat knees drawn up.
“What? I didn’t even say anything!”
“I can read your face.”
She cocked an eyebrow, seeing nothing but knees, hers and Alana’s, just like when they were girls.
“You can’t even see my face.” And, so what if she sounded around five years old.
“That’s how well I know you.”
Margot sighed. “Well, I’m glad somebody does, because I barely know myself these days.”
“Aww, chin up, boo. This too shall pass. You’ll go to the doctor, up your prescription, and be good as new.”
She supposed that was true. This wasn’t permanent – but what if it is, a small devilish part of her brain, insisted.
“…But it isn’t,” she said, aloud.
“That’s right, it isn’t,” Alana said. “Soon you’ll be as good as new… ish.”
And Margot genuinely laughed at that. Alana was right; she had life. That was worth getting up for; even if her body was letting her down like a little bitch.
But trust Alana not to leave well enough alone. “And look at the bright side, we’re winning; all that’s left to overcome before death is menopause, and that’s not for another …five years at least.”
Margot didn’t even bother opening her eyes.
“Again, and sincerely, with everything in me, Fuck You, Alana.”
“Love you, too, boo.”

Life’s a Beach

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Beach pic from a Barbuda day trip a few years ago. Barbuda is Antigua’s sister island. (JCH)

I’ve been rediscovering our beaches of late – in part because of a turn in my life that has made me want to re-discover the simple pleasures, the things that bring me joy. I am reminded of how lying on my back on the water covered by the sky can also bring me peace while quieting my mind and bringing some healing to my body.

I lived on another Caribbean island for a time. It, too, had beautiful beaches. But I was surprised to discover in my time there that the concept of all beaches being public was not a Caribbean wide right. I was happy, at this discovery, that I came from a place where I had never had to question that. Even if I would never get around to getting to all 365 beaches, I could get to them if I could; such was my right…as I understood it.

I am reminded that the erosion of rights doesn’t happen in grand sweeps. That’s why freedom and Independence demand that we keep our eyes open if we want either to be more than ceremony. It’s a subtle thing. It doesn’t begin with physical fences either (though I was there, reporting, in the late 90s when such a barrier stretching out in to the sea was torn down by locals). It begins with the seed of an idea that in the name of jobs, you must sacrifice this; that nobody came all this way to be subjected to your presence on their beach. The invisible “don’t disturb the tourist” sign. On the surface of it, concepts like “tourism is everybody’s business” are good ideas; a reminder that the fate of our main industry is our collective responsibility. But when creating a welcoming environment for our visitors morphs to privileging our visitor, over ourselves, the erosion of this common understanding, this perceived right, this shared knowledge that our beaches are ours to access and enjoy at our pleasure, no “please, may we”, accelerates.

And we begin to feel ourselves being corralled in-land (as one friend put it to me), directed to the muddy back entrance of our own paradise feeling like second class citizens (as one media personality was heard to complain). Within these expressed sentiments, there is a sense of elitism – whether of race or class (can be debated) – at play. A fence on this beach, a locked gate on this other beach, security guards that look like us shooing us like fowl from our own beaches. Well, how are we to feel about this?

Let me be clear. While this article and the debate it stirred makes this topical (here in Antigua and Barbuda), this isn’t a new concern of mine (just ask my friends), nor are my musings political (in intention or otherwise), and as someone who has worked in environmental education, I am keenly aware of and concerned about the beach litter problem (but barring us from our beaches is not the solution). This post is reflective of a soul-deep unsettledness at conversation about which line on which beach we are permitted to show ourselves. To my mind, and in my ancestors memory,  for all they sacrificed so that we could have ownership of ourselves and this land we occupy, transforming it in the process from plantation into home, these beaches are our beaches (which visitors to our islands are welcomed to share in and enjoy). And our children must know what it is to walk them freely.

I feel like I’ve always known this, that whatever resort development projects may come and go, beach access for locals is a given; but, of course, I can only speak to my experience and my knowing. And maybe it was all a dream…?

I hope not because I would never want to give up this sense of one-ness my re-introduction to our beaches is allowing me.

 

p.s. FYI, while not set on a beach, the people’s relationship with their land being more than pocket-deep is a subject touched on in my novel Oh Gad!

Teaching the Teachers

 The one time I wish I had a cell phone…

And not a regular old cell phone either. One with video function. That’s any old cell phone, you say. Okay, then; I guess any old cell phone will do.

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And all I’ve got is this stupid web cam.

What was I itching to capture? A group of teachers doing the cha cha electric slide during one of my sessions at the Ministry of Education’s Summer Institute, acting out part of a chapter from my book Musical Youth. And, as one teacher pointed out, no two group presentations were alike or drawn from the same bit of prose in spite of having the same part of a chapter to interpret. One of the groups had one teacher, playing a girl (Nicola?) in the rehearsal, demonstrating the shoulder shrug-neck snap-chest pump–hip sway-hop to a teacher acting as a rhythm-less Zahara stand-in. It was one of those rare moments where as a writer you get to see something you envisioned come to life and where as a workshop facilitator you get to see participants shake off their inhibitions and embrace an activity. True confessions: I would be an absolute fail at attempting the dance I wrote about in Musical Youth but the Nicola-teacher she made each moment sway in to the other like the child of Africa that she is and by the time she was done with the other teacher she kind of had it too. It was a beautiful thing to witness, and one of many moments of unlocking imagination and making literature come alive during my three days facilitating this workshop for a sometimes revolving door of teachers. I had 25 registered, I believe, but ran out of my 25 handouts more than once. Which is a good problem to have.

Over the three days, we studied the anatomy of story. They wrote and shared their own creations guided by prompts.

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Group story presentation. Photos by (teacher) Tiffany Azille-Henry.

They created pieces in response to their favourite works of art – after insisting that they had no favourite work of art – discovering, in the process, that art (and inspiration) is all around us. Without leaving the room, we moved from Malawi to Jamaica to New York and spent quite a bit of time in Antigua, we visited with Anansi and snake and turtle, we explored how story can be used to open up conversations with young people about the social and cultural issues of our times, about the realities of their lives; about the opportunity to interpret, and the freedom to re-write and to provide alternate endings. We looked for stories in other places – like songs, and we sang. One of my favourite segments came when after listening to, watching videos of, singing along with, dancing to, and discussing songs in which artistes interpreted their world, after they groaned when I asked them to group up and do the same (it was the end of a long day and we were all tired), they came up with some of the BEST writing they’d done so far. That was at the end of day two – they wrote about growing up in Antigua, they had us chorusing their plight in calypso, they gave us humour and nostalgia, they wrote about being teachers (the kind of testimonial that, though quiet in tone, made the church say Amen). We had fun that afternoon, and I’ll never forget that one teacher who, as she finished up the journaling they had to do at the end of each day (and at least twice a day), asked me if I’d ever been a teacher and told me I had very good teaching strategies. This in spite of their jokes about my handwriting (it’s bad), in spite of the fact that sometimes when they got going discussing the topics I laid out, it was all I could do to get a word in edgewise (you’d think teachers would grasp the concept of raise your hand and one person at a time, right?). For so many reasons none of which have any thing to do with the Summer Institute and none of which I will get in to here, little as she knows, this teacher’s acknowledgment and affirmation (and those that would come at the end of my final day with the group, what they said outright and what they wrote in their evaluations) was a validating, heart-filling, joyful moment for me.

It wasn’t all fun and games (though we did play games and we did have fun) – setting up the sessions was a mini-lecture on the necessity of creativity (and the value of creative writing) in the classroom – and the exercises were all meant to spur discussion or model approaches to encouraging creativity in the classroom, stressing the importance of being innovative and looking for opportunities. We watched and discussed a TED Talk which spoke to kids being educated out of their creativity, the way the system is set up – a talk the teachers related to as our post-viewing discussion revealed. They expressed an openness to the idea of finding creative ways to respond to (interpret, express, respond to) the literature they and their children interact with and creative approaches to educating, period. Which is the goal really.

Art used in this workshop included but was not limited to excerpts from my own Musical Youth (as mentioned) and The Boy from Willow Bend, Anansi including but again not limited to Barbara Arrindell’s How Snake Stories were Renamed Anansi Stories as published in Womanspeak: a Journal of Writing and Art by Caribbean Women (with, note to Barbara, one of the teachers asking me about its availability online), a story from the Commonwealth River of Stories, Jamaica Kincaid’s Girl, Ashley Bryan’s Beautiful Blackbird, Wadadli Pen past winning stories – one by a teacher Margaret Irish’s The Skipping Rope, one by a secondary school student Liscia Lawrence’s The Day I saw Evil (I like how impressed they were with the level of the writing, considering the author’s age at the time), and college student (at the time) Gemma George’s Stray Dog Prepares for the Storm (which both amused and spurred spirited discussion which was good because with each of these stories we looked at how story could drive discussion on social issues and give students an opportunity to explore how they feel about them). We also engaged with several songs and short vids which I tried to keep all regional if not local; all culturally relevant and possessing storytelling features and elements that we could use.

I also distributed copies of some of the books I had on hand (as a prize to the winning team after one of our word/story games – they called themselves appropriately and perhaps as a self-fulfilling prophecy, Champions). These included the last of my author comp copies of Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Musical Youth, The Boy from Willow Bend, and other books like Mary Robinette Kowal’s Of Noble Family, Marlon James’ Book of Night Women, and Colleen Smith-Dennis’ Inner City Girl. There was also a memoir by the actress who plays or played Drucilla on Young  and the Restless. Those all went.

It was heartening that they were particularly keen to have books by local authors – and, when I shared the book lists/bibliographies on the Wadadli Pen website, surprised by the sheer number of local books which they could potentially use in the classroom of which they had not been aware.I gave them a resources list at the end and encouraged them, with all of the hardware and internet access we’re supposed to have now, to utilize online resources as well.

I think you can tell that this was fun, productive and effective. Or so they said in their blind evaluations (excerpted below):

“I gained a wealth of knowledge about different books and ways I go about teaching my class how to write a story.”

“I wanted to learn new tips in assisting my students. I did.”

“I enjoyed writing poems and working actively in groups. Awesome experience.”

“My favourite part was interacting in my group. I have learned a lot.”

“Usually I am a shy person. Through teachers’ interaction I was able to read what I would have written.”

“A wonderfully informative and interactive presentation.”

“It was a learning experience and it was well done.”

“Great delivery overall. Inspired.”

“I recommend that all teachers at the infant level be involved in these activities.”

“Good how she managed to cater to all our needs – the primary school and secondary school.”

“There is a lot to be gained.”

Most important to me was what they gained and how they see themselves applying it in the classroom. The gains, as listed by them, included “Various ways to encourage children to write…A deeper appreciation for literacy…To encourage creativity in our students and examples of the different ways… Many different fun ways to include and foster literacy…Storytelling using music and movies…How to engage my students in creative writing successfully…Different activities that can be used in the classroom… A variety of strategies that can be used to encourage reading and writing… I think most of all it would be the prompts used. I can do this with my Grade 4…To help students to develop creative minds. Don’t shut them down.”

I also asked them to share their favourite bits because what they enjoyed doing can tip me as to what works but can also prompt them as to what might work in their classroom. Their responses: “engaging in activities verbally, role play, interpreting written words…Singing and dancing; full participation….writing poems and working actively in groups…All the practical exercises … Playing games; writing stories, poems….Writing my story/poem and sharing with the group…The excitement generated by the activities; the high level of student participation… Song/life stories etc. Participation/games, reading etc.” And my favourite:  “All activities done were both interesting and exciting. Hard to choose just one.”

Real talk, I was nervous going in to this because while I’ve been doing workshops for a while, I hadn’t had to build a course quite like this, with this purpose, and I’d certainly never tried to teach teachers. There wasn’t a lot of prep time by the time I was approved as a presenter. Plus I’ve learned between my time in the classroom and my time creating and running workshops that I work better in interactive small group settings – 25 plus teachers in a classroom setting was a tad intimidating but I stepped into that classroom and made it in to the space I needed it to be to create that interactive workshop vibe, and was lucky to have a group of teachers who (though they were skeptical of some of what I asked them to do) did it (mostly), and that give and take made for an organic and fulfilling experience for us both. I was tired but smiling at the end of my first day but looking forward to each other day. Making it, hands down, one of my favourite professional experiences to date. One I look forward to doing again with similar groups in Antigua and Barbuda and elsewhere.

I love to write, but I keep re-discovering that I also love to find creative ways to get others if not writing then thinking creatively as well. And when you’re doing what you love, it’s not work.

Reviews – Musical Youth

The latest goodreads reader review declares Musical Youth “one the best coming of age books I have come across”. I appreciate the enthusiasm.  I’m really not worthy…but I am glad that readers continue to discover and delight in the adventures of this group of musical theatre loving teens whose involvement in a summer production changes all their lives.

You can see if you agree by purchasing your own copy all summer long in CaribbeanReads’ sale… follow the link and stock up…also check out the guides for Musical Youth and the Caribbean Adventure Series.

Musical Youth Publisher: Caribbean Reads Publishing (St. Kitts’s-Nevis/USA) Genre: Young Adult Fiction (novel) Year of Release: 2014 ISBN-10: 0989930513/ISBN-13: 978-0989930512 First Page #12…

Source: Reviews – Musical Youth