7th May – June 5th, 2015
Earlier this year I spoke openly about my personal reticence to share too much of myself on Facebook, as there is a challenge inherent to a public forum in what is true from what is not… However, recently, a post I read on a writer’s group challenged other writers with writers’ block (or new writers looking to find their voice) to start with something personal… something true. In struggling recently with my own INK which ebbs and flows at its own behest, I remembered that post and like the idea.
So, despite my reservations about doing so, I am challenging myself to share my truths, my opinions, my “free-flow” thoughts (NOT poetry/prose, for a change) for the next month.
Every writer needs an audience, so please “LIKE” and “SHARE” my upcoming posts; and if you do, I’ll aim to write something dedicated to a memory of my relationship with you.
So, the challenge starts today… one topic per day for the next month… on things that affect me, things I feel strongly about, things I find worth saying.
WATCH THIS SPACE.
Click on the titles below to open or close the panel.
MY TRUTH DAY 1: ''BECAUSE OF BABY''
Alright… challenge accepted! Let’s start with a big one, the “blame-game” parenting…
Children are a blessing, but they can take just as much as they give to your lives… sometimes, the balance is not equal — but this is not the child’s fault. The child didn’t ask to be here; you brought it into the world… and once you bring it in, you can’t exactly easily take it back out! If a parent has a child before fulfilling his/her own personal dreams (at least some major ones), this child can be the reason the person puts his/her life on “pause”; often, the child becomes an excuse for this person’s own lethargy: “Well, I had planned to get my degree/go travelling/donate to a good cause/own my business/become a superstar… but then I had (baby)…” and that “pause” soon turns into “stop”.
No. Children should not be the reason the adult limits himself/herself… there is no reason to entirely derail your own life plan based on your child’s existence… adapt! Of course there may be some things that would no longer be appropriate (you can’t exactly abandon your child for the years left before you “find yourself”), but surely there are things you still can do towards that dream. The more complete a person you are as a human being, the better parent and role model you would be for your little one. I am not yet a parent, but hope to someday be… and promise myself never to grudge about — what I could have done, that I didn’t do, “because of baby”.
And, on another note… for the adult children… remember, whether your journey to the planet was an accident or a long-awaited gift, the fact is that at some point, someone chose to keep you. If you’re lucky, someone is still choosing to keep you… in their daily nagging, in their thoughts, at their tables, in their homes, in their hearts. Whether your connection to your parents is financial, emotional, spiritual or even one of aggravated tolerance… you will never, ever, ever be able to give back what your parents have sacrificed (even unknowingly) to have you in their lives; however, small gestures will go a long way to showing them you care.
I am tagging my own… for never making me feel that there are things they never got a chance to do “because of baby”…
MY TRUTH DAY 2: ''THE PICTURE OF PARTNER''
A pragmatic approach to a relationship is to distance yourself from emotion and the person you are with, and look at the bigger picture. Is this someone who you think, in 30 or 40 years, you will still be able to tolerate, even if not love? The reality is that we all change as we age… people are weak, people are oblivious, people are not perfect, and they will disappoint you. So take that as a given, and consider the rest of the picture, in particular the three dimensions of FRIENDS, FAMILY, and PARENTHOOD…
You will have to be your own unit without regard for the friends you both had before the relationship. If you’re lucky, your friends and your partner will be the best of buds. But whether your friends like him/her is actually quite irrelevant in the long run of your relationship (a widely unpopular view, I’m sure, but I’ll elaborate more on this in my next “TRUTH” post tomorrow!). My point is, society and the law of the land dictate that if you cannot make medical decisions for yourself, no one will look to your friend — they will look to your partner, whether this partner is one you chose to “have and to hold” or have been “having and holding” for a sufficient period of time without the paper; next in line, they will look to any living family members for your “next of kin”; at no point will anyone look to your “best friend from way back when” unless specifically instructed to do so by legal documents of sound mind and body signed by you. Thus, as important as your friend is to YOU, he/she will not be there with you for 50-80% of every day for the rest of your life – your partner will. The “friend an’ dem” has its place in your life, but not in your relationship.
Do you both have the same picture of what a family looks like; the roles of the husband, the wife, the mother, the father, the child, the extended family? Who cooks, cleans, does the dishes, takes out the garbage, changes the baby or washes the toddler’s soiled sheets, irons the school uniforms, does the school drop-offs, meets with the teachers, sits and helps with the homework? How are the finances of the family going to be prioritised; will there be joint accounts, will money be kept separate, who pays for what — will it be 50-50%, or will the person with the higher income supplement the disparity (even if this person is the woman)? If he/she does not share at least SOME of the same views on these things, and is not willing to make compromises in at least SOME of these things, or if you never discuss this in the early stages… you are wasting your precious time.
Knowing all the good and bad qualities, is this still someone who you think would make a good father/mother for a child, whether the two adults had any relationship at all, or if you were no longer in the picture at all (death, divorce, medical incapacity)? Will he/she, in your absence, jump in front of a moving vehicle (both literally and figuratively) to save the child the two of you created? Can you see this person (for all his/her faults) being a positive influence on the child, in your absence? Even if the two of you live a long life and are happy together, there will be many moments along this path where both parents will not be there at the same time, and you have to be able to trust that your partner will make a decision that — even if it may not have been YOUR decision — is still in the best interest of the CHILD. You should not choose the person you want to be with, without regard for the little person(s) you two may create.
Finally, we can’t always be pragmatic. Emotion, of course, will play a tremendous part in any long-term relationship… but lock down those three rational aspects first, and then decide if “love” is really what you’re in.
MY TRUTH DAY 3: ''THE OTHERS: BRIDGING THE GAP''
As promised yesterday, now for the next big one… two of the most important roles in your life (after your family): your partner and your best friend. (Let’s assume the “best friend” is one person, although many people have various best/close friends they consider on the same level.) The “best” friend and the “boyfriend/girlfriend” are two very crucial relationships, for the simple reason that you CHOSE each of them. You can’t choose your parents, your siblings, your coworkers, your neighbours, your classmates, your peers… but you DO choose your partner and your best friend. Likely, these two people only know each other through you; also likely: they may not naturally like each other, without your presence to bridge the gap.
In the friendship, it is important that each party understands each other’s choices in the significant others each one chooses to spend their lives with, and can appreciate the people who come into the picture years after the friendship began. If this is never understood, it will be difficult to spend time together as couples, to be around each others’ children, to have adult relationships, and to even speak to each other (as your partner would be the focal point of most conversations). On the other hand, for your relationship, it is important to understand that this best friend holds all the history and experiences, and ultimately helped to craft your significant other into the person he/she became.
Before there was instant messaging, we used to write emails; before that, letters (I myself have several cringe-worthy lengthy “essays” to friends about the boy-of-the-moment!). Today, the impression of these two important roles in your life would be scattered in the amnesiac memory bank of cell phones and Facebook messages, and that “solid snapshot” is missing for each party. With that in mind, the out-of-fashion “essay” of sorts is a practice that would be worthwhile to do as an adult. It is impossible for anyone to fully understand a relationship or a friendship without actually being in it, but it is your responsibility to try to bridge at least some of those gaps.
My suggestion (one I will be following myself: another self-challenge!) is to write a letter to each party about your connection to the other. Try your best to detach emotion from it (“he makes me so happy”/”I love her so much”/”we have so much fun together”)… in fact, assume that you and the person are no longer friends/coupled (for whatever reason) and you are reflecting on the past, and include only the ways that this person has fundamentally changed your life, broadened your horizons, challenged you and been a benefit to you. Your friend and your partner will not be able to experience the same emotions you do when you think of the other, but he/she will be able to see — through your words — the positive influence that the person you CHOSE, the ONLY other person you CHOSE besides them, has had on you.
Note: you don’t need to share this with the person it is about! You are sharing it only with the OTHER person you chose. This is important for keeping the integrity of the “essay” intact; if you knew the actual subject of your words would read it, you might hold back!
…And, one day, if your best friend or your partner has hurt you or disappointed you, go back to the letter you wrote about him/her to the other person. This representation and record of your feelings would be beneficial for you to look back on, and may salvage both connections at some point down the line.
MY TRUTH DAY 4: ''COMPARING THE CHA-CHING''
“But you have a good job, how you acting broke so? If only you were making my salary eh… then you would know what broke really is!”… “I wonder why that pretty girl with that ugly man, boi? He mussbe have rel money!”… “Check the car she driving, hmmph! Well she rolling in it! But she is a VP, so she could afford that!”…
No, no, no. We may all be guilty of thinking it from time to time — even if some of us don’t actually say it aloud. But this ridiculousness needs to stop. There is a reason that few people will willingly share their salaries or bank account balances… talking money is a touchy subject. Sometimes, you are afraid for others to know how much you make (and hate on you) or how little you make (and pity you), or even afraid to ask your friend’s business because it might make you jealous. But regardless of how much INCOME someone has, INCOME is not an accurate measure of AFFLUENCE.
While you may be seeing someone’s income in dollar signs flashing before your eyes, are you also seeing their EXPENDITURE? Do you know how much he is paying for a car loan, a mortgage, his child’s braces, or his mother’s live-in nurse? Do you know if her husband has a gambling problem, if her brother/sister is struggling with drugs or alcohol addiction, if his son/daughter has legal problems, if he himself has health issues, or if she is still paying off the Bachelor’s or Master’s degree from years ago?
No, you don’t know. So let’s all stop counting other people’s money. Look in your own pocket — and while you’re at it, spare some change for a good deed, or save for your own personal goal… chances are, even if you aren’t making as much income as this person you envy, you too can “afford” a lot more than you think.
MY TRUTH DAY 5: ''READY FOR THE RIDE''
This one’s for the young ladies…
In T&T, there is a saying that “he/she face hard like transport…”. There is a reason for this. Some of us have been fortunate to witness the luxury of well-oiled transport systems in other countries where 95% of the time, things run on time and there are reputable operations in place even in the wee hours of the morning; but we simply haven’t gotten to that point in T&T yet. As such, the non-drivers need to be more careful.
No one, I repeat NO ONE (male or female), should be raped/molested/abused/robbed/attacked while in transit to anywhere, but this takes on a whole other dimension when you are a woman. As a woman, it is your responsibility to avoid circumstances that can lead to such a situation. Before I was a driver, at times I found myself at limes when “so and so friend will drop us home” (mind you, I had never met “so and so” or his/her friend, and wasn’t sure how long my own friend knew her/him either)… but when you’re a teenager/early-20s and you don’t have wheels, trust me, you are excited to go just about anywhere.
The most important lesson I’ve learnt as a driver is that having a vehicle gives you the right to KEEP YOUR ASS HOME… instead of being cajoled by a girlfriend into coming along “to keep me company as a third wheel to buffer the male driver from trying something, since I really just using him as a drop” or because “come nah, we might not have this chance again”. Now, as a driver, I have all the chance in the world to go out, so there is no rush to get dolled up to leave my house in someone else’s vehicle — particularly someone I barely know. If I want, I can be antisocial and stay in my bed tonight (where I’ll most likely be wishing I was, if I had gone to the party).
Granted, not everyone can afford a vehicle, but let’s keep it real… your “cannot afford” and a poor person’s “cannot afford” may be two different kinds of “cannot afford”. I’m not talking about those supporting five children on minimum wage… I’m talking about those who can afford to party: mas, all-inclusive parties, stunning outfits, gorgeous shoes, loads of bling, etc…. and bumming a drop. If you can afford to party, then you can afford a used vehicle or at least afford to start saving towards a down payment for one, or maybe even contribute financially (rather than just beg a borrow) to a “time-share” or “part-payment” or “maintenance/insurance/gas” arrangement with a sibling, parent or other family member while you save for your own.
Until you ARE driving yourself to and fro, ask yourself before you leave with someone else — “Do I really need to go out tonight? If I do, how am I getting home? If I have an argument with this friend tonight, or lose him/her in the crowd, how will I get home?” Always have a safe backup ride at the ready (preferably a family member), so you won’t get stranded. Keep your phone charged and topped up with credit — just in case.
…And, even while you’re being cautious, don’t forget the end game: get your financial priorities in order, get your license, and get your own ride.
MY TRUTH DAY 6: ''SURROGATE FAMILIES''
To those of us who have studied away from home, when we look back on our experiences, it is likely we will think about all the stresses we endured in lecture halls, the parties we attended, the crazy late-night snacking after a drunken tumble from the campus bus, flying down the hall of your faculty to hand in something at the stroke of the deadline, and so on.
One of the things I personally remember are the unlikely friendships I developed with my surrogate families. The persons who didn’t necessarily share classes with me, who I would probably have never run into at a club, and who — had it not been for the random coincidence of us sharing our living space — I may have never really spoken to. That’s right… flatmates.
…The people that get the chance to see you with your guard down — home clothes, messy hair, lazing about, and getting upset or frustrated over trivial things… the “big brother” who cooks you dinner (or pinches a bite of your food), the girl down the hall who went out of her way to find something to feed your vegetarian friend who was staying the night, the guy who knocks on your door to shame-facedly beg for a roll of toilet paper, the girl who grabs something for you at the grocery while doing her errands to save you the time, the guy that shares a wash-load with you to save a couple quid, or the woman who warmly welcomed your visiting parents with a meal and a genuine conversation. It is the sisterly/brotherly knock on the door to ask if you want to share a cup of tea/coffee or join their friends for dinner. Not everything gets captured on camera with the “uni experience”… luckily, I have my memories and their awesomeness that will never leave me.
Tagging a few of my fellow international sisters Akvile Akvilinas, Cynthia Chandran, Eliana Maakaroun, Roxanne Francis, Mate Munthali, and the British guy that made everything better with potatoes: Chris Xavier Sebastopol Bell II.
MY TRUTH DAY 7: ''THE TEDIOUS TOURIST''
One for my fellow travellers…
A travel review often tells you more about the person writing it than it does about the place being reviewed. Of course, people pay for something and expect to get it, and some have had TRULY awful experiences, but… come on. In the past, I have gone to places with terrible reviews and found nothing of the sort… similarly, I’ve gone to places with good reviews and found them a little worse for wear BUT still enjoyed myself and didn’t let it ruin my vacation. It’s tricky navigating what is really a “review” vs. what is really just a “complaint” that would be better served to the company itself rather than to the public at large.
There are those reviewers that don’t do research at all (complaining the shuttle is “unreliable” when all marketing material clearly state the operating hours outlining the out-of-service times, which was the time the person found it “unreliable”)… those that feign ignorance (a buffet is being served 6:30-9:30, and the person tumbled down at 9:35 and was appalled and incensed to see the staff “running away with the food”)… not to mention those that expect 5* service when they are paying for 3*, or those that protest vehemently at every second when something they did not expect comes their way (someone travelling alone appalled at having to share a table with strangers in the ship’s restaurant at rush hour; traffic due to a major fatal accident). And then… there’s the tourist that is angry when the natives don’t speak his/her language… (seriously?… no, seriously?!).
Personally, I believe that the world is a big place and if I get to see even 10% of it in my lifetime, I will consider myself lucky. If I remember the bad experiences, it will be something I laugh about later… falling into the grimy bathwater in the “hole-tel”, the sweltering heat wave that shut down many tourist sites, the “beach” after a long trek that turned out to be literally a deep-water drop off the side of a cliff (all Greece); waiting half a millennium in the arctic cold to climb up “l’escalier” to the Eiffel Tower, after no one believed when I said it meant “stairs” rather than “escalator” (Paris); the seemingly-normal custom to leave fresh loaves of bread open to the elements of dirt and dust prior to bringing it over to the breakfast table (Martinique); the shock of having to change hotels upon arrival due to a water/electrical problem – soon forgotten when we settled into the other hotel and discovered a houseful of cats, bunnies, birds, fruit trees and a lovely attic room as our base to explore (Cannes)… and many, many more experiences.
There is only so much that “the industry” of hospitality has control over; but YOU have the most control over your experience. So come on, people. When you step outside of your comfort zone, expect to bend a little. You’re on vacation but this is someone else’s job – don’t be rude. Be informed, be observant, be considerate. Be a good tourist.
Tagging Ronald Fortune… the genetic source of my wanderlust!
MY TRUTH DAY 8: ''UNCONDITIONAL LOVE''
An old Facebook post of mine once said: “The best thing about having a pet is that, unlike offspring and lovers, it will never stop to analyse and reconsider its reason for loving you”.
It’s a different kind of grief for the loss of a pet, particularly an old one who has literally been around for longer than half of your life. You don’t want to treat it as though you lost a person, because of course it wasn’t a person… but at the same time there are ways that your pet was better than a person: never judging, always faithful, and conveying its needs through easy-to-read vocalisation and body language. With a pet, once you are loved, you are loved… it is the kind of unconditional love we keep craving from humans that they just cannot deliver. But with a pet, you are owned. You belong. You are everything.
It’s a shame we are destined by nature to outlive this one “true” love.
But… if aging and illness are frightening for us humans who know exactly what’s happening to our bodies, imagine what it must be like for our beloved pets… gradually losing appetite, eyesight, mobility, mental faculties, chunks of fur, and zest for life… and eternally in the dark.
…And so, as much as we all miss you, I am happy — for you — that you are gone. 15 years is a long time, darling; thanks for sticking it out as long as you could. Today marks a month since I last saw you. Until we meet again, Miss Maubs!
P.S. Samba misses you too, even though she has waited a really, really long time for this promotion!
Tagging my fam, some people who knew the feline empress of the house, and some of my cat-folks…
MY TRUTH DAY 9: ''THE ARSONIST''
Don’t you ever tame your demons, always keep them on a leash… (Hozier, “Arsonist’s Lullaby”)
At some point in your life, you may come across a situation where a friend, lover or family member says or does something so shocking and hurtful that it makes you reevaluate everything you have ever thought about this person. Often, we put up a “blind eye” to the persons closest to us. We know there is some bad stuff sprinkled among all the good times, but we never see “all the bad” “all at once” until this moment when time stops — like the screeching of a record — and you go: “Wait, WHAT?”
As all the ways they have hurt you in the past come flashing back like a hurricane, ask yourself: “Is this person really who I have been telling myself he/she is? Does this person understand me? Is this person worth keeping around?”. So… think about it. All these years, you have been taming your demons (“yes, this person hurt me, but he/she didn’t mean to! This is my friend/brother/sister! Let’s forgive these little fires…”), but it would have been better for you if you had kept your demons on a leash; you would then have the control necessary to ask the question (“this person hurt me, but DID he/she mean to? IS this my friend/brother/sister?”).
History does not dictate the future of a friendship or relationship, nor does blood (family). It’s not necessary to drop someone because of one incident, but use this experience to reevaluate this person’s role in your life, and reformat your thinking. Does this person add value to you, or take it away? Has this person been an “arsonist” in your life, causing small fires along the way, before “the big blaze”? Some may realise that they can actually be the “arsonist” in their own lives: they can burn this entire friendship or relationship to the ground, yet walk away unscathed and perhaps even better for it. Because an arsonist is not a victim; an arsonist by its very nature… escapes the blaze. Are you strong enough to escape… or will you keep clinging to the house that person set on fire?
MY TRUTH DAY 10: ''INDEPENDENCE & ILLNESS''
It has been almost a decade now… but I still remember it like yesterday. It was my first winter, two months into my undergrad degree, and it took all the effort in the world to move around campus and breathe in the thin, crisp air that was Britain’s coldest in ages.
And then… one Sunday morning, I fainted. It happened somewhere between my bed and the bathroom door, and I hit my head on the bed-frame on my way down. I wasn’t sure how long I was out. When I woke up, I called one of the girls who I had recently been getting to be friends with, and she came over from another dorm to stay with me for a bit (although she barely knew me at this point… what a dear!). The health centre was a ghost town on Sundays, so it wasn’t until the next day that I learned my breathing/consciousness had been compromised by a lung inflammation.
In the aftermath of the episode, I realised that physically I’d be fine, but emotionally I had taken a hit.
I had never been one to shy away from the challenge of independence… but it suddenly occurred to me that I could have been out cold on the floor for ages without anyone knowing, without anyone knocking on my door, without anyone checking in on me. My flatmates may have wondered about me eventually, but… how much time would have passed before they got worried — before they even noticed?!
As the years went by, and I got closer to one of my “surrogate sisters” in particular, we made it a point to “check in” frequently — a knock on the door just to ask a health-specific (both physical and emotional) “Are you okay?” She understood more than anyone: INDEPENDENCE takes on a whole new meaning when you are ILL.
Until I had fainted, it hadn’t occurred to me to mention just how sick I was feeling, especially to quasi-strangers. Although some may have guessed from looking at me, someone would be more inclined to “check on you” if you actually give them a verbal cue to do so. There is no reason to be too shy or too proud about admitting illness. You are not a hypochondriac if you don’t feel 100%. Say something.
MY TRUTH DAY 11: ''GRAMMAR NAZISM''
A friend said, exasperated, once: “Oh for the love of God, leave it be!” And sometimes I do wish I didn’t see it… the typo, the misappropriation, the green verb swinging in mid-air… But my intentions are good; please don’t let me be misunderstood. I am not doing this to annoy you. I don’t see myself as better than you, or more educated than you. Some would say “You wouldn’t like it if I corrected you!” but actually, I wouldn’t mind; we all make mistakes, so please correct me if I do the same. Language is of the utmost importance to me; those who know me well will know that while I may talk and babble on about a lot of nonsense at times, there are very, very, very few things I put to words that are frivolous or just throwaway words I do not mean… whether it is a grocery list or an epic novel, I write with purpose. And so, I can’t help the knee-jerk reaction any more than one can choose when to begin to live or finish to die.
I just happen to believe in a better world, a world where people are more careful, where uncertainty would prompt one to grab a dictionary or tap in to Google to double-check… a world where we cared more about the very language (or languages) that creates the civilisation around which our existence pivots… the politics, the geography, the history of life as we experience it… a world where we respected words because we know both the joy and infinite harm they can induce… a world where we do not see a correction as an insult, but as an opportunity to do better. It says a lot about you, my friend, that you don’t want to belong in this world with me.
MY TRUTH DAY 12: ''THE GUILT TRIP''
“If you were a good friend/bf/gf/team player/tanty/nennen, you would do XYZ for me…”
No, no, NO. Other people will always disappoint you, and this disappointment will be more powerful when you have high expectations of what they are supposed to do for you, or who they are supposed to be in a situation. You should never put others in a position when you set someone up for failure (and yourself up for disappointment).
You can explain to the person what you want — communication always helps… but when you tack on the myriad of ideal things you want in someone (lover, friend, family member or colleague), the reality is that no one is created to be solely “part of a pair/group” but also to be his/her own person — and you have to respect that. Communication will help to discover what you want/expect from each other, but this does not guarantee that the other person will ever (I repeat: EVER) fit that mould; so it is up to you to decide if that mould is all you need from that person’s role in your life, or if you can look past it to all the other aspects that you value.
…And, on the other side of it… you should never have to prove your worth to anyone on demand. At no point did you promise “to have and to hold” someone else’s ego, paranoia and insecurity. You have to love yourself enough to know when to say no… because really, if you are too busy buying other people’s love, you will soon learn you can’t afford your own.
MY TRUTH DAY 13: ''SLIDING SCALE OF SEXUALITY''
Even before I actually ever met someone who identified as something other than heterosexual, I’ve always been concerned about the public perception and attention to an issue so personal: sexual identity.
Many have extremely strong opinions on this… particularly in the Caribbean where we often hear stories about “battyman beatings” inflicted upon those that are an “aberration to God”, as some believe. Some will quote biblical references but really… sinning doesn’t exactly come in a “full fat” vs. “lite” version, so if you’re going to use religion as a righteous excuse for hatred, you’d better be following the rest of your sacred Book to the letter… and not be casting stones.
But let’s take religion out of it entirely. Let’s also take the mythic image of “family” out of it — the modern family dynamic has morphed with the rise of divorce, gender role changes, adoption, single parents (both mothers and fathers), etc. So… religion and family aside… what’s at the heart of the unquantifiable fear, derision and willful ignorance that still palpitate the hearts of many when “alternative” lifestyles enter center stage?
Loss of CONTROL.
…Loss of self-control (“I shouldn’t feel aroused by another man! “) and loss of control over others (“What did I do for my child to turn out gay?”). As a parent, you have the opportunity to raise a child with beliefs similar to your own. You can select TV shows, extracurricular activities and even friends you deem appropriate for his/her gender… but this doesn’t guarantee you’ll get a heterosexual child. It is possible some are “born” with a preference and others “become” that preference later in life; we may never know.
A friend once shared a theory that there is a “sliding scale” of sexuality and not everyone falls squarely on either side; some may be inclined to waver closer to the middle. Those may be the ones likely to “become” later in life, as a result of experiences/encounters; whereas if they were firmly on either side of the scale, their sexuality would not be fundamentally “altered” by the exact same experience.
Whether scientifically accurate or not, the “sliding scale” theory presents a useful consideration for the “X factor” that we can’t explain, as to why some people are the way they are, and why their way is the only way that feels natural to them.
But… whatever we believe, whatever we support, we should learn to live and let live.
You don’t have to be a homosexual (or even fundamentally “approve” of homosexuality) to believe in equal rights and tolerance for all. You are not “supporting homosexuality”… You are supporting the right for persons to live and love without fear of prejudice based on one’s sexual identity.
There’s far too much “alternative” in the world, all over the world, for us to hide our heads in the sand and hope it’ll all go away. And there’s simply far too much horror and hatred in this world, for us to be overly concerned about what’s going on behind closed doors between two consenting adults.
MY TRUTH DAY 14: ''AVOIDING ''THE BOX'' -- I AM NOT MY JOB''
A few years ago, at the company where I worked, employees were encouraged to reach out to the President for a one-on-one discussion as a means of employee engagement. On contract at the time, I took the opportunity to ask a question about a more permanent employment situation. His response was that they would “see how things go” based on the success of the project that I was working on, to determine if I would be needed beyond the end date of my contract. It was, on reflection, the most closed-minded response from an intellectual I could imagine. He tied my worth to a project (one of several in over 2 years of employment there) — to him, that project was my make-it-or-break-it, and if that failed, so did I.
I am glad I had the discussion with him, though. It was the necessary push I needed to get out of my comfort zone and seek something else. By the time “the project” won a Caribbean best-practice award, I was already saying my goodbyes. Mind you, I had been working relentlessly, learning new things — and thinking that I was doing pretty well in terms of “job satisfaction”. But that term is a paradox. By being “satisfied” to receive money for work you do that someone else pays you for, you are limiting yourself from what else you could be doing.
Now, don’t get me wrong: there is immense value in being “employed” and being part of something bigger — the world (especially technology) would not be what it is today, if we all worked in silos rather than “for companies”… and, there are things that working under others will teach you, that you might not learn on your own. And, of course, job security is a necessary evil. Hardly anyone can afford to function even a month without that steady paycheck to pay the loan installments, mortgage installments, rent, groceries, a myriad of child expenses, and all the other numerous black holes our salaries disappear into.
At the same time, we have to remember… we are not our jobs. We are people, individuals in our own rights, with the potential to create and innovate. We have ideas. We have strengths. We have “capabilities”, “behaviours” and “aptitudes” that will never end up on any Performance Review. We have dreams.
There are things we can do, there are always things we can do, beyond the day job — even if it is a day job you thoroughly enjoy, it is always good to develop a “backup” skill for that day when someone else will decide to stop signing your paycheck. Even if you never decide to quit, and you spend your entire career working for others, it can never hurt to have something to fall back on — this is your “get out of jail free” card to keep in your back pocket. And, the more you build up yourself “outside of the box”, the less stressed you will feel being “inside the box”.
So, do that degree you always wanted to. Start that charity you always wanted to. Learn a new skill — cooking, art, photography, graphic design. Use any free time you have productively. Start that business you always wanted to — at the very least: register it, get a website up, do some business cards, make some contacts in that realm. Make a step, however small, towards tapping into your worth beyond your day job. Start something. Anything.
Because that day (the stop-signing-paycheck day) is never far away… the rise and fall of the economy notwithstanding, no employer will ever see your true, holistic value as a person. Over the past few years I have seen many treasured friends and colleagues disappear from the desks around me; some by retrenchment and others by resignation. Some have flourished, some have floundered — but all have fought. It is heartening to see the success stories. It is a goal to work towards.
Tagging Robert Taylor who always inspires the people around him to dream bigger.
MY TRUTH DAY 15: ''CHECKPOINT''
“Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose, or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic, the fear inherent in the human condition.” – Graham Greene
So, many “truths” later, here I am on Day 15, the half-point. It’s hard to explain what I’m doing, especially to someone who isn’t a writer. But I’ll try.
I’ve said it before, and it’s the motto of my Writink website: “I Write. It’s What I Do.” I literally can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing. As soon as I could hold a pencil, I had stories to share, things to say, things that needed to be said. I have poems and stories and random snippets of things from kindergarten, elementary/primary school, high/secondary school, both universities, all years of employment — some creative fiction, some poetry/prose, some personal brain-dump diaries. Even if I don’t share it all (I think I’d exhaust the universe with the sheer force of all the words), I have been writing… forever.
The INK has been my therapy, the INK has kept me sane… the INK has been my friend, and my foe. And I worry, the older I get, that I’ll lose it. Every time there’s a long stretch of silence, I have to find myself again. The silences come when there’s just too many things happening around me… which happens more and more as I get older… and writing, for me, is like my checkpoint.
Writing is cathartic. My “TRUTH PROJECT” is cathartic. Some may not like what I’m saying, some may not agree with what I’m saying, but that’s not really the point. It doesn’t matter so much what I say; the most important thing is that I’m saying SOMETHING. Whenever it comes, whatever comes… I’m putting aside time — an hour a day, sometimes more or less, to centre myself. To think about something that matters to me, something I haven’t said in any big way before, something I’m announcing to others that I care about. Whether I’m “venting” on something that irks me, remembering something important that happened, or just reflecting… I’m cleansing my soul from all the negative thoughts, negative people, negative situations.
I’m discovering myself, or rediscovering myself, through words. I am reclaiming my independence as an individual. I’m reevaluating my connections to the world around me. I’m finding peace. I’m letting go. I’m taking control. I’m checking in. I’m writing.
MY TRUTH DAY 16: ''CITIZEN OF THE WORLD''
There’s a difference between nationality and nationalism. Nationality is what you put on the legal document; nationalism is the consciousness that you are bound to the earth and a portion of its people by virtue of common birthright.
Nationalism is geographical, historical, political, economical, emotional. It is what gives someone the right to call someone else an immigrant; it is what denies a law-abiding person from entry yet opens the door for a career criminal citizen; it is what gives someone the right to expect a job, a home, and a handout; it’s what unites people from all walks of life for a sports game or beauty contest; it’s what makes people feel they belong to others and share a commonality beyond blood.
…And I don’t believe in it.
I think it is unfair that some passports hold more weight than others, unfair that some people have — by birthright — more freedoms than others, and those who don’t share the same fortune should all just shut up about it. I don’t understand why I have to prove I am worthy to set foot on another shore, when my own homeland opens the floodgates to the world, it seems — and often treats (certain) foreigners with more respect than I would get if I venture my tiniest toe into a first world country. I don’t understand why persons born in poverty-stricken or war-torn nations are expected to “stay there” so they don’t bother “the rest of us” who are existing elsewhere without the constant fear of imminent death. I don’t understand why every new first-world immigration law seems to be bolstering the national doors — while technology and mass media keep promising that we are getting more and more “globalised”.
Tell me why I’m supposed to be content with all the limitations being a “Trinidadian” entails… and tell me, in fact, what is a Trini… because (as I went to all lengths to argue in my undergraduate dissertation) I still don’t believe such a thing exists. The “patriotism” we often attach to all things “Trini” is a misnomer… in other countries, there are some who will die (and some who have actually died) for their country; with few exceptions, I don’t believe many of our “die-hard” Trinis will ever, actually, voluntarily die for their country. We just aren’t bred like that; from politics to education to entertainment, we are always looking to the outside for guidance and direction; as such, when trouble pokes a head, the average Trini will run, pistons flying, to hop the nearest airplane to Elsewhere (our burgeoning global diaspora is testament to this). Now, this doesn’t make him/her a bad person, or even a bad Trini; it just says that we are already too hybridised and convoluted to be a singular essence, to genuinely have that commonality of “nationalism” beyond the words of the “nationality” we write on paper.
I am a Trinidadian. I am mixed with Indian, African, Chinese, Spanish, French, German and perhaps much more. I visually resemble less than 8% of the population. My childhood was filled with books and music and other influences both local and abroad; and even as a very young child, I always felt it in my heart that there was a huge world out there for me to explore beyond T&T’s shores. Today, if I walked down the street, I would have probably two things in common with each Trini I pass along the way — namely, that we both feel politicians “tiefing we money”, and we both think that doubles is yummy. So, really… is this enough to make me belong to the collective mindset of being a “Trini”?
Don’t get me wrong. There are things I love about T&T. There are also things I love about the UK, where I lived for over four years, and things I love about all the other nations whose soil I have touched thus far. But the issue is not about liking/disliking my country, or wanting to “abandon ship”. The problem is the belief in the existence of the “ship” in the first place — fellowship, membership, citizenship. I don’t like the fact that I’m supposed to like it BECAUSE it is my country, BECAUSE I was born here, BECAUSE I’m supposed to feel obligated to this automatic kinship with my fellow citizens, BECAUSE I’m supposed to feel guilty if I don’t feel these innate connections of patriotism.
No, no, NO.
In my heart, even if not on my passport… I am a proud citizen of the world.
“Citizen of the world… free of loyalty and full of love…”
MY TRUTH DAY 17: ''THE QUESTION OF RELIGION''
I am fascinated by religion.Religion does not reside within the walls of a holy place… it resides in the history, geography and politics of every nation, and is interwoven into our daily actions and interactions with each other. I am fascinated by the evil that people commit despite the fact of, or in the name of, religion; I am fascinated by the enormous good that people do without any religious attachment whatsoever.
As an adolescent, Religious Instruction (R.I.) classes were held at my school. I went to various classes under the banner of “Christian”, but no one wanted to hear my questions; only to preach. Eventually, like some of my peers, I ended up in the Art room, where the teacher spoke not on religion, but on life — on things that we could relate to. Life, I understood (or as much as I could understand, at that point, anyway).
But I am, and always have been, that child who asks the teacher (and it would get me loved by some, and despised by others): “But Miss/Sir… why?” In fact, I was also the one to question, once: “Why is it R.I. as in ‘Instruction’ instead of R.D. as in ‘Discussion’?”… You can just imagine the LOOK I received in response. In Form 6, I wrote at length about my feelings and questions about religion in an issue of “De Eye” (the school newspaper I’d started).
Then, in my first year at university, one day I was coaxed into a religious seminar with the promise of free snacks while we chatted about “Do All Religions Lead To God?”. When they asked if anyone had any questions, I raised my hand. “A concern I have always had is the concept of absolution. If people believe Jesus died for our sins, and we will all be saved… could they not wait until they were about to die, to ask for forgiveness? Isn’t this what often happens, on death row — prisoners finding religion; or on someone’s deathbed? What is the real motivation for them — for us — to not sin, now?”
Dead silence for a few moments. Eventually, the speaker managed to give me a roundabout response.
I went back to a few sessions, and there were other questions… about being born “into” religion and how this applies if you are adopted and your new parents convert you; about multiple incarnations of Creator in various religions — everyone can’t be right, so who is anyone to say that anyone else is wrong? (basically, all the same questions I’d posed in “De Eye” article years before).
I enjoyed the sessions, even if no one ever really answered any of my questions. But after awhile, I stopped asking. Then, I stopped going. Now… mind you, I didn’t (and still don’t) expect hard-and-fast answers to anything I was asking. But somehow, the fact that I even had these particular questions seemed to make everyone else really, really uncomfortable.
Today, I consider myself spiritual. I see the value in all religions, of religion itself, and of all places of worship: community, cooperation, common purpose. Ironically, throughout my life, many of my closest friends were very much into their respective religions (and I was happy to tag along to churches, mosques, temples, and events when invited). When I travel, I often visit places of worship — these are often some of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring buildings the country has to offer. I believe in karma. I believe in reincarnation. I pray, frequently — “for/against” something, and in thanks of my many blessings.
And… I still have questions.
MY TRUTH DAY 18: ''THE HEART WANTS WHAT IT WANTS''
“Well… I’ve done it again,” a friend admitted, shamefacedly. It was the same guy she’d been struggling with, on again, off again… that painful emotional roller-coaster that only ever ends in heartbreak at the end of the ride.
…But a mistake, when repeated, becomes a choice. And when it comes to matters of the heart… usually a bad choice.
As an old Facebook status post of mine said: “It’s amazing how we keep going back for it, regardless of what it’s attached to.” Some may take it at face value and see the carnal connotation, but I meant it in the deeper sense… too often, the same old tale repeats itself.
Ex-relationships have a purpose. They have taught us what we could have had but, for whatever reason, didn’t want to work for. If you have reached a level of maturity whereby you value maintaining a friendship, by all means aim to do so. But keep yourself in check. It is not acceptable to constantly see your ex or know every minute detail of his/her life. This kind of constancy reaps trouble. This is a level of intimacy just as dangerous as physical touch, perhaps even more so. Too often, the tale is the same: well-intentioned friendship becomes eroded by old habits, old choices… and ultimately, the result is falling down the rabbit hole. It is an unhealthy cycle that only breeds anguish.
A relationship is an investment. It is the biggest investment. You are betting that someone will, in time, turn out to be something that you, in time, will want. It is the biggest gamble, with the greatest risk, because either way — win or lose that bet, you have still sacrificed the one thing you can never replenish: time. But once that investment has gone belly-up, more often than not, the value of this stock won’t rise again — no matter how much funds you throw on top of the capital that has already eroded.
We always know, deep down, when we make bad choices, when we are fighting that useless battle, when we are pounding away at puzzle pieces that ultimately just are not meant to fit together… when we’ve made a bad investment.
It takes an enormous amount of strength to first recognise when it is time to cash out… and second, to actually do so.
The heart may want what it wants, but the mind’s duty is to protect the heart, so let it do its job… And for those who keep going back for it, step back and look closer at what it’s attached to, and ask yourself: is this investment really worth it?
MY TRUTH DAY 19: ''THE STORY OF THE STREET''
In London, a man once approached me as I came out of a tube station, and he asked me if I needed help to get where I was going. Only after I responded, I did a double-take and saw the pile of clothes and belongings on the pavement behind him, guarded by a large and relatively well-kept dog. As I hid my shock, he said kindly: “I know every inch of this city, love. I can direct you to anywhere you need, for free, I won’t take offence… or for a quid, if that’s alright? Or, buy me a sandwich, or a cup of cocoa? Mighty cold out tonight! Or even a treat for the pup; he eats first…” A few heartstrings and a couple of empty pockets later, I was no longer lost.
I had a recent experience in Trinidad with one who accosted me by my car as I got out to go to a doctor’s appointment. He was talking to himself, eyes unfocused, shifting his gait from one filthy bare foot to the other, and clearly not 100% there with me in that moment. When I came back out over an hour later, he was still by my car. As he started his spiel the second time, I gave in, slipping a bill out of the crack of my driver’s side window. “I have 6 CXC passes you know…” he started up again, and then, as he finally stepped back from my car: “But miss…? You don’t want to know my story?”
Actually, I do. I’ve often wondered… how does someone become a vagrant? Surely at some point many of them may have had homes, families, people who loved them; some may still do. Some may suffer from mental illness; some may have gotten caught up in drugs, escaped from abuse, or perhaps just caught a bad break.
So yes, I do want to know your story. But… if I knew your story, then I’d want to know everyone’s story. And every story would break my heart. Because you need more than the money you beg for; you need an entire system to fix the problem I can’t fix with a handful of bills or a sympathetic ear. While I can give to a children’s home or other charity/good cause, I draw a blank when I think about a “Vagrant Assistance Fund”; if this exists, would money I put towards it reach needy individuals on the streets? And if they did receive the money (and corruption didn’t swallow it), who would track how they used it? Historically, it seems that political efforts to improve the situation have been focused on “removing the eyesore” rather than “helping the people” (particularly when we have international shindigs happening — suddenly there’s a drive to hide them out of sight). But then again, even if help is provided for unselfish reasons, how sustainable is it? Studies have shown that, if placed in an indoor shelter, many would eventually return to the streets; it’s what they know.
So, while I did want to know his story… I don’t know if me knowing it would have been of any real help to him.
I will always remember, though, that solid blow I got to the stomach when I realised belatedly that the tube guy lived on the street. Perhaps it was the cultural difference, or perhaps he just hadn’t been on the streets as long as the CXC guy. But maybe one day, he too will become the filthy, shifty, jittery, “hopeless homeless” that I am wary to even roll down my window for… rather than a well-spoken, kind-faced, middle-aged man with a lovely dog that little girls stop to pet.
…And maybe he’ll become that person, and no one will ever know who he used to be, or who he could have been… because no one ever stopped to listen to his story.
MY TRUTH DAY 20: ''MONEY CAN'T BUY LOVE''
It is easy to condemn someone who marries into money… but there is merit in financial security. While other issues are almost certain to rise to the fore (including expenditure choices), one thing that won’t affect such a relationship is the challenge of balancing a relationship with limited finances — a challenge many of us know, to varying degrees. Now, I’m not advocating to ditch your boo for someone with a fat wallet or a rich family… not at all! Hear me out…
Money is the one thing couples often skirt around until it becomes absolutely necessary to discuss — when, in reality, it should be one of the main topics from the onset of the relationship.
Realistically, most people cannot afford everything they want. On top of that, we come into a relationship from different “money” backgrounds — not necessarily different amounts of money in terms of financial wealth, but “money” backgrounds in the sense of the role money plays in the family and the relationship.
Some of us may have seen Daddy buying everything, or Mummy buying everything, or joint accounts where both parents pay for things, or certain things each parent paid for. Some of us may have seen Mummy or Daddy balancing books every time a credit card is swiped, others may have seen Mummy or Daddy spending every cent on jewelry, clothes, and shoes. Some have seen the big-ticket items — TV, appliances, vehicles, vacations — being painstakingly saved for, or being lavishly spent on through borrowed funds such as a loan or hire purchase agreement. Some may have had the experience of a gambling or drinking parent, or one who spends his/her entire salary in the first few days after pay-day, or one who was always shifting between jobs to “hustle” to make ends meet.
Coming from these various snapshots of how money is addressed in a relationship, it is no surprise that money is often the undercurrent to many an argument — excess liming or spending time with friends, not buying things the children need, not wanting to “wine and dine” past the initial stages of courting… the list is endless.
So, let’s state the obvious: YOU NEED TO TALK ABOUT MONEY.
Mind you, not just talk about the fact that “we never seem to have any”. NO. That is a complaint, not a productive conversation. Instead, sit with your partner and do a financial plan for the short-term and the long-term. Examine credit card statements, bills, receipts, etc. for the past few months. Where is the money going, what is it being spent on, and what could it be better spent on? Create a budget. Talk about money in the sense of: what money will I have in the next 3 months, 6 months, 1 year, 3 years, 5 years, 10 years? What do I plan to do with it; how will this fit into my partner’s plan of what to do with his/her money — will we have joint goals, or is there something I want to achieve on my own?
Mind you… you do not even need to be COMBINING money, to be talking about money. You also do not even need to be sharing every single cent, if you prefer not to. If you choose to keep your own “vex” money on the side in case all goes haywire, by all means: protect your assets, protect your heart, protect yourself. But for the most part, if money is an uncomfortable topic between two people in a serious relationship, and neither person has any idea how much money (or how little money) the other person has… it’s generally not a good sign. By hiding from your partner your salary, your savings, your goals, your financial plans, your financial worries, your financial gambles… you are sabotaging your future together.
Money is important. It is one of the most important things in a relationship. Of course, as the saying goes: “money can’t buy love”… but while money can’t buy love, it is however partly responsible for laying the foundation for a lasting relationship filled with love. So although “money can’t buy love”, remember also that “you can’t make love on hungry belly” — and, if you don’t talk about money, you would never be prepared for the “hungry belly” times.
MY TRUTH DAY 21: ''THE BEAUTY INDUSTRY''
“Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.” — Naomi Wolf
The quote pertains to women, but we see it nowadays with women and men alike.
How many of our daily conversations revert to the same topic?… Dieting, watching our weight, shedding the baby weight, these love handles, these big legs, these stretch marks, this dark circle, this tummy here, these flabby arms, this trouble spot here, that trouble spot there…
The psychological reality of contemporary society entails an endless slew of bodily concerns. No extremity is exempt from scrupulous scrutiny of the ideal. The body is the “enemy”; hunger an “alien invader” emerging from an area outside the self. The media displays food at its most tantalising, seducing with succulent imagery and promulgating fantasies of indulgence of “forbidden fruit”; it is food pornography. Magazines, websites and television shows tell us what’s wrong with our bodies, then present us with the elusive, eternally-youthful goal to aspire to. Whether it is the “rock hard abs” for the men or the “toned tummy” for the ladies, our goal is to “buy things for the body” — clothing, shoes, tights, makeup, skincare, haircare, diet pills… anything, everything that helps to “control” the beast of the body. There’s always something more we want, something more we want from our bodies that just don’t behave the way we wish they would.
We worship at the altar of the multi-billion-dollar beauty industry.
We know this. That’s the problem, though. We know (or should know) that we are naturally beautiful; we know (or should know) that much of the time our “weight” problems are exaggerated; we know (or should know) that our bodies are not the most important aspects of our lives. Yet at the same time… we’ve all conspired to create a world in which they are. Persons going to a job interview might be passed over for a better-looking, fitter-looking candidate — even when the job has nothing to do with looks. A single person on the prowl would be more likely to get “pick up” if he or she was “on point”.
So, looks matter. We may not want them to, but they do.
…But because we are so focused on the “looks”, we miss a lot. As the quote says: “a quietly mad population” is easy to manipulate. More people run to a sale, than those who care to know enough to properly qualify their choice of political candidate. We go on vacation to other countries and spend so much time shopping for “things-for-the-body” that we barely get a chance to appreciate the uniqueness of our destination. We are spending on beautification, when we haven’t paid enough attention to enlightening our minds.
Health, fitness and yes — beauty — all have their roles to play (and I support this, with endeavours I pursue such as Wellnessconnect)… but at the same time, while we continue to fight that never-ending battle to “look good”, make sure to colour in the rest of the picture — not just the outline. Instead of over-emphasis on “selfies” of yourself, look inside yourself to see what is really worth sharing with the world. Seek to find something purposeful and positive to fill yourself, rather than the ego boost from others who “like” your image. Take care of your mental health — often, the body is all we focus on, but our minds are not in the right place to be happy and successful. Challenge yourself to learn something new… challenge yourself to create something new… challenge yourself to think… challenge yourself to be much, much more than just beautiful.
MY TRUTH DAY 22: ''OWNERSHIP RACISM''
Some years ago, I went to a club with a group of friends from my undergrad university’s African-Caribbean Society, and, while I was dancing with a white guy, a black guy came up to me and literally pulled me away. “Is he harassing you?… Well you know I just checking for you… trying to take care of a sistah.” Then, he made it worse: “Since you already over here by me, you could dance with me now.”
Er… excuse you?
Then, a few weeks later, we both found ourselves at a mutual friend’s house party where, after an uncomfortable hour or two, he eventually apologised for that night and said he was just trying to protect me; he didn’t realise I was one of “those” black girls who either “didn’t like black guys” or “preferred white guys”… but he guessed it made sense since I was not “that black”.
Every time he opened his mouth (with good intentions, or so he thought)… it just kept getting worse.
I suddenly realised that I was responsible for representing my race (never mind my race was a multitude unto itself). I had to “own” my blackness, by choosing black people above others. I clearly wasn’t white enough, so I had to be black enough — especially on campus in the north-west countryside of England, where persons of colour were few and far between, and every black person knew each other.
While he was the only one who made it a point to draw my attention to it… I soon realised that he was not the only one thinking along these lines, particularly among the black male contingent. While the black guys were good friends with white guys on campus, it became another matter altogether when women became involved. When a white guy tackled “one of their own” (particularly as “their own” was so scarce), it was as though they’d been violated — “you are my friend, what gives you the right to think you can have one of the women that should choose me over you?”
In T&T, many of us do it without shame: we spot a couple from two different ethnic backgrounds, and immediately wonder — How did that happen? Why did that happen? When did that happen?… Black men see an Indian woman with a black man and think he is “soft” because he can’t handle a black woman; black women see “red” or “dougla” girls with a black guy and think he “sold out” by not choosing a black woman; Indian men see a black man with an Indian woman and think “wayyye boy, HE get thru!”; years down the line, families still can’t wrap their heads around why their son/daughter found love outside of his/her culture. Nowadays, I sometimes pick up on that energy from others… whereas in England I apparently wasn’t white enough to be with a white guy, now in T&T it would seem some may think I’m not black enough to be with a black guy!
Black, white, brown, yellow, blue… relationships shouldn’t be chosen by pairing up skin tones for visual continuity. Come on, people. In this day and age, we should know better. Love is colour blind. Just stop with the hatin’ already.
MY TRUTH DAY 23: ''THE SECRET KEEPER & THE DARKNESS''
There is a man I met once through a friend, and we later added each other on Facebook. Although I don’t “know” him, I think he is one of the bravest people I have ever met. When we partied that night, I would never have guessed that years later he would be the one to post to social media about depression or suicide. It was such a personal and risky step… one that many are afraid to do; they would rather suffer in silence than share their darkness with others. While some may question the medium of reaching out on a public forum like social media, my thought was: at least he WAS reaching out, at least he WAS saying something, at least he WAS asking for help and support, at least he WAS breaking his silence.
Some may think others will “infer” through their behaviour that something isn’t right… but often, someone who does suffer from these thoughts are thought to be “happy, fun-loving, functional” people by the persons closest to them. Although humans can instinctively intuit behavioural changes, we are generally not emotionally trained to see past “negligible” changes. That is to say… while we may pick up on something that is drastic or sudden, often the gradual moment-by-moment process of someone else’s depression escapes us.
Even if we know something isn’t quite right, we haven’t formed the full thought; or we know something isn’t quite right but figure the person’s attitude will improve — because we assume (or we want to assume) that the other person is “just like everyone else” and has hit a short phase that will soon pass. We don’t notice they are retreating until they are already too far gone.
We all keep secrets — some from others, some for others, some even from ourselves. Some of the ones we choose to share with trusted confidantes are the big things, the hurtful things, the shocking things… things like:
— I was happy when she died.
— I know he’s cheating on me because I monitor his phone/laptop… but I won’t tell him I know.
— I lied when I told him I want children.
— I am the one who turned her in to the police.
— I’ve stolen money from my family.
— I don’t think of myself as gay, but I have feelings for my straight same-sex friend.
— I’m relieved I don’t have to be her friend anymore.
— He hit me. But I didn’t tell anyone, because I didn’t want to be “that girl”.
— I don’t love him anymore, but I think I can’t do better.
— I wish I could be better for her, but I don’t really want to try.
Somehow it’s easier to say these big things when they involve someone else… easier to share a secret when all we ask of the “secret keeper” is to not tell the person it is about. And so, we share these kinds of big, horrible secrets with people we trust… but how often would we reach out and share the secret some of us keep from ourselves:
–I can’t remember the last time I was happy.
It is a bigger ask when you share your darkness with your “secret keeper” — you are not just asking them to keep a secret, but asking them to do something about it. It is a huge ask when you forgo this “secret keeper” entirely and use your status post to pour your darkness into the universe.
…But at least you’re putting the darkness somewhere, so it won’t have to be bottled up inside of you anymore. Darkness is only dangerous until someone — anyone — snaps on a light. It doesn’t have to be your family, or your closest friend; sometimes, the words of a quasi-stranger can make all the difference in the world… but only if you give the world the opportunity.
MY TRUTH DAY 24: ''THE AUTO-PILOT SELF''
“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
– Robert Frost
I spend approximately 3 hours on the road every weekday. I may, if asked, be able to tell you a song that played on the radio along my journey… I couldn’t, for the life of me, tell you the car number plates around me, exactly when I pass each landmark, the number of traffic lights, the murmured discussions overheard through open car windows, or the actual play-by-play route to get where I’m going. Barring any incidents along the way, even if I am exhausted, intoxicated or distracted… I would still wind up at my destination. The routine is so familiar that, once learnt, once embodied… it takes little conscious effort to repeatedly execute it. I’m going through the motions. My homing beacon is on. My body is on auto-pilot.
…How many of us are living our entire lives like this: on auto-pilot?
Be a good boy, be a good girl… be nice to others… protect your sister/brother… be a good friend… go to church/temple/mosque etc…. do better than everyone else… be the best you can be… continue the family business… get good grades at school… get accepted into a good university… make friends for life… meet someone special… get married… have kids… get a good job… get a better job… make money… retire… enjoy yourself…
Man is a social creature. He exists for others, alongside others, and at the behest of others. We move from being the offspring and sibling of others… into being the friend, classmate and coworker of others… the significant other of another… the mother or father of others… When do we stop being something-to-some-other-someone, and actually become our own selves? From where did we learn that “this-is-what-is-expected-of-me”; who told us that “this-is-what-you-have-to-do”? If we didn’t grow up with media, religion, society and culture… would we still naturally gravitate to the path most chosen… chasing the dream job/career/business, the hubby/wifey, and the gaggle of kids?
…Probably not. We’ll never know.
Yet, when we encounter someone different, someone who isn’t on the “auto-pilot” mode, the initial reaction might be: “this person is crazy/weird”. We don’t want to accept that there is a different path, because are too far entrenched on our own path to stop following it and change directions. We want the job, because everyone else wants it, because it’s what we are expected to want. We want the marriage and children, because everyone else seems to be doing it, so why not? But… do we want these things, only because we believe we are supposed to want it? Are we living the life we want to… or the life we were taught by others?
As I’ve said before: the natural temptation is to accelerate to outpace the vehicle in front of you… but remember, on the highway of life, just because another vehicle is bypassing yours does not mean that it is any closer to a destination worth aspiring to.
So, as you chase your goals, stop for a moment… turn off the “auto-pilot” mode. Ask yourself if this goal is what you really want. Ask yourself where you even got the idea for the goal in the first place. Ask yourself if this goal will please “the others” more than it will please you. Ask yourself if you are really on the path YOU want to be on. Ask yourself… is there more to life than this?
MY TRUTH DAY 25: ''IDENTITY & THE BANANA REPUBLIC''
“We are now in the Southern Caribbean, visiting one of the most fascinating countries in the region, my land of Trinidad & Tobago… with its golden sun-kissed days and warm, vibrant people. There is so much that I want to show you… so sit back, relax, and let its beauty seduce you…”
These words, careful enunciated in an accent-free intonation, serve as the opening lines of a 1984 tourist video; the only real difference if compared to something filmed today would be the spokesperson and the quality of film stock.
Whereas each European country and each American state has at least a foothold on a distinctive identity, Trinidad & Tobago – as most neighbouring Caribbean islands – has always been marketed under the title of “The Caribbean”: Sun. Sand. Sea. Calypso. Palm trees. A hodgepodge of culture intermingled with humid heat, cheap alcohol, and a laid-back attitude to life. (And, of course, the idiosyncratic cry of Harry Belafonte’s “DAY-O!!!” – which, like many “Caribbean” ideals, originates from Jamaica.)
Granted, T&T is a heavy-hitter in the Latin American and Caribbean region since we are blessed with oil, but in terms of economics and political science, in many ways we share the same fate of the derogatory term of the quintessential “banana republic”: an economy largely dependent on exporting a product in limited resource, and the ever-encroaching threat of outside forces that control said economy. Despite having obtained independence from colonialism, we are still heavily colonised by the large private corporations that sway the political forces.
But, politics and economics aside, what effect does a “banana republic” have on its citizens, persons born among the confluence and convolution of these elements? What does a “developing country” signify, for the development of its people? Who, or what, do we develop into?
Only one generation ago, the goal was to finish school, strive for a “government job” or similar job that was more or less guaranteed to be secure for life. If you became a teacher, or got through at a bank, you’d hit the jackpot! If you worked in a big company, you got in on the ground floor and worked your way up to a mid-range or high position. You met a nice girl or guy in your 20s, you married, made 2 or 3 children, bought a home that you would pay off by the time you retired (not necessarily in that order). Life was good. You were accomplished.
Now, the bank job or teacher career is no longer the most desired. The home, the marriage, the kids, the cushy career — all of that is a maybe-if-we-could-manage-it or an elusive goal for some. Children leave the family home much later than before; we “become” adults much slower than our parents did. The news tell us that the birth rate is dropping. Political unrest murmurs. Crime is irrepressibly on the rise. The numbers of educated unemployed abound. We now make international news for far more insidious reasons that sun, sand, sea, and calypso.
Would be still be oil-rich in decades to come, to be able to ignore that raging beast poised to swallow us: the vacuity of identity?
It’s a sobering thought, looking forward. What would the next generation’s version of “the ideal” be? Are we prepared to carve out a new identity, a distinctive sense of self beyond the entrails of colonialism and imagery of island paradise?
I worry for the country. I worry that the rest of us aren’t worried enough.
MY TRUTH DAY 26: ''TIP OF THE ICEBERG''
Evil doesn’t happen by accident. Like the proverbial vampire at your doorway, you have to invite it in.
…And we do. We’re quite good at it, actually… almost as good as we are at the flagrant denial of its onset.
Just this one time… just a little white lie… a little drink… a little drug… a little thieving… a little adultery… just a little thing. It’s always “a little thing” until it is bigger than our selves, bigger than what we can handle, bigger than the doors we can bolster against.
The “tip of the iceberg” or “tipping point” concept is one found throughout sociology, psychology and criminology disciplines under various phraseologies. Culture begins with a kernel of knowledge as the world expands around you. Madness initiates in the smallest of actions not cohesive with the behaviour of the established parameters of sanity. The serial killer often starts off as a child, torturing animals, before he moves to larger prey; if left to his own devices, the target grows in size and stature.
Human nature is inherently insatiable; vice innately expandable.
You don’t know yourself, until you’ve faced that critical moment and chosen whether or not to walk that path. Whether or not to become the thing you never thought you would.
We don’t think of ourselves as bad people. Sure, we’ve made a mistake here or there, negligible really… no worse than the average bloke. A little bit of vice, some misguided misadventure… harmless fun! Until it isn’t anymore.
One minute it is something small, something insignificant — the shoplifted trinket, the forbidden kiss, the little white lie… and then it becomes such a vast expanse of fabrication that it spirals out of control.
That’s the thing about evil… its magnificent ability to escalate.
The thing about good, though… is that it is always there, right along — but only if you choose it.
Be wary of the choices you make, the small ones you know are wrong but let them slip through the cracks… because the rest of the iceberg is never far behind.
MY TRUTH DAY 27: ''UNNECESSARY NOISE & THE STRUGGLE''
“I could never do that, yes. How you does eat the same thing every day, girl?”
I make no claims to be the healthiest or fittest individual. I like food just as much as the next person… even if I don’t gobble down my favourites every day. And some days, it takes all the willpower in the world to get the gymming in amidst a million other things that need to get done. “The struggle is real”, as they say. But my struggle is mine, and mine alone… no need for the noise.
I’m always baffled at the extent others go to in order to point out how abnormal/disgusting/incredible someone else’s healthy diet, exercise regimen and lifestyle choices are.
Having invested your energy and time into conducting at least some minimal research about what and what not to put into your body, you are called upon to defend it, repeatedly — and often to the same persons.
Having done so, you then have to evade their attempts to get you to change your mind. “But how you don’t drink? Take a little taste nah, just this once”… “Oh gosh I made this just for you”… “Half your life gone. You don’t know what you missing”.
(Yes. I do. I’ve chosen to miss it, today. You reminding me of it — or offering me it, long beyond my polite “no thank you” — isn’t really helping.)
And, even worse, if you do decide to indulge once in a while, others bring it glaringly to the attention of all and sundry: “Aye-aye! Look who eating nice food!” or “I thought you was dieting???”… And then, they figure since you did it that one time, it’s a “free-for-all” from that point forward.
The first time I actively committed myself to a healthier lifestyle was in 2010. I knew the least at this time, yet my results were the best… because I stayed away from people. I huddled in my cubicle to eat my meals, I kept my head down and my mouth shut at the gym… and I got through. Ever since, the struggle has been harder. People who’d witnessed it the first time expected an encore, or expected it to be easier. But whether positive (encouraging) or negative (skeptical)… People. Kept. Saying. Something.
A healthy lifestyle is an elusive aim for many because it requires immense discipline. We are not all born with that level of discipline… and for some of us, when we try to muster it, the presence of others can chip away at your resolve.
Most times, others mean well by their generosity and inquiries… and then of course you will occasionally run into those who just don’t want to see you succeed… perhaps because they aren’t there yet, or because they ARE there and have already put you into the box of someone who’s never gonna reach. Or perhaps they are visually “there” themselves, but they took a shortcut along the way. Some are simply threatened by the discipline in others; threatened that there is another path to a similar destination.
…But, in reality, not everyone is angling for this “same destination”. Not everyone is relentlessly chasing fitness with food and exercise to improve the aesthetic outline necessary to squeeze their bodies into a jockey-shorts or bra and thong to “let loose” and jump up for two days a year. And not everyone who manages to get to their goal will immediately start shedding layers of clothing to expose the end result they worked hard for. For some, it is not a one-off diet and fat-busting gym regimen for a short-term goal; it’s a lifestyle — a fundamental commitment to treat their bodies better.
Some do it to ward off diseases latent in their genes… diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer. Some do it to counteract conditions they already suffer from… enlarged prostate, fibroids, polycystic ovaries, pelvic floor weakness. Some do it to overcome gastronomical disorders. Some do it to improve their muscles and the strength and flexibility in their joints. Some do it to give their kidneys, livers and bowels a fighting chance. Some do it to prepare their bodies for optimal fertility. Some do it just to feel good. Some do it to feel alive. Some do it just because.
The thing is… you just don’t know, and you shouldn’t assume you do. You also shouldn’t keep “chooking fire” for the person to feel obligated to defend a personal choice just to enlighten you. There’s just no need for the noise.
Have a heart. Keep your opinions to yourself, and let others fight the good fight in peace.
MY TRUTH DAY 28: ''SCATTERED SOULMATES''
“You have to meet her; I think you two would hit it off.”
I knew who she was (his friends mentioned her to me) and she knew who I was (his friends mentioned me to her), but I’ve never been one to openly seek female friendships.
As it turns out, we eventually did meet… at a party for a mutual friend. We sat on either side of a corridor, cross-legged/crouched on the floor, while the party happened around us. We talked for quite awhile. This was almost a decade ago; now, I don’t remember a single thing we spoke about that first day. But I remember knowing, in that moment, that this was someone I was always supposed to have met.
I’m not sure I believe in the “soulmate” concept of romantic relationships (we bandy that word around far too much whilst relationships take hard work and compromise for a life partner to “fit” all aspects of your being). However, I do believe that there are “soulmates” everywhere: people that just “get” certain things about you that others don’t; people that are just different; people that are exquisitely random and magnificently unique; people that complement you; people that inspire you; people that, even if years go by without talking, and even if you start a dozen emails you never send… you will never forget the impact they had on your life, and they will always be a part of you.
It’s rare to stumble across such people, people that your “blood takes to” instantly — as we say it in Trinidad. I’m lucky to have quite a few.
This particular girl — woman, now — reminded me of another girl I sat beside in Form 1, in the same school her dad and my mom attended decades earlier. There have been gaps of time that yawed between our long history, and yet when I speak to her today, although we have grown and changed, the connection hasn’t.
There are others — some since school days; some from past jobs; some that also belong to the “surrogate families” I mentioned in an earlier Truth post; some that I got to know through a mutual friend, and the friendship effortlessly blossomed far beyond the “friend of a friend” acquaintance stage; some that happened so organically I can hardly even pinpoint now the story of how we met.
Having spent a good chunk of my early adulthood in another country, I realise, now, the one downside about being ‘travelled’/’cultured’/’experienced’…
…Your soulmates are everywhere.
Beyond T&T, mine are in the United Kingdom; other parts of Europe including Lithuania; U.S.A., South America and Canada; various parts of Asia including Qatar and Armenia; African nations including South Africa, Tanzania, and Nigeria… almost every continent.
…But that’s the thing about living abroad, about globalisation, about modern mobility, about opening yourself up to others, about really connecting with people, about being lucky enough to have not one but many soulmates…
You leave pieces of yourself all over the world. You’re scattered.
You can go to the ends of the earth to meet up with one; but what about the others? Who do you choose? How do you choose? How do you allot your travel budget and scant vacation days? How do you decide which piece to put into the puzzle, when there’s a dozen or more pieces waiting outside the frame and a gaping hole in the centre — any which way you choose?
Sometimes, seeing them again feels too intangible, and it gets harder and harder to keep in touch when the only thing you really want to say sometimes is: I miss the silly randomness of connecting. I miss you and me and us. I miss feeling just that little bit more complete. I miss my soulmate.
MY TRUTH DAY 29: ''CONSUMERISM & DESENSITISATION''
“The Consumer has been programmed…
To go out and purchase things…
Slogans now come easily to his lips.
He has warm feelings toward many products…
His most innate drives and emotions
Trigger immediate connections with consumer goods.
Hunger equals Big Mac.
Drowsiness equals Starbucks.
Depression equals Prozac.
…And what about that burning anxiety, that deep, almost forgotten feeling of alarm at his lost independence and sense of self?
To the Consumer, that’s the signal to turn on the TV.”
— Kalle Lasn
Capitalism cannot subsist in a utopian universe. To function as an economic system and an ideology, it thrives on human emotion: insecurity, anxiety, guilt, fear. It creates desire… a desire that can fleetingly – but only fleetingly – be fulfilled by consumption. Consumption of goods, consumption of services, consumption of images, consumption of emotions, consumption of others, consumption of ourselves.
I sometimes have no interest in shopping, but once surrounded by the energy of the people and the place and the products… the wandering eye and the wandering limbs and the wandering consciousness cling to the objects in the store.
As my fingers run over the material, I am aware its origins connect me to another part of the world; I’m aware I’m privileged. I’ve studied Media, Marketing, Sociology… I know the cultural critiques of Marx, Freud, Foucault, Adorno, Fukuyama, Lacan, Maslow… I read news, I read magazines, I read books. I know the reputation of these badly-behaved brands; I know my happiness is made in China, in Taiwan, in India… in factories where there is none.
Still, I vote for my identity with my credit card: swipe, sign — bought.
In 2009, on the first day of my brief BBC internship, a small news blip that morning was about a woman who had attacked another woman and literally cut her baby out of her. Shocking, right? Not so much. I’d seen it the week before on the season finale of Private Practice. Art imitates life, or life imitates art… does this distinction matter?
I owe most of my medical knowledge to television dramas like Grey’s Anatomy, House M.D., E.R., and Nip/Tuck. I’ve learnt about rare diseases I can barely pronounce; at least a couple dozen types of cancers I may never have any direct connection to; the inner workings of the human heart; mental and physical developmental disabilities; the fragility of human life.
I owe most of my knowledge of criminality and the law (American, of course) to a myriad of TV shows including The Good Wife, Law & Order, Suits, C.S.I. and Criminal Minds — not to mention novels by John Grisham and Jodi Picoult. I’ve learnt about the burden of proof; the importance of preserving a crime scene; the ease of fabricating evidence; bullet striations; DNA fragmentation; human nature; good and evil; the injustice of the universe.
I understand nuances about the lives of the armed forces due to shows like Army Wives and The ‘L’ Word. I’ve learnt about duty, obligation, loyalty; never leave a man behind; homosexuality — don’t ask, don’t tell; holding the homestead; what it means to serve. I understand terrorism — I’ve seen it on 24 and Homeland. I understand political ploys — I’ve seen it on Scandal, Brothers and Sisters, and House of Cards.
I’ve learnt how to accept. I’ve learnt how to adapt. I’ve learnt how to behave.
With this vast and burgeoning gamut of knowledge assembled by writers and directors that (hopefully) at least attempt to portray reality, now, when we encounter such things in our day-to-day lives, each time we’re a little less shocked.
What once deeply moved us now barely offers a nudge. Blood, guts, gore? Déjà vu. Seen this before… what’s on the next channel? Real images of corpses have less impact when we’ve seen their counterparts covered in paint and ketchup on the silver screen. The war on TV is often more fascinating than the one on the news.
This is the price we pay for all the knowledge that pours forth from the brilliance of the creative minds of Hollywood and its compatriots the world round. We’ve absorbed so much knowledge without effort, we’ve learnt about so many things, we’ve felt so many emotions for the fabricated lives of our favourite fictional characters, that perhaps there’s less compassion left for the world after we turn off the TV.
That’s the thing about media, about technology, about consumer capitalism… it gives and it takes. I treasure what it has given me — intellect, inspiration and the sweet joy of escapism… but sometimes, every so often… I wonder just how much it has taken away.
MY TRUTH DAY 30:''THE JOURNEY (REFLECTION)''
I made it! 30 days, 30 truths.
I have been writing for the better part of two to three decades, and this is the first time I have written so much so consistently, and for 30 days straight. Including this post, I have written over 16,300 words in 30 days. Dissertation length. Enough to fill a short novel. Enough to clear the cobwebs and the hurt and the frustration swirling about in my head. Enough to recalibrate and reset. Enough for THE INK to allow me some peace.
The thing about writing is that it is a journey. You never know exactly where it will take you. I have an unfinished novel that’s been on ice for almost a decade, and recently I fired up the engines to get it running again. Then, abrupt halt. I’m the one writing it, and I still don’t know how it ends… and I can’t continue, until I know. I wouldn’t even call it writer’s block… I’m sure if I forced myself to write, it would get finished. But that’s not the right way; that won’t be the right ending. I have to wait on the journey.
This Truth Challenge was another journey. I suppose I did it to see if it could be done. Could I really find so much to say? Turns out, I could… and more. There’s at least 3 half-completed “Truths” that just didn’t make the cut… and about 20 more kernels of ideas to be developed. So maybe someday there’ll be more. Maybe.
This journey, this Truth Challenge, taught me quite a bit. For instance:
(1) Writing something true connects you to people you didn’t imagine would understand you, or would even read your writings. Apart from the visible few who liked/shared my posts, some posts urged private contact from people who’ve literally not said a single word to me in several years since we organically lost touch. Thanks guys… this means a lot, and it was really good to hear from you.
(2) In reviewing the nature of some of what I’ve written, I realise I don’t love the way I used to… unfailingly, naively. I’ve gotten far too cynical and wary of the world to be anything but practical and forward-thinking: worst-case-scenario, escape plan, fallback option. I think this is not necessarily a bad thing, though.
(3) I also don’t hate the way I used to… that burning fiery bright pain that consumes you from tip to toe. I just don’t have the energy for it anymore… some days, the tip gets flooded with pity that subsumes the hatred, and the toe just wants to point in the direction of “away”.
(4) I may never write again like I used to… capriciously, without fear. The enlightenment of education and experience has beaten some of the imagination out of me. Not all, though. Thankfully.
The most popular post that spoke to people was “AVOIDING ‘THE BOX’: I AM NOT MY JOB”… no surprise there :)! It’s great to know that others feel similarly about a matter so fundamental to our daily existence. Of course, the audience favourite is never the same as the director’s cut… my own choices would be the ones that were the most personal and the hardest to write, but felt much better when I was done: “THE SECRET KEEPER & THE DARKNESS”, “THE QUESTION OF RELIGION” and “CITIZEN OF THE WORLD”.
I have a few friends who, inspired by my “Truth” project, have begun their own “Truth”/”Catharsis” projects — which is awesome, and exactly what I was hoping for. Now, I have the infinite pleasure of reading something real in my Facebook feed from the people I love from all around the world — surrogate families, scattered soulmates at home and abroad. I feel a little more connected, a little more grounded, a little less transitory.
Thanks everyone, for being a part of my “Truth” journey… and I would love to read your own Truths so please, please, please: WRITE. It’s what I do, and it’s what you could do too.