February 2013

Post 89.

One time in Brazil, I was choosing the topaz stones for my wedding ring, which I designed and had handmade six months before Stone even proposed. Before I decided on these tiny gems, I gathered a powerful handful of women around me. Encircling this moment like a coven, they discussed childhood memories, auspicious connections, marriages, first marriages, getting older, knowing when and why to make life decisions, whether there is that one person for you in the world and how to decide who it is, what constitutes happiness and how to make it last and, of course, love and what it means to capture it in all its iridescence, like the pink and yellow topaz in my ring.

Those sentiments and hopes seemed to fall like light on the stones, helping them to shine and giving them warmth and depth that I still see today. As meaningful as the love and as uniquely personal the marriage, that ring doesn’t only make me think of Stone, but also of the blessings bestowed by these women.

Such blessings come in women’s rites like a matikor or a baby shower or just girls’ nights, but they infuse everything. Female friendships can be places of hurt and disappointment, alienation and vulnerability, but they can also be sacred spaces for reflection, honesty, rejuvenation and connection. In trying to prioritize women’s solidarity and support for other women, the feminist movement tried to turn this practice of love into a politics, and found the tensions of women’s friendships often continued to be an issue to overcome, even as women remain far from being their own worst enemies. Still, like all relationships, there are mistakes and meaningful lessons, and continual reminders about the importance of listening, patience, giving and being able to communicate what you need.

I don’t know if it is the same with men, but I think that women would die without our friendships. Wise young women in my life have borne with me as I likely drove them mad, gave me guidance so that I could discover what they already knew and forgave me for having too little time for them by being there when I did. Through their acceptance and, often, tough love, I continue to learn not to settle for less than I deserve or am capable of.

Maybe covens, those secret places where women gathered to perform rituals of sisterhood and magic, are no more, but their substance remains strong. Whole parts of women’s lives are worked through with sistren before they are even raised with parents or partners. Whole marriages are maintained because they are a team effort of advice, care, investment and learning. Whole selves transition and are reborn in each life stage because women have other women to talk to, to understand them without judgment, to bring their own mottled experience as a source of wisdom, and to help them figure out how to continue to best the best person they can be to the women and men in their life, and to themselves.

Sometimes, the women who are our closest friendships are our siblings, or our aunts, our peers or even our mentors, sometimes they are our mothers, but whoever they are, they hold our secrets, our wishes, our deepest challenges and our potential selves in their hands and without them present somewhere in the universe we could forget these dreams or deny our secrets, fear our challenges and perhaps never discover our unfolding iridescence.

Post 88.

She did not win any titles this Carnival, but in thinking about the complexities of motherhood, it’s worth noticing the mas of Rosemary Kuru Jagessar. Any onlooker would think that Rose’s Queen costume, made of silver, pink and white, was simply about Fancy Indian mas colours and design. Talking to Rose, however, what she talked about wasn’t being a bandleader or past Carnival queen, but her mother who passed away a decade earlier from cancer. The pink, played and danced with all its joy on the stage and on the streets, symbolized an awareness of how many other women’s lives are affected by cancer and how poignant and powerful memories of women now gone remain. In talking about the mas as bringing healing, Rose’s eyes clouded as she thought about the doll her mother made her or her own wish to make her roti to eat and to simply see her again.

I thought about this conversation over the days from the King and Queen semi-finals until Ash Wednesday. In the midst of revelry, we also connect to our humanity. Beyond what Carnival has become to most people, remains the way that family, neighbourhood, friendship, reciprocity, generational connections and love are worked into mas, making it so much that which demands everything while also being deeply sustaining.

On stage, Rose was dancing to compete, but also to connect. She was dancing the mas to portray a bearer of a peace pipe but also to personally heal. This is what Carnival offers to us beyond simply two days of letting go.  Those who are involved, whether in steelpan or in working and making mas over the course of a lifetime, know that what people see or hear in a rhythm or in a portrayal is only part of the meaning it holds for them. Those other meanings, which may not be shared with anyone or everyone, are what feeds their spirit and gives them reason to give their all each year.

I’ve learned a lot about motherhood watching Rose as bandleader and mother. I’ve seen how she stretches resources to look after her family, has led a band for decades with her husband Lionel Jagessar and is a veteran to the big stage, but this is the first time that I appreciated her as daughter as well. It was a new connection for me to make to her many roles.

This is so much what discovering more about the lives of women is about, recognizing that in the midst of big concepts like culture or public moments like Carnival, mothering continues to inform what most matters and gives us reason to do our best, even if we don’t always succeed. It’s great to be able to get these lessons from these days gone, to see beyond bikinis and beads, and to understand how Carnival can be much more than what it is often limited to, especially for those women who invoke a spirit from both within and beyond their costume.