Post 143.

Once upon a time, awoken from stillness and feeling lonesome, the sea crept up to the sand to tell it some jokes. Bubbling with mirth, it mischievously edged back, predicting sand’s response, and thinking itself really very funny. Maybe sand would laugh. Sand smiled quietly, but kept tranquil and cool.

Knowing sand was hard to impress, sea already had a comeback and waves of fresh lyrics. It tumbled about with irreverent banter, curious, confident and lively. Sand gently pushed sea back, blushing, and murmuring backchat.

‘Hmmm’, sea thought, its attention caught, ‘a challenge’.

Sea rolled in and tousled sand’s tight ringlets of seaweed and grasses. This teasing was sea being playful, sand guessed, wondering if sea acted without thinking or with too much thought or just had its own idiosyncratic ideas about what constitutes sweetness and charm. Sea pulled back and admired sand, its length and perfect fit, and it sighed happily. Sand looked at their arms interweaving, indulgent and amused.

And so days and darkness passed, sea approaching with tales from far-flung coasts, sand dancing at the shoreline. Eons of pursuit, visits and farewells followed, early pleasure creating an inevitable ebb and flow.

In between there were rougher encounters, when sea grumbled or became thunderous, when it was full of confusion or when it wouldn’t listen. Sometimes, sand turned away, saying nothing but holding its ground. Sea would meet a rocky shoulder, not calm and warm embrace. There were periods when sand refused to let sea’s breath fill it under its skin, which sea loved to do again and again, coming close with deep draws of air. Exasperated by this, sea would swear to stay away. It would stare icily at the sand, holding back from reaching for its soft shore. Who needs jokes or touch or breath or teasing, sea would insist, withdrawing with great effort and growing distant without a backward glance.

Watching this melodramatic back and forth, the birds and the fish would roll their eyes, impatiently explaining about fate and the moon, and, moreover, about acceptance and attachment, contentment and connection, and life. A old and socratic starfish, sitting right where both sea and sand could hear, was elected to give them advice.

It asked the sea, ‘can you help but meet the sand?’ Sea could not deny, it was at the mercy of the winds and tides, but also its own restless nature. The starfish asked the sand, ‘can you help but meet the sea?’ Sand wondered at its own motivations. It wanted only to offer the solace of its shore and to let the sea come and go. ‘Can you help but meet?’, the starfish concluded, shrugging and stretching its arms. Without sand’s boundaries, sea could never know itself, and sand would become mere desert bereft of the sea’s longing. Wind blew, full but fleeting. It would be infinite, but unpredictable, they knew.

As the starfish hoped, both sea and sand grew a little wiser from then on. Sea couldn’t imagine not drifting up to sand, sharing stories or kisses or gifts, before leaving sand shaking with laughter. Sand no longer wished to contemplate its reflections without sea’s conversation. On still nights, they would merely touch fingers and tongues, and the whole world would seem to be listening to the wind singing and the trees’ hum, as each wandered off to sleep.

Today, we think that science understands why the sea always returns and why the sand never leaves, but science can only account for gravity, not the powerful pull of difference, desire and delight, without end since the beginning of this story.

 

Post 141.

The bliss of snaking through Manzanilla’s coconut trees was enough to make the drive worthwhile, but the community spirit that I encountered in Mayaro was, unquestionably, the highlight of the day.

I was there to give a talk for International Women’s Day, being celebrated for the third year in this little corner of South-Eastern coast, adding to the other events happening all over the country all through March, and continuing to honour an agreement made by over 100 women from 17 countries in 1910.

Always socialist in its politics, International Women’s Day originally aimed to strengthen women’s protests against exploitative working conditions, their participation in politics to advance their rights, and their knowledge of those women who came before, who unapologetically resisted regardless of what was expected of them because they expected more for themselves.

This Saturday was no different. Carla Walcott, granddaughter of Clotil Walcott, was there, continuing to call for domestic workers to be considered workers under the Industrial Relations Act and to labour under decent conditions of employment. One women’s group spoke passionately about tending to women’s loneliness, donating to those unable to make ends meet, and listening to the ones trapped by abuse. Men spoke about their realizations that full emancipation of a people is not possible without full equality for all. Girls were being mentored so that they develop ambitions that defy the limitations of their gendered and geographical realities. How humbling to remember that it isn’t petrodollars that keep us together, it’s the cooperation and commitment shown by many unsung individuals, who step out of crease for those more vulnerable, simply because they are people who care.

I hoped to tell stories, those of my great-grandmother, grandmother and daughter, those of students at UWI, those of ordinary Indian and African women who had their own ideas about their desires and dreams, and who collectively organized housewives, the unemployed, the hungry, the anti-war, the oil and sugar workers, and the not-yet unionized. Even if only the words leapt off the page, I wanted to name Haiti, Cuba and Grenada, so that we remember not to forget their stories too.

In the end, it wasn’t my stories that defined the evening. It was the story of Pearl, a woman from Mayaro who told me about the trials of raising her daughter on her own, struggling to build her house, and ensuring that her child traveled to St. Joseph’s Convent daily and later could finish her degree at UWI. Pearl’s combination of exhaustion, pride and recognition that, with her daughter grown and gone, she now had to define herself anew is the story of so many mothers, including my own. Pearl wrapped me in a hug as soon as I stepped out of my car because she read my stories each week. Connecting us is what stories do.

This is probably why Suzanne from the Heart of a Sister Foundation told me that she planned to publish her own story, titled Happily Ever After. Not because there is ever a fairytale ending, but because even when there isn’t, we can make do and do well, even encourage each other. I drove away after making Mr. Mutota and the South African High Commissioner promise to tell me their stories of NJAC in the 1970s and mobilizing against apartheid in the ANC.

In the darkness, Manzanilla’s narrow road seemed to hold these histories in its breath, like a flute waiting to be played. Mayaro retreated, leaving me its stories of struggle and community, and its spirited refrain as a call and response to more than one hundred years of International Women’s Day.

Post 130.

It’s good to know who most matters to you in the world, and to let this determine your ethics and your actions. It’s possible to let your energy, love and time be wasted by those who are not clear what they want for you or those who are trapped in their own games. Such lost investment will only distract you from giving all to what you can most achieve in your path, your heart and your life’s work. Focus on those who most matter and know well why they do.

You’ll know those who want to matter because they will want to be tried and true, they will make you feel safe with them and they will inspire you to be your best self. These are the people who help you to survive and to grow, to push limiting boundaries and to know when you should say no. Those who want to matter will not leave you wondering if you are loved. Keep them close to you during the challenges ahead and let others go. There is too much to accomplish to move forward with vulnerabilities that undermine your peace of mind.

What exactly is to be achieved?

There is the heart list consisting of releasing attachments with generosity of spirit, receiving acceptance with grace and deepening a daily practice of gratitude.

There is a life list consisting of finding that right combination of relentlessly pursing dreams regardless of the sacrifice, contributing to changes the world desperately needs, and finding commitment and meaning beyond public life, in family, friendship, healthy living, forests and quiet time.

There is the fantasy list consisting of fine-tuning those super powers that should be yours. I don’t mean powers to be invisible or speak to animals or move through time or fly – though your alter ego should have at least some of these. I mean the list of those powers that would make you awesome to yourself, such as greater capacities for patience and focus, quicker recovery when you need to get back up and dust off, trust that struggle to be better at something will bring returns, greater humility, honesty and far, far more kindness in word and deed. These may not sound like superpowers, but that’s only because you are not rocking them with a cape.

Finally, there is the balance list. I asked someone if all was well the other day and they said ‘no, things are not well’. They didn’t mean with themselves, they meant with Trinidad and Tobago and they were right. Once we have health, money to live and our family nearby, all is well, but the ‘all’ we are a part of is wider than that. Balance means knowing when we have nothing to complain about and knowing when complacency will cost a future generation. Some of us are out there volunteering with children or washing oil of our coastline’s wildlife or teaching adult men how to read. The rest of us should be out there too. There’s balance to be found. All is not well with one of us when it is not well with all.

It’s powerful to know what most matters and to trust that mistakes are part of finding out, so good intention and forgiveness are necessary ingredients in the mix. Given how little is under our entire control, all that’s left after all this is a fearless openness to chance encounters and unlikely opportunities.

Finally, when you lose your lists, fail or focus on what doesn’t matter, always remember that each day in the new year also brings a second chance.

Post 120.

Few people will believe, but once upon a time, trees migrated across fields and within forests by bending their roots toward greener or more golden grass, or by creeping to hillsides where clouds clustered, creating the right encounter of tears and sunny consolation for those learning to band their bellies with the rings of time.

Trees of all heights and colours negotiated over maps, and were expert cartographers, just as they understood assorted soils, having woven their way over more dinosaur bones than paleontologists have yet identified. Trees didn’t just travel for ecological variety, they also embarked on spiritual quests, and adventures with karmic kindred, sought communities that offered rejuvenation and peace, and patiently pursued abiding and defining love.

One day, one ambitious and thoughtful sapling, only recently grown strong in stalk and only just casting wide her many arms, decided she would never move, search or chatter like the others before and around her. She intertwined enduringly with the land beneath, reached her entire self toward the galaxies she wanted to emulate, called on earth’s elements to watch over her soul, and began a vow of eternal quiet.

Over uncountable rotations of the planet, diverse trees came to stay near her, understanding more and more that knowledge, when experienced, need not always be spoken. Simply lived. One by one by one, every tree across the surface of the world came to first hear about her, as the wind circled and swept through them all, and then to feel her assurance radiate from the complex network at the base of their trunk to their uppermost, unfurling tendril.

What consciousness caused such a transformation?

The tree realized that a path is not always followed by switching terrain, direction or companions, for grass that appears gold from afar may always have been only brown, and arriving to such deception can wither your heart. Rather, paths may merely be about the practice of being deeply grounded, tall in spine, true in reach and light in breath; finding freedom without escaping belonging.

The tree came to appreciate her changes as natural and beautiful, her needs as exactly how she would blossom, and her imperfections and wounds as profound inscriptions about acceptance. She saw that the weather is her teacher, and there is no point running from truths.

It is unavoidable. Some will break your branches, but some will honour even your bare boughs, adoring whatever your texture, twists and size. Though some will carelessly tear your leaves, they will also be valued as emerald jewels. Similarly, some will listen while others rush past. Not noticing you, some will deny that even trees get lonely. Therefore, some will never think of giving you a hug. This occurs far and wide. So why run? Where can you go?

The tree observed that some will enter you like rain or express unpredictable affection, coming and going like the seasons, with their reassuring familiarity and no promises to return. Different creatures and spirits will love you, and though some will feel good, some will not give enough, and while some will want your love, others will brush it away. Release and receive all, with stoicism and graceful sway. Thirsts and hungers will be met or may leave you hollow, but your spirit will always disperse like seeds that burst into a thousand rebirths.

In evolving strength, stability and serenity wherever they stood, all trees now carry her wisdom. Keep their company, with your mind still and senses alert. The insight they share is continual certainty that you, like them, are exactly where you are meant to be.

Post 112.

Meet Marge the Cow. She feels so ordinary that the chickens hatch a cunning plan to give her a baby. She sits on the egg to keep it warm, pushes it in a wheelbarrow around the farm and is finally fulfilled when the chick is born and she names it Daisy.

Obviously, I didn’t buy this book. I think that Marge should go out and become a scientist or philosopher or journalist tackling the meat industry, or break out of the farm and foment revolution. Yet, because, somehow, it’s now Ziya’s favorite, I read it for her anyway.

In the story, the “farmer’s wife” calls the press about the egg. To jail with dat, I like to call her the farmer and him the farmer’s husband. It’s an assumption that she is not the one with the agriculture degree or from a farming family, which by the way is not negated just because she is married. 

Besides Marge are so many other instances of total stereotypes in the hidden curriculum of children’s lives. I made huge efforts to choose each of Ziya’s many books one by one. I read reviews over months. I made lists so that her library included stories with girl, boy, non-American, non-White and Caribbean characters. Finding far too few, I turned to stories with animals, like the monkey who fools the crocodile, the raven who stole the sun from the gods, the baby hippo who sees all the other baby animals getting kisses, and the llama who starts school and misses mama.

Yet, in almost all of these stories, the monkey, crocodile, raven, hippo and llama are also all male. When Stella, official World Champion of Staying Awake, puts Beanbag Frog, Cherry Pig and her puppet-mouse to sleep, somehow we have to believe that a little girl’s favorite toys are all also male characters. If this is random, why do you think that in all the stories that I have which feature little boys, none of their favorite toys, such as dinosaurs and pandas, are ever female in return?

Then there is Lola. She’s African-American, has brown skin and hair like Ziya, and she loves the library. Lola reads stories and imagines who she will be, sometimes a pilot, sometimes a tiger, sometimes a princess. To jail with this princess tiefhead. I tell Zi that Lola imagines herself an empress, because these brown-skinned women made history and ran empires, and because the Rastafari tradition of resistance continues to give ’empress’ Caribbean meaning.

To jail with blond Disney Cinderellas and Rapunzuls waiting to be rescued, and the bad rep given to the old, wise women of forests, who have been demeaned as evil witches. There’s a rich world mythology of female goddesses out there. Zi already knows she’s powerful like Kali, brave like Durga and smart like Saraswati.

I’m waiting for Fancy Nancy, who is all about science, to be a sapodilla-brown, dougla-hair girl instead of a little red-haired one. You have to search hard for the everyday adventures and aspirations of African, Indian and Caribbean girls outside of the US, and amidst seasons, neighbourhoods and families that look like ours do.

There is a hidden curriculum of sexism, but also of racism too. We can pretend children are too young to pick up on these things, but that’s simply not true. We can instead teach them to go off script, change characters’ sex, rewrite the narrative and make it reflect our own.

Decolonising her young mind one book at a time is what I hope happens with every night’s bedtime story in our home. 

Post 107.

Once upon a time, there was a lion who was different from the others of the pride. He’d climb trees and imagine himself held by the arms of giants who once walked the earth. He would lie on the grass and try to decipher the elements of each cloud. He’d walk through his days reading the changing hours like musical notes etched across the sheet of the vast savannah. The lion knew he was different, but wasn’t sure why or how.

One early morning, a little brown bird that was different from the others alighted on a branch above the lion, raised her throat to the warm breezes and began to sing. The lion lifted his head to find the source of such a beautiful melody. Then, he slowly rested back down and began to dream.

In his dream, the lion became the trees’ uppermost leaves, opaque persian-blue mist and even dust floating above life on the savannah. He became intervals of rain, the sound of cicadas and even the softest feathers of the little brown bird. When he awoke, the little brown bird was gone, but the lion understood how he was different and why he never knew before.

From then on, the lion looked forward to his soul traveling on her song. His appreciation showed little brown bird what gift also made her different. She could entice others to dream.

On those mornings when the little brown bird didn’t come, the lion grew impatient. As you know, lions are bossy and used to getting their way. He rolled restlessly, disconcerted that he could not control when the little bird came or went or how long she stayed, he could not find her once she left and he never knew if she heard him calling her to come see him. He had no idea if he would even see her again. His eyes would glaze as he tried to reproduce the lilt and tremors of the little bird’s notes, but they escaped him.

Too preoccupied and unsettled to sleep or eat, the lion contemplated his attachment to the little brown bird and decided that the next time she sang to him, he would refuse to listen. Noticing that her song had lost its call, the pesky creature would realize that she was no match for a lion who had made up his mind.

Seeing the little bird approach, the lion busied himself licking his paws, roaring and shaking his mane, but could not ignore her as he had planned. Knowing how temperamental lions are, she simply sat on a tree further away, ruffled her feathers as if she had not noticed, looked in his eyes and sang. Despite himself, he fell back in languid rest entwined with the harmonies of her song. He could feel each pore and hair on his body, all of the muscles in his limbs and even the draw of his lungs. He felt he could touch the little bird’s voice like light touches air.

The little bird’s last visit weighed on the lion when he woke this very morning. He could not remember when last she came and wished he had not growled at her to go away. The other lions would not understand his dreams, though no proud lion should miss a bothersome little bird.

Part of the lion wished to never see the little brown bird again. He could easily return to dreamless slumber, to simpler inner peace, to drifting about, alone except for the company of darting lizards. Part of the lion wanted only to hear the little bird’s song once more and to know that she came solely to serenade his quiet reverie. The lion ached as his heart opened and closed and the morning gathered a grey and humid hush.

This is where our story leaves him, wondering what he really sought of the little bird and not knowing quite what a lion unlike any other should do.

Post 104.

Once upon a time before time, Sky, with her omniscient open gaze, the soft fall of her horizons and her tresses of tangled clouds, became torn between her two great loves, Sun and Moon.

Each morning, Sun woke to greet Sky with his smile and to watch his radiance mirrored in her eyes, and she knew she could plan the rest of her days around the laughter and friendship that filled his steady gentle rise and warm setting embrace.

Moon had none of Sun’s stability. Some nights he glowed full, taking her breath away. Others, she could find him nowhere and she wandered inconsolable in the darkness. He was secretive, unpredictable and a loner, but he compelled her like the tides, unable to stop himself or her from being drawn together.

Sun and Sky’s sacred union had been blessed by ancient stars, wise with knowledge of the universe’s origins, stars that had long since closed their eyes and reincarnated. All had seemed like it could last an eternity in such perfect balance.

Then came Moon. Shadowy and cool, he sent to Sky midnight winds that rained night-blooming flowers, led her by hand through the constellations as he whispered their meanings, and drew his silver touch across her skin to wake her from sleep. Sky discovered light and depth in herself that she had not dreamt existed. She could hardly imagine how many hours she had limited to rest, and how she had been content without the nocturnal desires and powers that now made her feel whole. She came newly alive, stretching her spirit, and her heart began to quicken at dusk as it did at dawn.

Sun rose and did not recognise Sky had changed, that she had grown beyond bright morning blue or evening blush. Unlike Moon, he could not see her cobalt luminescence. He could not fathom how to walk the labyrinth of space with Sky breathing by his side. Comfortable being her centre, he was lost in the new expanse of her world. Sky soon realised, with love and sadness, how partially he would belong. Awake while he slept, she sighed, seeing how much of their union she would spend feeling alone.

That night, she would have fled to the arms of the moon if only she could find him, but she met only silence. Waiting amidst a dense blackness taught her that he would not be there when she needed him and that both were powerless to change his course.

Sky tossed with disappointment and longing, caring nothing about the thunderstorms that raged across the earth. Her cherished Sun kissed her soul each morning without fail, but could never reach beyond his dusk. Moon penetrated a self left abandoned by the sun, unfurling an intimacy she could no longer live without, but would inevitably have to.

Should she wake with the sun and forget the moon? Should she give up the day to soar at night? What were her choices when both loves had already set their paths?

She could not have both. By himself, neither Sun nor Moon was enough for who she had become. Each continued to shine with unique, ethereal splendour, giving all that he could, yet unable to fulfill the entire hopes of Sky’s heart.

Look toward heaven and you will see.

Sky still reflects on Sun and Moon in their distant realms, wonders who to reach for and how not to reach for the other, keeps secret the wishes she is not allowed, and quietly continues her boundless passage above our own little stories of troubles and joy.