Saturday, January 17, 2015

#NoNewFriends...Okay...Maybe a Few.

“What you mean I was the class clown?!”. All is revealed in the car trip to the Toco coastline, when my father reminds me that this is the descriptor my school principal gave of me circa 2003; my principal, the humbly pleasant but stern woman who we were journeying to look for, because I wanted to tell her thank you, whether or not she remembered the favor. She had many years ago, scooped me up from a lunch gathering, me mid-laughter, the kind you have to contort into a throaty cough to dissolve it from your face.

She did not know me. I mean of course she knew my name, she knew what horrendous grades I made in her Spanish class one term, but she also did not hesitate to let me know that the group of friends I had been keeping, was probably not the right fit for me. She told me that I could do better on all fronts, that I had immense potential as a student and I was wasting away because I was not taking the opportunity of being there (there: a good school with tremendous room for growth and learning) seriously enough. She did not know me.

How could she have possibly been so right then?

I’ve been between Trinidad and New York a number of times within the last year, and for me this is only the beginning of transnational living as an adult on my own terms, booking (and recently mis-booking) my own flights, and for once not feeling like I belong in any one place more than the other. I’ve somehow managed to find equilibrium in this previously chaotic situation, possibly because I’ve made peace with the way things are. I’m more accepting of what life gives and takes away.

Toco stop on the hill.

One of the most interesting navigations for me centers on friendships and relations outside of family. Possibly because these relationships are forever being negotiated between parties involved. I reflect on Keith Basso’s anthropological study of Western Apache cultural practice, where silence is used in particular social situations, one of these being between parents and children, when the child returns from school abroad.

“Apache parents openly admit that, initially, children who have been
away to school seem distant and unfamiliar. They have grown older, of
course, and their physical appearance may have changed. But more fundamental
is the concern that they have acquired new ideas and expectations
which will alter their behavior in unpredictable ways. No matter how pressing
this concern may be, however, it is considered inappropriate to directly
interrogate a child after his arrival home. Instead, parents anticipate that
within a short time he will begin to divulge information about himself that
will enable them to determine in what ways, if any, his views and attitudes
have changed. This, the Apache say, is why children do practically all the
talking in the hours following a reunion, and their parents remain unusually silent.” 1

This puts much into perspective for me. There are folks who I can no longer have extensive conversations with. Simply because we have grown in different directions, have different priorities, value different things in life, are at different stages in our journey. Which for me some years ago was a devastating reality. The silence was/is an expression of this distancing in ideas. I cannot attribute this to time and space only, because I have maintained meaningful relationships with friends in all parts of the world, space not a factor, time not a factor, we somehow reconvene and are magically still  in sync with each other.

I can also acknowledge places where there is no such magic anymore. This can be a quick eulogy for those things. They are probably not the right fit for me. I have walked away from them with an interrupted laugh, but was given a more serious outlook on the world about me and everything else to be grasped.

After my principal pulled me aside that day, nothing was really the same. I landed in the top 5 of my class within a year, and I developed a strong sense of independence and personal drive. It was important that I understood who I could be, outside of other people, outside of people who may have had different goals and interests from mine. Outside of folks who had no intention on supporting my vision, more so, as this vision evolves. In 2015 I am so very accepting of the incredible people that God is surrounding me with, and the equally wonderful ones he is separating me from. I know who these are by the kind of silence they keep, and I know this is how it ends.


  1. Basso, Keith H. ""To Give up on Words": Silence in Western Apache Culture."Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 26.3 (1970): 213-30. JSTOR. Web. 17 Jan. 2015.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Dancing the Mask part 3: Wearing the Story- Project Reflection

Thunderbird Mask of an Ancestral Sky Being of of the Namgis clan of the Kwakwaka’wakw

"The Namgis relate how Thunderbird flew out of the heavens to assist a man who had been transformed into a large halibut, and when his assistance was finished, Thunderbird removed his headdress and winged cape and became human. When this mask is worn and danced during Winter Ceremony potlatches, the wearer opens and shuts the beak, revealing a human form within. " - Brooklyn Museum Website here

For every moment of doubt I have had about my writing and the stories I choose to tell, I always experience these huge moments of confirmation and endorsement by the universe, in some form or fashion, and always at a necessary appointed time. I say no to the notion of co-incidence and chance and deign that the same source of divinity that has allowed me to create worlds with my hands, is the same force that sanctions these periods of revelation and enlightenment.

One of these moments happened last week listening to Saul Williams and Sanford Biggers speak on afrofuturism, its relationship to 'Sankofa' within the West African cultural cannon and then the use of stories that represent our supernatural ability in the past and the construction of the future. The construction of new myths. Here it is that this particular mask above was in the space, and that I chose to build work around it, without taking due notice of its colors or its story. Yet after conducting enough research, I came to learn that it is the same narrative that my work has been pushing in these past 3 odd years, that is, life as sea beings (the man transformed into the halibut-fish), life on earth (the thunderbird becoming human and living on the land) and life in the sky (a narrative on flight and airborne ability). I had never before last week considered my own work to be part of a larger body of afrofuturistic artwork and storytelling.

It happened on my visit to Trinidad in the summer of 2013 when I was told that these 'characters' I had been writing about in my play were not mere constructions of different women in my head, but they were actual, historical beings with real names and real lives. I had been talking about them without knowing they ever existed. Herein is the magic of what we do. 

This dancing the mask performance was to serve as commentary on our rites of Jouvay, in the traditions that preceded ours. Even in the absence of direct connections. The open beak with the human face inside is the essence of what masking and masquerade is truly about:

"Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask and he will tell you the truth."
-Oscar Wilde

This is what my work has been about, unmasking our truth, telling these very human stories in the shroud of gone legacies of supernatural living and fantasy. In fact, so long as there is a living God above me, what is there in my life that is not part of a superhuman experience? Dancing the mask is very much like dancing this skin, dancing these flesh and bones, dancing this body that makes me appear as though I were not really a spiritual being. It is a daily dance with a constantly evolving music. It is never about hiding, but playing the larger than life entity to reveal the truth about us. 

Dancing the Mask: Brooklyn Museum. Credit: Clifford Drouillard

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Dancing the Mask (Part 2)

I’m not interested in being ‘the cool teacher’ but I am insistent upon trying to understand the lives of my students which lends to keeping up-to-date on urban youth culture and what is happening in the wider community outside the classroom. It happened with the tragic when Kimani Gray got shot in 2013, it mattered that my male students- as brilliant as they are -were getting stopped and frisked by police on the street, it was necessary to (try to) understand young American women’s impassioned fascination with Beyonce and now in the recent weeks, young southern innovation has given us a dance called the “Nae Nae”.

When I saw the dance for the first time, I immediately thought it was a distanced evolution of ‘voguing’ which uses house music and emerged from the gay black and latino community many many years ago. The Nae Nae involves a certain bend at the wrist that causes the hands to curve outward, and one’s arms are stretched away from the body. This allows the dancer to take up/occupy a large circular space. The knees are bent and one rocks from left to right with a four-count freestyle move, then the main Nae Nae rock. (see video)

Finding these upturned hand-movements (that we can well consider to be effeminate) in a southern hip hop dance, is an interesting gender transgression for me, considering the prevailing attitudes towards the LGBT community within black urban culture. Additionally, the dance was being done mainly by young African American males and appeared to center on a certain mimicking of the female form with the chest-led swing and a posterior pop resulting from the knee-bend.

In hip hop, bell hooks talks about black men being subject to patriarchal objectification through the white male gaze thus leading to their feminization. Her argument is that in order to resist this domination, black men have resorted to hypermasculinity, 1 an image/idea that has no shortage of expression within hip hop culture. The Nae Nae reads as an alternate expression of black masculinity, one that moves away from the hard and fast, sharp movements of break-dancing and introduces something less rigid, more playful and gives a stylized performance of gender and gender-bending. This is refreshing to me on some levels because we are finally deciding that we having nothing to prove to the world and whatever gazes are being enforced, so that this then becomes the new resistance.

In my own experience, I have too often played the ‘male role’ at my church’s dance classes whether it was ballroom, latin or contemporary, and these instances never made me more masculine than I was, but it instead gave me an appreciation for what my dancing partner was doing and kind of empathetic understanding. Knowing both ends allowed me to communicate better with my partner which builds trust, co-operation and ultimately community.

Christmas Dinner: Photographed by Nicholas Nichols, © 2012.

Imani Perry notes that “African American performance has been a site for the imagination of future possibilities… the political, imaginary, and historical reckoning” 2. The Nae Nae makes me question the possibility of realizing sameness and equity within the black community. What if just like these high school kids, we’d put our differences aside, enjoy each other’s company and engage one another. Dance can be a political instrument of unity, and change. What would happen if we lived beyond the stereotype and danced (as the cliche goes) like nobody (or no system of bodies) was watching? Dancing out of the entrapment.

1. hooks, bell. "Feminism Inside: Toward a Black Body Politic." Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary American Art. Comp. Thelma Golden. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1994. 127. Print.
2. Perry, Imani. "B-Boys, Players, and Preachers: Reading Masculinity." Prophets of the Hood: Politics and Poetics in Hip Hop. Durham: Duke UP, 2004. 122. Print.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Dancing the Mask Part 1

In the last week I remembered how I’d been working with a stage director ten years ago and she remarked “Oh I forgot you don’t like to move too much, can you do a crawl instead then?” While I welcomed the note then (mostly because it was the truest thing ever), I consider now how changes have taken place in my life that have caused me to appreciate the role of dance and movement as a transcendental thing; as communication, as memory, building community and a celebration of life. This was not always the case for me, it was something I regarded as ‘outside myself’ and admittedly not belonging to a person with a certain amount of poise, my own snobbish bias.

This attitude of mine might have come from a number of places, but I can point to my immersion in Western Catholic values as one of the primary sources. Even though I boast of my unusual folk training as having come from my (relatively rural) church, with drumming and African dance classes and Ella Andall (Yoruba) music, I must confess that even though I had all of these experiences, my understanding of modesty and the expectations of a ‘pure’ young woman constantly conflicted with this New World African female body, considered vulgar and ‘wrong’ by nature. (See: Saartjie Baartman)

There is an unruly-ness that we have historically associated with African dance, which extends itself to our Carnival traditions in the Caribbean, classed as overly-sexual and profane. I had played mas for many years as a child, up until I ‘became a woman’ around the same time I couldn’t find a band that wasn’t intended for much older patrons and had the kind of fabric coverage I desired as a Christian woman. In other words, I wasn’t down with the bikini movement (still am not actually), but still had a certain respect and admiration for the mas as a whole. In my teenage years, I refused the whole clubbing scene and partying, mostly because these types of environments made me feel both uncomfortable (the fete as a predatorial lair) and awkward (I don’t dance, I don’t drink, I don’t like talking that much, what I going there for?).

It was interesting what my Brooklyn experience was able to bring to the table. The issue of safety and uncomfortability was often eliminated by the fact that my friends were the ones hosting these parties, and in their homes, safe spaces. The issue of awkwardness is also taken care of by what I call ‘dancefloor autonomy’ where I was now free to dance and move on my own ground without being constantly interrupted by a male (or even female) presence inching their way up to me trying to ‘take a wine’ (notice how they take, don’t ever ask). In fact, ‘wining’ (contrary to what most Caribbean people might want to believe) is actually not the only genre of dance that exists in the world, on a dancefloor. This was another relief to my own sensibilities. Here I feel like I do not have to compromise my faith or my Christianity to enjoy myself with people I actually care about. I have much more control over my space and who is allowed to share it with me.

Additionally, it would be important to note that I am at a place where I am now at home in this body after years of struggle with weight and what I look like, and (almost) every young woman’s superficial crisis of whether I was beautiful enough. Acceptance has ushered me into a state of freedom and David-ness where I acknowledge the human body in all its amazingness and form and ability. I am fighting the disconnection between mind and body. I am relearning how the feet can move, how the hands are made for praise and how the heart is the first rhythm of the body. I found God in an afro jazz song last night, and I thanked him for giving me these abilities to hear, to feel and to move!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Slam Season and other things that rhyme

From the mailing list:

EmojiHappy Spring!Emoji

Hi everyone,

Hope this finds you in warmer thoughts than it actually is outside. As we're moving into slam season with April being National Poetry Month, I have a few 'save the dates' for you and your calendar:

Tonight!- Friday March 22nd 2013
The Brooklyn College Slam Team will be competing in the Friday Night Slam at the world renowned Nuyorican Poet's cafe located at 236 East 3rd Street between Avenue B and Avenue C. It costs $10 for entry which includes a long wait outside. but if you're not a fan of freezing weather, a $20 VIP online booking gets you in before the crowd and out the cold. Come early/on time, things get crowded. Show starts at 10pm.

Tomorrow!- Saturday March 23rd 2013
The Art of Conversation NYC: The Tri State Women's Month Edition.
I will be featuring at this event, representing all of New York State and it only costs $5. From the event page: 

Saturday March 23rd 

Every 4th Saturday Of The Month
@The Five Spot 459 Myrtle Ave
Brooklyn, New York
Doors open 6pm
Showtime 7pm Sharp! open mic 7pm-8pm
Tri-State FEATURE 8pm-9pm

Nationals- CUPSI: The College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational- April 3rd-6th
The Brooklyn College Slam Team has been vigorously training for this national competition, and we need as much support as we can get from our well-wishers and the wider Brooklyn community. We do not have an exact schedule yet, but what we can promise is that all our bouts will take place between 6-10pm on the above dates at Barnard College at 3009 BROADWAY, NEW YORK, NY 10027. Events should be free and open to all the public You can reach out to me via email or phone to get the exact bout times as the competition gets closer. Hopefully we make it to final stage this year.

BC Slam team with TheWerdsman. by David Lewis.

One Act Play Festival at Brooklyn College- Thursday April 18th- Saturday April 20th
I'm pleased to announce that this semester I'm directing a One Act play on campus and it promises to be an impactful work, considering the chilling discoveries that have been happening our rehearsals this week. These plays happen in Room 316, Roosevelt Hall, Brooklyn College and are contribution based.

More updates on the workshopping of my one-woman show 'Cascadoo' coming soon!

Be well and have a great holiday/cleaning/poeming!



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Sunday, March 10, 2013

"... yea, the Trini girl with the accent from the slam team." end quote.

It's been an annoyance following me over the last week every time I acknowledge how I had not written here in such a long time. It's with an 11:05pm cup of coffee that I need to make work happen. I'm needing to relearn how to not always embrace the emotions surrounding things. Emotions are sometimes good compasses but they cannot be the only thing you listen too. I'm accepting more and more that the time will never avail itself to you. It is something that always depends on you seizing it and being an artist depends on grabbing time more than ever.

The one-woman show is moving with its own patience, and I surely need to relegate more time every week working with it, but I know that some of the uneasy and nervousness about it is my mind's own anticipation for an uncontrollable magic that is about to happen. My director is really engaging the piece and me here just noticing the unfolding of things and the ideas and poems and sensing how it is going to be the most beautiful plant that spring will blossom me. I am also directing a One Act that goes up in April at school, which thematically ties very closely into my solo show. Finding that script was a miracle in itself. It was one of those things that was bound to happen.

I've been thinking a lot lately about identity, (not only because of the gender class I'm taking this semester) in how my subconscious self has been awakening new ways of speaking and thinking about myself and who I consider myself to be right now. I recall a conversation we were having about Black Power in Trinidad in the 1970's when my artistic director, Camille said that after a while she gave up on wearing dashiki outfits and traditional Yoruba clothing usually associated with the movement, because she realized that the blackest part of her was her own skin. That no external thing could give a stronger indication of who she was than the embodiment of her own self.

That's mostly how I've been feeling about a number of things these days, particularly when it comes to a performance of gender and nationality. It happened today and it happened last week. It seems as though I've moved beyond having to identify myself as 'Trinidadian' when introducing myself to people. I tend to give my name and what I spend most of my time doing- schooling and working and writing. Also,this semester more than ever before, I've really tapped into exploring my 'feeling' side where I present myself in the way that I feel. If I feel like sweats, I'll wear sweats all week with bulky boy boots, I'd probably not comb my hair for a few days and don a wool hat to hide it. Winter is almost over and I haven't used my winter wedge heeled boots more than once, My sweater dresses have barely been touched (if at all) and my make-up kit looks as brimming as it did when I updated it last December.

That being said, more and more I'm interested in just being. It's not always easy to do that given social context, but the top of 2013 for me has been about being healthy, getting work done and being comfortably myself when doing it. There are parts of myself that I do not feel pressured to assert anymore. It might have to do with living in a huge city and constantly competing with people and always having to prove that you're the best this, or the best that, and I'm over it. I am inhabiting my body, and I've learnt that the truest parts of my identity will always be oozing out of me and there is no need to spotlight what is already glowing. I don't always need to call attention to my Caribbeanness and femininity to prove that they exist.