Monday, December 3, 2012

How to Wear a Problem.

Stephanie at work

A friend came over yesterday and almost immediately picked up the big bowl of earrings I keep on my dresser and started arranging them in pairs. In going through the stories and places of where they came from, we had somehow started talking about the spirit world, and travelling, and how spirits travel.

Even though the latter bit was unrelated to the jewelry itself, I remembered growing up that whenever I received wearable gifts from Africa or India, my mother would give me the bottle of holy water and explain that I should bless them and pray on them before I even try them out. Not really thinking about it until yesterday, I've realized how conditioned we have been towards our darker skinned origins, how colonialism has solidified for us what is pure and what is unclean.

embodiment through ritual mask

Of all the objects in my Trinidadian home, at least a quarter of them are made in China, we do not bless the new plastic mug before we make juice in it. We do not bless our Brazillian shoes from Ate logo. We have over and over been part and victim of the demonization of the same traditions that allow us to be here. I understand that spirits occupy things, if so, bless all the British printed books on the shelf that are quietly occupying your home, particularly the ones that have the effect of embodying lies surrounding your ancestors, for that of all, must be one of the most evil spirits that can exist in a thing. Bless everything in sight then.

This must also extend to my philosophy on thrift stores and wearing the second-hand clothes of strangers. I do not believe in embodying someone I have not known. Clothing is a most personal affair, something that touches the skin, is exposed to the sweat, the sweat being something inside of you that comes to the surface, something about that is way too spiritual for me to walk into a store and buy a top for $5 that can house some ghost that I am not trying to entertain. Friends and family, maybe. Vintage stores, not so much.

As much as the things we wear are external fixes, the fault of Adam and Eve, and the effects of a material world , their personality seems to be something that connects to deeper ideas about ourselves and other people.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

God Bless the Child That's Got His Own.... Or Not Quite.

He has a brown bag with a 40's bottle to his mouth and is shouting at anybody who would listen "My life sucks, but I love it, it's the only one I got!". The 40-something year old broken record of a Chicano on Church Avenue, repeats his sentence as though he himself acknowledges the poetry of it, and is satisfied with how concisely he has been able to describe his life in the brief open narrative. I have been paying more attention to the homeless people in my neighborhood in recent months, and the fact that I see these very specific people at least four times a week, has made them a troubling part of my environment.

There is the young man with the black and red jacket, and the nike's to match, exposing his bone at the ankle. The story is that his mother lives on my street corner and she put him out because of drugs. On average twice a month he calls out to me and laughs with a sustained giggle when I don't respond to him. Honestly, I am afraid of him, since I see him at least once a day and he does not say much. I have understood that the quiet ones are those who purge in the most radical of ways, and usually avoid him when I can.

There is the man with the balding scalp who asks only for dollar bills. The fear I have for him is different. I have seen him everywhere, which is unlike this city. You barely see the same people twice. I have seen him at three restaurants in my neighborhood, just outside my campus, once inside the grocery and one evening on the train. All within the space of three months. He has a very personalized way in asking for money and I started wondering at one time if he actually knows my face and targets me. Bell Hooks in her discussion of Performance Practice as a Site of Opposition mentions "the notion of manipulative performance for survival". He begs so discreetly that you think it is a private matter between you and him alone, which has some type of emotional effect on the way people generally respond to him.

Hooks explains that these homeless people "are possessed spirits. In another culture- not a while supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal nation- their words might be listened to, their wisdom heeded." This sentiment reminded me very much of an experience Ryan and I had in the Eastern Cape, while waiting for our fifteen hour bus-ride back to Joburg. This old homeless man came up to us, speaking as much English as he could extract, and asks Ryan for money. Upon receipt of a few rand, he proceeds to give us advice for our relationship, and the importance of fidelity. He had approached only us out of the group of people there, and spoke at length on how we should live our married life. He ends his spiel by talking about Barcelona and Manchester United football teams with Ryan. It was as though with the transaction he felt indebted to us in some way and worked to compensate with his story. The old man walked a few steps up the street and it was as though he disappeared completely. We scanned the area for him a mere thirty seconds after he left us, and he was nowhere in sight.

All these examples tie into an internal conflict of wanting to engage people but being afraid of what they are capable of. I would even add that my being a woman has mostly raised my perceived risk level, these are people who are still out on the street when I am walking home late at night. I cannot be naive about the city and its monsters. But, what if they are not the monsters? And which one of them is Christ? I am caught daily wanting to help people, but I have never before been so aware of death and violence as probability since I moved to Brooklyn. My thoughts for now have been laid out, but not finished.

Also, this has been a wonderful project in Trinidad that works to capture the stories of the homeless, please check it out:

  • Let's Get It On: The Politics of Black Performance Edited by Catherine Ugwu Bay Press 1995

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Trinidad James and The Gold Plated Embarassment

Coming after what seems to have been a national outcry by the socially conscious adult public of Trinidad and Tobago, (admittedly gauging mainly from intensely angry facebook posts in my newsfeed), there seems to be much disapproval on the identity politics surrounding Atlanta-based rapper 'Trinidad James'. The young man explains in a promotional interview that he hails from Port of Spain and Mt. Hope,Trinidad and left the island to come to America where he entered the second grade in elementary school (which would land him at about 6 or 7 years of age at the time).

He explains that he was raised by his mother and that he moved from Trinidad such a long time ago that he does not remember much, but recalls a few anecdotes such as a childhood friend, eating doubles and drinking his first coconut water. He expresses that he had conflicts within himself as to determining who he was and "finding" himself when he moved to the US. Surely I can vouch for him here and say this is not the easiest transition to make in one's life. He also admits here that by the 4th grade, he lost his accent.

The rapper has prospects of returning to the island and even wants to enter into the soca monarch 2k13 competition. What I have so far outlined is important for me because I am currently looking at the circular immigration process and developing something I have called the 'Cascadoo narrative' (more on this later). I would therefore venture to say that Trinidad James is now recognizing this dual consciousness within himself, however distasteful we might find his exploration of this world. He is trying to uncover a part of himself that "he cannot remember", but he identifies himself as something while standing on the outside of that very thing.

He is wanting to be a part of this world. He has named himself after the island, and in his debut music video "All Gold Everything" can be seen sporting Trinidad's national colors, much in the same way that American gangster culture uses particular colored bandannas to represent their clique affiliation. His cadence follows the usual Atlanta drawl while his language is interspersed with pieces of Trinidad dialect "all in my" can transition to "all in meh" as "jeh watch" to "jus watch". I would also argue that gold has traditionally been the Caribbean's precious metal of choice for exhibiting wealth, as opposed to the now popular American bling diamonds and platinum. As Caribbean people we all had at least one family member or neighbour with a gold tooth in their mouth in the 90s (or at present?).

Trinidad James is actually performing his confusion, and should not be blamed entirely for what he considers as a journey towards himself. Nuttal looks at a number of adjustment strategies employed by adolescent Caribbean youth who migrate to America and have listed them as:

a) conformity (individuals dislike themselves and admire members of the dominant culture), (b) dissonance (conflicts arise between individuals depreciating and appreciating feelings for themselves, views held by the majority culture and other minority groups, and their own personal feelings), (c) resistance and immersion (individuals begin to appreciate themselves, ethnocentric feelings emerge, and they begin to dislike the majority culture), (d) introspection (individuals explore and examine the reason for liking themselves or their group, and the ethnocentric basis for judging other minorities and the dominant culture), and (e) synergetic articulation and awareness (individuals begin to accept and respect different cultural values of other minority groups, the dominant culture, and their own; Nuttall et al., 1990).

In accordance with James' interview, he sounds like he went through a number of these stages at different times in his life and is now in a space where he accepts American culture as his own, but recognizes still that it is not the only thing he has. I think that we actually have no right to determine that he is not Trinidadian on the basis that we do not see ourselves in him. Actually, I think that we are so frightened by how much we see our country in him that it's easier to dismiss him as ridiculous and 'shameful' than engage the mirror he is offering us.

James is the primary school friend who disappears from school one day and never comes back and the teacher announces that "he went to America" (these children hardly ever say a formal goodbye to their class). James is the product of readjustment probably with a mother who had to work multiple jobs, provide for him and did not get the sit-down time with him when he got home from school. James has the same ancestors as I do and we are probably remotely related somehow. James wants to somehow be included in that world he was pulled from. James performs America because America (gangster rap et al.) is what has raised him, you cannot give what you do not have. James is an adaptation to his environment, leopard print fur and everything therein.

James is a product of neglect and lack of guidance. What he chooses to represent is his own conundrum and we cannot decide on its legitimacy because we do not like what we see.


  • Mitchell N. Academic Achievement Among Caribbean Immigrant Adolescents: The Impact of Generational Status on Academic Self-Concept. Professional School Counseling [serial online]. February 2005;8(3):209-218. Available from: Academic Search Complete, Ipswich, MA. Accessed November 10, 2012.
  • Nuttall, E., DeLeon, B., & Valle, M. (1990). Best practices in considering cultural factors. In A. Thomas & J. Grimes (Eds.), Best practices in school psychology (pp. 219-233). Washington, DC: The National Association of School Psychologist, 35, 1061-1070.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Dia de Muertos

“Dia de muertos” at the Mexico-US Border in Mexicali BC Mexico border with Calexico CA US. 

My father was born in the La Seiva Road cemetery in the 1960s. I grew up with my parents reminding me on every late night visit to my grandmother's house that I should fear the living more than the dead. It is only after having moved to America that I've come to appreciate my own worldview and the traditions that influence it regarding death and the afterlife. I have only seen two funerals in operation since I've been here, and one day I remember asking my friends whether they themselves go to funerals. The answer was no, not really.

Over the two odd years of my being here, having a mother who has often found herself as lead cantor at funeral services at our church in Sangre Grande, she has sometimes had as many as three funerals in a week. Surely I would attribute this to a closer-knit society and Caribbean culture where death is something commemorated by the community. People still feel the need to pay respect to the deceased, or merely lend support to the grieving family. In America, bodies are kept at the parlor where they are stored, then eventually they may or may not do a short service of sorts, after which people go to look at the coffin in the cemetery but never see it descend into the ground.

My theory is that grieving is such a sophisticated and drawn-out process in my culture that we give time for the dead to make the transition and for the living to begin adjusting to the absence of this person who has passed away. We often have open-casket funeral viewing, the body is sometimes brought to the house of the deceased, we have bullhorns announcing the death in the community, we keep wakes every night, we have nine nights (of prayer) after the passing, and we keep a church service forty days after the death date. In America, very few (if any) of these practices exist, even within a Caribbean community like Brooklyn. In my mind, this possibly has a connection to Halloween culture and how the dead are often demonized as evil zombies in popular culture.

Also, I think that America is lost to the idea of the realms of life being connected and a shared space for the unborn, the born and the ancestors (dead). If this were the case I think the abortion debate would be less of an issue. This is surely not a Western route, but what has been interesting for me as a black Catholic is the idea of the 'communion of saints' where those who have gone before us await us in the kingdom. As for who exactly constitutes a 'saint' by the standards of the RC church and its minority of canonized non-white saints, that is another blog post. I would say that I have been shaped by both West African philosophy and Catholic theology, which are not necessarily at loggerheads with each other. What these two things surely exclude is the limiting American (western) ideology that we belong to the present living state and that only.

I dreamt my grandmother last night. She was preparing to die but wanted us to comb her hair properly with a jeweled pin in her braid before she left this world. She said that she needed to be ready for the next. Bless her soul.

and may the souls of the faithful departed though the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Beulah, full of grace.

My aunt is light on her feet, more of a floating spirit than human. The single thing anchoring her is a dark stone medallion with the Virgin Mary, the one where she is all Chicana in a star studded robe, hands at chest-center looking like she just finished the sun salutation yoga pose. She was in the side room and appeared to me while scanning the last version of the New York times. We end up talking about working, and not working, and employment and what the procedure was like when she first left Trinidad to come here. One had to call in, and apply over the phone. "Now they want to see everything on paper" she says.

She is a number of shades lighter than I am with naturally straight hair, but has a story about 'us black people' having to find work here in the 1970s. She explains in her simple linen white shirt and loose mint green pants that on the trains, white people would not ever sit next to blacks, and she muses on how much she has seen the world change in front of her. By now her eyes are more alive than I have ever seen, but her mouth moves with a certain composure, she is fully engaged in the memory of the thing and tells me that God is leveling the world.

She says that people are intermarrying, living in the same communities together, certain animals are becoming extinct, certain animals are coming into existence, some plants are growing smaller while smaller plants are growing larger. She is explaining that an equilibrium is being established in the world. Not that I had expected  any marxist theology from the meagre bodied woman in a chemotherapy suite, but she says all these things with a collection and wisdom in her voice that I cannot doubt.

She mentions that the name 'Beddoe' that we came from was a well-known family name in Trinidad, that we were all related. She says that now it's like the name has been married out of us. We have enough girl children to show for it all. She used to paint things, beautiful things. She also wants to teach me graphology because she thinks the art is about to die. She says that God is coming soon, and floats back into the file room.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

how to spot a socouyant

                               still have dirt under your nails
                                                          from unearthing me,
                                                                     pulled me by arms from the ground,
                                                 told me bear fruit and flame,
                                    that the words will come at night,
                                                              shed her coarse skin on my limbs,
                                      how this might scald me,
                                                                 how to gut the charcoal from the wound
                                                                                             sketch the story down.
                                                              how to bed roots between stones,
                                  look how my feet are soiled now 
                         I have been walking,
             just like you taught me.
                                       branching out and growing
                                         turning leaves over trying to find you below one
                                                                               you and your stubble fingers,
                                                           their silver-black lining 
                                                                                      and the run in your feet.
She will visit you one night.
 burn her language into your chest
 bitemark my name onto your skin,
the forest does not forget the footsteps men have buried in it
you will remember,
but by then I will be ground and gone.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Trans-Atlantic Nomad Part 1

I haven't been back to Brooklyn more than a half day, but this particular post has been months worth of thinking and processing. This year I'd been blessed immensely to do some travelling for the summer and the last three months have been the sum total of the most edifying time period in my growth as a person. As an artist, I've been absolutely obsessed with Geopathology in a much wider understanding of the term as relates to how place and space impacts a person. As a result, I am working on developing a narrative on nomadic women in the 21st century Trans-Atlantic crossing. This will all make sense eventually, it has to. I will now walk through my travels in less detail as I would like.

South Africa
Has to be by far the biggest leap of faith I've taken yet. This trip came together with certain magic, everything fell into place as it needed to. All that was needed was for me to trust my heart and get on the airplane. Getting there meant that everything in my life came to full alignment. Heart, soul and body were finally in the same place. Ryan is by far one of the most remarkable men I have ever come across and we will continue to build on what three years has set down for us. I felt at home in myself. Although he'd been the only person in the entire experience that I'd known in the country before the trip, my heart was full, and I had no desire to leave. This has never happened before. I'm usually one to be ready to be home again within the first week. I will spend some time living there at some point. God alone knows when and for how long.
The young people at the theatre were absolutely welcoming and open to my presence with them. I took away the most valuable lesson in understanding that the theatre is the people in it and the stories they have to offer. It's not always about set and lights and sound cues and pretty things. The theatre is a medium of living and cannot be limited to some inanimate equipment and fanfare.

San Francisco
The Brave New Voices festival in all its annual beauty had trumped my expectations this year by being one of the best since 2008. I felt like it had been arguably more communal, and an interactive safe space with less competitive sentiment floating around. I've certainly gained some more skills in event management and holding space. The Future Corps team got quite a work-out this year and carried much more weight and responsibility this time which is surely more beneficial to my work in arts education and event planning. I'm also appreciative of networking with new folks and being able to learn the internal workings of the organization.

I am absolutely grateful for being able to have spent the three weeks with my parents. I appreciate them even more in adulthood and how they still believe in me. How they are two of the most compassionate and understanding people in my world. For the first time I've bonded with my mom the way I did this time around. She was rolling through shows with me, we went dancing together, she was finally part of a world I was passionate about- arts and culture. Dad is still getting by one day at a time, waiting on funding to start radiotherapy next month God Willing. Looking at him makes me appreciate life more. He aspires to get through every day, but isn't always able to do it. This doesn't stop him from making plans for the next morning.
I've also noticed that people grow with time, and not always in the same direction, and I respect that also. I've experienced a feeling of displacement and unsettling from some relationships and I knew before that this was to be expected. Like I can barely hold conversation with some of my old friends. I felt the opposite of what I had in South Africa. It was now a space of exclusion and it was painful to not feel at home in the homes I had made in other people. It hurt. It still hurts. I remember getting home one night and crying and writing till I eventually fell asleep. How do you become the outsider in your house?

There is a garden party happening outside my window with 1980s calypso and dance reggae. I've realized the evolution of my vocabulary over the last two years. Trinidad was 'home'. Brooklyn was 'Brooklyn'. Now Trinidad is 'Trinidad' and Brooklyn is 'home'. This has left my mouth a number of times without me thinking about it until now. Labour Day is coming up and West Indians everywhere are having parties and endless silver trays of food. They've just started a bottle and spoon section and dancing. I feel at home here. I missed a poetry show tonight, only because I was too tired, not because I didn't have money or transport. I do not have any tuition money for school that starts in a week from tomorrow, but I know that it will come because I strongly believe that here is where God has appointed for me to be at this time in my life. If there are any who are upset with this, there is nothing I can do to help that. Outside they have just put on Black Stalin's music. I hear more calypso and soca in Brooklyn than I do in Trinidad. I have not betrayed any part of myself in being where God has put me. The countdown is on to J'ourvet morning in two weeks.

The triangle goes- Africa, Americas and the Caribbean. In mid-triangle there is the middle passage, the Atlantis, the women who abandoned ship, the people sleeping on the seabed. I am still moving in the current of my ancestors. Where my feet rest, is destiny enough for me to be at peace wherever that is. I will not disinherit anything or any place. I am only gaining. I am only growing. All these places are travelling with me, all of the time as in Coelho's Aleph. I am about to trace my foremother's steps to mine and then to my children's.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Top 11 Moments of 2011

In no preferential order:

1. Labour Day- West Indian Parade.
Carnival for me always needed to have meaningfulness, and for that, the most sensible part of the celebration for me is J'ourvet. This year we had dinner for our Dimanche Gras at a backyard party at my roomate's friend's house. We went back to my apartment and tried to get some school work We left home at around 5:30am to meet the bands. The beauty here is in the coming together of all parts of the Caribbean and all our variations of the mas. It was wonderful to play J'ourvet again after so long, the laughing, the people, the colours, the drums, the iron, the after-tiredness. THERE WERE NO ELECTRONIC MUSIC TRUCKS WITH DJ's ON THEM. The ritual was returned, and it was wonderful.

2. Trip Back Home.
This was interesting to me for the most bit. It really helped me to evaluate life and put things into perspective. The things I want to change when I get back, the things I want to do for my parents when I start making the money, the friends who are really friends, the family that does not ever forget you. How much I have changed and been forced to grow over the last year. It was a time for observing, rest and learning.

3. Californication i.e. Vacation in California
I went out to spend time with my uncle and his family. Northern California is a beautiful place. The weather may be a tad chilly for Summer time, but at least it's consistent and less extremes than this end of the continent. They showed me a really good time, Cooked me loads of food, took me shopping, taught me things about my grandmother that I did not know before, they even indulged my laziness. Chillwave music is my west coast discovery. I miss the frozen yoghurt shop too. Low fat and delicieux!

4. Brave New Voices 2011.
What can I say? BNV is always magical. The difference in this year was being able to sit back and see young people confront fear, push through struggle and overcome themselves. It is always an adventure and nurturing experience to be around Youth Speaks. I'm already looking forward to working with them in 2012. BNV is the cause of so many long-lasting friendships and networkingships in my life. The work is work and is sacred.

5. Parents' Vists.
My mom came in August and my dad passed through NY in October. I am overly happy to have had spent one on one time with them. Our relationships have changed, now that we're all adults :) and so my relating to them has changed. They respect me and my decision making and continue to offer guidance when needed. I love and appreciate them both, so much.

6. Relationships.
The people around you will always be shifted to make room for other people. I can say at this point that I am so gracious to God for surrounding me with so many beautiful people. I am thankful for every single one. It seems as though I am one called especially to love over distances. My boyfriend, my parents, my family, Kelby in France, Dej and Ivy back home, even Jar was away for the holidays. The people far away from me are always the ones I am closest to. The earth ain't that big though. Also, I am forming some really meaningful relationships with college faculty, committed to help me in any way they can.

7. Changing majors to read for a BA in Theater and Social Change.
If you know me well enough, you would know how much of a dream is being attained here.

8. Relevant Work
It is the most rewarding feeling to sit in a classroom, and learn about what you are actually interested in learning about. This year I've been able to dabble in Black Theatre and African American music classes. Both very theoretic and academic approaches to the artforms, but very edifying and helped me to rearrange my thoughts on our work and our process. Theater and music is about life. Classes like these have helped me understand why we live how we live.

9. Relevant Work (Part 2)

My teaching assistant job with Brian has progressed through its first year and it has been a wonderful learning experience for me to be on the other side of the class room. It is remarkable how much these classes actually align themselves to what I would like to accomplish professionally when I go back home. Who knows, maybe I might be able to design an entire syllabus on performance poetry in due time. Matter of fact, heh. I will.

10. Making the Brooklyn College Slam Team.
Confession: I hate slamming. It is unnecessarily nerve-wrecking and unsettling. I am however elated to be part of this historical formation of the first ever BC Slam team, and I look forward to raising awareness on campus on the artform, and looking for ways to expand our work beyond the mic and stage and do some innovatively impressive performance ish. I am looking forward to building this team, this club and this campus. P.S. They've started an unoffical cypher club on campus, and this gets me excited. 2012 is also a year for new misogyny-free rap writing and feminist owning of these cyphers. I'm about to challenge myself.

11. Discoveries on art and process.
My Directing and Performance Technique classes in the last semester have done much to raise my level of self discovery and themes that constantly appear in my work. These themes are Ritualism, Feminism, Multiculturalism, use of Language and Music as a subtext. These seem to be influences that I cannot escape from at any given point. I'm chill with them though :)