Monday, June 17, 2019

On loyalty and friendship

It's been a while, lately all manner of thoughts have been occupying my mind. This weekend made me think more about  the bounds of friendship and what we owe ourselves and our friends. Science has said that we make fewer and fewer "real" friends as we grow older and for me this has always been true. I still prefer the company of dogs over humans but that's more to do with me than anything else. What does being a friend really mean?

The dogs I live with are protective, loyal and affectionate, at least to a point. They will defend me to their last breath, even at the expense of themselves. To them, I am one of the people who provide food, a warm, snuggly bed and lovies, regular hated baths, car rides and illicit treats usually consisting of half my breakfast. The dogs have comforted me when my life felt like it was falling apart, run joyfully with me because it was the best thing in the world. Stoically endured my awful singing, danced around the living room with me and laid reading in bed for countless hours. Baked cookies and cakes at 2 a.m. and listened while I ranted to rants about the latest boyfriend. They take me as they find me, giving seemingly unconditional love. Who knows what really goes through their heads?

Now here's the thing, I have friends, good, treasured friends, who will do those things with me too. My friends have been my support through many long years, laughed with me, cried with me, held my hand or I've held theirs. We've had good times, bad times and every time in-between. And that got me thinking, what's the difference then? Not that I'm comparing my friends to dogs! I'm asking about relationships and the boundaries.

I have the expectation that my friends care for me, that they are honest and loyal in their dealings with me and about me, as I try to be with them. But here's the fundamental difference. I expect that my friends will be honest with me. Oh, not for silly things, does this dress make my ass look fat, though really I'd prefer if they were upfront about that too. Equivocation is not always a bad thing. That's what good friends do. But I also don't mean blind, unquestioning loyalty or rose tinted glasses.

If I'm screwing up, or behaving badly or hurting people or generally being a shit, I expect someone will tell me to my face. My friends to be fair, aren't the unquestioning type. We push each other along, yes they will defend me but they'll also be the first people to admit that we all have flaws. If mine get too overbearing they usually aren't silent and I'd like to hope that I've done the same for them.  Once upon a time a good friend sit me down and tell me, "you are out of control, I love you but I don't like you very much right now and I can't cope with you. You need to find someone else to help you because I can't." At the time I was in the throes of one of the worst bouts of depression I'd ever had and was barely hanging on. It was a salutory slap and in this time of political correctness, when we've all be told we must be more sensitive and aware, my friend was practicing self preservation despite herself. It was hard and at the time I couldn't quite wrap my head around it. But almost twenty years later I understand. Sometimes you have to let people go in order to help them and you can't save everybody. In my case it was an acquaintance, who happened to have been around and had gone through a similar experience months earlier who caught me. During  a long walk around the block we had a frank conversation. And he got me the help I needed in the form of a really good psychiatrist who gave me the room to breathe again. And to apologise to my other friend for putting her in the position.

We've all had that situation, where someone comes and says, 'oh my god that person has been so awful to me, this is what happened'...or some such. Do we close our ears and refuse to listen because we are loyal and would prefer not to hear anything about our friend? Or do we acknowledge that though we may not have experienced that aspect of our friend  admit that the other person has the right to their opinion? Do we continue, despite all evidence to the contrary, continue to defend the person or refuse to acknowledge that in fact there is a problem, all under the guise of "loyalty". Is it because we cannot face that our judgement might be flawed? Or that we refuse to see people as they are? Pollyanna complex? Do we say something to them? Do we confront them with our knowledge and ask for an explanation? Or do we stick our fingers in our ears and go la la la la?

To me it is one thing to be a supportive, loyal friend, or to make the decision to continue to be someone's friend, but it's another thing to be wilfully blind and continue to make excuses for someone because of "friendship". Someone asked me in a training session once, "would you continue to be that person's friend if you knew they'd raped someone and it was covered up and they were allowed to go on doing what they do". Ask yourself that, it will tell you a lot about who you are.  People are allowed to make mistakes, to screw up or to just have a bad moment, there is no such thing as perfection. It is what we do after that defines us.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Reflections from a small island...(apologies to Andrea Levy)

In order to quiet my brain, which is still working overtime to process the morass that which is Trinidad, I spent most of this morning sorting fabric ends. People who sew will tell you how easy it is to become overrun by ends, swatches and those itty bits you keep, "just in case". They are everywhere and they don't go away! It took me way back, as a very small child, I was left in the company of my great grandparents, my mother's paternal grandparents, when my mother went back out to work after having me. Between them, my granny and various uncles I was "baby sat' right up until nursery school and through every other time in-between.

My great granny, granny and mother all sewed. But it is from my great granny that I first learned to hold fabric at the sewing machine and sew a seam. I must have been around 4 at the time and I'm guessing it was a pretty wonky seam. It was one of the old Singer foot treadle machines, someone in the family still has it. I was fascinated by the ornate gold detailing on the black, cast iron frame, elegant lines and the fact that pumping your feet made the needle go up and down. Mesmerising to a child looking for something to do. And I think it must be from her that I get my ability to put pieces of fabric together to make them pleasing to the eye, yet make something durable. She wasted not a scrap, the big pieces went into making patchwork sheets for the bed, she made rag rugs and every so often, I got a dress for my doll. I never thought about it as learning how to sew, it was like cooking, you just did it.

My generation was pushed to go to school, to learn, to get a "good job" so that we wouldn't have to work as long and as hard as my forbearers. But the thing is, in my long work life, I've worked longer hours than my agriculture worker great grandparents, and sometimes I wonder, for what. Why work with your hands when you could push a pen and collect a regular paycheque was their thinking. For them that represented security, and it's not necessarily a bad thing. But I've tried that and don't much like it. My gypsy soul seems to need not to wear shoes, lipstick and "good clothes" all the time. Or to deal with people, to stroke egos or constantly be on call. So here I am, at the sewing machine, playing with fabric, and much to my surprise, turning out things people like. That they like enough to purchase! It's a great feeling when you make something and people look at it and go, hmmm. And I think back to those first early tries at holding fabric while my great granny pedalled slowly enough for a child to be able to guide the fabric but not get little fingers caught in the needle. I was just one of of her innumerable great grandchildren, but I lived in the same house and as a result, occupied her time. Having had fourteen kids of her own she must have wanted a break but I guess for whatever reason, she tolerated me.

And here I am, staring back in time as I methodically sort, label and cut, marvelling at the colours, patterns and textures under my fingers. Seeing all kinds of possibilities in each piece, ruthlessly pruning the pieces that just did not work, no matter how pretty. Sometimes you just have to say, not for me thanks. This process, where creating your life is still better than regretting old choices or bewailing the failed state of a country. Being free to accept that you tried it one way but perhaps you need to go your own way. And tomorrow there will be another finished thing that you send out into the world, as you hope it gives someone as much pleasure as you got from making it. And for those moments, you are free.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Peaceful Easy Feeling

It's a bright sunny day, that bright, crisp, clear Caribbean blue that makes your eyes hurt if you stare upwards for too long. Inside the relative coolness of the house, the dogs are lying around asleep with the Eagles crooning in the background. It's the kind of morning that makes you want to drop everything, grab your surfboard and head to the beach, or call up some friends and sit around someplace shady with a hamper of nice things to eat and cool wine to wash it down. Life at the slow and easy pace.

Except, except, not many people can just drop and head out mid-week. There are bills to be paid, children to service, employers to satisfy, no time for navel gazing, maybe the weekend! And I can't surf anyway.

Insulated against the vicissitudes of life in the microcosm of home, the garden outside the window beguiling with cheery bright flowers bobbing in the breeze. Florid green grass begging for bare feet is insidious, why leave when you can stay here and enjoy this it seems to ask. The temptation is to avoid outside for so many reasons. All too soon reality and life will intrude. But for now, Glen Frey's California twang, easy on the ear, "and I got a peaceful easy feeling, And I know you won't let me down 'cause I'm already standing on the ground".....

Friday, July 10, 2015

Time flies...

Wow! It's been a year since I've checked in. Two years ago in packing up the house that I'd lived in for eleven years I shed many possessions that had accumulated almost without awareness that they were there. It was a large house, much bigger than required for one woman, one dog and an itinerant lover. It was a house that consumed huge amounts of time and effort to clean, to occupy and in fact, to like. There always seemed to be an echo, of an unhappy past that resonated through the walls, a dark brushstroke that ran through the rest of a picture made up of mostly depression blues and dark shades with the occasional splash of passionate red and happy pink and yellow.

At night, the sometimes dead still quiet was interrupted by gunshots from adjoining neighbourhoods, or loud music, or raucous behaviour from the other tenants. We crouched silently hoping that whatever trouble, would go somewhere else. But on occasion we too were visited by trouble, pipes that broke flooding the house, all became a huge chore.

In deciding to change my life, it became apparent that change meant physical location too. In liberating myself from a hated job, I also had to separate myself from the past, the memories and bad energy of that house and move on. Again.

In moving, many things got left on the pavement for the trash men, many things were gifted to friends and even strangers, things were weeded down, and then sorted again. It all had to shrink to fit into two rooms and a little. Ruthlessly I winnowed, to the point where too ruthless. But maybe, not ruthless enough. Because it still all seems like a lot.

Two years later my dog has gone across the rainbow bridge, of all that I've left behind, his loss is the greatest. I'm finding that there are less and less things that I wish to hold on to. Strange, those dearly held things that end up residing in boxes, collecting dust. I'm reminded of helping friends to clear out houses after the death of a loved one, of doing the same, emptying a house after my parents were gone. What to keep, what to let go. going through boxes of old photographs, letters and other precious things. That have no meaning to anyone but ourselves, or sometimes a few who know what they hold. And realising that the detritus of our lives is left for other people to clear.

Stranger too, letting go of people, reconnecting with people, not holding on to people. After years of taking care of people, dropping my life to make myself available, hoping to fit in somewhere,  it's as though I'm allowing myself to be free again.

And in doing so, sowing the seeds for whatever is next. And so the adventure begins again....

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Saying goodbye

This blog was started as a result of numerous conversations that took place between the Bookman, Adele, Elspeth and me. The Bookman, who I guest blogged at, suggested that I start my own, since there was so much to talk about.

People come into your life and sometimes they stay, and sometimes they leave, the paint on your heart or make you so ill you never want to see them again. People. Who can understand them. But this is not a blog about random people. For the last six months or so, Death has wielded his scythe and cut a large swath through the people who have, at some point, populated my life.

That's life, you come two certainties, you come into this world and you leave this world. My sincerest wish is that Elspeth is dancing in somewhere beautiful, surrounded by the people who waited to welcome her into the next life...because she could no longer be a part of this one. Elspeth could be many things, Pollyanna, defender of alternative truths, optimist friend...she truly had a different view and approached life from the pragmatic point that by golly, we're just going to have to live it best we can. Her generosity of spirit led to the creation of a space that even though it's been closed now for five years, is still THE PLACE.

This is where we went to talk, it was the shop that we gathered in to share our lives, good, bad and indifferent. It was the shop that Elspeth had, a little quirky, a little intellectual, populated by a troupe of wacky players which for a long while, included me as I pasted my life back together, all presided over by her effervescent spirit and quick wit. We argued, we loved, relationships were made and broken in that shop. In creating her space, Elspeth gave voice to the different people and for this, we shall all be profoundly grateful.

But all good things must end and so it was. One day she acknowledged that she had lived that dream and it was time to move on to other dreams and to carve out a new reality. And she did so her own inimitable style, stamping her signature all over the corporate world. She blossomed and grew, but under it all, she was still Elspeth, a little quirky, a little optimistic and more practical than you would have thought.

And through out all the years that we walked the journey, still drinking countless cups of coffee, marathon phone conversations, Sunday afternoons at her house, talking, laughing....always with love. She will be missed by many, and remembered fondly by even more. The circle of life completed. Hippy, dippy, sometimes a little trippy, she will always be forever Elspeth. I love you and miss you my wonderful friend. Thank you for everything.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Gandhi, Martin Luther King and me

It is the current fashion to throw "inspirational" quotations from famous people around in lieu of actually taking action. Before you get upset and tell me that the devil makes work for idle hands before flouncing off to read some more worthy blog, take a moment and think about it. We see these quotations up everywhere, on coffee mugs, office signs, training manuals, bumper stickers and most importantly, social media memes. Most people don't even know who the "famous one" is, but they repeat the quote, nodding and marveling at the worthiness of it. 

One of my favourites is attributed to the Mahatma M. K. Gandhi " you must be the change you wish to see in the world". How often have you seen that one? People use it on their email signature, instant messaging app id, one notable placement, the back of a bathroom door in London, England. Considering that Gandhi-ji has been deceased for more than sixty years, it's quite legacy that stuff he said several generations ago still has currency.  Gandhi died almost before my mother was born, and yet, in my family, he was spoken about as if he were someone we knew.  His untimely death remained fresh in the minds of my maternal grandparents and he was considered a hero for his Quit India Movement, which by the way, was anything but non-violent. 

Those words have long been attributed to Gandhi, it even sounds like something he might have said in a sage-like moment. As far as anyone can tell from hours of research, he never actually said them. What he said, probably most went something like this, " if we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him..... We need not wait to see what others do." Big difference huh. It's easy to SAY things, much harder to change yourself. 

And then there is Martin Luther King. Dr. King's "I have a dream" speech remains one of the most inspirational, motivational talks in recent history. Recorded for posterity it is a little harder to bastardise into a bumper sticker. Dr. King said a lot of things, some of them right, some of them a little off base but he was a man who to all intents and purposes stood for the courage of his convictions.  

The interesting thing about these two gentlemen and others like them, their words relate specifically to their circumstances and the times in which they lived. Their lives remain a symbol of purpose to many people throughout the world. These two men are considered exceptional and have earned their place in history, even as we continue to distill it down to cute little bumper stickers while blithely continuing on, business as usual. 

Perhaps it's easier to paste on a bumper sticker or click "like" on Facebook but these are not actions, they are activities. Unless you plan to change your behaviour to make a change in the world, shut up and move along. Don't say it if you don't mean it because then it's just a bunch of words. No one says that you have to go out and start a revolution, but revolutions have been started as simply as women banging pots in the road and marching for food. Human beings are the only species who pay to live on this planet and yet we treat it with scant respect. And yet, all change starts with one person. To paraphrase Dr. King, "faith is taking the first step, even when you don't see the whole staircase".  

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Mystic Masseur Redux

All apologies to V.S. Naipaul

The irritating nasal voice, amplified courtesy of the "mic" aka, the loudspeaker system that traversed the back roads and alley ways of the sprawling hamlet of Chowhan in the Republica de Estupido, heralded the latest political salvo from one of the three parties competing for the seat. One night! Three political meetings! Come and hear us! Then degenerating into, "Dan is the man", "the political Goddess" and on and on. All punctuated by the ear splitting, window shaking, boom boom of the larger music trucks playing songs of exhortation while slowly trawling the neighbourhoods, designed of course to ensure that babies and by extension their parents got no respite, the old and infirm begging for deliverance and the rest,  well, either get with the programme or get out of Dodge my friend.

One could be forgiven for thinking it was an election on national scale. And perhaps it will be a harbinger of things to come. But the scale and proportion seemed somewhat distorted as under a full moon, the werewolves, vampires and fey came out in their guise of "normal" people. Actually, that's just the author being fanciful, though perhaps not.  The narrow streets were crowded, folk irritated by their stressful day at work, crawling along streets chock a block with bodies, vehicles and the noise level was that of a Carnival fete. The ancestors shrank back into the shadows and waited for it all to subside.

Loud were the protestations, exhortations and exhalations. Who was bad, who was badder, who was useless and who was dishonest. Politics makes for strange bedfellows. Consider this, party #1 - in existence since independence, party # 2 - a breakaway from the party that defeated party #1 four elections ago, party #3 - a breakaway/rogue (depending on whom you listen to) from party #2.

Mudslinging, finger pointing, accusatory piccong, ah, Naipaul would have had a field day. His novel, The Mystic Masseur, published in 1957, chronicled the exploits and evolution of Ganesh Ramsumair into G. Ramsay Muir. Sadly, it would appear we have learnt little in the fifty-six years since it was published. Trade the American town car for a green Hummer, printed vinyl banners for bills and ad spiffy power point presentations and voila, G. Ramsay Muir lives! In several guises! Take your pick! Vote for me and I'll set you free!

We must like it so eh. And the good folk of Chowhan will in another week decide who their chosen one will be, the rest of the goodly Republic will murmur and talk behind their hands until fete season rolls around again, and we forget the storm in a teacup, business as usual.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Hot enough for you?

It is that kind of hot, not the humid, stuffy, cloying kind of heat that comes in the rainy season. That heat makes you sweat but you grin and bear it knowing that when it rains, the heat goes. This is dry season hot, where the hills are brown and crunchy, as though someone deep fried them overnight. The green is faded and the plants flower in desperation, as though giving it their all to prove that they are still alive.

This heat makes you drink copious quantities of water that leave you unsatisfied, makes you think twice about going out to get lunch and three times about lighting the stove. The sun is merciless and you risk getting a tan from slinking out to close the gate or go to the store. The breeze when it stirs swishes around bringing temporary respite.

The temptation to fight the dog to lie on the cool tiles of the bathroom is strong, but he eyes you somewhat quizzically and you settle for a space in front the fan that circulates what else, hot air. Your brain chugs along, enervated, so that you drowse lazily,  loath to move unless you have to. Good for all those people who paddled furiously at this morning's Dragon Boat meet, they have much more will power than the rest of us.

The hillsides have burnt this dry season. After three years of mostly wet dry seasons this year it is truly, well dry. The choking smoke as the flames lick across miles of hill are a constant reminder of how easily things burn. And when the rains do come, so will the floods from the run off of the denuded hillsides.  But until then, we watch as the heat shimmers across the way and think longingly of cool fruit pops, cold drinks and deep, shady rivers.