Sunday, March 23, 2014

First Time J'ouvert

“Ah wanna wine, wine, wine, wine
Ah wanna grind, grind, grind, grind
With meh bumpa ‘bout
And meh foot cock out
Cuz it feels like the first time”
-          Destra Garcia, First Time

The idea of playing J’ouvert never appealed to me. For starters, I like being clean and there was nothing clean about dancing in downtown Port- of- Spain in the wee hours of the morning, covered in mud and oil, rubbing shoulders with smelly people. Witnessing the revelry as a teenager, only served to cement my belief in how disgusting an affair it was. I don’t remember the reason why I changed my mind, but as soon as the Carnival 2014 season started, I expressed an interest in playing J’ouvert. My friends were initially unenthused by the idea, but a month before Carnival Monday, they came around. 

What followed was a mad Internet search to find an appropriate band. The first one that came to mind was Red Ants, but I was greeted by a “Sold Out” stamp on their Facebook profile photo. Next, I looked up Chocolate City. However, I was put off by the ghetto vibe and rumours that the chocolate smelt like sh*t by 8AM. I went through about five or six bands, until I found out about, Jus’ Paint. The band promised premium drinks, breakfast, a 40 foot music truck, tight security, and an on board medic service, all for the price of $400. Plus, some liming buddies of ours were playing with them. It was no surprise that two days later, I purchased three packages. 

A few stuff from the package
On J'ouvert morning, the traffic started at Morvant junction. Initially, we- my mother, my best friend, the driver and I- took everything in stride. We talked amongst ourselves, shared anecdotes and some laughs, and sang along to the radio.  After 45 minutes spent in more or less the same spot, the light hearted atmosphere became one of dour silences, grunting and restless shifting in seats. I spent the time muttering reassurances, berating myself for not having left home earlier, reading, jogging the driver awake, and being assaulted by the pungent aroma of The Beetham Landfill. 

We had spent over an hour, sitting in traffic, only to be ushered through the checkpoint with the flick of a wrist, along with a lot of other vehicles. Basically, the roadblock was pointless and stupid. We made haste to St. James as the city came alive around us. Revellers were making their way to their bands, clad in colourful T-shirts and short shorts, whistles and/or cups hanging unceremoniously from their necks. The pulsating rhythms of the music truck pushed us along a street, lined on either side with food stalls. Patrons waited in line or sat on the pavement, having breakfast, while the cloying smell of oil and grease permeated the air.

The streets of St. James were home to a host of people; from the movers and shakers to those in between to the gunthas and ghetto Barbies. They were in varying stages of undress, sporting paint, mud, oil or abeer. For all the people present, there was no one from our band, like... anywhere. We tried calling our acquaintances, but no one answered, which was understandable. It wasn’t until we were close to Long Circular Mall that luck favoured us. Our band had been spotted!

A man, decked out in his Jus' Paint T-shirt, a pair of Superman-inspired boxers and rubber boots, welcomed us to the band by admonishing us for our cleanliness. This was followed by a proper dousing of paint and a blow of a whistle. The first order of business was getting something to drink, which proved difficult. Not only were the drinks situated on a mini truck that lurched forward at regular and unexpected intervals, leaving us in its wake, but we had to shout our orders over the boom boxes. I remembered being appalled at having to run behind a vehicle for a beverage, but you know what they say, “When in Rome...”

With my vodka and orange juice firmly in my grasp, I found a spot behind the truck. I wasn't worried because I had on my glasses, which meant that I would be able to judge the distance between myself and the truck's crushing wheels. Paint splatter be damned! The more I got into the groove, the more I realised that chipping in time to the music was no easy feat and required coordination that I lacked. Oh, and it’s OK to wine in front of a church, once you make the sign of the cross.

Getting in the groove; obviously, I'm very excited
Slowly but surely, the music invaded my soul, and I was gripped by this unyielding sense of euphoria. I wanted to climb on walls, jump and touch the clouds, and wine on every surface imaginable. What manner of sorcery was this? With all thought, worries and self consciousness gone, I gave into the sensations. I blew my whistle, yelled and screamed, hugged and wined on strangers, and sang at the top of my lungs. All of a sudden, running on the side of the mini truck to replenish my drink was exhilarating. I peed in a bamboo patch. And spoke Spanish... at random... to myself. I was even scolded by security for letting go in the middle of the street, hands outstretched, oblivious to oncoming vehicles. My crowning achievement was that I was able to do all that without a speck of paint landing on my glasses or face. 

As the final beats of 'Ministry of Road (M.O.R.)' petered out and we made our way to the breakfast area, I found that I was wholly satisfied with how the morning had turned out. Although we had only gotten two of the scheduled four hours of play, it was time well spent. In the breakfast area, we were met with the poor conduct of some patrons. There was shoving, line jumping, swearing cussing and pleas for order. One committee member was having none of it and stormed off. The doubles man put his hand on his head, equal parts frustrated and flustered. One woman tried to use her feminine wiles to get ahead. Another complained of how hungry she was and how long she had been waiting, her complaints beautifully decorated with different versions of the word, 'f*ck'. For all her hunger, she only took one doubles with slight. It was all hilarious to me.

Clean faced, fed, tipsy, and exhausted
With the excitement of the morning’s activities dying down around us, my crew and I sat on the pavement to eat our doubles, which turned out to be tasteless. I was still high off of the music and alcohol and vibes, which served me well on my trek to City Gate. I hadn’t realised how tired I was until I got home and went straight to sleep, without bathing. 'Low meh nah, all yuh!

Overall, it was a great first experience, and I can't wait for J'ouvert 2015. Until the next post! 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Back To Basic

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” - Ernest Hemingway 

For two long, agonizing days, there was no water in Sangre Grande. To survive, we had to depend on our tanks, bottles stored under our sinks, or a neighbour’s good grace to get by. Everything that required the use of water was a task in itself. I can’t begin to count the number of trips I made to and from the tank, hauling buckets of water to different parts of the house.

During one of my trips, I commented on how difficult it must have been when a pipe borne water supply in these parts was virtually non-existent. When I asked my Granny, she wove an interesting tale about walking three to four blocks from their house to get water, and having to wait in line, peradventure their neighbours had gotten there first. She recalled that, although she was disgusted by the people she would see brushing their teeth and spitting under the standpipe, she would have to return to the same standpipe to bathe, under the watchful eye of her mother.

To me, it seemed horrendous, but the smile on her face and the mischievous glint in her eye made me realise that she didn't see it as such. She must have had happy memories of that time. Her story, coupled with the lack of water, got me thinking about Trinidad Rio’s calypso, Back to Basic. While the idea of digging a latrine appalled me, I wondered how my life would be if I were to simplify some aspects. I'm referring, in part, to my writing.   

My last blog post detailed my struggle with the pesky, Self Doubt, and its effect on my writing. In trying to overcome it, I would spend hours on websites, obsessively reading articles on writing, and the history and length of the short story. In doing so, I was complicating my writing process by focusing too much on technicalities, which meant that little to no actual writing was done, and if I did write, I was wholly unsatisfied. 

I’m not saying that the technical aspects are not important; I’m sure that I’ll be learning about most of them, eventually. But, as of right now, I need to follow my passion. I must write again with reckless abandon, letting my creativity and captivating ideas guide me. 

Basically, I want to go back to basic, that is, back to what made me want to write in the first place, and the things I did that made writing fun. I'll start off by resurrecting my notebook and pencil, since inspiration can come, and go at the drop of a hat. Then, I want to rejoin the library and do more reading. I've found that reading nourishes your talent, and helps you to see how it's done, or not done, in some cases. Finally, I'm going to return to writing in the serenity of my backyard. 

I feel like my way forward is a little clearer.

Until the next post!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Self Doubt

“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self doubt”- Sylvia Plath

The New Year is off to a slow, depressing start for yours truly. My old friend, Self Doubt, has returned to piss all over my manuscript that will determine whether or not I am accepted to the Masters’ programme in Creative Writing.

Do you know what it’s like to be your own worst enemy? How about getting up every day, with the intention of writing a page, only to have your creativity flounder? What about feeling as though every word, sentence and paragraph you write is pointless shitty? Or that the dream of being a writer that has captivated you for the better part of two years was a passing fancy? Garvin, the Writer? Ha!

I wish I could pinpoint the exact moment that this debilitating disease crept into my life. I have a great support system. I've won prizes. I've been chosen to travel to Colombia, twice. I was the Head Boy in Sixth Form for crying out loud! All these moments and more have proven that I’m more than capable of doing anything. So, I have every reason to be confident in, not only myself, but my abilities. Except, I’m not!

Maybe, it happened during the “bullying phase”, when I was made to feel that I wasn't good enough as a boy? No, that can’t be it! I could just be afraid of opening myself up and exposing my creativity to constructive criticism. I’m very sensitive, and often misinterpret constructive criticism for malice. Plus, I've read that the path to being a writer is not an easy one. I must be mentally sabotaging myself in the hopes of avoiding the incoming bumps in the road. That makes sense, right?

How do I get over this? I have tried everything. I've re-read my past blog posts, only to find faults. I've gone over all the compliments I've gotten about my writing, but if I don’t believe in myself, what use are they? I've forced myself to write, but end up being even more frustrated than before. Sigh! What’s the point? I can’t just sit around, wallowing in self pity, watching old episodes of “Wilfred” as the deadline draws closer. I would hate to be rushing at the last minute in a daring “Make It Work” moment. I should just throw in the towel from the get-go, and apply for a “safe” Masters in Cultural Studies.

Maybe, all hope isn't lost; I did just write a blog post. Then again, I might read this tomorrow, and think it’s a load of shit...

Until the next one!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Night Time Musings of A Garvin: Disappointment, And Then Some.

Ever had someone disappoint you? Yes, I have! 
Ever had that disappointment morph into a myriad of other emotions? Yes, to that, too! 

So, who did the disappointing? Someone who I've admired for quite some time because of their strength of character and values. I've thought of them as one of my many role models. You can say that I've always had an idea of who they were, and what they stood for; that was until a year ago. I could say that their actions came out of left field, but I’d be lying if I did. The signs were there, but I ignored them because I was too young to truly comprehend them for what they were. Then, that bitch came into the picture, and comprehension dawned on me as the shit hit the fan.

Initially, I was shocked; what, how, who, when, cómo? It eventually dissipated, and I was left with this empty feeling, which I would later identify as disappointment. Their actions were not in keeping with the values they stood for. Their change in attitude and perspective was astounding. It’s like, you thought you knew this person, but one day he/she decided to take off their mask and show you who he/she really was. Maybe, he/she adopted a new personality altogether, and secretly suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder?

Seeing the change left me reeling. The disappointment was still there, but unbeknownst to me, other emotions had begun to fester. I noticed anger, even hatred, when I saw their face, heard their voice, or someone mentioned their name. I picked up on hurt when I saw how their actions had affected the relationships they once adored. Confusion reared its ugly head when I laid on my bed, in the dark, desperately trying to understand it all. I can’t even begin to describe the betrayal and helplessness. 

But, amidst all those negative feelings, I still held on to a glimmer of hope. Overtime, I developed this blind optimism. My naiveté sprang into action, and I started to look forward to their visits. I started to believe their impassioned declarations that they had seen the error of their ways, and their intent to change. I was asked to be patient, and although I had my doubts, I agreed because I wanted it so much.

That was a month ago. Nothing has changed; the bitch, and the “new them” are still very much present. Yet, they continue with their reassurances of impending change. Sadly, my patience has begun to wear thin, and I've noticed a trend. The apologies, grand gestures, and admissions of guilt only seem to come when they want something. The harsh reality is that nothing has changed. I was being used... emotionally manipulated... nothing more than a pawn in some twisted game of chess. Soon, all the negative sentiments that I thought I had done away with came rushing back.

And, that’s where I’m at right now. I ask myself: "What’s the point of hoping if nothing is going to change? Why put myself through all this? Should I even care?" I'm left feeling apathetic to it all. I wonder how long that's going to last?

Until the next post! 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Lawd Fadda, Dis Is Heat!


… So take off all your clothes?

During my yearlong sojourn in Neiva (I've always wanted to write that), I used to complain about the sweltering heat, a lot. And, like most foreigners faced with a less than ideal situation, I compared my host country to my homeland. I swore up and down that Trinidad was never this hot, and that the breeze usually quelled the heat. Most times, I would end up giving a monologue about, "The Perks of Living on an Island".

Over the past few weeks, except during those rare occasions of torrential rainfall, I've come to the conclusion that I treated Neiva unfairly. I was wrong, and I'm sorry! You see, I've been experiencing a level of heat (not sexual) that is on par with (does this make my apology moot?), and sometimes, surpasses (better?) that of Neiva, and lies somewhere between the temperature on the sun’s surface and the deepest pits of Hell. The intensity of the sun’s rays coupled with the absence of clouds in the sky has been an inconvenience, making my existence an uncomfortable one. Before you think me dramatic, allow me to explain.

I went to school and actually paid attention to my Integrated Science teacher, so I’m aware of the importance of sweating. Quite frankly, I could care less about regulating my body temperature when there are rivulets of sweat, cascading from my hairline down the side of my face; or when I have pit stains, and feel sweat on my butt after sitting for five minutes. I go through all this and more whenever I leave my humble abode, which is annoying. I have to wipe my face at regular intervals. I feel uncomfortable talking to people when I look like a fried bake. I’m afraid to raise my hands, pass a certain point, to wave to people; I end up doing that awkward and ridiculous "throw your head back in greeting" thing. So stupid!

Between the hours of 9 AM and 2 PM, my fan is rendered useless as it recycles the hot air. This doesn't bode well for me for a number of reasons. Firstly, I’m fascinated by the art of sleeping, and I enjoy perfecting my skill. It’s quite difficult to do so when the fan doesn't keep you cool. Have you ever had sweat behind your knees and/or neck? Trust me (because I'm an authority on sleeping), it can make sleeping during the day a nightmare.

If the fan keeps recycling the hot air, one would assume that an easy fix would be to put up the curtains and open the windows, right? Wrong! This brings me to my second point. I enjoy having my curtains down; it gives the room a nice cozy feeling, makes me feel like a sexy, hibernating bear, and keeps Ms. Murray’s wandering eye away after bath-time. I lose all these perks when I have to put up my curtains and open the windows. And, to make matters worse, the sun ends up coming through the open window in all its blazing glory on my bed. Everything I've just mentioned (moves hands emphatically hysterically), has interrupted my daytime sleeping in ways I can't even begin to enumerate. The bane of my very existence! 

Travelling has become a task in itself. Lately, I've had to either deal with the pungent odour of perfume/cologne mingled with sweat or had to sit next to sweaty people, who disregard the considerate notion of “personal space”. To my chagrin, it doesn't stop there. I've become obsessed with the directionality of the sun in relation to where I sit, when travelling. For example, I know that, when leaving Grande before midday, I have to sit on the right-hand side of the maxi to avoid the sun, and vice-versa. Thus, I get very upset and/or nervous when I enter a maxi with no seats in my desired position. Sometimes, when it becomes too much and I have time to kill, which is almost never; I wait for the next one. 

Honourable Mentions: The heat has made my skin overly sensitive, so much so that I can’t wear certain fabrics. At home, I always want to walk around naked, but I can’t. I've actually thought of going to the beach to escape the heat, and I hate the beach.

So, there you have it! It’s been really hot, and I hate it. Unfortunately, there’s not much I can do, except write a blog post, because I live on an island. Why me, WHY?!?

Until the next post! 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

What's In A Name?

*chants, "Goosbraba", and rubs earlobes* 

I’m ANNOYED because someone misspelt my name, yet again! I HATE that some people leave out the “R” in Garvin, or else, add letters to my first name, and come up with “Garving”. Like, seriously, what’s a “Garving”? And don’t get me started on those who spell my surname P-A-R-S-O-N! Ugh! Helloooo, there’s supposed to be a big ole “S” at the end! Unless it’s “Garvs” or “Gobin” or "Garvos" or “Fari”, whenever I see those other travesties done to my name on Facebook, security logs, or in emails, I just want to punch someone in their trachea. 

Before you think me ridiculous, maybe I should explain why I feel so strongly, and I suppose, violent about all this. It’s simple actually; I believe that names are important for they are part of someone’s identity.

Now, because I feel this way about names, I tend to try my very best to spell people’s names correctly. This extends to placing the correct title in front of someone's name. So, I’ll ask a question, do a Google search, and look on Facebook, etc. I do this because I believe that I am respecting this person's identity; you know, who they are, all that they have achieved, their history, etc. Quite frankly, when I see my name misspelt, I feel disrespected. I can't help but think that I'm not worth the two seconds it would take to ask a question, or proofread what you wrote. I mean, I don't expect you to go as far as I do and search on Google, but you could at least pay attention to my email signature, or my name as it appears on my profile and at the top of the message pane on Facebook chat.

I was named, Garvin, after my grandfather, who died one year before I was born. Tafari is my African name, given to me by my father. It could mean, either “The Chosen One” or "He Who Inspires Awe", and it was the birth name of Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia, KING of Kings, LORD of lords, Conquering Lion of Judah, Defender of the Judean Faith, The Light of the World (he was born Tafari Makonnen Woldemikael, FYI). Lastly, there are only a couple of people in Trinidad with the surname “Parsons”, which makes it one of a kind, to a certain extent. All this has made me VERY PROUD of my name; it’s unique in some aspects, it has history, it links me to the grandfather I never knew, and it has a powerful meaning. In short, my name is important, to me.

This brings me back to my initial point about your name being your identity, in this case, MY identity. Knowing what my name means and where it comes from has shaped the person that I am, as much as, or maybe, more than, any experience that I've had. This feeling has manifested itself in several ways. Aside from becoming “irrationally” upset when I see my name misspelt, I've come to write my full name on anything from forms to my Facebook profile. I, also, start by introducing myself with the words “I am” instead of “My name is”, which says a lot.

Whew! It feels great to have gotten all that off my chest. Writing this post has served to remind me why I get the way that I do. What's more is that I'm going to continue demanding that people get it right in the most polite way possible. For future reference, I AM GARVIN TAFARI PARSONS!

Until the next post!    

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Words Hurt As Much As Sticks and Stones

“Bruises heal. Cruel words can make us cry for years”- Unknown

In comparison to other boys, I’ve always seen myself as different. I liked reading and being indoors. I enjoyed the arts: singing, dancing, drawing and acting. I preferred the company of girls because I felt more understood. I would often be seen at recess or lunch time, playing ‘Miss Universe’ or braiding someone’s hair. I saw no problem with any of this. I was simply unique. Then, I went to Secondary School and it all changed.

From the very first day, I was considered ‘gay’, and called every gay related term; admittedly, some were more creative than others. There were the usual, derogatory terms thrown my way, like faggot, panty-man, buller-man and girly-boy. Sometimes, the bullies used their imagination, coming up with stylised names, like Garvgina or Garvina.

When they were bored with the name-calling, they asked hurtful, mocking questions, referencing all my mannerisms and interests that made me less of a boy, in their eyes. They pinpointed my walk and shake, my high voice and use of Standard English, my pop culture references to Britney Spears and knowledge of pageants, my love of books and singing, and my hand gestures.

The torture was never-ending; morning and evening, from the first bell to the last. Usually, I’m an optimistic, charismatic and creative person, but the constant barrage of insults had taken all life from me. I was miserable and wanted to be invisible. I tried my hardest to achieve the latter. I would sit quietly, never answering questions. I would walk the corridors with my head bowed and my hands in my pockets, hoping that I would make it back to my classroom, unnoticed. I would try to dissimulate by walking with a ‘bounce’, deepening my voice, and talking about ‘boy stuff’, like the Premier League. The consequences were disastrous, to put it mildly.

I went in search of ‘comfort zones’; those are, places I could be my optimistic, charismatic, creative self. It was important for my sanity. The library was my go-to place during free periods. Silence was golden and talking was frowned upon, so although I got the looks, no one said anything. I quickly became friends with the library staff, too. I joined the school’s choir, where my creativity flourished. I met other individuals who shared my passions. Sure, the hecklers were in attendance when we performed at school, but for a few minutes, I was happy. Making friends- adults and students alike- instilled in me self confidence.

I made the valiant decision to stand up for myself by using snappy retorts. I told my bullies about ‘how their mothers made them’, ‘what I did with their mother the night before’ and ‘to make way for their new step-father’. I took it a step further, too. I noted their shortcomings, limitations and insecurities, and used it against them. Nothing was off limits; everything from their academic performance to their living situation became a weapon with which I could hurt them. Pretty soon, I was not only gay, but a smart ass, a meanie and a bitch with a ‘hot mouth’. I was unstoppable.

For a short time, it made me feel better. Then, it came to a screeching halt when I made a boy cry in the choir room. I hadn’t realised that, in fighting fire with fire, I had become a bully myself. I had projected all my hurt on not only the bullies, but others who reminded me of myself, like the snivelling boy in the seat next to me. What had I become? On the outside, it was all bravado, but the truth of the matter was that I was hurt, sad, angry and confused. In short, I was a mess on the inside. I cried that night, alone in my room, asking God, “Why?” This cycle would replay itself for four years.

I started to take a few steps in the right direction, after a school trip to Venezuela. During the trip, I overheard my roommates complaining that they didn’t want to sleep in the same room as ‘the faggot’. I was left reeling; until that point, I was having fun, making friends and being accepted/ respected, or so I thought. It was a rude awakening. With tears streaming down my face, I cursed the boys and stormed out of the room.

A few minutes later, I was seated in the lobby, waiting for a room change. I was going over the ordeal again and silently sobbing when a teacher sat next to me. Instead of cuddling me, she told me as it is. I was different from most boys my age, and there was nothing wrong with that. It was unfair that my uniqueness made me a target, but I needed to develop a thicker skin. I had to stop feeling sorry for myself. School was a preparation for life, and in life, there would always be persons or groups who would try to tear you down. She explained that only I had the power to decide how I allowed it to affect me.

I pondered her words on the remaining leg of the trip. Initially, I thought that she was stupid. She didn’t know what I went through every day. Her words had no bearing and heeding them would not have made anything better. I had another breakdown two days later, where I screamed at a cashier in a restaurant. I felt justified in my behaviour, until I registered the looks I got from other patrons, students and teachers. I was reminded of the crying boy in the choir room, and felt ashamed.  I had to regain control of my emotions and manage my anger. I needed a complete overhaul in perspective.

I began by muttering self affirmations. I am different. I am intelligent. I am confident. I am going to be someone one day. This stage of my life is not forever. God made me in his image and likeness. Eventually, I accepted and revelled in my circumstances. When I went to the library or attended choir practice, I did so because I loved it, not because I was trying to hide from everyone. I became more open-minded and accepting. I no longer felt the need to degrade others, and discovered that I had a killer sense of humour that was dark, self deprecating and sarcastic.

Most importantly, I didn’t allow the words to affect me. This was the hardest part because the name-calling did continue, and along with it came the desire to retaliate or cry. When I offered to help one of my bullies with his SBA, I was quite proud of myself. It would have been quite easy for me to turn him away and chastise him for being too dumb, but I didn’t give in. I was on the mend. I spent the next three years of my Secondary School career happier than I had ever been.

To this day, I remember the teacher’s words, and I use my affirmations. I surround myself with people who love and accept me just the way I am. The truth is- and I say this without any reservations of sounding cliché- circumstances really make you who you are. For, if I hadn’t gone through all of those things, I wouldn’t have been as contented and confident as I am today. No one is perfect, but I am proud of the man that I have become and I wouldn’t have it any other way.