The Vitriol of Trolls

Can anybody tell mih
What going to happen
What going to happen
What going to happen
When the music stop?
Nobody knows
Nobody knows

Wham Bam, David Rudder

The kind of bad mind required to walk past and slash paintings is not an uncommon state for Trinbagonians. It is the casual stroll to your car to retrieve a cutlass to planass an old man buying doubles. It is the vitriol of trolls who can think of no better way to spend their days than posting insults on the internet. It is the bad drivers who cut you off for no reason on the streets and curse your mother if you put the Gods out of your thoughts to complain.

That everyday Trinbagonian brutality that we don’t think is part of our national personality, us being such a laid-back fun-loving bunch. It’s the glib acceptance of barbarism that breeds that kind of contempt for self. But it’s no different to the Government bypassing the calls of artists for the past 40 years to put certain things in place and instead aiming to create a super company designed to maximise profits instead of maximising artistic expression.

I can’t say that I ever understood the replication of artwork in plastic and sticking it on walls. I mean, why not pay the artists to create new works in public places? Why not invest in reconfiguring how we see our art? Why not put artists in classrooms so that there is a consciousness of art built into our children?

I guess it is much more visible and immediately rewarding to the ego to put up these public displays. And it would be easy for those of us who are lovers of art to stand back and shake our heads and say that we are a nation of Philistines. Poor us.

It’s far deeper than that. It has to do with that never-ending conversation about what is legitimate art and who are the legitimate artists. Like everything else in this country, it comes down to who has access. Who takes ownership of these terms and what has a right to go up on which walls. And if all art is what goes on walls. And if you are a wire bender do you still count as an artist.

It’s as deep as the fact that we have no national steelpan theatre. Although steelpan yards across this country are important incubators of musical talent. Although we like to boast about steelpan, there really is no national focus or plan for its development and inclusion in the lives of our children so that they actually take ownership of it.

It’s as deep as those who say that we are more than Carnival and wining and pan. It’s as deep as realising we are so much more than those things but we still haven’t found a way to acknowledge their significance to us, outside of corporate entities forcing us to prostitute our arts for title sponsorship. For a few girls in the dance in shiny shorts and imported feathers giving out alcoholic shots.

This is our culture. Denial of who we are. Non-validation of indigenous knowledge and creativity. This is why we must slash anything that doesn’t fit that template. This is why it is a Carnival of brands and logos rather than a Carnival of expression and freedom.
In the face of dying arts and artists.

In the face of an under-articulated arts-based curriculum and the elevation of the fluffiest manifestations of our true selves and full representations of who we are. In the face of all this, we slash paintings and it’s no big thing when you think that some of us are slashing each other. Some of us are casually cutting our brothers and sisters and women down. Like paintings on the Oval wall. Pixelated replicas of our more true beautiful selves.

It is the same slashing motion that cuts us to the core of who we are. Looking shiny and nice on the Oval wall. Until someone passes by and reveals the concrete underneath. The lack of depth and the lack of feeling. We have no insides to fall out. We are hollow and forgetful. And we get not-so-subtle clues everyday that everything isn’t okay. We get not-so-subtle clues everyday, not just from high up. That there is a callous lack of interest in humanity taking over. Or maybe it never left.

Maybe we were always this barbaric. Maybe we were always this petty and uncomfortable with anything too beautiful. We have permission to mash up the place. To slash the parts of ourselves that don’t seem relevant. We will play another mas of great beauty. Until it is time to go back to being our regular selves again. Bare walls and empty souls. The owners of beauty and those who brand us with their marks of money keeping us wanting until the next time.

Published in Trinidad Guardian – December 29, 2012

A Heart-Centred Apocalypse

The sun is going down
And I try to follow
Blood is spilled in the sky
As we watch the day die
Making room for tomorrow

Me and my friends
Riding to the world’s end
I don’t know if or when
I’m ever going to see you again
World’s End,
Kin Sound System

Not that I ever thought that I was going to wake up to the Rapture. But I’m kind of glad that the doomsdayers got a giant apocalyptic meggie. We all breathe sighs of relief that the Mayans were wrong. And not that the ones who got it wrong were the anthropologists who tried to piece together meaning in the aftermath of the destruction of a civilisation by the barbarism of colonisation disguised as the saving of pagan souls.

In the aftermath of the non-coming of the apocalypse is another opportunity for us to pour scorn on the ideas of indigenous peoples. Of first nations whose world views we have decimated as much as we have the people. And plundered one or two tidbits relevant to our lives and left aside the rest. We are suspicious of all that old-world obeah. We are terrified of anything that doesn’t have its own themed half hour on CNN.

These days we only trust the obeah that is mainstream and sanctioned by the legitimate western authorities. The obeah that is television. And the Internet. These sorts of western obeahs are okay. We are suspicious of our own. The way that it messes with your mind and makes you alien to your own intuition. And let other people use it for their own advantage.

Like legal and illegal quarries plundering mountains in the Northern Range, because we forget those hills were once sacred to people who were here long before we ever dreamed of a place to call Trinidad. The obeah of development and modernity is a serious thing. And our gods look nothing like us and we worship them anyway.

Whether or not the world ends, I guess, is a moot point. The point is, we don’t need a misinterpreted Mayan prophecy to tell us that we urgently need cataclysmic change on this planet. We need to rethink our evolution in the most urgent of ways. We need to bring to an end a lot of the things that make the quality of life for the majority of the world’s inhabitants unacceptable because of the greed of a few.

We need to reconsider our complicity in the destruction of the planet in the quest for advancement that leads to nowhere. Hollywood has programmed us for a spectacular ending of explosions and Bruce Willis and his band of intrepid soldiers who will save the Earth, or rather America, from certain destruction.

We’re not looking for the explosions in our brains. We’re unaware of the changes in the animals and plants. It’s not our business to end time. We’ve put a limited perspective on what it means and have no understanding of its extent. It’s our business, however, to engage fully in all the suns and moons we spend in this present consciousness ensuring that we experience ourselves and our communities.

We owe it to no one but ourselves to be the best humans we could possibly be. The apocalypse has to be one of destruction of the walls that we have built between us. The end has to come in the form of lasting solutions to poverty and domestic violence and… I see you rolling your eyes at my hippy gibberish. I see you shrugging your shoulders with the resignation of those who think they are powerless.

But this is end times for being frightened to speak our truths for fear of ridicule. Maybe apocalypse myths are just ancient ways of getting us to live every moment we have on Earth to the fullest. To be true to our higher selves, to seek beauty. We look back at the Mayans as illiterate savages. But we are the ones who read without understanding. Who have access to information and fail to act.

We are the ones who weep real tears for children who die in a mass killing in America. And post pictures of a president who cries for his own and sends drones to kill the children of others. We are the real savages who have accepted a civilisation that celebrates its barbarity. That destroys the earth and then blames god for natural disasters.

There needs to be an end to these times. Desperately. There needs to be an end to the blindness to inner light. No one is going to land from another planet and save us. A heart-centred apocalypse that kills fear with love. We need to save our own selves from ourselves and create new calendars for a time that uplifts the whole of humanity.

Published in Trinidad Guardian December 22, 2012

Case of the Man called Boy

I done tell mih friends and mih family
Not to worry
Anyone of them interfere with me
It eh easy
Don’t worry to beg the jury
Save the lawyer fee
And if yuh have any mail
Send it to me in the Royal Gaol
Royal Gaol, Mighty Sparrow

It’s the most serious question of the year. More serious than Section 34. More serious than the highway. More serious than whether we are going to hell in a handbasket called corruption. The question is: are they going to send the man called Boy to jail?

The first surprise is that he was found guilty in the first place. That was about as shocking as the fact that Ish and Steve escaped extradition.

Town say, it good for him. They start to wonder who the Golden Grove Soca Monarch will be. If you do the crime and you guilty, you have every right to do the time. All of these law-abiding citizens who have the moral rectitude to cast the first stone. Who never drive drunk and never pay for sex and never smoked a spliff and never got in a fight in a club and never pelt bottle in the Oval.

They glad that he get what coming to him. Because locking up Boy will make up for all the other cases, like Brad Boyce and others, where those who had the power to be above the law escaped the justice that should have been served. Meanwhile, the jokes jook like the waists of these same people who wine their way through endless Carnivals, play mas and dingolay as if there is no tomorrow. The fete will continue whether the Boy is in or out of jail.

The derision flows on social media and the radio stations. Trinis doing what they do best. Disguising their guilt in laughter and relief that they never got caught in whatever ratchifee they were doing. Not understanding that if the Boy is a monster, he is one of our own making. So desirous are we of someone to worship. In this place soca stars and politicians are equally untouchable by the long, selective arm of the law.

In this place soca stars and politicians have a long history of being of questionable moral standing. Pimps and thieves. Gun men and treasury looters. They do it all and then smile sweetly at us. And we like it so. Like we love the husbands who beat us. And the women who horn us. And the children who sell drugs and then build us nice houses.

We turn a blind eye to their sins when it suits us. While we wine. We dismiss the stories of what beasts they can be. We put them up on pedestals until we are ready to kick them down. Because the truth is that we love a messiah but we also love the part where we get to crucify them. We love to make fun of one of our own. Doing like the Boy is said to have done and kicking a man when he is down.

Well, he not that down. Because if you are wealthy or a public figure then you have extra buffer to take jamming. The middle classes who are above reproach and never do anything wrong are particularly pleased with themselves now.

For those of us who follow instructions from everyone, police and politicians and soca artists demanding that we move left, right down to the ground and everywhere else, we are particularly gleeful. We want them to know what it feels like to have their freedom taken away.

I’m not sure how I feel about the man called Boy being found guilty. The prettiest people do the ugliest things, so Kanye says. The prettiest people disappoint us the most. Because they give us so much beauty we don’t want to believe that they are capable of such ugliness.

We want men to be manly. But only to a point. We are ruled by badjohnism but when our best and brightest act like the animals we tell them they must be, we can’t stand it. We want to lose them in jail so that we don’t have to confront our own guilt. We don’t want to confront the way we treat our own women. The way we want to get away with our everyday corruptions and criminalities that if they were ever identified as such we would gasp in horror.

We’re nice people really. Too nice for jail. Jail is for little black boys. Jail is for murderers and picky-head bandits. Jail is not for jacketmen who kill the spirit of the country every day with their absolute contempt for people. The question is not whether the man called Boy will end up in jail. The question is how we begin to rethink what justice means and who we allow to have access to it.

Who will review Our Legacy?

Well, we know where we’re goin’
But we don’t know where we’ve been
And we know what we’re knowin’
But we can’t say what we’ve seen
And we’re not little children
And we know what we want
And the future is certain
Give us time to work it out
Road To Nowhere, Talking Heads

The sting of the pepper in the aloo pie numbs my nose to the stench of gas and the wall of heat coming from the road. I wonder how many pollutants I’ve eaten with my snack. School is just finished and the crowds at the roadside stalls in Debe are filling up.

There are two endless lines of traffic on the main road. It is hot and bothersome and the threat of rain makes the heat more intense. There are no trees on the main road. It is noisy and lively and bustling. Off the main road the community is quiet. In Gandhi Village—one of the communities that is supposed to get moved to make way for the government highway—few people are home yet.

I can’t imagine that if I lived somewhere like this I would ever want to leave. But the truth is that traffic makes me uneasy. I dislike it a lot and go to great lengths to avoid it; including spending most of my working life avoiding doing a job that would require me to get to work at a time when everybody else is rushing to get to work too. Not everyone has that luxury or that tolerance for brokesness. So I understand why most people just suck it up and deal with it.

At the top of the hill in Gandhi Village, the air is cool and fresh, the breeze is perfect. The community recreation ground is unoccupied, overlooking one of the highway construction sites. There isn’t much work going on there, from what I can see.

Workers are liming under tents. Some are digging trenches. But there isn’t a typical construction buzz. I’m relieved because I don’t want Dr Kublalsingh’s efforts to be in vain. I don’t want the attempts of the JCC to be wined on by callous contractors and an even more callous Government. Who skin their teeth in your faces and then do what they want to do regardless of what they have promised.

But down on the main road in Debe, where there are no trees and no fresh breeze, the people are saying they want a highway. The people say they need a highway. The people say Wayne Kublalsingh don’t know what he talking about. The people say, if the price was right and they were getting a nice house in Westmoorings, they would give up their land too.

The people say that they believe what the Government say that this is the price we have to pay for development. Because our idea of development remains concretisation and destruction. Trees are counter-development. Wetlands are counter-development. Community is counter-development. And all the multi-million-dollar improvements made in the past ten years have had lasting impact on the traffic situation, right?

And wider roads are a guarantee of less traffic, right? And less traffic will change the laissez-faire attitude to timeliness that is so much a part of our culture, right? And all the cars we have make our lives easier, right? One wise woman comments: everything has a positive and a negative. One wise woman ponders what will be the lasting impact. One wise woman wonders what the social impact would be if she had to pack her jahaaji bundle and move somewhere else.

Tanty Kamla is concerned about what generations to come will inherit. I wonder if Tanty Kamla considers that in the future, when the oil runs out and we can’t afford to spend hours in traffic on wide roads that we can’t afford to maintain, if our great-great-great-grandchildren will not say, hey, what about a functioning public transport system?

I wonder if our great-great-grandchildren will not judge us harshly for not using some of the oil money to investigate sustainable energy sources that are so readily available here to run a mass transit system on the existing roads?

Meanwhile, on the other end of the highway, on the La Basse end, the people are saying that they want development too. The people are asking why they continue to be ignored. The people are asking why they are treated like a problem to be managed rather than a question that starts a conversation that leads to a lasting solution. They are not going on hunger strikes. They are not prepared to die. Maybe they are prepared to kill.

Education that doesn’t teach us to be good citizens. Tall buildings that are empty of motivated people. Highways leading to nowhere. What a legacy we are leaving to the future. Who is going to do an independent review of that?

Published in the Trinidad Guardian December 8, 2012

On becoming a Stickfighter.

Just finished another stickfight lesson and am still in awe at the focus and discipline necessary to protect your head. One hand is stronger than the other so I’m working on having the same kind of response time with my left hand as with my right. But apparently because I’m an ‘ambi winer’ I should get the hang of it soon. The thing that’s struck me about learning stick is that flag waving is a complimentary artform. I find the movements are similar, as are the intentions. A flag woman is a thing of great beauty and abandon but also a dread warrior on whom an entire band is dependent for direction. The style I am learning is from Moruga – pretty stick’ they call it. In other words you get so distracted by the beauty of the dancing you don’t see when the bois coming to buss your head. It’s maths and physics and core strength and left/brain right brain coordination. It is also letting go and giving into to what the drum tells you do do with your body and let it speak a language you never thought you knew. Serious Ogun tings. The warrior in me is awakening.

And the Fete goes on

Don’t they know
A blind man could see
That this is blatant hypocrisy
The real traitors an dem are high in society
Yet the Government protecting all ah dem
And penalising you and me
Good Citizen, Mighty Sparrow

Look what representation come to, eh. Look what change you can believe in looks like. The pigs are walking upright and throwing filth at us. Look what we voted for and rejoiced at. Look at what we breathed loud sighs of relief for, when we were rid of the megalomaniac Papa Patos.

We really reach where we have to go. Again. Because we’ve been here before. At this same point. So don’t act too surprised. This is the cycle we know best. But the spaces in between the points of fedupcy of the people. Those spaces are growing larger. Those moments are fewer and further between. And not because our governments are getting better. But because we are become less and less convinced of our power.

Watch them, nah. Sending police to maco unarmed protesters eating portugals and chatting quietly among themselves. The officers look like they’re not too sure why they’re there. Protecting, like the rest of us, the little work that they have. Unsure of the consequences if they were to say no to their superiors.

Look what piety come to. Saying hurry up and dead one day and piously praying the next. Does their god only hear prayers? Is his hearing aid off the rest of the time? The problem is that we’re so busy watching what the other person is doing we dare not do for ourselves. The problem is that it’s far easier to be on the sidelines making snarky comments than to actually do the work to be the change that is so necessary.

We’re always looking for a messiah. We’re always looking for somebody to tell us that it’s okay to be vocal. A person who gives us something to believe in that is outside of ourselves, so if it fails we’re not too personally invested. We can’t help that Father-of-the-Nation syndrome. The complicated relationships between the leader and the led.

The problem is not Jack Warner. The problem is not how many of us gather outside the Prime Minister’s office. The problem is not the People’s Partnership. They are doing the best they can. It’s a pity that this is all they can muster and that it is mediocre at best and at worst a total heartbreaking disaster.

The problem is that we are sitting back and allowing these people to insult our intelligence and embarrass our country internationally. We want someone else to die for us. We are neither willing to die nor to kill for what we believe in. It’s not about one person.

It’s not about one Government. They do their job really well. Their job, as inherited from colonial authorities, is to seek the economic interests of others and position themselves in a way that they can get a little scraping of the left-over cream.

So while we’re looking for someone else to die for us, some other martyr for us to remember with our tears, we are not thinking about shutting the country down. While we are trying to get the Government to understand that they can’t make a business out of art without first consulting the artists, walls are bare of words that really let them know how we feel. And the fete goes on.

The fete goes on despite the questions. If we have more highway, will we have less traffic? If we have more police, will we have less crime? If we have more industry, will we have more wealth? If we have more buildings, will we have more employment? If we have a TTCIC, will we have better art?

It shouldn’t be up to one person to sacrifice his life for all of us. It shouldn’t be up to a bunch of self-serving pencil-pushers to decide what version of development we should have. It shouldn’t be up to a state-appointed board to say how our arts industry gets to its full potential.

In the past two years, many lines have been drawn in the sand. And this Government has been teetering on the brink of collapse for so long we’re not sure when it was ever stable and looked like it had a clue. In the past two years, this Government has done nothing if not surpass our wildest expectations of just how much of a pappyshow the democratic process can be. And how easy it is to disguise yourself in a well-executed campaign.

In the past two years this Government has done nothing if not totally convince us that this idea of governance that we have is not just flawed but totally unsuited to forward movement. I wonder if we’ll let them get to the end of their five years before we start the cycle all over again.