Why I am surviving eight years of underemployment in recessionary times

Bible Study 1

Bible Study 1 (Photo credit: DrGBB)

All my passed-on relatives are precious to me in their individual way. Today I remember that quiet, soft spoken gentleman, my grandfather Carpus “Jack’ Cossey, whom I called ‘Dad’ like everyone else in his multi-generational household.

“Dad, lend me $2 ‘till tomorrow, please” I said.  Now, that took lots of courage and enough desperation to be willing to endure a two-hour lecture about the virtues of saving and the dangers of ‘licking out yuh money’, topics that were lost on me, a teenager.
But I am lucky this time as he fishes into his self-made, draw-string, blue demin, wallet-size bag and extracted two silver dollars which he examines carefully and slowly counts at least four times. Struggling to hold my patience and inwardly swearing, I reach forward to take them.

He hesitates again and then said: “Bring these back  tomorrow, as I gave you. Two silver dollars; not eight 25-cents pieces, not …”.  Without raising his voice or stressing a syllable for emphasis, he carefully spells out the combinations of two dollars until he finally runs out.

He then places the silver dollars, deliberately, one after the other, in my now tired outstretched hand, and returns to his newspaper and Bible where he continues to compare world events with Bible verses as he prepares to throw down a fire and brimstone sermon on those souls gathered at Sister Gay’s or Bannister’s or wherever  is  his next preaching assignment.

Thanks Dad for hard lessons without them underemployment would have ‘buss my tail” .

(PS: non-fiction)

Praise me neutrally or inanimately … nah. Give it to me real!

Perhaps it is the Caribbean in me or more precisely the Barbados in me, but when someone publicly hails me up as beautiful, I smile a ‘thank you”. Here, in my region, we don’t seek a thigh gap to be beautiful; our role models of beauty are not yet prescribed by a man-made industry but are varied. The determination of beauty is very much in the eyes of the beholder.

So why should I be offended by such a comment focusing on physical beauty?  It seems that in the United States, this is a source of annoyance. Yet that is a country where the fashion and movie industries push beauty in a sea of reckless materialism. Are their comments the manifestation of an effort to pull back one side by unwittingly decimating it? An all out tug-a-war of two sides, is it?

On two recent occasions, United States President Barack Obama was ridiculed for referring to feminine beauty, both times, intelligence and beauty were part of his comment,  directly or implied. When the President said California Attorney General Kamala Harris happed to be the best-looking AG ever, an avalanche of verbal spears flew in the same way they did when he said his daughter had grown into” strong, smart, beautiful young women.”

I asked myself: was the outcry encouraged by those who cannot subtly or directly stomach black beauty and black intelligence. Is it a fear thing? No, they say it is a feminist thing. Then why are these women wearing make-up and why are they not merely going to the store and taking an outfit based only on size and price?

How can calling a woman beautiful subtract from her intelligence? Aren’t the two mutually exclusive? Why should a black woman’s beauty be muffled or muzzled?

I imagine their perfect world, where (even in bed ) the only compliments will be ‘you have a sharp brain’ . Ouch, that would be degrading, a touch too close to the physical. You’d have to give her /him a side look. Nah, that would parallel flirting and be condemned as sexual harassment.

I suspect that only acceptable comments would be: ‘that project or paper or garden bed etc. was well done.” Let’s get on with the inanimate praising.

Why concern myself about the US behaviour, I’ve asked myself.  I do so because in this era where digital communications facilitates cultural penetration at a higher speed than previously, this template of neutralism would soon be transmitted into Caribbean Community cultural.

I love that we can say: “he is so sexy and so bright” (if we believe it) and men can say “you go it” whether they mean beauty, brains, a winning personality or whatever appeals to their fancy. But in the US, keep your mouth close, don’t look, walk with eyes in the air and if in bed, do only a body jump.

I am stumped here, so I’m asking just to be politically correct with my US friends, can I say to a parent, your baby is cute? Or is the correct compliment in this genre: “he’s talking, that brain is developing”?

Coming out with all … powered by social media

Someone I knew came out. Nothing new but she is an ordinary person and I always associated ‘coming out’ with celebrities so her public declaration surprised me. In fact, I never understood coming out.

“Was I still inside, I asked my buddy who snapped that I was insensitive to gays. Honestly, I was provoking him into discussing the issue, to help me figure out why make the announcement.  Was it necessary?

“To have to come out suggested that you are different,” I say, ‘in any case is coming out only for gays?”

“It means you were keeping a part of your life private and is now making it public,” he replies.

“Why,” I ask.

“Are you a child that you have all these whys,” he answers and returns to his reading leaving me to ponder.

I’ve always thought that gay people and everyone else should follow his or her sexual orientation in choosing a partner and introduce that person to the important people in their life. So I never understood ‘coming out’ apart from the cases of celebrities, into whose lives outsiders feel they have a right to poke.  After all the speculation, a celebrity is likely to say ‘this is the story, takes it and leave me alone’.

I argue with myself that all relationships are kept private during the delicate early period and when you reach the couple stage, you allow it to become open. Some people you seek out to make an introduction, like your best friends or parents; others find out naturally. You don’t deny it, you admit it with pride.

Is that coming out, I ask myself. I instantly think I am wrong because ‘coming out’ suggest a public announcement.

Then I thought once more about this ordinary young mother posting her female lover on Facebook and proclaiming “me and my boo” to the world wide web of people.

Perhaps her reason is the same as that of the celebrities: “let the people talk and get over with it.” The avalanche of criticisms, congratulations, that peak of gossip/discussion will soon decline to a few whispers and then silence. Why walk slowly up the hill of gossip and hidden partnership when you can race to peak and head for normalcy?

I recalled a manager who announced to a staff meeting that his marriage was over. Two months later, it came up during a discussion on invitations for a staff function and it was discovered that workers who were absent from that staff meeting did not know of the separation.  The news had lost its gossip value so quickly that in an office known for rumour mongering, the otherwise juicy bit of information was squeezed dry by the announcement and did not spread outside the meeting.

So the manager came out. Is there a life lesson here for all of us, I asked myself?  Apart from our sexual orientation, we keep some ‘personal matters’ private while the public speculate, should we ‘come out’?

Pregnancy was one of these private matters, years ago. In the Caribbean, you would tell your inner circle that you are pregnant; the others found out naturally as your body grew. Now everyone is coming out with their pregnancy’ check the scans of the four week old blip. I know of the start, finish and mid-streams of many love relationships; I know where everyone is going or went; what they cook and if they got drunk or had a spliff.

Thanks to Facebook and other social media tools we are coming out with everything. We seem to have a desire to bury privacy and expose our every step to the world. Is that why my ordinary friend came out? Was it that necessary? Was the natural road too hard to follow? Is it a fad; a mimicking of celebrities? I am still trying to understand.

Why me… why so much pain?

One look into his bulging eyes and my heart burst under the weight of sudden excruciating pain. I open the door  with a “good-evening’ that conveys my faked cheerfulness.  He replies faintly audible in a voice strained by the residue of conflict.

I know he’s always unsettled by his demons who never release him from their grip though at times they slacken the pressure. Today, somehow, somewhere they’d run amok.

I want to know what happened yet I don’t want to know. He feigned normalcy, perhaps wanting to extend this rare patch of peace we’ve been experiencing recently but his manner betrays him. Every few minutes his chest rises aggressively, his nostrils flares and he fights hard to concentrate on eating his dinner, which today is his favourite boiled fish and vegetables.

Little calm exist in this stormy existence which I call motherhood that is my life. Depression is a regular companion so today I ball myself into a tight foetal wad and welcome it into my bosom as I lie in bed. What gave him these inner raging demons; why does he resort to settling his arguments with threats and fists? Where did I go wrong? Was it the long hours at work in his formative years? Other single mothers did that too but with good results, why not me?

Was it because a woman can’t father a son? Was it my choosing of the wrong sex partner turned absentee father but never caring dad? As usual my brain is too swamped to process and analyse any information. I know the past can’t help me; it can’t be erased so I skip the introspection and strain my brain to thinking about sources of help.

The Bible … for God alone knows, through pray He can help … the internet for 24/7 spiritual guidance. My browsing brings me to an article, When our children go astray. It tells of parents with similar troubles but life differs from fairy tales and the guarantee of a good outcome; the dreamed turnaround of a love one isn’t on that page.

Disillusioned, I am barely able to read it completely or objectively. Fear of the unknown grips me; flooding my whole body, turning my feet to liquid. No tears come to my eyes, though I’d welcome their release but my bladder is full.

The dreaded official knock comes. Bang, bang on the door. I know that knock no matter whose knuckles are doing the pounding; I know who’s there, no matter who’s wearing the uniform. Panic completely invades me and as I open the door my bladder empties itself of all my grief.

Can’t toot my blog horn, ‘till it gets a hate button

“Why do you blog?” Avram asked. “Is it because you’re out-of work, you’re a rejected journalist?’

That got me pissed so I let my temper fly. I ranted:  “Blogging is better than journalism, if you subtract the monetary gain. Toot. Toot, it gives a horn to toot even if you don’t want to toot it for me.”

A hunting horn in Eb with a Bb stopping ventil...

A hunting horn in Eb with a Bb stopping ventil/ Cor de chasse en Mi bémol (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

People from Panama, Vietnam, de North Pole,  de South Pole, people that never know I cud write a sentence when I did a journalist, read me.“Numba two, no blog readers doan search for my phone numba and call me cursing me stink, stink; telling me ‘bout my muddah, doan mine they never see she.

“Numba 3, business people and politicans doan call my boss and say I should write ‘xyz’ like they in my mind or is my intellect.  Nobody doan fume to higher-ups: ‘I am pulling my ads because she wrote such and such…’ Nothing so, buddy!

“It add up to I get likes from readers, I is a boss analyst, a boss writer, a boss story teller. I don’t get no hate,” I tooted.

“Likes? What likes you talking bout you does get muff hates,” Avram said. She started she own rant:

“I check out your site and muff people visit but the foolishness you write left dem speechless, you doan see they doan say a word in the ‘leave a comment’ slot. More to besides one day 47 people visit you and only one click ‘like’ dat is 46 or more than 99 per cent that hate the dribble you write.”

That one floored me, I failing as a blogger, so I try to comfort myself by boasting that I getting traffic cause most of the tings the WordPress people say about increasing traffic I have covered.

“Covered what?’ Avram said “you minding dem wordpress people and ‘blog-napping’ people by hooking your blog to their Facebook accounts. Traffic? They ain’t even reading you if not your followers would equal or be more than your Facebook friends.

“And when it get to following de Daily Prompt, half of them outside your league, you can’t respond. Like today, they tell you to “toot your horn” what horn? Horn about likes? Horn about traffic? Your horn hoarse, girl! De only horn you ever had is a Bajan horn. Ha! Ha!”

(In Barbados, a person gets a horn if his or her partner is unfaithful. In Bajan parlance, we say: Mary put a horn in Tom. Translate: Mary was unfaithful to Tom. Vincentians use butt instead of horn.)

Horn Luggers

Horn Luggers (Photo credit: Randy Son Of Robert)

Sex on the first date, anyone? What about if I gave you a gift?

Film poster for Casual Sex? - Copyright 1988, ...

Today’s Jamaica Observer on-line forced me to recall a discussion which years ago kept several of my friends locked in discussion for many months. It seemed then that the conversations in every group – no matter the permutation- would reach the point where someone would ask: “Why women can’t have sex on the first date without someone bashing them?”

The ‘with-it’ women argued against “old-fashioned sexist ideals’ as they agitated for equal rights with men. “We are working for ourselves; we are in careers similar to men, we are independent, why can’t we screw men on the first date if it feels right.”

Those taking the moral high ground would quote the Bible only to be slapped down by others citing the very Bible as support by using the story of David and Bathsheba or other Bible heroes who had concubines.  It was usual for this Bible discussion to be doused by someone who would simply say: “Why intellectualise, if he looks hot, and I feel hot why not out each other fires.”

Of course, comments about sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies would be thrown around and these would lock horns with arguments about condoms. A winner could never be declared but this was never, I think, the point of the debates.

Dr. Sandra KnightThose views roamed through my brain as I read the passionate plea of the chairman of Jamaica’s National Family Planning Board (NFPB), Dr Sandra Knight: “… for sex to become a part of a context where it’s not a man-meet-woman-and-go-to-bed situation …
“where (Jamaicans) are thinking about (their) families, and thinking about a mate with which to have a family.”

I asked myself, how many people having casual sex are thinking about a life partner? Aren’t they either satisfying an urge or having sex for transactional reasons? To find an answer, I tried hard to remember the details of those past fierce and friendly debates that revolved around the right time to have sex. This mental search produced flashes of friends and acquaintances, who bravely confessed with smug smiles to enjoying sex-at-first encounter with someone they didn’t care to see again. It was just satisfying a primal desire.

Today, some of them are married with children and are now preaching from that moral high ground. They even scorn the ‘third date rule’ which media reports suggest that western cultures use to determine the ‘sex date’ or the appropriate time for a new couple to ‘go all the way’.

I agree that anyone who took a path, they later recognised as dangerous, is likely to encourage others to avoid that route but I believe such guidance should be laced with empathy, or it is likely to be rejected.

I can’t help but wonder whether we are too self-righteous in our approaches, to reap the full potential of our programmes.

To me, the Gleaner story is not only a Jamaica story but a Barbados story, a Caribbean story. Therefore I look at the many messages promoted by my mother’s and grandmother’s generations which were aimed at taming the sexual behaviour of the then  ‘wuffless (worthless) young people.’

These elders dished out condemnation and advice although the village held many examples of a man having two or more families at the same time: one at the house where he slept with his wife or recognised partner and one or two more in homes where he did not spend a whole night but was the chief financial and sex provider  as well as the father of several children. The ages of these children bore evidence that as one woman was hugely pregnant, he was doing his best to impregnate  one or two others.

Seeing this, the message from those older folk was hypocritical and I wondered if that affected its potency? All these things, I pondered.

In Jamaica, the 2012 HIV/AIDS Knowledge, Attitudes and Behaviour Survey showed that 53 per cent males and 23 per cent females surveyed had sex for money or gifts since the last survey in 2008.

Poverty has encouraged transactional sex; a woman would give someone ‘a piece’ in exchange for money, food or some favour needed to properly provide for her children.  I do not know the Jamaica situation intimately but in Barbados, there are now some cases of young people -boys and girls selling their bodies to buy the latest gadgets; popular brand shoes and bags. The buyers are not people of their own age but older men and women, some in church and others in dance halls. Our messages are usual towards the sellers but what about the buyers? A market need both supply and demand to flourish.

Is it about poverty? To me it is about the definition of poverty. The United Nation Development Propgramme defines poverty by income per day but under peer pressure, poor is seen as not having those things that are owned by the ‘average’ person. It is somewhere entangled in that mess of  “longing to belong” and thrives in our materialistic world, where overpriced brands and unnecessary show pieces can be used to judge a person’s worth.

We therefore need to relook our message to ensure that they are compatible with today’s realities; that when we speak we do so with sincerity and empathy.

This sincerity must lead us to target men in our programmes with as much vigour as we target women rather than to behave as if women are the only gatekeepers of our countries’ morals. I say so I note Dr. Knight’s concern that more Jamaican young women were lowering their standards to sleep with multiple males in exchange for material possessions. This statement in light of figures that show 23 per cent of women compared with 53 per cent males were having transactional sex.

Practice pitch for resolutions

Tell me how someone could make New Year resolutions four months ago? Avram asked, “that is why everyone is talking about New Year resolutions and you can’t unpick your teeth.”

If I didn’t love Avram, I would call her a name but one of my resolutions is to be more appreciative of key people in my life and Avram unlocks the doors to my self (not myself, please). She is ‘top ranking’ in my life. Therefore rather than rename her, I posed a question.

“Before marrying wouldn’t you get to know your partner see how he fits into your life, test your compatibility?” She was nodding her head continuously, like the energiser bunny, as I spoke but, of course, she knows my thoughts before I mouth them.

My argument is, if you are making plans that will redirect your life or provide a road map for your future that exercise is too important not to include some preparatory work. Every August, my birth month, I prepare and I become very introspective.

There are questions, questions. Am I doing what I love or what I think society or my inner circle expects me to do, workwise, on the domestic front, at church, at play? Am I been pulled too far away from my centre by these external forces? Are my friends really friends? Do I treat them like friends? Why do I go to church, why not watch tele-evangelists with a bowl of soup in the comfort of my home on the couch? Questions, questions.

I am very moody, pissed off and happy at various points in this period.  Avram, on the other hand is even-tempered and predictable because this throws her into her briar patch playing her favourite role, Devil’s Advocate.

She laughs at me regularly calling me a grumpy old woman and in contrast quotes Shakespeare in reference to herself: “Age cannot wither (me), nor custom stale (my) infinite variety …” Despite her rudeness, without Avram, I cannot do my self-assessment nor plot my way forward. Her role is pivotal and she knows it.

Photo of the first page of Antony and Cleopatr...I usually spend the days leading up to December 31, trying out my new path; tweaking the ‘projects’. For example, I have recognised this year the need to do a public speaking course in order to achieve one of my more important goals.

The “pipe dreams” are divided into realistic and manageable projects and along the way I check my progress, evaluate and make adjustments. On the first day of the year, I am therefore ready with plans that have a high chance of success; that fit my growing skin, yet have not lost their excitement or cause me to lose my sense of adventure.

Arvam laughs and says I intellectualise too many things. In any case, she thinks that New Year resolutions are about planning and that sucks the life out of spontaneity. It prevents me from living life to the fullest, she says. Now she is tempting me to read Antony and Cleopatra rather than spend the next half an hour reading French, as I have resolved to do.

“Come on live life to the fullest; learn from Cleopatra, if you want a man for the New Year,” she goads me and recites:

“Other women cloy 

the appetites they feed,

but she makes hungry

Where most she satisfies,

for vilest things

Become themselves in her,

that the holy priests

Bless her when she is riggish.”

Enobarbus in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra

“How can you live life to the fullest, if you are not spontaneous, Marva?” Avram asks.

To me, the two are not mutually exclusive, what do you think? Please tell me in the comment section below.