That relationship between emotion and strength …

I think we tend to forget or ignore how important emotion is.

Some of us are able give into emotion easily, but a lot of us work hard to quell our emotions; mostly because we think that emotions make us weak. The irony is that most of us have no difficulty giving in to our anger, but when it comes to grief and loss and the sadness that accompanies it, we just don’t.

Thankfully, there are people (sometimes, luckily, in leadership positions) who understand how important it is feel. I attended a memorial service recently in which the officiant displayed an astute understanding of emotion and its role in the grieving process. I was touched at how he led the gathering through the grief, cried with them, and then led them out again into the joy of remembrance.

He started his address with funny anecdotes about how he’d met the deceased and how she made him feel as a brand new addition to the community. He moved on into a couple other remembrances of her with her family and the impact it had on him. He introduced a tear-jerker of a song next, dedicated to the family. He made sure to tell us that, “It’s ok if you want to cry. I probably will and I think I’m just going to sit right here while it plays because if I stand up here I likely will lose it”. And he did leave the podium to sit in a chair nearby while the song played.

We listened to a sweet song of love and remembrance and loss and we all cried – every last one of us. Even the officiant. There was not a dry eye in the gathering. Even the officiant was red-faced and crying. I was stunned because this was clearly a man comfortable enough to cry amongst strangers. How many of us can lay claim to that? I know I can’t.

After the song was finished, he launched into a 10 minute long remembrance that had us all laughing and nodding and grinning away. The woman who had passed was beloved and there were far more merry moments than there were heartache and he made us realise and remember that in a very visceral way. It’s an experience that will stay with me for a long, long time.

This preacher understands grief. He understands loss. And he understands that together they involve both tears and laughter, and that both are important in the grieving process. He played to those two expressions of emotion beautifully with his speech; by the time he was done, we had cried and we had laughed with equal vigour. And we felt better for it.

That experience taught me something. I think we need to spend more time allowing ourselves to sit with emotion. If you’ve ever been overcome by emotion, if you’ve ever cried like your heart was breaking, then you know how much better you can feel when the grief has passed. Better, lighter, stronger. There is no doubt … we are stronger when we let ourselves feel.

It’s a rainy, dreary day in Oly, WA today …

And days like today bring back memories of being back home in Jamaica on a cloudy, dreary, rainy day when we’d be happy for the chill and the wet so we had excuses to drink things like hot cocoa, or more coffee (you haven’t had coffee until you’ve tried Jamaican coffee, if even just once) and cornmeal porridge.

Ah yes. I miss cornmeal porridge. It’s a hot cereal-like meal – it’s made with cornmeal (as you might have guessed), milk, sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla. You have to be extra careful with it, though, because if it’s made incorrectly or you let it sit for too long, it can get lumpy and icky to eat. My father used to tell me that cornmeal porridge “put hair on yuh ches’ [chest]” or that it “coat yuh backbone”. Frankly, I think the stuff that put hair on your chest was more of the scotch bonnet (hot pepper) or alcohol (like John Crow Batty – which is an overproof rum that is near enough to pure ethanol that it burns green) type deal than simple, unassuming cornmeal porridge. Frankly, a little John Crow Batty would be welcome about now … a stiff drink is not something I’d refuse today.

Still, despite the dreariness or the potential bad news I’ve had within the last week or so, I am in fairly good spirits. It is odd – I ought to be so down in the dumps that it is difficult to get out of bed. Well … it’s difficult to get out of bed anyway – it’s so damn cold. Not as cold as my Eastern and Central U.S. neighbours, but certainly far more cold than I have been used to all my life. It’s so much more comfortable to lay under a duvet and a fleece blanket than it is to get out of bed … for anything.

Anyway – the reason why I am in fairly good spirits despite all the blows this week … a book that validated my way of thinking for once.

You know how you hear people say “Think positive” all the time? That “staying positive will help solve problems”? That “envision the positive outcome and that is what you shall manifest”? All that drivel. I hear it constantly. And to me it is drivel. Sure I want to think of the positive outcome. It’s what I want to  happen. That sort of goes without saying…. but what happens if what I want does not happen? What then?

Cue the “Oh come on! Be positive!” crap. That doesn’t help me. What helps me is to envision all possibilities so that I can at least be mentally (if not practically and physically) prepared for them all. Apparently, this kind of thinking is called “Defensive pessimism” and there is a book written about it. Yes; there are a few of us on this earth who actually benefit from being negative because it helps us prepare for all possibilities in such a way that no matter what the outcome is, we can take it smoothly in stride and move past it.

Whenever I am faced with a decision, my first question is always “tell me what the worst and best outcomes are?” I only finally got a doctor who understood that recently. Everybody else seemed to think I needed to be coddled and told to “think positive; it’ll work out … somehow”. I want to tell them “Stop coddling me; I am grown woman” but I am too polite to do so. At the end of the day, when the ish hits the fan, I am the one who is going to be able to manage the fallout because I have already imagined the worst and know, in my head, how I am going to tackle it if it happens. Of course, I am also the one who will cheer and celebrate just as loudly with you when it does work out  - because I also know the potential consequences of the best outcomes as well.

I am hoping to read that book so I can see just how much of my own patterns are mimicked by others the world over. I want to know, finally, just how “normal” I am.

Reading … no distractions, no fanfare – just me and the words

various e-book readers. From right to left iPa...

various e-book readers. From right to left iPad (Apple、2010) kindle DX (Amazon、2009) kindle 2 (Amazon、2009) kindle 1 (Amazon、2007) PRS-505 (Sony、2007) PRS-500 (Sony、2006). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am often asked my opinion on eReaders vs eReaders or eReaders vs Tablets.

Most people know me as a reading geek. All through my life, anyone who has ever met me will concur on one characteristic: “She’s an avid/voracious/crazy reader”.  So of course they’d turn to me to ask about tablets and eReaders -right?

At first those questions were basically “So … Nook or Kindle?” How amazing is it that technology moves so fast that within a 5 year span the choices for eReader has gone from 2 and a half (Sony being that half) to multiple? Now those questions are “So which tablet or eReader would you choose?”

Today, someone asked me if I was a Kindle user. I knew going into the conversation that at some point we’d have to clarify what they meant by “Kindle” because after the eReader wars have calmed a little, what remains are the dedicated readers on the one hand, and those people who like to read but also like to be able to do other stuff with their eReaders. (so tablet users who like to read).

As it turns out, I was right – this particular person wanted feedback on the Kindle Fire HD.

I have no experience with any other tablets other than the iPad because tablet use for me is simply mobile computing when a laptop is just not possible. So all I can offer is a vague idea based on limited exposure when someone allows me to “finger” their toys. (Oh boy – the double entendre there … whew!)

What I ended up saying was prefaced with a disclaimer which I think I have to coin for further use:

When I read, it’s *all* I want to do. No distractions, no fanfare – just me and the words

Poetic, yeah?

Tattoos … decorating the walls of my temple.

So, I have a couple tattoos. I’ve been working on them for a while. My tattoo journey started in … well, I don’t remember now. It was in my wild and crazy days. I was at a carnival event. Jamaican carnivals were just becoming “a thing”. I was in Ocho Rios, staying with a friend who lived there. A friend of hers was having a little party or something in her store. And there was a guy doing tattoos in the back of the store. He was high. I know that now. It didn’t matter much to me since I was a little drunk myself. Hey, it was carnival!

Anyway, I asked for a rose; he gave me the outline of a rose. It was good enough then. I wasn’t sure I wanted something that was going to last a long time. Plus, I was on my way to an epic party. I couldn’t be cringing in pain the whole night. I remember that night with a fondness. I wore jeans and a halter-top to an outdoor party, drank too much, and fell asleep in my car. But I digress…

Since then, I’ve gotten a heart wrapped in barbed wire on my chest (don’t ask – I went through a dark period for a while), and a pentacle on my ankle. I don’t know if it was the ink he used or if it was just time, but they faded. And I forgot about it. Fast forward too many years to count and I am sitting in Texas thinking maybe it’s time to finish the project. It started with a plan to re-do the rose. Then I redid the pentacle, adding a triple moon and a yin-yang. At the same time, I got the Leo and Aquarius symbols done on my hand. I’ve never been one to want to do the name thing. Leo and Aquarius was the nearest thing to “I <3 hubby-name” that I was going to get.

Soon after that, I had a dream in which the single rose outline (now 3 roses, and a bud up the side of my neck) became a whole vine stretching down the rest of my back, and down to my ankle. And thus the project began in earnest. I won’t go into detail about what the finished product will look like because that would just be … I don’t know – jinxing it? Let’s just say, it’s a HUGE project. I’ll post pictures when I’m done.

In the meantime …

There is a bumper sticker in the studio where I am working on my project. It says “Your body is a temple. Let us help you decorate the walls.” And for so many years I have struggled with how to explain my tattoo … obsession? … to people. Especially my mother. She asks me all the time, “I don’t understand. What is the big attraction?”

Well Mom? There it is. This is me decorating the walls of my temple. :)

DecoratingTheWalls

Sometimes, you just have to experience it for yourself

Sometimes, you think you know about something by watching it and reading about it to the point of obsession. I’ve watched legal thriller TV shows for years and I’ve re-watched the seasons of several of them many times over; I’ve read tons of legal thrillers as well – my father introduced me to Ellery Queen at an early age and I was a huge Nancy Drew buff. Asked, I would probably say I know a great deal about crime and mystery – more than I ought to know maybe.

The sad truth is, though, that there is absolutely no way to know about any kind of trauma unless you’ve been there. Broken a leg? No? You don’t know what it’s like. Been lost in the woods overnight? No? You can’t imagine what it’s like. Bitten by a rabid or wild animal? No? There is no television show, book, or blog that can help you “get it”. Robbed at gunpoint? No? You will never understand until it happens to you.

Sometimes we wish we could help prevent some of these incidents. And we think that by the virtue of telling our own stories we can help others recognise those patterns and clues in their own lives and thereby help them avoid getting hurt. But it doesn’t work like that. My story isn’t going to help you avoid anything and yours cannot help me.

The only real good you can do for me (or I for you) when you have experienced that one bad thing that no one should ever have to deal with … is to tell me how you feel, when you felt it, what it made you do or think, how you dealt with it, who helped you deal with it. Tell me your story if it helps you, but don’t tell me if you think it’s going to help me. Tell me instead what helped you get through the days afterwards. Tell me what you found to be a “normal” response to this. Help me recognise what will be “normal” in me if and when this horror comes for me. And then let me know that if and when it does come, you will be here to talk it over with me and help me through it. Because that is the only way you can help me.

I wish I could tell you my story. I wish I could help you “get it”. But I can’t. I can only listen to others who have been there and rest assured that one day I will be able to help someone else deal. Everybody’s story is different – including mine. It’s the aftermath that remains the same.

My biggest flaw, my biggest weakness?

One of the things I have noticed many writers around me saying over and over is how they recall incidents and events; they write about how those incidents and events have changed their outlook or enriched it somehow. They recall such detail about their experiences that I feel as if I am deficient somehow. And the reason for that is simply that my memory recall is not that lucid.

Those of you who know me, know that I am not young. I’m no spring chicken, according my fellow Jamaicans. Moreover, I’ve had a fairly colourful life. It’s not spectacularly kaleidoscopic nor has it been particularly dramatic, but it certainly hasn’t been boring either. Yet, I think I would be hard-pressed to recall most of my experiences in as much detail as everyone else seems to be able to.

For instance, my husband and I were talking tonight about the night before our wedding and neither of us can really remember what happened that night. We remember our wedding (of course; what kind of people would we be if we didn’t?), and we remember the day we had after the ceremony. But the night before is a complete lost memory for us. The only thing I remember clearly about that night was that I spent it alone. Everybody insisted that we spend it apart, and so he stayed with his family in their hotel.

We are the sum of our life experiences. We are the products of those milestones in our lives. That I can scarcely remember some of the less dramatic points in my life means what for me exactly? Does that mean that I forget the lessons I may have learned? Does it mean that I have less to share with the world because I’ve forgotten so much about what I’ve experienced?

My life right now is all about my now; and my now started just a few days over 4 years ago. And even though 4 years is not a long time, there are plenty of things about the last 4 years that I don’t remember at all. And I constantly wonder if what I’ve forgotten is important in some way and by forgetting I have lost a piece of me somehow. And I worry about that.

I’m that much less afraid of the dark now

Thanks to a dear friend and an impromptu Twitter DM conversation, I discovered that depression is something a lot of writers struggle with and that there is research that shows that there is direct correlation between depression and the problem-solving process.

 “If depression lives in the same place as creative thought, when you block out one, you’re going to interfere with the other.”

I think this just might be the first step I needed to find my way to understanding this process better now.

Maybe those Angel re-runs screened solely for my personal viewing pleasure was not the best idea I’ve ever had in dealing with my latest bout with despondency. The television is my medication and I think I’ve over-medicated enough.

One of things that used to give me great relief was a written journal. Maybe that’s what I need to do again – write the shit out of my head so it can stop stinking the air up there. Chances are seeing it on paper, in my own handwriting will help the process too. Who knows? It’s a start.

Happy Father’s Day, 2012

It’s Father’s Day today. I have been so wrapped up in my own world that I lost track of time. In the early days, I’d be scrambling trying to figure out what to get my Father for Dad’s day. In truth, I think I unconsciously gave up a few years ago. My father has everything he needs and is not particularly materialistic. Physical gifts are less about the gifts and more about the thought behind them. Both he and my mother instilled in me the value that if there is something that I need, then I should be equipped to get it for myself. That I ought not to depend on others to gift it to me. Gifts are supposed to be tokens of appreciation or the extras in life.

When I’ve given him a gift in the past, wrapped or not, he’ll get this smile on his face – it speaks of pride, love, belonging … and now that I am older, I get what that it means that it’s not about what he got, it’s about the fact that I remembered and thought about him enough to show him that I thought about him. Some people say that when asked what they want to be gifted for their birthday or Christmas. In fact, I say that. I’m not that big on gift giving either – surprise surprise – and I guess that’s a clear indication that the apple does not fall far from the tree. I am usually just touched that I am remembered enough that the person wants to give me something.

This morning, while I wait for my parents to return home from church so I can call and wish my father Happy Dad’s Day, I remember him in this way. He’s the man who helped mould my character and my personality – my values and my ethics. He’s half of the team that made me who I am today and I am eternally grateful for them and how they raised me. I wonder if a lifetime is enough time to repay them? Doubt it.

As I watch other teens wrestle with their parents and personality clash, I recall how it was when I was in that phase with my own parents. My father and I especially fought almost constantly for years. We almost never agreed on anything. There were days when we would not speak.

Once, I was on the phone with a boy late one night, and Dad was chasing me off the phone within the first 2 minutes of the phone call yelling that a telephone was not for conversation but for transmission of facts and that any constructive phone call ought not to take more than 2 minutes. It sounded so stupid and old-fashioned to me then and made me embarrassed that the boy could hear him yelling like that. Hell, it sounds stupid and old-fashioned now, but also now I realise what it was that got his panties in a bunch like that. It was likely the expression on my face and that protective thing that father’s get when the boys start to circle their daughters. He was angry and scared and he said the first thing that came to mind.

Of course, now that I am 3 time zones away from him, his tune in relation to me and telephone conversations has changed drastically. When you can’t sit face to face and have a conversation, the telephone is the next best thing. Now we both live for those telephone conversations that sometimes end up being longer than an hour. How’s that for ironic?

My father may not be perfect, and in fact no father is. Emotions always seem to get the better of us humans and when father’s see their precious daughters growing up before their very eyes, it can sometimes make them stir-crazy. I know this – I lived through my father’s strange behaviour. But now that I am much older and understand this world we live in a little bit more than I did back then, I can see that strange, neurotic, stupid, emotional outbursts such as yelling that phone conversations ought not to last as long as 2 minutes are simply the reaction to that parental spirit and protective urge that all parents have.

I love you, Dad – with all your weird quirks and completely nonsensical claims and I love that you risked being labeled as quirky and strange and stupid so that you could protect me. It worked. I feel as if I have been blessed with absolute best father a girl could have.

How is life different than it was in Jamaica? Pull up a chair.

I am studying communications at the University of Phoenix Online and the course I am currently in is dealing with interpersonal communications. This week, we will be dealing specifically with cultural barriers to interpersonal communication. One of the week’s resources is to watch a series of interviews with people from different cultures talking about their integration into the community the now live in and how it differs from what they call “home” originally. One of those videos is the inspiration for my post today.

I posted this photo on my Google+ profile today. My post said that I’d forgotten what awesome photos I used to take and I said where this photo was taken. Years and what seems like a lifetime ago, I took this photograph on the coast of Jamaica, on the Palisadoes strip, just outside of the Norman Manley International Airport. The photo is from a different time in my life. I was my own woman then and no one else’s. I had already met hubby I think, but the relationship at that point was not yet formalized into anything other than a fascination. Neither of us had any clue we would end up where we are today.

The day I took the photo, I was out with friends on a fishing expedition. If I remember correctly, this was the day I caught my first fish. A tiny little thing that I threw back in almost immediately so that it would be able to breathe and continue to live. I was a hardcase. People called me “bitch”. But I could not catch a fish and let it die.

I worked in the corporate world and I earned enough to be comfortable on my own. Internet was a staple. I had ditched my TV cable service a couple of years before because I rarely watched TV and anything I wanted to watch I could get on disc and watch from my player. Or just watch on my computer.

There was no such thing as worrying about credit ratings. You paid your bills so that you would not have a disruption of service. You tried not to get into too much debt because banks charged exorbitant interest rates on credit cards. Debit cards had recently (within the previous 10 years, that is) become the latest convenience yet quite a few merchants still did not accept your debit card for purchases.

Cell phones plans could be had on a prepaid basis and all cell phones available were sold at a subsidized rate. Phones were “locked” to a network because that network had possibly invested money in importing your phone and wanted to ensure they got your money from calls as well as. “Unlocking” of phones was possible, but only if you wanted to travel abroad and slip a foreign carrier’s SIM card into your phone whilst you were abroad.

The beach was taken for granted. It would always be there, so I didn’t feel the need to visit it that often. Every chance I got, however, I drove north out of the city just for the hell of it. There was nothing I loved more than a road trip to the countryside – especially if it took me into the cool interior of the country.

Coconut water was most certainly not taken for granted. I would order a gallon a week and it would be finished in a matter of days.

Life was good. I wasn’t happy, but I was satisfied.

Fast forward 6 years. I am sitting in my “office” – the middle bedroom of a 3 bedroom house – in Olympia, Washington. It’s freezing outside. We had some snow today – the kind that is really just frozen rain but it looks white. Hubby lit the wood stove twice today but the house is still cold. I am wrapped in a blanket, doing schoolwork at 4am and writing – something I would never have dared to do in Jamaica since Monday morning meant work at 8am. Now, to go to work, I simply have to open a browser window.

We are bound by the military. Well hubby is. I can leave for Jamaica anytime I want; hubby can’t. Even if he could, it just isn’t in the budget. Contrary to popular belief, money does not grow on trees here – much to my consternation. ;)

There is no coconut water. Well, none like I have ever tasted anyway. The ones I have sampled are bland and tasteless and no matter how good it is for my now soaring blood pressure, I refuse to drink them.

There is no beach of the likes we have in Jamaica. No such thing as gentle surf, white sands, coconut water and blue waters. Here, the beaches are grey and rough and freezing cold.

Here you pay your bills or you’ll never get another credit card, loan, or checking account ever again.

Cell phones are subsidized so long as you commit to 2 year agreements to continue service with the carrier … otherwise you pay an exorbitant amount of money to go somewhere else.

I am ecstatically happy but life is much different from it was in Jamaica; more restrictive.

Americans don’t know how to make you feel at home in their country. There are constant reminders that I am not from here and while I could care less about those who choose to hold that against me, it is still something you will never have to encounter as a Jamaican in Jamaica. I tell everyone the reason why I love Washington so much, and in particular the Seattle/Tacoma area, is that I feel less out-of-place here than I have felt in any other place in the United States – and I have been to many places in New York, D.C., Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and Maryland. Here, I feel less like a black girl married to a white man and more like Camille than I have since I left my home in Jamaica.

‘Farin’ not so wonderful unless you can find that one thing (or person) who makes you happy. If it weren’t for hubby, I think I’d be on the first plane back home to Jamaica. I hate the heat, but I hate feeling out-of-place more.

Are you S.A.D.?

RaindropsWhen we heard we were going to be moving here to Washington state, my friend who has lived here for years warned me about S.A.D. I was never sure I would be affected because I have always been a fan of the rain and the darkness it brings.

As it turns out, the rain and the overcast days are actually the least of the problems. The real problem has started to emerge within the last few weeks as fall settles in for the long haul. Now underlined and bold-faced as we switch over to standard time from daylight savings.

The number of daylight hours is restricted even more when it is overcast and rainy. We have lived here for just about 3 months now, and I can tell you that on an average week, we get maybe 2 days of full sunshine – if we are lucky. Now that the days are shorter, it’s dark by 4pm or thereabouts. And I see it getting worse as we near the silly season.

And while I don’t know that I will suffer from S.A.D., I can see how the light (or lack, thereof) is going to play havoc with my internal clock. It already does. I find myself panicking at 4:30 because it looks and feels like much later. And I am finding that I am not a fan of the dark at all. I might like the rain and the overcast and the opportunity to build a fire and wrap up blankets … but I do not like the dark.

Yep – I am still adjusting to life out here. I never dreamed it would be this different, but nevertheless, I am liking it – a lot! I don’t know that I can live anywhere else after this. Dreary, rainy days or not!