New Year Resolutions: Beyond Hype, More than Hope

There are those who greet each New Year with gusto, setting lofty goals, brimming with energy and “up-and-at-’em, Uncle Scooby” enthusiasm about all the things they’re going to do and going to get. Then there are those who REFUSE to set resolutions, telling themselves and others that they exist above the fray, not needing to get caught up in the short-lived hype and emotion that surrounds those particular 24 hours between December 31 and Jan 1. Which camp do you fall into? Or do you fall somewhere in between?

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A picture says a thousand words on behalf of the photographer and the viewer too.

There’s an estimate that gives the number of photographs taken in 2015 as 1 trillion. 1 trillion! Instagram, SnapChat, Facebook and Twitter allow us to say a thousand words with one picture. And we do. We snap our food, that weird person in front of us in the line at the supermarket, that beautiful sunset on our way home from work, our toddler caught in the act on being cute and so on and so forth.

Six photographers each had separate sessions with the same man, and the outcome was different in each case. Each photographer was given a different bio about the subject and the result was different in each case. The subject dressed the same for every photo session, but the photographer who was told that he was a recovering alcoholic captured him differently from the one who was told that he was a billionaire. Fascinating stuff!
So what’s more important: the point of view of the photographer or the point of view of the person looking at the photograph? As the article referenced above posits, images are indeed captured in a way that betrays or illustrates the photographer’s own biases and preferences. I photograph my own food all the time. I do it when I think I’ve prepared it well, or when I’ve prepared something new and I capture it this way so I can share it (because you care!) and look back at it and enjoy it all over again. Food is in my top 3 favourite things in the world. Without apology.
I capture family moments when we’re out and about for much the same reasons stated above. It’s fun to look back and remember that perfect day at the beach, or when we huffed and puffed up that mountain trail. Children change so quickly and looking back only fuels feelings of wonderment and gratitude.
Confession: I like to photograph random people too. I’d like to do it more often, but I’m scared to do it. I wonder about their stories. I make assumptions about them. I want to know what they think. And from time to time I wish I was brave enough more often to ask strangers for their permission to photograph them. On those occasions when I simply took the bull by the horns and was straightforward with a potential subject, politely requesting permission to take their picture I was indulged. I’d like to do more of these types of photographs.
My daughter photographs differently. Her images, to me, tend to be more artistic and she has, in my opinion, a natural eye for composition and focal points. Look at how we both captured Christmas dinner:
Kelly’s pic: I wanted to showcase my food
Rachael’s pic: She wanted perhaps to capture a vibe
Only she can articulate why she captures what she does the way she does. But when I started trying to identify my favourite photographs of hers, I quickly identified a recurring theme in my own head. What do the following photos communicate to you? Do you like them? Why?
“Anything is possible” is what these photographs communicate to me. I worry. A lot. Not sure if it is as a result of how I make my living as a worker in logistics and supply management where we constantly have to evaluate risk and form contingency plans, or if I ended up in this field because of my natural propensity to think of the worst possible outcomes. But even while I contemplate the worst that could happen, I consider myself the eternal optimist, always looking forward, anticipating better days. Looking up in spite of decaying walls closing in…doorways leading into new rooms, movement away from and into…verdant life around the still standing, though decaying structure.
NOTE: Rachael and I aren’t trained photographers. But with technology the way it is, we can express ourselves and capture images important to us and images we think you’d like to share, in the way we want to share it, with our own biases and filters (pun intended). Ain’t life grand 🙂
A picture is still worth a thousand words.

Independence: Nothing more than a warm and fuzzy feeling at best. Remembering Tisha.

I’m sad. In 1962 Jamaicans were hopeful as we claimed our independence from Britain. It is 2015. Here we are. It makes the news when an eternally malfunctioning elevator at the public hospital in Kington is fixed. Horror stories, almost unbelievable, about the absence of basic medical supplies in the public health system become a daily fixture on radio talk shows.  Bombarded with one political scandal after another (think Trafigura, Cuban Light Bulb, Manat-Phillips-Phelps, Finsac, Tivoli incursion to name a few) our numbness renders us impassive to constitutional breeches that could have serious repercussions down the road. If you’ve ever been the position of having to find suitable hires, then I need not regale you with how the educational system has failed. We have had rehashed anti-crime programmes thrust upon us ad naseum, with nothing but rising crime, more sophisticated in its organisation. The generation before my own has failed, and I suspect that my own children will say that we have failed them too. We haven’t fought for better. We have tolerated mediocrity, and some of us have been complicit when it suited a personal agenda.

This morning I remembered Tisha*. Tisha was a HEART trainee with the organisation. She was quiet and diligent. She was well spoken and shy. One morning she brought some documents to my office for my signature. She greeted me with her quiet voice and pleasant smile. As I scanned the documents and signed, we began talking. I am a prober by nature. I stopped signing and sat back. She had caught my attention with her thoughtful, well constructed answers to my probing. It turned out that Tisha had 10 CSEC subjects, sciences included. Yet here she was, a filing clerk in a programme that demanded no more than 4 CSEC subjects.

“I wanted to go to 6th form to do A levels and then head on to University to do medicine. But my family couldn’t afford it. My father told me that it was time for me to get a job and do my part.” 

I probed further.

“I wanted to do medicine” she explained with a sad smile.

“So what is your plan B then?” I insisted.

Tisha was stumped. The notion of a plan, much less a plan B had never occurred to her.

“Listen” I said…”Med school may be out of your reach. Let me be honest with you. But that does not mean that you have to put all professional aspirations on hold. If I told you that you could go to University, but that you couldn’t do medicine, what would you do?”

“Accounts” she offered.

“Now we can plan!” I said excitedly.

“But I have to have A levels” she said worriedly.

“No, no, no! To do A levels now would add years and cost to your journey. Here’s what you can do: get out of this HEART internship and get a real job. Then apply to UTECH. Then apply for a student’s loan.”

We had the start of a plan. Every week I’d check with Tisha re: the job hunt. In about 2 months she told me that she had a firm offer that would pay her much more than the HEART position. I guided her with respect to the timing of the resignation from HEART. I took her to the Students Load Bureau and guided her application to UTECH.

Tisha moved on. I heard that she was doing a degree in Business Admin at UTECH and I rejoiced. Tisha had been suffering a double whammy: lack of resources and lack of guidance.

I ran into Tisha about 4 years later at the public library. We embraced, and then she introduced me to her toddler daughter shyly. I cut straight to to chase: “So did you finish your degree?”

“No” she replied softly, head down. “I had one more year to do, but I had to stop.”

I encouraged her to enquire about the possibility of doing it part-time, and of the need to marshal all her resources into completing that degree.

I never kept in touch. I hope her story ended well.

Free education was never really free. As a nation we never defined how education would be paid for. The result has been a diminishing quality of product year after year after year.

Decades after so called independence, our safety nets and support structures for a marginalized population are not at all robust. Our young lack opportunities and guidance. Independence bestowed a warm and fuzzy feeling. Not a thing more.

What next then?

I suspect that we will have to an about face for better to come. The current trajectory, be it green or orange will continue the descent into poverty, inequity and hopelessness.

*name changed

Language (Music) versus Science

So the other day, en route to school and work, the conversation took a very interesting turn.  The following question was posited: “We accept that the world today is a better place than it was during the era of the Cavemen.  Is it this way because of scientific advances or because of the arts…use of language specifically?”

Little Master and Miss World offered their view points, but none of us was able to offer a definitive answer.  I opened the discussion to the Circle of Truth.  The Circle of Truth consists of my 5 siblings, my parents and depending on the topic, we’ll include my Cousin Robbie, an academic with a wicked sense of humour and very sharp political chops. Anyone makes a comment, asks a question, offers an opinion via email since we are all over the globe, and the Circle of Truth weighs in with the candor and wit that characterizes my beloved family. This particular topic didn’t stimulate a lot of chatter…only about 10 emails.  Other topics have yielded up to 50 emails… sigh.  I love them. But I kept pondering this question.

The other day H and I were discussing Obama and his performance in this second term. That’s a whole other post, and one that I feel ill-equipped to tackle, given my (lack of) proximity to where the action is at and my ignorance of The System in Washington, which has probably contributed to his sub par delivery on our expectations.  The point though is this: Obama is a brilliant orator whose deliverables haven’t matched up to his words.  So the question: Of what use eloquence and pretty language?

I remember the first time I heard Barak Obama.  This young, black senator from Illinois was addressing some democratic convention or other.  My TV was tuned to CNN and I was walking up and down tidying beds and folding laundry.  I think the first thing that got my attention was his cadence…”That’s a black man!”, I thought to myself.  I started to listen to his words. I found myself putting down the clothes and sitting on the edge of my bed.  I was transfixed.  He painted a vision so compelling, he articulated a point so eloquently that I, by the single act of merely listening to him, felt drawn into what he was saying.  I remember declaring to H that evening when he came home that there was a young black Democratic senator from Illinois that we should keep our eye on.  “He’s going places” I declared. The rest, as they say, is history.

 So he sounded good.  He got our attention. Fast forward to January 2009, Obama’s inauguration speech.  The whole world was tuned in I would think.  Here was the first black president of the USA, a country where not a generation earlier, blacks were relegated to the back of the bus. I was no different.  I was in my office, huddled with a few colleagues and one consultant. There was silence as we hung on his every word.  Every hair on my body stood on end as Obama approached the end of his speech and uttered the following:

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:
“Let it be told to the future world…that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive…that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it].”
America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

 In that moment, Obama was talking to me. I was at one of the lowest points in my life. I felt as if I had nothing. But like Washington stated, hope and virtue, available from within, were the only resources I had at my disposal, and by God, I was NOT going to be defeated.

During his campaign, Obama ignited the hopes of millions with a simple phrase: “Yes we can.” Americans voted in record numbers because all of a sudden, possibility thinking took hold.  And this started with words. With language.  That he may not have delivered to date as we hoped has nothing to do with what he was able to do with his words.  There are reasons, and we ought not to diminish the impact and utility of his language despite execution challenges.

Throughout the ages, words have inspired, have articulated, have illuminated, have challenged and expressed.  Words are the medium by which we explain and wrangle new insights from the world around us.  Without language, we perhaps would be unable to progress scientifically. There is nothing more beautiful to me that a well articulated thought. Words turn me on.

Which leads me to music. William Congreve, in The Mourning Bride, 1697 declared:

Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast,
To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.

 We concur. Music has soothed me in troubled times…has stirred faith in uncertain times.. has energised me when I needed it…has expressed my deepest feelings when I’ve felt inarticulate…has given vent to violent emotions of anger and hurt. Music has also simply connected at a very soulish level and allowed me to simply derive absolute pleasure.

There were times when I sang this simple church chorus and got life…strength to progress to the next moment:

“You are not a God created by human hands….
You are God alone…”

There are moments when I feel the need to channel my inner gangster against The Man and in those instances Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg’s “Ain’t Nuthin but a G Thang” becomes my anthem.

And there are songs that express my feelings of love and my need for physical satisfaction way more eloquently than I ever could: Let’s Stay Together, Sexual Healing, Would you Mind, Rock me Tonight….

Is it the lyrics? What role do the melody and the beat play?
One may argue that it is the lyrics (words) that are the agents of hope for tomorrow. Even if this is so, it is melody that provides a vehicle by which we internalise and take on these lyrics that take life within us.  And I cannot ignore the rhythm.  I am no musicologist, but I can certainly declare the effect on my emotions and feelings of certain rhythms, certain beats… the pulsating sexuality of Sexual Healing and Bump and Grind, the bounce of Show and Tell, the slow grind of That’s the Way  Love Goes and the gotta-get-up and dance of Got to be real for example.

Melody, by and of itself, also gives life. Think. There is an almost acoustic version of the Taxi rhythm, with a dominant piano presence that forces me to stop and revel in the rhythmic beat and hypnotic riffs of what is arguably one of the baddest reggae rhythms in life. The first movement of the Sonata Pathetique by Beethoven, which I heard for the first time as as 13 year old doing piano lessons struck, impressed, impassioned me in such a visceral, organic way that I attempted to learn it…Beethoven remains my favourite classical composer. I sense turbulence and passion throbbing beneath his distinct, beautiful melodies that somehow connects with my own deep running undercurrents, almost invisible to passersby in the face of a seemingly together facade on the surface…

I am not qualified to dissect the impact of melody and rhythm and lyrics in the total construct that we define as music and quantify their relative impact. I can only share with you what music as a whole does for me.

So let’s go back to the original question: “We accept that the world today is a better place than it was during the era of the Cavemen.  Is it this way because of scientific advances or because of the arts…use of language specifically?”

As I contemplated this question I chuckled to myself this afternoon as I made my way home.  Last night we enjoyed the best of R&B music at the Soul in the Sun music festival in Montego Bay, Jamaica.  Peabo Bryon, Jeffery Osbourne and Freddie Jackon stirred my soul. I was literally on my feet from 7pm until 2:30 am when we left. I was the designated driver who did the 3 hour commute back home, windows wide open, radio on to prevent me from falling asleep at the wheel. It was totally worth it. I grooved. I rocked. I felt.  Why was it so important to me to rank art vs science? Isn’t it obvious that they both can and should co-exist as equals? That there is no science without art.. that none is better than the other… That as humans we are indeed multi-dimensional, housers of both the Scientist and the Artist. The Scientist cannot work without the Artist giving him a voice and inspiration. The Artist will not survive without the benefits emanating from the Scientist’s work.