An Introspective Look at Self, Emotion, Spirituality and Talent of an Artist.

(I originally wrote this post without a heading because I was not sure what title I should use. As I usually do, I gave my wife, Theresa, to review what I had written and also asked her for her suggestion as to what I should use as a title. Two days later, I went ahead without her knowledge and created my own heading-as above- and when we got back home that night I asked her if she had come up with a heading. Well. I guess we are one for a reason….Need I say more? You may not believe it, but she came up with the same heading  though not as lengthy as mine. I was amazed. I thus believed the message that I wanted to share in this blog, had indeed been sent….I hope it does the same with you.)

Some of you may have noticed that I have been posting messages and mini-blogs on Facebook and wondering what may have come across Giftus because what you read sometimes does not seem to mirror the person you have known. I, too, have somewhat taken note-surprising?-but usually things happen, as many of you may know, as we go through changes in life. These changes sometimes bring out our true personalities that have been dormant or on the low side, for a while, whether good or bad.

At the beginning of 2012 I had to deal with some unfortunate situations that somewhat forced me to take a look at my own religious, emotional, spiritual and physical self. Four years before that, I was laid off from a job that I had been at for 21 years and I found myself having to join the list of unemployed looking for work.

It was a mind-boggling experience, not because of the fact that I had lost my job, but I was appalled at the manner in which those searching for jobs were being treated by employees at those job centers. Sometimes, I felt they were glad at our plight because it ensured that they had a job. To me the saying…”There is money in confusion,” did not seem more real than I experienced then. But I had to get into a program to get some benefits, so I became somewhat more of a statistic than a human being. That situation forced me to look deeper into whom I was and where I was headed. It all depended on me regardless of how those employees behaved and how frustrated and angry I had become. I was the one who had to make the decision about my life. What did it matter to them to mass us like cattle? I guess nothing at all.  Though I pray no one goes through this, and I pray I don’t go through this again, we all know it is a revolving door and nothing has changed. In fact it seems to be getting worse.

After those two life changing experiences, I decided to have a bigger view, as we say in photography, “an ultra-wide fisheye view rather than a telephoto view,” of life and what is important. I know this is relative, but it is real and unless we deal with it, with what lies at our own doorsteps, we may fall and may never get the opportunity to rise up. I know that as an artist, I have a responsibility to myself to use the God-given talents that I have been blessed with: writing, The Garden - Copyphotography and painting, because if I don’t, it will be a wasted journey. I have been given a second wind and I am setting sail on the open seas.

I realized that as an artist I have to share my talents with those whom I interact and share my joys, and my sorrows, too; my high points and low points, with them. I was somewhat embarrassed when my two children, Mandisa and Jamal, felt disappointed that I had somewhat robbed them from seeing me work on an easel and canvas. They knew I wrote books but had never seen me sitting before an easel. However, I feel good that at least, they can now share the moments with me, though I know that I can never make up the time that we lost.

I try not to be vain or boastful about my abilities, but I get a lot of satisfaction, knowing that I can do what I am capable of doing. I am in no way a “maestro,” at any of those artistic disciplines, but I feel good enough that others can admire what I do. I don’t take those gifts for-granted.

I have also become a lot more at peace, so to say, with my own spirituality and I don’t mean, religion. I am Catholic, been involved quite a bit, but I am speaking about the way I feel about my connection with the Most High. I am no evangelist or preacher and do not force my beliefs on anyone, but having come to grips with that aspect of my life and seeing it as an everyday part of my personal life, has helped me to appreciate my role as a husband and father, most of all. It has helped me focus more on what matters; what is priority. I don’t step on anyone’s toes, so I do not need anyone to do that to me in their quest to derail me.

We all have a mission to accomplish on this planet; some we chose; some were handed down to us; some were forced upon us. But it is how we carry out that mission that matters in the end. How we use the creative talents that we have to bring change; bring a sense of belonging; create a sense of pride, is what we will have to answer some time down the road. I have had time to stop and smell the paint on the canvas before I lost that ability and though what forced me to that point was a heart-wrenching event; what it forced me to do has been a life changer in many respects. I had allowed a job to take away my personal joy while trying to pursue that joy in another way. My daughter once asked me as I was about to leave for work one night. (I still can’t understand what caused her to ask that question.) “Daddy, what do you prefer? Your job, or your family?” I was surprised at the question and tried to answer it the best I could, but was this a time to stop and re-evaluate myself? Maybe it was, but we’ll never know. So I move on and thank God for the opportunity to turn things around.

I know that being an artist does not give me a license to slander or demean or degrade anyone through my art. What it does is it gives me the opportunity to share what I love and helps me create art that is enjoyable or art that evokes certain emotions and feelings in my audience, young or old, rich or poor.

I recently met one of my former students, whom I taught at the St. Mary’s Academy, at an event in New York. He indicated to me that images of paintings that I posted on Facebook were therapeutic to him. I could not understand where he was coming from until he told me that he had experienced a life threatening medical condition and the artwork was helping him in his recovery. I became very emotional when he explained what he had gone through and his process of rehab. What better than hearing this from someone like him? Someone whom I know personally. If I do nothing else but having helped him that way, I feel glad that I have done this and I will never forget that moment. This came from someone who identified with what I do because it became personal to him.

Book ClubI recently met with the Phenomenal Women Book Club of New City, NY. My greatest eye-opener was the manner in which almost every member of the club loved the book because they identified with Ma William-the shopkeeper. They were able to re-live their younger days through the characters since a number of them had had interaction with a shopkeeper either directly, or indirectly. Some indicated that they remembered doing some of the tasks that Bamboo did in the shop in their own shops. Some also expressed their fondness for the troublemaker…well, not surprising. When I created the characters, I never imagined how he (Bamboo) would have been able to weave himself into the readers’ hearts; but he has. Another reader told me she was sad that the story came to an end because she would not get to read about Bamboo anymore. Well, with his way of being slick, sly and very witty, he was smart, though not too intelligent, yet he got to have things his way in his village.

I may not have written a bestseller, but I am very happy that I have written a book that has brought a smiles to peoples’ faces. Isn’t this priceless? I think it is. All this makes my literary journey what it has become and what it is. Extremely worthwhile. Extremely self-satisfying so far…well not financially profitable yet…The old saying…artists die poor, still resonates loudly, but I do pray that someday I will be rewarded financially and will not die poor. I have bills to pay, I should say. Artists usually have to spend before we see results of the work we create.

However, to accomplish the goals I have set for myself, and to continue being the person that I should be, I need to have my spiritual, physical, talented and emotional self, all synched together or it may be a wasted journey; a fruitless journey. That is not an acceptable or desirable option.

It is left to me to stay the course and use my talent, not as show, but to show my audience the beauty of what I capture on canvas, on paper and on “film” well now replaced by disks. If I can do that then I will feel satisfied in my quest to achieve the best for this guy from St. Joseph.

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Dominican Literature and Self-Publishing

My last posting back in February, dealt with the growth of Dominican Literature and the strides that writers of Dominica – not Dominican Republic I will be quick to point out – have been making over the past years. Soon after I posted that blog I discovered two new authors who have joined the ranks of self-published authors in Dominica, or Dominican authors based overseas.

First, is a young lady from my home village of St. Joseph, Catherine Pierre who recently published Mindy Genie, in England where she lived for a while. Mindy Genie is the story of a young genie and its teenage master. The other is Gweneth Jules Moorehouse, who published Love Across the Atlantic in the USA, while she was based in Florida. Gweneth’s book is a story of romance between the author and her husband.

I recently finished reading Mindy Genie, I Lost My Cathedral, by Henry Johnson from Roseau and Love Across the Atlantic. These are the books in my little collection that I have recently purchased including Sonnets in the Waking Moments by Joszann St. John and Behind Closed Doors, which I am presently reading, by Augustina Rolle who is from Trafalgar.

Another development that has recently taken place, is the collaboration between the Domnichen Poetic Circle—a Facebook group of poets started by Dominican artist Ronald “Baba” Deschamps—and Dominica News Online. Every Friday, DNO will publish a poem by a member of the DPC. This collaboration started after one of the DPC members submitted a copy of one of her poems to DNO and it was published, paving the way for what is a good means of exposing the work of unpublished and even published writers both within and outside of Dominica.

I believe we are rapidly creating our very own niche within the Caribbean circles and hopefully as technology opens new avenues, we will get the room to develop further and our local writers will have the opportunity of having more of their works published. There are many established writers in the Caribbean and if we hope to be counted among them, we have to step up our game, so to speak.

With that said, I am aware of the numerous hurdles that many of the local writers are faced with in getting their work published, promoted and sold: the lack of a publishing house; the size of the local market; proficient editors and proofreaders, to name a few. These are some of the aspects of the publishing industry that will limit how well our writers can compete on a local, regional and international market with already established writers, many who have agents and publishing houses at their call.

Those of us who live in the United States, Canada or Europe have an advantage in that we are in a larger market and we have more resources available to us. We are not faced with issues such as the currency exchange, cost of mailing and there is a wide range of personnel that we can choose from to do some of the ground work for us, though some of us by-pass or ignore some of these resources for one reason or another.

Nowadays, many writers are not prepared to wait as long as was done in the past for a Publishing House to give an answer on a submitted manuscript and therefore, many are having their work published even if the work may not be to the standard that makes the book stand out. As I once mentioned, I had tried to get my latest book published by a Caribbean publisher, but after the initial response and a promise to contact later, I am still waiting 3 years later, which actually is not long based on publishing conditions.

I was recently asked by a budding author for some guidelines re self-publishing since she was interested in knowing what was involved. I don’t believe that I can claim to be an authority or expert on self-publishing, but after 18 years and three self-published works I believe I can share my experiences and give some advice. After what turned out to be a 3-part series on my Facebook page, I was surprised by the amount of work that is really involved in the process, and so too was the person who had sought my advice.

Many new or inexperienced authors are unaware of the ups and downs of self-publishing and that is the reason why sometimes what is supposed to be a wonderful and exhilarating experience turns out to be a harrowing experience. It is not just a matter of climbing atop Morne Diablotin to announce the publication of your book. What matters is the quality, content, and appearance so that you will be able to compete within the literary sphere. We can make the decision to self-publish or not, but it is extremely important that if we choose to go that route, we have a plan to execute that process.

I don’t know how practical it will be someday to see a publishing house in Dominica or a company geared towards publishing books and providing all the resources needed including conversion to e-books and having books available on line. I know that we have Pont Casse Press under the direction of Dr. Irving Andre and Gabriel Christian and most of their work is published under that trademark. It would be nice to see the company evolve into one that would help in the publication of works of local writers, both in Dominica and overseas.

Self-published authors need to be aware that once a proof has been signed-off the author is culpable. One has to make certain that whatever enhances the book’s quality such as the plot, cover blurb, a foreword or introduction are error free.  No one is going to blame the publisher. All blame will fall on you. We all get excited about seeing our book in print, but we must not compromise, when it comes to producing a good book.

I pray that our budding writers will get some inspiration from those among us who have stepped up to the crease (if I may use a cricket term here) and that they too can one day fall in line behind Gweneth Jules Moorehouse, Joszann St. John, Catherine Pierre, Henry Johnson and Elsa Rolle who have had the belief and confidence that they can lend their voices or hands in the continued growth of Dominica’s Literature; watering it with their thoughts, emotions and long-lasting devotion to the art form.