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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Continuing the Journey

During the past twelve months I have been promoting my latest book, “Ma William and Her Circle of Friends”—a story of a shopkeeper and her gang of “trusted” friends set in my home village of St. Joseph on the island of Dominica.

As a “Jack of all”— writer, publisher, promoter, artist, editor, salesman—whatever role was needed, I found myself playing it. I had to find ways to bring the story of this woman and her friends to the bookshelves, Nooks, Kindles and libraries of readers wherever Ma William was available.

It has been a challenge doing all this, while at the same time working a full-time job and taking care of some health issues. However, I’d be telling a lie if I said that the journey has not been worth it. Yes, there were many rough times, but also some very rewarding ones. The support and approval of my work outweighed or outnumbered the objections.

I have had the opportunity to work with a wonderful person, Eunice Nisbett of Savvy BestSellers, who offered tremendous support and with whose assistance I was able to embark on my first Virtual Book Tour from May 13th – 18th. We were also able to create and launch this blog site. Eunice has been instrumental in getting my work promoted on caribdirect.com affording me the exposure needed to promote my book regionally. We have been continually working on finding new avenues and better ways to promote my work; and lay the groundwork for new projects.

I have also had the opportunity to participate in a few events and meet with other writers/authors: the Yonkers Book Festival, the Yonkers Riverfest, and the Collingswood Book Festival; as well as at the DARDA Independence Day Celebrations and the Know Your Culture Independence Gala. The experience has been well worth it. I joined the Dominica Poetic Circle – a Facebook group, and have used the opportunity to network and continue the promotion, not only of ‘Ma William and Her Circle of Friends,” but also of my other books, my photography and paintings, and to share my work with other members of the group. I also created and designed my own book-trailer which has been posted to YouTube.

There have been a few disappointments along the way—a sense of what I think is the lack of support for local authors and maybe I can generalize here—for local artists. My belief is that too often our work is treated as second class. I don’t know if it is the fault of the artists or our general attitude that something by someone else is always better. However, the support that is forthcoming from those who appreciate what we do, blunts the effects of the rejection and negativity. In essence, the passion for your craft is the driving force behind it all.

A friend recently forwarded me a link. The article that was attached to that link dealt with Playin’ Mas by blogger “Akers” and one of the chapters in “Ma William and Her Circle of Friends” was a source of what was referenced for her article. Behind The Mask: Playin’ Mas. I felt good that my work was used by someone to talk about something that all of us in Dominica, and some other countries in the Caribbean, are familiar with—Playin’ Mas. Ma William has been about life, as I saw it then and as the people of St. Joseph lived it then.

Christmas is a few days away and I can see the activity going on in Ma William’s shop. I can hear Ma William and Ma Simbert discussing what they would be doing for Christmas. Paul, bringing some yams for Ma William to sell for him in the shop; Bamboo, trying to get a few little odd jobs to have some money in his pocket; Pappy, doing his best to stay as the “big boy” in the group and, not the least among them, Mr. Jones having to tell everyone if he had received “greenbacks” from his children in the US. They would all be talking of what they would do after midnight mass. As “nennen,” Ma William would be getting her little packages ready to give to the many god-children who would be stopping by during the season. Yes, that was it back then!

So as I wind down 2012, it’s time to look ahead to new projects. Yes, I’ll continue promoting “Ma William and her Circle of Friends,” “Mesye Kwik! Kwak!” and “The Island Man Sings His Song,” but there is more that I’d like to share. What is it? We’ll see, if the Almighty grants me the opportunity. Some readers have asked about a sequel to Ma William…very interesting I find and an unexpected request, I may add. Others have asked me when I plan to publish the next book. I won’t commit to anything yet, but hopefully that won’t be too long from now.

In the interim let me say thanks for the support and encouragement of so many of you out there. I sincerely appreciate it. Special thanks to caribdirect.com and thedominican.net for continuing to feature my writing. To those of you who have not yet bought your copy, here’s your opportunity to get one as a gift for someone or for yourself, this Christmas. I assure you it will be a wonderful gift that you, or that special someone, will cherish for a very long time.

All the best and a Blessed and Merry Christmas to You and Your Families.

Giftus