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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Looking Back-Yet Moving Forward

 

ma-william-book-cover-x-small2.jpgThe last leg of my artistic and literary journey for 2013 has come to an end and I am now standing in the doorway of 2014, waiting expectantly to enter the different rooms and see what is in store for me. Hopefully, it will be a year of continued growth based on the seeds that were planted and nurtured throughout the year.

I entered 2013 with some skepticism since I was trying to get back on course after a few health issues that derailed some of my plans the prior year, yet I was able to achieve a few of the set goals, but not close to what I had envisioned.

My main effort of concentration in 2013 was working on promoting my book, “Ma William and Her Circle of Friends,” and I put a lot of effort and time–long, late hours–finding creative ways to reach out to the Dominican public and share the story of Ma William-a shopkeeper in the village of St. Joseph, or, of any village in the island and possibly the Caribbean. I had to find innovative ways to do so on Facebook and online generally, while at the same time working a full-time job. But nonetheless, I gave it my all and throughout the year I participated in a number of events by Dominican organizations, where I displayed my work. At the same time, I have been working on two new projects and also trying to keep this blog current and trying to remain sane while all other things circled around me.

I stepped down as a member of the Dominican Poetic Circle (DPC) after unwarranted attacks of my work and my ability, made by a member of the group on the DPC Facebook site. That gave me the incentive to push on alone to achieve goals that I had set for myself. I became more focused on my own pages on Facebook; Ma William and Her Circle of Friends and Mesye Kwik! Kwak! as well as my personal page, and went on promoting my work much more than I had done previously and gained personal satisfaction from so doing. However, none of that would have been possible without the support of a number of individuals, most of whom I met on Facebook and DPC, but have never met personally, who rallied behind me and supported me through it all.  Les Li, Jenny James, Joszann St. John, Eunice Nisbett, Delia Cuffy-Weekes, Kalinago Woryi, Paula John, Gloreen Vigilant, Rhona Lawrence and Marva Paul Loblack, among others.

I also had the opportunity to assist and work with some other Dominican authors throughout the year. I was extremely pleased and gratified that I could assist in their projects and honored for the trust and confidence they placed in me by seeking my help and advice: Catherine Pierre, Joszann St. John and Gweneth Jules-Moorhouse, most notably.

As a self-published author, it has not been an easy task to get the work in the hands of the public, but it is a challenge that I have embraced and appreciated and I do not spare any available opportunity to promote my work. If I don’t then who will…Well, some will, I should say, like Jenny James, an individual I have met only on Facebook, who has wholeheartedly given me her  support by promoting all aspects of my work. I thank Jenny for her unselfish act and I cannot be more humbled by it all. The literary journey that began over 40 years ago at the St. Mary’s Academy, has given me the opportunity to reach many individuals both in Dominica and overseas, and I have gained a lot of satisfaction and personal growth along that journey.

At the beginning of 2013, I decided to devote more time than I previously had to my paintings and that, too, turned out to be a rather pleasant surprise. I have been amazed by the feedback that I have received about my paintings and I have been left to wonder if my painting is beginning to overshadow my writing. It has been refreshing the manner in which many have gravitated to my paintings and this was very apparent when I was working on my latest piece which I entitled The Village. There were daily comments made on my Facebook page by those who were rather impressed with the piece. And all this after I had gone into hiding for over 25 years…well to my daughter’s angst, I must say. But all is well now.

Jenny2

2013 also saw a new perspective in terms of my photography. I devoted much more time in order to push myself and do more; create more and showcase my capabilities behind the camera. I recently joined the Newark Camera Club based in Springfield, NJ and the rewards have been instantaneous. I have the opportunity to see other photographers at work and get insights and ideas from them.

I have not been more energized than I have been these past three months and I am enjoying it all. God-given talents are not to be left stored away, I learnt, so I am more invigorated than ever before.

I organized an exhibition of all my works as part of Dominica’s Independence celebrations on the 3rd of November at the Knights of Columbus in my hometown, Union, NJ. To say the least, I was disappointed with the response from those whom I had invited, but I cannot in any way discount the appreciation I had for those who attended; some coming from the Bronx and Brooklyn. Besides, I was proud to display my work and feel a sense of accomplishment regardless of the turnout. I saw this as a foundation to build on and an opportunity to feel the response of those who attended and share a little bit of me with them.

But, besides the few hiccups that I experienced during the year, there were a few bright spots added to those of my artistic journey. There were some family accomplishments that helped lift my spirit. My son, Jamal, graduated from Temple University with a Civil Engineering degree and soon after that was able to get employment; my daughter, Mandisa, returned to the University of Pennsylvania to do a Master’s Degree in Education, and me, I worked on getting myself healthy again, while having to deal with one of the low points of the year…my wife being laid off from her job. Although this has given us the opportunity to share a lot of time together, it was not the way we had envisioned things. It however, allowed her the time to critique my work as I produced my pieces. The situation is out of our control so we will work together to make it better.

But, as I stand in the doorway of 2014, I am very optimistic of what lies ahead. I don’t know what to expect, but I am determined to build on what I laid down in 2013. Getting the time to build on it will be at times difficult, I know, but the results will be what I focus on. I have not been fortunate to attend The Dominica Literary Festival…will this be the year? I am still not sure. I also want to take all aspects of my work to another level and with the support of my family, both here and in Dominica, and all the Jennys out there, I will be able, I pray, to do so. I will continue to participate in activities where I can meet fellow Dominicans, and God willing, financing available, I look forThe Garden - Copyward to being able to get another project completed and published this year. It will be a tough mountain to climb, but each journey begins with a single step…I have made that step.

I am very excited about what I will find in the various rooms as I walk through, but whatever, I am ready. I also look forward to continuing to work with other authors and writers with whom I have partnered during the past year and I hope that together we can turn the tide about the literary development in Dominica and by Dominicans. I will continue to use the social networks to my fullest advantage and expose to, not only my Facebook friends, but anyone who cares, my work as an artist and the creations produced from such abilities. Hopefully, that can translate into some financial rewards, also. Don’t want to be a starving artist, you know.

So, let me say a sincere Thank You to all who have been on that journey with me during 2013. It was indeed a pleasure and a wonderful journey. I invite you to come along with me again this year as I journey through the various rooms, chapters,the hills, mountains, plains, on the seas and rivers, as 2014 rolls along.

God’s richest blessings to all.