Saturday, August 23, 2008

Meeting yourself...

I asked a friend who had been in the convent but left – one of many women who had done that at roughly the same time – why she had come out. She explained that she couldn't speak for anyone else, but what had turned her off was that the novices had been constantly encouraged to be introspective, to look at what was wrong with them in order to correct it, to see their weaknesses and faults, so much so that everywhere she turned she felt she was "meeting herself". It wasn't an experience that she liked, so she left. Not long after she got married and started a family, and could then lose herself in concern for her husband and children. That, she preferred. It reminded me of a joke that I suspect was told to me by my counselor, a wonderful old priest, now translated. A man went to a psychiatrist and poured out his problems. The shrink listened and said to him at the end of the session: "I want you to go home, lock yourself in a room, sit quietly without interruption, and stay there for a whole morning. At the next session, we'll talk about the experience." The man went off and returned for his next session a week later. "How did it go?" the shrink asked him. "Oh very well!" the man replied. I read this terrific book, and the time flew by." "That's not what I said you should do," the doctor replied. "Now I want you to go home, and do as I said. Lock yourself in a room, sit quietly without interruption, and stay there for a whole morning." So off the man went. ""How did it go?" the shrink asked him when he came the next week. "Oh very well!" the man replied. I listened to a new recording of Beethoven's fifth. It was wonderful. The time zipped by." "Those weren't my instructions," the doctor countered. "I asked you to go home, lock yourself in a room, sit quietly without interruption, doing nothing at all, and stay there for a whole morning." The man became extremely agitated. "You can't possibly mean that," he replied. "You want me to keep my own company for an entire morning? That would drive me nuts!" I empathize with my friend who left the convent. Nobody wants to have their nose rubbed in their faults. But it's how she put it that made me think: "I was meeting myself at every turn." Is that something that we ought to be able to do? How important is it that we be able to keep our own company for long periods of time? Know ourselves, faults and failings really well? Because if it is important that may well explain why we need to be on Facebook and Myspace: we can't bear to encounter ourselves.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A protest

Having celebrated, it's time to protest. A recent article on the BBC Sports website ("Jamaicans hail sprint king Bolt" by Claire Stocks, 17 August 2008) quoted Mike Fennell, head of Jamaica's National Olympic committee as follows: "Our athletes have been tested constantly. When Bolt broke the world record at the National Championships and at all the championships in which he has participated in between, he and the other Jamaican sprinters (have been tested). They have been tested more times than any other athletes around - what more can you ask?" I suppose there is no point complaining, though I would think being singled out for repeated testing, more so than other athletes, constitutes unwarranted harassment, especially when the tests keep turning up negative. If the testing is in response to the burlap covered package addressed to the Jamaican Team and sent to Beijing, someone needs to have their head examined. Who in their right mind would package and label a parcel with contents of that kind, meant to reach its destination, in that way? Someone plainly wanted to embarrass the team and the country, and so wanted the parcel intercepted and the find publicized. At any rate, having swallowed their spit and endured the multiple tests, the sprinters have the last laugh. They've worked not just hard, but harder; trained not just long, but longer; aspired not just high, but higher. And they've performed not just well, but superbly. What go round, come round. Selah.

What a flash!

Well, the Bolt struck again this morning, and what a dazzling flash! It's such a pleasure to watch him run. He's graceful, like a gazelle – natural, as if it's what he was born to do! Donovan Bailey had just finished saying that he didn't think Usain would try to break the world record when, lo and behold, Usain Bolt gave himself a wonderful birthday present with a 19.30 run that broke Michael Johnson's twelve year old record of 19.32. And what a tremendous thing for him to have the whole olympic stadium, on its feet, singing "Happy Birthday!" None of the commentators' that we heard mentioned this as it was happening, but it seemed to me to the same kind of hopeful moment for the world as when Barack Obama addressed the record crowd in Berlin. People of every nationality stood to honour a young black man from a little island who had just pushed himself to do a truly remarkable thing. Then Melaine Walker following close on Usain's heels, leapt to victory in the 400 metre women's hurdles and, having finished the race, knelt on the ground – I'm guessing to give thanks. She was delighted with her victory, and unassuming as she celebrated it. I wish for these Jamaican Olympians every possible good thing in their future careers. God bless them! They are fine examples to young people everywhere, truly rejoiced by their accomplishments, wearing their glory with grace and ease. Usain is a man with a sense of humour, a great kidder who doesn't seem to take himself too seriously, an attitude some appear to regard as irreverent. But we are different people, all of us; our temperaments differ and we have our various ways of coping. I think it's Donovan Bailey who once said that, in the last analysis, the race is in your head – an observation with which Asafa Powell would probably agree. Usain's clowning is no doubt part of his strategy for keeping himself grounded, and I can't think why anyone should find this the least bit offensive. Is it perhaps that they think he should be in awe, because he is a young black man from tiny country, of being on the world stage? Because what is awesome is his prodigious talent. And what is endearing and gracious about him is that he wears his greatness so lightly.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Why blog?

No comments on other blogs just yet. Inspired in part by a blog I was reading last night that was counseling bloggers about what they do when they run out of ideas, I'm ruminating about why I'm in the business. I may say what I've said before in so doing, but indulge me, please. I guess blogs can be all things to all persons (within the law, of course) since one can pretty well do as one wishes with a blog. For some people they are strictly commercial endeavours, and there's nothing wrong with that. Earning a few dollars from ads compatible with the concerns and interests of this blog is fine by me, but that's not why I'm up here. For others, blogs are like diaries, and though in time I might add diary elements to this one, that's not my focus. It isn't a hobby blog either, or an academic one, or one with a focus like politics or sports, philately, fine art or photography. I felt called to begin it primarily because of end-of-the-world concerns, which I still have, and will continue to have for as long as we play fast and loose with the planet, and with each other and one another. Re ecological matters, I admit to having weird ideas, like the notion that earthquakes are increasingly violent because we've pumped so much oil out of the earth's crust. Those viscous masses must have been meant to do something down there, like be a buffer against the grating movements of tectonic plates. I'm no geologist, nor any other -ist, but I figure, there has to be a consequence to pumping all that stuff out. Earth, like the rest of the universe, is put together in a certain way, and we should really have tried to figure that out a bit more before we messed with it. I'm very sure that the use of atomic power, whether to make bombs or to provide energy, is a very bad idea, for the same reason. Another odd notion of mine is the fact that prayer (described as supplication to God/Allah/Jah/Supreme Spirit, or in simple terms of good will) can powerfully influence individual health, the wind and waves, the spread of disease, the height the corn grows, the way we behave individually and communally, etc., etc. I believe, as I've been saying to fsjl in comments on a recent post, that Wisdom is gracious, and reveals herself to those who seek her, humbly – and even not so humbly. So, in sum, I'm concerned in this blog with how we treat one another; how we treat the planet; how we answer our responsibility to eat bread by the sweat of our brows; how we respond to the need to share that bread; and how ready we are to deal with ordinary circumstances, as well as extraordinary ones, as they arise. I don't say "when they arise" for they've already arisen – they're all around us. After all, for the victims of the recent violent earthquakes, monsoons and tsunamis, the people who live in HIV/AIDS ravaged countries, communities torn apart by war, places where people are fighting for food, the end of the world has already come. (BTW, The 'long count' calendars of the Mayas and Aztecs end somewhere around 2012, I think. correct me, someone, if I'm wrong,) It can't hurt if we work as hard and carefully as we can, behave as well as we can, and pray the way we know how, and as earnestly as we know how. I hope the interests of this blog, as listed on the banner, reflect these matters. Aha! What about literature, Caribbean writing? Where is its place? As I've said elsewhere, literature is the first of the disciplines. After Sacred Lore came song and story. Indeed, many Sacred Books are song and story. I have always thought of the best Caribbean Song and Story as singularly inspired, and so a perfect fit for comforting us to the end of the world. Selah.

Monday, August 18, 2008


Oops. Sorry. In the last post, 'a large container facility' should have been 'a larger container facility'. Apparently there are plans to considerably extend the existing facility. It's not by any means that we don't have such a thing. John Maxwell's post ("Let them eat Croissants" ) was hung up on fsjl's blog, Stanmore Hill ( on the 10th of August. Do visit, for politics and poetry...

Some notes

Just some notes and alerts of posts to come... John Maxwell from Jamaica making a point in a commentary hung up by fsjl that the cost of transporting products from cheap labour markets is eroding their competitiveness. If I understood rightly, he was debating the virtues of building a large container facility in the port of Kingston when it's entirely possible that rather than more and more, fewer and fewer imported commodities might in future be arriving from foreign. Well worth thinking about! I think folks everywhere have become aware of the burgeoning cost of moving a product from point of origin to point of sale, hence the movement to encourage people to buy food from local farmers and other products from local artists, craftspersons, artisans. I just saw a news report of a plan to ban the sale of water in plastic bottles in certain civic spaces in Canada because of the cost of moving the bottles from point of production (a spring in France, say) to the consumer. Ecologically unjustifiable, it was felt, given the potability of water in Canadian towns and cities. It's a good thing, this being nudged into closer contact with our communities. As for upcoming posts, we'll do one soon on the action of a team of young people in Western Canada who walked out on a sports competition (in which they were doing well) as a matter of principle. They deserve to have their story told. Far from being factory products, automatons being turned out on a production line, they're true sportsmen who have grasped an important lesson, one that will serve them well in hard times to come. They know it isn't who wins (they've given up the possibility of that) or loses, but how the game is played. Indeed, it's often hard to determine who the winners and losers are, so it's as well to focus on playing a fair, well-fought game. The game in the end is named life. Perhaps, too, comments on a couple blogs... Inshallah. Geoff Philp, I notice, says Jahworld is one of his five favourites. Thanks, Geoffrey. From you, that's high praise.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Here's to three experts!

A fabulous thing! Jamaica just won one, two, two in the women's hundred metres at the Olympic Games in Beijing! Shelly-Ann Fraser took Olympic gold, leading home a clean sweep for Jamaica. (I said it just before the race: “One, two, three, ladies! One, two, three!” And so it was. Selah!) The gold medalist finished in a time of 10.78 seconds, with fellow Jamaican sprinters Sherone Simpson and Kerron Stewart sharing the silver medal after a dead heat. I’m a writer committed to re-associating sensibilities, and in that spirit, I offer the following observations. Being an athlete in competition is a harrowing business. When the gun goes off, you’re out there, in the spotlight, and it’s sink or swim, run or bruk yu foot. There’s no mediation time; no chance to go back and review what you did to see what went wrong, and where and why it went wrong, if it did; no opportunity to do it over. You invest enormous effort, ahead of time: research, rehearsal, review; then repeat the process. But it's slog, slog, slog, up ahead if you are to bring off the final, brilliant performance. Over to beating books… I'm not an academic nor a scholar, but I know a little about editing and publishing. Having edited an academic journal for fourteen years, I know that there are checks and balances, ways of making reasonably sure that the facts in an article or essay are correct – like three peer evaluators, four if need be, the perusal of the editorial board, the editor’s final review. If you write as an expert, whatever the discipline, the sensible thing to do, before you send what you write off to an editor, is have at least one other person in the know read it. Then you revise, and if necessary, send it off to some other expert for comment. That's the first line of defense. If you edit, in the sense of put together, a collection of other scholars' writings, it is your responsibility (1) to your eventual audience, (2) to the scholars whose work you bring together, and (3) to the press that will publish the book, to 'do your endeavour best' to ensure the correctness of what goes out between covers. And writers, editors and publishers are lucky: they have mediation time, the opportunity, up to the stage of final proofs, to make corrections before the book is printed. I am hard put to believe that any experts read Professor Baugh’s essay, because were that the case, these errors – and any others, because inevitably when there are some, one thinks there may be others – would have been caught. I am afraid that, true as fsjl’s assertion that "We all make mistakes" may be, I'm not wholeheartedly with him this time. If one accepts the designation "expert", then willy-nilly one removes oneself from the category of "We all..." That belongs to us inexpert common folks. And so, in sum: those three ladies barreling through to that splendid display just now had clearly done their 'utmost best' to leave as little as possible to chance. I submit that they are not just superb performers, but experts, by any yardstick. More of that expertise, please!