From my window
Another year has passed and it's time to touch base again. We are all so busy and distracted by the many loops that life throws our way that we get disconnected from one another; the least i can do is try to make contact with you once a year. Despite this minimal attempt, some of you still don't know where i am or what i'm doing. Stuff that i reported on last year apparently went in one ear and eye and out the other, or more appropriately, into the Inbox and out with the Trash.
Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.
Simone Adolphine Weil, 1909-1943, French Philosopher, Essayist, MysticSo habitual is the trance of ordinary life that one could say that human beings are a race that sleeps and awakens, but does not awaken fully. Because half-awake is sufficient for the task we customarily do, few of us are aware of the dysfunction of our condition.
Arthur Joseph Deikman, 1929-, American Psychiatrist, Writer
DC Pride, June 2003 - Capitol in the background
Having moved to Washington DC in January 2002, i'd been staying with Carl Neita and his partner, Namon. I got my own apartment in August, and it's a gem. It was the first place that i looked at, but just to make sure i wasn't missing out on something better, i checked out several others. It's only an efficiency, but it's spacious and conveniently located, three doors from the Metro and across the street from the supermarket.
Though at the confluence of two major thoroughfares, Georgia and New Hampshire Avenues, it is peaceful and quiet, overlooking a cul-de-sac dominated by a giant oak which keeps me company and signals the passing seasons. The rent is affordable, particularly for this area, but that is only because the building is old and run-down. The ancient elevator is immobile more often not, from unavailabity of replacement parts, so climbing five flights has become an unavoidable part of my exercise regime. The advantages of living on the top floor, sharing the arboreal height with birds and squirrels, far outweigh any fatigue i may experience: less disturbance from the to-ing and fro-ing of neighbors, an aeriel prospect of the spires and turrets of northwest DC, more light streaming through the windows enabling potted plants to grow. I'm nursing them indoors over the winter and will attempt to cultivate scotch-bonnet pepper in the spring.
Not having had my own kitchen since i lived in Martha Brae, Trelawny three years and four addresses ago, i've resumed cooking with gusto, savoring the erstwhile fresh herbs from the window-sill and enjoying home-made whole-grain loaves from an almost new breadmaker i found at the thrift store. (Since having been introduced to thrift stores in Atlanta by Sammie Nicely, i only window- shop at regular stores to assess current styles and trends. Invariably i find corresponding items, in a name-brand, on my next or subsequent visit to the thrift store.) The apartment is furnished in minimalist zen style, entirely from Ikea and the thrift store, except for two bentwood cafe chairs which i got from Carl for dining. The only touch of opulence is the Afghani rug at the front door; i got it after Miss Norma, a former vendor participant at the Alternative Market which i used to run in Kingston, and now a regular at Eastern Market, set me up with a carpet seller there. After having lived in other people's spaces for so long, it's been fun to play house once more, especially starting with a clean slate. I fled Jamaica with only two suitcases, one of them a carry-on, somewhat relieved of the burden of years of accumulation.
To accumulate possessions is to deliver pieces of oneself to dead things. Possessions can absorb an emotional cathexis, but unlike personal relationships they feed nothing back.
I'll make sure to keep my needs simple. I must be the only person in America without a TV and a cell phone. Jessica Jones was good enough to lend me a radio, only the best, a Bose Wave, on which i can listen to NPR, R&B and classical music. I've been enjoying the "holiday" music (the apparently politically-correct euphemism for Christmas here), listening to obscure carols i learnt 50 years ago at the Servite Convent and have never or rarely heard since: "Il est nait," "Sing Lullaby," and "Infant Holy, Infant Lowly" among others.
Every time i hear The Messiah , i remember braving with John Scott the tense pre-election atmosphere in 1980 to attend the National Chorale's performance at East Queen Street Baptist Church in downtown Kingston. Because of the contrast with what was happening in the streets outside, the experience inside was particularly moving and powerful. Howard University Radio, WHUR, plays reggae, dancehall and soca regularly. If i really want to hear island sounds, i have only to open my windows as there are a number of Jamaican and Caribbean occupants in the building. The smell of curry goat in the lobby alerted me to their presence.
My riches consist not in the extent of my possessions, but in the fewness of my wants.
It has been a self-affirming and deeply satisfying challenge to learn to do with less, to appreciate true value, to be less distracted by the appeal of the marketplace.
Enhanced awareness adds luster to simple things and everyday events, so that what may seem a turn toward a more austere life is often a discovery of subtler, less perishable riches ... Voluntary simplicity is an attitude, not a budget: thoughtful consumption, resistance to artificially created "needs," sensitivity to the limits of natural resources, a more human scale for living and working ... Voluntary simplicity is neither altruistic nor a sacrifice. It can even be hedonistic. Simple lifestyles can become a pleasure in themselves.
Healy Hall, a landmark at Georgetown University which was founded 1789 by the Jesuits, one of the oldest universities in America
In any event, my earnings from my job would not allow me to indulge in any other lifestyle since it barely covers the basics. I've been at Georgetown University Bookstore for over a year now, and while i've had a promotion with a $1 hour increase, it does not begin to provide any kind of security. It's a good thing i have other resources from working and saving all these years, having learnt well the lessons of thrift, moderation and fiscal prudence from Momma. The work is physically demanding but i manage it well and they seem to appreciate me, giving me more responsibility as they discover my ability.
Efficiency of a practical flawless kind may be reached naturally in the struggle for bread. But there is something beyond - a higher point, a subtle and unmistakable touch of love and pride beyond mere skill; almost an inspiration which gives to all work that finish what is almost art - which is art.
GU Bookstore Backroom
They've been very accommodating of my scheduling requests that give me time to write. As a result i work three 10-hour days and an obligatory 6 on Saturdays so i'll have three days off. That's when we don't have special events like Alumni or Parent Weekends. They know i'm looking for something that pays more and would like me to remain but their hands are corporately tied. Naturally, if something better comes up, i'm out of there.
It's ironic that some years back i hired Shairoon Singh, an economic refugee from Guyana to then relatively more prosperous Jamaica, to fill a position at Xaymaca Craft similar to that which i now hold. She subsequently migrated to New York. Now here i am, a refugee, doing virtually what she did in my business. Is this karma or what? Nevertheless, one is grateful, the bills get paid.
Hire out yourself to work which is beneath you rather than become dependent on others.
The highest reward for a man's toil is not what he gets for it, but what he becomes by it.
I've brought the anthology of quotations to a stage of completion and sending it to prospective literary agents. I await a favorable response from one willing to take it on and find me a publisher. I'm afraid if it's not published soon, it'll become even more voluminous and unwieldy - the manuscript is already 3300 pages long - as i continue to add to it. Then Oxford or Encyclopaedia Brittanica may be the only options. I've been doing it now for three years and it's hard to stop.
The majority of those who put together collections of verses or epigrams resemble those who eat cherries or oysters: they begin by choosing the best and end by eating everything.
My application for asylum has still not been decided. I had what my lawyer and i thought to be a very positive interview with the BCIS (formerly INS) officer in August. I was to have received his decision two weeks later, but he subsequently informed us that because i'd been in the media, the case had to be referred to someone higher than him. There has been absolute silence despite a follow-up letter from my lawyer. The media publicity to which he referred had to do with my appearing in Songs of Freedom , the first film to examine gay life in Jamaica. To make matters worse, i appear in another film, made for PBS and now doing the rounds at LGBT film festivals, Dangerous Living: Coming Out in the Developing World . I still have not seen it as it has not yet been shown in DC and i missed the New York screening. This, i suppose, is the price one pays for notoriety, and not sitting down and keeping quiet. After Jamaica, you'd have thought i would have learned ... but this is America, isn't it? It's so difficult to be yourself.
Celebrating after the New York premiere of Songs of Freedom - the filmmaker, Phillip Pike is 3rd from left, at Gobo , a gourmet vegetarian restaurant to die for
To be nobody but yourself in a world that's doing its best night and day to make you everybody else, means to fight the hardest battle any human can fight and never stop fighting.
Of course, i will not be daunted; if one door closes, i'll look for one that is opening. Maybe i should have fled to Canada to begin with. They seem to be much more liberal there, what with now legal same-sex marriage and all. A friend who applied for asylum there two years after i did in the US, has been approved already.
One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar.
Not much to share about the clan. Relatives are notoriously lax when it comes to keeping in touch. After all, besides sharing the same gene pool and maybe having had to endure enforced cohabitation, what else do we have in common? Each to their own busy lives, with their own issues and interests. Eldest sister, Lily, is the most faithful in calling. She and members of the Lee clan went on a reunion cruise through the Caribbean. Other sibling, Gwen, religiously sends birthday and Christmas cards and e-mail. Niece, Gillian (Chin) Mooyoung, calls often with info she's turned up on unclaimed bank accounts. Niece Betty (Lee/Rennalls) Chung called from San Francisco while on vacation. She had mailed me some See's Chocolates from there but the rats got to them before i could; apparently anthrax is not the only hazardous infestation in the US postal system.
The three youngest members, my grand-nieces, Alexa Peffers, Cindy Chin, Asia Chung
Rev. John Scott
My brother in spirit, John Scott, continues to support me with his love, taking care of my townhouse in Kingston which is now vacant and up for sale. He will have the unenviable task of going through my stuff, shipping some to me, storing and disposing of the rest. This has been a pivotal year for him: in August he completed his studies in Religious Science and was appointed Assistant Minister at the Temple of Light; his dear mother, Daisy, made the transition in October. Her warmth and irrepressible spirit will long remain in the memory of all who knew her, not to mention her sumptuous Christmas pudding and rum sauce, especially at this time of year.
Mark and Trudy
Mark Ramsay continues to endure the cold of Montreal. He met one of his sisters, Trudy, for the first time recently, and discovered she was family in more ways than one.
Life is short and we have never too much time for gladdening the hearts of those who are traveling the dark journey with us. Oh, be swift to love, make haste to be kind.
This instant is a new beginning for all. If you really jump into a now-moment you will be completely renewed.
It is only when life is overwrought with the tyranny of doing that we miss the joy of being; and it is only the consciousness of being that makes us capable of any worthy action.
Listen to your life; see it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness; touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because, in the last analysis, all moments are key moments and life itself is grace.
We are not here just to survive and live long … We are here to live and know life in its multi-dimensions, to know life in its richness, in all its variety. And when a man lives multi-dimensionally, explores all possibilities available, never shrinks back from any challenge, goes, rushes to it, welcomes it, rises to the occasion, then life becomes a flame, life blooms.
We may be moved and spiritually changed by the mythological traditions of the past, but what they reveal to us is not the gods in the sky, but the patterns of our own evolution from plant to animal to primate to human being and beyond. The place of mystery is in the working of the human mind.
Awe is an intuition for the dignity of all things, a realization that things not only are what they are but also stand, however remotely, for something supreme. Awe is a sense of transcendence, for the reference everywhere to mystery beyond all things. It enables us to perceive in the world intimations of the divine, to sense in small things the beginning of infinite significance, to sense the ultimate in the common and the simple; to feel in the rush of the passing the stillness of the eternal. What we cannot comprehend by analysis, we become aware of in awe.
People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don't even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child - our own two eyes. All is a miracle.
We have been looking for the burning bush, the parting of the sea, the bellowing voice from heaven. Instead we should be looking at the ordinary day-to-day events in our lives for evidence of the miraculous.
If we open our eyes, if we open our minds, if we open our hearts, we will find that this world is a magical place. It is magical not because it tricks us or changes unexpectedly into something else, but because it can be so vividly and brilliantly.
The sacred is not in the sky, the place of transcendent, abstract principle, but rather is based on this earth, in the ordinary dwelling places of our lives, in our gardens and kitchens and bedrooms.
Let us pause to celebrate this time we share together, not knowing how much longer each of us will be around, appreciating the essence of each one in our lives, acknowledging their unique presence.
As we begin what we call a New Year, let us look back on the past, only to learn what we may, and move on. Each moment, each day, each year presents a new opportunity, a new occasion for choice. Regardless what has happened, we can begin anew.
Be careful though not to be too busy doing and getting to simply be.
Have an awesome - in it's original, non-hackneyed sense - Christmas, Hanukkah, Diwali, Kwanzaa, or whatever other name or form your Northern Winter Solstice Celebration takes, remembering this is only a pause to help us to awareness of the wonder that we are. The best i could wish you is to hold this awareness throughout the year, whatever the season, festival or holiday. Every day of life is to be celebrated.
Wherever you are, however brief your reply, it would be great to hear from you.
With Great Love,
Quotations from unpublished manuscript Wisdom for the Soul: Five Millennia of Prescriptions for Spiritual Healing