Alexi Rennalls: Untitled painting

Alexi Rennalls - Untitled , 2004
Photo: The Artist

The 7th Northern Winter Solstice Epistle

The sorrel has been drawn and the fruit basket is full of oranges, tangerines, grapefruit, june plums, solo sunrise papayas and a few out-of-season sugar mangoes that I was lucky to get from Purcell, my fruit vendor in Water Square. Their mingled scents perfume the crisp country air that flows unabatedly through my studio apartment which I share with Tristan and Isolde, my two cats who came down from Gallery Way to keep me company.
~ Jamaican memory from Northern Winter Solstice Epistle, 1999 ~
There is a tendency for living things to join up, establish linkages, live inside each other, return to earlier arrangements, get along whenever possible. This is the way of the world … the whole dear notion of one's own self - marvelous old free-willed, free-enterprising, autonomous, independent, isolated island of a Self - is a myth.
~ Lewis Thomas, 1913-1993 ~

So i try to keep in touch at least once a year, and the Northern Winter Solstice is as good a time as any. You and i share a collective being and i've been using this medium, now 7 years already, to give you the Year in Review, and share my recollection and perspective on events meaningful to us.

We are each other's harvest:
we are each other's business:
we are each other's magnitude and bond.

~ Gwendolyn Brooks, 1917-2000 ~

Of course, my big news for this year has been having been granted asylum in October by the US Department of Homeland Security, Citizenship & Immigration Services (CIS), in case you haven't heard, or if you have, bear with me. It brings to a close, 4 years of uncertainty as to whether i'd get a knock on the door in the middle of the night from the feds telling me to pack my grip. I had applied based on my well-founded fear of persecution due to my sexual orientation. I'm only the 3rd Jamaican as far as i know to have been so admitted. I now have to wait a year before i can apply for a green card, though i understand there's a 10-15 year wait for those as the quota reserved for asylees is far exceeded by the number of applicants. Nevertheless, i've overcome a major hurdle. I'll try to stay out of trouble and not commit any felonies that'll make them change their minds.

The Washington Blade did a feature article on me, the second time i'm appearing in its pages since they had interviewed me last year in connection with the US premiere, in Washington, of Songs of Freedom . I've set up a website Seeking Asylum to share my experience and information with potential asylees. Translations of the damaging hate lyrics of some dancehall artistes are also included. These will assist Jamaican applicants in making their case, as i'm sure they helped in my own petition. Out of their own mouths, recorded for posterity, is the damning evidence of the uneqivocal venom of our Jamaican brethren.

I-95 Form
He is free who knows how to keep in his own hand the power to decide, at each step, the course of his life, and who lives in a society which does not block the exercise of that power.
~ Salvador de Madariaga, 1886-1978 ~
The outward freedom that we shall attain will only be in exact proportion to the inward freedom to which we may have grown at a given moment. And if this is the correct view of freedom, our chief energy must be concentrated upon achieving reform from within.
~ Mahatma Gandhi, 1869-1948 ~

Other than that, i've continued to work on my anthology of quotations, Wisdom for the Soul: Five Millennia of Prescriptions for Spiritual Healing , which takes up all my spare time. The collection is basically complete, but i'm going through a final editing and major excision to bring it down to more manageable proportions. The agents that have responded have been unanimous in their horror at the gargantuan size and unmoved in their refusal. It's hard to distill the wisdom of five millennia into less than a thousand pages but i guess i have no choice but to apply assiduously the delete key. I had started to upload some of it to the internet but that exercise was interrupted by the current excisional exigency. You can see what i've done so far by going to Wisdom for the Soul. I'm gratified and honoured that a couple sites have placed links to it, and that many of you have bookmarked it. I hope this will translate into massive sales when it is published in book form.

Larry in front of store

Me in front of store
Photo: Luis Gomez

As fate would have it, i have much less time now to devote to literary pursuits as i changed jobs in August. My new assistant manager position at Utrecht Art Supplies requires that i work over 40 hours week. I find myself doing as much as when i had my own business, with almost the same responsibility and stress but not the satisfaction. I have a much shorter, easier commute to work, and the pay is better, but i miss the lighter schedule i had at Georgetown.

Beware what you set your heart upon, for it shall surely be yours.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1803-1882 ~
To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.
~ Winston Churchill, 1874-1965 ~

So i'll just set my heart upon yet another situation that'll provide me with a comfortable income and time enough to pursue what really matters. I am ashamed to admit that another assistant manager has just quit so she can spend more time writing, doing exactly what i am still too prudent to do, take the leap and follow my bliss.

It seems to me we can never give up longing and wishing while we are thoroughly alive. There are certain things we feel to be beautiful and good, and we must hunger after them.
~ George Eliot, 1819-1880 ~
We can only know that from the unknown, profound desires enter in upon us, and that the fulfilling of those desires is the fulfilling of creation. We know that the rose comes to blossom. We know that we are incipient with blossom. It is our business to go as we are impelled, with faith and pure spontaneous morality, knowing that the rose blossoms, and taking that knowledge for sufficient.
~ D. H. Lawrence, 1885-1930 ~
Desire is what leads you through life until the time comes when you desire a higher life. So do not be ashamed that you want so much, yet at the same time do not fool yourself into thinking that what you want today will be enough tomorrow.
~ Deepak Chopra, 1947- ~

Nevertheless, i've managed to produce a couple poems and essays, one of which has been accepted for inclusion in an anthology of Caribbean LGBT literature compiled by Thomas Glave and slated for publication next year by Duke University. These have been added to my writings page.

My literary coterie is burgeoning. Besides Thomas at SUNY Binghamton, and Wolfgang Binder at Erlangen, who are professors of literature at their respective universities, and writers in their own right, former business partner, Gillian Royes in Atlanta, recently published Sexcess: The New Gender Rules at Work , and is working on another, while sister Heather Royes, still in Kingston, had a volume of her poetry published in London. Lana HoShing, former neighbour and "family" from Gallery Way, now in The Bronx, has completed her first novel and is working on her second. Watch out also for the name Kei Miller.

Lana HoShing

Lana HoShing

Alexi Rennalls


Woodcut portrait

Alexi Rennalls - Woodcut portrait , c. 2003


Alexi Rennalls - Self-Portrait , c. 2004

The flowering continues.

The young lady shown at left is the artist who produced the two self-portraits shown here, as well as the abstract at the top of this page. She went to Immaculate and won an art scholarship to a college in Connecticut, i forget the name. She happens to be my grand-niece, (or great-niece as they say in the US, though they don't have great-fathers and great-mothers), Betty's daughter by her first husband who disappeared mysteriously at sea some years back. She was probably conceived under my roof as Betty and Bumpy were staying with me at the time in Gallery Way; her first name, Lauren, is a variant of my own, and her initials LAR spell out one of the diminutives by which i'm known. I don't know if they planned it this way when they were naming her, but she obviously takes after me, in the visual arts at any rate. You can blame my imagination or the o-so-human penchant to find meaning where there is none, but i believe she is taking up where i left off. Whether or not you want to believe in guzu , i'm proud to own it and pass the mantle on to her. Go de, Miss Lexi.

But not only medicine, engineering, and painting are arts; living itself is an art – in fact, the most important and at the same time the most difficult and complex art to be practiced by man.
~ Erich Fromm, 1900-1980 ~
All the arts we practice are apprenticeship. The big art is our life.
~ M. C. Richards, 1916-1999 ~
The ultimate work of art is ourselves, our personality. We are each endowed with the faculty of being able to become what we want to become; life is a great loss if we don’t avail ourselves of this potential.
~ Vilayat Khan, 1916- ~

I took some time off in February to visit with family in Miami. My sister, Gwen, and husband, John, came down from Orlando, their daughter, Melanie, and family came down from West Palm Beach, to join their son, Ric, and his family. I stayed with Mag's daughters, Carolyn, and Gillian, and her husband. We took the opportunity to visit with Sam and Daisy Lee, Alfred's brother and his wife, who live in a retirement community just outside of Miami, and with David and Peggy (Samuels) Richards, Peggy being the ward of Miss Mutts (Myrtle Samuels) former postmistress at Brown's Town. Peggy is originally from Cuba and is one of Mag's, and our family's, oldest and dearest friends. Some have had health challenges and even major surgery, but have kept their spirits up. It is gratifying still to have living connections with the past.

While in Miami, i took part in the Spring Festival celebrations put on by the Chinese Cultural Association, which consists mostly of Chinese-Jamaicans. I saw many familiar faces and even bucked up Beverly Spaulding who used to be my marketing manager at Xaymaca Craft. It was great to reconnect and be among one's own.

I bought a Chinese Benevolent Association t-shirt celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the arrival of the first Chinese in Jamaica and wear it proudly in DC, sparking many questions as to how and why Chinese came to be in Jamaica. I actually don't even need the t-shirt as my accent intrigues many who come into the store, both fellow Jamaicans and non-Jamaicans who cannot contain their curiosity, but are impelled, with great tact and as much grace as they can muster, to inquire where i'm from.

To explore some of my roots more, i had wanted to attend the 2nd Hakka Conference being held at the University of York at the end of this month, but there's not enough time for me to get a travel permit from CIS that would allow me to re-enter the US without any problem. Tony MacFarlane in Hamilton, who attended last year and is going again, kindly offered to host me. Hakka-speaking Chinese are one of China's ethnic minorities, formerly despised by the Chinese ruling class and only now beginning to affirm their identity. Most of the Chinese in Jamaica and the Caribbean are of Hakka origin and they have been instrumental in holding the Toronto conferences. Easton Lee and Victor Chang of UWI, among others, represented Jamaica last year. Lord, do i really need another minority identity?

The only visitors i've had this year were nephew, Ric, from Miami with his kids, Richie, Edward and Cindy. Ric works for American Airlines so they were able to fly up for the day which we spent at the museums on The Mall. The boys enjoyed the National Aerospace Museum in particular. It was good to be able to spend that short time with them, seeing how quickly they grow up, and hopefully, contributing to the creation for them of happy childhood memories.

Me, Melanie, Gwen

Me, Melanie (niece), Gwen (sister) recounting family history at Ric's house

Daisy & Sam Lee, Gwen & 
John Chin, me in Florida

Daisy & Sam Lee, Gwen & John Chin, me at the Lees in Florida

Edward, Coleen, Cindy, Richie, Ric

Edward, Coleen, Cindy, Richie, Ric, at Disneyland
(They didn't send me any pics of the DC day trip)

Brian Williamson

Brian Williamson

Death is a challenge. It tells
us not to waste time … It tells
us to tell each other right
now that we love each other.

~ Leo Buscaglia, 1924-1998 ~

Sydney Garcia

Syd Garcia

No distance of place or lapse
of time can lessen the
friendship of those who are
thoroughly persuaded of each
other's worth.

~ Robert Southey, 1774-1843 ~

The sad news of the year was the murder of my close friend and former business-partner, Brian Williamson, at his Haughton Avenue residence. Last i heard, no one has been arrested for this heinous crime, and knowing the police as i do, no one will be. Brian was a social dynamo, operating what was for a while Kingston's only gay club, Entourage, and he was the main spokesperson for J-FLAG , so his loss is deeply felt by the community. My reminiscences, Life With Brian, were published by the Jamaica Observer.

No one's death comes to pass without making some impression, and those close to the deceased inherit part of the liberated soul and become richer in their humaneness.
~ Hermann Broch, 1886-1951 ~
Since death's face changes with the eyes that look at it, it is our own maturity and mentality that determine whether we see it as a threat to life, mercilessly cutting it short, or as something that is part of life and yet points beyond it to another life, in which the familiar yields to the unknown, or perhaps to an Absolute beyond time and change.
~ Karlfried Durckheim, 1896- ~

The sadness is balanced by the joy of friendship, enduring over the years. John Scott continues to represent my interests in Kingston while simultaneously discharging his professional responsibilities and his duties as Assistant Minister at the Temple of Light. Mark Ramsay threatened to descend on me for Thanksgiving but turkeyed out in the end. Sydney Garcia in Florida, regularly keeps me abreast of progressive developments in the political sphere.

Talk about a blast from the past. When Liz Carter googled "Servite Convent," her search turned up my name. Half a century ago and a world away, Elizabeth Keeling, as i knew her then, and i were at prep school there; we've been corresponding ever since her first tentative e-mail enquiry, having discovered that we share similar world views, despite divergent paths and five intervening decades. On top of that, she's only an hour's drive away in Baltimore, so we plan to meet up in the New Year. When she first contacted me, Margaret-Ann Veira was staying with her from the UK. Servite survivors on this list will recognize her name. Another who has emerged from the woodwork of my past is Lloyd 'Litina' Josephs, from the heady GFM days. He's in Charlotte, North Carolina.

We discover, perhaps to our astonishment, that our greatest moments come when we find that we are not unique, when we come upon another self that is very like our own. The discovery of a continent is mere idle folly compared with this discovery of a sympathetic other-self, a friend or a lover.
~ J. B. Priestley, 1894-1984 ~

This underscores the miracle that is the internet, better than any sliced bread, and indeed the wonder of being alive now when thought transference, the expressions of consciousness, is almost instantaneous. Each of us can be and do so much more than even our grandparents could. With the amount of information we have readily available to us, it is tragic that so much of the world continues to struggle in ignorance, fear and insecurity, deluded by religious myths, competing for resources and destroying themselves and everything else along with it. Against this background, our celebration of being, and awareness of being, becomes so much more poignant.

Life is found only in the present moment. I think we should have a holiday to celebrate this fact. We have holidays for so many important occasions … why not celebrate a day when we can live happily in the present moment all day long? I would like to declare today “Today’s Day,” a day dedicated to touching the Earth, touching the sky, touching the trees, and touching the peace that is available in the present moment.
~ Thich Nhat Hanh, 1926- ~

Year-end 2004

Following the appreciation expressed for these annual epistles, they have been archived and readily retrieved for anyone interested:
1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003

Quotations from unpublished manuscript Wisdom for the Soul: Five Millennia of Prescriptions for Spiritual Healing

© 2005