The Flame

Writing flamesA writer I know – someone I wouldn’t mind knowing better despite our apparent inability to have a cup of tea – has been having a hard time of late, and it’s affected The Writing. They’re clogged up, maybe curled in the fetal position because of the actions of ad hominem attacks that go well below what would be considered sentient.

It took me back to my own roots. My own writing started as a personal therapy, a way to find a way out of a maze and toward something else, where that something else was only imagined to be something better. A notebook had been found by mistake by my elders, and they used their frayed logic on the writing I had done from the very edges of my sanity.

They didn’t understand, which is why I was writing in the first place, and when they read what I did write – obscured by poetic license more often than not – they knew two things: (1) They didn’t understand it, and therefore, (2) It must be horrible. I paid a steep price for that writing, and after that I would write and burn what I had written soon after. With a hose handy and in a safe area, of course. Safety first.

The flame, though – the flame became a power. I would smile quietly, having said what I had to say that they couldn’t understand… or was too ugly, maybe, for me to be comfortable showing under the metaphorical bright light and the rubber hose. In time, I stopped burning them. In time I started notebooks. In time I had some published. In time, I would then start publishing them on my own.

But there are times – and I find myself regressing to notebooks myself of late – where you’re just not ready to share. Where you need that buffer of privacy, since you’re writing to understand yourself as much as to get it out.

So I told her what I did. What, sometimes, I do. And maybe, just maybe, it will work for someone else.

Sometimes it feels so good to watch your words burn.

Sometimes the soul needs flame to cleanse… to cauterize… to heal.

‘Older Heads’

deepartIn Trinidad, you have the ‘older heads’ – those that, by virtue of living longer are attributed a wisdom that the ‘younger heads’ do not have. People go to them for advice on all manner of things about life, be it business or pleasure. ‘Older heads’ are the ones with the answers, the advice, those that have had the privilege of living through choices good and bad.

Not long ago, I sat with two younger cousins, an Uncle only 13 years my senior and his wife – our Aunt. We had gone to Annie’s Restaurant for dinner where our connections allowed us to simply let our host pick out the dinner for us. We sat there, joking with each other, telling each other stories about things past. Being the 2nd eldest at the table, I had my own stories to share – we all do – and on the way up with my younger cousins, I spoke about the land and the respect for the people on it, and the way I have learned to do things… and how it allowed me to grow in ways that I would not have.

My second youngest cousin had prompted me in a conversation a day before, so at the table I said to the youngest, “Well – we used to have the older heads to ask about things. And now, look around. These are the older heads.”

I looked around, unsettled by the fact maybe more than those younger at the table. I’d just done my Will after I was reminded of my mortality and the fact that despite trying so hard otherwise, I would likely die of old age. My mind was on those I cared about, near and far, a context that I had been completely unprepared for. I’d had the pleasure of playing with my youngest nephew, a gift that allowed me to see life through younger eyes again, that reminded me of the trust and care that every child should have and so many do not… so many did not, including myself.

I had become an ‘older head’.

I had become someone that was respected by those that meant something to me. I had become someone that people listened to, whose words where important and even in that moment I wondered how everyone had changed so much… but we all had, and the most change was my own in my context. There was no pleasure in it, just a daunting responsibility to do the right things, to say the right things…

And even as I was trying to make a point to everyone at that table – that we were it, that we were now what we used to look up to, the responsibility felt heavy on my shoulders – an unannounced burden, an unsettling weight that was easy to carry and worrisome because it had become so easy to carry.

thosemountains.jpgIt was heavy on my mind throughout my trip to Trinidad. The thought of how a very small action could become either something very good or very bad – about how a word in the right place could move mountains, and a word in the wrong place would doom you to carrying the mountains. The thought of how a life I so recklessly lived for others meant so much to people who mattered, the thought of how a life I gave so willingly from meant so little to those who I gave it for meant so much to those I did not give it to… and the rare and pleasing occasions when I gave and received in amounts I found good enough. There is no equal. There are simply returns not to be measured.

Many will say that I’m not old enough to think some of the thoughts that I do, or to feel as I do, and I can’t argue their frame of reference.

My frame of reference is understanding that I can never go home, but that I can choose to be at home wherever I am. I have learned to take sacrifices for what they are, to know that some decisions might have been better with more knowledge and wisdom without the sting of regret that wounds so many. I have learned to embrace the unrequited, to be silent when words will have no effect, to deny what I want to get what I want, and to be myself and accept the good and bad within myself.

older headAs I told a younger person over a bottle of Angostura One on my last night in Trinidad in a rare moment when I could shoot straight with someone elusive even when there… we are not limited by those who have gone before. We are not doomed to their shadows by anything but ourselves, and within we have the capacity to dare to find the amazing human beings we are, to revel in the good and accept the bad.

And most of all, I have learned that while through attrition I have become one of the ‘Older Heads’ at some tables, I still have much to learn and that everyone and everything has something to teach me.

On The Trinidad and Tobago Goat Roti

Goat rotiAs I hinted at in the Hunt for the Red Solo, the hunt for the Trinidad and Tobago goat roti was a bit disappointing as well.

Goat, by itself, requires a level of artisanship to properly prepare that so many have their own thoughts on. It’s dangerous territory to be critical of; some like it one way, some another and in a country doomed to 3-canal blades, guns and now grenades, you want to be careful how you criticize how someone makes a roti. The curry is open to more criticism, but not by much – what constitutes a good curry varies between parts of Trinidad like the color women dye their hair. I have a working hypothesis of where a woman is from in Trinidad based on the color of her hair. Start paying attention.

The roti, itself, is more open to criticism without payback because there is little variance in what a good roti is. It is not dry. It is not scorched on the outside (well, dhal puri roti, anyway).

Yet after all of this – all these things that people might fight over – I have yet to hear a person say, “I would like the goat bones in the roti”, or, for that matter, “I want the chicken bones in the roti”.

Why bones appear in a roti that so many people bite into with zest is a conspiracy that helps only those lazy enough to not remove the bones and dentists.  Spread the word.

“I don’t want bones in my roti!” And anyone that is dumb enough to want bones in their roti can have mine.

The Hunt For The Red Solo

In Trinidad and Tobago, the roti or doubles is magically linked to the ‘Red Solo’. Truth be told, when I lived in Trinidad I didn’t appreciate the Red Solo as much as I do now, but since I was off in search of a good Trinidad roti as well as doubles, I ended up looking for a Red Solo wherever I went. In fact, I couldn’t even find a decent image of it so I linked the image at right to the source (go see it; other pictures are over there of TnT delicacies).

At the airport, eating the ‘Airport doubles’, it was not there. I tried my old favorite of roti shops, but it had closed and the roti at R&D Roti on Todd Street was a disappointment after so many years of S&D roti. Further – you guessed it – no Red Solo.

I was in South Oropouche, eating doubles – no Red Solo. In San Fernando at Anand Low Price (they sell pretty good food by the pound), at ‘D Kitchen’ – no Red Solo. Truth be told I could probably have gotten one at the Cask in Maraval (‘Jai’ has everything there!), but I didn’t ask there. I couldn’t find one on the way to Maracas. I couldn’t find one in La Romaine. I couldn’t find one in Mayaro.

There’s some kind of conspiracy here, keeping Red Solo away from my hands. One vendor offered that they sold out too fast… I stared at them, wondering how they would accept running out of a Trinidad staple.

They all offered me Cannings, or Buster, or what have you – and every time, in defeat, I drank those and heard soft encouragements such as, “this has less sugar anyway”. A country where they decided to open, of all things, a Cinnabon at the airport (without the smell, so… you run into it rather than find it with your nose)… in a country where one Uncle washed down his glucophage with Peanut Punch… they are worried about my sugar intake.

No. No, no, no. No.

Now I’m certain that if I dedicated time and energy, I would have found a Red Solo, just as I could have found a decent doubles (everyone I had was basically channa soup on two baras), or even a decent goat roti (who on earth says, “I want the goat bones in my roti, please?” NOBODY.) The point was I was busy merging other people’s schedules, wants and needs into my own and in all that time… to quote my late father….

I couldn’t get ONE kiss-meh-ass Red Solo.

So while people are worried about all sorts of politically motivated distractions, I can’t help but wonder at the lack of Red Solo. There are no substitutes when eating a good roti or good doubles – two things I could not find in my running around the island of Trinidad.


You Can Never Go Home

That Kind of Day.

In almost 45 years, my feet have touched ground in about 20 different countries.

My life has not been one tethered to a geographic space; every time I have tried something has pulled me or pushed me in a different direction. Every time I thought that maybe, just maybe, I would settle down, I end up having to move either for work or for some form of duty. Wherever I put my feet up becomes home for that moment in a long string of moments tied together by the concept we call time.

Sometimes we retrace our steps, but in crossing the stream, we never cross the same stream. Things change. People die, new people are born, people who had influence decline and new people rise to new influence. Previous friends can become mortal enemies, mortal enemies may become your best friends.

And you change. The world changes you. Some people sit in the same part of the world, living in their own little part of the global village, unable to truly understand the world around them as news of it is piped in from media outlets more interested in selling advertising than actually telling the truth about the world.

You wear out shoes and boots. Vehicles come and go, some becoming legend (as the one above was in my mind and the mind of some others), some become the bad jokes lived through. Time wipes things away, introduces new things, and does so without apology or excuse.

As a traveler, sometimes weary, mostly not, I know that there is no going home. It was once a lament, a pain when others spoke of their homes so warmly, but in the end I know, too, that they can never go home either. They may think so, clinging to a familiarity and comfort of what is there, but it is never the same home.

All that you can work toward, all that you can hope for, is really just a place to put your feet up and rest now and then. A place where you feel comfortable, if even for a moment, is home. And while home may remain mainly the same for some, in the end it is never exactly the same.

You can never go home. You can, however, make your home wherever you are, whenever you are.