Of Pink Elephants and Teddy Bears: Ultra-Consciousness

I was used to playing outside and creating things out of nothing. I made dolls out of sticks, leaves and flowers because I never had any, I’d only seen the ones hanging in the market stalls when I went on shopping trips with my Mama. We only had enough for essentials like rice, coconut oil, salted cod fish, fresh ackees, hard dough bread. Mama never bought anything for herself and was often wearing the same old shirts that she washed, starched and kept exceptionally clean under her full aprons that she wore every day.

There was only the elephant my father had made for me out of gray flannel, hand-stitched on an old Singer sewing machine. I adored them so much and took such great care of them. I handled it carefully and always put it away carefully when I was not playing with it. Unfortunately, when I came from Jamaica to Canada to meet my parents, it had already been decided what I’d bring on the plane. I had only met my real mother a few days ago and already she was taking away my gray elephant; I had to leave it behind as there were lots and lots of toys to be found in the place where I was going. I cried about the gray elephant, but Mama told me that I had to wipe my tears and be the brave little girl that she knew I was.

One day in 1964 my mother brought home a very eccentric lady for dinner. She always brought all sorts of interesting people home and this woman was named Mary Joan. She was a white woman who wore blue cat eyeglasses and her blonde hair in a curly 1960’s flip. She turned out to be my constant companion over the years, an unofficial nanny figure and my best friend just because she wanted to. She loved me and always gave me bug hugs and kisses and little treats. She often had me over to her little apartment which was a half floor on the top of a little, old, white house. It was an interesting little place full of magic, and stories, tea, cookies, pink elephants and teddy bears. It didn’t matter that the elephants were pink or that the teddy bears were different colours, just as skin color didn’t matter to Mary Joan; things were simply perfect.

We always had beautiful tea parties with tiny little bone china tea cups with pretty flowers on them. There were tiny tea pots, plates and tiny platters for cookies. Mary Joan baked homemade oatmeal cookies with raisins and walnuts and she loved to serve buttery short bread and pound cake. The cookies she made were magically delicious as I had never eaten homemade cookies before. Hers were the first homemade cookies I had ever seen or eaten. In the Islands we never ate these kinds of cookies or had these kinds of tea parties; tea time was a regular thing for the upper classes in the British colonies, but not for us. I had only read about the Mad Hatter’s tea party in the story of “Alice in Wonderland,” before I was ever invited to one myself. Mary Joan talked to the pink elephants, the teddy bears and me while we chewed on our cookies. Every pink elephant and every teddy bear had a name and she allowed me to touch them all and play with them. I remember talking with our little family for hours until my mother would come to pick me up.

Mary Joan lived a very ultra-conscious life; her imagination was so vivid that it came alive and covered some of the scars of her otherwise sad life. So many things had happened to this beautiful soul. She had a baby taken away from her when she was but a teenager and she never got over the shock of it. She developed mental illness from the pain she endured. She barely made it through life and my Mother found her one day and made her part of the family. We were so blessed to have this little white woman as part of our lives. She enriched it so much and certainly enriched mine. Whenever she did not have a home she knew that she had one with us wherever we lived. In those early days she would often stay over at our little apartment on Balmoral Street and we shared my double bed. She always wanted the side near the window and I always had the side that looked into the tiny kitchen. My room was really a little dining room that my mother had curtained off from the living room converting it into a second bedroom as the apartment had only one bedroom. But we were all so very happy and we had more than enough.

Sometimes when I don’t quite feel like myself I revert back to 1964 and tea time with Mary Joan the pink elephants and the teddy bears and suddenly we are sitting at her little table looking through the window chatting, talking, laughing and smiling together in a magical world. I have only to imagine a bone china teacup, or see an elephant, or a teddy bear and I can go there and actually be there. It was the place where I was no longer a chocolate face or an “n.” I knew I was not going to be stoned, choked or beaten that day. It was going to be the most wonderful day and I was going to be Mary Joan’s precious little girl. It is not escapism, as there is not escape from the reality which is life. It is more of a time out that allows you to think more clearly when you emerge from a positive and happy place because the wonderful thoughts do not die immediately as you emerge from them. They continue on and turn hopelessness into hope. They preserve the innocence of a little girl for moments in time, moments that seem to stand still; because as we know very well time stops for no one. As I am much older now I see how short life really is that there may be little time to spare. It is a common phrase that there is no promise of tomorrow so you must do what you have to do to live for today. Perhaps that involves living an ultra-conscious life and being grateful for all that you have.

Use your voice and represent yourself!

Hey folks, take a look at my recent post about blackness and how black people have always been our own protectors. I write about Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, a movie about interracial marriage, as a framework for the discussion. Let me know what you think!

The Myth of the White Savior

I must admit that when I was a little girl newly arrived from the Caribbean I felt lost in a sea of Eurocentricity. In stark contrast to my island upbringing, suddenly I was seeing white people everywhere: in the grocery store, on the bus, on television, on the radio, living in every house on the street, and worked into every nook and cranny of every history book. They would often tell me to go back to Africa, refused me service and liked to refer to me by the “N” word quite a lot. I was always elated whenever I saw any black face anywhere, whether it was on the stage or in film, Just to be represented on these pieces of media seemed to be a victory to me. I did not realize the meaning of it, but only the shallowness of the fact that they were there. So naturally I was elated to see the mammies in Gone with the Wind; Sidney Poitier in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” “To Sir with Love,” “In the Heat of the Night,” and so many others. Then there was “Julia,” a ground breaker with Diahann Carrol, “Archie Bunker,” “The Jefferson’s,” Sanford and Son, Good Times, Flip Wilson, Beverly Johnson, Iman. I respect the fact that these people were ground breakers just by being and doing what they did. I must say that I will be ever grateful to them for what they accomplished. They are the people that helped to pave the way for me and managed to help me believe that there could be something greater for myself.

Diahann Carroll and Sidney Poitier in Paris Blues (1961)

Although there were many others, the fact is that there were few roles for black people and they were written for black people but not by black people and so the perspective that we got was always a white perception of what white people thought black people must be like. We were always servants, we were always thought to be stupid, ignorant, funny or exotic we had to be exceptional to be involved with white people like the physician and doctor of medicine played by Sidney Poitier in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” Why did he have to be a doctor? The answer is simple. My mother always said we had to be four times better to achieve something so ordinary and Sidney Poitier portrayed an individual that was four times better so that he could marry a white woman. What would her parents have done if he were just an ordinary laborer? He would not have been good enough to step through the door no matter how liberal they were.  If you were a lowly “other” person you had to act like a foolish mammy like the ones in Gone with the Wind, or Aunt Jemima pancake mix and syrup which also featured a famous Mammy that was updated over the years to look less mammyish; and more like a black domestic servant. Black domestic cooks were always thought to be the best at rustling up a good tasty “stick to the bones,” meal. Dr. Prentice was polished and had to act respectfully but not like a foolish minstrel stereotype like Aunt Jemima, to fulfill the low expectations white people held for us. The writer wanted to add another dimension to the scenario by creating a significant age difference between the couple. The white parents were apparently so unbelievably liberal that the 14 year difference between their ages did not seem to matter.

Sidney Poitier and Katherine Houghton in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)

It appeared as if the patriarch’s main concern was how society would treat and view the couple and all of the hardships that they would face. This seems to be a rather reasonable and practical concern considering the times. Despite his recognition that his daughter’s fiancé was quite a gentleman he could not accept the union at first for those seemingly obvious reasons; despite the fact that the couple acknowledged and knew that they would face these difficulties. When it came time to meet the black parents; which were introduced afterwards as the black fiancée felt uncomfortable about how they would take it. I wondered why this was written in this way. Why would the white family be expected to be more accepting than the black family? It actually seemed absurd that anyone could reach such a conclusion in the political climate of the 1960’s. In the end the black father holds out and the white father has to bring everyone together. He is the one seen as worthy of all the praise for such a heroic and insightful act. The intentions may have been good but we always have to consider the mind and heart from which art is created and from which it comes. The art may have been manipulated by a well-meaning writer and producer not knowing what was coming from inside themselves. They may have believed themselves to be as liberal minded as the characters they created. That is the insidious nature of systemic racism and white privilege is the vehicle that continues to carry it boldly forward. The fact is that systemic racism does not get erased but it changes its ways so that it can adapt somewhat like a virus that mutates as we find ways to cure it and wipe it away. Sometimes it takes years, but it continues to eat away at us; creating the destruction of black lives in its midst.

Spencer Tracy as the father of Katherine Houghton’s character in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.

That is why it makes more sense for ordinary people to look to examples of strength in our own communities. We may aspire to be a Sidney Poitier or Oprah Winfrey and it is okay to aspire to be just as successful as these individuals but we have to be realistic as well. We can also derive remarkable strength from ordinary leaders that we grew up with. We think of Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, the late Martin Luther King, the late John Lewis and the real work that they did by putting themselves on the line. I had an extraordinary black grandmother an extraordinary mother and father. There are people out there that weren’t even lucky to have that but some have had mentors or people that gave them a helping hand or lent them kind words of encouragement, showed them books and opened up their tiny worlds into huge ones. It was my Grandmother that told me not to pick up the dirty garbage in the school yard with my bare hands. I was so small and the teacher looked as large and strong as a tree and in her hand she held a cane that she whipped across my four year old back when I refused to pick up a filthy piece of garbage with my bare hands. I felt the pain as she tried to whip the stubbornness out of me but failed. At a young age I chose the welts on my little back and to fight back with peaceful protest as my grandmother had taught me.

It is time for people to tell their own stories; the real stories not the dreamy ones made up by Hollywood and perpetuated on lies and fantasy of whiteness and white power. That is the only way that black and brown people will take their own power back. That is the only way they will take their lives back and tell the full history of the world. That is the only way to make history inclusive and respectful of all life. Is it possible for white people to overcome their subconscious bias? Is it possible that we are not one with our creator? White privilege truly destroys people and continues destroying the world to a point that life will no longer be sustainable. It is difficult enough just to be a human being and to understand that we have a finite time here. Your time may be shorter than you think and there is a common saying that “there is no promise of tomorrow,” so what counts is what you do today. When you finally leave this earth you will bury the myth of the white savior; so why not bury it now; and help us all to live a better life while we still have the privilege of roaming the earth. It is time to carve out and live the true narrative and a time to remember all of those that paved the way for further progress and forward movement.

Of Oceans and the Sea

When I was a little girl living on a Caribbean Island surrounded by the sea, I never once went for a swim. I had driven by the Caribbean Sea and dreamt of dipping into it many times but it didn’t happen until I went on a return trip there with my parents at ten years old. We drove to an Island beach with Mr. Spence. He had a car and suggested that we go there when we went on holiday. He packed us in his car and we brought our swim suits along. I skipped along the sand , felt it between my toes and sat in the shallow waters edge looking at the beautiful blue of the sea. I was all alone at once and it was just me and the sand and the sea. I relaxed into a state of ultra-consciousness when I looked intensely at the sand and the sun spiraling off of the waves. My only companion was the sound of the waves; everyone else so caught up in setting up chairs and towels that no one paid any attention to me.

Suddenly I felt a new sense of power flow from my body and into the sand; trying to anchor me to the shore. The waves came to the shore and broke my grip on the sand as it pulled me into the water;  under and above it. I could feel the warmth of the water hugging me, I could smell and taste the saltiness of the sea , I was witness to the fullness of its color. I could’ve sworn that the sea was whispering, “Come to me” and I felt peaceful and fully a part of the universe. I felt wanted; really wanted for the first time.  I began where the sea  started and neither me nor the sea had an ending . I could barely see the shoreline, the sea had begun to yank my little body down into its depths. I just felt at home,  despite the sharp waves slashing into me and my lungs slowly inflating with liquid. It must have been for a longer time than I thought but the water did not take me that day. It was rather kind to me and one of the last big waves placed me right back near the shoreline. I dug my fingers into the sand and had to pull my body out of the water as it kept trying to pull me back.  As I sat on the shore again I felt  my heart pull me back to the sea but it was already time to go. My mother and father ended up buying the property, they left caretakers in charge but they never looked after the property and so this beach languished into a home for squatters. I could have been one of the squatters on that beach had I been there. But that is not the lovely place where I squatted. When I begin to think of that I pop out of it and into my vivid experiences from which all good things seem to emerge; sometimes slowly but surely.

I have always remembered the feeling of that very vivid experience of being loved and wanted by a sea of salty blue water. There were secrets of life in the water and the fish that brushed my legs seemed to know what those secrets were. The sea knows itself and it knows what it wants to do. I remembered when we went o church the pastor said that that “the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.”(Genesis 1:2)  God divided the heavens from the earth and gathered the water together which was called the Seas and the waters that surrounded the earth  were abundant with life and living creatures. It is all in the creation stories in Genesis and I could really feel the living earth in my bones when sitting on that shore.

You needn’t be religious to have an experience like this, all you need is to pursue that vivid feeling you get when you reminisce. I have always believed in memory’s power  to improve someone’s mentality. I remember watching Nature show and I saw what looked like millions of young hatchling sea turtles off the coast of Australia just emerging from their shells. The mothers  had long since laid their eggs and had already made their way back out to sea leaving the young hatchlings to emerge and fend for life on their own. As they moved across the sand toward the water, sea birds flew in for a healthy meal, crabs came out of the ground to feed and only a few hatchlings made it into the water. Even then there were sharks waiting to devour them  and only a few lucky ones made it far enough to flow away from danger on waves of water.

I often feel like I am fighting like those little hatchling sea turtles trying to make my way across the sand, and sometimes I become the little girl calling to the water to save me.  The water saved the baby turtles with its powerful waves just as it did with me. It put me back safely on the shore not ready to claim me yet. Many of the young turtles shall grow and come back to their place of birth to lay more eggs one day just as I come back to the sea again and again in my mind. I haven’t actually been back many times but I have gone there vividly and consciously and consistently  in my mind. I have fully embraced the feeling and like the little hatchling that floated the waves in safety to fulfill their purpose in life.  I have to believe that I was put here to fulfill my purpose too even in my old age.  So I ride the wave and I suggest that we all have some kind of hidden experience that we can concentrate deeply on  and make that our wave. If you don’t have one;  you can certainly create one in your mind and go to that place when you need to. You do not need to meditate but to concentrate deeply on that picture and that feeling with all of your senses. You will remember everything so vividly that you will never forget.  My mother always said to fight for life and at the rightful end of hers she asked if it was okay to give up the fight now.  She had fought the good fight and lived a good life so there was no longer any reason for her to be denied her rightful place in the Universe.  She was merely going to be as free as she was before she was born. In the time between, we fight, strongly, vividly , purposefully and fulfilled. That is the true ultra-conscious experience.

Of Roses and Ultra-Consciousness

Being ultra-conscious is to be alive and to live a full and vigorous and vivid life. You don’t turn off your mind; that is not possible; especially if you have other things to think about like “how you are going to live?” You may be terminally ill, you may be homeless, you may have a terrible injury, you may not know where your next meal is coming from, you may suffer from mental illness; you may be a victim of racism, classism, gender bias and so much more. You may also be living a privileged life devoid of these circumstances but find that happiness is illusive. At that critical point your mind becomes your currency and it can be used to help change your reality. Rather than turning it off you turn it on with pleasant things.

Antidepressants can only do so much to shift your serotonin, and for me it was not enough. My form of depression is stubborn and drug resistant; constantly making me focus on heartache. Because of the way the mind works you cannot completely stop the thoughts that hold you back but you can move beyond them. To do so, I create new stories from good memories as a little girl to calm myself with the images that gave me a sense of comfort and safety. I think back to those days and my nostrils are full of the scent of roses. It does not have to be about roses and rose gardens; it could be about lemons or a lovely scene that you walked into years ago when you were happy or a new happy one that you can create around things that you like. You need to feel blessed; you need to feel worthy and when you dream and believe it you will gradually begin to move toward those good feelings and those good things as you leave the bad things behind. For me today, this uplifting scene is of roses.

I remember when I was a very little girl living in my Island home I had some very vivid thoughts that were always real to me.  Some of the best of those were in the rose garden that grew under one of  the front windows of the house. They were tall and thorny and grew almost to the top of my favourite window sill.  They were a remarkable sight and I often looked at them through the window sitting up backwards on my chair with my head towards the window and my eyes situated on the rose bushes. I always felt my best when I was outside and could be with my rose friends. I admired them dearly. 

I remember when I was a very little girl living in my Island home I had some very vivid thoughts that were always real to me.  Some of the best of those were in the rose garden that grew under one of  the front windows of the house. They were tall and thorny and grew almost to the top of my favorite window sill.  They were a remarkable sight and I often looked at them through the window sitting up backwards on my chair with my head towards the window and my eyes situated on the rose bushes. I always felt my best when I was outside and could be with my rose friends. I admired them dearly. 

The closest thing to that was when I had moved abroad and my parents moved into their first house. It was a little green and white house at the end of a long street in the suburbs. I was about eight years old by then and we had just moved from the downtown core. As our apartment grew smaller my father found this sweet little house on Vimy Road. The name Vimy was synonymous with the war at Vimy Ridge and we had no idea that we were about to fight one of our own.

Across from the little green and white  bungalow  was a field  of wild prickly roses that grew there in the hot summers. The roses were short and stubby but beautiful in their shape; they were a pinkish red and had perfect petals and the most beautiful fragrance. They were almost like the Rose of Sharon but those grow on larger bushes that make pretty hedges. These roses were loners, they did not grow together but preferred to have their own space here and there flourishing in the wild grass and poor soil. The little wild roses in the field, juxtaposed beautifully across against our little house at the end of the street. It was a neat little house with flowering bushes that grew right under my window just as the roses grew under my favorite window when I was three years old in my Island home. My father planted red and white flowers in the front of the house; it always looked so pretty. Our house looked like a child’s drawing; a simple square with two large windows in front. We had a long fence that my father had painted white; but spray painted on it was the “N” word; burnt straw and dead birds in our mailbox and dog feces on our car windows. I was afraid and didn’t know who wanted to hurt me and hurt my family. I was afraid to walk on the streets, afraid when my father had to clean these messes. He had to do this so many times and sometimes the offences were worse than others.

When I was homeless as an adult woman, I remember walking down streets playing a game I called “where are the roses?” I was constantly looking for roses and rose bushes to help recreate the wonderful memories of them from my childhood when life was good.  I saw many other flowers I loved and I loved the way people planted things to make their homes look nice. I used to think how lucky they were to feel cozy and warm and comfortable in those homes. They were all so lovely and I walked from street to street looking, imaging and not ever thinking. I said hello to everyone and they would sometimes say hello back. I could tell that some of them knew that I came from the shelter as they had a certain way of looking at me. I wish we didn’t look at people that way but that we could see the humanity that lies in everyone. I have learned the hard way that this does not happen. People made assumptions about me not ever knowing what I had achieved in my life. I had a professional degree and in the corporate world I was part of the top one percent.  But that meant little now.  I talked to many flowers during that time of desperation whether they were roses or not. We had the most wonderful imaginary discussions and they did not care how I looked.  I appreciated their diversity and lack of sameness and found beauty in all of them.  I quickly learned that all the flowers were worthy and more than  good enough just as the diversity of  people that make up our world.

Now that I am out of the shelter; I worked myself out of it; I am still poor, low income and part of the underclass. I think it was Joni Mitchell who wrote, “I’ve Looked at life from Both Sides now,” and indeed I have.  I am not living on the side I would like to be on but I continue to try. That is part of the reason for this website; I want it to grow into a place where I can offer my writing skills and sell my own art and creative work. If you have read this far I hope that you will participate in this project with me by supporting me any way that you can.  It is also part of the reason that I am reaching out to others so that they may know that there is hope no matter where a person finds themselves on the continuum. As I was looking to roses as my soothing subject and part of my soothing experience you may look to something else.

Today, my rose collection consists of an old vase painted with roses, roses on an old mug, a very small jar of British Rose cream and shower gel from the Body Shop I got as a gift, a cushion with some roses on it and some actual roses that were almost dead. It is just a nice feeling to be around these things that  I love. They always have  the power to transport me to a better place; even in the worst of circumstances. I even sketch roses to make me feel good and I like to write about them. I have a couple of old porcelain bible trinkets with roses on them as well. They were given to me years ago and I managed to save them. They come in handy at those times when it is difficult to remain positive and mindful. Take yourself from a place of negativity to the positive space of your imagination just by looking at your collection of soothing images. 

Take your collection of soothing images and dream until you get to the place you want to be. I promise you that I continue to dream and I continue to smell my roses and I continue to live in my castle of roses and walk through the fields of wild roses across from the little green and white bungalow. I live among my collection of roses too no matter where they are or what they are; they are all real to me. When I am among the things I love there is no better place to be; and the mind emerges with the freedom to think clearly about what I have to do next.  That is what is borne of unconditional love that does not judge, reject or hate. It brings hope and strength of heart so that you can feel connected with all the love that lives inside of you. It can manifest in so many different ways. Sometimes it can be as simple as putting one foot in front of the other and continuing to walk; always in the direction of making a change; always to a better position.  Make your thoughts vivid, make them strong, make them dominate, make them squeeze out the poison in your life and bring forth from it a better you.  It is amazing the things that you have the power to do if you can will yourself beyond the fear of living.

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