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.

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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