Friday, 8 October 2010

Don't stay out of it!

I read a newspaper column the other day in which the writer made a subtle reference to one of the then topical issues. In doing so, she couched it within a context that clearly indicated her leaning. So, clear context, subtle reference. I'd say more than a few of her readers got it.

So much so that, in my comment (as Cee Dubya) below the column, I made my not-so-subtle reference to her not-so-subtle reference. And someone spotted mine and so on.

What I was a tad put off by, however, was one of the comments that advised her to steer clear of making an input in the matter; not to be "caught up" in the debate and have her say.

Now, I just figured the author, Barbara Gloudon or Miss G, (as she is sometimes affectionately called - other times maybe Ms. B etc.) is mature and street wise and, in short has been around long enough not to have paid the poster any mind. I mean, after all, she is a writer - a columnist, to boot! Why would she hold back her thoughts about an issue, if she had something to say and the opportunity to say it?

Pretty soon, though, I realized why I was on about it so much; why I had given so much thought to a seemingly trivial thing. The reason was this: Anger - the healthy kind. See, I recognized some time ago the rather sad truth that many people would "put themselves out there" were it not for fear. It is a crippling fear that convinces you that the critics and cynics and naysayers are going to come raining dissent and scorn and ridicule upon your expressions; that it's better to just save yourself the agony, don't cause any problems and instead of confrontation, run! So, even before you begin to speak, you are silenced by angst and anticipation of the worst. And, very soon, the choice to "stay out of it" becomes less difficult with each opportunity to make a unique and meaningful input.

Here's the thing (Monk), the truth is, "we live in a cynical world" as Jerry said. (Yes, he "had me at hello", too.) Heck, I'm just now beginning to realize that I've added a dash or two of cynicism to a number of scenarios. I've had to take a step back and go, "Is this me?" Always, the answer comes back, Yup! Guess I've simply learned to look through other lens now. Point? There will be critics and cynics and editors and censors and apologists and nincompoops and people-who-may-mean-well-but-for-the-life-of-them-give-really-bad-advice. I heard my father with this saying a long time ago (when there was a minor home accident or something) and it stuck: "Never mind. The first hundred years are the hardest." OK. So I was about to highlight the point. And it's this: say what you have to say without fear - not even a little bit. Don't stay out of it! Provisos? Engage brain and mind before opening mouth. In some cases, you might need to open mouth, remove foot, engage brain and mind then proceed.

But, for the sake of your sense of self and sanity, don't clam up just because you're fearful that somebody might disagree with what you've said or might try to tear it apart. People are people wherever you go (I always say) and folks from the above list are always going to be around in some shape, form or hue. Perhaps no one, except the Lord Himself, may know from whence your strong points or passionate arguments come. But, be brave enough to express them and prepared enough to defend them - if necessary.

And I know about clamming up! About five or six years ago I wrote a book. It was not a big book, but, a book none-the-less. I've seen books with less than 50 pages, less than 20 pages, even. They tell their stories and that's that. Well, my book was running near 150 pages. I'm mentioning the pages because, at first, I thought a book doesn't really qualify to be called a book unless it has a decent number of pages. Yes, I clearly had a lot to learn; many myths to debunk.

The title of the book, "I'm not an American, but I live here". It had a sub-title, but that'll do for now. It captured the essence of the lessons and new things I'd learnt in my journey from Jamaica to the USofA. My experiences were neatly packaged in this little book that I hoped would be enlightening, entertaining and inspiring. Well, I sent it to a couple of family members, a cousin, a friend, a professor at my alma mater and a former columnist for one of the major newspapers in Jamaica who was, at the time, a professor at another university.

As you might imagine, the responses from my family, relative and friend were more favourable than the others. The main criticism from the professors was that I needed to identify my audience. To whom was I telling the story? The book wasn't ready for publication, then. It was good criticism. But the 'not ready' stuck with me more than the 'ID audience' part. I don't think I've picked it up since receiving the critique. And, I feel, that I've disappointed not only myself, but also family members who might have had hopes of me finishing the thing. I imagine, however, given my new zeal and no-fear, no-doubt resolve, I will be re-visiting that project - and that right early. It will be published one way or another.

And that's why I feel so strongly about putting yourself out there. Especially as a writer, you just gotta be prepared for the sharks and wolves and whatnot. I just think that some people don't speak up or write because of fear of what others might say. What if it doesn't sound intelligent enough; witty enough; well-read enough; "in" (with the in-crowd) enough; oratorical enough and all that jazz? Well, what if it doesn't? Does it mean that you will always be concealing your opinion or take on everything?

But, then again, what if it does?

Jump in. Add your say. Be a part of the vibrant exchange. You'd be amazed and delighted at the wonderful things you begin to notice about the world around you. About yourself.

I was just about ten metres away from the revolving doors, as I made my way to my building the other day. Just as I crossed at the lights, I saw another guy coming from my right, talking on his cell. He paused in conversation to holler at this guy, just ahead of me, leaning against a column, "Pablo!" Now, Pablo looked like an immigrant - Mexican, to be honest - mid-forties. Maybe I latched on to that nationality because of, well, "Pablo!" Anyway, I saw Pablo quickly end his own cell conversation, snap the phone shut and hurried to catch up to the first guy, who had by now, almost disappeared back around the corner where I'd spotted him just seconds before.

One of the first thoughts that entered my mind was, maybe Pablo is just getting a break - some degree of "hustling" and connections paying off at last. It just looked that way. Toronto is a pretty big city of approx 2.6M with a high percentage of immigrants. It was possible!

Just as they left my peripheral vision, I saw three guys (looked Caucasian), maybe early fifties, sitting in the patio area of a nearby café, having their morning coffee. Clad in hard hats and the proper construction attire, I surmised that they were on break from the massive multi-million dollar construction project taking place across the street (the hard hat one was wearing had the name of the project management company on it). They didn't look hurried or edgy or like they were 'hustling' at all. And I know that different people are at different points in their different lives. And I do believe that people make choices and they should be ready to face the rewards/consequences of those choices.

It's just that, for that moment, there was a juxtaposition of two very different worlds. And, for an-even-now-unexplained reason, it made me feel sad. In that instant, I got why there are those who commit their lives and resources to advocate for the marginalized and oppressed. It moved from "Pablo!" - cause I really don't know his situation; it moved from the construction workers - cause I don't know theirs, either - to the larger matter of disparity.

For, after all, Pablo's world seemed very different from mine, too.


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