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May 12, 2006

Civil War? Or just plain confusion....

I just got up from a dream. I have lots of dreams, truly vivid ones, like imagining one of my friends found out I was gay and didn't like it (wait...that's just a recurring thought, rather than a dream). However, this one was about civil war between people of East Indian descent and people of African descent in Trinidad. I think. The thing is that it was set in Baltimore (having lived there for 4 years and just watched a John Waters film, who can blame my subconscious?), but involved Trinidadians (of which there are many in B'more). It starts off actually with me attempting to cross the corner of Glen and Ann Sts. (both of which are in Ann Arbor...I think it both amazing and hateful at the same time how dreams pull things out of the mind's ass and puts it all together). Anyway, Glen St. was moving...like a moving walkway at the airport...ever so slightly. I just stood at the sidewalk, watching the road itself progress from left to right. Cars on it seemed to be zooming past faster than ever. I stepped out onto it and stood on it for a while, enjoying the fact that I was trying to go forward yet moving to the right simultaneously. As I stepped out onto the other side of Glen (the corner by the new Biomedical Research Building), the asphalt turned into a raging black river, causing people to scream and cars to slam into each other. Then I was at a friend's apartment...

I honestly don't recall how I got to this friend's place from the river-road. And now this friend's place was in Baltimore. And it was a bunch of people- from high school, from college. Just living in one big room. Isn't it funny that even though I can only recall one person's face and name, in my dreams I can still sense familiarity with people, although their faces never fully materialize? So there were a bunch of these "friend" figures. I think I stayed for a while and then had to rush out with all my belongings. Or did we go have dinner somewhere? We definitely had a fun, positive length of time together, away from the crazy river road. But then I had to leave, and went out into the streets of Baltimore, namely the Harford Rd. area (it seemed) near to Morgan State. And things were crazy there too! The road had turned into liquid asphalt here as well and people were screaming, there was fire etc. I remember just running, dropping some of my possessions (I always have my keys, wallet, phone and usually my pen with me- I think my phone fell and I had to go find it in the pouring rain). Anyway, I ended up back at my friends' place and then knew I had to be back at my own place, defending my home from whatever was to come. I said my goodbyes, and there was this one little girl who I seemed to care for so much- I felt like she was one of my friends' kids, so we all sort of felt paternally towards her. I felt awful leaving her behind. But then I ran back out into the rain and quickly felt lost.
Notice I said "felt" lost, rather than actually being lost. All the streets and buildings were familiar to me, but I just had no idea where to turn. An old lady walked by and I asked her the way to Harford Rd. She pointed me in the direction and off I went. I ended up at someone else's house. I wasn't sure whose. As I tried to leave (so confused- I'm sure you all are by now as well), an Indian man was coming in. He, too, seemed familiar. But he had a weapon of some sorts, and when I asked him what it was for he said it was to defend himself from the enemy- and, being of African descent, that enemy would include me. I backed into the house, where suddenly there were one or two other men of African descent (quelle surprise!). But then the Indian man and myself (he slowly started to look mixed with white and Indian) started talking, and I asked him what was the point of this war, when in Trinidad so many people are mixed, and families are all connected in some way or the other. I think at this point he had put down the weapon and was talking calmly (always calm he was) with me, but he was still very angry. The two men of African descent were setting the dinner table (for them? for all of us?) and became upset at our discussion. They felt that it was disrupting the relaxed atmosphere of the house/room/evening, which was amazing, considering the storm outside and the black rivers catching afire where roads used to be. So they shouted at us to shut the hell up and when we wouldn't, they proceeded to turn up really loud one of those old transistor radios, which was all speaker and two knobs at the bottom. I think the Indian man left and then all of a sudden I was at Mass. A bunch of people (of all sorts of races and ethnicity) were suddenly in the house, and started praying. I, however, kept wanting to talk to Jeff. So I excused myself and tried my phone, which kept asking for my approval card, rather than allowing me service. I think it was Queen Latifah's voice on the other end. I was so dismayed that I couldn't talk to Jeff and that he might be worried because he couldn't reach me. So I left.
Now this part may or may not have happened before- it's a long dream, broken up by two awakenings, so forgive me. I was at a college cafeteria- ostensibly Howard University's (just a very strong feeling, although I've never been there). And a bunch of my college friends (I think) were there, even though none of us went to Howard. All of us were eating except myself and another guy, who was white, and listening to his iPod after politely declining food. He was a friend too, but I forget which friend he was (I think he was an Ann Arbor friend). I wanted food, but felt like I couldn't get it because I didn't have money or a meal plan (I didn't go to school there, remember?). I asked one of the girls how come they got food and they gave me some really complicated answer about how they had some sort of card or they skipped the line or something. In the end I didn't bother. I wasn't that hungry, but felt bad for myself because I was surrounded by everyone else (mostly) eating! That's all I can remember from my strange, rambling dream- which was more random than most. Usually I'll have stuff mixed in from lots of areas in my life, but it'll retain a common theme. This, on the other hand, was less intense somewhat and more confusing. Oh well...time to wake up
Epilogue:
I think I was so strongly reminded of Trinidad, not just by my friends in the dream, but also by the roads turning into liquid asphalt. Trinidad is the land of the Pitch Lake, where there is liquefied asphalt coming out of the ground. There were strong themes about undergraduate life and Baltimore in general. I don't keep up with news from back home, except my general perception is that things are crazy. Usually I can figure out to some degree what triggered a particular dream, but this one is all over the place. I was always trying to get in contact with Jeff too, missing him a lot. While there are some good parts, I hope that most of it isn't true- that my country is falling apart socially, politically and economically, or that I will be apart from Jeff. We'll see where we take real life...

Posted by jpsteph at 09:42 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 02, 2006

Onward...

The past academic year, especially the part that just ended in this calendar year has brought me to a unique developmental stage in my life. My paragons of excellence are now old, white men. One could easily argue that this is just the fallout of studying for 6 years in a majority white country, where segregation, racial injustice and discrimination along several bases are the norm in propping up white, male hegemony. Of course I'd end up worshipping the white man!! But back it up sistas...Not only am I not glorifying white male status in the second sentence of my entry, but I am putting those characteristics out there because they sum up some of the people I have been called to follow. I see myself as...

...a 24 year old young man of color, a non-citizen in a strange land, who wants to look good, feel good, sleep in, enjoy the fruits of non-labour in my tropical island home and not face the explicit questioning of all human experience that is part and parcel of what we do as theorists, researchers and writers. On the other hand, I know that if I were to lay still on the beach at night, I'd still hear those same questions begging to be answered, banging against the walls of my heart. In desiring to be more and answer those questions, I turn to those who have done more and have made it their life's work to seek out answers. There are many who ask, but few who are capable of the rigors and possess the fervor required to pursue the answers- or at least the range of possible answers.
So when I say old white men, I am referring to people like Karl Weick, Don Campbell, Don DeLillo and John Kenneth Galbraith. DeLillo I've never read, but was struck by his reclusivity, as mentioned in this month's Details (sorry for the 2nd-tier magazne reference). All these men were like that- their time to write was sacrosanct, and it was a few holy hours attended to each day of their lives. They were "ruthless" with their time, as Lloyd Sandelands would put it (feel free to look all these names up). JKG was a famous economist that I learnt about at around 15 years of age. He died three days ago. He too set aside times and locations for his writing, which one dared not disturb. Karl Weick and Donald T. Campbell are two of the greatest scholars of modern time, and I was privileged to have learned about Don through Karl's class. All the theorizing, research designing, and drive to pursue and complete a research project may not matter much to the world if one cannot write about it. If we cannot share our knowledge then how is the world to learn about itself? If since the dawn of time humanity could not tell stories about the world and about itself, then where would our consciousness and our conscience be?
While these men may be the reference points around which I'm exhorted to model myself, there are others- not white and not male- who provide simple and elegant examples of what it means to work hard on and about an idea and then work even harder to express it. Josefina Baez was an artist-in-residence here at the Department of Romance Languages. She is a Dominican performer. There is no one thing she does or doesn't do. But she does identify herself as a writer. That is what she does-she writes. She gets up and writes everyday. This is who she is, no matter if nothing comes for a long time and she only produces five minutes of "good" writing. She says that she has to write. Her identity is in and of her writing. Is that consumption by writing (which sounds scary) or is it a symbiosis between the doing and the being of word and person? I guess, like in other relationships, even if things are going well and reciprocity is occurring, it is still a little frightening to enter into the world where you and the person become more and more united in heart, mind and spirit. In taking on a new identity, a self-defining elationship, one must drop one's old identity, and loss and detachment from the familiar is not an easy thing to experience, even when it is for the best. So I face the loss of parts of me that I claimed for myself- inexperience that could be blamed on youth, being a student rather than a colleague, being granted structure and direction, rather than creating it for myself. Picking up the potential and the new me could involve saying "No" more- to myself, my friends and my family. It will involve being by myself, and liking it. It will bring with it frustration and consternation. It will involve me using less words like "consternation". I will have to dedicate myself to an idea (or two; can I do two?), take up a voice (my own) and speak out. And as I have noted in Karl's class, speaking out makes you identifiable. Having your name attached to some words makes you vulnerable for attack. But it also allows you to do good work and share it with others. It allows you to change the world, and who knows...a few of those words may make sense to someone.

I originally put a question mark after this entry's title. But I removed it.

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