Thorns and roses

In the course of doing my column recently, I remembered a time in 2008, when I was living in Cayman, and a close Guyanese friend, living in America, had sent me a couple emails complaining about the rot in Guyana. I rarely keep emails, but for some reason I kept my reply to him, and in light of another griping letter in the local press, I attach it here.


I don’t ordinarily go down this road with people, but you and I go back solid, therefore… the essential core of me, not spiritually or mentally, but psychologically is “we can make it work; we can get it together.”  That is fundamentally how I run.  Where it came from I don’t know and I don’t care – it’s me. It was there when I decided to go into music full time in Toronto in 1962.  Several people raised eyebrows, but my mother didn’t.  She said, “Try it and see. It might make you happy. If not, look for something else.” It was there in 1967 when I decided to record four songs and take the Tradewinds band, on pure speculation,to Trinidad Carnival.  Trinis in Toronto were doubling up laughing.  “A four piece band in carnival? No brass? No percussion? Alyou mad?”  As it turned out, solely because of that trip, my song Honeymooning Couple became a hit, and within 6 months Tradewinds had become one of the hottest bands in the Caribbean.

It was there when I was trying to set up a Tradewinds nightclub in downtown Toronto.  The guys had no collateral. I had my house, but that wasn’t enough.  I asked two brothers-in-law to use their house as collateral, no cash; but they said no. My sister Mell and her husband Vic said yes. That’s how I got the nightclub that I renamed We Place.  The people I bought it from thought I was nuts.  “We’re losing money; how you gonna make this pay?  Plus, the other guys in the band don’t have a pot to piss in, and you’re giving them a piece of it? You’re nuts.”  We Place became a mecca for Caribbean people living in Toronto. I could go on; the move to Cayman; the decision to start an annual satirical show in a conservative island; Caymanians told me I was insane. It was a hit and ran for 20 years.

I always go in with the attitude that it could work out and (this is the important piece) because I believe that, I put all my energy into the positive side.  I know what the impediments are, I see them clearly, so I don’t want you to spend more than five minutes telling me why it can’t work.  That’s my beef with the doomsayers; everywhere you have roses, you have thorns; what are you looking at?

If you want to help me, find some positive aspect to focus me on.  We both know the thing is a brute; to hell with that; give me some place to stand up.  That’s where I need you.  Mostly it’s worked out, and I’ve learned from those experiences that in every seemingly ratty situation, if you look hard enough you can find a good ledge to stand on, and that’s where I prefer to stand.  I do not have 5 minutes for people who are constantly groaning to me about something unless they are also talking about a possible way forward, a hopeful suggestion.

Overall, I’m about finding the positives, even though they may be scant.  Specifically, on the Caribbean situation, more narrowly the Guyana situation, I am fed up hearing the negatives.  I know what they are, I’m not blind, but I’m looking beyond that. Most of the people outside raging about the Guyana problems (who by the way don’t tell me anything negative about where they are) don’t have anything constructive to contribute.

They’re complainers.  They bore me.  As the US evangelist Bishop Jacques says about blacks in the States complaining about the white man, “Okay. I’ve heard you about that.  I accept it. It was horrible. But tell me what you’re doing now.  Tell me how you’re going to fix your situation – now.”  That’s my philosophy.  That’s why all these media letters wishing for “the good old days” in Guyana, I just delete them without reading.  I am this way generally, not just the Guyana thing.  Talk balanced to me, tell me what’s wrong okay, but after the fifth time you tell me that, tell me something to lift me up; shine me a piece of light some place.  Otherwise, all you’re doing is being a drone. If you look at a place and all you can see is bad, it appears you’ve got one eye closed, or possibly both, and maybe your mind, too.

Most weeks, no exaggeration, I get several communications detailing yet another screw-up in Trinidad, or Guyana, or Jamaica, or Grenada, or St Vincent.  It is rare that somebody tells me something good about those places; it may happen once every three months, if that.  Maybe I am a Pollyanna, but my spirit can’t deal with that.  I’ve been to Jamaica and Barbados recently, and there are the negative things, but the positive stuff is also there, and that’s what I prefer to concentrate on.

I see the media reporting on those places, and it is rare to see them presenting the roses, as I put it; they’re focused on the thorns.  I have no time for that.  If all you do is grumble, if you see no good, if you proffer no remedy, then I would prefer that you stay out of my space. All you do is drain my energy.

I’m telling you all this, banna, so you’ll understand why I react as I do.  We, Caribbean people, Guyanese people, are inundated with the bad news, and believe me a lot of people are worn down by it, and they’re also looking for some light.  People have pulled me aside and told me so in relation to some song I wrote or some comment I made; they’re looking for a place to stand, too.

A Guyanese lady in Orlando told me with tears in her eyes, “You made me see the positive things I got from growing up in Guyana.”  Her husband was watching, but I had to give her a kiss. Yes, George, I know the dark is there, but I’d rather deal with the occasional piece of brightness.  That’s where I live; that’s where I put my energy; that’s how I will always be. So I go.

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