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OFF CENTRE: They don’t tell our stories


Sherwyn Walters

OFF CENTRE: They don’t tell our stories

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It’s three in the morning.
He’s bleary-eyed, teary-eyed, starey-eyed. Thoughts zing around his brain. She . . . . The children . . . . Mummy . . . . Tomorrow . . . . Workmates . . . . Neighbours . . . .  Not enough money . . . . He breathes convulsively.  
(He could be you. Or me. In the midst of tragic HIV/AIDS test results. Or loss of a job. Or infidelity. Or the death of a loved one. Or news that our 16-year-old is pregnant. Or any number of other things that wrench one’s world from normalcy.)
In the deodorized stuffiness of the car – why roll the windows down? – he pauses this unplanned pause, pressed up against an unplanned tomorrow.  
Dizzied, he reaches out . . . .
Maybe for this: Today was gonna be the day / He’d already wrote the note /  And parked that Chevrolet / At the end of that dead end road / Had his finger on the trigger / Just about to end everything / He was taking one last long breath / When he heard his cellphone ring.
(Climb): And his best friend said ‘Man, where you been? / We’re headed down to the lake this weekend / You better not miss it ’cause buddy I swear / It won’t be the same if you ain’t there / And I told that girl that you like so much / You were coming along and her eyes lit up / I better let you go / Man, I really hope I  didn’t catch you in the middle of anything.’ / He said, ‘You kinda did but I don’t mind at all / I’m glad you called. (The Call – sung by Matt Kennon)
This is not a Caribbean piece. Our oral arts (“social commentary” calypso, “conscious lyrics” reggae, “rhythm poetry”) – which we must really depend on because they are the only arts with widespread reach – scarcely ever have people (mothers, fathers, aunts, grannies, wives, husbands, sons, daughters) in depicted experience.
Too low an involvement, it seems, to rub up against life so close and personal. Better, they think, to deal with issues like a preacher, a columnist and dress them up with melody and harmony and rhyme and rhythm. Reaching no farther than the ears. Leaving people alone.  
It is like we don’t understand that, as Daniel T. Willingham puts it, stories are “psychologically privileged”. Or Medefind and Lokkesmoe: “Stories help communicators turn the true into the real, whether the darkest edges of human experience or its grandest possibilities.”
But the depictions don’t even have to be story in the sense of complication, conflict development and resolution – just some unfolding of life, some selective recreation, with people talking, thinking, doing, living in the nitty-gritty of life.
Like this: Little girl alone on the playground / Tired of gettin’ teased and gettin’ pushed around / Wishin’ she was invisible to them / She ran home cryin’, ‘Why do they hate me?’ / And Mama wiped her tears and said / ‘Baby, you’re brave and you’re beautiful.
(Chorus): So, hold your head high / Don’t ever let them define / The light in your eyes. / Love yourself, give ’em hell. / You can take on this world. /You just stand and be strong / And then fight / Like a girl.’
Ten years of climbin’ that ladder / Oh, but money and power don’t matter / When the doctor said ‘The cancer spread’ / She holds on tight to her husband and babies / And says ‘This is just another test God gave me. / And I know just how to handle this.’
(Altered Chorus): I’ll hold my head high / I’ll never let this define / The light in my eyes / Love myself, give it hell / I’ll take on this world / Yes, I’ll stand and be strong / No, I’ll never give up / I will conquer with love / And I’ll fight like / Like a girl! (Fight Like A Girl – sung by Bomshel)
Somebody needs you now. For it is not the depersonalized macro issue – whatever it is – that ignites despair, stress, fear. It is the personal experience emanating therefrom that births the individual’s specific state.
Fixing the macro problems, as important as that is, will not be done today. Even so, when you deal with problems in depersonalized, unstoried ways, and when you tackle them (sometimes 43 in one song) only on a yearly basis, and scarcely put your boots on the ground, how are hearts going to be engaged into action against the behemoths?
There is a whole lot of fooling (especially self-deceit) going on in this Caribbean.
The fact that many others have too narrowly played the depiction of experience card in their songs, often limiting themselves to shallow and/or tawdry explorations of romantic relationships, should not give us comfort in our almost total abandonment of story.
As we laugh and dance and play-reflect on “strong lyrics”, we face the prospect of being alone in company, were it not for Rihanna or Skeeter Davis or Maroon 5 or Carrie Underwood or Whitney Houston or John Legend or Adele or Taylor Swift or Sue Thompson or Coldplay  – who, over and over, depict experience.
Our very own, ensconced in their ivory towers, leave us so alone.

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