I hold several things directly responsible for the aesthetic ‘me’ that exists today:
- Mid-century trans-Atlantic Caribbean migration (Kingston/London/Toronto);
- Good looking parents from well-dressed families – both sides;
- The Caribbean circa late 1970-something;
- The cadence of my father’s sermons (and the feel of his Bible and Hymnal);
- My mother’s Church clothes (hat/hair/dress/heels/purse/nails/perfume)
- Beautifully edited family albums (my parents took great photographs);
- 1980s Canadian suburbs (with special reference to the library and rec center);
- Piano lessons;
- French immersion public school;
- 19th century ‘books for girls’;
- Anne of Green Gables;
- Annie Lennox in the Sweet Dreams video;
- Whoever programed all that British post-punk pop/new romantic/new wave/alt rock stuff on 1980s Toronto radio;
- Summers in Grenada;
- Pre-IB/handbells/theatre middle school in Texas;
- Hot, pink, resort-style early 90s Boca Raton;
- Mid-90s Harper’s Bazaar;
- Pre-The Real World MTV.
Imagine. Everything is orderly and clean. Everything matches but with a certain flair. There is no clutter. Relationships are everything. Practice makes perfect. Clear skin, pure soul, articulate thinking and speech. Light clothes in the heat, fur coat in the cold. Go to school/work every weekday. Leave school/work at school/work. Get some fresh air. Eat a proper breakfast/lunch/dinner. Talk on the telephone. Get a good night’s sleep.
It was all too peripatetic to have much depth, but the drill, the routine was real.
The divide in terms of race between my immediate and mediated experiences was real, too.
In any case, I have a profound feeling of ‘alive’ when I think of radio/MTV/Harper’s Bazaar. There was a background noise to all that media – the hiss and crack of radio broadcasts and video recordings, the eventual wear of my favorite magazine issues. Or, perhaps it was the regular intervals at which I engaged each one, part of the routine: most nights, I listened to the college radio station (way to the left on the FM dial) until I fell asleep; I set the VCR to record 120 Minutes once a week on Sunday from 11:30pm – 4:30 am just to make sure I got the whole thing; and I picked up new issues of Harper’s Bazaar from Eckerd like clockwork every month.
I found the things I liked subversive. And the were, but not in the way one might imagine. They didn’t subvert ‘the order of things’ in the larger society as my teenaged self thought, but they did pull me out of and made me reshape my life through their lenses. For instance, I can never unsee how this fashion spread changed the way I looked at where I lived and where my family came from.
So now I don’t trust mass media of any kind, especially good-natured, squeaky-clean, take-them-with-you-anywhere NPR podcasts. Gah. All those perfect recordings and perfectly edited stories. They’re an end in and of themselves; they require absolutely nothing on the part of the listener save listening. And in real life, what happens when the air conditioning cuts in or the neighbors’ bratty three-year-old screams or life gets that inescapably vast oppressive gray heaviness or you forget your place in the story and circle back three times or there is no moral, no hope? Do you just edit it out?