Friday, October 31, 2014

Why I Quit Teaching (Or 9 reasons I feel I sucked at teaching)

happier daze...hanging at the park with my girl student crew

9 Reasons Why I Feel I sucked as a Teacher

When I told my former boss that I wanted to quit teaching, he ripped up my letter of resignation in my face, walked over to the trashcan and dumped it. “You can’t be serious. You’re a great teacher, Les, the kids love you; you can’t leave them! What’s wrong with you?”
It was the second time I had tried to quit that year. It was my fourth year of teaching and although I had considered quitting before, it seemed then whenever this feeling returned it came back stronger, more intense.

I have always wanted to teach. I was fortunate enough to have had some amazing teachers in my life who have had a major influence in contributing to how I think and what I think about. From my 4th grade teacher Mrs. Stein who introduced me to the many cultures of Native America to Mr. Coffey my high school math teacher who I would get in free at Mars Club in the meatpacking district of Manhattan because my brother DJ’d there, and with whom I can say I cultivated a friendship which still lasts to this day. 

I have worked a variety of jobs throughout my life.  I have worked in restaurants, retail stores, corporate offices and when I moved to Copenhagen 15 years ago, I got to fulfill one of my dreams to work in the field of education when I was hired to work in the largest international school here in Copenhagen.  I worked in administration and although the job had many perks, I have to admit that once into my 4th year there, I was getting ready to do something a bit more challenging.  I started to get that itch- that itch to find or create something different for myself.  So when a former colleague called me one day and asked if I would like to come teach English at a school I had once substituted and had grown to love, I jumped at the chance and despite a considerable drop in salary, went into the field of teaching.

But it didn’t work for me. I loved the kids. The kids loved me. So did the parents and I got along with most of my co-workers.  No one wanted me to leave. So what was the problem? Well, after giving it much thought, I came up with a list of why I quit teaching or rather, 9 reasons why I feel I sucked as a teacher.

1). I smoke. At this point in time, we all know that smoking cigarettes leads to all sorts of disgusting, seemingly irreversible diseases.  Although my school had a smoking section for the teachers (outside) I could never get used to the random kid who did accidentally pass by while I had a cigarette in my hand.  The coolest thing though, is seeing how many kids think smoking is so uncool. It would have been great if I just quit, but smoking was something I picked up again once I started teaching. Seems like I felt it necessary to have smoker’s breath coupled with the coffee I had every morning. Poor kids.

2). I love spontaneity. Nothing kills my spirit more than routine. I get why it’s important to have some structure, but I also believe in the relief of breaking a pattern. To be fair, I was given a lot of space to be myself with my students, and for that I am thankful. I am thankful to be an adult who stood amongst kids and implored them, “go, be kids!” I enjoyed surprising my students with days where we did things off the beaten-path like take walks around the lake or talk about something that was borne out of a students’ interest.

3). I’m grumpy in the morning. I’m not a morning person.  I think it’s uncivilized to make human beings face each other 8 in the morning. Cruel.

4). I have a confession to make. Sometimes if a student got mad at me and called me names, like prostitute, I would get really upset. (when you’re a teacher you quickly realize that this opens you up to a host of insults being hurled at you from kids ). I hated when I got emotional something a kid would say.  Now I understand the value of being authentic with your students and they have to learn that you too are human: but being a teacher made me want to really rise above it.  Although I got much better throughout the years, I realized that I was just too darn sensitive to teach!

5).  I always forgot my students’ names. Okay, that’s not entirely true – although I’ve done the occasional mixing up of names before. What I mean is this: I would experience this dread whenever I bumped into my former students. See, I would have this fear that I would experience that awkward moment where I wouldn’t remember the students’ names, and what do you think would happen? Viola – like magic – I would forget a name which I would promptly remember 1 second after walking away from some crushed adolescent.

6). I hate exams! Down with exams! Students should not be encouraged to enter a culture of stress. We invent these exams. Let’s invent something else for our children. Something that encourages them to relax and be better students, citizens, family members and friends.  Everytime I administered an exam I felt like I was selling my class of kids down the river.

7) Speaking of exams, another thing I really don’t like is the idea of authority.  I get that in order for this society to work in the way that it does, you “need” to have some kind of "authority". Okay, if you say so. But I felt incredibly uncomfortable with that as teacher I rule over you role that many get so drunk by. Yeah, how sad is it to get drunk with the power of teacher? 

8).  I hate being locked up in a classroom and having to sit still.  One of the groups of students I really identified with were the children diagnosed with ADHD.  Having to sit/stand in a classroom for hours on end is a torture I can’t in any good conscious execute.  I like to move around, get fresh air do something radical like sit someplace different.

9). I hate meetings. I learned in my short stint in teaching that if you want to teach, you have to spend an inordinate amount of time in meetings.  Meetings are so boring! Although I got a lot of crocheting and knitting done in many of these meetings (and made substantial contributions!) there is a certain tone meetings get when a group of adults sit down and decide to have one.  Petty power feuds are played out and emotions run high. I mean, do we all really need to all be there?!? Ugh.

Fundraising for the Nganjoni Health Clinie- a WEECE project, in Tanzania

"Let's build this ward," said Adriane to Vivian. "Yes, let’s do it," she answered. "I want to help," said Shani. And that's how a simple idea turned into a fundraising event for WEECE organization.  And so Shani Moore of UNDF, Adriane Hill from New York Theological Seminary 
and Viviane Cintron who works at UNFPA began the worthy endeavor of raising money to build a limited-stay ward for the Nganjoni Health Clinic -- a WEECE project -- in Tanzania. 
(further information below)

Please come and help  turn this idea into a reality. 

When asked what inspired this event, Vivian Cintron answered:  

I love what I do but it is very removed from the everyday lives of women. Working with Valeria and the women of WEECE have empowered me and made me realize that one person CAN make a difference. When you hear the stories of everyday accomplishments from these women — in very tough situations— you cannot help believe that you, too, can dare to dream and achieve the unachievable. My favorite story is about a young woman, mother of 2, in the rural village of Mvuleni. She wanted to increase the yield of her land to pay for her children’s school fees. So she joined the WEECE VICOBA (Village Community Bank) and then took a loan to buy a donkey. Her neighbors laughed and did not see her vision. With the donkey, she was able to double her yield and pay back her loan. Not only that, she had enough to buy another donkey which she promptly rented out to her doubting neighbors. She started her own donkey rental business! Dreams big and small are all possible! And the results can be surprising!! The reason I personally work with WEECE is simply that I get more back in spirit than I can ever give in cash. The connection — The Sisterhood with these women is meaningful in my life.

WEECE (Women Education and Economic Center) is a Non-Governmental Organization whose mission is to work with local marginalized women and girls of the Kilimanjaro region to achieve economic stability and gender equality through education, economics and health. 

Njanjoni Health Clinic was built by WEECE organization; however, there isn’t enough space to accommodate beds to provide overnight care particular for pregnant women, children and the elderly. The fundraiser begins here and we are super excited to support the construction of this ward to provide overnight care to pregnant women, children and the elderly.
Viviane Citron, p invite you to an evening of Women’s Empowerment for a panel discussion and reception. Valeria Mrema, Executive Director of WEECE, will be in New York to introduce WEECE and the Nganjoni Health Clinic project. For more information about WEECE visit

Joining the panel discussion will be Patience Stephens, Director/Special Advisor on Education at UN Women and Shawnee Benton Gibson, Co-Founder/Co-Director at Spirit of A Woman Leadership Development Institute, inspirational speaker and author of Walk In The Light With Me.

3:00pm - 5:00pm - Panel Discussion
5:00pm - 7:00pm - Meet & Greet Reception

The discussion will center on women’s education and economic empowerment and its direct link to gender equality, poverty eradication and national economic growth.

These 3 dynamic women will share related success stories from a global, national and local perspective and share future plans on the road to achieving equitable sustainable development for all.

This event is free. Please get your ticket here:

You will be able to make your donation in person at the day of the event by cash or check. For those that cannot attend, or wish to donate in advance, here are your current options:
In the US:
Bank: United Nations Federal Credit Union
Account Name: Vivian Cintron
ABA number: 2260-7860-9
Checking Account Number: 1030507870002
Bank Address: 24-01 44th Road, Long Island City, NY 11101-4605
In DK:
Bank: Nordea
Reg: 2105
Account number: 6263 782 311
PayPal account:
Wire to Tanzania:
Bank: Exim Bank Moshi, Tanzania
Account Name: Women's Education and Economic Centre
Swift Code: EXTNTZTZ
Account No. - 5770653536
Please mark your donation with your name and WEECE.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

On a new license to live...

my evening with Marie D. Brown at Cave Canum to see Terrance Hayes
 is definitely one of my recent highlights. 

I settled in into my Norwegian flight from JFK, New York to Copenhagen, Denmark. It was the perfect flight: 9:30pm and arriving the following day, at 11:30 am. Kai had agreed to meet me at the airport and I was ready to get home and take care of business. 

I managed to get all my things in my suitcase, and I risked taking a beautiful vintage, semi-acoustics guitar that Marie had bequeathed me. I crossed my fingers and hoped that I would be allowed on the flight with me as carry on luggage. I know it was a risk, but I really wanted to have it with me, feeling that it's presence would help with my inspiration for my show. It's a Vox Challenger, cherry sunburst in color. When I saw it for the first time, I thought it would be a great guitar to incorporate into my show. I've been playing with the guitar a few years now; with the intention of using it in some way in my work.  This semi-acoustic was perfect: the size, the feel.  Add to this that it once belonged to Marie's brother's who fought in Vietnam, and she's guessing that he probably brought it in Europe when he was stationed there. 

It was hard to leave New York. Again. This trip has been defining. I understand better now how life takes care of things - and the importance of silence.  I learned a lot spending time with Brook Stephenson and Jason Reynolds at the Rhode Island Writer's Colony.  Importantly, I found a space where I could not only continue the contemplation necessary for my memoir, but where I could share my work and get feedback. Add to this the opportunity to hear other's writing, about their processes, plans and dreams, the colony had done all that I had expected and more.  Meeting the others involved in this process, Charles Vincent Burwell and Molaundo Jones (all part of the Clever Agency) gave me access to a circle of writers and artists who I found inspiring and incredibly supportive.  I thank all of you. 

The gracious Marie D. Brown extended the use of her beautiful, culturally relevant home for a presentation of our work.  We all had the opportunity to read  to an intimate gathering that began with some snacks and drinks, surrounded by a sea of beautiful books and candle light.  A super thanks to Marie D. Brown and artist Clymenza Hawkins for their support in this!  I also really enjoyed being roommates with Clymenza- her creativity, positivity and vivaciousness for her work and life is amazing and inspiring. 

My mother, great scout that she is, rode with me to the airport from Harlem.  Since it was National Indigenous Day - there were not so many other passengers on the train. It seemed fitting that I should sit on a long train ride from Uptown to Queens. To be able to witness the different personalities that each stop gives privy to: whether it's the younger, eclectic mix of West 4th or the more corporate/residential environment of 81st Street. We ate bad Chinese food once there, and made our way to the security line.  That's when I started to cry. The last three times I have been to New York, leaving is always difficult to do. 

The first time I realized this was the time I missed my flight by a day. I didn't want to leave New York at all. That was the trip when Debbie and I walked to Brooklyn.  When we rolled up on my mom and grandmother and we all went to have Jamaican food at Buff Patty on Fulton.  It was when my grandmother still had a glimpse of recognition in her eyes when she saw me.  I had just begun my job teaching. 

The time after that was the visit before last. I asked my friend Jay Braun to take me to the airport. Jay and I went to college together and have even been roommates. He's a musician and sound engineer. Jay is one of those guys who's immensely intelligent and will keep you laughing for hours. The problem is, it took us four hours to get to the airport.  The good thing is that a) Jay and I had time to catch up on everything from politics to art and b) I really wasn't ready to come back to Copenhagen, so when I learned I missed my flight, it was without much regret that I made my way back to the car for the drive back to Harlem.  

So my mother and I arrive at the airport. Luckily my suitcase is not overweight and is checked-in. After our uneventful Chinese food dinner, we make our way to the security line and that's when I start to cry. But I pull myself together. I have business to take care of! 

Luckily for me, I'm allowed on the plane unhindered despite my guitar. Phew! Now I can relax! The passenger  who is supposed to sit next to me decides to sit elsewhere, so there was an empty seat between another passenger and myself. I had an aisle seat and the woman who sat by the window shot me a friendly smile.  I was feeling good, I had made it and was on my way back to my son. I was feeling sad because I had no idea what I was going to do when I got back. I thought about my apartment and where I wanted to live. I thought about my memoir and various articles I've started to work on.  All I know is that I have to live a life that is authentically me. Not anyone else's idea of what success is, but mine. 

This has been an interesting process - pulling myself back, observing life. Seeing where I am, seeing where others are.  And luckily, feeling stronger from it all. There have been some setbacks, and there will be more - but suddenly it is if what is truly important has emerged, pushing all the petty challenges to the background, forcing me to deal with my biggest challenge: creating the life I want for myself. 

I've really learned how important it is to keep your conversation positive. That even when people appear to have everything- whether it is financial freedom, a house, car - whatever it is that is flaunted as the accruements of happiness, they can be broken.  I have learned that when you walk around with paranoia and insecurity- Life will throw back those images to you. Luckily, having the opportunity to witness these traits in other people, have enabled me to see how I have sometimes allowed these things to gnaw at my contentment. But I am getting better at it. 

Fear is another factor. I have learned that when someone speaks their dream out loud to me, how important it is to be encouraging. That talking about your ideas somehow takes all the power out. That sometimes people say mean and bad things to each other- but that to be forgiving is important. That you can feel you have lifelong bond with someone, and you don't need to see that person, or necessarily talk to them.  That you could feel you have a lifelong bond with someone, and you don't. That there have been and continue to be a group of fearless, loving people and all that I have to do is keep my heart open. I am not confused about this.  

I had an amazing and defining trip to New York and Rhode Island and again, was ready to come back to Copenhagen and create my new life.  I started to appreciate the perceived "breakdowns" as stories with their own lessons inherent in them for me to learn.  I have accepted that some friendships have reached their expiration dates, and that in my messy evolution in becoming the woman that I want to be, that that's part of the process.  I have accepted that there are new people to meet, some of whom I have already began a new dialogue on life with. 

Moving to Denmark has been an adventure all in its own. I've had successful stints and experienced a lot of heartbreak and sadness. But what warms my heart more than anything are those that I continue to bump into, or meet up with, who throughout the years, no matter how long the period of time has been - show me through their patience, trust and understanding, that they love and support me.  Unconditionally.  This is an important feeling to experience. We are all human and want to feel understood. There have been many hiccups throughout the years, but I trust that I am on my path.  

The last few years have been a bitch ya'll. I'm not complaining- I'm just saying. Between deciding to stop teaching, starting a business, dealing with clients, getting my writing together, not feeling Denmark, wanting to parent better, Ugh! It was an awful spell that I had worked myself into.  Being around Brook Stephenson, Jason Reynolds and the rest of that crew helped build my spirit immensely. It was like basking in positivity. Slowly, a little bud started to open up within my heart- it was the will to live, the ability to see the positive in life again. Oh, it was wonderful! Feeling hopeful after years of sadness is no small achievement, and I am so thankful for that.  Add to this experience of being around Marie D. Brown- whose wisdom and patience has continues to fortify me-- , the bookcases chock-full-of books, pictures and presence. "You have to do the work, Lesley", Marie would remind me when we talked about writing.  

One evening Marie invited me to go with her to the fall Lecture & Master Class series in Brooklyn at Cave Canum on  Thursday, October 9 with Terrance Hayes on “Turning into Dwelling: The Space between the Poet and the Poem,” a talk on the work of poet Christopher Gilbert.  Afterwards, we all went to dinner (all of us part of Marie's very comprehensive list of mentees. There's the recent Columbia School of Journalism graduate Janeesha, navigating her first year out of school.  Then there was LaParis (I LOVE that name!) who has been putting pen to paper and starting her literary journey.  Sitting in a Mexican restaurant in the DUMBO area of Brooklyn, I was transported back to the 90s when restaurant dining with other writers along with Marie was part of the Marie Brown Associates experience. 

During the flight I noticed that my neighbor had a notebook out and was writing in what looked suspiciously like creative writing.  I could tell from the way she wrote the words down on the page, that it was a poem. It wasn't that I was being nosey or anything (lol) but it did pique my interest.  When I woke up from what could only be described as my sardine-can nap, I saw that we were just an hour away from Copenhagen, which in plane time seems like seconds- that last hour has a brilliant way of just winding all up to the destination.  My neighbor also woke up, and this time we started talking. 

"I don't mean to pry, but are you a writer?" I asked. What are the chances of my sitting next to someone who wrote, and who was also on her way back to Copenhagen? I wanted to build a writing community and was looking for recruits.  Turns out that Nina, for that is her name, is a half-American, half-Danish poet.  
"I was just contemplating how to kill myself once I got back to Copenhagen", I joked. 
"Me too!" She chimed in, and we both shared a much needed laugh. In that short amount of time, I met not only a writing partner, but someone with whom I could forge a positive bond with. Someone who, like me, is going through major changes, and wants to build a community conducive to creating the life envisioned. 

I had a similar experience in New  York where I ended up in the house of two amazing women in Upstate New York. I won't bore you with details, but suffice it to say I was in an emergency situation and luckily for me, a goddess arrived to save me.  I ended up back at Shamsi's crib in Woodstock, New York- sipping on some tea and enjoying the company of someone who although I had never met before, felt familiar to me. Her cousin, Jaleh, is also working on her travel memoir. We decided the following day to create a partnership on getting our work finished and out there.  

I have been doing a lot of positive thinking and visualization lately. I realize and have experienced that if I spend too much time visualizing my fears- they become real. So now, I'm visualizing my hopes. 

So now I'm back in Copenhagen, recharged and not feeling loaded down or stuffed with the stinking, foul energy that I seem to have been battling for some time now. Yes! This whole process has definitely built my compassion for all of you who are suffering from any kind of sadness, depression or negativity. It can truly be a beast. And it may not be one I can totally get rid of, but my goodness, does it feel great to have some distance to it and feel hopeful again. 

I may have made some clumsy decisions, but man am I happy to feel hopeful again.  


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Reflections on Rhode Island Writers' Colony

Brook Stephenson, Jason Reynolds
 and Lesley-AnnBrown
john & mary's garden

Well, I'm all done with the Rhode Island Writers' Colony, or should I say I've just started? I had an amazing and productive two weeks there. I met some pretty intelligent and creative souls. There was Brook Stephenson, co-founder of the  Colony and his constant, unwavering optimism and encouragement.  Jason Reynolds who is an old soul-definitely doing his work to heal the world through the power of STORY and discovering his book When I was the Greatest, which I read and can't wait to pass on to my son. There was Charles Vincent Burwell whose quiet strength and enthusiasm for life (not to mention multi-talent) was inspiring to be around. Then there was John, Brook's gregarious and witty big brother (Pirate Buddha Master Storyteller anyone?) and also co-founder of the Rhode Island Writers' Colony, who also bemoaned the fact that the Humanities as a subject has been attacked, and astutely recognizing that it is related to the general degradation of "education". Interesting indeed, given that Denmark has recently chosen to do the same. Then there is his fiancé Mary, who is definitely the dot to John's "i" and their two cats, Six and Seven, who were by all stretches of the word Humungous! There was the community of Warren, Rhode Island where  some warm smiles and hellos let us know that we were welcome.  The artists' dinner where we met Allison Newsome and her dynamic kids, Owen and Arden Morris, two incredibly talented kids. There was the run-in with the guy in the pick-up truck who , as he was explaining what he had just done (helping move a friend's son) inadvertently came to use the word "segregate", and how he looked at us a beet red, and was like, no, that's not the word I meant, and how that kept us laughing for days, a knee-slapping kind of laugh.  There was meeting Todd Hunter, whose professional feedback was invaluable to my rewrite. There was Angelo, who upon reading Jason's book, decided on the spot that he was going to name his two turkeys (lol) after two of the characters from When I Was the Greatest, Needles and Noodles. There was the local knitting shop where I bought yarn to knit a baby blanket for a dear friend who has just given birth . There's the conversation I overheard at this local knitting store Bella Yarns from retired Rhode Islanders who spoke about quahogs and the best places to get them, and the fact that you had to watch out on the bike lanes, "because of all the kids doing pot!" There was the car drive from Upstate New York with Rene, to Rhode Island, and the stop we made at the mall, somewhere in the great old U.S. of A. and realizing yet again, how racially segregated the States is, after all these years and history.  It was being able to have conversations that ran from Grenache wine to childhood, to books and writers. It was about being able to talk about dreams and how we are realizing them. I'll be home back in Copenhagen soon, and I must say, this adventure was certainly worth ever millisecond spent there.
And then there is  Copenhagen -- which was but a draft of a book when I got there, but double the size and content by the time I left. So, one step at a time...and

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Images from The Rhode Island's Writers Colony

allison newsome's lion @ her studio
The past two weeks have offered a plethora of experiences and the opportunity to meet up and connect with some fantastic folks. All I could say for the past couple of weeks was, "Rhode Island? Who'd a-thunk it?"Aside from having time and an incredible town and space to write in, there were the people - from Brook Stephenson co-founder of The Rhode Island Writers Colony, his brother John (the other founder) who is like a walking Encyclopedia with the soul of a pirate, his partner Marie whose hospitality is much appreciated, to Jason Reynolds writer extraordinaire, Malundo Jones and Charles Vincent Burwell of the Clever Agency.  The host of characters include many citizens of Warren, Rhode Island who went out of their way to make us feel welcome. There was Angelo who frequented the local coffee shop everyday, to staff of the Coffee Depot. There was also the day Brook and I went over to Alisson Newsome's studio, here are some of the images from that adventure:
by allison newsome

an artist's space

nature meets nurture in the work of allison new some

another allison new some piece in john's garden

love this pic of brook, john & jason 

ms. rene gearing up for the drive from upstate to rhode island
photo courtesy rene

me & angelo with the feather from "noodles"
photo courtesy of brook stephenson 

a window at john's

lots a trees to check out..

brook's cooking is what's up! photo courtesy brook stephenson

reading & knitting! Jason Reynolds & lab photo courtesy of brook stephenson

the rhode island writers' colony abode

the clever agency w molaundo jones, charles vincent burwell and
brook stephenson, founder of rhode island writers colony

the welcome table
Brook, Charles and I are slowly getting ready to make our way back to the big apple.

the lab

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Images from Warren

Me, Jason & John the Mayor of Warren (picture courtesy of Jason Reynolds)

a squash grows on the sidewalk

can you beat this visual pun? 

my future car 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Rhode Island Writer's Colony

two of the coolest brothers this sister had the opportunity to work, talk and geek with. 

and from the heavens? a bird's nest came tumbling down from the tree...

right down the street there is 160 year old tree. the small ones are her babies...

every one needs support. bless the human who so lovingly propped up this limb with this 

from mars to home & 3 very cool, inspiring, progressive brothers...

geeking out on cars, books and dr. who

special thanks to alison & kids for a true new england evening

brook's bistro is not only nurturing for the stomach, but for the soul! 

preparing an artist's dinner

tomatoes from the garden.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

A Vida são dois dias

in rene's garden...

Recently, my friend Sara from Portugal shared the above expression with me. It means, she said, that "Life is two days." I like that concept, and in that spirit, I'll break down the last two days of my life:

First of all, I'm on my way to Rhode Island to write at the very first Rhode Island Writer's Colony, spearheaded by Brook Stephens of Clever Agency. Together with the fabulous Jason Reynolds,  this will the kick-off event of this writing colony.

Okay, maybe I'll cover more than 2 days.

kai back in the day.
Mom & Reggie holding it down together in Brooklyn
for 17 years!
Mom has actually been in New York 44 years now! 
Thursday : I fly out of Copenhagen to Dusseldorf, Germany. The connection on paper seems effortless. The delay ends up being tantamount to a workday.  AirBerlin compensates us however, for the 4 hour delay. We get 5 Euros! (I know).  The highlight is my son asking, "Can I take you to the airport?", which in Copenhagen is about a 15 minute metro ride. I have to admit that when it comes to my son, I'm getting a bit nostalgic lately.  All of a sudden this kid sprouted and is now even taller than both his father and me.  His feet seems twice my size. Where did my baby go? I know, I know - but to all of you out there with little ones ENJOY IT. It goes really fast.  My mother is, as always, at the airport to meet me despite this delay.  The last time I flew into New York was in February. It was a snowstorm.  My mother still came and met me at the airport.  In true Trini country-bookie style (I LOVE IT!) my mother brings me a roti. Thank you mommy.

We take the train back to Brooklyn. The movement of the train lulls me into a state of time-travel : it is as though I'd never left.

In the taxi from Jay Street Borough hall, we begin to talk to the taxi driver.  We exchange backgrounds. His family hails from Pakistan, but like me, he was born in Brooklyn.
Lately, I've been thinking about the concept of immigrant vs. expat. My parents were immigrants from Trinidad and Tobago. I am an expat living in Copenhagen from Brooklyn/Trinidad. Human journeys can be complex.

Next stop: The illustrious Marie D. Brown.  As I push open the front door, I am greeted by the calm and creative atmosphere of Marie's home.  There's art adorning the walls, the nameless, crazy cat sleeping atop a chair in the front parlor,  and the smell of frankincense wafts to my soul.  Yes. I am blessed.

ed bradly, marie & cronchite

154th street.
I make my way upstairs to the third floor and enter the apartment I stayed in the  last time.  The room looks exactly like I left it four months ago...except that Clemenza Hawkings has also been there.  This I can tell from the art supplies neatly placed around the room, colorful summer dresses and bags of books. A place for women to work, write. This is what Marie offers.

I have always loved the decor of Marie's house. It is chock-full of reminders in LOVE - whether it be the pictures of friends, colleagues and family that are proudly displayed around the walls and bookcases, hundreds, maybe thousands of books that include classics, first prints, and all the books Marie has had a hand in birthing into this world, the African art, knick-knacks from world travel and adventures.  This house is a universe of culture, love for who we are, who we have been and who we will be as a people, of really exercising what Marie always reminds all of us is the secret to our continuation: Reciprocity.

muki, marie's daughter,
having her own party with the official party's starters
before the event. i love this photo.
 While in Harlem, I run a few errands on 145th Street and enjoy the walk to and fro.  I enjoy the friendly hellos from the folks in the streets, and the unseasonably hot weather. It's been too long since I've summered in NYC and as a child growing up in Brooklyn, summer in NYC has been imprinted on my genetic coding.  Reared in front of buidlings, on concrete, jumping double-dutch, playing RCK (Run, catch and kiss), the smell of sun on concrete opens up a portal of memories that I am unable to visit now.  But it fills me with happiness: I have so much to write.

 Marie and I catch up a bit before I head to Port Authority to take the bus to Kingston, NY.  I'm to meet my friend Rene - business woman extraordinaire-now-turned-bush-woman.  Rene has escaped to the woods - okay, not quite, yet. But she's found herself a home in Upstate New York, with the woods right behind her, creaks going through her backyard and guniea hens hanging out on her property.

We were supposed to take off on our road trip to Rhode Island yesterday, but alas! Car trouble! But, I'm taking it all in stride...I'll get there and history will happen. I am so looking forward to sharing this space for creatives such as myself - and to have a stretch of uninterrupted time to do the touches on my work that must be done.

the river right down the road from rene's

A special thanks to my mother, Beryl Brown Balbirsingh, brother, Gerard Balbirsingh, Rayner Ramirez, Brook Stephenson, Rene Hendricks & Marie D. Brown.

the lab

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Rhode Island Writers Colony: A Space to Write

the rhode island writer's colony is the brainchild of writer brook stephenson

I'm happy to report that I've been awarded a residency at Rhode Island Writers Colony - 10 days to work on my book in an environment with other writers. The other writers include Brook Stephenson, whom you should have met by now and Jason Reynolds 

Here's a little about Brook:
Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, I began people watching at an early age. First my parents showed me who they were, next the extended family, friends and on to my peers. One geographc place, one set of observations. Time to leave the small town/big city. Architecture and design were my interests not necessarily fine art nor creative writing.

Matriculating at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia I made new observations, gained new friends, interacted with more family and discovered as much as I enjoy photography, filmmaking and visual art, writing is where my main focus lies. I found a passion and pursued it mainly through a short fiction column for a weekly paper. Is it coincidence I started writing for the paper six months after I wrote my first piece of prose or that it opened the door to the entertainment industry and the possibilities therein?

Moving to New York City the process expanded. Getting a passport turned the view panoramic.  What did I see? The human condition five times over from the Americas to Europe to the Caribbean. What sort of stories do I tell? Good juicy rich ones about characters that remind you of people you know or experiences you’ve had-some are written others are multimedia.

& Jason:

Jason Reynolds is the author of several collections of poetry, including, Self, and the co-authored, My Name is Jason. Mine Too. A graduate of the University of Maryland, Reynolds has traveled the country, sharing stages with legends like Sonia Sanchez, Nikki Giovanni, and the late Amiri Baraka. Recently, Reynolds celebrated the release of his debut novel, When I Was the Greatest (Simon & Schuster) garnering rave reviews from KirkusPublisher’s WeeklySchool Library Journal,Book Page, and Hornbook. His    upcoming novel, The Boy in the Black Suit, hits stores January 2015. He currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.  He will be at work on My Mothers House, the story of James, a young man growing up in Columbia, South Carolina, who finds out that his mother isn’t actually his mother and goes to meet her for the first time at her house for dinner. Find out more about him at and

Monday, August 25, 2014

Garon Peterson

garon and i talked all things spiritual & cultural. 

Garon is one of my guardian angels. I met him years, years ago when I used to work with Danny Simmons, the visual artist, on OneWorld magazine.  Garon's an artist, among many other talents, and I knew our friendship was sealed when on my first trip to Amsterdam, who do I bump into there, all the way from Brooklyn? Yup, Mr. Garon. And it only gets better - he goes on to give me and my friend free passes to that year's Cannibus Cup.  I'll never forget having the opportunity to hear & see Rita Marley in the flesh, and that year's winner's speech, "I would like to thank all of you who smoke pot and work!"
Anyway, that was ages and lifetimes ago, but when I was heading to New York on this last trip, I knew without an iota of a doubt that I wanted to see Garon- he's good people and always inspires the best from me.
Luckily for me, I got to spend some quality time with Garon, where we were able to talk African history, ideas and spirituality.  I had the opportunity to stay in Bedstuy at his place, and hey, sleeping in Brooklyn is always, always, always a welcome treat.
Shout out to Garon - thanks for making my trip to New York so special. You were an amazing teacher/mentor/friend!

the lab 


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