“There’s a hidden artist in all of us” is a common cliché of encouragement. But what if the artist is not at all hidden? We don’t have to dig deep or go on a surreal journey of self-exploration in order to discover this incognito creativity waiting to be unlocked and expressed. There is art in everything we do on a daily basis. There is artistry in the thoughts, decisions, actions and responses to life with which we decorate the tapestry of humanity.
Art is both an expression and an impression. It is how we choose to explain and understand the world around us. The creation and adoration of art is subjective and only becomes renowned and collectively appreciated through communication and conviction. Rules of aesthetics such as symmetry, harmony and expectancy are often revisited and redefined by originality – moments of intended or accidental brilliance that deviate from the established. Moments that remind us that we are not listless in a stagnant pond but alive in a rippling, crashing, swelling Universe.
Art occurs every time we introduce ourselves. Art is expressed whenever we sincerely talk about our dreams and aspirations. It is therefore not the artist that is hidden and needs to be discovered, it is our innermost sentiments waiting for an honest voice to reveal them to a wanting world. A world looking for a new sound, vision and touch.
Songs and music are almost synonymous with celebration. They characterise seasons and cultural situations. Turn on the radio at different times of the day, week or year and the music varies.
In the kingdoms of the earth at that time the word season had a very different meaning.
The word “season” literally meant “singing-reason”. The words “season” and “sing-song” were often used to mean the same thing. It didn’t make a difference, as some people spoke so quickly that the “g’s” got lost. No two seasons were the same and for every season there was a new song.
At the time of writing this it is Christmas. Growing up in Barbados we remember Christmas as a time of seasonal songs being blasted from stores on Broad Street and Swan Street, enticing shuffling shoppers to come in and relieve them of their “obvious bargains”.
Music transfixes and keeps us locked in to the moment. It glides over us like the wind and warms us like the sun, drenching us like the rain if we do not seek shelter from its downpour.
Songs were very much a part of school and church, as we would practice for choir recitals and Christmas programs, celebrating the birth of Christ. In our culture, there is no other time of the year typified by music that spans generations and ages. We hardly tire of “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World”. These songs remind us of the meaning of Christmas, inspiring and fuelling us for the new year.
Each season would last as long as there was something new to sing about, or until people simply got tired of singing the same song.
Music is not always happy. It can be dark, sorrowful and somewhat depressing, reflecting our current experience. In his book, “This is Your Brain on Music”, Daniel J. Levitin says:
“If music serves to convey feelings through the interaction of physical gestures and sound, the musician needs his brain state to match the emotional state he is trying to express.”
Daniel J. Levitin (Author of This is Your Brain on Music)
In “The Kingdoms of Celebration” the scenes of life are played through music. In future books I will go into more detail about different styles of singing used by the different kingdoms. In the first book the Kingdom of Fragrant Flowers is featured, as this is the home kingdom of the main character, Princess Nia. However, singing and musical styles and genres are not exclusive. They may be birthed in different cultures but beauty emerges from confusion – the initial experimental chaos of fusion – when voices, accents, languages and songs come together.
Music and songs make us as much as we make them. We are reprogrammed every time we sing. We are united and inspired by tunes that don’t just tickle our ears but transform the way our blood flows and our neurones fire; that tune our heartbeats and our thoughts; that reflect and refract the image of our souls.
It is just 3 days before Christmas at the time of writing. I’m looking forward to getting together with family and friends and, once all the fuss and prep and rush are over, doing very little. Celebration is not an event or an action, it is an ongoing experience based on our identities, attitudes and choices. We celebrate because it reinforces, justifies and rewards these. There are 6 things about celebration that I use to guide the textual tapestry of scenes and pages in the Kingdoms of Celebration.
It is not often that we celebrate “just because”, but, even in doing so, “just because” is still a purpose. There is still a train of thought that precedes “just because”. There has to be something motivating us to celebrate, providing a focal theme around which we decorate, prepare and execute.
No one likes to celebrate alone. It seems rather artificial and sometimes depressing when we choose to isolate ourselves in celebration. It is not impossible, but it does help to know that there are like-minded people with the same purpose and intent.
Everything starts somewhere and at sometime. However, the most enjoyable celebrations are those that have come through the ages and passed on from generation to generation. One could argue that there are many reasons why some traditions survive and others disappear, but, generally, even if at some time enforced or imposed on us, tradition is the result of acceptance and satisfaction.
This year when we get together, we will talk about things that happened 10, maybe 20 years ago. We will laugh without restraint – the type that keeps the neighbours close to their phones. We will also take time out to remember those who are no longer with us. Celebration imprints long term memories into our brains, such that we have them to sustain us when the less celebratory times come.
After Christmas we will start thinking about the new year. When thinking about the new year we will construct lists of resolutions (some less sincere/realistic than others). Nevertheless, time to reflect, get together and celebrate is significant in making us believe that anything can be achieved.
As much as we will stay awake longer hours, sleep in random postures, let our eyes and ears be consumed by bad movies and good conversations (and vice versa), after it all we will feel a sense of rest that cannot be achieved with 12 hours of sleep. Celebration is good for the body, mind and soul.
Can you imagine a world without celebration? As meaningless as some of the manifestations of our cultural celebrations may appear to be, celebration is as much as we make it and allow it to make us.
In the previous post I introduced the Elders, who represented the older generation, whose main contributions to the kingdoms included guidance, wisdom and caution. In this post I introduce the Runners. Every nation, people and story has its superstars, heroes and heartthrobs – the Runners would be all of the above. They are young, competitive, fit and somewhat idolised throughout the kingdoms. Of course they didn’t just run for the sake of running. They had an important place and function, helping to maintain the communications and relations between the various kingdoms where different people dwelt. They were postal workers and ambassadors.
To stay in touch they would send gifts to each other by the Kingdom Runners.
These were fast men and women who could run for a very long time.
They were like the postmen delivering letters.
Without telephones and the Internet, they were very important for spreading news between the kingdoms.
Please keep in mind that it is a work of fiction and almost anything can happen. That said, I do try to keep expectations close to reality or treat certain parameters like time and distance with a certain level of ambiguity. The runners would run for “many moons” and distances just to carry the simplest of messages. In the illustration above they are preparing to head off from the Kingdom of Fragrant Flowers towards the Northern, Western, Southern and Eastern Kingdoms. They would carry sacks of necessities (at sometime I will work out what those are), small gifts (like those Princess Nia is running to bring – read the book to find out what she has in those small bags) and instructions from the Elders.
The illustration also shows that the King and the Elders do not take these young, exuberant Runners for granted. When they trek across the albeit safe earth to the regions beyond, there is some element of survival and danger involved, which I initially spare the reader from. I try to show by the grave expressions and postures of King Kani and the Elders that they acknowledge the enormity of running miles and miles in primitive footwear and clothing. However, children, as well-meaning as they are, will often have a mind of their own, which hardly has time to analyse risk and submit to ceremony.
Before the Runners could set off, Princess Nia appeared
running and yelling, “wait! WAIT!”
King Kani tried to calm her down but did not want to keep the runners very much longer from their long journey.
However, the runners, like everyone in the kingdom, had soft
hearts for Princess Nia and were happy to help with whatever
Like all great runners and heroes, there is a time when shoes and capes need to be put away. Some of the Runners would go on to be Elders (maybe heads of the athletics association and constantly under fire) and some of them would go on to be storytellers/ entertainers. Some of the stories would recall past glories with embellishments to keep listeners on the edges of their seats.
Some of the older runners would tell stories of giant creatures and fire coming from mountains. These stories were however met with loud laughter. Nia would tell her mother, Queen Malia, stories she heard from the old runners. The Queen would laugh and say, “those silly runners don’t run with their feet any more, so they run with their mouths”.
I hope you’ll enjoy reading about the Runners. I have a further book in mind that will feature them and their journeys in more detail. I’ll stop “running my mouth” now and end this post here – gotta run catch the bus!
In the Kingdoms of Celebration, each kingdom has a collective of people known as “The Elders”. They are the voice of experience, the personification of wisdom and the whisperers in the ears of the kingdoms’ leaders. The Elders always speak in rhyme, which makes their dialogue distinctive in the book:
Darker grow the purple clouds,
Sharply stings the falling rain;
Surely bees and butterflies
Notice when the seasons change.
There was one trap that I fell into with my representation of the Elders in the first draft of what felt like a complete story. They had somehow become a very negative voice. They worried, chided the king to make decisions and somehow became the spirit of pessimism in the story that relates the triumph of the hopeful.
As I re-read the story and thought about the older people, the Elders, in my life, I realised that I was misrepresenting my own experience.
Though the skies may seem so bleak,
People listen when you speak
With boldness and a gentle tone –
Let seeds of wrath be never sown.
In addition to my parents, wider family and teachers, I was blessed to have various older men and women especially in church that would constantly validate my ambitions and encourage me to continue on a steady path. Many did not come from a place of academic achievement, as they were from a time when access to education was still a privilege and not as pervasive as it is now in Barbados. Nevertheless, they were wise. They understood the importance of friendship, family and fun in correct measure. They encouraged and prayed with confidence that some would misinterpret as simple-mindedness or desperation. They gave generously and earnestly without maintaining records of emotional or economic recompense. They are so many people who come to my mind that changed my life through straightforward words and gestures. I honour them.
It is these memories that I now load into my frontal lobe as I revisit the text that embodies the character of the Elders. They are significant in the Kingdoms of Celebration as they are in our reality.
Our society needs our Elders. We too easily dismiss them and focus on developing the next generation without their input, falling for the deception of irrelevance. Yes, the children and youth hold the pens that will write on future’s pages, but these pens will only blot and punch holes if not placed on a solid surface. (Ok, think I got a bit carried away with that analogy, but I gave it a go). Thank you to the Elders who have gone on before and those who are still among us, still reinforcing, validating, praying and encouraging.
Memories of laughter and memories of songs
Are gifts that remain when our loved ones are gone.
Gone to the place where their songs were conceived and
Joy is eternal for them who believe.
On reading my blog some time ago, one of my colleagues remarked, “so, with all these kingdoms, who is the baddie?” I smiled because this was naturally a (if not THE) question I put to myself, while writing the “hero’s journey” and plot of the story. So, who is the baddie?
The baddie is the age-old form that appears and reinvents itself in many ways. The baddie banishes worlds to life in bleak darkness, where once there was brightness, light and colour. The baddie despises joy and makes it seemingly impossible for kingdoms to come together, unite as family and friends, and have fun.
…In that moment, the reminders of everything beautiful seemed to disappear and all that was left was darkness, coldness, dampness and fear….
The baddie thrives on chaos, uncertainty and loss of initiative, belief, expectancy and general direction. The baddie makes us run towards meaningless goals that seem justified, given the twisted logic that the baddie whispers in our ears.
…All the people gasped even louder, “Oh no, Oh dear, Oh no no no!” Queen Malia glared so sternly at the young man, that he hid behind the King. King Kani pulled him from behind him, gave him a gentle frown, and then turned to firmly address the people…
The baddie turns smiles into threats, eyes into daggers and casual brushes into calamitous shoves. The baddie refuses to be wrong and believes they are entitled to strike the weak, destroy the innocent and take away opportunity from the smallest of children. The baddie lurks in the mundane, conjures up answers in uncertainty, capitalises on the crowd, feeds on ignorance and persuades the desperate to play by its rules. The baddie plays its trump card and calls for borders to be closed down and entire kingdoms to be wiped from the face of the earth. The baddie loves boxes, barriers and blame. The baddie provides a false sense of security, making people feel safe, when they maybe in fact in the lowest place of their lives and really need boosts of boldness. The baddie belittles the beauty of the truly beautiful.
Princess Nia stood away from the huddle and exclaimed with conviction, “what about the flowers?”
The baddie leaves the helpless in gutters and challenges them to help themselves. The baddie is big, beyond the power possessed by a single human being, and knows it. The baddie lives on as the obvious cliche we fight to ignore, hidden in in the shadows of each partially-turned page:
Welcome to the Kingdoms of Celebration. This is the title of the first in the journey of kids’ books I am embarking on, featuring Princess Nia as the main character. Nia is a princess from the Kingdom of Fragrant Flowers, one of the major kingdoms in the Kingdoms of Celebration.
She is the daughter of Queen Malia and King Kani, who are loved and respected across the Kingdoms of Celebration as leaders who uphold the motto of Family, Friendship and Fun.
My journey started admittedly with a simpler aim: to write a kids book featuring a black, beautiful princess. A book I could read to my daughter without having to remind her that she too was – or could be – beautiful, in spite of the trending fairytale characterisation of beauty.
Hair was an important topic for all the women and girls in the Kingdom of Fragrant Flowers. For many of the men and boys as well, but that’s another story.
There were many, many different styles just like there were many, many different flowers.
And just like the many, many flowers, the many, many hairstyles were all beautiful.
However, as I discussed the ideas with family, friends, colleagues and random strangers, I soon realised that I didn’t want to write a book about a black princess and a black kingdom. I wanted to write a book about a princess who happened to be black and a whole cross culture of kingdoms of different races, skills, resources, goals and world-views, yet coexisting in celebration of each other’s differences. In fact, difference and diversity would be so normal that the books don’t dwell on diversity as something special. This is life. This is celebration.
This does seem a bit meaty for children, but this is the challenge we as kids book writers face: making the big topics in life accessible, palatable and digestible for children, without being patronising, boring or irrelevant. This is my attempt to capture what celebration could look like.
Princess Nia lived in a time many, many years ago when all of the earth’s lands were still one.
There were no borders, no moats or separation by water, no gates and no fences. The earth was just one place where people lived.
Everyone could freely walk everywhere although it would take a very long time. In fact, walking is just what many people did. From a very young age Nia would walk for many moons with her parents and people of the Kingdom of Fragrant Flowers to visit friends from different kingdoms.
Even though the lands of the earth were one, there were still many different kingdoms.
This was possibly the happiest time on earth. There was no fear of each other, no fear of the dark and no fear of spiders.
In the north was the Kingdom of Precious Metals and Stones. They found silver, gold and diamonds under the earth. They also dug and found other metals that would be used for many things. Nia knew them well as they would bring metals and stones to her father, King Kani, for making tools. These tools were used to keep the gardens of Fragrant Flowers as magnificent as possible.
In the south was the Kingdom of Birds. They were bird watchers and carers.
Birds of all kinds flocked and nested in their kingdom.
The people of the southern kingdom studied the birds. They dreamed of being able to fly and had often made attempts that did not all end up so well.
The eastern Kingdom of Light planned everything around the morning sun, the night-time moon and the stars.
They boasted that they were the sun’s favourites. It came to see them first before visiting the other kingdoms.
They loved everything to do with light and were known for their very long, fire-side parties. They would party to welcome the sun in the morning and then to say goodbye at night.
They loved light so much that some of the people were known to eat fire.
The western Kingdom of Sea Shells was known for life close to the sea.
Homes were decorated with shells of every sort. People also wore colourful seashells as ornaments and hairpieces
They were many cliffs and the people were very good divers, swimmers and boat builders.
As you can imagine, a party in the Kingdom of Sea Shells was a beach party with water-sports.
Now, at the centre of the earth at that time was The Kingdom of Fragrant Flowers, Nia’s kingdom.
It was a fertile land of fruit trees and flowers of every sort.
As far as the eye could see were fields of many colours. Red, white, blue, purple, yellow, pink and more.
Flowers were used to decorate the halls, the houses and of course the people.
Princess Nia continued to blossom in beauty. Some said she looked like her mother the Queen, others said she had the King’s nose.
King Kani called her his “precious petal” because she floated as she walked, just like when rose petals floated in the air.
Nia’s skin was dark like the bark of the Cassia tree. It always had a glow as though the sun’s rays stayed in her cheeks.
Her black, curly, wooly hair was always decorated with colourful petals from Geraniums.
Many moons passed, the rainbow roses continued to bloom and plans for the party were in full swing. Everyone in the kingdom was involved in putting together decorations, floral arrangements, food, drink and entertainment for their guests.
Princess Nia could be found helping in the Ipakati garden, talking and singing to the flowers as she went about her work.
Plans seemed to be flowing very well, with smiles and laughter making the work enjoyable. This was so until something that would change their world forever happened…
I can’t give away anymore of the story and spoil your experience of diving into this world, once the book is complete. Like any story something happens that literally breaks their world apart. Princess Nia makes a move of almost self-sacrifice that stops this rupture and establishes a new season for the kingdoms.
Family, friendship and fun can be overshadowed by fear and we turn to survival as the epitome of living – a deception that keeps us apart and enables oppression to fester. This is the reality that we face today. Each generation faces a new manifestation of the same old fear that severs the potential for intercultural collaboration and existence – the essence of beauty. Maybe someday we will “return” to be the Kingdoms of Celebration.