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Introducing . . . Isla Caine (Chattrisse does burlesque!)

Last fall, I saw a dear friend of mine (Cassidy) perform in a fabulous burlesque show created by another friend of mine (Knox). Many people think of burlesque as just a bunch of hot women taking their clothes off in front of a sleazy crowd and not much else, right? Not on Knox’s watch — this was a full-scale production with a plot, period costumes and props, music, interesting characters, incredible dancing and choreography and singing, and both women and men of diverse appearances — including body types — performing burlesque for a warm and responsive audience. I stood around afterward, talking to one or two dancers who’d performed for Knox before, and said that I was going to try out for one of her shows in 2018.

Necessary background info:

(1) I am a lifelong singer; I’ve been singing at home since forever and in public since I was six years old, although

(2) I still battle with shyness, and feel that none of my public performances have ever been as good as what I manage to pull off vocally when I’m alone at home

(3) For almost as long as I’ve been singing in public, I’ve been very self-conscious about my body, and this has been exacerbated by the fact that

(4) For nearly two full years, I’ve been recovering from a shoulder injury (really, two of them) and this has led to a deepening of my disappointment in, and disdain toward, my own body

(5) In addition to a slump in my dancing, it’s been quite awhile since I was onstage singing. Except for a guest spot in a Chris Birkett show last October, it honestly may be over a year now — I literally don’t remember.

And finally, (6) I am a born-again Christian who still many questions about reconciling God’s love, my gratitude for innumerable miracles including our own bodies, and the shame that many Western people, particularly women, are programmed to experience when we discuss or display our sexuality.

Where am I going with all this? Well, even though I had plenty of reasons to simply disregard my stated goal of auditioning for a burlesque show, I decided that they all boiled down to one: fear. I pulled that fear out of my head and held it in my hand, where I could get a good look at it and remind myself how much bigger than it I am and always will be. I weighed all six of the points listed above, and decided to go through with the audition. With Knox’s help, I created a new act starring a new character: Isla Caine.

“Isla” can be either “EESS-lah” (Spanish pronunciation) or “EYE-lah” (English pronunciation), depending on where she is and who she’s talking to . . . because if you know me personally, you know that my most-used skills throughout life have probably been reading, writing, speaking, and code-switching. “Caine” is mostly a nod to sugar cane, since I’m Caribbean and I can be very sweet. Isla Caine emphasizes some of the realest parts of Chattrisse. She has a soothing voice. You see her commanding personality when it comes to getting things done. She’s willing to appreciate her curves even if they aren’t all in the places where she’d like them to be yet. And in terms of fashion, the vibe she gives you is made up of Miranda Priestley (Meryl Streep’s character in The Devil Wears Prada), Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal ensemble, and a deep appreciation for jewel tones.

So I did it! On April 12th, I took the stage at Revival in a white suit over a black blouse, with smouldering eye makeup and a bright red lip. My hair was coiled into a bun and I wore my real-life oversized glasses. Before an audience of friends and cousins (but mostly strangers), I sang Diana Krall’s version of “Peel Me a Grape” while removing my blazer, blouse, pants, and elbow gloves. By the time I sashayed off the stage in my stilettos with my hair swinging back and forth across my shoulder blades, I was wearing only my matching aubergine bra and panties. And for once, no doubt because I was singing into a beautifully restored antique microphone, my voice sounded far better floating through the venue than it did it any of my at-home rehearsals.

Even before I was hugged by my people in the audience, or checked my phone to see a congratulatory message from a friend in Vancouver which contained a video clip of me onstage mere minutes earlier, or saw any of the pics or footage, I felt so good. I was so proud of myself for facing off against my nerves and fear and insecurities, and the feeling kept growing as I proudly watched Gin Kelly, another first-timer who I know from the world of acting, wow the crowd. Cassidy, who’s a pro at this, absolutely killed her set too. From what I was able to see, every woman and man who took the stage did themselves proud, and it felt incredible to be in the ring with them instead of watching from the sidelines.

On a very real level, if you aren’t learning you aren’t growing. One of my guiding principles (especially for this transition period I seem to still be in) is to keep learning, no matter what; otherwise I’ll have gone through an entire new season and have no growth to show for it. Creating and debuting Isla Caine has certainly taught and tested me, and while I haven’t decided yet how soon (or whether) I’ll bring her back out again, I’m truly glad to meet her and get to know myself a little better at the same time.

Thanks to Knox, Cassidy and all of the other Viva Italia performers, my family and friends who came, the sound guy whose name I forget right now but he’s super-cool, and to Hollywood Jade whose years of Urbanesque dance classes have helped me more than he knows.

Thanks also to photographer Ruth Gillson for the wonderful images! Speakeasy at Revival is a monthly event at 783 College St here in Toronto and if you’re looking for a fear to conquer, you may want to get in touch and ask to audition. Either way, check out one of their shows; I think you’ll be glad you did!

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xo

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What’s this season called?

I’m in a transition phase in my life … which is starting to sound kind of funny to me since I’ve been saying that for more than six months now. First it was time to leave my full-time day job, then I switched into a part-time evening one, then I had an audition drought (which was pretty annoying, since the job change had been prompted in part by my desire to have my daytimes free for auditions), then I used those daytime hours to write my first feature-length screenplay and apply for funding to help get it made, then I reinvigorated my training as an actor and got new headshots, then I had a few auditions followed by two more audition-barren weeks, and now I’m in training at a new new day/evening job and the auditions have started to pick up again.

In the meantime, I’ve taken a vacation (a concept which is nearly as foreign to me as the idea of celebrating a romantic anniversary, which I’ve also recently done), said goodbye to my cat (a beloved faithful companion of 14 years), dealt with a health issue or two (nothing awful, don’t worry), and had numerous extended family members pass away. So in many ways it feels like a turbulent time in my life.

When I expressed this recently to a friend, she said “Try and have patience. You’re likely coming through the other end now,” and “Longer transitions mean a greater impact when you land … I’d like to think.”

So would I.

I received another helpful insight from a social worker, who has suggested that I try being more compassionate with myself. I live my life by a set of unwavering standards, and I’ve always been able to fall back on my adherence to them even when those around me fall short. This has mostly served me well – except that I’m starting to wonder whether one of the lessons I’m meant to learn now is to let up on myself every now and then. To have a non-productive day without feeling bad about it. To treat myself with gifts once in awhile, the way I love to treat others. To congratulate myself for tries as well as actual wins. Because when I stop and think of all the reasons (excuses) I could’ve come up with to not write, not seek medical advice, not pay for classes and new headshots, not travel, and not go back into the Job Hunt Vortex … twice … all of those tries begin to look more and more like wins to me.

This is where I’m supposed to deliver an elegant finish; I don’t really have one. I guess I’ll just thank you for reading, and for sharing any of your own recent tries and wins that you’d like to let the world know about; and give thanks, of course, to my friends and fam who love me undoubtedly.

And thank you, Self. I’m proud of you.

xo

 

 

PS: For real, what are you reaching for right now? I’d love to know!

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Tired … On Purpose

This post will probably be more useful to me than it is to you.

Roughly ten years ago, when I was taking dance classes regularly, I had a brief meetup with a dancer friend of mine inside of DLM Studio on Bloor St West. He told me about how tired he was because of all the dancing he’d been doing (both that day and in general). I remember telling myself “Don’t do this. Don’t get to the point where you complain about doing so much singing, or acting, or whatever.” What I think I said out loud was something to the effect of, “Hey, everybody’s tired, but at least you’re tired from doing a lot of something you love.” And I’ve been reminded of that conversation numerous times.

Like yesterday, for example.  My Saturday, February 17th was awesome.

Tiring?

Yes.

Hectic?

Yep, even more so than an average weekend for me.

Worthwhile?

Well, let’s see.

Although I went to bed too late on Friday (my day job is an evening one), I woke up on time Saturday to arrive at the location for a music video shoot at 9:45am. I was one of the production assistants, helping to organize various things so that my friends and their dancers/models could focus on giving the best performances possible. It was so good to support folks I really care about who are working to make their dreams come true, while meeting some new ones and having the fun of being part of a creative project without any of the stress of the project being mine. Although the shoot was an all-day affair, I left at 1pm after a partial outfit change to get to the Art Gallery of Ontario before 2 (eating snacks en route on the 505 Dundas streetcar). At the AGO I had time to apply lipstick, mingle a bit, and settle in for a tribute to and Q&A session with acclaimed casting director Robi Reed, who bestowed some nuggets of useful knowledge as part of the 6th annual Toronto Black Film Festival. Two of my favourites were “Stay ready so you don’t have to get ready,” and “There are two kinds of people: the people who want it and the people who can’t live without it.” That ended a bit before 4, so my friend and I were able to mingle a bit more and then hustle to catch the 4:15 showing of the Black Panther movie with my dad and my boyfriend. All I will say about that at this moment is that Black Panther is one of the best movies I’ve seen, I fervently hope to play a role like Shuri’s one day (yessss Letitia Wright!), and this film will go down in history as a memorable one for so many of the right reasons – I’m so happy I was able to see it on its opening weekend. The last event of the day was a live comedy show starring Toronto comedian Trixx, who’s absolutely blown up online since the first time – years ago – I saw him onstage in person. While Trixx and the other comedians were all very funny, one of my favourite parts of the night was probably his serious show ending, where he talked about the support he receives from Torontonians despite our reputation as the Screwface Capital. It was especially cool that when I made my way up to Trixx to congratulate him afterward, he greeted me as “Ms Director” (a bit preliminary, but I’ll take it!), which just seemed to confirm to me that while you’re watching someone else rise and shine, they may also be aware of you doing the same thing. And then, on the way home, I realized that I’d received an email during the show confirming my participation in a Master Class with a Gemini-award-winning screenwriter and director at the upcoming ACTRA conference; essentially, my first audition of the year, and one with maybe 200 people watching it. Live.

I was very tired by the time I got to bed, and it was the kind of tiredness that inspires and even demands gratitude. Even better: although yesterday was particularly careerful (haha), it wasn’t an anomaly for 2018 Chattrisse Dolabaille. Today I took an acting class which involved a true performance breakthrough for me; on Monday I’ll be getting new headshots done and writing; Tuesday will involve prep for the ACTRA conference which is on Wednesday and Thursday; the next screening of my short film CHECK is on Friday. And et cetera.

I wanted to publish this so that I’ll have something tangible to point to when future successes seem to some as though they materialized from nothing. I actually keep a little notebook where I write down every career-related task that I do each day, to make sure I don’t let any days go by without adding to the pile; and even though I still have *so* much more building to do, I know that I’ve been putting in work that I can be proud of. Since I’m learning and growing, my goals are within my reach; since my goals are within my reach, I have more learning and growing to do. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel like I’ve “made it” and the bulk of the work is behind me; I do know that every time I yawned today, somewhere deep down inside my soul, I gave myself a high-five.

So at the risk of repeating myself, let’s promise that since we spend so much of our adult lives being tired anyway, we’ll make sure that at least some of that tiredness is the result of chasing our dreams. Not so that we can complain about the effort, but so that we can develop those dream-chasing habits and muscles.

Now if you’ll excuse me . . . bedtime. And not just because I don’t want bags under my eyes for tomorrow’s shoot =)

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Ujamaa … or, How to Buy Black?

Helpful hint: if you’re a black business owner with the ability to reach folks who observe Kwanzaa (in other words, this applies to every black business owner who has ever heard of the internet), you should consider either releasing new products on December 29th or having a sale that day, or both.

The 29th of December is the fourth day of Kwanzaa, and its principle is Ujamaa, or “co-operative economics.” Observers are encouraged to support black businesses and black business owners in order to help build and strengthen the community.

The phrase “Buy Black” is familiar to many people by now, and it’s an important, subtle yet meaningful way to counter some of the economic oppression which has been endured by the black diaspora for centuries. It’s clear that a disturbingly high amount of dollars from within the black community don’t remain within the black community for long enough to build the community up; what isn’t always so clear, in an age where so many financial transactions are completed without you ever knowing the ethnic background of who is eventually getting your money, is how to correct this at the micro level.

“Buy Black,” you say. Especially on December 29th. Okay, yes, of course … but how do I buy black correctly?

One of my default Ujamaa shopping spots is A Different Booklist, a black-owned bookstore here in Toronto. Co-owner Itah Sadu went to school with my father, so her Black Card credentials are easily verifiable. So let’s say I head over there to buy a copy of “The Hate U Give,” one of my favourite new reads of 2017. It was written by Angie Thomas (another black woman) and happens to be full of socially aware content in a compelling story told through the eyes of a black girl narrator (bonus black points!). Have I done Ujamaa right?

Because I’ve definitely bought black … well, mostly. It is, after all, highly doubtful that all of the links in the chain of production for “The Hate U Give” are black. It may be that a majority of the people whose work was required to get this book into my hands are not (or, are not only) black, although the woman who birthed it and the woman who sold it to me both are.

And speaking of birth … what if the owner of the store, while identifying as black, had one biological parent who was black and one who wasn’t? Or, let’s say there are two black-owned bookstores that I know of, both within a reasonable distance from me. (Sidebar: the fact that this is not the case points right back to the importance of observing the principle of Ujamaa in the first place.) Both are stocked with books I want at prices I find reasonable. If one is owned by a black person whose parents are both black, and the other is owned by a married couple consisting of a black spouse and a non-black spouse, is shopping at one a more appropriate Ujamaa mission than shopping at the other? What if the other spouse is mixed?

Maybe I’m over-complicating this; maybe a book is a bad example. Something like taking your family out for soul food at a black-owned restaurant is a lot more straightforward … although the restaurant’s ingredients probably come from all over the world and its suppliers are likely not all black … plus, what if their staff aren’t all black either? Hey, what if the generic franchise eatery down the road, with a much larger staff, happens to employ three times more black chefs and servers – isn’t eating there the same as putting money into the pockets of more black people?

I don’t mind admitting that I got a lot less done than I planned to on December 29, 2017, largely because of this. Two of my black business owner friends make and sell kickass, unique clothing and accessories (scroll to the end for links); I made sure to purchase from both of them earlier in the month, but I wanted to find new benefactors for the modest amount of disposable cash I had left over from Boxing Day. I kept finding or thinking of cool items I wanted, and then waffling because I wasn’t sure whether the purchase would receive the stamp of Ujamaa approval. For example, I want that gorgeous lip colour from Rihanna’s makeup line … but I don’t see any proof that she’s an owner. (She probably will benefit from my purchasing it, but does the fact that the line is branded with a black person’s name make it a truly “black” purchase?) I found websites which sell adorable accessories featuring black mermaids and the likenesses of black singers (again, scroll to the end for links) … but one is owned by an ally who appears to be white, and one has no “meet the owner” section which might enable me to gauge who they are. What was I supposed to do, assume that a person selling something with Lauryn Hill on it must be black just because Lauryn is? Start creeping them on Facebook to find out what they look like? Send an email that said “Hey, I hope this doesn’t sound racist, but are you black? Because I like your product, but today is the fourth day of Kwanzaa so I’m only going to type in my credit card info if you reply back with a selfie before 11:55pm EST ”?

While I did eventually make a decision (my LipservceCos lipstick is on its way to me right now), this dilemma prompted me to set some guidelines for myself when it comes to buying black, on any day of every year:

  1. Accept that these guidelines are what works for me right now; no one else is required to agree with them. And if a future version of me doesn’t agree with them, she is free to choose new ones for herself.
  2. Acknowledge that businesses, like people, are complex and multifaceted. There will be occasions when sifting through layers of data to find out “whose business is this, really?” is ultimately a waste of time. (Especially when a Google search can actually hinder instead of helping this cause.)
  3. Remember that because buying black is an increasingly constant priority throughout my year, I don’t need to stress out about it come December 29th. This means I will continue to keep an eye out for small black-owned businesses I can support at any time, the same way I keep an eye out for opportunities to support small businesses, period.

Fun fact: according to Wikipedia, the meaning of the Swahili word “ujamaa” (outside of the context of Kwanzaa) is “extended family,” “brotherhood,” or “socialism,” which suggests to me that anyone who is too eager to judge a particular purchase on some sort of Black Enough? scale is really missing the point. So with that in mind, alongside the guidelines above, I decided to create a challenge for myself: Between now and the end of the year, I will have made a first purchase from at least 12 black businesspeople; and I will also be purchasing from allies who are supportive of black progress though they themselves do not identify as black. 

And for real, I hope to see some Ujamaa sales and/or discount codes popping up right after Christmas!

PS: In case you’re interested, here’s a so-far list of folks who can expect to get my money in 2018, whether it’s for clothing or accessories or event tickets or makeup or food.

Angie Thomas – I want my own copy of THUG … <3 … and I’m also going to see the movie when it comes out in theatres. (Ms Thomas, will your second novel be out before 2019? Because I’m coming for that too…)

Pat McGrath Labs - I’m so in love with the colours of her makeup through the screen, and can only hope not to be disappointed IRL … oh, also, that new lip balm sounds tantalizing.

Chinedesign - I love the clothes I’ve bought from Chinedu Akabam for myself; my cousin loves the shirt I bought for her from him; my friend Max loves the clothes she bought from him too. He’s 3 for 3! Plus …

Supafrik – … the very same Chinedu throws some of the dopest parties around. There are still so many people I want to bring to their first #GUMBO party =D

Papaya & Co – this brand is one of my fave finds of 2017, for sure! I still get tons of compliments on my blue tote … one of my homegirls is gna flip out when she sees her belated Christmas gift … and I haven’t even debuted my latest piece from them yet =)

Fenty Beauty – it’s simple, really: I want that Stunna Lip Paint, pronto. I’ll probably cop a Mattemoiselle too.

Oh Plesiosaur – you know what? When someone creates pins featuring beautiful brown-skinned mermaids, is told “nothing to do with race, but black mermaids don’t look good!” from a prospective purchaser, and then decides to keep making the black mermaid pins while also making a donation to the NAACP, I am quick to hand over my money. Here’s the kicker: as far as I know, she isn’t even black >>> top-notch allying right there. I’m ordering one set, and I’m on the email-me-when-back-in-stock list for another. This is also where you should go if you want pins with mermaids who aren’t skinny, mermaids wearing hijabs, lovely and imaginative pins of all sorts (most are not mermaids, lol) by an LGBTQ+woman-owned line.

High Five Pins – let me not say too much about what I’m buying from here, since it’s a gift for someone who will almost certainly read this post …

Radical Dreams - in 2017 I bought pins from these folks for my dad, my friend Jerome, and myself, and I’m planning to come back for more! 

Good Dope Supply Co – it would really suck if, between the time I wrote this and the time I placed my order, the Lauryn Hill pins had sold out completely. Fortunately that isn’t the only one I want! =D

(New to my blog? I promise most of my posts are far shorter than 1700 words. xoxo)

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Recap: The Big Birthday

Now that it’s May, I can look back at my most recent birthday, which was in early March.

Allow me to explain.

My birthday is on the 3rd, which means my champagne birthday happened when I was 3 and barely knew what “birthday” meant. Womp. Other significant birthdays ranged from very good (Sweet 16) to verrrry stressful (Quarter-Century), and overall the birthday to beat was March 3rd, 2014 (spent living it up in Dubai, shopping and fly boarding and going up the tallest building in the world). For my reverse champagne birthday (someone else can think of a cool name for it) I decided to go all out, celebrating 3 decades of life in 3 different countries over a span of 3 months.

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I already had my ticket for Trinidad Carnival, so I kicked off the celebrations there and you can read all about it in my last post.  I came back home and danced the night away at a fete with a few of my girlfriends, then released the trailer for my new webseries-to-be and released a radio single. I celebrated my actual birthday by leaving work early to go to 2 auditions before taking myself shopping.

Almost showtime!

Almost showtime!

The birthday fell on a Thursday; that weekend I got to see the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre perform with the added bonus of watching it with my little cousin. This was our first show together! And she’s the same age I was when our Grandma took me to my first concert, which I think is awesome. There was a family dinner after that, and then I went to my curlfriend Nicole Stamp’s place to learn how to work natural hair magic like she does. I’ve been in love with my hair ever since. I got to show off my curls the next day at a delicious and hilarious brunch with a bunch of friends and cousins.

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Harlem Underground

Harlem Underground

The next weekend I was reshooting sections of my Digital Dossier, and then I had new headshots taken by Denise Grant. It did rain that day, which ruined my plans for my hair, but MUA Christine Cho waved her magic wand and the pictures look pretty damn good in my opinion ;-)

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I almost ran out of time to squeeze in my third country, but in April I went to New York City (where I hadn’t been since 2012, and where I definitely need to be more often). Just looking at Manhattan, or walking up and down the streets there, feels like celebrating to me. Even better that I got to spend time with friends I hadn’t seen in years. And I got some good buys in on the way home, tee-hee!

Haven't "seen" her since she was in her mom's belly!

Haven’t “seen” her since she was in her mom’s belly!

So I did it: celebrated in 3 countries, between the beginning of February and the end of April, and the good times keep rolling. Other things have added to my birthday celebrations over the 3-month time period: I left my day job, auditions have picked up, I’ve booked a play in Peterborough and one in Toronto for this summer, and I’m leaving for Haiti in a week!

Happy Birthday to me, and Dirty Thirty is looking exquisite so far . . .

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Looking back at my first Carnival . . . (Trinidad 2016)

First things first: I don’t publish new blog posts here as often as I should. And this one probably should have been finished and shared sooner, but I was of two minds about whether to blog about the whole trip or just certain parts of it . . . and if only certain parts, which ones to leave out . . . and what was a reasonable amount of pictures to share . . . until finally I decided. Here’s one big chunky post about my 20 days in paradise, and (as always) you can read all, skip some, and/or visit my Instagram page for a super-quick photo recap if you’re short on time.

My Aunt Ruth and Uncle Clive (i.e. the best hosts EVER), and fellow first-time Carnival visitor Wyvolyn, from Jamaica

My Aunt Ruth and Uncle Clive (i.e. the best hosts EVER), and fellow first-time Carnival visitor Wyvolyn, from Jamaica

As some of you know, my father is Trinidadian by birth. This was actually only my second trip to the twin islands of Trinidad & Tobago, and although I’m an avid Caribana girl, this was my first Trinidad Carnival. I’ve spent years hearing about how T&T does it much better than we do here in Toronto, and of course I was excited to see for myself what it was like, stuff myself with delicious food, bake myself in the sun, and spend lots of time with family members I don’t see very often. I worked out a plan to budget for this escapade starting around the time of my last birthday (early March). This trip wasn’t cheap! It would’ve been easier if the Canadian dollar weren’t so dismal, or if this year’s Carnival season wasn’t so short (note: for 2017 it’s at the end of February instead of the beginning), and many friends and relatives who were originally planning to come decided not to, but I went for it anyway.

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I basically spent my first few days sleeping in, sunning myself and eating my aunt’s delicious food, and my first nights being taken out by one or another of my local friends. Sidebar: I wish upon every person in the world a host as gracious and generous as my aunt and uncle, who gave me a room of my own, copied a set of keys for me, were always ready with advice and answers to my questions, and basically let me do as I please as long as I came back to the house to eat once in awhile. <3 <3 <3 <3 <3

O2 Stadium, where Tuesday on the Rocks was held

O2 Stadium, where Tuesday on the Rocks was held

My first big outing was Tuesday on the Rocks. I adore Kes the Band so I was determined to get to this show, even though it was far away and I had no for-sure way to get there or back and I was going alone. After many frustrating interactions with would-be drivers and would-be companions, I can look back and say it was one of the best nights I had in Trinidad. KTB and their many musical guests put on a great show, I made a friend or two, and I was able to eat some legit Montreal poutine too!

With the homie Raff at Scorch DDI

With the homie Raff at Scorch DDI

Next up was a boat ride. Getting to the Harbour Master by myself from Arouca was a bit of a challenge (the second maxi taxi ride was challenging), but the Scorch DDI boat ride was worth it. Found an old friend, made some new ones, jammed to some sweet music while sailing “down de islands” on a big-ass boat, wearing a bikini in early February . . . it was a good time even though we left and returned to the dock late, which almost messed up my family’s plans for the night. My aunt and uncle and their friend (who was visiting from Jamaica to take in her first Carnival too) and I went to see traditional mas, where masqueraders portray certain historical characters, competing for their titles before a panel of judges, and often incorporating some form of social commentary into their performances.

Moko jumbies =)

Moko jumbies =)

It was important for me to get a taste of the culture behind Carnival, instead of just back-to-back-to-back parties. This may be stating the obvious, but I also went to the beach (ahhhh Maracas, one of my favourite places in the world) and spent hours lounging in the sun and reading.

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Plus I did some other random things, like trying a couple of hot yoga classes and visiting and ashram and the Temple in the Sea, going into the city for one of the Kiddie Carnival parades, and getting up before 4am to go see the street theatre re-enactment of the 1881 Canboulay Riots. (No pictures, because even though we got there around 5:15am, all the seats with views were already gone!)

First yoga class!

First yoga class!

Baby moko jumbies!

Baby moko jumbies!

But don’t worry, I partied plenty! My favourite event was Bess Lime, which I was so glad to have my Toronto friends Kerron and Tiffany come to with me.

Tiff, Kerron and me!

Tiff, Kerron and me!

Before the boat sailed...

Before the boat sailed…

This was a Sunday cooler fete on the water where 3 boats were filled, sailed separately down the islands a bit, then dropped anchor and linked up so you could switch boats with the DJ’s music synched.  The sun went down, the vibe was wicked, there was a fireworks display before we sailed back to the dock separately — and for only $300 TT (about $63 Canadian, and this party included food plus chasers and ice) the value was amazing.

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I did get a few hours of sleep after finally getting home from Bess Lime, and then it was J’ouvert. Tiff and Kerron and I got picked up at something like 2am (budget extra time because of all the roadblocks) and met up with our Yellow Devilz crew at 4am, then partied through the darkened streets of the city dashing paint and water around until 8 or 9am.

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My awesome aunt Giselle brought me to her place to shower and change, then dropped me off so I could meet up with my band and do Monday mas.

My Monday wear

My Monday wear

Full disclosure – I found Monday mas kind of boring and disorganized.

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It felt kind of like a practice run for Tuesday, except most people weren’t in costume, which made it basically a huge mobile street party . . . which is cool, I guess, but I was pretty unimpressed by the time I got home that evening.

Drivahhhh! Doh stop atall . . .

Drivahhhh! Doh stop atall . . .

"Get in yuh section!"

“Get in yuh section!”

But of course the excitement came back when I got up before 4 on Tuesday morning to put on my glorious costume, get picked up at 5:30 (my driver is the bomb, you guys) so I could be on time to meet my band (actually early, since I had such an interesting time finding them the day before when I arrived late). Tuesday mas was everything I’d hoped for.

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Good morning, Machel =)

Good morning, Machel =)

Frontline. Can I get a corporate sponsor next year?

Frontline. Can I get a corporate sponsor next year?

There may be fewer men, but don't count them out!!

There may be fewer men, but don’t count them out!!

This would be a good time to compare a few notes. You can believe the hype: Trinidad Carnival is, in most ways, superior to Toronto’s Caribana. You pay WAY more in Trinidad (even taking into account that you have two parade days instead of one) but far more is included *if* you’re with one of the well-organized bands (not just a gorgeous costume and great DJs and unlimited alcohol, but nuff staff and nuff security and 3 meals over the 2 days and shaded rest areas in the Savannah at lunchtime). You can play with a monstrously large band in Trinidad, if that’s your thing (like, 15,000 masqueraders), whereas in Toronto I think we tap out at about 3,000 masqueraders in a large band. Both have celebrity guests, life-giving music, DJs who tend to talk too damn much over the microphone, a super-high ratio of women to men, locals, tourists, first-timers, veterans, well-meaning stormers, and the feeling that you’re living it up in this very moment so every other moment is inconsequential. (Come on, I know I’m not the only one who feels like that when I’m playing mas; that’s why we’re called “revellers!” A lie?!)

Two of my favourite Fantasy sections this year: Dolce Vita (the ladies on either side of me) and my section, Ashwiyaa

Two of my favourite Fantasy sections this year: Dolce Vita (the ladies on either side of me) and my section, Ashwiyaa

Spotted . . . right after crossing the stage

Spotted . . . right after crossing the stage

#allahwe

#allahwe

There are things I prefer about Caribana though. I prefer to run into tons of people I know in addition to meeting lots of new sexy friends. I like knowing exactly what the parade route is, and knowing exactly what the order of the bands is. I like not having any bands who are so unmanageably huge that they go off somewhere else so as not to interfere with the other bands. I like having only one stage, at the beginning of the parade route (Toronto, can we please go back to that???), and I like being asked by tourists and press people and amateur photographers for photos all day long . . . it seemed like there was a lot less of that for Carnival since they all had exponentially more people to photograph than they would’ve at Caribana. (I like living within walking distance from the parade too, but that’s not Trinidad’s fault!)

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Anyway, my heart was full by the time night fell and a new friend helped me through the mobs of people along the Avenue to meet up with my driver and Kerron and Tiff. The two of them had invited me on a hike excursion the following morning but I’d opted out, since I figured my feet would hurt or I’d be tired. On Ash Wednesday I actually woke up fresh as a daisy, but too late to join them, so after aborted plans to go to the beach and a pool party I napped and then stuffed myself at a dinner party my aunt and uncle and their friend were hosting. While everyone else was flying back home and/or getting back into their work routine, I spent a lot of time with family, including a chartered boat ride to Nelson Island for a great lunch event put on by the African Women’s Association.

Josiah thought he could get away without taking me for a ride on his bike . . . silly cousin!

Josiah thought he could get away without taking me for a ride on his bike . . . silly cousin!

Me and my Aunt Gigi!!

Me and my Aunt Gigi!!

Rock Island, from Nelson Island

Rock Island, from Nelson Island

Nelson Island. Which maybe should be called Rock Island.

Nelson Island. Which maybe should be called Rock Island.

with Uncle Wayne and Aunty Yvette

with Uncle Wayne and Aunty Yvette

Cousin Dominic!

Cousin Dominic!

Tristan and Anya <3

Tristan and Anya <3

Even after almost 3 weeks, I wasn’t ready to come home. Even after a week back at home, I’m picturing myself in Trinidad and planning to bring a bunch of friends with me next time.

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Under 2000 words? Not bad . . . because I could literally fill books with my memories from this trip. But I hope you got a taste of it here on my little blog, and if you want to join me for pretty much any Carnival anywhere in the world (I’m now itching not only to do Trinidad Carnival regularly but to check out Notting Hill Carnival, Brazil Carnival, Bermuda Carnival, Jamaica Carnival, Hollywood Carnival . . . ), drop me a line!

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xoxoxo

TIFF2015redcarpet

10 Goals, 12 Months – My Year-End Blog

So I’m back to the blog – and before I write anything else, let me alert you that this here post will make more sense if you’ve seen that there one first.

July seems like a crazy long time ago! But if you know me, you know I had to check back in on the aforementioned goals before closing out the year.

Remember, 2 out of my 10 goals for 2015 had already been completed by July 2nd: returning to Haïti with Third World Awareness for their 2015 trip, and being a model in the Carnival Nationz band launch.

1 out of the remaining 8 goals was already a Nope, since I did not make it to Las Vegas in May.

Now, what about the remaining 7?

I said I would book and complete at least 6 singing gigs this year; I’d done a handful by July 2nd, but 1 of them was unpaid; by now I’ve done 6 paid engagements.

Me with Jerome, one of my (singing) partners in crime who I met this year!

Me with Jerome, one of my (singing) partners in crime who I met this year!

Out of the 4 acting gigs I decided to book and complete this year, 1 was completed by the midway point . . . and although I’ve had auditions and callbacks since then, I haven’t actually booked any others. (Yet.)

How about those lofty financial goals? Will I celebrate my birthday by having zero remaining debt and playing mas in Trinidad Carnival? HELL YEAH!!! I’m officially debt-free, having eliminated more than $21,000 worth of debt in just under 3 years; I’ve already bought my plane ticket and I’m playing mas too! Stay tuned to my Instagram account for nufffff pictures…

Salamander, one of my early faves

Salamander, one of my early faves

My trip to New York? My friends bailed on me and I didn’t go.

My road trip? I didn’t organize anything in time; but there’s always next year.

My reintroduction into the world of dating? Well yeah, actually, that did happen. Next question =)

#datenight

#datenight

Re-qualifying for the first promotion of my network marketing business? Nope, I didn’t hit that goal. Keep nudging me for 2016, okay?

 

The final tally? 5 out of 10 of my 2015 goals were completed in 2015.

50%.

Half.

I’m not sure if that’s good or bad . . . if I got a 50% grade on any course I took I’d be furious about it . . . but then again, the point of personal goal-setting is to go big or go home. Right?

 

Anyway, time to take a look at the year ahead and figure out what I’ll be getting up to next. ;-)

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… unless I manage to complete another one in the next 5 days … hey, anything’s possible!

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Midway Blog – 2015

July 2nd marks the midway point of a 365-day year.

I always have multiple achievements in progress, both long-term and short-term, in multiple areas of my life. This year I selected 10 specific ones to reach by year’s end and 10 more to achieve within the next 10 years, and since we’re halfway done 2015 I figured it was time for a quick check-in…

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2 of my Goals for 2015 have been successfully completed.

I returned to Haïti with Third World Awareness; and I modelled in the Carnival Nationz band launch for 2015.

Ayiti cherie!

Ayiti cherie!

Finally!

#finally

 

 7 of my Goals for 2015 are Works In Process. Specifically . . .

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3 Goals are In Process – Stage 3 (the work has started, but isn’t complete yet):

I said I was going to book and complete at least 6 singing gigs this year; I’ve done 5.

Many of my performances so far this year have been with the wonderful, beautiful Sunset Service Choir.

Many of those performances have been with the wonderful, beautiful Sunset Service Choir.

I said I was going to book and complete at least 4 acting gigs; I’ve done 1.

The stage. Sonnets for an Old Century was my first acting gig of the year.

The stage. Sonnets for an Old Century was my first acting gig of the year.

I said I’m going to celebrate my next birthday by being debt-free and playing mas in T&T Carnival 2016; in terms of saving up money and securing accommodations, I’m on track and on schedule.

hopefully with my cousin Kari!

hopefully with my cousin Kari!

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3 Goals are In Process – Stage 2 (the planning is underway):

I said I was going to take at least 1 trip to New York . . . it looks like it’ll happen in August.

I said I was going to take at least 1 road trip (probably to New York, if I’m being honest) . . . so if New York in August happens and I don’t fly there, that’ll be two goals crossed off with one stroke of the pen.

I said I was going to start dating again *gasp!* I decided it was time to reboot my non-platonic social life, and since I don’t want to jinx anything, let’s just say it’s looking like it’ll be a fun summer =)

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1 Goal is In Process – Stage 1 (I need to get on it):
I said I was going to promote to the first level of management with my network marketing business . . .I’ll be re-qualifying this month!

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Finally, there is one goal I set for this year that I know I’ve missed: an event in Las Vegas in April which I wanted to attend and ultimately chose not to, in keeping with the achievement of my next-birthday-related goal listed above.

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And as for my next-ten-years list? More than half are already works in progress.  :)

Cheers!

Cheers!

Commuting home from "work" one day.

Ayiti 2015 =)

Some of you know that I’ve recently returned from a trip to Haïti where I do humanitarian work with Toronto-based charity Third World Awareness. I’ve posted some of my favourite pictures from the trip already, but I thought I’d also write up a little something to answer questions some of you may have about the country itself, or this specific trip, or how you can get involved with similar work.
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This year's group of volunteers.

This year’s group of volunteers.

First, the basics: TWA takes a group of volunteers to Haïti every May for a 12-day stay. It’s a pretty awesome story: John Callaghan (the one in orange, hiding his face), a high school teacher, started taking his students on trips to poor areas of Kingston, Jamaica to show them how differently some people live in different parts of the world. (My future children will absolutely receive similar privilege checks before they’re out of school.) When he retired from teaching he didn’t plan on continuing the trips; but by then some of his former students, who were college-aged or older, joined with Callaghan to form a registered charity and keep the tradition going. TWA has now travelled to Haïti 14 times. Check out their site to donate or learn more about them. Or, you know, keep reading.

Where We Go
We stay in Pétion-ville and work mostly in Port-au-Prince. On a weekend we might travel for a bit, like to a beach in Montroui like we did this year.
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What We Do
Volunteers have a choice of working at a malnutrition clinic for children (my usual spot), a healthcare facility for adults, or a school TWA has funded, which is almost complete, in a very poor section of Port-au-Prince called Cité Soleil.
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Cite Soleil from above.

Cite Soleil from above.

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How We’re Funded
Any money donated to TWA goes directly to projects on the ground in Haïti and to the people who will benefit from them. This organization pays no salaries to its board of directors, and volunteers raise our own funds to cover things like airfare, accommodations, food, medical expenses, etc.
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A night out.

A night out.

High Point of 2015 in Haïti
I’m so predictable. I always fall in love with the kids. We aren’t permitted to take pictures at the malnutrition clinic; here’s one from the first day I visited Cité Soleil this year.
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Love.

Love.

Worst Part of the Trip(s)
I’m a pretty good traveller, and I’ve been to Haïti 4 times now, but I’m still prone to a bit of stomach trouble and mosquitoes love me. The other physical discomforts (dust in the air, heat, occasional torrential downpours) are pretty minor.
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Post-Earthquake Progress
Having never been there before the massive earthquake of 2010, I’m a bit hard-pressed to say whether the changes I see are the results of specific post-quake reconstruction or just general progress. I do know that there are hardly any quake ruins left in the areas I saw, and that there continues to be lots of construction and increased/improved amenities, which from what I can tell are benefitting everyone and not just certain groups of people or neighbourhoods.
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One of our volunteers and one of our guides with some future students of a school we're helping to build in Cana'an.

One of our volunteers and one of our guides with some future students of a school we’re helping to build in Cana’an.

What about Language?
Fortunately I speak French, and a bit of Kreyol; but every time I go to Haïti I’m resolved to get better at both these languages. You don’t need to know either to get along in the country, but it doesn’t hurt to learn a few key words.
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Why?
Because I love travelling and it doesn’t always need to be under glamorous circumstances. Because I love reuniting with my friends there, including my “big brother” Serge, and meeting new friends too. Because there are far too many people who “wish they could” or “always wanted to” and I want to be one of those who is glad and grateful that I’m doing it. Because going to a country loaded down with luggage and coming back with little more than the clothes on your back is great for your soul and your closet as well. Because Caribbean sun. Because Haïtian food. Because we can.
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Mesi anpil =)
Photo 52

IF AT FIRST YOU DON’T SUCCEED…

So I was on my way home from an audition, and as per usual I was struggling to put it out of my mind. This is a wise thing to do after any tryout, audition, callback, interview, or go-see. Once you’ve done it, there’s no going back in time to change what you did or how you did it. Right?

Oh, except in your mind. And I am a master of torturing myself by dwelling on what’s already behind me, singing the shoulda-coulda-song even though I’m tired of hearing it. Maybe it’s because of my experience as an editor, which teaches that finding flaws is the vital first step to fixing them. Maybe it’s because I’m an emotional Pisces, so comfortable in my dreamworld (a place where I’ve already won enough Grammys and Oscars to put even my own vision boards to shame) that my worst fear is opening my eyes to a reality that doesn’t measure up. Maybe it’s because an actor or singer can always find another actor or singer to laugh and commiserate with over how badly and thoroughly “I just bombed that audition;” or maybe it’s easier to remember the things I did “wrong” than the things I did right.

It’s probably all of the above, but for now I’m focusing on that last point. And here’s a plot twist: I’m about to congratulate myself for things I’ve done imperfectly, because I got some unexpected rewards out of those so-called mistakes.

I remember auditioning for a short film called Home Away, and totally forgetting my lines at one point while the camera was rolling. Oops. I said the wrong words but still got the character’s intent across, booked the role and finally earned the third ACTRA credit I needed to become full union.

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I competed in the Miss Teen Canada Scholarship pageant, with grand visions of bringing home the crown. Did I make the top ten? Nope. Did I cry? Yes (later, in the car). Funny how, even though there was no talent competition for this pageant, the director later asked me to sing something over the phone and invited me to perform at the Miss Teen/Mrs Michigan pageant that year. I happily accepted, and that was my first time performing outside of Canada.

Miss Teen Vaughan, in my "fashion outfit" =)

Miss Teen Vaughan, in my “fashion outfit” =)

It isn’t just about show biz, either. Last summer I picked up my phone, butterflies in my stomach on 100, called a guy I had met recently but really liked, and asked him out. I realize this isn’t a big deal for everybody, but for me it was huge! And he said no. And the Earth, I am glad to report, did not stop turning.

I'd love to post a pic of the gentleman in question, but that would be mean - here's a shot of me instead, celebrating a few weeks later =)

I’d love to post a pic of the gentleman in question, but that would be mean – here’s a shot of me instead, taken a few weeks later =)

Listen, social media can make it look like other people are strolling down Easy Street while you’re struggling to just get out of bed. Be aware of the gap between perception and reality. Please be aware of the many discouraging moments we all have, and which most of us decline to document or share. I personally cringe every time I hear the word “lucky” applied to me (and it’s usually being said by someone whose knowledge of my life is limited to my Facebook wall), knowing that my “luck” is largely the result of effort and discipline. And pain. And time. And learning.

And dozens upon dozens of “unsuccessful” auditions.

Seriously, if you’re curious, here are a few: The Lion King; Degrassi; Les Misérables; Hemlock Grove; The Little Mermaid; Caroline, or Change; Dark Matter; Once on this Island; Copper; The Gift; Ruined; A Day Late and a Dollar Short; Little Shop of Horrors; The Next Step After-Show; 12 Monkeys; Beauty and the Beast; Universal Studios Japan; Honey Jam; Kinky Boots, Rogers TV; Carnival Cruise Lines; Disney Cruise Lines; Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines; the Raptors Dance Pak; plus a bunch of commercial auditions, song submissions, general auditions for theatres, etc.

Sigh.

When all is said and done, maybe I’ll always feel bad for awhile after an unsuccessful shot at something. But deep down inside I know that the regret of not taking a shot feels even worse and lasts even longer. So … here’s to … I guess, a lot more NOs, with hopefully a whole lot of YESes too.

Here we go again ... ;-)

Here we go again … ;-)