Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Monday, February 09, 2009

Whatca Thinking About, Dad? That Life Is Like A Cake

After the weekend, my brain is usually less like mush than it was on Friday. In the midst of trading, aka 'doing nothing at all' during the week and 'having no responsibilities' other than ensuring that my five-year old does not turn into a ragamuffin and continues to have what is described as a 'really nice personality', my brain gets very tired as the weight of my head's emptiness takes its toll.

Stay-at-home husbands/fathers are not like their female counterparts apparently, especially if they are weighed down by the stealthy onset of midlife crises. Somehow, a woman moving towards menopause can just brush that off like dandruff on a mink coat, while a man--feeble old toad that he has become--is in need of a phalanx of help and is impossible to understand. We have to live out our fantasies of the 'good old days' by engaging in pastimes such as golf, or tennis, or some incomprehensible sport like underwater billiards, or by hanging out with other loser men in bars or strip clubs, hoping for that hole-in-one (golf club style not night club style), or perfect hit (of the serve-and-volley type, not the bar counter type). We could be self-actualizing inside a book written by some obscure writer from Bhutan about how she was raised by a pack of she-wolves in the mountains, before being spotted by some American weather pilots and brought to live in civilization, aka Manhattan. Or, because eating cures all, we should curl up in bed with some Bimbo.

I was very intrigued, therefore, to hear on Friday one menopausal woman telling another pre-menopausal woman how the latter needed to consider all the options for help to get through this very difficult period of adjustment for women; she had found the pre-menopause very difficult and was not able to accept the new control that her hormones were exerting on her body and her mind. I was pushed to take the sanguine and not intentionally callous approach and say, "Live through it, like with being a teenager; it will pass." The mentor remained unconvinced and went on to talk about the benefits of acupuncture and other forms of alternative medicine (see Third Age website, for more advice). I remember my mother talking to me as a teenager after she had her hysterectomy, and I recalled the known and often observed physiological symptoms such as hot flashes, and palpitations;I have observed in many women the psychological effects such as depression, anxiety, irritability, mood swings, memory problems and lack of concentration. My father was trained in psychology and he had a very long discussion with me on this subject about the time of my separation and divorce (about 10 years ago) that gave his insight into this subject.

All I take by way of 'alternative medicine' is tennis, but as I try to enjoy every time I get to play my aged body comes back to tell me that "I can't do it so well anymore." But, I've never been a quitter, so I press on, and try to laugh off all the adversities that are on- or off-court, because my other medicine is humour.

I usually really enjoy putting much of my brain in the deep freeze over the weekend and just keeping out only those cells that are needed. The humour and fun group never get much of a break, I'm afraid. Occasionally, some of the thinking and organization group slip out of the freezer before the door is closed and come jollying around my head without the normal resistance that would be there from the rest of the brain cells; fortunately, they only really get a look in if I have to get myself to a kid's event and then I can also put auto-pilot on. Humour and serious thought mixed together can be a lethal cocktail, though: watch 'Comedy Central' sometime.

I took Miss Bliss to a kid's birthday party yesterday afternoon and was quickly miffed by a group of people who just ignored me and continued folding paper favours when I entered the room and greeted each of them with a "Good afternoon." I decided that this kind of lack of broughtupcy did not need me and I withdrew to the garden. On the way, I spoke to my housekeeper/nanny about how in Jamaica and Africa that sort of behaviour might be seen as shocking, and at the very least rude. But clearly some people have no upbringing that involves a serious consideration of the need for or value of greetings. She agreed with me and we said something rude in French (involving the phrase 'peau de vache').

As I took up my garden position, I was thinking about a very serious set of issues thrust into my head by a friend in London, pondering the effects of the current economic downturn on the gender balance in our society. She had flagged a report that women are poised to surpass men on the USA’s payrolls, taking the majority for the first time in American history (see NY Times report). Several persons had discussed this transatlantically for several hours early on my Sunday morning, fuelled by my quip that with men in charge of the kitchen women would have to deal with the removal of weight issues as a topic of conversation. I was in full thought on this when I was asked by the host to join a group of people sitting at an adjacent table in the garden; they included some of those that I had tried to greet. I demurred at first, saying that I was absorbed in thought on economic policies and gender redistribution. Of course, this got the 'Oh, well, never mind' reaction I expected. But, as I am really more gregarious than garrulous, I moved (from the shady spot I had boned) to sit with them (in the full blaze of the sun)--a sacrifice not noticed, and I do not want to think that it was the relative melanin balance that had anything to do with that.

The group I joined was a mix of Canadians, English and Americans, and we talked, as usual, about nothing in particular and a few topics we thought might be of common interest--children, experience of life in Barbados, languages, etc. The composition of the group changed as more people arrived at the party and, taking this as the place to be, extended the boundary by adding chairs. The discussion boundary changed too. Eventually--and I'm not really sure how and why--the group changed totally and I was the only constant left. The group was now a mixture of mainly Jamaicans (of various hues and origins) and Bajans (of two hues). I introduced a little bit the matter of greetings and got a general nod, but someone added notions that people are more introverted in some places and it may even be modern North American social conditioning to 'be safe' because a seemingly friendly approach may be seen as sinister. The 'stranger-danger' notions are not just for children, it seems. But it is mightily strange to think that displays of friendliness are now seen as threats. So, how are real threats seen?

One of the Jamaicans in the re-formed group was an academic specializing in family law, and as he tried to explain some aspects of marriage and relations and how the law ('take this woman to be your wife') does not matter as much as possession ('a fi mi ooman dis'), my inner grin got bigger as I recalled my earlier thoughts on gender and the depression (or recession, if you are an optimist). As usual, the group of 'usual suspects' were having a good banter, though some, mindful of my writing activities were a bit wary as the subjects moved around to things to do with Valentine's Day. (Actually, I am under 'heavy manners' and have been barred by some who shall remain nameless from writing on certain subjects that I hear.) I suggested to our academic that he take a look at the 'advice' given in the Sunday edition of The Barbados Advocate, in two related articles ('Nine best things women can do in a relationship' and 'Valentine's Day Etiquette (for Gentlemen)', the latter by 'one of the island's finest authorities on etiquette' who regularly writes 'Mind your manners'). He guffawed that I wasted money and actually read the 'trash' published in the local papers. I explained that as I try to find topics for my writing, I need to take an open-minded view about the press and its offerings.

My immediate regret is that in the age of IT and online publishing The Barbados Advocate has the annoying habit of not archiving its stories and I cannot find the articles online. Earlier in the day, as I had engaged in the mental struggle of finding satisfactory arguments in the debate about economic change and gender relations, I had found myself incensed by some of the 'advice' given about how men and women should relate. Maybe I have fallen into the understandable trap of thinking that these pieces are serious rather than satirical.

Amongst the 20 things listed by 'Miss Manners', I will be hard pressed to prioritize my frustration. Sometimes, my ire is raised by women suggesting that only men have to do anything to make relations work and this 'advice' gave more fuel to that ire: gals, sit back and let the fella make it all work out right; and if he does not then what can we say about that breed of no-hopers and buffoons that we have to deal with that call themselves 'men'?

I'm not keen on made-up festivals, and Valentine's Day is one of those. But, I will mull over 'giving your partner the best seat' (subject to mine not facing that voluptuous lady in the miniskirt), and simultaneously during the meal and throughout the night 'keep your eyes focused on your partner' (even if your partner's eyes are always elsewhere).

Fortunately, I was brought up to 'know which side your bread plate is on and where your water glass is placed' and wont embarrass my partner by pointing out that she does not. But what if we tussle over the plate and the glass? "You're right, dear," will kick in?

Fortunately, for Ms. Goddard, I found solace in the relationship advice given for women, such as 'show interest-listen to your partner', 'show appreciation-compliment him and express your pride in him', 'be accepting-even if you don't agree with him, let him know you understand his viewpoint and accept it', 'give him personal space', 'have a sense of humour and a sense of fun', 'communicate with touch ... beyond the sexual', and 'share your joy'. There you go, that sounds right.

Monday has arrived. The heat of the weekend has lessened and the breezes are good this morning. The air is fresh and clear and so is my thinking, at least for the moment. On what, I will not say, but it is not on one subject or on one person, or on one place. Life is like a cake: it is made up of the simplest ingredients but when mixed they can make such deliciously complex sets of experiences to satisfy many and none at one and the same time.

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