THE POWER OF CHOICE

The stage-life called out at an early age. Performing with school choirs, steel pan ensembles, “Chaos Crew” - a secondary school dance group of mine, and walking the runway as a teenage fashion model, all ensured continued presence in the spotlight.

However, it was not all about or for the spotlight. It was a matter of creativity, emotional release, creative balance, peace of mind, and passion. Singing came naturally, so too did dance and the ability to play instruments. Parental encouragement had a lot to do with exposure in the first place, but a genuine love for the arts enheartened continuous involvement and pursuance for more. As time passed and experience grew, a desire for new opportunities bloomed, making the beauty pageant world quite intriguing and the beginning of a new type of stage-life, one with tiaras, fancy gowns, and all the glamorous and even non-glamorous allowances this type of life provided. Nonetheless, before the glamour comes, the commencement and mine began with the Miss North Eastern College School Pageant.

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North Eastern College is the secondary school I attended for five years of my pre-teen and teenage life. After sitting the general secondary school entrance exams in Trinidad and Tobago, the announcement of school placement results soon followed. On that day, at school, some friends exclaimed in jubilance, some in melancholia, while questions and apathy loomed in this little ten-year-old mind of mine. Where is this school? Are the results accurate? Subjugating emotions held on tightly. At home, sitting on the six-step staircase, to the left of a childhood bedroom, tears flowed. Apprehension played an astronomically significant role, and disappointment at not being placed at a more elite school weighed heavily. Relishing the summer that followed this day was arduous. The thought of beginning a new school - one that did not emit gratifying emotions - invoked deeper feelings of dread and discontentment.

Optimism struggled to prevail until it did!

North Eastern College became a second home. Friends were abundant. Opportunities were insurmountable, and fun was in surplus. A swimmer on the school's swim team, a member of the choir and music ensemble groups and a founding member of the "school's unofficial dance group," encouraged an innate love for this school once shunned.

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Moving on is a frighteningly eerie thing. New beginnings are even scarier. The ten-year-old version of Tiva was trepidacious of the unknown - of attending a school the opposite of elite. When, in fact, this school was more magnificent than imagination would let on. Some of the most influential people I know were my peers. Some of the best experiences relied upon this place. Some of the best opportunities came into view at this place, and the first taste of pageant life came to fruition at this place - North Eastern College.

In the fourth year as a student at North Eastern College, and for the first time in the school's history, the Form Six students with the support of the school administration decided to host a school pageant. Urged by classmates, attendance at the open casting call soon followed, then a brief period of waiting before the official delegate announcement. The results were favorable. Preparations began almost immediately. Hairstyle choices, gown design, casual wear options, and accessories became of absolute importance. The overall gown design and the other required pieces of wardrobe lay in the hands of a profoundly crafty sister of mine. The family garage magically changed into a makeshift runway, and daily rehearsals with Daddy strengthened "Q&A" skills. Funding for the purchase of materials for the gown and complementary appendages such as shoes and jewelry came from an eager grandfather, and altogether it became a family affair, as each one played a significant role in the entire process.

Moving past mundane but necessary facts and rushing ahead a bit, the day of the pageant arrived as gracefully and obliviously as the mailman. Nerves were at bay, but a last-minute hairstyle change complicated the morning. Leekesha Quamina, classmate and friend, spearheaded the decision of a quick hair color change which meant undoing the previously done hairstyle and redoing it. It also meant rushing to Leekesha's house - which was pretty proximate to the school - before heading there to attend morning classes, then prepare for the show, making the morning a hectic one. Focus during morning classes was hard to come by and for a substantial reason - there was a humble but constant exhilaration within, making each minute feel like an hour and each hour like a day. Eventually, time passed, and as the high-pitched ring of the school bell echoed through the college, it meant one thing - time to get ready for the show!

A recollection of all the specificities is hard to come by, but at this moment, it centers upon the loud cheers from schoolmates as those two eager feet of mine stepped on stage. Images of Peaches, the family Yorkshire Terrier, tucked in those loving arms of mine and shaking like a leaf during the casual wear segment nostalgically appear into view. The poor thing was terrified. Another memory that stands out is a desperate sprint in silver high heels down the vast and empty hallway closest to the auditorium where the pageant was taking place. Time was lost to "over preparation" during the evening gown wardrobe change and so, running to make it to the stage on time was a congruous and necessary action.

Slightly flustered and winded, those silver high heels glided a slender body covered in a shimmery, body-hugging tube dress with a thigh slit, accessorized with a choker necklace and arm cuffs in the same material on stage. The cheers were virtually deafening. Close friends were all overcome with excitement and support so much so; they rose out of their seats, cheering, applauding, whistling, and wearing the most beautiful and genuine smiles on their faces. Classmates and siblings reacted in the same manner, as well as the rest of the school population and even some beloved teachers. These beautiful displays of appreciation and support allowed for a boost in confidence, which eased that nervous mind of mine just in time for the interview segment. Although recollection has no memory of the question asked, it does denote a sense of tranquility during that segment.

A short while after, the delegates were all invited back on stage to await the results. Any beauty queen would say that this is one of the most nerve-wracking parts of a pageant because the probability of winning or losing implants itself into an overthinking mind making a heart feel quite unreliable. It is at this moment when deep breathing is significant. As that jittery body of mine finally surrendered to calmness, the words, "The first runner-up by unanimous decision is Miss Tiva Lee Samaru from the class Form Four Arts One," echoed. Inundated with emotion and pleased with the results, the audience burst into applause. The competition was fierce, and prospects of coping the first prize were non-existent. Performing to the highest ability was all that mattered, so being awarded second place exceeded any unthought expectation.

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As that last thought concluded, the following question begs for recognition. Would this experience cease to exist if a different path was chosen, i.e., not attend North Eastern College and instead retake the general secondary school entrance exams in hopes of being placed at another school that seemed more appealing? Probably not. That is the beauty of choice. Sometimes, and almost always, after the fact, the realization that the choice made enabled beautiful experiences, and sometimes pivotal ones that may not have transpired otherwise is such an enlightening thing. It, in essence, sanctions the mind to defer from taking the power of choice for granted. As with many other aspects of life, a choice is something that comes by every second. The choice to sleep one minute longer or get out of bed and get ready for work can have so many outcomes. However, the outcome that matters the most is the one that is the most pivotal or rewarding, the sort that allows growth and betterment. That enables the positive path of one's existence and journey here on planet earth. That positively influences others and contributes to society. That, when reflected upon, brings no regret or feelings of resentment and instead brings to light a stronger belief in decision-making abilities.

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RECOGNIZE THE GOOD

At the moment, the perfect soundtrack serenades while an occupied canine companion, Qhana, eradicates the remainder of a partially chewed night-dress. On today’s playlist is Mr. Hong’s album, Long Days.Short Years; an album which from the first second, resonates deeply and influences an immediate productivity boost on one of those working from home days.

A minute or so in, the sound of someone knocking on a door sounds too authentic to disregard. Mine perhaps? Affixed to the futon and hesitant to interrupt comfort, the delayed realization that this knocking was an effect in the song causes quiet relief. This reflective moment influences a paramount shift in focus. Slouching into the futon, it adjusts to suit. While engrossed in this moment of relaxation, thoughts start their ritualistic consummation, drifting into familiar spaces and honing in on a word from the previous paragraph. The word affixed bares particular consequentiality as a comparison comes speeding through like a bullet train without a need to stop. It goes like this - just like a body affixed to the futon, so too is a mind to negative personality traits.

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As Mr. Hong’s album ends, another gem ignites an aural romance. Midnight Walk; one of those treasured YouTube suggestions, redirects thoughts to a reassuring personality moment.

The moment was on stage at the Miss Teen Trinidad and Tobago pageant. There is always an award for the person with the best personality. Whether called Miss Amity or Best Personality, Largest Heart or Most Charitable, this type of award hints at the quality and authenticity of magic others see. From the beginning of the pre-pageant process, knowledge of this award existed; therefore, a pleasant personality was expected when out at engagements, during rehearsals, at press sessions and so on. As teenagers in a teen pageant, self-esteem issues were as noticeable as the morning sunshine peeking through a bedroom window. Competitiveness also co-existed, making those mentioned above justifiable. Words like "just be yourself" lacked meaning, as critically and negatively judging oneself as a means of finding one's real and better self - for the sake of excelling and winning prizes - became a preferred routine.

At the Mis Teen Trinidad and Tobago pageant, the main voting happened a couple of days before the show. On a small piece of paper, the name of co-delegate Kendra Kissoon - A strikingly beautiful girl with a genuine and infectious happiness - stared back.

Confident the award was Kendra's from the get-go, constant analyzation and comparison of her personality to mine became part of the process. Negative inner criticism gave way to a gut-wrenching feeling of disappointment after engagements, certain in some way about even the slightest absence of pleasantness and uncertain about its impact on others. Importance was placed on a constant need to align with Kendra's personality as the genuine nature of it lacked any sign of forgery. The driving force behind that thought process was the acclaim of being well-liked: selfish but true. As a result, overcompensation went into overdrive to disguise trapped pleasantries and as an opposing means of staying honest. It then became a bit of reliance, and the understanding of this reality cheered on the negative criticisms resulting in the depreciation of self-esteem; a "handy" tool for a beauty queen. This behavioral cull, consequently affected opinion, on a personal level, enabling negative inner criticism to run rampant and allowing constant comparison of oneself to others to kick in as intentionally as a vigorous anesthetic.

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Fast forwarding a bit, the winners were all announced on the night of the show.

Right up to the last second, that feeling of nervousness maybe more anxiousness, usually felt when the probability of winning something exists, took over. Being one of twelve delegates, the probability of winning this award existed as either a passing or a stagnant thought. Everyone or at least most hoped to claim a prize for something. Math aside, the uncertainty of winning this particular award seemed higher than the hope probability provided. Needless to say, if only for the sake of the many months of self-bashing, the idea that maybe chance could produce rewarding results seemed to appease. Therefore, it goes without saying - when the announcer said the words, and the winner of the award for Miss Amity is, Tiva Lee Samaru, shock raced into the present like electricity through live wires. Immediately after receiving the award and walking off stage, doubtful reasons swooned like flood waters. The winner is the person with the highest number of votes. Did they count wrong? It almost seemed incomprehensible. Just an award many would say and even question all the fuss, but when recollection shows the affliction incurred for the sake of this victory, it makes the gesture even more honorable.

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Years after this experience, the right kind of internal butterflies took flight, making every experience an adventure and an opportunity to recognize the good within. Admittedly, on some days, dubiousness about the strength of following through with this new found way of being felt as daring as walking along a winding road with closed eyes — an extreme comparison, but indeed slightly agreeable. Nowadays, the approach is different, as, for years, continuous practice nurtured helpful ways of introspection and inner criticism - healthier ways. This way of being, took some time to cultivate with much room left for improvement.

Truthfully, before the pageant, personality issues lacked utmost importance. Therefore inner criticism generally stayed quiet. Yes, as a teenager, simple moments of self-doubt and questioning of morals, ethics, and decision-making existed, but generally, introspection was more positive than negative. However, during the Miss Teen Trinidad and Tobago pageant, negative introspection was innate primarily because the stakes were high. The gains were significant. The difficulty to trust in oneself and to follow that "be yourself" rule stayed strong because in reality if followed, the surfacing of less desirable behaviors became certain - a situation a beauty queen would rather avoid, merely for the sake of, on the surface, having a great personality.

In everyday life, being nominated for or winning a personality award is rare, and even if that possibility exists, a nomination or a win guarantees nothing more than acclaim and what good is that if it ends with some form of self-destruction.

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Yes, be aware of the bad, but more importantly, recognize the good and allow that to be the modus operandi.

Remember, when the mind affixes to a negative thought pattern, toxicity becomes a problem, with several constant battles for change waiting like soldiers on the battlefield. From personal experience, toxicity tampers with self-esteem and endangers the opportunity to notice, experience, and appreciate any good impact as this negative inner criticism preoccupies the mind and overshadows the ability to enjoy each present moment, without doubt, complaint, and uncertainty.

As previously mentioned, it took time to understand the importance of allowing the good to become a personal modus operandi. Even now as a more emotionally connected person, recognizing those positive traits and allowing the chance to relish in non-judgmental self-appreciation still at times feels like a constant challenge. More than that, embracing the positive and adopting this as a circadian principle requires constant work as in reality, the negative seem less laborious, especially in a world where positivity struggles to stay trending.

Regardless, challenge oneself to find a balance between negative and positive personality traits. Challenge oneself to ditch the self-bashing, toxic self-talk, and negative inner criticism. Challenge oneself to adopt a more praising way of analyzing the things that need fixing. Continue to elevate the body and mind by elevating the positive within. Avoid ending up like that overly analytical and critical pageant girl.

Remember the way to rise above the negative and feel confident is not be self-bashing, but by holistically recognizing the good, embracing it, sharing it, and ultimately encouraging others to do the same.

THE TRANSFORMATIVE ONES

Lately, the past - starving for good recollections, roams through, unearthing nooks and crannies and all sorts of experiences. Revisiting accomplishments, and sometimes, recollections destined for oblivion or perhaps resolution.

Repainting pictures of friends and friendships both lost and kept but mainly the transformative ones which emboldened appreciation for those who, without force, influenced dreams. Today, a recollection of those types of amities present themselves. As fortuity would retain it, friends of all types traveled into and out of this life of mine. Some of them leaving behind mounds of emotions to sort through and others leaving frame-able bits.

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As nostalgia sits on that last sentence, the mental image of someone who left some solemn frame-able bits appears. 

Danielle Rumsey is her name. A comely, gray-eyed, English girl. North Eastern College in Trinidad and Tobago is the birthplace of our connection which sleepovers, swimming competitions, road trips and shared love for animals solidified. Subsequently, a critical moment as a result of that friendship comes to mind. With pure intention, our feet stomped through a place with a new world - overflowing with awe - where remembrances and fulfillment lived.

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In the year 1995, Danielle requested some company to attend a rehearsal at her pan tent; as referred to by the locals. This day birthed a deep love for the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago - the steel pan, and enthusiasm from this experience ensured a mouth expressed the desire to play this beautiful instrument to the ears of parents.

A few sunrises and sunsets later - upon enrollment in the Gary Straker's Pan School -sharing this love for the instrument came true. 

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Led by Gary Straker, who at the time was this boisterous, passionate, and aptitudinal steel pan music composer, the pan school consisted of adolescent children and teenagers. The band played at all sorts of events around the country, serenading audiences with renditions of familiar musical compositions. One such composition is from the movie Mission Impossible, and when played, personal fondness grew distant.

As the band grew in size, popularity tagged along and sanctioned the band's opportunity to take part in the National School's Junior Panorama Festival in the year 1997. Gary, with the avail of another charismatic composer, who went by the designation of "Ian," composed a resplendent piece and the band played it magnificently, so much so, a spot on the "big stage" to play in the finals of the music festival bore the band's name. The sacrifice was tremendous and loaded with tedious rehearsals. A filmy recollection of the effects arduous rehearsals created, particularly on the day of the finals, brings to light the badly bruised hands of Nathaniel - a boy at the time and incredible drummer for the band until his premature death in his late teens by the hands of the law. 

As the squeaky wheels of our steel pan racks purposefully rolled onto the stage for our final performance, nervousness appeared until confidence in the composition took its place. 

Once settled in, Gary held his counting stick high in the air in the usual manner, then commenced a customary pre-countdown dance - an energetic two-step. He followed that up with a conventional melodic bang of the steel followed by a rhythmic count from one to four. For the next few minutes, the enchanting sound of sticks to steel rang out. A female judge danced, and a score sheet went airborne - a reaction which fixed the band's place in Junior Panorama history. As "Captain" of the band at the time, radio hosts rushed in for interviews after the affirmation of victory. The dancing judge was the highlight of those interviews garnering laugh upon laugh.

This victory marked a historic moment for the band, one that led to many other opportunities. Recognition came later followed by a celebration and an award ceremony with individual certificates as the only tangible byproduct of this accomplishment.

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As life would have it, a few years later, other experiences and opportunities for personal growth came knocking. The time to move on to other chapters of life blew in like a casual tropical breeze. Gary, of course, continued with his work which eventually gifted him the recognition he deserved - the Hummingbird Medal - one of the highest awards in Trinidad and Tobago. Some years later, illness stole his last breath and just like that; he moved on to a different chapter of existence.

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When considering the course of events that followed that one day at Danielle's steel pan band rehearsal, the conspicuous counter thought is, without Danielle in the equation, the possibility of these experiences seems slim. Granted, if fate willed it, it could have transpired at another time. All this sounds cliche, but from an authentic perspective, had Danielle prevented herself from asking for some company to attend her rehearsal that day, then that would have blocked that specific opportunity to kick start the definitive course the universe charted. In the grand scheme of things, it would have prevented the writing of this story.

Friendships are beautiful in that way, as many experiences result from that relationship. The above sentence confirms the necessity or rather the importance of making and keeping friends, especially those with significant influence. The more profound truth is, friends like these may open doors of opportunity and personal magnification through the right channels of encouragement, and yes, that can come from within, but sometimes someone else's input has a more significant impact.

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So, learn from everyone, even when connections end. Some people stay for brief moments while others journey alongside, but regardless of duration and outcome, appreciate the value of each relationship, as everyone, particularly those bearing gifts of enlightenment, unlock doors furnished with uncharted realms awaiting discovery.