Aisling Camps has a sheer panel that runs across the top half of her shower curtain, so that in the event a murderer comes for her while she’s in there, she won’t be taken completely by surprise. She can see them first and act accordingly. This see-through partition also acts as a window so we don’t need to break eye contact while she bathes, and I sit on the couch. I guess you can say we have become quite close.
I begin to interview her like this, about life in New York as an independent fashion designer from Trinidad and Tobago. We have so much in common, and I probably did not need my notebook and pencil, to be able to make sense of her responses. I totally relate. Also, it is not the first time that I have written about her, so I already know a lot of what she would say. This time however, her optimism is prominent. Before, she was kind of losing her mind. The only difference is that these days, she’s in love, and her contentment with her personal life has set the tone for everything else.
People ask me all the time about living and working in NYC. The dream! I feel the envy and read between the lines when they ask about how I got my application approved. How was I able to make this happen in less than a year, when so many others have been waiting for almost a decade? I understand. For Aisling, after University here and a short deportation-like situation, it was the Green Card lottery. For me, it was a Visa. No shortcuts or favours. Amazing, yes. Grateful, absolutely. But don’t think that we’re here raking it in and “making it”. We’ve had to re-evaluate our concepts for success and failure around personal experiences and no longer around career goals, or else there is no way we could wake up in the morning to keep grinding. This is not easy at all.
“Money is the challenge here.” Aisling says to me when she finally puts some clothes on and sits still for a few minutes. “I’ll have way more security home in Trinidad. But my definition of failure would be having a safe life and wondering, “What if?”
So why leave? Could we not have stayed in the Caribbean, enjoying a much easier cost of living for two non-white creative entrepreneurs, with enough forests and waterfalls to fuel our desire for thrill and discovery? Sometimes I do wonder if all of this were in vain, and going back home would just be smarter, but I can never complete the thought. I know why I’m here and it’s not about being rich and famous. It’s a soul thing- a connection. Aisling feels it too.
“I want adventure” she begins. “I didn’t want to be a part of that sameness. They don’t want to do anything different. Almost all my friendships failed at home except those with my immediate family. I always felt more accepted in New York. You could be a weirdo and not have to conform. In Trinidad, you would be punished for that.”
My knee jerk reaction was to defend our roots. The Caribbean is home! Yet, when I peel back my defensiveness about the place that birthed us, I do agree with her. I felt I found my tribe in New York from the first day I ever visited here. I didn’t feel the constant pressure to explain or sensor myself. I found that saying “Yes” to things was easy and exciting. At home, I lived a lonely life. Most of my friends moved into marriage and motherhood, with jobs and careers that afforded them the luxury of no longer relating to my sad state of affairs. My social life was dull. My relationship was dying a very slow, very dragged out long death. Creatively, I was too controversial and misunderstood a lot of the time. I just was not happy. Aisling has lived in New York for years; way longer than I have, and she has grown much more comfortable with this awareness. I still battle with my choice of words when it comes to the dichotomy of living between either place. I would never want to seem like I’m shitting on Trinidad; when it is my Trinidadianness that makes me so loved here.
“I don’t want to be a Naipaul” She explains, when she says she knows she comes across as arrogant. “I know what I want and if it rubs you the wrong way then fuck off.” She gets up and moves over to her dress form, where she suddenly starts knotting hanging yarns from a bodice she knitted, performing a very Caribbeannish macrame pattern complete with cowrie shells. “Some Trinis might take this personally, saying I think I’m better than them, but it’s about me. I will always make insecure people uncomfortable.”
“Do you think you’ll stay here forever, then?” I ask her, watching her get more engrossed in her design.
“Yes.” She replies easily, before delving into how New York also has its downfalls. She re-enforces sentiments I’ve realised coming here myself. Surviving here requires a lot of fluidity and resilience; you have to be ready to constantly adapt in what Aisling describes as the “Self-promoting Olympics”. Grounding yourself is a necessity, and this has been one of the greatest contributions that our island upbringing has given to us.
“New York makes you neurotic. You have to be around real people to bring you back to earth. I was guilty of not paying enough attention to my friends. Going home taught me to ignore the noise and to be a better friend again. Being home got me to refine my human skills.”
“How does being from the Caribbean make you different here?”
“I have ah accent.” She laughs.
Then after a short pause, she adjusts the bodysuit she’s wearing (her own work) and estimates how much side-boob she thinks looks best in the ensemble. “It injects sex into my work” Case and point; said side-boob exposing bodysuit. “I’m not a Carnival baby, but that shit gets into your soul.”
I can’t write fast enough to keep up now, while she weaves words in and out, around how she should have shortened the straps on the design and then jumps to something about “Good West Indian Discipline”. What I don’t miss though, is a clear sense of appreciation for being from our culture. It is our warmth and sweaty, fleshy humanness that feed us with the persistence to live in this restless new place. When I moved here officially, I only viewed apartments within 20 minutes walking distance of Aisling’s. While we come off tough; and we are, we need more than booming careers to keep us afloat. I need her; to hear her accent, her points of reference, her stories, her presence. Neither of us is here to work. We’re here to live. We’re here to feel belonging. Someone close to me recently estimated that I was “Failing” and should return home. “Failing”? Hmph. In this period, I have had the least I’ve ever had in terms of money and things. It has also been the happiest I’ve ever been. Aisling and I sat next to each other at a Caribbean bar in Williamsburg a few nights ago, knocking glasses to what we’ve made for ourselves. We may be basically broke, but we’re living an actual dream. Anything can happen at any time. “Adventure” is the word we both use over and over again. I looked it up; “A risky and unexpected undertaking.” What a perfect word to describe our transition into New York.