Published on: October 18, 2014
To live one’s life creatively or simply, to work and live without feeling like you're working to live, is one way you can have a creatively fulfilling life.
This way of living best describes the resolve of Lisa-Marie Harris.
Today this Laventille born creative wears many hats — She is the creator and editor of two very stylish websites Au Courant Daily and My Caribbean Gateway, a wife, mother and publisher of her first print edition of Au Courant Daily magazine.
Mrs Harris started out as a radio announcer. At the time, the idea of making a living from blogs was not even conceivable in Trinidad & Tobago but Mrs Harris saw what was on the horizon. She wanted to become an independent media house and publish a magazine, sharing her distinct perspective on stlye. Well this was what she told close friends upstairs Mc Donalds on Independence square where they use to hang out during the late 1990’s. At this time she and her friends were about to finish secondary school and like us all at that age, the future seemed bright and ripe with possibilities.
We met up with Lisa-Marie passing through her home-island of Trinidad on her way to her soon to be home in Amsterdam months before her first print publication of Au Courant.
She was casual yet very stylishly dressed in full black with her thick dread locks falling effortlessly over her shoulders. She smiled graciously as she apologized for running late due to her son’s unwillingness to let her leave.
We sat in a slowly filling, cozy Drink Wine Bar with the house music low creating just the right mood for an intimate interview. We started chatting over drinks, pizza and pasta. Our conversation started with her journey from being a radio announcer to an online independent media producer, the task of creating interesting and appealing content for readers and the struggle for autonomy. How much of her personal style influences Au Courant Daily and My Caribbean Getaway and whether American bush is wilder than Trini bush! We discussed the woes of living and working in New York city after the economic downfall as a Caribbean national, newly wed and what it is to be ‘tourist Caribbean’ vs just being Caribbean.
Lisa got her ‘first big break’ with Trinidad and Tobago Radio Network’s 96.1 WEFM. She auditioned for a talent search competition which she won along with Tusca Martinez, who was her co-host for "The Ladies Room", a show they created for the Saturday night party crowd. In search of autonomy, she left 96.1 after 3 years and moved to Ebony 104FM where she hosted and produced her own daytime radio show, "The Flow", which aired on weekdays from 12pm to 3pm. She also hosted "Cruisin", her Sunday afternoon show. She also produced and co-hosted the "Coca Cola Everywoman Hour" on occasions with the show's main hosts, Franco & Natacha Jones. Although Lisa Marie loved her work, she still grappled with a gnawing dissatisfaction and for the second time she reached a point in mainstream media that she felt could take her no further than simply being ‘a media person’. “The more soul searching I did, I discovered similar websites in other parts of the world and I decided that if that can work there, they can work here as well. In 2004 I started Au Courant as a blog. I had an artsy-Caribbean perspective but it wasn’t working for me. In 2005 I started www.mycaribbeangateway.com.” In her struggle to cultivate a unique point of view and create original content, Harris broke away from traditional media and embraced digital.
[Read the full interview below]
LMH: “I didn’t want to be stagnant, doing radio forever and working for someone. At some point you want to know that you did something that has posterity. That just wasn’t possible at that time in Trinidad, definitely not in the job that I was doing and I didn’t see it as something I would be able to achieve here even at a higher level.”
Her search led her to New York City.
LMH: “I got married and we moved to downtown New York. Visiting somewhere and living there are two very different things. We lived in Washington Square Gardens and we were broke because we spent all our money getting married and moving to the US, all at the height of the recession. You have this feeling that you’ll walk through the doors at JFK International Airport and things will fall from the sky. I wanted to further my studies so I transferred the credits from my UWI Human Communications degree and planned to continue my studies at The New School University in NYC but I couldn’t afford it because I was foreign, it was difficult to find work even though I had experience and the training. I worked for every magazine I could find to save money for school while my husband did his research at NYU. I was poor in the middle of luxury, window-shopping at Prada.”
DI: How has your American experience changed the way you view the Caribbean and your home country Trinidad in particular?
LMH: I lived in the United States for 6 years and I still consider myself West Indian. Living there altered my interpretation of distance. After you’ve taken a 13-hour trip from Carolina to Fort Lauderdale (which is a reasonable ride) Claxton Bay doesn’t seem so far from Port of Spain. Living abroad also challenged my perspective of Caribbean landscapes. Of 3 hours on that 13-hour trip I passed miles of white cotton trees in South Carolina”.
“I came back to Trinidad and for the most part the different areas are indistinguishable. Glencoe looks like Laventille. Cedros looks like Port-of-Spain. Bet your bottom dollar there’s a stray dog, an abandoned house or a whole chicken family crossing the road. There’s a crew liming by a roadside bar. Coming home and visiting south Trinidad the first thing people say is “We’re going to see bush, while I’m thinking, you haven’t seen bush yet!
DI: What is your take on the current trendiness of the Caribbean or ‘island life’?
LMH: I think the region and Caribbean creatives should be less interested in being attuned to any apparent trendiness regarding island life - or in deciding what the output from a Caribbean creative should look like - and be more interested in doing stellar, creative work that can stand on its own. Ultimately, trendy or not, that is what matters. That is what sets one apart from the masses and creates genuine interest. If thought, depth, and quality are lacking in any creative effort, it will not resonate with the wider creative community either within or outside of the Caribbean. Authentic work always finds a lasting audience. This is why Meiling's classic shirt is so iconic, why we still love Boscoe Holder's painting even if they are a tad post-colonial, why everyone reveres Walcott's poems, why Bunji Garlin's music is spreading far and wide, why everybody thinks of Bob Marley when they think of reggae. The work should speak for itself, and its 'Caribbean-ness' should only be a passing attribute, and not the main focus.
DI: You’ve done quite a bit in your career so far. Who has been your source of inspiration throughout this journey?
LMH: “My mother has been the most unfailing exemplar and source of strength for me. She raised my sister and I as a single parent in a rather rough part of Port of Spain, while juggling several jobs. Every Christmas she earned extra money by making and selling the most delicious pastelles. She had a knack for doing everything and making it seem like nothing. She recently passed away from brain cancer, and every time I think of her I can't help but marvel at her resilience, determination, simplicity and work ethic. She was also a bit of a taskmaster and a perfectionist, within reason. She taught us to let our efforts and our work speak for itself. Good enough was not 'good enough' for her, and she often made us redo things until they were just right. She made us challenge ourselves constantly. As a child I dreaded those things, but those lessons have proven invaluable over time.”
[The 1st issue of Au Courant Magazine is dedicated to her mother who passed away on September 8th, 2014]
DI: Is Au Courant a reflection of your own style?
LMH: “Au Courant Daily is really my aesthetic. It’s the way I see things – my very orderly and very simplistic point of view – based on my modest upbringing. It comes from having to share a pair of shoes with my sister and having to wear hand-me-downs from other relatives. With a bag of hand-me-downs you never know what you’re going to end up with. I learned to love basic pieces like white t-shirts from which I could do my own designs.”
“ My grand father owned one suit and wore the same watch for his entire life. He exuded pride in the few things he owned. Every other Sunday he would steam his shirt and make sure the suit was clean and ready. He’d chain up his watch everyday so it never went dead. Over the years, these experiences informed both my personality and my style. My work is a modern reflection of things.”
DI: As Editor, You decline to blog about every collection sent to you for review. Why is that?
LMH: “I might be the worst person to ask about trends; most of the time I tend to wear more or less versions of the same articles of clothing. I curate the content, most of the things I write about on Au Courant are really motivated by my personal style and by the 5 to 10 pieces I wear over and over. I can’t jump online and be like ‘you need to see this or buy that’. That’s not how I work.”
DI: What is your creative process?
LMH: My process for working involves a constant push and pull. Some days, things are extremely hectic and all I can spare for my own work is 30 minutes to update Au Courant's pages across Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and the like. On those days I don't fight it - that's all I can do, and my attention is needed elsewhere. Other days I have all the time in the world to work on a spread or to liaise with partners, and yet nothing comes to fruition. Those are the thankless, 'pulling-teeth' days when I sit, staring at the computer for what seems like minutes, only to notice hours have passed and all I've done is daydream, browse websites, read books, and idle the time away. It can seem useless - especially when print deadlines are around the corner. But I try to embrace those days whenever they come; some of my best, most brilliant projects stem from those dull days. Everything is a push and pull, a balance between waiting for inspiration to strike and digging away until I challenge or inspire myself. “
DI: How do you balance your work and motherhood?
LMH: Being a working mother has its tough moments, but it is often more fulfilling and joyous than it is difficult. I am an Editor and publisher, a wife and mother, but juggling many roles is definitely not unique to my personal experience. Many have done it with much aplomb before me and many will do the same, after me. I run my studio from a dedicated space at my home and it works beautifully for now. I took inspiration from it by seeing how the Trinidadian designer Meiling chose to move her store from a local Hotel to her own, well-presented private space. So many of my own business neighbours in Amsterdam work and live in the same or adjoining locations without compromising creativity, professionalism, and privacy. I think it boils down to knowing one's priorities, having a supportive and involved partner, and actively choosing your path.
DI: What should we expect in the premier edition of Au Courant Magazine?
LMH: I focus on the aesthetic and feel of Au Courant when creating content and sharing stories. Just because I am from Trinidad and Tobago doesn’t mean that I will make a 'Caribbean feature,' For me, a story has to make sense to the person who appreciates the Understated Life/Style of Au Courant - this person will appreciate things like a small, calm moment in a new city, seeing a classic noir film for the umpteenth time, the quality of the thread and the richness of the Indigo dye that goes into making raw denim, the taste of fresh mint tea, a review of a new, minimalist artwork... It does not matter where these things originate, or whether a person is from a specific region or city - if the quality is there and it feels true, I can tell that story in Au Courant.
With that in mind I was glad to highlight the perspectives of Thomas van Rongen, a founding designer at Eindhoven's V3RS lighting firm, Trinidadian knitwear designer Aisling Camps, Parisian travel photographer Pauline Chardin, and the Amsterdam duo behind Kiyoko Lip Balm, amongst others, in this first issue of Au Courant Magazine. Issue 2 is in the works. I also look forward to another publication and rebranding for My Caribbean Gateway.”
DI: We found it difficult to skim through the first edition of Au Courant Magazine. Perhaps the sleight is in its size or the beautiful texture of the paper. The muted photography or the simple clear writing. It draws you in and woos you to engage purposefully. We aren’t quite certain how she makes it come together, but we know it starts with a now rarely-used word on the opening page. ‘Hello’.
“Au Courant is a space where unhurried moments, simple luxuries and the quiet imperfect beauty of the everyday can meet.” - Lisa Marie Hariss.
We thank Lisa-Marie Harris for being so open to share her life, experiences and advice with us.
Au Courant magazine is currently available for online purchase but will soon be available for purchase in T&T. Follow Au Courant’s website and facebook page for further details as to when it lands on our shores.
Photography courtesy Au Courant Daily.
Interviewers: Tanya Marie W. Rhule & Ayanna Gillian Llyod
Co-Wrter + Editor: Raeanne Watts
Blogger, Attorney at Law and part-time Educator at the University of the West Indies, Trinidad and Tobago.