It’s been a long winter;
this writing apprenticeship in London has been tough. The dark segues
into one another and I have a sudden vision of a white, hot day in
Trinidad, melting tar, spilling into a molten sunset. It is on a day
like this when I glimpse somewhere far from my window a square of light,
and then another square.
The sun is out. I hurriedly
pull on purple track pants over pajamas, lace up pink running shoes,
pull on my softest sweater, unfortunately also now riddled with tiny
holes due to age, grab a mismatched jacket and head out to the nearest
park. I pick up a coffee and see a well-dressed African woman smoking a
cigarette, waiting for a cab. She could be a movie star, taking in the
city in a sweeping imperious gaze. I stop impulsively and think I really
want a cigarette, just a puff, not a pack, and somehow try to explain
this to the woman.
I ask her for a cigarette.
I offer to pay for it. She looks me up and down, making me aware of my
peculiar attire, gives me two cigarettes, and reaches into her pocket
for a pound coin. I refuse the coin and offer her one in return. We both
smile. I turn my face to the sun and sit in the park. A vagrant sits on
the bench next to me. We both enjoy the sunshine.
So I think, this is
freedom. This is ole mas. Play anything you want. Nobody cares. It’s a
big city. I remember why I am here again. It’s the freedom to get into
the work. Into not caring so much about what people will say. Into
sitting in the open without feeling fear. Something that traps people
living in small patches of the world like ours.
I read a Facebook post from
the writer Monique Roffey (award winning author of several books
including White Woman in a Green Bicycle and more recently, House of
Ashes based loosely on the coup attempt in T&T) who inspired me to do a
year’s training in creative writing in London.
A year out. She is
currently teaching creative writing in Trinidad. We are lucky to have
her. Roffey wrote: “A writing group, especially one here in Trinidad, is
a fringe space where so-called hostile groups can meet. In a writing
group privilege does not work. Privilege cannot make anyone a shit hot
writer. We discuss craft. Talent is on the table, that’s all. Talent and
craft is what is up for discussion. The content of the work, themes of
love, gender, sexuality, race, white privilege, shame, anger, guilt, all
these things need to be spoken about by these people around the writing
table. It is a fringe space.
What are we, if we cannot
talk there, in this space around the table?” Yes. I pull out a piece of
paper. I had written this three months into being here in virtual
isolation, trying to find my voice. I found self censorship, the fear of
gossip that goes viral in Trinidad, the bullying voice that we all feel
after being robbed—and very few of us haven’t been victims of some kind
of crime or brutality in Trinidad. The bullying voice that said ‘watch
out, if you say or do something wrong to the wrong person, make a false
step, you could be dead if you protest against noise or a bad drive’ has
made us somewhat hostile to one another. The anger is misplaced.
Here is some of what I had
written on that piece of paper. “For years I had a drawing room voice.
I’d say things people expected me to say. I’d entertain them. I’d go to
the squares and markets and speak the language of strangers. My voice
was neutral, benign and conciliatory. It
gave information and said
the sorts of things which would find approval in schools for girls run
“It was a strange
situation. There were times when even I found my drawing room voice,
jarring. I must have been boring, self righteous, and trotted out
“Gradually it seeped in,
that alone voice, tea roses growing through cracks in stone. It may have
come out when I caught myself off guard. When I did that I had to look
away from myself. As if the truth hurt or something.
“One day I met a person who
only spoke in her alone voice. She lived in so many places she didn’t
know what was home and what wasn’t. She opened up all her wounds and
invited us all to examine them as if they were jewels of the Raj. She
laughed without restraint. She lived by her wit. She wore her pajamas to
the drawing room. She forgot to eat sometimes. She was the bravest
person I met. She said nobody, not an ambassador, nor a business tycoon,
could buy an alone voice. It was more precious than life itself. I am
starting to speak from scratch.”
inspired that writing. If we can all allow our voices to ring true
perhaps we will stop being hostile to one another and become more
productive, nudge our country to be safer, more efficient. We can start
with small safe spaces and eventually, allow the talent, the work to do