Why write? “I don’t remember deciding
to become a writer. You decide to become a dentist or a postman. For me,
writing is like being gay. You finally admit that this is who you are,
you come out and hope that no one runs away.”—MARK
It’s time I came out of my book closet.
What it was like all those years about wanting to write a book, about
talking about writing and reading in a country where barely anyone
reads. Why I went away for a year to learn to write a novel.
If Barry Padarath, the MP for Princes
Town, refused to be intimidated to silence after being called “princess”
by Sport and Youth Affairs Minister Darryl Smith during the budget
debate last week, then it allows more of us to stand in the light, be
our real selves.
Instead of slinking away, Padarath
called Smith on his sly remark that only suggested homophobia, and
openly called it what it was—“bullying”. This is when I was most
heartened by my people. Instead of jumping on the picong and homophobic
bandwagon was a barrage of criticism levelled against Smith for his
nasty remark across social media, non-governmental organisations and the
Coalition Advocating For Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (Caiso) group,
lobbyists for the LGBT community in T&T. That there are such
organisations in T&T is also heartening.
Now that we are showing signs of moving
towards a more open, liberal and humane society, I too want to come out.
As someone who loves reading and writing more than the sea, more than
soca, more than fetes, more than food or football. For decades I have
tried to fit in. In some senses I have. Journalism has given me access
into the bowels of our country. I’ve seen pan on cool Christmassy
nights, and danced to soca in the rain, and felt exhilarated by
Carnival. But that was always a tiny part of me. At heart I was a reader
in a closet.
I got some of that yearning to be
amongst people who love books and ideas out in this column over the last
two decades, but what I’ve always wanted to be is a novelist which is
almost the opposite of journalism. You need to slow the story right
down, the climax comes towards the end, and there is redemption.
In journalism we scream the climax out
in the headline. This last year in London has been scary for me as an
island woman away from the familiarity of who we are. I got to know how
we ‘move’, the chameleons that we are, the fact that we can wine down to
the ground but scarcely tell people the truth of who we are. I
interviewed the whores and went wading into the Beetham, into hospices
where there was no morphine, and stood amongst boys who were living and
some dead by the gun.
I understood early on moving to Trinidad
that it was weird to talk about books. “So what are you reading now?”
brought a blank stare. Equally, talk of cricket and band launchings and
Christmas curtains bewildered me. I found consolation in the depth of
our people, the resilience, the tolerance, the unique wit, the cunning
insight that could be found in everyone from the judge to the doubles
But I did find I couldn’t come out about
books. I must reveal that my husband’s library induced me to marry him
in a shot in my first year in Trinidad. By then, I had seen too many
houses—some with marble floors and imported Italian kitchens, others on
stilts, but no books.
That sprinkling community of book
readers was revealed later. We are now a growing literary community
thanks to the Bocas festival, the film festival, the burgeoning of the
arts. Yes, there are curious arty people who see the pan and doubles,
and shark and bake, but also the passion of reading and writing.
There was another reason that I remained
in the closet about books. In Trinidad, talking about books felt
obscene, as if I was talking about caviar when people were starving. We
have been starved in a way, of humanity, and if I didn’t write about
that I wouldn’t be a proper journalist.
So instead of writing about book prizes,
I wrote about blood dripping from the ceiling as women’s throats were
slit, of the beheaded man, of the drowned and brutally raped boy.
It’s happened again. I wanted to talk
about the walks you can do in London, the stomping grounds of
Shakespeare and Dickens, Bronte, Wilde, and the Bloomsbury set. I wanted
to write of the terror of inviting strangers into the work you care more
about more than anything, and find generosity, critiques that don’t
crush but push you to be better.
But I can’t, not just yet, because the
first thing I saw when I opened my laptop this morning was the murder of
a British man and his partner in Tobago. Yet, another double murder of a
foreigner that has made world news.
I have come out of a closet full of
books. I am not one for politicians, but the Padarath incident made me
see that Trinidad is burgeoning and there is now room for all sorts,
including the fringe literary community.
It also showed me
that so much of what we can be is stifled literally by fear of the next
murder. Our brutality, verbal and physical crowds out almost everything
we can be. That’s why we are a gridlock nation and when there is
movement, it’s one step forward, and two steps back. Brutality stopped
me writing, and humanity will bring me home.