Thanks for visiting my blog. I have to warn you though: if you’re looking for topic consistency or some kind of overall theme, you’re in the wrong place. This is a blog about nothing. Whatever comes to mind and tickles my curiosity – that’s what I’ll blog about. In my head, I’ve got so many questions and much less answers. Feel free to leave me a reply or comment. I love intelligent conversation. Cheers!
The death toll in Europe and America is staggering. Trinidad’s death toll is miniscule, in comparison: 8 lives lost so far. I should consider myself happy and fortunate to be living in this island outpost.
But, nah, Dawg. Covid making me sick.
Not the actual SARS-CoV-2 virus itself, but Covid in the umbrella sense – like how we say “Winter” to encompass all those long dreary days plus the suffering and endurance and collective inconvenience of the season.
Covid, this season, is making me sick to my heart.
Some say the virus came from animals, and why not? Hard to deny: it seems to be turning us into animals – some, of course, more equal than others.
Some say the virus preys on those with co-morbidities. Yes, it has surely revealed Trinidad to be a deeply diseased society.
Trinidad and Tobago are twin sisters, but Tobago is the quiet one. Trinidad, meanwhile, is a chick with a bad auto-immune disorder, who shows up at the club and starts wildin out. Her skin inflamed, her vision blurry, her body twitchy as white cells and black cells and 1% cells and all the other clusters of cells war against themselves, she insists she doh care one ass and she have rights and if she hadda go down, she goin down with a bang. Oh Trinidad. Keep calm and stay home. Please.
You have a right to party, but you have a responsibility to not kill yourself – or other people. Trinidad, hunny, it’s a combo. These glorious rights come with pesky responsibilities in the same box. Think centre breast with fries and a small Cokes – a supa deal.
Or maybe I am misdiagnosing. Maybe I shouldn’t go so far as to suggest that Covid has uncovered us at war, on a cellular level. Maybe what ails Trinidad is less chronic, less serious than that. Maybe, sometime in the past, she was whole, but then came the fractures – small, but many, and often. Maybe nothing broken was ever properly reset, and everything healed badly. And now, nothing lines up for us anymore. We have lost our symmetry, synchronicity and elegance of gait. Some of our children have so much forward momentum, are travelling at the speed of blue light across a digital screen – while some of our children are, right now, asking granny for a knife to sharpen a zoot of a pencil to draw on a wrinkled copybook page. Some of us are running – pell-mell – to the bow and its apparent height and safety, while despising the stern as it sinks, forgetting what we’ve all learned from Titanic and Jack and Rose: is one ship, Dawg, and at some point we will all drop in the sea.
Unless, there is order. And compassion.
Please, spread the safety blanket, be another patch in the quilt: stay home.
Let us be clear: the uproar over scantily-clad models strutting down the aisles of Holy Trinity Cathedral for a fashion show, is not about God.
I’m pretty sure God has seen all those models naked before, He didn’t have to wait for them to walk into His “house” showing their asses. Also, I’m not convinced their uncovered bodies shocked Him any more than King David’s body, when he danced “before the Lord” wearing a linen ephod, which caused this bitter complaint: “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!” (2 Samuel 6:20 NIV)
But the half-nakedness shocked us. It came as an offense to our religious feelings. It showed a lack of respect for our sense of what is holy and what is profane. Because, you see, we Christians prefer our Churches and holy places to be set apart for the praising of God and the collection of monetary offerings, tithing, bake sales and other fundraising activities…done, of course, by the fully-clothed.
I am not going to lie: I was taken aback when I first saw the clip of the fashion show (Ohhh, somebody goin and loss they wuk!) But I am not going to pretend that my personal reaction – based on my culture, history, religious indoctrination– is one and the same with God’s (after all, the man refused to stone-down an adulteress inside the Temple walls, he used to lime with whores and let them touch him, and he never used to wash his hands and thing, like a good religious fella should).
You see, the last thing this country needs is more religious hypocrisy.
Remember the big bacchanal when a priest played Mas? (“If the priest could play, who is we?”)
Remember how the drum, the chac-chac and the tambourine were not allowed in any religious ceremony? They were outlawed until 1951 and, even after, were disdained and believed to be instruments “of the devil” and those pesky Shouter Baptist people.
Remember when having steelpan inside the Church was viewed, as Roman Catholic Archbishop Gordon reminds us, as “the worst day for the local Church”?
Remember the national uproar when we girl, Wendy, spoke at a Catholic Girls’ School, even though she was pregnant out of wedlock?
Oh, and back to David. Remember when he was so hangry that he entered the house of God, ate and shared out to his friends the consecrated bread, which was lawful only for priests to eat? And remember when Jesus told this story to the Pharisees to make a point? Offending the strict letter of God’s law—even if the law gives insight into what pleases/displeases God – is not the sole determinant of God’s wrath.
Church buildings exist for man’s benefit, not God’s. To my mind, the most relevant criticism of that fashion show is that the designer broke rules laid down beforehand by the Dean of the Anglican Church. Is d-people-dem building, is their religious house, you doh walk in somebody house and break all their rules. W’happen, yuh have no broughtupcy or wha’?
But that is a matter for the Dean to deal with. To every other Armchair Bishop and Keyboard Warrior: Y’all, please, just keep calm, stop speaking for God and pray for your own soul, nah.
There’s gold in them hills!
Hills…stacks of books, I mean. The literary archives of The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus, are a treasure trove of inspiration to up-and-coming writers like myself. But I only discovered this, thanks to the work of the Caribbean Literary Heritage project. Read more below:
The #Metoo movement has felled many stars, and the literary cosmos has not been exempt from this purge. Recently, Pulitzer Prize winning (and widely popular) author, Junot Díaz, felt the wrath of womankind. In the months afterward, I watched the literary world struggle with a question which has long been on the minds of my fellow Trinidadians.
How can we love the art of a despicable man? Put another way, should the immoralities in an artist’s personal life disqualify him from our adulation? Put yet another way, should I only buy and consume the artistic works of nice people?
We Trinis have had to grapple, for decades, with the personality and genius of Sir VS Naipaul. He died yesterday, at the age of 85. His voluminous personal failings have been detailed in books by his one-time friend and protégé, Paul Theroux, and, most recently, by his own sister Savi Naipaul Akal who wrote,
Pa would have been ecstatic, and would have wept with joy. For days and weeks Pa would have smiled with pride and pleasure to remember that the little boy to whom he had read from books as a child had gone on to publish many books himself and earn the plaudits of the world. All the same, Pa would not have liked everything about the man Vidia. Pa would have been appalled and angry over his treatment of [his young brother] Shiva. Pa would have been distressed that Vidia had developed an hauteur and callousness that upset and wounded so many good people. He would have been horrified by Vidia’s treatment of Ma. He would have been more than displeased that Vidia had not invited her or, indeed, a single other member of his family, to attend his knighting by Queen Elizabeth or his grand Nobel award from the King of Sweden. And, finally, Pa would have been mortified that Vidia had married a divorced Muslim woman within days of the death from cancer of his long-suffering and loyal wife Pat.
Naipaul made no attempt to hide his contempt for the country of his birth, Trinidad and Tobago. Yet, some say, he has been rewarded for it. In 1990, he received the Trinity Cross, the nation’s highest honour. His books have been on the school curriculum for almost as long as he has been writing. I myself have distributed them far and wide, across the globe, as gifts. Why? I think, on some level, we Trinis realise Naipaul is engaged in the art of truth-telling, and a truth-teller does not have to be nice person.
Modern discussions suggest that there is some collective morality against which we must judge artists, before we engage with their work. I am suspicious of collective moralities. When I look around, what I actually see is collective immorality – all have sinned and fallen short. If I am to decide what I read based on the high moral standing of the writer, then, pretty soon, my bookshelves will be empty. It is the human condition that beauty and squalor, good and evil, exist as neighbours within us. I would much rather try to see the world through the perspective of the immoral man, than shun him. Shunning him, I learn nothing.
I reserve the right to buy and read the work of any writer and, if the case may be, to enjoy that work and to find value in it, regardless of who he/she is and how he/she has treated others. I may, conversely, hate the work, or level criticism at it – I may never buy that person’s work again. But the choice is mine. If defending that choice make me seem immoral, then so be it.
Thank you, Sir Vidia.
May your books continue to prompt and provoke our self-scrutiny.
Rest in Peace.
“Loosed” is the winner of the 2017 John Gardner Memorial Prize for Fiction and is published in Harpur Palate Vol.16 No.2//Vol.17 No.1
The story is about a soured marriage. Is religion the source of Declan and Ruth’s problems? Or are they themselves to blame?
To judge for yourself, click on the story name above to read the full text.
Hollywood is currently in the throes of Weinsteingate.
It is impossible to log into social media or to read any American news and not encounter it. Daily, more women are coming forward, breaking long-silences, admitting to having been the victim of sexual assault at the hands of powerful men. Good on these women for speaking out and facing down their oppressors – that’s damn hard to do.
Thing is, you don’t have to be a Hollywood starlet to know what sexual assault feels like: the powerlessness, the fear, the shame, the is-it-my-fault conversations with yourself, not to mention the rationalisations (“But this is my bread-and-butter. I can’t make trouble.”) Many ordinary women know exactly what that dilemma feels like, though most of us don’t have a platform to talk about it.
Many of us figure it’s just the way of the world. That’s why there’s a word for it, right? Misogyny. The term is enjoying a new popularity these days.
Many of us are trying to forget these incidents ever happened. We balk at making ourselves, even in our own minds, “the victim” of anything. But then, here comes Weinsteingate, stirring up the silt of repressed memories.
That’s what’s been happening to me. I’ve been remembering things. Things I chose to forget. What keeps floating up are the times when I felt the smallest, the times when I was halved and then halved again by some man – two bites of the cherry, so to speak. I’m talking about a special kind of misogyny, not your plain vanilla kind, something a bit darker than that.
Like my first job out of Law School, working for a big, German guy. Him hiring me and saying in his heavy accent, “Yes, I can use you on the Australian and European market.” Me, twenty-four years old, not understanding what he meant until several months into the job, when a private plane landed and a flock of Swiss millionaires alighted on the office conference room. They had come to discuss plans for setting up a private offshore bank. My boss called my telephone extension, ordered me down to the meeting. I grabbed a legal pad and pen, thinking I would jot down his instructions before stepping into the room. I grabbed a copy of the private banking legislation on the way out of my tiny office. I ran down the stairs, rehearsing what I already knew about private banks. My boss was waiting in the corridor, a couple paces away from the conference room door. His only instructions were, “Sit where I tell you. Next to the most important guy. Look pretty and smile. A pretty black girl is kryptonite to them.” I did as I was told.
Months later, the firm hired another lawyer: a hot-shot Italian tax-attorney from the West Coast of America. They put him in the same office as me. We sat back to back. He kept trying to flirt with me. I kept ignoring him, politely declining invitations, skirting his hints and advances. Then one day, he swung his chair around and announced, “You know I don’t need to work, right? I told you before, my family is rich. I’m just here to learn the ropes in this offshore thing.” I confirmed that he had told me all about his family’s pizza empire and all about the money he made Stateside, as an attorney. We went back and forth, I played dumb, he grew frustrated. Eventually, he said, “Listen, honey, I’m a white man.You know what that means, right? I can open up a whole other world for you…in America. I can get you outta this dump.”
I changed jobs. Next job was for a brand-name firm. It included going to meetings with Senior Government Officials, and Captains of Industry. I was early for one such meeting. It was only me, the plate of chocolate chip cookies and a tall, red-faced British guy – a Captain of Industry. His phone rang. He answered, guffawed for a few seconds and then said in an extra-loud voice, “Yes, yes. I’m back in Her Majesty’s Colonies.” I looked up then, at him, he was looking straight at me with a smirk on his face. When the meeting started, he talked over me, rebutted everything I tried to say – by saying it differently. At break time, while we were getting coffee, he brushed up against me.
In a brand-name firm, you get to meet brand-name people from the other franchises. The Managing Directors of all the regional firms came to town. On the last night of their conference, they invited middle management of the local firm – which included me – to dinner. I was seated next to one of the very affable, very fatherly, very light-skinned MDs – probably of European extraction. At some point during the dinner, he mentioned that he couldn’t wait to go see the beautiful beaches, he had made reservations at a resort. Later on, he invited me to join him at said resort. I politely declined, pleading the exigencies of work. At the end of the night, he leaned in, whispered, “I love your skin. Your colour es so beautiful.” A couple months later, my boss told me the same thing.
I changed jobs. This one involved international travel and forging links with international firms. I was sent, along with a male colleague, to a major tax conference in London. We were meant to scout for new business and make visits to business partners. One such person was an old upper-crusty British gentleman – a highly respected academic on certain aspects of offshore financing. He and I had been doing business on the phone and via email for some time. He was attending the conference as well and had agreed to meet in between sessions to discuss future plans. He was not expecting my male colleague to be with me. The gentleman seemed vexed. On the second morning of the conference, he approached me in the breakfast queue and asked how my jet-lag was. He said he had taken a room in the hotel and would gladly prove to me that a good massage was the cure for what ailed me.
I wasn’t hungry anymore. I left the breakfast buffet and got a coffee. My colleague followed. “You didn’t deserve that,” he said. “I heard what he told you. I can imagine how you feel. He made you think he wanted to talk business but that wasn’t it at all.”
I appreciated those words: that my white, male, European colleague had called bullshit. It wasn’t all in my head. Because up till then I had wondered if it – all of it, every incident – had, indeed, been a fiction in my head. Or had I done something wrong? Had my skirt been too tight? Had I laughed too hard at his jokes? Had I done that silly, Caribbean thing and touched him while speaking?
And up till then, I had been confused: how could my law degree, all my qualifications – so nicely typeset and embossed on my business card – how could they be so easily ignored? How could somebody look at me and see nothing but a black hole. Literally, a black hole.
But that day, in London, as I talked to my colleague and explained how betrayed and belittled I felt, my mind jumped backwards and resurrected something I already knew. Something I’d learned in my prestige Catholic high-school, the place where all my ambitions of becoming A Respected Professional were born. I remembered Cecil Rhodes and Rudyard Kipling – the great European men we’d studied – and I remembered The White Man’s Burden, and I saw that it extended to black women, to the terrain of our skin. These men thought I was vacant, starving, inherently inferior, but lush and ripe for the taking. They thought I wanted to be taken. They thought they were doing me a favour by offering to possess me. They had decided all of this based on my gender AND my race.
In time to come, there would be other white men, saying the right words and offering “love.” But I could never bring myself to take the risk that it wasn’t that but, rather, jungle fever talking.
Still more years passed and I learned of Sarah Baartman, the African woman who, in the 1800s, was taken to Europe under false pretences by a British doctor. She was stage-named “Hottentot Venus” and was paraded around freak-shows in London and Paris with crowds invited to ogle her large buttocks – her genitalia were fabled to be just as disproportionate. After her death in 1815, her sexual organs remained on display in a Paris museum until 1974. Her remains were only repatriated to South Africa and buried in 2002.
Recently, I discovered there was a word for what I had experienced, for what Sarah Baartman had endured: “Misogynoir”. It is a term American professor, Moya Bailey, invented to describe the specific way racism and misogyny combine to affect black women. It’s a term you don’t hear much about in the mainstream media. I can recall encountering it only once, when Twitter blew up with racist abuse aimed at actress/comedienne Leslie Jones: “big-lipped coon” they called her.
I wonder how many black women in Hollywood have been the victims of misogynoir: pursued or pawed for having too much melanin, too much ass, too much lip. I wonder if any black starlets will come forward after Weinsteingate. Perhaps, like me, they won’t say anything and won’t call out any powerful men, but will brush off the abuse and move on with their lives. Or perhaps they will admit the assault but redact some of the hurtful words that were said, edit out the other layer of pain. Why? Because no one wants to survive one misogynoir trope – The Hypersexual Black Woman – only to fall prey to another misogynoir trope, The Angry Black Woman.
Weinsteingate may change things. Some people seem hopeful it will cause an enlightenment in Hollywood, which will positively change workplace gender relations everywhere, for everyone. So why do I find myself reading these predictions and quietly humming Bob Marley:
“They say the sun shines for all,
But ah in some people world,
It never shine at all.”
I’ve heard it said: to be poor is a crime, but to be poor and black is to be invisible. Well, I would add: to be a woman is a crime, but to be a woman and black is to be a hole.
Your mother is worried about you. In all my years of being her friend, I can’t remember ever seeing her this nervous. She tells me you want to be a writer. She says your heart is now set “like ice in a freezer.” She says you’ve just finished your Bachelors in English Lit and you’re getting ready to apply to the University’s Creative Writing Masters program. I’ll be honest m’boy: she asked me to talk to you, to give some insight into the real world of writing because she thinks you may not know what you’re getting into. The wrong Masters degree is too expensive a mistake for your family to make, she says. And she’s right. So, I’m going to talk to you now, like an adult – Big Man ting. It might not be what you want to hear but I hope you can take it.
When you were little, you used to love martial arts movies. Remember? You used to love Steven Seagal. Remember how many times we watched “Marked for Death”? Remember how, every time I visited, you would act out parts of it for me? You and I always agreed that the best lines in that movie belonged to the rasta-man, Screwface. We used to repeat them in our terrible Jamaican accents and then collapse on the floor laughing. This one was always my favourite: “Everybody waan go ah heaven. Nobody waan dead.”
Well, that is an important truth for a writer, Sayvaughn. Remember it.
Like your mother, I used to practice law. Not once did anyone ever say, “God, you’re so lucky. I have this idea for a great lawsuit but I just don’t know where to start.”
Now that I’m a writer, I hear that kind of thing all the time. Now, the mere mention of my occupation and people become starry-eyed. It seems that for everyone, there is a road not travelled and a book not written. Almost everyone thinks their life is bestseller material, and the few who don’t are planning to write a children’s book one day, someday. But not today.
See, that’s the thing: nobody is prepared to do it. Not one person has ever, upon receiving my practical advice about becoming a writer, responded with, “Awesome! I’ll get right on it.” Why? Because their romantic notions of a writer’s life do not gel with the realities I lay bare for them. Their star-shaped pupils quickly retract, glaze over, as I describe a life which involves much more drudgery than they’d imagined, much more…punishment.
The simple truth is: you cannot become a writer unless you are prepared to hang a bullseye on your chest. Writers die a different death every day, Sayvaughn, and here are the most painful:
- Death by economic sacrifice
In the absence of other resources, if you fully commit and give yourself over to the occupation of writing, you might just starve to death before your first publication.
Writing doesn’t pay well. A couple hundred here, a couple hundred there – that’s it. And you have to spend money to make money as a writer. In 2012, after writing a novel and trying (and failing) to get it published, I decided that people – myself included – would have more confidence in my work if I had an MFA. That’s graduate school; that’s money. Sure, the University had payment plans, but it was still money I didn’t have and had to raise every month by making a drastic lifestyle scale-down.
Once I’d finished my MFA and had a minty-fresh body of work to start sending out into the literary world, I had to confront another cost: submission fees. They are usually between US$3.00-$5.00 for each item submitted. Literary contests involve a larger fee, sometimes as much as US$25.00. These may seem small but they add up. You may have to submit to tens or hundreds of journals before getting one acceptance. That’s a small fortune for writers like us, living far from the main publishing centres and subjected to jacked-up currency rates. So start saving.
Most writers will confess to creating their finest work when they are able to put aside all other distractions. And what’s the greatest distraction? Having to go out every day to a non-writing job that pays the bills, puts food on the table, clothes on your back but leaves you no time or energy for the mental isometrics of creative writing. The pondering, the imagining, the crafting and re-crafting of perfect paragraphs – it requires total immersion. Sayvaughn, I know you’ve read all the Harry Potter books. But did you know that series was written during a time when JK Rowling was jobless and penniless, living in a cramped apartment with her daughter and relying on State benefits? She spent her days writing in cafés, with her child sleeping in the pram next to her. Every aspiring writer of young-adult or children’s books wants to replicate Ms. Rowling’s riches; but how many are willing to start where she started, to do time in the rags? Are you?
- Death by social rejection
Parents – your mother included – live vicariously through their children. We know this. When I told my parents I’d decided to switch professions, they were pretty vocal with their disappointment. They had scrimped and saved and sacrificed for me to get a good education so that I could become a Lawyer – a sure-shot at power, influence and income. They didn’t mind if I changed careers, as long as it was for something equally aggrandizing. Instead, I was being cruel and ungrateful, squandering their lifelong efforts and hopes on the dicey wager that is a writing career. How could they face their friends and say their daughter “wrote”? Anybody can write, where was the prestige in that? And how were they supposed to live without the pleasure of watching me prowl around in intimidating, sober-coloured suits?
It hurt me, you know, Sayvaughn – their rejection. But I believe one day my parents will see that the highest return on their investment is for me, their child, to be happy and fulfilled. The only way I can be that is if I write. I believe your mother will come around, too. In the meantime, ask yourself: Could I be happy doing something other than writing? If the answer is yes, then go do that thing.
Friends and colleagues also rejected the premise of me becoming a writer. Although they never said it outright, it was always hovering there, in the vicinity of our conversations, like a bad odour:
Them: So what are you doing now?
Them: Great, that’s so amazing! I always wished I could do something like that, something so….(words implied: “crazy/irresponsible”). I would love to be able to pursue my passion (word implied: “hobby”) like that. Good for you, Celeste!”
Them: Hey, I saw you got something published in a magazine.
Me: Yeah, thanks.
Them: Does that kinda thing pay well? Like, compared to Law.
Me: Actually, that magazine didn’t pay. Many don’t. It’s about getting my work out there…
Them: So why do you keep…I mean, then what’s the point?
It’s sad really: when you’ve taken huge risks, braved all sorts of fears to shed an old skin and birth a new, more authentic you, only to have it rejected by people you care about. The psyche of the novice writer is a tender one, easily (and sometimes, fatally) injured by other people’s negativity. Keep your plans close to your chest, Sayvaughn. Never reveal too much about what you’re writing – it only gives people an opportunity to discourage you. Instead, work like a beast and surprise people with your success.
Are you interested in writing fiction or non-fiction? Hear this: of all of us, non-fiction writers endure the most hostility and rejection. It is impossible to write a memoir, to tell your truth, without implicating other people or impinging on their perceived truths. Family secrets are communal property: it is impossible to stake your claim to them without trespassing on someone else’s feelings. Sure, the best personal essays are the honest, soul-baring ones; but those writers often find professional success at the cost of family ostracism. Prepare yourself.
- Death by professional rejection
For a writer, the very personal act of creating new work is one side of the record; public rejection of that work is the flip-side. They are inseparable experiences and the sooner you, as a new writer, accept that, the better you will fare – psychologically, at least.
Month after month, the MFA student is required to churn out new work. She stands before her computer as if on a deserted beach, waiting for inspiration to surface; and when it does, she searches the horizon of her memory, collects the wreckage of her own subconscious, and combines it all into a new and awesome thing. A creature of the deep. And then, she must lay this creation on an altar, before stone-faced faculty and salivating students who brandish knives and bare their teeth. Beware: MFA workshopping is ritualized torture: to sit silent while a murder of writers (NB. that’s not a real collective noun…I just invented it…but it should be!) eviscerates your best efforts and pronounces on your ability or disability as a writer. But, to my mind, the MFA’s greatest virtue was that it prepared me for professional rejection, for the feeling of being misunderstood, for the biased criticism of the literary world.
Literary publications are as idiosyncratic and subjective as people are. Out of thousands of submissions received, a journal will only publish work which suits its particular tastes. If you, as a Caribbean person, plan to tell our stories and showcase our world and our language authentically, then you won’t be a match for most North American journals. This means when you, the Caribbean writer, submit your beloved story/poem/essay, you’ll be searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack: for a ballsy magazine with a broad world view. You have to kiss many frogs before you find that Prince. Some say the average North American writer must aim for as many as a hundred frog-kisses a year. You, from the Caribbean, aim for two hundred; that kind of promiscuity will greatly improve your chances of finding true love in this time of choleric American politics. And please know, the frog-kiss of rejection isn’t the sloppy, elaborate thing you might imagine. No, it is crisp and dry and so, so cold:
Thanks for sending us (blank). Unfortunately, it’s not right for us. We wish you the best in placing your writing elsewhere.
Two hundred letters like that every year. Ouch! I don’t know of many other professions exacting that kind of toll on the ego. And then…wait for it…there are the literary agents. Most major publishers will not accept enquiries directly from an author, you have to go through a literary agent. So you send your best work to the agency and hope they will accept you as a client. If not, brace for another, more incisive, rejection letter. My first said, “the writing was not what I’d hoped it would be.” I’ve never forgotten that – it still keeps me up at night sometimes.
- Death by self-flagellation
Remember Silas, the creepy Opus Dei guy, from The Da Vinci Code? Remember the scene where he stands naked in front of the crucifix, zealously whipping himself with a cat-o-nine-tails? Remember the blood trickling from his torn flesh? The way the pain made him stand on tiptoe and made spit fly from his mouth. Well, m’boy, that kind of intense self-flagellation is a normal feature of life for a writer.
With so many rejections coming from so many people, is it any wonder that self-doubt scourges us every day? We are always on the verge of giving up. We accumulate hours in front of the mirror asking ourselves if we will ever be good enough. Then there are the long showers, so we can cry privately: snot and tears – but never the pain – dissolving in water.
And then there is the guilt. The opportunity-cost of spending five hours at my desk today, was five hours I could’ve spent with my baby daughter. The opportunity-cost of spending thousands of dollars on my MFA was the modest nest-egg I could’ve started for her. And then there’s the corporate law career I abandoned, in 2011, to write my much-rejected novel. And all for what? For the ignominy of being a hustler, a peddler, constantly knocking on doors trying to sell these little trinkets I keep crafting; and for the privilege of being a dreamer. Is it worth it?
Sayvaughn, if you’ve read all the way through this and if, after everything I’ve said, you still want to write, it means you are a serious contender. I say this because the true writers – not the hobbyists – write because they have no say in the matter. They write because they are impelled to, whatever the risks, by forces over which they exercise no control. For the true writers, it’s a simple choice: write or die trying. That attitude is necessary to endure this calling. Sure, our choice of profession has marked us for death, but that only means we are in the business of resurrection. Every day, every little thing we do to keep our writing careers alive, is an act of resurrection – and there is glory in it. So, I received five rejections this week, but I sent out five more submissions – resurrection. So, my kid was sick so I couldn’t write for six hours today but, while I waited in the doctor’s office, I wrote six lines – resurrection. So, my mom was on my case again today about why I’m wasting my life, but I cut the conversation short and read a cherished book (Tandia, by Bryce Courtenay) for two hours, just to remind myself of why I write – resurrection: “…a dream is often lonely, but providing you are prepared to prevail, it’s invincible.”
Be invincible, Sayvaughn.
With love and admiration,