I tell stories. I write poems.

I hold on to things.

I come from a family with pack-rat tendencies. My grandmother still has most of her furniture, luggage and household items from her time in England in the early 60’s and 70’s. My mother refuses to get rid of our old school notebooks (I’m talking primary school) and my father doesn’t throw anything away. Ever. And don’t even get me started on my aunt.

Things tell stories. Things have memories attached. A wave of nostalgia lies waiting among dusty old pictures, recital programmes and yes, even those old school notebooks.

My notebooks (and legal pads, and journals) from high school hide treasures in their bindings. I sweep cobwebs and dead insects off the cover a notebook labelled ‘Music’ and halfway through explanations on semi-claves and metre I wind up in a story about a teenage girl trying to survive high school. Not me. A girl in high school that I made up.

I wrote a lot of things back then. Short stories with weird foreign narratives, long stories that I never finished, poems, songs. Emo poetry and songs. The early 2000s were a strange and trying time. For everyone, not just millennials.

But I never shared any of these stories and poems and songs. I didn’t enter any competitions, didn’t read them aloud to my friends (and this was a thing we used to do. Every lunch time, at the netball court behind the auditorium), didn’t share them with a confidante (as other used to do with me). I just kept them locked up in lines of notebooks that now lay forgotten in cardboard boxes.

Even now when I write stories and poems (I got over my emo phase so there are no more sad love songs) I tuck them away into neatly organized documents and computer folders. I journal, flexing my muscles in private writing with the hope that the strength will be built without any tests of endurance. Like a marathoner training for a race he never runs.

Among my limited displays of writing skill, there are stories of success and failure.

(Disclaimer: I’m only talking about original writing. In my heyday I used to write fairly entertaining Harry Potter fanfiction. Not all of them embarrassing either).

For about two years I semi-regularly contributed interviews and book reviews to Susumba.com. It was my writing on display to, how did my editor put it? Build a portfolio.

Last September at a poetry event hosted by my high school alumni I read three of (what I thought were) my best poems. Crickets.

But just last month, I learnt that I’d been shortlisted for an award I didn’t even remember submitting pieces to. I had spent 2018 half-heartedly submitting polished up old and new poems to different open calls ad hoc. Okay, two. It was two open calls. And one of them thought my writing was good enough to be shortlisted.

I say all this to ask. If the writing only stays in a closed up book, if the words stay in my throat or just behind my fingertips. Am I still a writer? If I long to tell stories, if characters come to me unbidden on beautifully lonely country roads and linger suffocating in my subconscious. Am I still a writer? If I neglect my creative space for months on end because I’m too afraid that the words will not be perfect. Am I still a writer?

Of course I am.

I’m a writer whether or not the words come out. I think like a writer, dream like a writer and pluck words from pictures like a writer. Writing isn’t only what I do, it has always been a part of who I am.

Stories are in my blood, I just need to open a vein.

Self-invention vs Self-discovery

The way I see it we’re all moving through life trying to figure out what the hell this life thing is any way. Some people choose a path of discovery, learning about who they are. While some choose to invent themselves, from scratch even, if they don’t like what they’ve discovered.

Self-invention has only recently become part of my vocabulary, inasmuch as it relates to the process of choosing one’s identity, perceptions and actions. Merriam-Webster isn’t much help with a definition

the act or an instance of inventing or creating one’s identity or conception of oneself

Merriam-Webster

Everyone knows you can’t use a word to define itself, Merriam-Webster

When I reflect on the differences between discovery and invention I think about the various aspects of my life right now. For example, I discovered that at the ripe old age of 27 I have inherited my grandmother’s arthritic knees. My old self would gripe and moan and generally wallow in self-pity, but the new self-invented Robyn chooses to exercise*, take an Advil and get on with life. 

*think about exercising, often.

Or I’ve discovered that I am generally not a clean person, as evidenced by the armies of dust bunnies that have invaded my apartment. But I can choose to be a person who cleans more often. Or, more likely, choose to be a person who has higher priorities than dust bunnies. Like making sure the cats are fed. Which I do. I feed my cats. Regularly. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you otherwise.

I like the idea of self-invention more than self-discovery because it gives us this idea of agency. As if we have some modicum of control in a universe that often tends to spiral in the opposite direction. Victor Frankl spent the entirety of his career preaching the idea that man can rise above or sink beneath whatever circumstance he is presented with. (And if you haven’t read Man’s Search for Meaning, I highly recommend it as a textbook for life). As delightful as it is to figure ourselves out, it’s equally wonderful to realize we can change the things we don’t like. Most of them, at least.

Self-invention isn’t easy by a long shot. Personal development is hard and painful and frankly more than a little repetitive. Like Sisyphus pushing the boulder up that hill, over and over again. But it’s a worthy mark to aim for, the invention of a self you can be proud of. Your best self. Like Michelangelo with a block of marble, you get to chip away at the excess and discover/invent the masterpiece that was in there this whole time. 

2019 is gonna be MY year

How many of us have said that to ourselves?

“This is the year I get that degree/that promotion/that baby. This is the year I get my shit together.”

Well, guess what. They’re all your years. 2018 was your year, and so was 2017. And 2020 is going to be your year too. Because the years are your life, and getting that degree/promotion/baby isn’t the full stop at the end of the novel. It’s barely even a chapter break. 

This is a good thing.

This frees us from the limiting idea that we only get one year to do The Thing. It frees us up to realize that all those years that came before 2019 were necessary building blocks to get to whatever achievement you’ve set your eyes on. And all those years beyond 2019 are even more groundwork that you climb on to get to even more achievements.

Because the world doesn’t stop in 2019. The story of your life doesn’t end like a novel, with success, or a sunset horseback ride or a wedding. The story of your life keeps going, and isn’t that the exciting part? Turning the page after triumph or disaster and finding that the story hasn’t ended just yet. That you get to write more story, better story, sadder story, more brilliant and blinding story. That you get to continue learning and self-choosing, that one year does not cannot make or break you. 

I used to think time was against me. It just keeps going, keeps making me older (ugh), keeps dragging me through milestones that in hindsight are pretty silly (I should have been married/promoted/postgrad by now!). But the endless march of time is a gift. It drags us forward, through mistakes, through heartbreak, through painful immaturity. Time drags us (kicking and screaming usually) into knowledge and healing and wisdom.

It takes more than a year to build a life. And trying to cram success (whatever it looks like to you) into one calendar is about as useful as cramming the night before an exam. But we can choose not to do that. We can choose to look at life as a marathon, not a series of sprints. In this world of filters and customization and targeted ads we can choose the perspective that the journey, however long it takes, is just as important the destination. 

If 2019 is gonna be your year, let it be your year to hop off those crazy societal bandwagons and start walking your own beautiful, winding path. 

Between a rock and a hard place

Does anyone else struggle with the feeling that life is happening someplace where you’re not? Maybe it’s fear of missing out, maybe it’s an insecurity complex, maybe is bad min’. Maybe it’s just me. But I get so frustrated when I feel like I’m living in a ‘second class’ city on an island less than one tenth the size of that floating trash continent. 

Mobay people, you know what I’m talking about. 

Despite our avid loyalty to the Republic of Mobay, Kingston remains the hub of several sectors: automotives, business, art, theatre, literature, government, civil society. Most organizations and movements start in Kingston and then slowly trickle outward. I have to wonder if they don’t all feel cooped up down there in the little 480 km² that is Kingston parish. 

I don’t want to have to travel to Kingston to see a nice play, or join a book club, or volunteer with a youth organization, or grow my career. I want those opportunities to exist for people in the West. I want activism and art walks, infrastructural development, ideas, nightlife that is accessible to more than just tourists. I want variety, options. 

I can’t honestly say any more that nothing happens in Montego Bay. If you look hard enough we’re teeming with activities. The Rasta Village hosts a gathering every last Sunday (it’s called Irits and it’s great). UWI’s Western Campus has a couple public forums every semester (on interesting topics). Service clubs exist, and though networking is limited it’s there. (if you know of any others please, leave a comment). 

Maybe Jamaica is too small to have more than one thriving city, or maybe I want too much or maybe I’m selfish. Or maybe I’m venting on my blog because I’m too lazy to be the change I want to see. I haven’t quite figured out yet what to do with this yen for greater things. Some tasks are too big to tackle alone, and some feelings are too nagging to just go away. I want change, but I don’t know how to make it. That’s my rock and my hard place.

Someone hand me a chisel. 

Rape Culture Thrives in our Churches

On September 23, Dionne Smith and her teenage daughter were brutally murdered in their home by Fabian Lyewsang, Smith’s common-law husband. It was a vicious act, carried out by a man against the women he should have been protecting.

This is the kind of gender based violence that Jamaicans encounter every single day, but we simply pretend it is something less sinister, less insidious. We pretend, as two prominent pastors have argued, that this act of violence and others like it are the result of women. Women choosing the wrong partners, women choosing to stay instead of leave (never mind that they have nowhere to run), women choosing men who murder them in their beds and then drive off a bridge into the Rio Cobre.

In the words of a Parkland shooting survivor, I call BS.

This is victim blaming.

This is the patriarchy.

This is misogyny.

This is rape culture.

This is the church leading the flock astray. Where I would have expected Pastor Glen Samuels (president of the West Jamaica Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (WJC)) and Pastor Joel Haye to lead the charge in holding men accountable for their actions, they have failed us all miserably. And they have failed the women in their congregations worst of all.

When two clergymen can feel comfortable getting behind the pulpit to chastise women for the “bad decisions” that put them in the path of dangerous men we have a problem. When the congregation listens and agrees, when a major news outlet (yes, the Jamaica Gleaner) blasts the story on the front page with the headline “Pastors urge women to choose partners carefully” we have a problem.

And the problem is the systemic, pervasive and frankly disgusting idea that if women would dress right, speak right, act right, choose right then men would not be able to hurt them. The problem is holding women accountable for the behaviour of women AND men, and holding men accountable for nothing. And it has to stop.

Fabian Lyewsang was responsible for his actions, not Dionne Smith. If it had not been Dionne it would have been some other woman. This fact is indisputable. Men alone – not women, not circumstance, not peer pressure, MEN – are responsible for their own behaviour.

When we fail to hold men accountable we fail to notice that 1) our women are in dire need of protection and 2) that our men are suffering from deep emotional and psychological scars. Until we can address these two issues – protect the women while healing the men – our society will stay stuck in this desperate pit of rampant murder/suicides.

When you realize you’re in a hole, the first step is to stop digging. Pastor Samuels and Pastor Haye need to stop digging and work with our elected leaders to find a way out that doesn’t involve climbing on the bodies of murdered women.

on the question of choice

Time and again we debate our debating of the A word in Jamaica. In Parliament. On the streets. In churches. In the bedroom. In doctor’s offices. In back alleys. With hangers, with pills, with blood.

The ‘A’ word. Abortion.

The idea is castigated by our ‘Christian-minded’ nationalism and people get very upset whenever it’s brought up. Words like ‘murder’ and ‘human life’ get thrown around. Women are accused of being careless and cruel.

I think too often we get caught up in Christian morals to the detriment of our fellow citizens. As if we forget that slavery too was sanctioned by ‘God’. And I’m not saying that people shouldn’t read Bible, praise Jesus and pray to their Lord but the same way I stay out of Christian people churches is the same way the Church-State should stay out of women’s bodies.

Much like the buggery law it’s simply embarrassing that abortion continues to be a debate in government in 2018. Not even a debate, an issue so taboo we don’t even talk about it. Like sex education. Come to think of it, maybe abortion would be less of an issue if there was more sex ed. I digress.

It’s high time we doctors stopped pussy-footing around while women suffer. And it’s high time Parliament stopped ignoring the issue just because it makes the Church uncomfortable. If you not going to clamp down seriously on rape, stop bawl out when the victims are forced deal with the consequences.

Give women the choice, and get your damn hands off our wombs.

Another month older, another month wiser

I had about five paragraphs talking about how I planned to cut my hair and how hair is such a big deal for black women and why is it even such a big deal in the first place but it fizzled out when I cut my hair and realized how big a deal it wasn’t. So now my hair is four inches shorter and I am out of a blog post.

In lieu of some introspective self-reflection, I decided to share a snapshot into my life for the last month. So in no particular order. . .

1. In early October I learnt that a family celebration does not, in fact, have to break the bank, and birthdays can actually be commemorated with low-key gatherings and cake. Definitely cake. My purse and heart are grateful.

2. In mid-October Montego Bay hosted its very first Pride march which was also my very first Pride march. I helped carry the rainbow flag and it maxed out my feeble upper body strength. And though the actual marching was pretty short (can’t complain, the sun was brutal) the feeling was pretty incredible.

Pride was definitely an experience – a lot more head top and dash out than I would have expected, along with uncensored dancehall songs on the people dem good good Sunday morning. But overall I had a sense of bittersweet, well, pride. I was proud of the LGBT movement in Montego Bay for coming out and enjoying themselves, even as a good number of them opted to cover their faces. I’m already looking forward to Pride 2019.

3. In late October I recognized a full year of settling into my leadership role at work. It was a good chance to reflect on how much I’ve grown, how many leadership books I added to my shelves (a lot) and how many I’d read (very little) and where I plan to go next in my journey to becoming a girl boss.

4. I’m participating in my high school’s mentorship program for the second year in a row, and I’m excited to see what new adventures and experiences are in store us for in the upcoming school year. Last year was a blast of learning and growth for both me and my mentee, and I expect this year to be no different.

What have y’all been up to?