It is really hard to hear my voice above the cacophony of other writers. It’s even worse when I am reading an author that I particularly like because my voice gets so tiny and lost. In my awe, it shrinks to a whisper. Conversely, when I read an author whose work leaves me wanting, my voice begins to shout. “This is how I would have done it!” it says, and my mind works at a mile a minute, leaving my fingers playing catch-up several paces behind.
It doesn’t help that most authors I read are so far removed from my social situation as to make all hope of inspiration from that quarter hopeless. They say write what you know; I only know how to write white: American, English, Canadian. These are the habits I have picked up, the cadences that play in my mind. These are places and people and things that I have assimilated, not ones I have experienced.
My Jamaicanness is lacking. I don’t know how to turn a phrase in my own accent, how to describe the poui trees as the flowers fall, how to capture the essence of our language in stark words on a sterile screen. Frankly, I’m not sure it can be done. I find reading Patois somewhat tedious, and I think the way we handle written dialogue is disappointingly stilted. It’s because the vivre of the Jamaican character is portrayed in glances, gestures and subtle changes of tone and volume; most times it is only in our enunciation.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many people I can look to for guidance. Madame Bennett is perhaps the most famous example, but not a very good one because her poetry was created to be performed. Reading it has about the same lustre as reading Shakespeare. Anthony Winkler is the only other famous writer that springs readily to mind. Our agents of literature are too few and far between, and they’re not cultivated or advertised as they should be. Because reading in Jamaica is considered, by and large, to be a waste of time and they care even less about writing.
Which leaves me stuck between a world I can narrate clearly but am ultimately not a part of, and the world I live in but am unable to talk about. Talk about an identity crisis.