As promised, here are some more of my feelings from Calabash. I found that expressions would capture my emotions, take my breath away, suddenly encapsulate some life lesson or understanding, reinforce something I believe, something that I know I have believed in writing a children’s story or perhaps should be the invisible underpinning of one.
I am sure that every writer brought something to somebody in that audience, enriched their lives, so my recollections of wonderful words are by no means exhaustive. Moreover they may be paraphrased; I wrote them as they came to me, as they seemed relevant to me, and even to my children’s writer’s mind. And always, we must remember that the message received may have as much to do with the listener as it does with the writer. For example, no doubt writing Island Princess in Brooklyn has made me look at the substance of migration more closely, look at the individual’s feelings, with greater insight. Before the writing of this book, I accepted migration as a part of our reality, perhaps not to be thought too much about, because whereas the past family migrations had become a part of fascinating family history, the more recent, often make missing my constant companion.
Shara McCallum brought to me the pain of departure from home, the subsequent necessity of finding of self, and as I mentioned in my previous post, I was most moved by her: ‘memory becomes a synonym for home’. This speaks not only to the sadness of leaving, but also the getting accustomed to the idea that when all is said and done, one may not ever return to Jamaica permanently. Rough, that!
Orlando Patterson declared that everyone who was here during slavery wanted to go home, both the British and the Africans. He recalled the song, the line of which goes, ‘If I had the wings of a dove, I would fly, fly away…’ to which we danced when I was young; it was part of the latest dance craze, the ska; but which no doubt has meant so many different things to so many different people over the years. He suggested that now we Jamaicans live in so many places, from Brooklyn to Brixton, that we have become a transnational people, with homes away from this home, because for many people ‘home is where you can make a living’.
Ronnie Kasrils reminded us that ‘ordinary people, for a cause, can do extraordinary things’.
Carolyn Forche, fragile-looking, fierce poet stated , ‘walker there is no path or road; as you walk you must make your own way’. What powerful words! Reassuring, in that we remember that each of us is on an individual journey. And then, ‘all who come into this world are sent’, reaffirming what we know, that we each have a task to do.
And while one cannot focus on these phrases in children’s books, because it could so easily seem like preaching, it is worth the time to work through the treatment they deserve as underlying themes of stories. In today’s world which can seem so out of balance some days, which is moving so quickly than it hardly gives the young time to draw breath before they move onto something else - or is it us who can barely draw breath? And the young who can barely internalize a change, assess its value, before there is something new to absorb, leaving them like ships without a mooring…?
Any of the writers whom I’ve commented upon here might look at this and say, ‘but I didn’t only say that; I did not focus on that at all’. If so, I beg forgiveness, even as I declare the meaning I got from the wonderful words. And indeed, it does make us realize as children’s writers how important our task is in this regard, the responsibility we have, moreso I think than that of those who write for adults. The reader always brings to each story, each poem, his or her own experience. Therefore, as children's writers we can only, and indeed we must, write the best story we can, carrying the best truth we know.