Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Friday, April 17, 2009

Write Your Heart Out. Tell Your Stories.

While passing a week in Jamaica, I thought a lot but somehow did not write much. A lot of things got in the way, some of them banal some of them comical. Wherever I stayed, there were dogs or cats around, making a blessed racket all night. At my Dad's house, two tom cats competed for the attention of his three queen cats. The mewing seemed like real talk: "Come out to the veranda. Let's go rustle in the leaves. You know you want to." I spent a night listening to the sound of 6 Labradors barking outside my window much of the night, more for sport than to ward off any criminals. That alone messed up my sleep and during the days I had to just recapture rest.

I thought a lot about some economic issues that affect Jamaica and will get to them soon. But I also thought about writing, as a process. I regret that I did not get to meet and chat with a friend who writes for one of the Jamaican newspapers and is also a pundit on TV, when he is not running a chain of pharmacies.

I thought too about the way that meetings just happen. I went to a BBQ hosted by the daughter of a famous Jamaican politician; I'd only met her once before during the summer but now 'knew' her because I helped empty water from her flooded house several months ago. At the eat-in, which her husband cooked (and included roast yam and salf fish) I became quick friends with someone who seemed like a kindred spirit--ready to eat from each other's plate--and whose father I had met once when he was Ambassador for Jamaica and also when he was Finance Minister. I met on my flight a good friend of my friend Thesophone, but someone I had never set eyes on before till earlier in the day, when I saw his picture in The Gleaner that same morning.

The more I think about it, the more I wonder why people read so much and write so little themselves. That sounds like someone who has discovered the pleasure of writing, right? The process of gaining ideas and images is an odd circle and interesting writing should and does capture our imaginations. Yet, so readily, many rarely see that they too have interesting stories to share. Of course, not everyone can write with the style of Shakespeare or Camus or Naipaul or Gandhi or Churchill or Tolstoy or Nietzsche or Mao Tse Tung or Nelson Mandela or Danielle Steele or Agatha Christie, or a string of authors that I have never heard of. But, why feel that that is reason not to write. Having tried to eke out a story with a five year old, I realise that the very simple telling of a tale is very enlightening to those who take time to read and listen to it.

When I wrote for work I was often challenged to get the 'story' right, and I did in my terms. Of course, someone else saw the story differently and revised my drafts. That alone is proof that we all want to tell our stories.

I have enjoyed writing for what it allows me to do with my own thoughts, but also to share what I see and experience with friends. I'm very interested to see a lot of people who read are not great listeners to story, preferring I imagine to take the story on their terms and in their time, that at the pace of an orator. There's an interesting psychological balance at work here.

Before I pick up a book or newspaper this morning, I have had so many things to read from friends who have told me a little story. I share just the essence of a few of them, as much to say that reading may be treated to the minimalist attitude: one in, one out, that way clutter is minimised. In other words, for everything read try writing something yourself.

-A French journalist I met through work in Guinea and found again recently on Facebook told me this morning how her husband had left her with their baby when the child was less than a year old. The mother went to another African country and worked on contract, but now has to think about searching for new work or heading back to Paris. No journalism anymore of the old kind as that involves too much travel.

-My tennis partner told me that I posed for him a triple threat: first, he likes me as a person and friend; second, he adores my wife and her spirit; and third, he adores my little daughter, who seems too self assured for her age. I told him that I had never been described as a weapon of mass destruction.

-I read a story of a Jamaican emigrant returning home and then being totally overwhelmed emotionally after heading back to America and realising that home was left behind, and bawled and bawled. Oh, what a feeling!

-I thought about the feelings I had this week when I saw my father (80, and a stroke survivor) go rigid for about 10 minutes as his blood sugar levels dropped and he could not speak or blink and just sweated (a sign that he was living), until he had two glasses of sugar and water. He had 'burned out' from sharing stories with my uncle (75 and with a brain tumour) about their lives together over 50 years. My feelings did not involve fear or panic. I just thought what an appropriate way to go. My dad is still alive and kicking and told me that he has no plans to go see St. Peter anytime soon.

Not being a great follower of fashion, and someone who fights hard not to be defined by others, I can see that writing helps in that process of self-definition. There's a wonderful contentment in telling the story I see. Sure, others have their stories to tell, and they should do it more often. Let's all listen to and read each other's stories more.

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