Category Archives: Daily Musings

“Get Here If You Can,” Grooving on Oleta Adams’ songs

unnamed-3I’m enjoying my coffee in my Gene Pearson mug and listening to Oleta Adams bleating out “ I don’t care how you get here, but get here if you can. “
Given the times and the call to stay home and self isolate, such a plea is folly because trains, planes and even feet are all restricted and down.

But the mind and technology can bridge the gap.

You certainly can’t cuddle up and hug, which is often a balm and probably what many of us need. However, we have to make do and share our feelings and express our needs in other ways.

There was a time for me, when that plea to a lover was as urgent as Oleta sings. There was a time when desire bridged that gap and distance heighten the desire.  Desire is a strong emotion, and while sometimes it is not always grounded in reality, it surely can motivate.

If there has been someone you have been hoping would “get here” now is the time to let that person  know.  So often, because we want to protect our hearts, we refrain from just expressing our true desires, afraid if saying it, and the feelings are not returned, we will be embarrassed. But we still pine and deprive our desires.

Your pride will survive if the sentiments are not mutually shared.

Now more than ever, this time is demanding that we brave and bear our hearts and open the canals of love.

Your needs will not be met, if you keep them to yourselves.  You cannot find and receive love if you guard your heart.

The mystery of the heart will not be solved by keeping it protected.  We desire and love who we do, and all that is important is that we make choices that will uplift and soothe our hearts.

unnamed-4I am asking this yet unknown man to “Get Here, ” however and as quickly as he can, when we are on the other side of COVID 19.  I am ready again for partnership and love, and desire, to be wrapped in the arms of a man whose passion is mutual.

Asé! Let it be! Come forth!!!

Life Continues

unnamed-2I realize an hour had passed

and my mind was locked

zooming through the pandemic

news of doom and gloom

and poor Italy and its spread

but the Cubans arrived

and will yet save the day

 

but I suspect my day is

loss      inertia

barely able to move

from coach to fridge

desiring something to nibble

even though I’m not hungry

my eyes even assault the

blues hills that always have been

respite surely they shouldn’t seem

so proud          contended      at ease

I’ll not let this malaise consume me

I rise and walk to the veranda

why are the birds singing loudly

as they always do       a chatter

back and forth between those

in the ackee tree and the ones

in the mango tree       don’ they

know that people are dying

not the daily dying      the pandemic

dying   don’t they know the world

has stopped    schools            business

restaurants     even bars are closed

but the birds continue their engaged

chatter   the butterflies flit about

unnamed-1and the flowers are still splendid

in bloom

 

life indeed continues

Bill Withers.  (July 4, 1938 – March 30, 2020)

download-1

You gave me Lean on me

an anthem for

peoplehood

supporting and helping

each other to stand

you said it was more than okay

to need  to lean sometime

on someone and you would

be that someone

that leaning could be fortifying

and strength building

cause we all need someone

to lean on

 

You made me look

at my own hands

differently and those

of my mother

after you sang

Grandma’s Hands

hands were never the same

again for me and hundreds

of children in the Oakland

School district

for whom I played

your song to inspire

them to write incredible

poetry about their hands

their grandmas and friends’ hands

 

You gave such a spin to

Use Me

made me realize

that love was need

and someone using me

and me using someone

was not always bad

could be a deep love

a need as  raw

as plants needing the sun

and you made me come to know

that no one could ever use me up

How could you

when you opened my heart

to understand what

makes a Lovely Day

is the presence of another

a lover   a child   a friend

how we are motivated

and uplifted by the

existence of others

than turn an ordinary day

Into a Lovely Day

I want more of such days

with your voice. calling it in

 

Similarly

a broken heart

can block all the rays

so no matter how I try

Aint no Sunshine

when you’re gone

is the only reality

I can experience

In that moment

our interconnectedness

taking me out

causing me to forget

my truth

 

But you bring me right back

Into life into nature

Into the dream of union

that together

Just the Two of Us

can return  and restore

the two us are

enough

enough

to soar

as you are soaring now

my brother   writer and singer

of songs that thunder…download

The Solace of Nature

My house faces the Blue Mountains of Jamaica.  All around me hundreds of butterflies flit joyfully in the morning flying from the mango trees to the Bougainvillea hedging. In the back yard they love the Soursop and Sweetsop trees, and even the cane stalks.  Mongooses dart, pause, then raise their heads before burrowing into the bushes.  Every morning the wood pecker wakes me with its drilling. The green parrots, loud and querulous, compete for the peas pods on the Gungo shrubs.  At least 5 species of birds, chirp, chortle, stutter and sing.

The breeze is lush, and I sit on either of my two verandas and hours pass seamlessly like waves in a still ocean.

At night the croaking lizards hum me to sleep.

I’ve been writing poems.  I’ve been dreaming. I’ve been blessing and helping to heal the world with my thoughts.  I’ve been deeply concerned about the indigent all over the world, but particularly in Jamaica, where it is so easy to leave others behind, despite the jargon of inclusivity.

I do not take my ease and privilege for granted. I share food with those in need when I can. I accept my copiousness, with gratitude.Adinkra-Symbols-and-Meaning

Caring for our Children during the COVID-19 pandemic

opaljajab2

The COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in an uncertain and stressful period that impacts not only our physical, but also our psychological and emotional wellbeing. Although the world is better prepared to deal with disaster, the area that is still lacking is gender differential and also guidelines to take care of our emotional well-being. Most of the advice from officials  on the pandemic focus mainly on general sanitation, with very little on the emotional impacts, especially on children, as well as the different needs of women, men and elders. Even though my children are young adults I have been in constant conversation with them over the last several days.

 

While having children out of school and many parents working from home may allow for more quality time with family, it can also increase stress. In trying to sooth the fears of children, many conscious parents tend to forget that it is not enough to say to children “you are safe” or “I will take care of you”. It is not enough to show them cabinets full of food and give them a tablet to entertain themselves. Children are very sensitive and need to be able to make sense of the conflicting information receive.

 

I recommend that parents start with the premise that your child or children are potentially emotionally traumatised. My twelve year old grandniece confided that she was scared of dying or of her parents dying. Each child is different and will respond differently depending on age, gender and innate personality, but as they witness the frenzy or hear snippets of news and try to make sense of it all, they will handle this crisis more effectively if they are given space and time to process their new lifestyle.

 

Conscious parents have to be mindful of warning signs of stress in children. One of the most common forms of coping in children is to block the noise, so don’t shout at or reprimand your child if you are calling them and they are not responding.  This is their way of coping.

 

Parents need to be mindful too that when they are under a lot of stress their patience may run thin. When my children were young and I was a single parent, I found it necessary to institute time out for everyone. Time out allowed me to gather my own thoughts and offer my children an opportunity to be quiet and meditate and be thankful for all they have.  Here are some tips to encourage mindfulness:

 

  1. Maintain a routine. Children need free time, but most thrive on routine so set work time, quiet time and bed time in the house.

 

  1. Require that children take regular breaks from school work or playing games or working on tablets every 50 minutes to rest and focus their eyes and minds.

 

  1. Stipulate that your child go outside and get fresh air and sunlight.

 

  1. Plan exercise time, which is important so jump rope, hula hoop; kick footballs and ride bicycles. This might even be the time to learn to climb a trees which teaches good coordinating skills. Reading to each other is a good activity, have them paint or draw, and play board games.

 

  1. Nature is a respite. This is an opportunity to teach children to honour and respect nature and to pay keener attention to it . Teach children the names of trees, plants and flowers.  Spend time with them inspecting the patterns and colours of the Bougainvillea, the Ixora, the Hibiscus, the delicate bloom of the Poui and the crinoline shaped, soft  pink flowering cedar trees, and  the almond trees, leaves turning red, falling and carpeting the ground.

 

  1. Provide time for your children to express how they feel without censorship. If your child says they are afraid, do not discount their feelings by saying, “You have nothing to be afraid of.” Honour and acknowledge their feelings: “I hear that you are afraid, and I am doing everything I can to protect you and ensure that you are safe.”

 

  1. Prepare your child, if you should become ill, the symptoms to look for, who to call and what to do. Do not leave anything to chance. The more prepared you are, the better prepared your child will be.

 

  1. Engage in religious or spiritual practice – whatever your religious or spiritual practise, now is the time to make this part of your daily routine with your child. Institute a time for reflection and expressing gratitude.

 

  1. Provide daily opportunity for children to express how they feel — mental wellness is key. Their feelings might change from day-to-day. Do not interruption them when they are explaining how they are feeling or put your words into their mouths.

 

  1. Be conscious of children overeating; don’t pacify children with sweets and ice-cream. Maintain a healthy diet of fruit, protein and starch.

 

I invite parents to take this time as an opportunity to talk openly with your child and allow children to share their feelings in an open and safe manner. Listen keenly without judgment. Observe your children for signs of stress or anxiety,  lack of appetite, over-eating, or extremely quiet, bed-wetting. Also, remember that you don’t have to appear invincible.  Research suggests it helps  when parents say, “I’m a little scared too, but I have taken all the precautions to ensure our safety.

Finally this is a great time for storytelling and helping children to develop their imagination.

Play a cure game – have children think of  ways to cure for the  COVID 19. This will empower them to feel as if they have a stake in the welfare of their society and the world. And despite the call to refrain from personal contact, your children will need to be physically comforted and hugged.

 

ewhosebeautiful-adisa-haiti11

From Sex to Sexual Intimacy: Arresting the Culture of Violence against Jamaica’s Women

In local music, in the streets, at parties, almost everywhere you could go, Jamaican men assert they are good lovers and brag about their sexual prowess. Yet, if the majority of Jamaican women I interviewed in a survey almost 30 years ago are to be believed, this is just not so, and Jamaican men really are not good in bed.

At the time, I conducted a survey on a limited number of Jamaican women on sexuality. The majority of the women – 70 per cent – had never experienced an orgasm, and 90 per cent admitted to not being satisfied by their partner. All of the women said they would never tell their partner that they were not satisfied because, as one put it, “Mi dear, de man dem don’t want to hear dem not good. Dem think dem doing something, but is themselves alone them doing most of the time”.IMG_7252

Over the last 20 years or so, some Jamaican female singers have made it known that their Jamaican lovers are not giving them the satisfaction they crave and that some men ‘last’ less than a minute, which is sorely inadequate. These proclamations have led to a lessening of the boastful tendencies of many Jamaican men. Still, the image of the virile, long-lasting Jamaican man dominates, and it is this disconnect that has led to the culture of sexual violence prevalent in Jamaica. The hyper-stereotype contributes to disregard for women, their rights, their bodies, and to rape. The widespread sexual harassment on the streets, in clubs, at the workplace, and in the supermarket from all ages and classes of men speaks to this disregard.

Women have the power to dismantle this prevailing culture of disregard, and one way that they can do this is by withholding sex, an act of subterfuge and empowerment which has been used in a variety of ways to bring greater awareness to issues. African-American male filmmaker Spike Lee advocated this stance in his movie, Chi-Raq, to end violence in Chicago. I myself endorse ‘Lock It Up’ and appeal to all my fellow Jamaicans to join me from February 1 to March 8, in withholding sex from their partners in protest against the constant stream of sexual and domestic violence against our women.

The reaction of some men to ‘Lock It Up’ has been both surprising and alarming.  A fair number have freely expressed their objection to the call for women to refrain from sexual intercourse in protest of the escalating rape and murder of our women.  What is most distressing, and speaks to the lack of empathy or concern for the plight of women, is the response by some men, who said that if women ‘lock shop’ and refuse men sex, that it would cause men to get angry and lead to more rape.  As one man put it: “If dem lock it down, dat will force a man fi tek what him want.”

Is that all men want?

Another man lamented: “Why me must get punish for de bad man dem.”

These are but two of the comments from men which demand analysis. That a man who considers himself a “good” man believes any man has the right to ‘take it’, that is have forced sex – rape – a woman for withholding sex, then he is both advocating and condoning rape. He is himself a potential rapist, and, even more egregiously, is effectively saying that a woman has no right to her body and has no right to refuse sex, for she is nothing more than a vessel for a man’s release.

That some men feel that sex withheld is punishment, indicates that such men believe sex is a reward. These two responses point to the entire range of men’s objections. None of them sympathised.  None of them decried rape. None of them said that what is happening to women is awful. All of them were focused on their own needs. It is as if they refused to hear the real story here – that our women are being raped and murdered. I believe their response is not an anomaly but is common and widespread and speaks to the sustained increase in rape and murders of Jamaican women.

More so, it indicates how much more education and awareness needs to happen in our society, even among so-called “good men”. If what Steven Stewart-Williams says in his 2019 article Nurture Alone Can’t Explain Male Aggression “…sex differences in aggression come entirely from the environment: from culture rather than biology, nurture rather than nature. Let’s call this the Nurture Only position”, then we have to work harder to educate men; we have to make men realise that sex is neither a reward nor a right.

I am inviting my conscious men and women to join me in refraining from sexual intercourse from February 1 to March 8 to bring awareness to domestic violence and rape.    Together, we can, and must, make a difference.  During this time, talk to your colleagues, men in the street, in bars, on the tennis courts, football fields, and on the beaches and seek solutions to how we can solve this crime. Write to the Minister of Justice, the Police Commissioner, and other agencies to let them know that this must end, and that you are doing your part. Take this opportunity to understand your needs, your own deep-seated attitudes about sex, and the role sex plays in your life. During this one month of voluntary abstinence, be nonsexual, intimate, find out what your partner likes, express your own desires, understand that sexual intimacy is the great connection between two people when it engages, the mind, body and spirit. Now is the time and opportunity to have these conversations.

Rape is a crippling disease that has infected our society and is wreaking havoc in many lives. It thwarts our development and our potential to be a great nation. It has stymied one half of our population, many of whom live in fear for their lives and their bodies. As a people and as a nation let us say no to rape and domestic violence.  Join me in refraining from sexual activity from February 1 to March 8. Show your support and empathy for your mothers, sisters, daughters, nieces, cousins, wives and lovers.  Let us expose the ugly and damaging impact of rape and general disregard many men have for women.  I thank you for your support.

Five reasons to support ‘Lock It Up’IMG_7251

  1. You believe in human rights.
  2. You abhor violence.
  3. You love and respect women.
  4. You know and believe that rape and domestic violence are wrong.
  5. You believe in a woman’s right to say who and when another person interacts with her body.

The Virgin Islands Daily News July 15, 2019.

Below is the review of my children’s book, Dance Quadrille and Play Quelbe, based on some of the cultural traditions of St Croix, the US Virgin Islands where I lived half a year from 2010-2017.  I consider it my third home, and find myself going back there repeatedly.Newspaper Review

I love how many of the Crucian people take pride in preserving their culture, and I love how I am welcomed there.

The above book is the second in a trilogy about iconic VI culture.  The first is entitled Look! A Moko Jumbie, which tells the story of Moko Jumbies from a boy’s perspective.  All two books can be found on the publisher’s site, CarbbeanReads.com as well as on Amazon.

I am working on the third, tentatively entitled, My St Croix, and which I hope will be released in 2020. Caribbean children need to read about themselves and their culture if we are to develop as independent nations.

Granting Me Permission to Write My Stories: Toni Morrison’s Influence

download“If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it.”  Toni Morrison

 

 

No single book has impacted and influenced my writing more than Toni Morrison’s Sula, 1973, which I have read numerous times, and have taught at least five times in different literature classesWhen I read Sula, I was a poet, with no ambition to write prose. I did not even think prose was in me, even after reading Sula. Sula haunted me after that first read and still does. I see the image of this young woman, bold yet afraid but willing to risk it all, to break free from her community with its rigid and binary beliefs about right and wrong.  Nothing is that clear cut, Sula, believes, and I concur. Yes murder is wrong, and rape is barbaric, but the other daily choices we make are often more nuanced, depending on the circumstances.

Imagine then my surprise, when I met Toni Morrison in 1988, at the Berkeley home of the late Professor Barbara Christian, fellow Caribbean woman, mentor, friend, and literary critic who wrote and taught Toni Morrison’s work before she was canonized. I was pursuing my doctorate and I, along with a handful of other graduate students were sitting on cushions around a low egg-shaped table, plying Morrison with questions.  It was my turn and I prefaced by saying how much I loved Sula, and was sex Sula’s tragic flaw. Morrison looked at me and said, and this I will never forget, because I was so blown away, “Sula is not someone I really like, well it took me a while to really like her, as she is too reckless.” Stunned. Morrison’s words were like a hammer at the back of my neck.  I wanted to protest, how could you write this amazing character then declare you don’t like her. Over the next few months, I re-read Sula, and could somewhat understand what Morrison meant, but I still love Sula. Period. Unapologetic.

My attraction to Sula was/is based on my own deviating and veering away from the hypocritical conventions of society –rejection of  the oppositional good versus evil paradigm, and the suppression of feelings and desires, especially women’s sexual appetite.  Sula scoffs at the narrow and limited definitions of what it means to be a “decent” woman and instead chooses to live her life outside the boundaries of those imposed restraints. Naturally, she reaps the scorn of the community that is constantly projecting outward, rather than taking responsibility for their own actions.  Hence Sula becomes their scape-goat, the evil lurking in themselves that they fear. Morrison uses irony like a blacksmith uses heat. How can Sula, a girl/woman from a place called the Bottom, not fight against conventions that are meant to handcuff her very existence? As a character, Sula symbolizes the struggles of all women who work to unlock the handcuff and run free.

Morrison was a Chancellor Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, where I was studying and earlier that night before we all went to Barbara Christian’s home for literary conversation , Morrison had read from Beloved, 1987.

Barbara Christian had given a brilliant introduction to the book as well as situated Morrison’s body of work within the context of Black women’s writings. We were all excited and knew we were participating in a historical moment.  Morrison read several scenes from Beloved. I remember feeling as if my head was swelling, as if I was in the presence of a duppy, Sugg’s ghost.

Toni Morrison is a phenomenal reader of her work, and I had the pleasure of hearing and watching her read her work about four times, live, and each time, the texture or her voice and words would immerse you on a journey. Toni Morrison’s tone is the husk of a dry coconut, but it is not brittle.  Imagine the husk being soaked in molasses water, imagine a December breeze wafting the Portland hills, imagine the swell of the Rio Grande and the lush sound of the water gliding over rocks, and add the smell of thyme and mint growing in abundance.  That is the timbre of Toni Morrison’s voice and hearing her read, especially from Beloved, I got chills, and had to be nudged from my seat when she was done.

Beloved  is a demanding novel to read, not just because of its subject content and volume, but more because of Morrison’s style; her layering, her fusion of history and various literary devices, her ardent desire to not just write literature but render history personal and hot and sordid and emotional. Morrison wants to remind us  that  slavery was not a thing of the past, but is very much present with us, and all of us are haunted by its ghost, its duppy that clings to us like Sugg to Sethe, parasitic, needy, seeking redemption. I bought Beloved, after Morrison’s reading at UC Berkeley and attempted to read it several times, but could not get beyond the first few pages so I decided to leave it alone.  Then when I was coming home that Christmas I brought it with me, and put it on the night table in my mother’s house in Hampton Green.  One morning, I picked it up, and with my large mug of Blue Mountain coffee, I sat on the veranda, where I always had my breakfast, broke open the pages, and it held me captive the entire day. By day three I had read every word, some passages more than once, haunted, weary, beset and besieged with grief and admiration too for the enormity of the resilience of my ancestors.

“If you surrendered to the air, you could ride it,” is perhaps one of Morrison’s quotes that serves as a mantra for me, and which I think speaks to the genesis of my emergence as a writer. My first short story collection, Bake-Face and Other Guava stories, 1985, was already out, and had received a good review in the New York Times, when I met Toni Morrison, so I gave her a signed copy at Barbara’s house. She said that she would read it, and I was told on good authority that she read everything given to her. Getting BFOGS published was the initiative of Barbara Christian, who wrote the introduction to the first edition. But the genesis of this collection is connected to Sula.  The last semester, when I was completing my MA in English/Creative writing at San Francisco State University, one of the few female faculty in the all-white male programme (and I was, until the last year, the only Black student, then two more were admitted) who taught short story and prose encouraged me to take her class, since I had both space and time in my schedule; reluctantly, I conceded.

At the first class meeting she said we would be required to write four stories throughout the course of the semester. They should focus on home and memories of home.  Then we each were asked to talk about our favourite book by an author who was most like us, and of course I mentioned Sula which none of my classmates or teacher had read or even knew of Toni Morrison, as in 1980 Morrison’s name was not yet a household name in literature.  I wasn’t surprised by this as I was concurrently waging battle with my thesis director to receive  permission to do my Orals on Claude McKay, whom he said was not a major writer, because he hadn’t read or heard of him, and I had to prove to him and the three-member all-male, white committee that McKay had in fact written more than most of them. I also won that battle.

Sula was set in Morrison’s place of birth, and I knew I wanted to write stories that were set in Jamaica, stories about Jamaican women that I hadn’t read as Morrison’s quote above instructed. I decided in that class that I would write them, and write them I did to my own surprise and the appreciation of my teacher and classmates who all praised the stories, although most admitted they were not familiar with the setting or culture. I earned an A+ in that course and was told to keep writing stories, which I have. But I can’t help but think if I had not read Morrison’s Sula, and the way she depicted the community, and her development of Nel and Sula and their friendship, then perhaps I would not have been able to so easily dredge up Bake-Face and Joyce from the sugar estate community of my childhood, where I recognized I had always been keenly paying attention and making mental notes.

So who do I thank for this journey into writing?  Serendipity. That first teacher at Hunter College who taught African American and Caribbean women writers; the faculty at SFSU who said, “I think you have some stories in you;” Barbara Christian who said, “Come and do a doctorate at Berkeley, and write and teach,” after I shared my two manuscripts at the time with her, the stories, which she shared with an editor friend without my permission, and who called me up six months later to say she wanted to publish them. Perhaps it is meeting Toni Morrison?  Or the sum total of all. As writers –as people in the world, we are often influenced by others, who inspire, nudge, provide another way of seeing and being. Toni Morrison invited me to look at home, to look at women, to look at ancestry and what it means to step out the box, conventions and respectability, so I could write about child sexual abuse, domestic violence, women in rural, marginal communities striving to find themselves, their voices and me ensuring that they had a platform from which to speak.

Born Chloe Ardelia Wofford in Lorain, Ohio, February 18, 1931, Chloe became Toni Morrison while at Howard University because is it said, many had difficulty pronouncing Chloe.  However, I want to believe Toni knew, given the times, that she was more likely to get traction as a budding writer with an ambiguous name such as Toni.  Is that a man or a woman?  Is that a black or a white person? Whatever the reason, I thank the ancestors for intersecting our paths, for Morrison’s uncompromising insistence on writing about Black life and that we matter and must continue to excavate our demons and pains as well as our resistance and survival, our right/write to live fully and celebrate all of ourselves.

Although officially declared dead on August 5, 2019, I believe like our Egyptian ancestors who took more than 20 years to build a pyramid to house the dead, that death is merely a transition to the next phase and Toni Morrison’s books, movies and essays are the blocks of her pyramid that will outlast time.

you  toni opened a space

called it safe   called it self

you said write    your truth   all of it

you held up a mirror   and there were

the lived memories –Pecola and Bake-Face

Nel and Joyce and the many more levitating

waiting to be captured

you whispered run girl    run   pick yourself up

if you stumble.  run and don’t ever let them gag you…

 

I’m running toni    running to outpace you

as you said i should

 Professor  Opal Palmer Adisa is University Director, the Institute for Gender & Development Studies, Regional Coordinating Office, UWI Regional HQ, Mona

Published in The Observer, Sunday, August, 18, 2019, Bookend section.

Paule Marshall: Iconic Caribbean Writer of the People (April 9, 1929-August 12, 2019)

Dear Paule:paule-marshall-82c23b76-d605-4b66-8c21-4854fcc7032-resize-750

You gave me Brownstone, Brown Girl, 1959 and Praisesong for a Widow, 1983.

In all your other nine books, you kept giving me pieces of myself and my people to see and cherish, but mainly to understand what drives us, what stops us, what chokes us, what keeps us bound and how and why some have to be bound so others can be free, and that the walk to this freedom is never an easy, clear path; it might include defiance and consciously going against all you have been taught to hold dear, as Selina had to do, silencing Selia, the mother she loves and hates, and to whom she is closer that she can yet admit.

Paule, you also told me that sometimes I have to jump ship like Avey to find herself back home in Carriacou and dance the Juba Dance to the Big Drums.

But always you wanted to remind me/us that we are from The Chosen Place, The Timeless People, 1969 and yes we are the timeless people, inextricable linked to our enslavement but determined and fighting, refusing defeat.

You Paule was a sweet gentle soul, A Lady – a suitable title for you who was always elegantly dressed, always soft spoken and who spoke with spaced precision as if every word was important.

I can’t imagine you ruffled or shouting.  You represent that Caribbean disposition of womanly calmness, reliable and sturdy as our yams, hardy like our cane, resolute like our mountains.

You gave me a view of the first immigrants to America; you taught me about Barbados and your Bajan heritage.

You gave me Ursa from Daughters, 1991, so I could better understand that regardless of where I live, my present and future are fissured by the Caribbean that birthed and reared me.

Most only know you as Paule Marshall (April 9, 1929), but your people know all your names (aka Valenza Pauline Burke) and they welcome you home, (August 16, 2019), the Bajan girl who would never fit into any box.

Toni Morrison: She Belonged To Us, Too

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Published:Sunday | August 11, 2019 | 12:30 AMOpal Palmer Adisa – Contributor

“Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another,”

-Toni Morrison

Any writer over the age of forty who is worth his/her weight in salt knows of Toni Morrison’s works, and probably would say that one or more of Morrison’s texts inspired their development as a writer.

I was but a teenager when I read The Bluest Eyes in 1970. On that first reading I was not yet fully versed in American history and the tremendous struggle of African Americans to achieve equality and restore their dignity. But it was the ‘70s, and the Black Power Movement was still strong and had spread its energy throughout the world. My older brother introduced me to the works of Stokely Carmichael aka Kwame Ture, Sam Greenlee’s The Spook Who Sat By the Door, et al.

But in 1971, when we immigrated to New York, and while completing high school, an African American teacher who detected my love for literature opened the world of Black writers to me, introducing me to Jamaica’s own Claude McKay, one of the seminal writers of the Harlem Renaissance Langston Hughes, and suggested the book of the new writer, Toni Morrison, whom she said had Jamaican connections; and who was “a writer to keep an eye on as I think she is saying something.”

Well, Morrison’s connection to Jamaica was through marriage to Harold Morrison, a Jamaican architect, in 1958, that produced two sons, Harold Ford and Slade Kevin. Although the marriage ended after six years, Morrison, being the consummate historian and mother of two boys would research the history of our island. I suspect her reading about Maroon Nanny and the long, rebellious spirit of Jamaica would inform some of her other works, specifically her most acclaimed, Beloved, 1987, and the character Sethe.

Toni Morrison in earlier interviews about her Pulitzer Prize, American Book Award, and ultimate Nobel Prize book, spoke of the common practice of infanticide among enslaved women who refused to have their children subjected to the life of slavery.

She would have read Lucille Mathurin Mair and other Caribbean and African-American women scholars who wrote about this practice. Morrison’s works explore thorny areas, and her writing forces readers to look at those dark moments in our history and development. But, mostly, I would say, her work is about survival, riding the waves of the storm, being tossed hither and tither by the waves, being pulled under, but fighting your way up and out, and gulping for breath… water strangling your throat.

INFORMS MY WORK

Toni Morrison’s novels and essays will continue to inform my work and my teaching. Her young adolescent novel, The Bluest Eye, is very relevant today in the Jamaican society as it was when published in the 1970s. Its theme explores self-hatred as a result of colonialism and white supremacy. The protagonist, Pecola Breedlove, a pre-teen girl, stained by poverty, sexually abused, believes she is ugly. Pecola believes she can only be pretty if she has blue eyes like white girls. This is similar to the pervasive belief that many young Jamaicans now harbour, and as a result, are bleaching their skins, believing that whiteness connotes beauty and acceptance. What Toni Morrison wants all our children to know and believe in the fullness of their hearts is that “you are your best thing,” as she so aptly states.

The themes that Toni Morrison explored throughout her works, her vision for the triumph of Black people, her excavating of the pains that have lacerated and kept us imprisoned, and her flight to freedom through an understanding and connection with our ancestors and our nascent spirit, are characteristics that will make her work continue to be relevant forever and that grounds her work in Jamaica’s journey to being a great nation.

Born Chloe Ardelia Wofford, February 18, 1931, Toni Morrison died on the eve of Jamaica’s Independence, August 5, 2019, leaving us a treasure trove of novels and essays that should be required reading. She believed in the importance of community and working to make it a strong base of support.

She was a staunch advocate for freedom, physical, but more so mental and emotional freedom for black people, and she always asserted that “the function of freedom is to free someone else.”

As we continue to celebrate this Emancipation/Independence period, Toni Morrison’s work has much to teach us about how to walk a new walk by healing the scars and keloids of our enslavement and colonial experience so all of us as Jamaicans can truly experience and live our independence through love and restoring cohesive, safe communities.

Opal Palmer Adisa is university director of the Institute for Gender and Development Studies, (IGDS-RCO), University of the West Indies.