Sunday, November 6, 2011

Etched continues - The Journey to Lineage

The journey to Lineage

A few months ago I wrote, “…and so, for now, just the nearness of my own tropical garden, my garden of Eden/Paradise or whatever name I choose will be there for me when I look up. When my mind wonders, or when my eyes need a little break from staring at the screen of my lap top I’ll take my mini vacations in my miniature garden of paradise. I will do my mental and spiritual strolling among the healthy green leaves and with the back-drop of sheer cream voile and satin-trimmed curtains I’ll be at peace.  The curtains are sheer enough to let the light (wisdom) in and just thick enough to keep out prying eyes.

And so the journey continues…Lineage.

An Etched heart cannot be fully satisfied until all its desires are met.  Will the Etched hearts of the Ancestors be fully satisfied when Lineage is complete? 

Time; God’s time will reveal.”

When I wrote that I was basking in the satisfaction of having completed Etched. Since I wrote that so much has happened.  A few seasons have come and passed.  I’ve embarked on one of the most exciting adventures of my life. It has given me days and moments of almost indescribable happiness and joy. And yet, through all of those Etched moments I found time to write. Not as I wanted to but enough to remind myself that a writer lives and dwells within me. 

Now however a new season is fast approaching its time I dig my heels in, settle into my oasis (with all my wonderful memories) and do what gives me the greatest joy…write.

Lineage has been in my soul since I finished Etched.  I’ve been waiting until the moment was right but I also knew deep in my heart that I couldn’t force it, I couldn’t make it happen.  I had to wait until the call came.  The call came but I, because I had another agenda said, “Can you wait for a moment?  There’s this other project that I would like to see through to fruition and I promise you as soon as it’s done I’ll give myself over to you—undivided.”

The Ancestors gave me some time but alas they can't wait for ever.  They are ready.  The other project isn’t completed but it’s at a stage where it can and will stay incubated for a while.  Lineage and the Ancestors whispered in my ears again.  This time they allowed me to know that they've waited long enough.  Lineage has stayed incubated as long as it can and now…it’s time.

I know now I don’t have to force the writing or ‘create’ the right time. The whispering of my name is in the air.  I'm being called, my eyes feel misty, my heart has a certain exciting tug and my spirit is rejoicing.  Its saying, "Daughter of the Diaspora it's time."  It's not my time but Lineage’s time.  The early stages of “writing” labor has started.  I will go through this amazing labor. And with this renewed energy surging through my veins I will endure every brain numbing contraction, ever breath stopping push.  I will labor and ‘go through’ until the birthing process is completed.

I will trust the Ancestors to guide me.  I will give myself up totally, as with Etched, to this journey.  If this journey is anything like Etched I will, along the way, converse with the Ancestors, we will talk, laugh, cry and I will listen as the greatest Griots whispers the stories of my our past into my ears.  I will pour all that is in me into the telling of their story.  I am ready.  Its time!

Journey to Lineage

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Time For Everything

 Sometimes, well most times, we don’t know when will be the right time for something or even someone.  We can plan a thousand times how we’ll do something or what we’ll say and do when we meet that special someone.  We may even struggle to get that thing going because it just seems to be taking too long to happen and then one day, seemingly out of the blue it all falls into place; that out of reach thing happens and that special someone - more special than anyone you’ve ever met before - comes along and just like that it all falls into place and as Aunt Bess said in Etched, “There is a time for everything and all things are done in God’s time not ours.” 

Thank you God for your impeccable timing.
Today is one such day. This is God’s time and I feel blessed to be in it. I’ve started to work on my second novel—Lineage. Lineage is the continuation of Etched.  In Lineage the stories of eight more generations will unfold.  I have more than a vague idea how these stories will unfold since Lineage is a part of the original 900 page single-spaced manuscript that was Etched. In Etched we had Aunt Bess our Griot who told us the story of: Cornbread, Molasses, Milkweed, Harold Joe, Neela, Tember, Beauford, Fields, Litchfield, Matthew and Hamilton. In Lineage there will be a new Griot, a new antagonist and of course every good drama needs a protagonist. Our history had and has its share of both so in Lineage, undoubtedly, both will surface; they must—it’s our history.

This journey, I know will be different.  Like any other experience I’ve gone through I’ve learned.  Some of the lessons I didn’t get the first time because I was unaware or pretended that they weren’t lessons and therefore I failed to get the lesson the first time. I’ve had to repeat many of life lessons over and over to the point where I’ve earned an advanced degree in Life Lessons.  God was kind to me and He stopped me before I earned a PhD in stupid.  I now try very quickly to recognize that what I’m experiencing is a Life Lesson and try to grasp the lesson quickly so I won’t have to do a repeat. Along the way though I’ve learned that sometimes you don’t get a repeat. That lesson is presented only one time and if you screw it up you’ve screwed it up and you must go on.  Sometimes people are taken away before you can ‘fix’ what you screwed up and there’s no way (other than with much prayer) to say you are sorry or I’m sorry I (or you as is sometimes the case) screwed things up when you were here.  However difficult those lessons have been (or are) you go on…the alternative is not an option; well not for me anyway.
On my journey to becoming a published writer I learned many lessons. There were times when this Etched journey was an emotional roller coaster with no visible Fairground Operator at the control.  My ride was bumpy and at times it looked as if a derailment was imminent but Grace and Mercy stepped in and gently guided my out of control roller coaster to cruise and then stop.  I got off with an amazing book that I’m so very proud that I clung to the proverbial rail of that roller coaster.

Thank you God for Grace and Mercy!
The lessons I learned as I screamed, hollered and cried for assistance (very little to none came) have stayed with me.  I now know that if no human assistance comes I just have to hold on.  That God, in His perfect wisdom and timing is working it out and as He said in Jeremiah 29:11. “For I know the plans I have for you.”  He did not say that He would share them with me.  He said, “For I know…”  That knowledge that He knows what plans He has for me sustains me.

I’m ready and now I’m prepared.
I am so ready that I’ll also be returning to school to finish my MBA as I unfold Lineage. Yes, I’m brave like that.  I’m half-way through my program and it is my hope that by the time I’m holding a copy of Lineage (book or nook) that I’ll also hold my degree in my other hand…for He knows the plans He has for me.

Etched started the journey and as Etched unfolded they were many questions unanswered I must once again become a knowledge seeker.  I will not take this new journey lightly.  I will welcome each ancestor who chooses to be a spirit guide for me.  Etched was a gift and so as the journey continues in Lineage, so too, I believe, will the guiding spirits of my ancestors.  I will ask of them all the questions I need to ask just as I did when I embarked on my Etched journey.  

I will take nothing for granted.  I will refrain from approaching this story as though it were mine to tell.  It is not. The ancestors have chosen me to be the vessel by which this story gets told and so I will ask. I will wait. I will be receptive and I will be graciously humble for each gift that is imparted to me.

And so, once again I’ve returned to the very place where I wrote Etched.

I am sitting at my dining room table facing my own garden oasis where enough of the sky can be seen through my three windows to allow me to see the unfolding of the days and as I embrace this Lineage journey, I’m sure, eventually, I’ll see the seasons change too.  I am comfortable with that.  There is no need to rush. They ancestors have waited all this time until I was ready to hear, obey and write.  They are not going to rush me now and not have it be told properly.

I and they will wait.
I've gotten used to fresh cut flowers on my table.  They satisfy my soul.

The view when I look up and over the lap top.

The whole view.  My books with my notes to my left, pen and paper to my right and in the middle...

And so, for now, just the nearness of my own tropical garden, my garden of Eden/Paradise or whatever name I choose it will be there for me I look up, when my mind wonders, or when my eyes need a little break from staring at the screen of my lap top.  I’ll take my mini vacations in my miniature paradise, do my mental and spiritual strolling among the healthy green leaves and with the back-drop of sheer cream voile and satin-trimmed curtains I’ll be at peace.  The curtains are sheer enough to let the light (wisdom) in and just thick enough to keep out prying eyes.
And so the journey continues…Lineage.

An Etched heart cannot be fully satisfied until all its desires are met.  Will the Etched hearts of the ancestors be fully satisfied when Lineage is complete? 

Time; God’s time will reveal.

Monday, March 21, 2011

...and we danced

A few months ago I met someone and I was moved to write some poetry.  Until that day I hadn’t written anything for almost a year.  But there was something about this individual that moved the poet in me and so I wrote.  That individual, time and moment have all passed but the poem remained.  It was beautiful.  I took that beautiful poem and I tucked it away deeply in my Etched heart and went back to the journey I was on being glad that I had not detoured too far off my path.

With that poem tucked away I remained focused on Etched and with my eyes firmly fixed on the prized—Etched was not affected.  Thank God.  Now Etched, no longer a fledgling, is well on her way to being…whatever has been ordained for her/it to be.  I, being the vessel to bring her forth, have no control over this matter but even with that in mind I will do what I can to see that she stays on the path that is best for her.

My mind is now a bit freer and so not one to be idle I heard something that pricked at my poetic side.  I jotted the words down and a few moments ago, remembering them, I birthed them into the poem below.  It is still a work in progress; or it might just remain as it but either way, for now, I’m done.

It is my hope that it will be Etched in your heart as it is mine.

….and We Danced

Yesterday in your human form you…
Passed by me hurriedly, yet slowly
Your look, though fleeting
Shouted disgust because to you I was
Negro, nigger, Black, Colored…not like you
Your shouting silent look said
Inferior, ugly, too fat, too short, too tall, too thin
Breast too big, round, full...yet your hungry eyes
You couldn’t avert
As they journeyed from breast,
to belly
—the incubator and birthplace of nations
To my full round real woman hips
With their knowing sensual gait and sway
So you forced them away…stopped your heart from yearning
So you looked at my mouth
With its all telling lips and your eyes said...
Too thin, too fat, too wide, too thick
Yet your mind…wondered and wandered over, around and in…
So you cursed my nose
Said it was too broad, too wide
The strong ancestral flair—offended you
Made me inferior—in heart but your eyes…
Which only moments ago hungered
Said, “Why don’t you just….die!”
Free me of my guilt, my shame, my ignorance,
My insatiable hunger for you
And so
As you wished I died
Not to please you
But from knowledge birthed into my soul
I died
To you, your ignorance, bigotry and hate
Your hunger and your lust
But so then did you…not that second
And then we met again….
Stripped and free of the burden of flesh and color
Hate, ignorance and bigotry
Forgot what it used to be
And—you not recognizing mine as the one
You’d yearned for yet rejected
Because I was: Black, Negro, nigger, Colored…woman
Came to me rejoicing…spirit to spirit
...and we danced
Because while I was human
I was love, joy, peace, laughter…spirit with a forgiving soul
So…I welcomed you
…and we danced…

Annette I. Smith©
March 21, 2011

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Book Launch and Reception at the Barbados Consulate - March 11, 2011

It has been several months since I’ve blogged and rather than spend or expend energy explaining why I haven’t I’ll start from where I am.  Where I am now is an exciting if not, exhilarating place. It is that place I wrote about in Etched at the end of Chapter one where the narrator says, And a time for peace (There’s no moment like when you realize that you’ve found it. It’s like walking in warm summer rain).
That place…that walking in the warm summer’s rain place is where I am.  It’s the kind of place where you can, for me, untie my locs, shake my head from side to side and let my tresses flow/cascade down my shoulders and not ‘fix’ them.  It’s closing my eyes and welcoming the darkness.  It’s knowing that in this darkness there’s nothing to fear.  Its feeling the weight of my hair/locs/tresses on my shoulders and thanking God that its only hair/tresses/locs and not burdens on my shoulders.  Its knowing that behind my closed lids there are no images to fear.  That I’ve let go and now that I’ve let go God is doing an amazing thing.  Those things I feared which kept my eyes open even passed the point of tired are gone.  I no longer have to worry about birthing my book child: Etched.  She has been birthed.  The labor and delivery were both rough and at times the pain (emotional) was excruciating but it’s over and as with a real child birth my brain has been anesthetized; I don’t really (well ok, a little) remember.

I remember because of some of the human spirits I encountered along my Etched journey.  Some, because they have not been able to get to the place where their dreams are yet realized, are angry and a tad (OK some more than a tad) bitter.  These ‘spirits’ have been the hardest ones to deal with on this journey.  I, because I’m sensitive (yes I am) couldn’t understand why they couldn’t do what I would have done—embrace them on the success of their journey and celebrate with them and hope that when my turn came they would join me in my celebration.  I can now say, that, as with all things that are painful, I’ve confronted these angry ‘spirits’ and because they can’t compare to the feel of walking in a warm summer’s rain I’ve had to learn to love them ‘differently’.  Loving ‘differently’ is just what is says.  You love them but not the way you do those persons that embrace you and thank God for you that you’ve seen a dream come to fruition.

In loving ‘differently’ you don’t allow your heart to hurt when they are less than loving.  You pray for them and love them as you do the person on the other side of the world.  You don’t wish them hurt, harm or danger but you also don’t bring them into your most trusted or sacred circle because you already know the energy they are going to bring.  You also know that your precious sacred circle goin’ be a square, triangle, hexagon or something other than what you started out with when they get done.  Not one to keep reshaping my circle I’ve accepted that there are some persons that just aren’t to be gathered close to my bosom.

However that was not the case on Friday, March 11, 2011 when I was granted a major honor. The Barbados Government Offices here in New York City sponsored a book launch/reading/signing and reception in my honor for my debut novel Etched.  On that night almost 100 friends, family and colleagues (those I can trust to let my circle remain a circle) gathered to help me celebrate. 

There aren’t enough words to adequately convey the depth of gratitude and love that I felt then and am still feeling now.  Ms. Linda Watson-Lorde, Cultural and Community Affairs Officer, Consulate General of Barbados, the Honorable Consulate General, Lennox Price and the staff of the Barbados Government Office at New York  welcomed my family, friends, and colleagues with great Bajan aplomb.

My Bajan heart is still rejoicing (actually its really jumping up and down) whenever a memory crosses my mind of that evening.  Many people (Hollywood, celebrities and regular everyday folk; like you and I) give credence and reverence to an event by the color of the carpet that’s rolled out to meet the arriving guest at premiers and special events.  That carpet is usually red and is the mark/symbol of wealth, elegance and sophistication.

Well I must say that there was no red carpet at this affair. We, Bajans, did better than that.  We took it up another notch. We searched the color palette and knew there were but a few colors that would or could suffice.  The carpet for this event would be the best and with the boldest colors.  It would be blue and gold with the interspersing of a black broken trident (The colors of the Barbadian flag with its broken trident). Blue symbolizes the sea and sky of Barbados; Gold symbolizes the sands of Barbados and the broken trident – the trident of the mythical sea god: Neptune.  The trident is broken to represent Barbados’ break from Britain…what better colors for to welcome guest and Bajans alike.

I’m also proud to add that this amazing flag was designed by my brother’s Godfather the Late Mr. Grantley Prescod—a great and humble Barbadian.  I can’t mention his name and not mention that he was also a teacher at Parkinson Memorial Secondary School where and both the Honorable Consulate General, Lennox Price and I went to school.

The evening was a resounding success and that’s not just my humble opinion.  For those of you in attendance thank you from the bottom of my heart.  For those of you whom life threw unexpected curve balls and you were unable to make it…you were missed. 

Excerpt read at the book launch:

I looks at Orpah, dat be she name, and she not smiling no more. I suh, “Orpah, yuh not be happy fer meh and ‘Lasses?”
She suh, “I be mighty happy fer yuh, but I nots be happy fer meh. Massa Livingston him suh dat I gots to cabin wid de nigger Tember dat dem bring from Beaufort.”
“Tember? Beaufort? Yuh nots want to be wid him?”
“I wants muh own mans.”
“But yuh suh him solt way a long time. So who be Tember?”
“Tember him be big big nigger from Beaufort in the Low Country.”
“So wat dat mek him… not good nigger mans?”
“Him nigger mans and mayhaps him is a good nigger mans, but him been solt and solt so many times dat him not have skin left on him fer brand?”
“Yuh sure yuh nigger? Yuh not know’ds ‘bout branding?”
“I be nigger plenty, but I only been on Beauford Plantation and all him slave be on him plantation since ‘fore I be born. So I not know’ds ‘bout no branding.”
Orpah she look at meh and she suh, “Dem dat know’d Tember from long time suh dat him suh ‘fore dem solt him to Massa Litchfield, dat him be on plenty different plantation and ‘fore dat him come from a place call Barbados, and it be thar dat dem furst season him to be fine plantation nigger. Tember him suh dat him be in Barbados fer almost two years. I not know’d way Barbados be but him not born thar. Him be born in Africa. Him tolt dem dat him be from Gambia. I not know’d way that be either but to mek him good slave dem tek him to dis Barbados place furst so dem can mek him know’d how to be a good nigger and wuk on a plantation. Him suh dat de white mans call wat dem to do to niggers dem bring from Africa and tek to Barbados ‘seasoning’.
“It be thar way dem furst brand him. Wen dem brand nigger, de mark suh dat nigger ‘long to de one dat brand dem. Massa Litchfield him got brand. Him brand him new niggers so dat be why dem look fer skin on Tember dat not be got brand and dem brand him. Massa Litchfield him brand be big mark like stick standing and stick laying down. Dem got name fer it but I not know’d wat de name be. Brand be mek from iron and dem put it in de fire ‘till it turn red and wen it be red, den dem put it on nigger. Nigger be brand den.”
“But, Orpah, nun of dat be him fault. Him jis’t nigger and slave like we be.”
“Dat be true but dem bruk him spirit. Tember be nigger man widout spirit. Him jis’t do. Him never ever tink dat someday tings be different. Dem dun season him good. Tember be de best ‘sample of seasoning a nigger. Tember him wid him talking different-self be dead inside. Him rut wen dem suh rut, and him do him best to mek pickney. Dem suh dat wen him mek de pickney, him be like white mans.”
“How dat be? Him be nigger.”
“Him be like white mans dat mek pickney wid nigger womans ‘cause him never look at de pickney. It be like de pickney not be him own. I not wants to mek pickney fer no mans and him not tek one look at de pickney. It be him pickney and him ought to look at de lil’ pickney dat be him own.”
I not know’d wat to suh to Orpah so I jis’t bends muh head and I go back to muh cotton picking. Orpah she stop talking and she go back to picking de cotton too. I not no more talk or try to mek she talk ‘cause she start back crying wen she dun talk ‘bout Tember, and now she crying she stay ‘crying. Wen it be time fer we to go to de yard, she try to mek herself not cry no more and suh, “I nots want to cabin wid Tember.”
I nots know’d wat to suh so I suh, “Mayhaps it nots be so bad. Mayhaps Tember not want to cabin wid yuh and so de two of yuh be happy ‘cause yuh not like one another and so yuh jis’t gots to get through night to morning.”
“It not be dat way. Massa Livingston put meh to cabin wid Tember so Tember can mek pickney wid meh. Dem suh dat Tember good fer mek pickney. Bruk spirit man not be able to mek good pickney. Good pickney need whole spirit and him spirit it bruk.”

It has been said that a picture speaks a thousand words so I’ll stop here and let these pictures do the rest of the talking.

Book cake by: Temika Johnson - or 646 667 8310 or
The Honorable Lennox Price, Consulate General receiving his signed copy of Etched

The Author: Annette I. Smith and Linda Watson Lorde

Family: Daughter: Noebie, Daughter-in-law: Anika, Me and son: Richard

A rose by any other name....

Some of the guest listening to reading

Standing room only - guest satisfied to stand in the over-flow

Family: Sister-in-Law:Angela, nephew: Isaiah, me, grand nephew: Clayton and his mom: Tassaja

At Home with son and daughter

Signing and loving it...

Can't sign these or pick the pen up.  These are CAKES!!!!

Etched The Cake - Red Velvet
(done by Temika Johnson - 1 646 667 8310)

Cake books or Book cakes

Still signing and still loving it

Guest waiting in line to get their books sign. 

Saturday, October 9, 2010


There couldn’t be a better thing to do in life than arrive.  When I think of arriving it makes me think of the end of a journey—a pleasant one.  Etched has been such a journey for me.  It started with that childhood dream and as the child (me) became a young adult and then a woman the dream stayed.
As a child in Barbados it, of course, was filled with only those Bajan things that I knew.  So when I envisioned an end there it was Bajan dreaming that I was doing and everything Bajan would be waiting for me at the end of the journey.  In those dreams I would finish my book and my mother would be there. She would, as she’d always done—celebrated with me. She would’ve made me something to eat—something Bajan.  I love bread or anything made from flour so my mother would have satisfied that desire. When I arrived at the end of my Bajan dreaming with book in hand and published Author now part of my title my mother would have been there with me when I walked into my own home; perhaps in St. Philip where I was born.  It would be near the beach as we are sea people.  It would have had trees: mango, cherry, ackee, green apple, pawpaw, sour sop, guava and of course banana and coconut trees.
There would be a big eat-in kitchen, veranda, lots and lots of space where she and I could talk from sun up to sun down and of course a monster size kitchen garden.  In my kitchen my mother would make her Bajan baked goods: coconut bread, turn-overs, drop cakes and soft buttery pudding (American pound cake). I, of course, would have relished in those baked Bajan ‘things’ with a big cup of tea made from loose green tea leaves that were tossed into boiling water and allowed to draw till it was perfect to add the Carnation milk. Tea with milk is very Bajan; very Caribbean.
I, however, did not stay in Barbados to see the fulfillment of my dreams.  I came to America and brought those dreams with me.  The dreams didn’t change that much but now my dreams involved a brownstone in Bedford Stuyvesant where my mother and I would adjust my Bajan dreams. We would accept that there would be no fruit trees, no banana, coconut trees or veranda to while away a lazy summer day.  We would make do (as my mother would say, ‘make got do or ‘say no matter.’) with sitting in the parlor whiling away our days. 
Time and illness has taken my mother from me.  So I’m arriving at the end of this journey without her.  I don’t yet have the brownstone but I’m in Bedford Stuyvesant and I’m in the apartment that was home to my mother and I until a few short weeks before she transitioned.  So although she’s not here physically I know that she’s here in spirit.  I don’t have an eat-in kitchen but I have an open floor apartment so the dining room is near enough to the kitchen to give that warm and cozy eat-in-kitchen feeling.
A lot is different but enough of what was supposed to be is here—so on the day I get my completed  copy of Etched I will excited.  I will go first to her old room (my den and reading room) and as I’ve promised (myself) I will read out loud from my book for her.  I won’t read any of the ‘dirty’ parts—although she would’ve gotten a kick out of that.  I’ll read a part of the book that my he would have liked.  My mother loved new beginnings.  She love, kindness, and family.  I’ll read the excerpt below.  My mother would’ve like Aunt Bess.  Once I’m done reading I’ll put the book on the book case (my mother would say book press).  I’ll tell her how I feel.  I’ll probably cry to the point of zero visibility and once that has passed—it will because I’m her daughter and she won’t have allowed me to, at such a happy moment, crowd it with tears and sadness.  So, with the zero visibility moment over I’ll call the ones that I love and those that love me.  I’ll tell them that Etched and I have arrived.  Etched—a childhood dream has been fulfilled and the child that dreamed that dream has arrived—she’s a woman now holding her fulfilled dream.
 While I wait for the ones that I love and the ones that love me back to come over I’ll get those baked goods.  I’ll make them myself as I received her gift of baking.  I will, as she would say, “Annette put the kettle up on the stove.”  Of course I knew she meant for me to put water in the kettle and turn the stove on underneath…tea time.  I will draw the tea—of course allowing it to draw enough before adding the Carnation milk.
I’ll drink my tea in quiet reflection and then I’ll take a deep breath and thank God that he gave me Margaret Irene Smith as my mother. I’ll thank him for blessing me with three wonderful young people who call me ma.  I will thank him for giving me the strength to hold onto my dream and then, after inhaling and exhaling a deep lung filling breath, I’ll thank him for always walking with me and most importantly I’ll thank him for waiting so patiently for me in the  Arrival Terminal as I slowly inched my way; sometimes doubtful, sometimes scared, sometimes fussing, sometimes cussing, sometimes losing faith, sometimes falling, and sometimes not wanting to get up—but always doing so because Margaret Irene Smith was my mother and there was no such thing as not trying again.
So here I am…awaiting the arrival of Etched.  Less than two weeks before the editing process is complete.  After that I have another few weeks before its formatted and then…Now arriving in “Gate Fulfillment”:  Etched

Excerpt from Chapter 4 of Etched:
Arriving in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn
As soon as we stepped into Aunt Bess’ house Cousin Thea tried to get her tears to stop.  She wasn’t fully crying but she was sniffling.  I’d stopped and wasn’t ‘bout to start again.  Aunt Bess’ words had dried my tears.  With only one of us crying Aunt Bess paid Cousin Thea’s crying no mind and soon I didn’t either because of the warmth and smells that were all over the house.  Cousin Thea’s smells were no match for these smells. The smell of biscuits, yams, ham, and something else I couldn’t figure out rushed at me and wrapped itself all around me.
I started looking around at the beautifully carved wood framing the door and the curved polished banister leading up the stairs.  I couldn’t take my eyes off the flowered cloth on the chairs.  The chairs were made, it seemed, from the same polished wood as the banister.  The wood was polished till it looked like there were squares of white here and there on them.  There weren’t really any white squares. It was just the reflection of the light bouncing off the polished wood.  There were big thick pillows on the chairs, a fireplace that looked like it could just warm your whole heart and on all the walls there were framed pictures everywhere.  Aunt Bess spoke and stopped my gazing.  She said, “Now Thea I hadn’t planned on you being here so I ain’t fix a place for you so tonight you goin’ sleep on the extra bed in the room where Gina Pearl goin’ be and tomorrow we goin’ work on something more permanent for you.  Now come. Follow me.”
As we’d done since the bus station we followed Aunt Bess. She walked us up the beautiful stairs with the shiny curved wooden banister and all its carved rails.  It looked like I should be coming down it in a beautiful wedding dress and, waiting at the bottom—

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Thinking of Irene Margaret Smith - my mother

Wednesday, September 29, 2010 – As I write this blog I’m thinking of my mother, Irene Margaret Smith (my Keba).  I’m thinking of the wit and wisdom I’ve missed out on these past ten (10) years.  I’m also thinking of the overwhelming pride she would feel as she stood shyly by and watch me taking these bold yet baby steps towards becoming what I’ve always dreamed about becoming—a published author.
Many years ago I had an opportunity to be published.  I refused.  Why? It was a matter of principle.  The principle was the most important part of my decision making.  The person who was offering to publish my book (not this one) had themselves started out by self-publishing and had, along the way, gotten ‘picked’ up by a main-stream publishing house and now had their own imprint.  This individual was now ‘gathering’ authors and so I was offered a sum of money and assured a certain number of books would be printed for the first run. I didn’t like this author’s work and I also felt that I wrote better and so, against the advice of the person suggesting the offer I turned it down.  Was that a wise choice?  For a while I wasn’t sure if I’d made the best decision but upon reflection it must have been the best decision for me since I have no regrets.
Now here I am without my mother and wanting to tell her about this journey.  My mother was not an educated woman but she was the brightest woman I knew and she loved words.  My mother always had a book.  She didn’t use any fancy book marks she used bits and pieces of paper to ‘mark’ her page.  Sometimes when she was reading she would say “big Jerusalem” and I would invariably know that she’d encountered a word that she didn’t know.  I understood “big Jerusalem”.  When she said that she knew I would come.  I would tell her the word, what it meant and help her to, as she would say, “sound it out.”
Sometimes if she encountered the same word again she might not fully remember and she’d say, “Here’s that big Jerusalem word again.” I also knew she didn’t want help with it this time.  She didn’t need to know how to say the word.  She’d gathered the gist of and she was just helping me to recall our having worked the word out together—our moment of shared discovery.
It is for times like those or times when she was busy being the best griot I’d ever met that I would miss her and terribly.
On August 28, 2000 my mother’s voice quieted.  I accepted (with a lot of difficulty) that I would never hear her stories (and God were there stories), her whistling (my mother could whistle Ava Maria and make you cry), her singing (that’s where she got the nick name “Keba”) or her talking.  It wasn’t so much the words I would miss but the sound of her voice.  The way her Bajan accent wrapped itself around familiar words and changed them.  She made them free floating rhythm   I knew every inflection of her voice.  I knew the nuances of her speech and even when she didn’t speak I knew her ‘language’.  My mother’s language was one of love.  Even when she chastised you she didn’t strip away the love.  Love was always there.
This journey without her has been like learning to live without my right hand (I’m a righty), without sight and her insight(without both I’ve been blind to so many things), and most of all the words and emotions with which she coated her thoughts.  These words were rich and they touched me deep enough to help me create unbelievable characters. 
As unimaginable and surreal as this part of my Etched journey has been without her.  I keep telling myself that somehow she knows. Somehow she’s in that place that allows her to know what I’m doing and in that place where she is right now she’s proud of me. She’s talking  about me in that wonder lilting Bajan voice she’s saying that she knows I miss her and she’s sorry that there’s nothing she can do to let me know but she knows that somehow my heart will feel her and know.  I know. I know because I’m her daughter. 
My mother’s mark or etchings on my life and soul are indelible.  My mother’s words resonate in my spirit and help me to keep on even when my eyes are blurry with tears and the road ahead seems like a haze or like fog has touched the ground.  Even in the zero visibility days I know she’s there—just up ahead so I forge on following her—my own angelic GPS.
My mother loved all her children.  There was never any doubt about her love for her children or the pride she felt when one of us, and it didn’t matter which one, accomplished something—she was proud.  Her smile might have been shy or sometimes practically covered by her hands but her eyes laughed out loud.  My mother’s eyes would explode with every range of emotion and finally when they were full as her heart she would close them.  I think she would shut her eyes so as to etch her pride on her heart.
Etched is the kind of book that would bring about that kind of response in my mother.  She would laugh at the funny parts, share the sadness of the characters, and at the parts of pure love (physical expression of love) she would be shy but her eyes would betray her.  They would laugh and I would know that she was proud.

Irene Margaret Smith… mother, my friend, my Keba—I missed you before but now as I get closer to the end of this journey of seeing Etched become a book and I, a published author I’m having many zero visibility days.

Excerpt from Etched - …..came out of the kitchen and she had a white candle in her hand. It was lit and without a word she put it on the side cabinet. Daddy said that the candle was to remember Mommy’s spirit. Seeing the candle started to make me feel really sad. I watched the candle burning and each time it flickered the more I missed Mommy.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Going back to come forward to Etched

A few days ago I received an email from my Editor.  Her comments sent me spinning…not in a bad way but in an unbelievable grinning like a Cheshire cat kind of way.  There was an overwhelming sense of accomplishment.  Not accomplishment because I’d finished writing “Etched” but an amazing sense of accomplishment of finally seeing the millions steps I’d envisioned when I started this pilgrimage as little girl growing up in Barbados, West Indies, dwindle down to a sacred few.
Editor’s comment, “….the book really speaks to the reader, really involves them. I love manuscripts like this, it's so exciting to read something that takes over your whole mind.
Now I’m standing on the threshold of the beginning of another million step pilgrimage and this time it’s not as scary as the first million step pilgrimage because I’ve fulfilled that childhood dream.  I’ve strung together letters, words, sentences and paragraphs and the end result is—Etched.
Many years ago, in Barbados, a little girl—(me) dreamed of someday writing a book. This dream started rather simply.  I was introduced to letters and then, amazed that they could be combined to make words and then strung together to become sentences my life changed .  Life as I knew it would never be the same.  This stringing of letters to words to sentences to paragraphs to books became the things I wanted to do.   I wanted to know how authors, did that so I could do it too.
That curiosity was fed by a teacher at my primary school.  This teacher was in charge of the school library and realizing, that I had a voracious appetite for books he fed me book, after book, after book.  He fed them to me the way we do paper shredders today. However, one day the unthinkable happened.  I’d done something that no other student had done before.  I’d read all the books in the library—we’d run out of books.  The little school library didn’t have a book in it that I hadn’t read.
Reading out the school library must be understood in the true context of what the library was.  It was located in a public primary school in Barbados during the late 1960s.  Barbados had recently gained its independence from England and was for all intents and purposes—a toddler nation.  It was an island that was still swathed in colonial customs, a public school system set up to educate (and well) an all Negro (don’t know if we were Negroes—might have been Black then) so with that in mind you’ll know that the library wasn’t exactly the New York Public Library.
Anyway with no more books left and my appetite still wide open for more books he, the teacher, gave me the only book I hadn’t attempted to read—the bible.  This bible was the size of bibles you can find on the pulpit of any big Black church. With my super size prize in hand I struggled home.  I remember the weight but that didn’t matter to me. I was in possession of the biggest book I’d ever seen and that was the only thing that mattered. I was blissfully happy in the ignorance of the task I’d undertaken.
I remember getting home and my father, God bless him, looked at me and my prize and said, “I guess he finally found a way to be rid of you.  It should take you the rest of your life to read that thing.”  My feelings were hurt but I had reading to get to so I didn’t dwell too long on his remark.  I started reading and that was the best usage of letters I’d ever encountered.  I wanted to write stories like the ones in the bible.
I not only read the stories in the bible but I added/made up stories to go along with the ones that were there.  I read the story of David and Goliath and since David’s story was already written I wrote Goliath’s story.  When I got to the story of King David’s children: Ammon, Tamar and Absalom I got into Ammon’s head.  I knew what he was thinking when he saw Absalom coming.  He, Ammon,  knew he had to make peace with God and quickly.  It’s a good thing he was a quick with his prayers because in my version when he said, “Amen” he was already standing at the gates of Hell.  That’s the only place you can go for raping your half sister. I didn’t make this up. Ammon unable to accept common sense and reason from Tamar his half sister that he shouldn’t do that ‘thing’ to here decided that he had to have her. In his ‘having’ her he’d dishonored his family and honor had to be restored.  Absalom, Tamar’s full brother, took Ammon out.  Just like that.
I also learned about romance from the bible.   In the Song of Solomon in verse two (2) she says, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth for thy love is better than wine.”  In verse five (5) she says, “I am black, but comely and in verse six (6) it says...I am black because the sun hath looked upon me: my mother’s children were angry with me; they made me the keeper of the vineyards, but mine own vineyard have I not kept.

Having figured out by then to string words together I was able to see right inside this story.  The untold story was deeper than anything in the bible.  By then I knew that they were all Africans but what propelled me to think deeper and differently was the constant reference to being Black.  Her blackness got her ostracized.  Her mother’s children…not her brothers or sisters but her mother’s children—she didn’t share full parent-ship with these siblings. Did her mother ‘step’ out and the rest of the family knew so they had to keep her out of sight thereby sending her into the vineyard.  Now of course I understood that with her out there tending their vineyards hers of course, went unattended. The first version of Cinderella ever talked about.
That book helped me to understand (and I could be wrong) interracial relationships steeped in passion.  I wanted to string my words together so I could tell those kinds of stories.  Now here I am embarking on another pilgrimage and it’s exciting. I’ve written Song of Solomon kind of romance and when my characters are Black…they are comely and awaiting kisses on their mouths.
Excerpt from Etched that shows a strong interracial love:
It’s true he was a white man and a Jewish one at that and, most of them didn’t have any uses for Negroes but this white man, that was Jewish, was different.  He was sweet on Aunt Bess and had been for years.  Naum Glassberg would have been happy to hang his hat and coat on Aunt Bess’ coat rack if she’d let him but she never did and now he, the white Jewish man that loved her had….