Writer, Editor, Stand-Up Comedian

El Shaddai: the All-Sufficient God

Posted: November 22nd, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Column | No Comments »

When COVID-19 hit Trinidad and Tobago and we first went into lockdown, I had just completed the first FemCom stage show of the year, our International Women’s Day show Givin’ Trouble, at the historic Little Carib Theatre. Within a month my comedy partner, Louris, and I were aware that there would likely be no more stage shows for 2020.

With no shows to emcee or perform in, I was scared. I’m a self-employed writer, editor and teacher. My husband, a mason, could not work during the lockdown. What would happen if the pandemic closed off all our sources of income?

I was also furious and frustrated. FemCom was supposed to blow up this year. We had planned to go to LA for training at the Groundlings Theatre and do a road-trip movie while performing in comedy clubs in Atlanta, where my elder daughter lives. We had scheduled four comedy workshops. We had a multi-show partnership with the Little Carib Theatre. Our IWD show had a good audience and excellent feedback. We were on a roll. COVID-19 changed everything.

I fell into a depression. For weeks all I could do was watch Endeavour and Lewis on repeat. I cried out to God.

The response was immediate and life-saving. He sent me food and money through extremely generous friends and family. My friends shored me up emotionally. My husband was a rock. I began reading and studying the Bible and praying more.

My gratitude and my prayer led to a resolution that I would get up and work. I continued writing and submitted a few manuscripts, poems and a short story to publishers and journals. I sought an agent. Inspired by the banter between Louris and myself, I thought of a way to maintain the FemCom brand presence during the pandemic. The result was The Givin’ Trouble Show, a Facebook Live online chat between Lyrix and Just Lisa, twice a week, for 20 minutes.

God sent work. I got editing jobs, writing jobs, teaching jobs.

The US edition of my YA novel Home Home came out in May. I took part in the Brooklyn Caribbean Lit Fest and the T&T Literature Conference as an author and a panelist. The NGC Bocas Lit Fest commissioned me to write and read a short story on the 1970 February Revolution and its consequence; “Meeting Beverly Jones” was broadcast in an event on day two of the festival. I was interviewed in the Bocas Lit Fest Bios and Bookmarks series. I had readings and interviews on TV. I did a reading for ALTA and another for NALIS. I judged the semi-final and final rounds of the First Citizens National Poetry Slam, which was broadcast on national TV. Joanne C. Hillhouse interviewed me and three other YA writers for her blog.

Marina Salandy-Brown, festival founder and director, commissioned FemCom to create video fillers for the three-day 2020 NGC Bocas Lit Fest. We made thirteen comic short films in a month and a half. Bocas also commissioned me to write and present a series of educational videos on creative writing, the Write Away! Caribbean Young Adult Literature Project.

During the last eight months I’ve begun two novels, one a dystopian sci-fi project about post-COVID Trinidad, and the other about an unwed teen mom in ancient Israel (yeah, that unwed teen mom). I’ve continued working on a film adaptation of Monique Roffey’s novel The White Woman on the Green Bicycle.

The poem and short story I wrote were accepted for publication. The story was published as “Cam and the Maskless” in About Place Journal (Vol VI Issue No. II: Works of Resistance, Resilience). Its editors have nominated it for a Pushcart Prize.

One of the manuscripts I submitted was bought by Myriad Editions of the UK and will be published in May 2021 as The Bread the Devil Knead. Another has been accepted by the independent publisher 1000 Volt Press (which is run by by ex-husband and his wife, author Victoria Raschke, in Tennessee).

I’ve begun work co-editing a collection of essays and artwork with some amazing co-editors, also for 1000 Volt Press. I started free poetry workshops for young poets with the assistance of one of the poets who competed in the slam, Ronaldo Mohammed. I’m writing a proposal for a food foraging project with an NGO. I’ve been commissioned to ghostwrite a memoir.

The Jamaican thespian E Wayne McDonald cast me as the character Florie Barton a staged reading of Steve Carter’s play Eden; it will premiere on November 29, 2020.

Not all that work was paid or will be paid.

God also sent abundance.

I got church hampers and government hampers.

I got a TT Government COVID-19 creative industries relief grant. I won a CATAPULT Stay Home Artist Residency for the film script. FemCom also won a CATAPULT Caribbean Artist Showcase grant to stage an extraordinary edition of The Givin’ Trouble Show between stand-up comedians on their pandemic pivot, co-hosted by Dr Suzanne Burke.

I didn’t get an agent, though for the first time one actually read and like the manuscript I submitted.

What I’ve come to realise is this: As an artist, I rely on God entirely. He sees my need. He knows my situation. He works through me. He supplies. Bless His name: El Shaddai, the All-Sufficient God.

Postscript: While I was editing this post, FemCom was invited to stage limited-audience outdoor shows at a new venue. El Shaddai, take win.


Advice to a young poet

Posted: September 7th, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Column | No Comments »

A few weeks ago I was a judge of the semifinals of the Bocas Lit Fest First Citizens National Poetry Slam. There were, unsurprisingly, a lot of excellent writers on stage. One of them was Ronaldo Mohammed, whose use of language I found fresh and inventive. I encouraged him to reach out to me if he was interested in furthering his art as a writer, and he did.

Here’s the message I sent to him. I’m posting it here too because I think it’s general advice I always give to young writers, and bears repeating.

Take yourself and your work seriously. Everybody’s busy. You make time to do the things you find important: to eat, to sleep, to study. To play FIFA and Call of Duty (or whatever you kids play these days). To visit Insta and MacoBook… you get the picture. Be conscious of the time you spend on these things, and carve out time to write and work on your career as a writer (formatting submissions, finding places to submit, reading other writers, editing past work, and doing professional training like workshops or writing groups).

It doesn’t have to be a daily practice, though Walcott and many, many others advocate it.

Whatever is the best time of day, when you’re freshest and most alert, make a commitment to sit and write or work as I said above.

Do you have any mentors in poetry? Or readers of your work?

Those are important.

Some writers hate community but it’s necessary. You need to see another perspective.

What are your goals as a writer? Publication of a book? Development as a spoken word artist?

Spoken word poetry doesn’t always work on the page; you sometimes have to write it differently. And if you are more inclined to spoken word I’d say find or make your own fora to perform, because that’s how you get better. Yes, continue writing, obviously; but for spoken word the art is also in the performance. Which is why some spoken word is flat on the page.

If you have written work that you’re thinking of submitting, consider what its style, content and themes are. Different outlets take different things, so improve your odds by narrowing down. There are a few Caribbean journals and magazines (like Moko, Pree The Caribbean Writer, BIM, sx salon) and various academic journals that accept poetry. Internationally there are some Caribbean-interest publications. Submit widely, because publication is a process fraught with rejection.

Gird yourself for it.

A note on submissions: Rejection is inevitable, but it’s part of the process. Sometimes it’s the wrong time, the wrong outlet, the wrong editor. Because poetry and its reading are so subjective you could totally not get a poem, dismiss it, and all because you don’t read it from the perspective the writer has. It happens. Take criticism, but be mindful of that. Your voice is yours.


Being a stand-up comedian during a pandemic sucks. But there’s a silver lining.

Posted: August 10th, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Column | No Comments »

COVID-19 sucks. And not in a good, tasty way. The opportunities for live performance have dried up since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Trinidad and Tobago, where I live, continues to have restrictions on public performances and for entrepreneurs like myself the risk of staging a show isn’t worth it. Even if people came (would they, though??) we still risk spreading the virus during a pandemic. Not cool. Rock, meet hard place.

I’ve started an online chat show with my comedy partner Lyrix, and we are trying to adapt to this new world. This is not the comedy career I imagined. But I’m trying to make it work.

It’s actually been pretty cool developing the show’s format since we started in April. It’s been through a name change, because we started as GT on Lockdown during the T&T national lockdown. It’s now The Givin’ Trouble Show, after our last stage show in March to celebrate International Women’s Day. We’ve had some extremely cool guests too: including jazz singer Vaughnette Bigford, chocolate entrepreneur and homesteader Gillian Goddard, queer activist Rudy Hanamji, comedian Kevin Soyer and a bunch of other people.

If you’re wondering, no, an independent online chat show doesn’t pay. You can donate to the show here.


My doctor visits

Posted: November 29th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Column | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

I’ve had two recent visits with doctors — to write features on them. My interview with Dr Wendell Bobb, a US-educated Trini neurologist living in Washington, DC, was published in the Newsday yesterday. Last week my interview with Dr Sarah St Louis, a Florida urogynaecologist with TT roots, also appeared in Newsday.

Dr Sarah St Louis is a urogynaecologist — she medically and surgically treats women’s pelvic floor problems, like a urologist only for women. Photo: Lisa Allen-Agostini.

I love medicine. I think, had I more discipline and a head for maths, I would have studied to be a psychiatrist or neurologist myself. (I joke that I watch so much medical TV — some documentaries but mostly medical procedurals like House and Grey’s Anatomy — that I practically have a degree in TV medicine anyway.)

I also enjoy doing health reporting, and serving women especially. Both stories did that. Dr Sarah told me about women’s incontinence, a topic that affects so many women but which is not often discussed. Dr Wendell told me about epilepsy and the importance of women with epilepsy planning their pregnancies.

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Full feature story link in bio.

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My interview with Kevin Jared Hosein

Posted: July 1st, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Column | No Comments »

Kevin Jared Hosein, the TT writer who has won the Commonwealth Short Story Prize for the Caribbean Region for the second time in 2018. Photo courtesy Trinidad & Tobago Newsday/ Xavier Sylvester

 

I didn’t get to use these bits of my interview with TT writer Kevin Jared Hosein, which was published in the T&T Newsday today. I thought other people might be as taken with them as I was, so here they are.

 

On being a young writer: “I remember when I was about 13, 14, me and my parents was driving. I was in the back seat. I get this idea. I say I want to be like Mark Twain. I don’t even like Mark Twain. I was like, I think I could do this – not really knowing the actual work that would go into it, or what the Caribbean literary scene was like.

“You know those little Illustrated Classics? I thought they were cool, so I think I did ask my dad to bring some paper from work. I take a scissors and I cutting up all… I had to Scotch tape it together to make my own. I never finish it. I just know I wanted a book.”

On how Portia Subran, his fiancee, was the first to push him to publish the novel he wrote in spite of himself:

“She said, ‘You’re a writer?’ I was like, ‘Yeah.’ She’s like, ‘Well, send me something.’ So I sent her The Repenters. She’s like, “You’s a real writer! This real good! What you going to do with it?’ She said, ‘You have to do something with this.’

“As a teen you have real ambition but I think once you turn 18 you just kind of stop caring: ‘You’s a big man now. Go and get a real job.’ I kinda believe it for a time; I stopped writing for a time. Throughout much of UWI I didn’t really write, only coming towards the end when I realise, ‘You know, I ent really remember anything from the degree.’ I just randomly start back writing because of the VS Naipaul thing. I was like, ‘Well, VS Naipaul full of shit.’”

 

 

On being an angry teen: “When I was 11, 12, I got very angry. I don’t know it was hormones; all of a sudden I just start getting vex with everything. Going to an all-boys school is…aargh… escpecially when you want to be a writer… is this girly thing, writing poetry, make fun of you for doing that… just a lot of things make me vex, on the whole, that included.”

 

On the work of writing while being a teacher: “It’s a hobby-job. I don’t see it as a full-time job. I try to treat it like one. I do try to write almost every single day. I am my own boss, which can be kind of tough because you have to have a lot of discipline. After I publish a work, I don’t write anything. I take two months’, three months’ break. I don’t want to see it like a job because to me job is negative. I make money from it, I love doing it. I don’t know if I could make a living off it. I think if I had a mentor it would be different.

“My actual teaching job, they never hold back. My school understand my situation; I need a lot of time to myself.  Now is when I do most of my stuff, the summer. If I have to go anywhere they don’t make any fuss. The support helps.”

 

My selfie with Kevin at the Adult Literacy Tutors Association Readings Under the Trees in March, 2018

 


Jamaica Observer interview with Lorna Goodison

Posted: March 7th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Column | No Comments »

With extraordinarily good timing, the Jamaica Observer has started a new series of interviews between Jacqueline Bishop and Jamaica’s women writers. Goodison of course is the author of a number of books of poems and short fiction, and was made Jamaica’s Poet Laureate last year. The interview’s timing couldn’t have been better, as today Goodison was named one of the 2018 winners of the Windham-Campbell prizes, “informing them that they have each won a $165,000 (£119,000) award that is intended to give them the freedom to write, liberated from money worries”, said the UK Guardian.

The Bookends interview in the Jamaica Observer’s not available online but you can read it here: Lorna-Page-1

(Thanks to Jacqueline Bishop for sharing the PDF.)

 


Home Home

Posted: March 6th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Column | 2 Comments »

The manuscript I first wrote a decade ago and rewrote while in hell in an airport in Suriname in 2016 is now being published as Home Home by Papillote Press, after being named third place in the CODE Burt Awards for Caribbean Literature in 2017. We’re hoping to do a launch at the 2018 NGC Bocas Lit Fest.

Yay!!!


Hair to eternity

Posted: February 18th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Column | Tags: , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

I’m 44 now, and my PCOS encourages the growth of facial hair, called hirsutism. While my right-thinking brain knows I don’t have a severe case of it, I can’t believe it to be true. In my mind, the light, fuzzy hair on my chin is the texture and consistency of an actual Brillo pad. I imagine people talking to me see this:

In my heart of hearts, I have always wished my body were as smooth and hairless as an egg. My mother, God rest her soul, had legs that looked freshly waxed all the time even though she didn’t shave. She didn’t have to; she naturally had zero hair on her arms and legs.

All the residual body hair that missed her generation hit me hard.

I don’t remember the hair on my legs when I was a girl; anyway I shaved it off as soon as I could. I must have been eight or nine the first time I did it. Our family was going to Tobago and my big sisters were all shaving their legs in preparation. Who was I not to? I remember the sound and feel of a disposable razor scoring the skin off my shin as I tried to shave dry. The only thing that painful lesson taught me was that I should next time shave with lubrication.

Women had hairless bodies. Anything else was not acceptable. I’m not the only one who has thought this; if you Google “woman legs” you’ll get this, with not a hair in sight:

 

 

I shaved everything. Even my feet. I was so desperately afraid of my own body hair, I thought the little tufts on my toes made me look like a Hobbit. I would not wear a skirt when my legs were unshaven. I wouldn’t go to the beach without shaving my pits—and of course the Devil’s Triangle had to be properly landscaped, it goes without saying. I  apologised to sexual partners about the state of my own pubic hair when it wasn’t perfectly coiffed, as if my shaving or clipping my pubic hair had one iota of impact on the experience we had.

When I was about 27, pregnant with my second daughter, my face started sprouting. I was at lunch with a friend when he pointed out three, long, straight strands sticking out from below my chin. I pulled them out immediately. But you know these hairs always come back and they bring friends. Women are told not to shave chin hair because it grows back thicker, or so the common misinformation goes. I tweezed mine, or had it ripped out by waxing or threading every month. When I couldn’t tweeze (make sure you pack your tweezers on vacay, guys) I shaved, making the hair on my chin appear even thicker and to my eye more masculine. The weeks between waxes were the worst, because you have to let your hair grow to a certain length or there’s nothing there for the wax to pull out. So for weeks I’d wait, anxious to be able to go tear my hair out again.

Over the past few years, inspired by my very feminist daughter, I let my leg hair grow out. To my surprise it’s not hard and scary to have hair on my legs. I wear skirts, even short ones. Nobody runs away screaming. (And if they did, so what? It’s my hair, and internalised sexism is the only reason I think it’s ugly. Most men do not care about it, in my experience; some even find it sexy. And women either get it–“Down with patriarchy!”–or ignore my hairy legs out of politeness.) Then I let my armpit hair grow out. Zero problem. But I made the joke that I was feminist from the neck down. The final frontier: my chin.

Now, after years of painful tweezing, expensive waxing and threading, suffering ingrown hairs and scarring from hair removal, I’ve tried to let my chin hair grow out. It is absolutely terrifying. But I’ve not only been out and about, I’ve done two public events where I’ve been photographed for media with my hairy chin. Scary stuff for me, but I’m doing it. Maybe next week I’ll give in and tweeze, or run screaming into the beauty shop and pay someone to have them paste hot wax on my face and rip it off with a small strip of cloth, pulling my hair out by the roots. Or I might not. I’m learning to love my hair, however slowly; or rather I am learning to love my body as it is, hair included.

If she can do it, I can too.


Moving on

Posted: January 4th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Column | No Comments »

I remember my first day working at the Trinidad Guardian, having just joined the staff from the Express. The main newsroom was a bull pen, there was one phone and I had been put to work on the slowest computers I’d ever worked with. I threw a tantrum in the office.

That was in 1998.

Nearly 20 years later I’ve moved on to a different paper. I was prostrate with grief that I had left an organisation that had been my touchstone for two decades. Even when I left the staff I stayed on as a freelancer. I’d joke that Guardian had “stay home” in the water. It’s been hard for me to move on.

(It’s been even hard for my computer to move on. The machine on which I’d written so much and edited so much for the Guardian over the past few years still autofills Trinidad Publishing Company, the former name of the Guardian’s parent company, when I type in Trinidad.)

But I’ve moved on. I’ve had three bylines at the Trinidad and Tobago Newsday so far. Read the stories here, here and here.

Here’s to 20 more years.

 

 


When you have the blues. All.The.Time.

Posted: August 3rd, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Column | No Comments »

Courtesy: Hyperbole and a Half
http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2011/10/adventures-in-depression.html

When you suffer with depression it sucks.

Don’t take my word for it. You can read about it here and here and here.

Mine often looks like this:

Day 1: (Snuggling in) Maybe I’ll just stay in bed today. Because life is so hard and the bed is so soft. I can read a book!

Day 2: (Wrapping myself in blanket, burrito-like) Bed. Because bed, dammit. Get this book away from me. I can’t actually concentrate long enough to read a paragraph. (Binge watches police procedurals on the InterWebs)

Day 3: (Sobbing) I wish I could get up and do things. But why? My life is meaningless anyway.

Day 4: (Googling suicide methods) Why am I even alive? I am a waste of God’s resources. I’ve ruined my children’s lives. Even my pets would be better off without me. I should be dead. I don’t even deserve this bed.

Ect etc.

It’s embarrassing to admit this aloud. In our society everyone’s expected to be alert, high-functioning, happy and excited about life. When you’re not, people tell you to snap out of it.

If I could have snapped out of it, I’d have done it when I was a child and drank insecticide hoping to kill myself. Or when I was in my 20s, doing everything I possibly could to either contract HIV, destroy my liver or get murdered in a hole somewhere by a random stranger.

At the government psychiatric clinic I attend (because a private psychiatrist costs upwards of $400/hour and antidepressant and antianxietal medication can cost more than $30/day) I met lady a few weeks ago. She was pretty and vivacious and eventually we got to talking about our mutual condition. Yet even she was telling me to get over it.

(Also, side note: Could we make T&T mental health clinics less like death, please? Sweating in a warm, crowded waiting area for three hours in order to see a doctor for five minutes isn’t exactly uplifting. And if the hospital or health centre is out of the medication—as it usually is—how is the depressed [or bipolar or psychotic, whatever] person going to bestir herself to get to a pharmacy to get the medication for herself? There should be a social worker in this equation.)

Look, if I could drag myself out of it, I would. Do you think I enjoy feeling hopeless, helpless and powerless? Do you think I like planning my own death, imagining my family members happening upon my lifeless body after I’ve done the deed? No, no I do not. I’m so much better when I’m happy and out of bed. When I’m not feeling depressed, I’m fabulously funny, smart, and cool. I am fantastically productive and work from sunup to sundown. Just ask my friends. (Wait. I haven’t seen them in months because I guess they’re tired of coming to my house to drag me out of bed.)

This is not one of those days when I’m fabulously funny, smart or cool. This is one of those days when I look back on last week’s terror and tears and wish earnestly for healing. I’m not Googling suicide today. Not at the moment, anyway. But there’s a police procedural on the Internet with my name on it…

Before you ask, yes, I take my meds. Yes, I meditate. Yes, I try to get in my green leafy veg, B vitamins and Omega-3s. (OKAY, I ADMIT I don’t exercise much—but if I can’t get out of bed, how likely is it I’ll get any exercise?)

I’m going back to bed.

Pass me the blanket and turn off the light on your way out.