I’m a writer, right? So, when one of the most extraordinary events of my life occurs, I should be able to write about it, right? Wrong.
After Irma I got a type of writers block. I could write some things: Facebook posts, good news blurbs, reassuring tourism trends, excellent emails and I even managed to write and put together an “Anguilla Strong” version of my magazine True Anguilla (of which I am extremely proud) but when I sat down to write what had happened and how it made me feel, I couldn’t – I just couldn’t.
Fiona, my hurricane sister, said “Trudelicious, you will write this down, won’t you? You will write our story?” The story of a last minute evacuation from a beloved family home that got destroyed (but the cats and photos survived), the story of the blended family of Curtis, Nixon and Le Senechal hurricane hounds, of starlit/moonlit swims (or baths?) in the chlorine and roof nail rich pool, of dining like kings on rapidly defrosting proteins and then more frugally on tasty if a little salty, canned cuisine, of short, blisteringly hot days filled with communal chores and the constant quest for cell phone charge and gasoline, of anticipating each tropical weather bulletin, repairing or rescuing what we could and hunkering down, but above all, of the blessings of a new family and the deeper connections we made with friends who had been through it. I said yes. But I didn’t.
The only thing I did write was a short piece for my writing group. We met nearly two months after Irma. I didn’t publish it anywhere, just read it out to our little gathering and made myself cry:
October 26th 2017: It’s hard to complain about the stuff that is really difficult for you. Stuff that’s not life threatening, but is frightening, physically and mentally challenging, life altering and quality of life destroying – when you are: a) glad to be alive b) grateful to still have a home and c) much, much, much better off than an awful lot of other people.
THINGS I CAN COMPLAIN ABOUT TO THIS GROUP BECAUSE I’M IN A SAFE PLACE:
I’m afraid of the dark (see my blog post on arriving at a writers workshop in Limnisa) and it’s dark a lot of the time, an awful lot of the time and nearly everywhere.
I hate the noises. Hurricane Irma was the most awful sound I’ve ever heard and I can still hear her. A howling, crying, sketching, screaming, head hurting, brain bashing, ear popping, heart stopping, breath taking, loud, loud, loud, scary, scary, scary noise. And now there is no peace either. I’m actually very quiet. Silent mornings, no loud music, lots of reading, I’m accustomed to a tranquil home – but everyone in my area seems to have a generator. One neighbor runs it all night. It’s a new form of aural torture; permanent angst brought on by the drone, whine, roar, splutter and belch of the generator.
I hate doing repetitive physical tasks – I’m a farmer’s daughter and have a healthy respect for hard manual labor. I did plenty of chores as a child and watched my dad work hard every day milking cows, mucking out and feeding hay – so I headed to the big city and an office job as soon as I could. Post Irma, waking up every day to the thought that before I can do anything else I have to pull water buckets, fill gasoline tanks etc depresses me.
I’ve got writers block and professional envy. I don’t feel creative. I should be able to and want to write my experiences down, but others seem to be doing this much better and I haven’t been able to gather my thoughts and feel envious of those that express theirs.
I’m scared. I’ve been scared a lot. And I will continue to be scared for me, my friends and Anguilla. I have never felt so small or helpless in my life as when I understood that Irma was heading straight at us. Oddly, I was more scared before than during the storm (Monday was the worse because I was incapacitated with a bad back a surfeit of adrenaline and didn’t have a good plan) than during it (because I was with the Curtis’s I think.) Then fear peaked the day before Jose (before that storm went to the fish) and then again when Maria was coming and I was scared for Dominca AND us. Being in the firing line for 3 storms, one after another, gives me some understanding of the mental strain that those in war zones face. Now I’m scared that our tourism economy is not going to recover in time to save us.
I cried my first Irma tears over a place not a person. I cried when I saw the Anguilla Great House and Rendezvous Bay were battered to the point of destruction. So much love, so many memories – my happy place – gone. But it’s a place, not a person. Shouldn’t I be crying for people?
After writing that cheerful little piece, (it felt so good to get it out, I’d been messaging all things positive to keep me positive – but I clearly needed to acknowledge somewhere that things were quite tough) I could only work on getting my magazine, True Anguilla, put together, and I put my blog and my novel writing to one side, tried to make some money and the time just disappeared.
And then, thankfully, along came Lit Fest and a few weeks ago I attended a writing work shop on writing personal essay’s with the outstanding Krista Bremer. She talked about “an interplay of light and darkness’ and gave us “I could not forget” as a prompt for a fast writing exercise:
May 14th May 2018: I could not forget the sound of the wind. The horrible, screeching, whining, banging, ripping, thumping, predatory, window breaking, door kicking in, tree ripping up, car turning over, container throwing wind which whined and whined and pulled and pushed and took everything that was pinned down and made it flap and tear so that now when the wind starts it’s so much louder than before and immediately makes my tummy clench and my body tighten and my senses go on alert. And it just makes me tired and scared. But even though I’m tired I can’t always sleep and it makes me feel very sad that I used to like being tucked up inside when the wind blew but now it is a monster.
I could not forget how I woke up the next day and saw what was green turned brown and grey. I saw glimpses of the sea where it wasn’t before. I saw a beautiful sky line that wasn’t spoilt by ugly wires and poles because they had all been knocked down and I saw that there were these incredible sculptures where things that should not be where they were, were – like sheets of galvanized wrapped around slender trees.
And it felt so good to write like that, words spilling out, excited, automatic, in my own head, with my own voice, no one else to please or to perform for, pen moving fast, 5 minutes – stream of consciousness fast! It reminded me of how great I feel when I go on my writing trips (I have a formula, perfected over time, where I can write thousands of words of fiction in a week).
It reminded me of the day I sat down and wrote a short story called Anguilla Day in just a couple of hours. I got dear Beth to edit it straight away, then immediately sent it off to Akashic Books and it got published.
It reminded me how good it feels to write things down in the special way that only I can write them. It reminded me that I can and should write.