The Christmas ornament is still up in the car. I’m writing 2018 on cheques. And I never finished sharing my list of last year’s ’18 treasures.
That lady’s stacked. I wrote about Paula-Mae Weekes only twice last year. When presidents show up in here, it’s usually not for good reasons. It’s been ages since a president of ours faced the constitutional tests ANR and Emmanuel Carter did with 18-18 and the Muslimeen amnesty, enabling Fazeer to disdain the officeholder as a rubber stamp with a pulse. But Weekes’s apparent sense that her office matters, not its holder, has given her a capacity to enlargen its everyday function. It’s delightful to start 2019 with a head of state from whom other high officeholders might learn how to scold productively — whether about illiterate homophobia or the unneighbourly sin of Sodom. And who repeatedly provokes headlines — by saying coherent things about nationbuilding.
Death of a witness. So much of the mourning of ageing is the loss of one’s eulogists. My schoolmate David Mitchell’s death brought me to write through tears a year ago, because as a witness I had failed to give testimony to his largeness. Cleve Calderon’s death and significance did not go unheralded. But as a mere customer of his Yarna’s Mall store with sometimish hours, it was still a difficult loss. Because Cleve held witness for me to a generation of music-buying traditions centred in the record shop, which have otherwise disappeared: the track-sampling on the turntable for the customer, the lingering, the suggestions, judging other patrons by the savvy or naivete of their questions, the “for you” discounts.
Whose legacy? I’ve contemplated Caribbean courts a few times this past year. Mostly the wonder they provoke in me that justice here is still imaginable. An imagination rewarded for Afra Raymond, Jason Jones, Thema Williams and others, while frustrated for thousands on remand who cannot afford bail. I wrote that the way courts humanise people matters as powerfully as their judgments. Last year witnessed sweeping structural and procedural change in the national judiciary — the reinvention of the magistracy, the birth of an imaginative children’s court, a fast-track criminal court — and the question of whether those grand strokes are what will define the current captain’s innings.
I declined to write about the inability of media houses to exercise the very conduct and judgment for which they sought to hold the Chief Justice to account; how the irrepressible sensationalism of their coverage reduced the deeply substantive issues they were reporting to comess. But every time I listen to a local politician for more than a sentence, I am more determined to chase that imagination of Caribbean justice through the courts this year.
A good curry. I can’t recall the speaker, but it was a description of either Rachel Price or Dennis Hall. I’ve not put Pricey in my pen in over a year, but I found myself celebrating Sprang’s genius and historical incisiveness more than once in recent months. I also wrote in excitement last year about the Bocas literary festival’s ole mas competition as a critical space for recognition of the genre as a tradition of words. Perhaps this year’s festival will find space to celebrate the standout genius of those two wordsmiths in their genre.
Nationsharers. It was some times amusing, others annoying to read and watch the narratives this past year of Jason Jones’s legal victory. Most of the storytelling simply centred on him—and sometimes his British lawyers (never the local ones) — as a hero. A few writers, though, felt a need to account in their point of view for the many rainbow bodies engaged in drama all around the courthouse and at the Parliament last April, who sang the national anthem spontaneously, who chanted about love, not sex — what movement propelled that Greek chorus there. Mostly, though, the accounts resorted to a lazy magical realism, as if the crowd were iguanas who had inexplicably fallen from a tree in Woodford Square.
What I pledge to do in 2019 is to honour those bodies, to claim their legacy, to give witness to their significance, to their imagination of a justice, to the small brilliance of their vocal gestures (like singing the anthem to stop a politician in his tracks), to their belief in their office — that being there mattered. To salute the roots of their confidence that they can share in (and will share) the nation, a story that runs much further back and forward than one or two days in April.
I renew my oath of office as a writer, for another year, to witness and to imagine.