All of last week I was home sick, I had a nasty cold and severe joint pains. But I have to write. Last week, my Jamaica Vignettes subscriber Ruthibelle recommended that I share the lessons I have had to unlearn. After I read and accepted this suggestion, I thought great, easy-peasy, no biggie, the idea is quite clear, I have a theme to work with and so all I have to do is take some time to write it. But no, that was not the case. For a very long time I had nothing. What are the lessons that I have had to unlearn? For some reason, I believe that since I became an adult there are many perceptions that I have freed myself from. I seriously believe this. So why can’t I describe them? Instead I am surrounded by vague unnamed sentiments. This is a challenge, one that I honestly did not anticipate. But here is what I had to do, I started off Saturday afternoon by simply free writing and pondering the matter of unlearned lessons. This is my realisation, in order to name what I no longer believe I must first consider what I now hold as the central principles that I abide by. Ruth, thanks for this challenge. I do believe I will have to do a part two soon.
After this sort of reveres analysis I slowly came to two clear lessons that I unlearned:
Lesson One: Judea-Christian religiosity is the source of morality that I must abide by.
Like so many other Jamaicans, I grew up in a Christian home. My grandmother, until her death, was a firm believer in Christian principles and she ensured that we went to church. We went to Sunday morning services, Sunday school and Sunday night services. We also went to Tuesday evening Bible study and by the time I was twelve, I was also at church every Friday evening for youth fellowship. And for most of my formative years I liked going to church, it was a primary part of my social interactions and most of my friends went to that church. I thoroughly enjoyed Sunday school lessons and by the time I was 13, I was so enthused by Bible study I would go by myself. In my early teens I was a member of the church, a youth choir singer, part of the drama group and secretary of the youth fellowship.
Then one Tuesday night, at Bible study, a reference to Uzzah’s death in a lesson on stewardship and obedience, shattered my Christian centred morality. In 2 Samuel, chapter six, Uzzah, an Israelite was killed after touching the Ark of the Covenant. That Tuesday night, I sat in the church dumbfounded that the good God I was taught to believe in was an entity that simply struck someone dead for a mistake. Now, there are many gruesome, truly horrific tales of murder, torture, rape, and plunder in the Bible but the death Uzzah was the beginning of the slow detangling from the Christian faith that was ingrained in my psyche.
By the time I started studying Caribbean history and I learned of the atrocities that took place under the banner of Christianity, the genocide of the indigenous peoples of the Americas and the evils of the Transatlantic Trade in enslaved Africans, I stopped going to Bible study. I could not devote my energy to learning the principles of that book. But for years after I still went to church, it was not until the death of grandmother in 2005 that I finally let it go.
This is where I am now, I respect those who choose to worship within Judea-Christian institutions but I have unlearned the biased moralities wherein salvation is the exclusive right of the chosen. I am committed to a worldview of love and respect, regardless of religious creed.
Lesson Two: Writing Is A Hobby and I Need A Real Job
As a child I wanted to be so many things ― ballerina, nurse, fashion designer, bank manager ― my chosen career path changed every few months but I have always enjoyed stories, reading, writing and drawing and sharing my own tales with my friends. I can recall in grade four, I wrote a composition that I titled, “My Life as a Writer,” wherein I described what I believed to be the very exciting career filled with book tours in Europe, North America, Asia and West Africa. The exposition was not well received by the teacher who promptly renamed the narrative, “My Travels Around the World.” In time I wrote less and less but I kept on reading and literature was my favourite class.
By the time I got to high school I settled that my career ought to be in the law, I loved watching the original Law and Order TV series. Then in September 2000, at the start of grade nine, I was again forced to make a change in my career focus. That school year I sat at the back of the last row of the class. And so it was on the first day of school when we were asked to introduce ourselves to our classmates and the form teacher, I was the last person to speak. We were asked to state our full names, what we enjoy doing and what we aspired to become as adults. That day almost every other person in the last two rows said they wanted to be a lawyer and I was OK with that, but then my best friend, who sat before me siad she too wanted to be lawyer (she actually did become one) and so in that moment I decided I wanted to be a journalist.
I was stuck with this particular career throughout high school, I liked the idea of journalism. But then I failed the entrance test to the Caribbean Institute of Media and Communication (CARIMAC). Instead I studied history and in 2008 I graduated from the University of the West Indies with a first class honours BA in History and Philosophy.
So in November 2008, after graduation, I was forced to consider what should do with my life? I did not want to teach and I was told over and over by so many persons that a history major had two options, teaching history or returning to university to read for a law degree. The options were not appealing.
At some point in early 2009, I got it into my head that should do sales and marketing. I sucked at sales and marketing. Defeated and jobless, in the summer of 2009 I started applying for teaching positions. Within weeks I got two job offers, secondary level history and sociology teacher and teaching English as a foreign language in Japan. While I was considering which position was more appealing, I was offered a third position, a one-year contract as a research officer at a museum. I chose the museum. I liked it, it was fun and challenging. But it was not truly something I wanted to do, in fact during the period, I did all my auxiliary functions with excellence and I even volunteered on committees. But I failed to produce a single research paper, the subject matter was simply not appealing.
My next job was at a local radio station as a reporter and producer. I was finally a journalist. I hated it. I hated the news, production meetings were terrible, and I did not contribute to building the daily story boards. I did enjoy going on assignments and writing the morning news stories. But after three months I quit. I am not a journalist, I should never have attempted to be one. In time, I slowly began to reject the notion that writing was simply a hobby. In 2011, I wrote a short story that I entered in a regional short story competition. No, I did not win. Hell I wasn’t even shortlisted. But I enjoyed the writing. So I started writing again, little pieces – short stories, flash fiction, stories I kept to myself. To fulfill the need to create and express, I started a Tumblr book blog, The Stories of Chantel DaCosta, where I share my flash fiction series and review books. I am a writer. This is what I do most naturally, and what I love. I am now committed to my childhood dream/passion to be an author.