More times than I’ve had pain mais, folks who make a decent living as book authors, newspaper reporters, TV journalists and script writers—as well as individuals who imagined they’d been specially called to put pen to paper yet had been unable to produce anything publishable—have asked me if I had ever experienced the curse known as writer’s block.
My truthful response: in over forty years as a professional writer I have never experienced what has been defined as “an obstacle to the free expression of ideas on paper.”
I suspect the reason might be that I’ve always regarded life as the most exciting adventure imaginable and can barely hold myself from sharing my daily experiences. In all events, what is the writer’s function, if not to place on record his hopefully unique take on life’s vicissitudes?
From my own vantage, only the untalented and the psychically wooden would experience difficulty identifying aspects of their surroundings potentially interesting to readers here and elsewhere.
It matters not where one is domiciled. Compared to New York, for instance, Saint Lucia is undoubtedly miniscule. But does it automatically follow that the worms in the Big Apple are more bizarre and captivating and intriguing—and life-threatening—than the local species?
Truth be told, hardly a day goes by in Saint Lucia without a jaw-dropping occurrence. We live in a cuckoo’s nest, with more than enough to engage the writer with eyes not wide shut, and who gives a damn.
Imagine Andrew Cuomo suggesting on Meet the Press that the trusting folks who made him governor of New York on the basis of his repeated promise to create jobs-jobs-jobs without new taxes should quit griping about escalating unemployment and instead be grateful for their city’s soup kitchens!
Not in a million years would that happen in New York, you say? And I concur. There’d be hell to pay. The New York print and electronic media, indeed, the world press, would jump like a pack of ravenous wolves on the governor.
There would quite likely be media-attracting public demonstrations and related TV skits and pokes by Jay Leno and his fellow late-night comedians. Saturday Night Live would be on it for weeks. Quite likely the governor would be forced to issue a public apology—if not his resignation!
So how is it that in Saint Lucia there has been barely a whispered condemnation of the suggestion from one of our least-despised MPs that his constituents, instead of demanding he keeps his election promises of imminent better days and jobs for all, should thank providence for their being able to buy a meal for only five dollars?
The answer is obvious: such mindless outbursts are de rigueur in this society with its idiosyncratic warped sense of self worth. But isn’t that, in itself, worth writing about?
Consider the local legend, if only in his own mind, who recently advised the nation’s youth that regardless of how deprived were their current circumstances, that need not mean future success was beyond their ambitious grasp.
After all, he crowed, he and his siblings had started out in one of the nation’s more notorious ghettoes yet had risen to political heaven, regularly taking breakfast and lunch with the nation’s most powerful. An inspirational speech to be sure, by the sound of it.
So, try now to imagine Joseph Stalin, if he were around today, delivering a commencement address at a local secondary school, say, in Vieux Fort. Don’t laugh, dear reader, any day now you can expect to see some former high official of Syria’s president al-Assad’s government addressing our parliament, as did President Ma recently.
Stretch your imagination just a tad more. Try to conceive of Stalin retracing his route to power and glory, for the benefit of our nation’s uninspired vulnerable young; his father was a poor alcoholic shoemaker. His sickly mother had little choice but to place young Joseph in the care of a priest while she tried to make ends meet, slaving for peanuts at some low-rent factory.
At the end of Stalin’s presentation, would we applaud him as yet another shining example of a poor kid who had gone on to be monarch of all he surveyed—never mind that in his high office he had murdered over 20 million of his own people and earned for himself an indelible reputation as “the butcher of Ukraine?”
Hitler, too, came from humble beginnings: He was his parents’ fourth offspring. One of his siblings died from diphtheria and another soon after his birth. When Hitler was still a young boy he was often beaten by his father, a customs official “addicted to some very sadistic penchants, including violence,” according to some reports. He died from the effects of pleural hemorrhage.
Hitler’s mother was a breast cancer casualty, a sad fact that her son blamed on her Jewish doctor. She, too, had often suffered her husband’s beatings.
The boy was forced to quit school at a young age because of recurring lung problems. He went to Vienna in 1906, “basically penniless.” At one point he was arrested for trying to avoid military service but then was declared “unfit and too weak to bear arms.”
By one somewhat apologetic historian’s account “the way Hitler was treated when he was young affected the way he turned out as an adult.”
By another account Hitler hated his father, who wanted him to become a civil servant when Hitler had his heart set on being a great artist. This disagreement between father and son would “become the source of a virulent resentment and of an attitude of rejection that would change the young man’s life forever.”
For which, one might dare to add, six million Jews would pay the supreme price!
Quite obviously our earlier cited, doubtless well-intentioned local pundit was only half correct when he spoke in effect of the phoenix rising from the ashes of deprivation. For indeed it’s not so much where a man or woman came from that matters—but what they came from!
Research has proved over and over that the child is indeed the father of the man. How a child is raised will more often than not determine how he later conducts himself, whether as a banker, a prime minister, a nurse, a teacher, a senator or a monarch of all he surveys.
Recently, when a concerned local mother protested a school’s decision not to permit her son to join his classmates until he had cut his hair to the regulation length, the public speculation had less to do with the mother’s constitutional rights than with her fitness as a mother. Few of her holier-than-thou, scripture-spewing critics mentioned a similar situation at the same school several years earlier that had ended in court with no resulting verdict.
No one cared to recall another situation, when a young boy was taken away from a court-declared “unfit mother” and transferred to the monster incubator officially called the Massade Boys Training School—a misnomer as ironic as it is gross. Not long after he arrived at the institution the boy was unaccountably roasted alive in a locked cell.
As I write another mother is making news, this time for the way she had chosen to protest the state treatment of her daughter by a bullying schoolmate.
The inside word is the child may soon be taken away from her “unfit mother” and placed in the care of a foster home, by some accounts a retaliatory reaction by officials to her less than polite references to a particular government minister.
Meanwhile there is little discussion about the possible reasons for the affronted mother’s demonstrated distrust, her obvious frustration, or the fact that our courts are grossly undermanned and dysfunctional, consequently in no position to deliver justice, delayed or otherwise.
I am here reminded of Rosa Parks, who was harshly criticized even by abused fellow blacks for the way she had chosen to take on the racist officials of her segregationist community. I am reminded, too, of Martin Luther King Jr, whose fellow church leaders had turned on him—and all but endorsed his incarceration at a Birmingham jail—for involving himself in matters not directly affecting his congregation.
I could go on proving only the deaf and stupid and suicidal among us would feign writer’s block when all around us there is so much crying out to be exposed to serious analysis and protested in the strongest fashion—related unjust laws be damned.
We should not leave it yet again to others to write our history; we should be recording it ourselves as we live it, on a daily basis, accompanied by thorough analysis. It’s not nearly enough to read out press releases from the public relations departments of the police, the government and other institutions accountable to the public.
It’s horrible enough that most of what we know about our slave ancestors was written from the perspectives of their enslavers. Let us not continue to repeat the past.
Let us instead remember that once a philosopher, twice a pervert!
Editor’s Note: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a 1975 American film directed by Milos Forman, based on the 1962 novel of the same name by Ken Kesey, and starring Jack Nicholson. The story centers on particular activities at a mental institution.