We who travel between the caves know this, but what we convey is rarely trusted within the caves of others only because they have grown accustomed to what they think that they can do, what they may be limited by – physically, socially, economically – so they do not trust easily people who fall into their caves.
They are the victims of possibility. And we are the victims of them.
The Internet is a strange place, largely because it’s not a place. As a society we reference it as a place because that’s how we’re used to referencing things with addresses.
It makes things easier.
There are ways in which it is like a place – a separate country, born of optimistic ideas that re-awaken every now and then, increasingly divorced from the reality that is there if only so that we can hope that one day we can change that reality. Because if we change reality, we might somehow matter. We want to matter, some of us more than others, but we all want to matter.
Whether we do or don’t matter really doesn’t matter. Whether we think we do or don’t matter really does matter only because it’s about how we view ourselves. And how should we view ourselves?
The Internet has changed that. I’ve seen it happen so far, and I’m certain it will continue changing it one way or another.
As it happens, I got here by looking for old links of some of my writing. They are gone.
For less than a heartbeat, I was disappointed. My writing over the years on various sites, from BrainBuzz.com (later CramSession.com) to WorldChanging.com has disappeared into the ether – some words rewritten in book form by others. My own site, the domain that has been around the longest, suffered a hosting error circa 2005 that it never recovered from.
I, however, did.
And it’s all good. I smiled at that, knowing that much of what I wrote was dated and didn’t matter anymore. We scribble these notes to nowhere and let them loose in the hope that they find a home – maybe they do, maybe they don’t.
This medium lacks the longevity of stone tablets. With every increase of technology, our words become more susceptible to time – a balance, perhaps, with the amount of effort it takes to reach a wider audience. Tapping away here at 4 a.m., having effortlessly stayed up the night thinking about such things, I am fine with this mortality of prose.
Were I to spend time etching in stone, it would last longer – I would write less. And yet, in writing less we sometimes write more.
Those broken links are a salvation of sorts. They were practice for me to become better, to think things through, to etch more carefully into the ultimate medium – the mind.
It is there that we can defy this mortality of words – a necessary aspect of our being. Only the good things should last, only the good things are worth keeping.
Dreams are ethereal for a reason. They do not belong here.
What we do with those wisps of dream is all that matters – and sometimes it means broken links in the stream of a consciousness that our society dares not master.
Here’s the thing: I don’t really know what I’m doing with it, so it has it’s own life. A strange one at that. And I don’t really care too much since I’m focusing on writing these days.
It’s a work in progress that has already taught me a lot. For example, despite having at least twice as many posts, KnowProSE.com articles tend to get more traffic because of the material. Let’s face it, what I write on RealityFragments isn’t for everyone – it’s not nearly as focused.
And strangely, the Facebook page has allowed me a certain amount of freedom. A certain anonymity, and it certainly has gotten more shares than my own network has had. I seem to attract people who don’t like sharing, which is fodder for another post in the future.
So far, after stepping back after more focused writing for about a week:
(1) For KnowProSE.com and TechNewsTT (the OpEds), my general rule of thumb is, “If it’s not being written about and it bugs me, I should write something about it.”
(2) For life, the universe and everything posts, I write them here on RealityFragments.
(3) As I write more, I actually share less often.
The last one – because people may think I only write what I post on one site or the other – is about the writing I do offline, unpublished so far. This is because I’m seriously focusing on my writing.
People have ideas about creativity and most of them aren’t very creative. Others are creative but impractical. And so here I am, considering how to create my own creative space.
Given the opportunity has finally arisen to do it, I find it a daunting task. Sure, you can design something you like today – but tomorrow it may not be that great. Longevity is an issue.
And then there’s the part of me that also understands that a space by itself doesn’t generate creativity. I’m a big fan of motion, myself – a drive, a walk, a run, a swim, anything where I move around and things, therefore, move around me. A camera is good for that, circling around to get a nice shot… and so it is with writing. So it is with any creativity.
And then we get to the people we surround ourselves with. There are those that stimulate us for short periods, there are those that challenge us and make us grow for longer periods.
So, I have ideas of how I’m going to handle this creative space… and the main idea is not to plan it, and to fumble through it as I go along.
The world is filled with phrases like, “Do what you love and the money will come.”
Maybe that works for some people. I know it doesn’t work for everyone, and a large number of people I know do what they love, but they also do what they must.
The world we live in is one where the majority of people do what they must. That person behind the cash register at that fast food place? I’d bet that they’d be willing to do something else that they loved more, if they could only get paid for it. And that person bagging your groceries? That’s not something many people aspire to, but they do it. Passionate trash collectors do exist, but they’re rare. That plumber that has to clear that toilet for you probably wishes that they were out fishing for fish instead.
Telling people to do what they love is irresponsible in this way. You have to do what you must.
Back in the 1990s, I was restarting my career as a software engineer after the Navy – I got a great job. I also wrote, and I read my own poetry at a few places – good places. I was encouraged, which is healthy – but one man, a jaded boxer of a man, pulled me aside and told me that I couldn’t do both… that I couldn’t be both a software engineer and a writer, that both would consume me. He wasn’t wrong.
But with bills and responsibilities that, in retrospect, weren’t really mine but were labors of love – I had to choose to do what I had to do. I chose to do what I must. Were it just me, I probably would have focused solely on writing, a passion of mine that I would willingly have sacrificed myself for – but not others. Every time I turned around, someone else’s bill needed to be paid, someone needed a car, someone needed help with college, someone… and so, it wasn’t just me. So I did what I had to do, and stayed on the software engineering side of things, making the money while I could, writing as I could.
In all, I ended up doing a lot of things I didn’t like over the years. I don’t know anyone who has lived a full life who hasn’t had to do things that outright sucked. I don’t know anyone of worth that did what they loved alone.
No, everyone does as they must… until the day they can afford to do what they love.
My personal thoughts on citizenship seems to be an outlier. The idea that a person can belong to one country by accident of where they were pushed or dragged out of a uterus seems strange. It seems peculiar.
It seems wrong. I was born in one city in one country. I left there when I was three and have been in motion ever since. People ask me where I’m from – well, I got out of the uterus there, but that says nothing about me other than where my mother happened to be.
We get tagged with the hard part of the change, the painful part – the part mothers never really let their children forget. We don’t count where someone was conceived – the hopefully fun part – where two people mixed their zygotes to form a human.
That pain just keeps giving. Not born somewhere you want to go? Get a passport from the nation you were dropped off in, get a visa, wait for the TSA to look all that over as well as a lovely scan of your body. Don’t leave those shoes on. Granted, travel wasn’t always that hard if you could avoid it, with the exception of people who had to make those journeys in chains.
All of this got dredged up because of a lot of heated conversations I’ve had in the past day since the passing of Sir VS Naipaul, a man who was born in a colony of the British Empire, that later became Trinidad and Tobago after – well, let’s face it – the UK got bored with their colonies. A few nations became nations after overthrowing a foreign power, Trinidad and Tobago is not one of them.
And I think – after having traveled, lived in some different countries and traveled to many more… I think after you hit a certain point in traveling, nationality becomes a thing you are tasked with. When I think of people, I tend to think of them globally. I don’t drag up where they were born, where they lived for so many years – that may be a part of their identity, but it’s certainly not their entire identity and it’s sort of insulting to think otherwise. That’s sort of like being prejudiced, isn’t it?
Of course it’s being prejudiced. The Greeks called anyone not from Greece a barbarian.
We live in a world now that, even if we pick up all the trash in a small part of the world – let’s say, the Caribbean – it doesn’t matter that much, there’s not that much of an impact unless the rest of the world is doing it. Ocean currents, winds, etc – these things don’t care about which country you’re in. Economies, too, are breaking through in this.
We are global citizens, whether we are consumed with nationalist pride or patriotism – a thin line between the two – or not. At least while we’re on this planet, anyway.
The news yesterday was that Sir VS Naipaul had passed away. Only the day before I had been in West Mall, in North Trinidad, and had glanced at some of his books. ‘Soon’, I thought, since my reading stack is larger than my time to read these days.
When I first got published, I went around to my father’s siblings and got almost the same response every single time.
“VS Naipaul is your uncle, you know. It’s in your genes.”
It was very matter of fact, dismissive and as supportive as I would find could be expected from my family. I retorted every time, “My mother is a writer too.” All of them nodded quietly, dismissively, and went on with their lives.
Clearly, I kept writing. After all, if he’s my Uncle and that’s their logic to dismiss that accomplishment, all the cousins I know and all the cousins I don’t know also have him as an Uncle. In fact, a lot of people in Trinidad and Tobago are related to him. None that I know of, including myself, actually knew him. He didn’t help me with my homework, or give me a talking-to when I needed it.
To me, Sir VS Naipaul was simply a literary character that existed in the minds of others. Over the course of the years, I read a few of his books. I was told some of his history and life by someone who knew of him and might have met him a few times as a child.
This is the core of the issue I consider when people in Trinidad and Tobago try to claim Sir VS Naipaul. Here’s this author who had the opportunity to leave Trinidad and Tobago with British citizenship. He did. He did well with it. Would he have done as well were he in Trinidad and Tobago? Probably not. He traveled, he lived his life, and that was that.
What did Trinidad and Tobago do for him to get him where he was? And Trinidad and Tobago tried to give him a prize that he declined, which further stirred some negative sentiment. And yet, the Trinidad he left was very different, a Trinidad under British rule. Why wouldn’t he leave given the opportunity? To this day, people still aspire to leave.
My paternal grandmother’s brother, Ram Singh, was this source. So he told me of his memories of the Lion House, of his few meetings with this literary character. That was kind of boring, really, because he didn’t have much to say on the topic other than, “He was always upstairs writing.”
And that’s all I really know. I do know that of the books of his I’ve read, they were good. He didn’t write the sort of things I enjoyed reading, and the Internet will be full enough of his praises.
What I do like about him is that he did what he did on his own, despite what others said or did. And, through references to him, I got to hear more about a very different Trinidad and Tobago. People like Uncle Ram would tell me about how they would ride to Carlsen Field on bicycles to get chewing gum from the U.S. Army base, from well-intentioned soldiers through the fence. He laughed about that when he told me, even as I thought of a poor East Indian boy on a bicycle begging at a fence at a U.S. military installation. I’ve been on the other side of those fences.
It was a very different Trinidad and Tobago. A pre-Independence era, a post WWII era. Rations. Bicycle licenses. Things that they never teach of in school.
In turn, I spoke with Great Uncle John – my paternal grandfather’s friend. In his 90s at the time, he had served as the Master-at-Arms at the Chaguramas base, had been involved in politics in a small way right after Independence… he had met his wife when he was out patrolling on an Estate… and she was washing clothes in the river. I learned a lot by simply listening to him – about how there was so much water at Chaguramas, so many wells, and that the country had water. A man of few words, I would simply sit there and listen to someone who was happy to have someone there to talk to. There was a time he was working in Port of Spain and missed the last taxi, so he walked to Chaguanas through the canefields, got home at sunrise, showered and went back to work by taxi again.
There are many colorful stories, many literary characters, but right now everyone’s concerned about Sir VS Naipaul – about what he wrote, about how he wrote it, about why he wrote it… just like any other author. In the end, yes, geographically he was from an island in the Caribbean that was then under British rule, and he went on to do great things.
But it wasn’t for him to make Trinidad and Tobago better. It wasn’t for him to make Trinidad and Tobago more recognized for literature – in this regard, he stands largely alone and as a borrowed literary figure that left Trinidad and Tobago long ago, from a different era, who made his own way as so many others who leave Trinidad and Tobago do. Everyone wants to claim the successes, no one wants to claim the failures.
Einstein noted this sort of thing himself:
If my theory of relativity is proven successful, Germany will claim me as a German and France will declare that I am a citizen of the world. Should my theory prove untrue, France will say that I am a German and Germany will declare that I am a Jew.
– Albert Einstein.
(Address to the French Philosophical Society at the Sorbonne (6 April 1922); French press clipping (7 April 1922) [Einstein Archive 36-378] and Berliner Tageblatt (8 April 1922) [Einstein Archive 79-535])
There are many literary characters running around Trinidad and Tobago. Sir VS Naipaul was one of them during the British era, but not after.