February 26, 2007

In My Own Words: Opal Palmer Adisa

Jamaican writer Opal Palmer AdisaAlways there was judgment, about how you looked, about what you did or didn't do, about your very existence. Mostly the judgment was condemning, filtered through very narrow and warped Judeo-Christian lens about good and bad, right and wrong. It was quick and potentially deadly--like a dry coconut falling off the tree hitting someone in the head or as bitter as susumba eaten without salt.

Before my adolescence, I always riled against this attitude that seemed so prevalent in Jamaica. To want to be different was to set oneself up to be judged and even more devastating, to be ridiculed and reproached. I often wondered what was the impetus behind the quick tendency to judge and dismiss; what role did our enslavement, and hundred of years of being told and officially educated that who we were and where we came from was of no significance have to do with our penchant to judge and discard each other?

This collection, these stories are ten odd years in the making – writing. The title, Until Judgment Comes, is both a warning as well as a recognition that these male characters are going to be judged. However, as writer, I am also suggesting to readers that they need not judge these men or their lives because judgment will come in its own time, to both readers and characters. Although I have been working on these stories for ten years, I have been thinking them up for twenty years. When my first collection came out, Bake-Face and Other Guava Stories (1986), I knew that I would write corresponding stories about men--although I didn't think it would take me this long. But I am glad that it took me so long or I would not have met Devon and Sheldon or Ebenezer. Nor would I have been able to write with honesty or through the lens of a parent, who is always working and talking about parenting, at the aberrant--although in some cases, it has become normal and accepted—mother son/relationships that exist in some sectors of our community, and how this inability to mother impacts the lives of these boys as they become men who are sometimes warped and whose anger gets played out as misogyny. Judge not, lest you be judged likewise.

Which is how the role of the old woman in the Teachment sections, the narrative device that connects these stories, came about. The old woman serves as the scale balancer: observant and compassionate. She was reared by her grandfather who schooled her to be open and to refrain from judging others without knowing their pain. She knows all of these men, and invites readers to get to know them through her eyes. She is the conscience of the community and provides respite for both reader and character. She is also the writer's alter ego, allowing me to comment without being heavy-handed. This collection really marks our journey from internalizing the scars of enslavement, which from my understanding and assessment of where we are as a people (not just the Caribbean, but the entire African American and African diaspora), to erasing the scars (the total chaos and wanton, random violence and hatred that emerge in our daily lives and that brings pain to ourselves and to others), to how we find our way back, through meditating on self and community, on love of ourselves, for each other, and to peaceful harmony. We have to stop judging and condemning and pick up true, unconditional love instead.

Until Judgement Comes: Stories About Jamaican Men

ISBN: 1-84523-042-6
Pages: 240
Published: 05 February 2007
Price: £8.99



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