by Guilie Castillo-Oriard
In 2011 I quit my job in the financial industry to “be a writer,” and everyone thought I’d gone mad. “Burnout,” they whispered.
In all honesty, they weren’t that far off; six years of twelve-hour days does take a toll. But, appearances notwithstanding, this wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment thing. None of my colleagues—no one here in Curaçao, only a scant few in Mexico—had any way of knowing that my journey into writing had begun three decades earlier (and would, in fact, involve actual travel).
The very first thing I wrote was a Christmas story. I was eight. It was a school competition of some sort. I can’t remember the plot (and I admit to a certain amount of relief there are no surviving copies), but it involved a family of swallows (and, probably, much gratuitous heart-string pulling). No one was more surprised than me when I received the first prize; I remember feeling an embarrassed sort of exhilaration as I stepped up to the podium to accept—what was it? a certificate, a piece of paper long lost and forgotten, never framed or showcased in any way. No need; the moment had been enough. At the tender age of eight I had been marked, taken in ownership by the white-hot branding iron of storytelling success, and there was no turning back.
They liked what I wrote.
Storytelling was my gateway. For a very long time, writing, for me, would be about telling a story. It would take me years to discover language—the power of putting words together just so, so that, all of a sudden and (best of all) without warning, the alchemy of meaning sparks into life. But back then it was the sorcery of disappearing into make-believe that hooked me.
I ransacked my father’s extensive library; I read everything, books as diametrically varied as Don Quixote and Emmanuelle II. I read history and fantasy and cheap novels and Hemingway and Sartre. I stayed up late with a flashlight under the covers. Teachers confiscated the books I hid between lap and desk.
And I wrote and wrote: diaries, journals, endless ‘novels’ that never made it past Chapter 3. I wanted to tell stories, stories like the ones I was reading, stories that would make people laugh and cry and feel… but I had no one around to tell me the magic wasn’t in the telling but in the constructing. No one, except the books themselves. And I fell so deeply into the thrall of the stories that I forgot to—didn’t even think to—analyze structure, arcs, character development, management of backstory, nuances of plot; the stories I read worked (mostly), the ones I wrote didn’t (mostly), and I knew it. I just didn’t know enough to see why.
Do you remember that time, long, long ago, when phone lines could ‘cross’ and you’d find yourself listening to someone else’s conversation? One day, when I was maybe eighteen, I was talking to someone and suddenly I was talking to someone else. My call had dropped, this guy’s call had dropped, and—because life works in mysterious ways—we struck up a conversation. When I had to go, Ernesto—that was his name—asked if he could call me again. Why not, I said. I’ll need your number, though, he said.
He called every few days, and we talked—and talked, and talked. My writing must have come up at some point, though I have no memory of what I said or what he asked, because about a year later—we still hadn’t met, although we lived in the same city—he called with a mission. “A friend of mine is starting a writers’ group,” he said. “I told him about you, and he’d really like to meet you.”
Yes, of course I went—got to meet Ernesto, too—and landed smack in the center of a budding writer’s dream: I found myself a member of a group of young adults (‘teenagers’ sounds so amateurish) who started the city’s first literary magazine. It was called Tinta Seca (‘Dry Ink’ in Spanish), and it put out its last issue in February 2015.
I was only part of it for maybe three years—but they were glorious years. I was in print! I sat at the big-people table the day the magazine was launched. I got to read one of my poems (at a microphone!) to an audience of literati and press with clicking cameras. I was consulted for content and layout issues. I met artists I’d only seen in museums, authors I’d only seen in print. And, less ego-stroking but more edifying, I had an assembly of like-minded individuals (read geeks) to provide example and stimulation. I began straying from the ‘mainstream’ into the uncharted realm of possibility. None of my experiments earned recognition (nor did they deserve to)—but who cared? I had discovered the craft.
It wasn’t meant to be, though. Not then. Not yet. My father died, and with him the bubble of financial security I’d lived in until then. College was out of the question; I had to earn a living, I had to do it now, and I couldn’t do it via writing. And so began the two fallow decades of write-less existence. I didn’t abandon the dream, I just postponed it: one day, when I retired, I would write.
Travel. And with travel came the stories—and the urge, again, to tell them. Yes, I do hold Curaçao responsible for my return to writing. I came to the island originally for six months; that was thirteen years ago. Why did I stay? Because something here—the diversity? the contrasts? burnout?—provoked in me not just a rekindling of the storytelling monkey but the carpe diem understanding that stories, like dreams, wait for no one.
Guilie Castillo-Oriard is a Mexican writer and dog rescuer living in Curaçao. She misses Mexican food and Mexican amabilidad, but the island’s diversity and the laissez-faire attitude (and the beaches) are fair exchange. Her work has appeared online and in print. Her first book, The Miracle of Small Things, was published in August 2015 by Truth Serum Press. She blogs about life and writing at Quiet Laughter and about life and dogs at Life In Dogs.