The Top 5 Reasons Why I Blog
The following article was part of a writing workshop "Paths to Publication" hosted by Janell Agyeman and the Florida Center for Literary Arts at Miami Dade College, Wolfson Campus on July 8, 2008.
The Top 5 Reasons Why I Blog
“A man’s work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.”
Blogging Extends Storytelling
Blogging and storytelling go hand in hand.
Just below the masthead of my blog is the phrase, “Every blog is telling a story. What’s your story?” I really believe that, and blogging is definitely a part of my storytelling.
My blog is an extension of the non-fiction narratives about my identities (husband, father, son, brother, teacher, writer), my life within my communities (Jamaica, South Florida and the Caribbean) and my concerns (the dilemmas facing fatherless children in the Caribbean, the disruptive effects of the Jamaican Diaspora on family and community life, and the spiritual and political dimensions of Reggae and the Rastafari movement). And I apply the same principles of writing as I do when I am working in other genres: inspiration, selection, distillation, and revision.
I also practice three important parts of storytelling:
Capturing the reader’s attention
Maintaining the reader’s interest
Creating a resolution
The main difference between blogging and other forms of storytelling is the openendedness of blogging. At least for now my blog does not have an ending, so the narrative (while it does have certain themes) is episodic. This is an idea that I have been pursuing in my hypertext novel, Virtual Yardies, which uses a series of connected blogs to tell a story about a group of Jamaican bloggers who are being murdered one-by-one by a religious maniac who threatens to “kill all battymen and fornicators.”
Blogging is merely another means of expressing ideas, some of which should only be expressed through a non-fiction narrative.
Increases Sense of Autonomy
I really hate the word “submit.” It sounds too much like begging. I also hate work that has no integrity.
One of the things that annoys me is when I see and hear commercials with Jah-Fake-an accents and Jah-Fake-an actors. And this has been going on now for at least thirty years. We have worked too hard and suffered too much for our voices to be abused by people who have no respect for our culture. Jamaica has a particular sound, a particular rhythm, a particular world view that is expressed through the people. And just as a visual artist must be true to the light that she is trying to capture, a storyteller must be true to the accents, the particular way that stories are told within her culture. Without that consideration, the work loses its integrity.
This is one of the problems that Bob Marley, whom I consider to be the quintessential example of the "reggae aesthetic," faced and overcame through the formation of his own recording label, Tuff Gong. Through his company, Bob released songs such as "Jah Live" and “Simmer Down” which at the time of the recording were thought to have limited commercial appeal and therefore unsuitable for Island Records.
Bob as a Rastafari was merely following the example of Marcus Garvey who preached a gospel of self-reliance, and to back up his word gave seed money through the UNIA to many small businesses during the Harlem Renaissance. If Garvey could have had his way, every black family would have owned a small business.
This is the legacy that I inherited and for a writer like me who grew up in post-Independence Jamaica, I view it as my responsibility to capture the way that Jamaicans tell stories. It’s like the music. The reader has to suspend his or her beliefs of “what is” in order to encounter a different reality that is only a fingertip away. Because the stories are different.
The stories are not burdened by the “double-consciousness” of African-American fiction or the glamorized view of the “islands” with happy-go-lucky natives who at the drop of a hat will break out into, “Day-O, Mi say Day-O, daylight come and mi waan go home.” As Mervyn Morris said in “Valley Prince”: “my world/ don' go so, that is lie.”
But an artist must eat and we live in a world of traders, many of whom live in the capitals that try to silence other sounds or they only want to listen to their versions of what they consider to be the “island sound.” It’s like how they try to pass of “Electric Avenue” or “Caribbean Queen” on cruise liners as authentic reggae.
So, I continue to submit my work to editors, many of whom have a cookie cutter template in their minds about what represents “island culture” and if the work doesn’t match that template, then the work isn’t published. I’ve even encountered some of the criticism that my friend Preston Allen has gotten—that the characters aren’t black enough.
But writing is about persistence, and throughout my writing career, even though I’ve frequently received handwritten rejection slips from editors: “This is well-written, but it doesn’t meet our needs,” I’ve continued to publish in many venues.
I’ve published poems and short stories with Peepal Tree Press, self-published with I-Universe (Twelve Poems and A Story for Christmas), and then, formed my own company, Mabrak Books. LLC when I self published Grandpa Sydney’s Anancy Stories. I am also one of the few Caribbean writers whose work has been anthologized in both the Oxford Book of Caribbean Short Stories and Oxford Book of Caribbean Verse.
Blogging changes the equation with publishing and allows us to take some of our power back. As I stated in an early post, Liming in Cyberspace”: “blogging bypasses the gatekeepers of Caribbean culture who control the importation of books and publicity.”
And the gatekeepers are real. Children of Sisyphus, a cornerstone of Caribbean fiction, was once banned in Jamaica.
Blogging also allows me to publish work that I think is good, but has been rejected elsewhere: “Warner Woman.”
This does not mean, however, that I’ve given up on other publishing outlets. I still publish short stories in Avocado and poems in Canopic Jar. Later this summer, The Caribbean Writer will publish two of my poems, “Erzulie’s Daughter” and “Poetry Woman,” as well as a review of There is an Anger That Moves by Kei Miller.
We’re in the Middle of a Revolution
As a teacher and writer, this has had enormous implications. One of these its that many minority and women writers who were already marginalized with print media, may now disappear from the literary landscape.
There is an African proverb that says, “When an elder dies, a library burns to the ground.” I've seen too many libraries burn without a memorial to their passing.
And I didn’t see anyone else doing it, so I’ve had to learn new ways of preserving voices and images of my literary elders who have been important to my development as a writer. According to Google, I’ve become an authority on these topics:
“Mass Man” by Derek Walcott
“Epitaph” by Dennis Scott
“Colonial Girls’ School” by Olive Senior
“Little Boy Crying” by Mervyn Morris
And there are two images (Dennis Scott & Anthony McNeill) and one podcast (Ramabai Espinet) of which I am extremely proud because they either didn’t exist or were extremely rare.
Ramabai Espinet's reading is one of the many podcasts that I’ve done of important Caribbean writers whose work needs to be preserved and I’m glad that my blog has played a part in preserving a small part of our cultural heritage. And now that I’ve moved in video, who knows what the future will hold.
Blogging Creates Community
Besides being activity in which only free people can truly participate, blogging has created a worldwide community of readers. In the nearly two and a half years of its existence, my blog has had over 84,000 visitors, and this has been due to the existence of blog aggregators such as Global Voices and other bloggers such as Maud Newton and Dave Lucas. Some readers stay for a few seconds and some stay for as long as an hour. Sometimes two. Some are from as far away as India and some as near as North Miami Beach.
This has had enormous advantages. Through my blog, here a few of the things I’ve been able to do:
Advertised my books
Kept in contact with my readers
Made contact with literary groups and organizations
Showcased the work of Caribbean and South Florida writers
Published announcements for literary events and workshops
Alerted writers to opportunities for publication
In addition, I've met a few blog friends (Rethabile Masilo, Fragano Ledgister, Nalo Hopkinson, Stephen Bess, Kyra Hicks, Guyana, Professor Zero, MadBull, Jamaican Dawta and Crafty Green Poet). We comment on each other’s posts and offer constructive criticism--a sort of writers roundtable on the Net.
Also, the publication of Grandpa Sydney’s Anancy Stories would not have been possible without the invaluable input of Rethabile, Stephen, and Kyra, to whom I am eternally indebted.
The ability of other writers and readers to comment on the blog completes the healthy circle of call and response in writing and creativity. You could say that it is InI creating this blog.
Last night, my wife, the family matriarchs, and I watched The Bucket List and I was struck by the Egyptian legend about the two questions you are asked before you can enter heaven:
“Have you found joy in your life?”
“Have you brought joy to others in your life?”
When I was younger, playing football (North Americans call it soccer) gave me an incredible feeling of joy. Playing shirtless down at the Bottom Park in Mona Heights and organizing/creating a play that ended up in a goal for our side made me feel alive.
Now writing gives me joy. Writing is my way of “being in this world” As I said on John Baker’s blog a few months ago, “We write because of the pleasure. We write when no one is looking. We write even when the world is sleeping. To mangle Gertrude Stein's aphorism: A writer is a writer is a writer.”
Writing and blogging are synonymous with the pleasure I get from observing an idea move from the unmanifest to the manifest. The big difference between blog and writing in other fora is that I don’t have to wait six months to a year to see something in print. Once a piece of writing has met my standards of excellence, I will post it.
I dream it, write it, publish it and it’s done. It's free to take on a life of its own with my other creations, which I hope have given others joy.
(I'm still working on bringing joy to my family, friends, and especially my students.)
Blogging has also increased my sense of discovery and I’ve learned about RSS so that readers can subscribe to the blog, and basic html to create my own favicon.And there’s always more to learn from other blogs such as Darren Rowse, Peter Chen, or Liz Strauss.
As a lifelong learner, I couldn’t ask for more.
***For more photos of this event, please follow this link: Paths to Publication
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