May 29, 2006

Liming in Cyberspace

I am relatively new to blogging. In fact, I only began in December 2005 when my daughter, who has been blogging for at least five years now, suggested that I begin. Since then, I have written about 100 posts. On April 6, 2005, I began using Site Meter and I’ve recorded 1,100 visitors or 25 visitors per day from at least twenty countries (see Fig 1). Of course, when a blogger such as Maud Newton barely mentions my site (192 hits in one day), web traffic increases exponentially. On Saturday, since I began preparing this post, the site now has an average of 29 visitors--this does not take into account the Memorial Day weekend (readerships usually falls on the weekend) and 60% of my visitors originate in the US (Fig.1) From the statistics alone, it is clear that blogging provides exposure, but it also gives me access to ideas, and a sense of community.

Without exposure a writer might as well give up. My publisher, Peepal Tree Press, has a limited (more like zero) PR budget, so when one of my books, Benjamin, my son, is reviewed by The Daily Gleaner, Caribbean Beat, or The Caribbean Writer, I am always grateful because my book is in competition with other books from the publishing conglomerates in London and New York. In a way, blogging provides the kind of exposure that Caribbean Voices, produced by Henry Swanzy, gave writers such as Sam Selvon, George Lamming, VS Naipaul, Kamau Brathwaite, and Sam Selvon. According to George Lamming, “Swanzy was a struggling writer’s dream.” And although an individual blogger does not have the authority of Caribbean Voices, when a site such as Global Voices links to one of my posts (87 hits in one day), then my site gains an aura of respectability--something which is vitally important to peoples of the Caribbean who still look to “official” sources for information.

But blogging bypasses the gatekeepers of Caribbean culture who control the importation of books and publicity*. If the gatekeepers don’t import the books (for whatever their reasons) or a writer cannot even garner copy beside the Star’s Hottie for the Week, then many people, who have scant regard for anything “local,” conclude that your work “cyaan good,” and then “dawg eat yu supper.” This is the Goliath that each writer/blogger faces because we are always being asked, “Who the hell do you think you are?”

Blogging alaso challenges the elitism that pervades the Caribbean and is a great experiment in the democratization of data. To be sure, a digital divide exists, but anyone with access to a computer and an email address can set up an account at Blogger and become a blogger. It’s that easy. This is very disturbing to some people, who as Bob Marley once said, “Still want to divide the people. But how can they divide the people when them don’t have four foot?” It should be noted that early in his career, Bob faced similar problems with exposure from the gatekeepers of the record industry. He couldn’t get any airplay on the radio stations and a highly respected Caribbean bandleader once said that he would never play reggae because it was ghetto music. Of course, when Chris Blackwell began producing Bob Marley and the Wailers, then everybody was convinced that it had to be great because the music was being produced in England. Similarly, the careers of Lamming, Brathwaite, Walcott, and Naipaul (who are great writers by any standard), would have taken different paths had it not been for Caribbean Voices which gave them the exposure with the authority of the BBC behind them. To be honest, Caribbean Voices was produced by the BBC because of their commitment to Commonwealth culture that continues to this day, but the level of attention during the fifties was also due to colonial guilt. That guilt has now disappeared and many of us now have to depend upon the “kindness of strangers” because our own governments/ countries cannot (will not?) support activities in the arts. This is not only because of limited budgets, but limited minds. Blogging provides the kind of freedom that is anathema to many gatekeepers who want to control the flow of information throughout the Caribbean.

To get the official news about the Caribbean, I read the Miami Herald, Daily Gleaner, Jamaica Observer and sometimes the Trinidad Guardian, but I read even more assiduously the blogs written by Mad Bull, Guyana Gyal, Jono’s Blog, Francis Wade, Nalo Hopkinson, Tobias Buckell, and Caribbean Beat. I get viewpoints that I normally would not have thought about while living in Miami, Florida or from reading the Miami Herald. The gatekeeper syndrome is also present here. If I want to know what’s really happening in Guyana, then I won’t read the Gleaner, Guardian or Observer, I will read Guyana Resource Center or Guyana Gyal. For there is a certain purity in blogging (at least with my blogging) that is very liberating,

No one could pay me (what am I saying?) to do this. Let me explain. If I sit down to write a poem, short story or novel, once I reach the revision stage, I have Walcott, Brathwaite, Scott, and Naipaul, breathing on my neck and saying, “No, boy, don’t do that! No wonder nobody wants to read your work!” But blogging is a candid, public transmission of private thoughts--which also raises a host of legal, moral and ethical issues that are too broad for the scope of this post. But if I want real information about a writer’s life, I can go to Nalo’s site or if I want to know about the practical aspects of a writer’s life, I click on Tobias Buckell’s site. Or if I want to join a public conversation about the West Indian canon or Caribbean genius, I visit Caribbean Beat. For just as our list of Favorites on browsers gives us a picture of our preoccupations and the shape of our minds, so do our links. A cursory glance at the links that I provide on my site should tell you about my interests: Caribbean, literature, music, and politics which sometimes takes me out of the Caribbean to sites such as John Dufresne, Moorish Girl, Valve, Bookslut, Literary Saloon, and many others that I provide on my web page and blog space. For I am also a teacher and I take that role very seriously. In the Caribbean, we don’t have any way to share what we’ve learned and we’ve reinvented the wheel too many times in
the Caribbean. By now in terms, the wisdom that luminaries such as CLR James, Leonard "Tim" Hector, and Rex Nettleford, have given us, we should be driving a Caribbean “Rolls Royce.” Instead we are driving Cowrollas. Blogging provides instant access to ideas that can be expanded upon, discussed, cussed, and reviewed. In many ways, blogs could be called a digital place for “liming.”

And we love “liming” in the Caribbean. Governments have fallen because of “liming” sessions. Poems, short stories, and novels have been born during “liming” sessions, for it is not a space not only for su-su, but a meeting place to "suss" out ideas. “Liming” creates or is supported by a community. For example, in Struie, Jamaica, if you wanted to hear about herbs and medicines, you would go to an old lady named, Miss Pin Pin who regularly held court on her verandah. Similarly if I want to read a down-to-earth conversation about The Da Vinci Code without any literary doublespeak, I go to Mad Bull’s Blog. Or if I want a fresh perspective on business in the Caribbean, I go to Francis Wade’s, Chronicle from a Caribbean Cubicle. The comments sections on these blogs also allow visitors to speak their mind on taboo subjects such as homosexuality. Global Voices and Caribbean Beat provide necessary conversation about literature, arts, and culture in the Caribbean. For while we are known for our music, sprinters, and drug dealers, very little is known about our literature and culture. And artists, like the griots in West Africa whose work is shaped by call and response, need feedback in the form of book reviews. A reviewer should be someone who has read widely and reads closely. And although the criticism is still subjective, it is a means for evaluating one’s work. For example, after Bob Marley released Natty Dread and Rastaman Vibration and the death threats came because he was being “too revolutionary,” he produced Kaya (which had songs such as “Running Away” and “She’s Gone”) and when he heard that he had gone “too soft” with Kaya, he came back with Survival. Here was an interaction between an artist and his audience that altered his work and had beneficial results. His work was appreciated within an audience of listeners—a community, if you will.

Blogging may just be the solution to the lack of connectedness, exposure, access, and community that has arisen out of the African and Caribbean diaspora. As Chris Blackwell said in an interview, “The key is to find yourself a place that has got some soul. If you find yourself a place like that, then you get yourself totally plugged in. It's never been possible before but now it is possible. You can work from a place that is meaningful to you. Technology makes a joke of geography." We may settle in places that will support us emotionally and financially, but with blogging we may be able to turn around Swanzy’s famous opening lines to Caribbean Voices and say, “World, this is the Caribbean calling.”


I don’t know if it’s been bad luck or karmic retribution, but somehow my name (I can understand the misspelling) usually get’s chopped from copy. As a friend of mine remarked, “Is who fa white fowl you kill?” I don’t know, but if it takes a sea bath at Falmouth to shake this off, then I’m ready for it.

Jamaican cowrolla

The Toyota Cowrolla picture was sent to me by my sister. The source is unknown.
The pre-liming picture is from Caribbean Tales


Geoffrey Philp said...

Give thanks, Abeni!

Anonymous said...

Hello Geoffrey

We really enjoyed your piece, and hope you don't mind that we have posted excerpts links at our blog.

We will also be putting a permanent link to your blog on our sidebar list so we can get to you more easily on our morning rounds.

Thanks for your good work.

Shona, Marcus, Robert, Cliverton
Barbados Free Press

Geoffrey Philp said...

Dear Shona, Marcus, Robert, Cliverton,
I don't mind at all. I really appreciate the exposure that Barbados Free Press and others have given me.