Sunday, 19 December 2010

Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Christmas and New Year Reflections and Music

Self-deluded, indulgent, (over)exposed, arrogant, "inadequate, pimpled and single" (the last three epithets courtesy of Andrew 'Bah, humbug!' Marr of the BBC). When it comes to describing bloggers, there's no shortage of insults to hurl at us. How unfair. And pathetic.

I joined Blogland in 2007. I'd just had an article published in a national newspaper and realised that I didn't have a platform on which to continue to discuss the issues about which I had written. Since my column had been on dance, it was logical to open a forum about this art form. Thus, I spoke to the designer who'd created my website a couple of years before about opening a space for debate, but she told me that online talkboards, fora and blogs cost money. It was then that I discovered blogger.com.

I'd heard about blogs before but wasn't very sure about what to expect from blogger (in the back of my mind I probably had a similar prejudice to Andrew 'Ebenezer' Marr's about online posters). Since it was a free service, I had nothing to lose and in June 2007 (cue drum roll) 'A Cuban In London' was born. The name was not easy to choose. I first thought of a catchy one like 'Our Cuban In London', echoing Graham Greene's Cold War novel. But it'd been such a long time since I'd read about Wormold and his web of deceit that I gave up on the idea almost immediately. Around that time one of the British television channels showed 'An American In Paris' and I knew there and then that I'd found a good alternative for the name of my little online nook. Still doubts kept creeping in. It's all right if your blog has a generic name (including your real one), or a title that is closely related to the issue(s) about which you write. But when you define yourself by your nationality, gender, or political leaning, you might, unintentionally, be courting controversy. After all, what is a Cuban, besides the obvious answer: a person born in Cuba? And in what way, I thought at the time, would I be contributing to people's notions of what my countrywomen and men were like? Then, there was the most important question: what did it mean to be a Cuban in London?

After some weeks of - aimless - blogging, I realised that really and truly, besides dance, I had a lot of topics to write about, issues that I had not even contemplated addressing before, matters that had last been discussed to the soundtrack of an empty bottle of rum rolling down the floor of a desolate school dormitory in the small hours. I'd acquired some experience writing for the now defunct monthly newspaper "Noticias", a publication aimed at the Latin community in London. I had also written a few music and books reviews for websites. I put those skills into practice. Dance was not the only subject on which I could wax lyrical. Cultural, social and the occasional political post could well be woven into my online threads. I'd finally found my blog's mission statement.

And friends. During the first few weeks my comments section looked as arid as the Sahara Desert, but little by little, fellow bloggers arrived. My compadres and comadres from Cuba and other Ibero-Latin countries were the first ones on board. They were quickly followed by a coterie of US-, and later, UK-based posters, who were sometimes acquainted with Cuban culture. Eventually the list of international contributors to my comments section grew enough to resemble an ad for Benetton, not only due to our ethnic mix, my darlings, but also to our glamour. Credit where credit is due (smiles and flutters Penélope Cruz-style eyelashes). These fellow posters gave me the encouragement I needed to go the extra mile, to make an effort.


Online friendships work differently from real, physical ones. I think that on that point we all pretty much agree. But our cyber-social interaction needn't be cold and distant. After all, we (I, at least) do spend an awfully long time in front of my PC, reading posts by fellow bloggers, oohing and aahing at their creative output, or at the songs they upload, or at the images they choose to illustrate a particular topic. This exposure to other like-minded folks, even if it was just from the comfort of my computer, led me, shortly after I began my own journey through Blogland, to shed any vestige of prejudice I still had (attention Andrew 'Scrooge' Marr, you'd do well to heed this message).

This is not to say that there are no bloggers for whom my opening words would be a perfect match (thankfully, none belong to this parish). At the last count there were roughly four million blogs in the UK alone. Many times, I've come across websites that are pure vitriol, or are trying to sell something (quick tip, always check your followers' list), or were last updated when Henry VIII was having his little tussle with the Pope. But what I've also realised is that on Blogland, equal attracts equal and after more than three years as a blogger, I count more successes than failures. I especially single out those who've stuck it out with this space for that long.

There're risks, though, in confusing your online life with your real one (if you notice a cautious tone in my words, it is the guarded Scorpio talking). What happens when your fellow bloggers/regular readers unexpectedly disappear? How is one meant to feel when all of a sudden they stop commenting on your posts? Even worse, what about when you pop by a "mutual friend's" blog and you read his/her comments there? Published after your own column went online? How to react? Whereas in real life friendships can either end abruptly (after an awful fall-out, for instance) or peter out slowly, in the wide web world there's no way to arrest the demise of acquaintanceship. All you have is an empty comments box to mull over. Then the questions begin: was it something I wrote? Have I offended him/her? Human emotions on a virtual medium. We homo sapiens surely know how to keep life interesting.

The second risk is the actual, physical disappearance of a fellow blogger, especially someone who has had a big impact on you, be it because of their writing or the thoughtful comments they leave in the feedback section. I still can't get over the death of fellow blogger Renee, who sadly passed away earlier this year. The pain is as palpable as if it had been a friend in real life.

But as I mentioned before the triumphs outnumber the setbacks. In three and a half years as a blogger, these are some of the issues I've discussed and to which I've been introduced, and the writing/photography/art to which I've been exposed:

- Museums I've always wanted to visit and on whose floors, thanks to the existence of blogs, I've left my virtual footprints.
- Musings and observations on the mysteries of life, written with the linguistic flair of an 19th century écrivain.
- Floristry.
- Disability, awareness of it and its effects.
- Books, music and films reviews and recommendations.
- Multilingualism (a topic in which I have a special interest and which never ceases to generate debate).
- Illustrations (and collaborations with caricaturists).
- Travelogues that have taken me from St Kitts to Belgium, from Greenland to Malaysia, from Mexico to Maine. The list is endless, the writing and images are always superb.
- A network of like-minded Cubans, scattered throughout the world, but united by the same desire to be seen as individuals, rather than being defined by a political figure (well past his use-by date, mind you). Incidentally, my blog has just been featured in a book about the Cuban presence in Cyberland called, 'Buena Vista Social Blog'.
- Epic poems whose lessons are still relevant today.
- Discussions about religion and multiculturalism.
- Serious analyses about literature.
- Well-crafted poems, either prompted by a mischievous magpie (isn't that a case of iteration?) or landing on my virtual lap courtesy of a weekly bus.
- Exploration of the subconscious mind through autobiographical writing.
- Cookery columns.

I could carry on forever, but you probably get the gist: like our real human selves in our real human lives, bloggers come in all forms and guises. I consider myself to be one of the luckier ones for having so many online friends with whom I share similar interests. And for that reason, I raise my glass of (insert name of juice here) to you today. As for Andrew 'Fence-sitter-in-chief-at-the-BBC' Marr, well, Andie boy-o, how to put it into words? You know one of those of things that they give you when you're born, it starts with 'l', it has four letters, ends in 'e', you give it back when you die, and it has a lot of stuff happening in the middle? Well, get one, mate. In the meantime allow me to praise my 'bredrin' and 'sistas' from Blogland. May you all have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Next Post: 'Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music', to be published on Sunday 9th January at 10am (GMT)


47 comments:

  1. Wow! He said that. He said bloggers are "Self-deluded, indulgent, (over)exposed, arrogant, inadequate, pimpled and single"?

    I'm other-deluded, under-indulgent, underexposed, married and according to Maria who knows best...more than adequate. Arrogant, I don't think so. Pimpled? I wish I had pimples. It would confirm I still have enough juices to lubricate my arthritic joints.

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  2. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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  3. So glad you found your place in
    Blogland and even gladder that I took a by-road one day and found you there.

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  4. Cuban, you talk about so many issues that bloggers face! and so many of the pleasures too. I never thought I'd get as much out of blogging as I have, which is one reason why I'm always enthusiastic about blogging and sharing comments with other bloggers, (although there are moments when I'm tired).

    I had no idea that you'd been blogging for over three years! Mate, that's a serious achievement. Congratulations on sticking at this so long and well done on maintaining such quality in your posts throughout that time.

    I'm happy to know you and be your blogger friend. It's been a wonderful experience and I'm looking forward to it continuing in the future.

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

    Jai

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  5. I raise a glass back at you, Senor Cubano in London. It is a pleasure to have met you. Happy Holidays.

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  6. Such a pleasure to have found you and your erudite blog Cuban. Enjoyed reading these reflections on blogging. Any blogger will recognize the experiences and feelings you describe. In the year and a half that I have been blogging I have experienced the death of two fine people I followed: Renee and Barry - and the shocking suicide of another, Cat, whose husband bravely and respectfully informed all followers that she had had chronic pain for years and could take it no more. I, too, have been surprised at the vacancy and toll those losses have left. Thank you for bringing up the topic and making room to mention these fine people here.

    Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and yours.

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  7. And a Merry Christmas and a happy new year to you, too.

    I think it's easy to make too much of the differences between the real and virtual worlds. (This has been a frequent theme of Ernesto Priego's in the past).

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  8. Many thanks to you all for your kind words.

    Theodore, no, he only used the last three. Luckily I was always acne-free during my adolescence. :-)

    Greetings from London.

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  9. oh, Cuban, as I read along, I was half afraid that you were ending your blog or taking another vacation...
    but you are still there, reflecting.. no plans to stop this odd form of communication.
    thank you

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  10. Lo primero mi enhorabuena por lo de Buena Vista Social Blog.
    Después ya decirte que para mí te considero un amigo aunque no nos conozcamos "in person"
    Cuando no entro a visitarte el domingo, enseguida el lunes reparo la falta...
    Me ha ocurrido que tengo buenos amigos en esto de la "blogocosa" ya que empecé hace 5 años y quieras que no, acabas por querer a esas personas que te dicen hermosas palabras. Y como no podía ser de otra manera, al ser perecederos, han muerto algunos y la verdad es que se siente mucho.

    Bueno, que me pongo a charlar y no paro.
    Que te deseo unas felices fiestas y un año nuevo feliz y esperanzador.
    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
    Besos

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  11. Thank you, dear Cuban, for your Christmas Greetings.

    Joy!

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  12. I find it pointless to have a discussion about blogging with non-bloggers. It's like a nomad trying to describe his way of life to a sedentary person. That's why all their adjectives, whether positive or negative, roll off me like water off a duck's back.

    As a fellow blogger, I am very glad to visit your online nook, especially when I get to enjoy music while enjoying a virtual, home-made Cuban meal.

    Happy Christmas to you, Cuban!

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  13. Just to find you in blogland was a treat. Your intelligent voice, your keen observations, you make us proud my fellow countryman.

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  14. You have expertly captured all the complex particulars of blogging. I've found the experience extremely enriching as you have. Felize Navidad Y Prospero Ano!

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  15. Many thanks to you all for your kind feedback. It's also a pleasure of mine to have been introduced to your blogs and to have been given the opportunity to enjoy your creativity.

    I will be offline for the next few days. Unfortunately I'm nursing a mild cold (thanks, son, for the early Xmas pressie! :-D) and won't be logging on until the New Year.

    Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all!

    Greetings from London.

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  16. Ah, even if you're out of sight, I'll still leave a comment, if for no other reason than to prove that I haven't disappeared.

    Cuban, I can't remember how I found you (it might have been Bonnie) and it was definitely the name of your blog that intrigued me. That wouldn't have been enough to keep me, however, so it's thanks to your varied topcis, your excellent writing, your interesting and liberal persepctives, your personable self and, well, because you're a Cuban dancer that I stayed. And I will add that those are only SOME of the reasons.

    Sometimes I just get tired of reading blogs, but not because the ones I read are boring but rather because they require (I like to think) an interaction that I don't always feel capable of. I hate to toss off an 'I love this post!' comment, although often that would be absolutely true. So rather than make the effort to respond, I'll just not go there. Rather stupid, hmm??
    In this comment, I may have made up for the tens of comments I haven't left. At any rate, I did enjoy this post quite a lot, as is always the case chez toi . Wishing you and your little family a very Merry Christmas despite your temporary indisposition, and I look forward to continuing our fraquaintanceship in 2011!

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  17. You are one of my newest blog friends, Cuban, and I am glad I found you. I wish you the best of holidays, and keep warm in coldest London!

    Funny, isn't it, how much we care about comments. Sometimes I mean to comment but just run out of time. Sometimes I find that someone else has written almost exactly what I was going to say. Sometimes a post is full of things to talk about and I can't choose what to comment on in an intelligent way.

    And everything Deborah said!

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  18. A merry Christmas to you.
    I always read your posts, but don't always comment. Your enjoyment and appreciation of the arts and music far, far outweigh my simple likes and reading your reflections afford me much food for thought and even learning.

    A Joyous New Year to you, and Happy Blogging.

    Helen

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  19. Boy oh boy - does this resonate with me! I got smacked across the face for daring to write about the financial problems facing SF's Asian museum, accused of plagiarism for using references and sources which were clearly indicated in the article and ordered to Take. It. Down. When I wrote to the museum for clarification on the article and some back up on what I'd found, I was pointed in the direction of another "official" newspaper article which wasn't as comprehensive as mine. I took the article down as I didn't want any problems but I was (and am) furious! I'm going to post a link to this in my current post on a round of of various things I found interesting - we don't get any respect yet, in many cases, we are the only ones reviewing a variety of arts related things - and doing it with LOVE and KNOWLEDGE and RESPECT - which is more than I can say for a lot of "official critics. " A pox on their houses 1

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  20. Well said! I'm so glad I came across your blog and I can certainly identify with everything you said. Besides, great minds think alike, (I recently wrote a similar kudos to my deep thinkers over at my blog).

    I look forward to reading more from you!

    Happy New Year to A Cuban In London, from this little Puertorriqueña in New York City!



    Best,
    Li
    @LaLicenciada
    @HerDeepThoughts

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  21. Never heard of this Andrew fellow, glad about that!
    It's odd to read about someone dropping one's blog..why, why, why? Who can I ask..was I rude? Stupid? Just ceased to be relevant? Just like waiting for "him" to call! You mean it's over?
    There's more to blogging than the talent, the brilliance, the appreciation..there's a spiritual component that comes through and we can't help that..it's who we are..it's in there!! Always thanks for your bright light!! Happy New Year, BLOGGER!!!!

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  22. Well said! I've found dozens of truly amazing blogs (yours included), that I love to come back to time and time again. Definitely more good than bad in my blogging experience :)

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  23. Amen my brother :) Amen to the dancing spirit within you whose tune is always perfect to dance to, no matter the weather or humour.
    It is always an honour to have a comment left by your erudite self - as I have told you before, it has given my father no end of pride that the Cuban in London reads his daughter :) He loves to tell others this fact!! So sometimes if your ears are burning for no good reason, it is probably Dr Tayabali discussing the merits of blogland because a writer such as yourself inhabits it.
    So take that Andrew Marr!
    And onwards we go, into the New Year, inspite of him.
    Belated Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to come!!

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  24. p.s. Today I had my first comment from Renee's daughter Angelique... it was just lovely to hear from her. I think of Renee so much too, and like you, cannot believe she was here so strongly just a moment ago, and then... maybe she's just playing hide and seek with us.

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  25. My Goodness, you cover so much here, and so elegantly too. I find it fascinating that you are a dancer from Cuba, landed yourself in London and written for a national magazine and was scheming how to broaden your scopes. It all made sense when you mentioned you are a scorpio. I love scorpios. I enjoy & have had similiar thoughts on blogging/ online universe & relationships/friendships as well. And I guess, being who I am, I throw my hands in the air and say what will be will be, I am thankful for it all. I think its neat your blog is so various in many topics and I adore your "A Cuban In London", so neat to read how you came up with it 3 years ago. Here is to many more years! Happy 2011 and I'm so glad to have met you. ;-)

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  26. Merry Xmas Cuban.Greetings from Tanzania.

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  27. merry Xmas. Greetings from Tanzania

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  28. completely agree - it has been a real pleasure to read and follow your blog this year - Happy New 2011 and as always greetings from mexico....only until the summer as I will be leaving the big taco after six years - a big wrench but time for a new phase - what is new for you in 2011??

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  29. Happy New Year Mr Cuban In London.

    Bloggers to me was a bad word like a fugitive in hiding or something like that. This was because we heard bloggers in Malaysia were taken to courts. When I first heard that my son had a blog, I was alarmed. I cautioned him to watch what he wrote and told him that best he stop. Then it turned out, we switched places. He is watching me now. When I told him I wanted to re-blog after the break, he said don't be dramatic.

    I feel close to blog friends like as if I really know them and they know me. But from time to time I am reminded that we are actually strangers. And I am not supposed to talk to strangers.

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  30. What a well-written post!

    You know, the first time I even heard about a blog - it was probably 2005 or 6 (I was way behind the times *laugh*), I thought, "no way ... not me" - an agent at a conference I went to suggested all writers should have them or they are stupid. Huhn, I thought.

    It kept poking at me so I finally tried out different ones, and at last settled into my blogspot blog in 2009 :-D ...

    Happy New Year to you!

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  31. What a wonderful Christmas and New Year's reflection. You touched on everything, as always A Cuban. I am so pleased to have met you and I look forward to more of your interesting thought provoking generosity. Thanks for the Big Up, I am proud to be a member of your parish.

    BTW - That Zadie Smith series you had in 2010 was the bomb!

    ACIL is what I consider a value-added blog to the hilt!
    :-)
    Here's to a beautyful 2011.

    Asante sana

    Mama Shujaa

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  32. felicidades http://enelmaralla.blogspot.com/2010_03_01_archive.html

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  33. Cuban, it's so unusual for you not to post to your usual schedule that I am having some small, anxious thoughts about your well-being. Hope you're happy and busy with festivities and not under the weather.

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  34. I miss you, Cuban, and hope your holidays have been good. Happy New Year to you and your family!

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  35. wow! i loved that. thank you!
    happy happy new year!
    xxx
    jane

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  36. Many thanks for your kind words. I'm still here, hibernating and reading your blogs whenever I can. :-)

    Greetings from London.

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  37. So nice to read about your blogging journey - I wish I'd been a part of it earlier, but look forward to walking alongside you in cyberspace in 2011.

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  38. Hmm... I have never thought of myself as frivolous for wanting to blog! I have been blogging for close to a year now, so I have a whole lot of respect for bloggers like you who have been doing it for much longer, and yet continue to bring meaningful issues and perspectives to the table with every single article. I sure am glad to belong to this vibrant community! :)

    Happy New Year, Cuban, to you and your loved ones!

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  39. Happy New Year! It was interesting to hear about your road to blogging. I like your title and logo and your willingness to tackle the issues. I’ve very much enjoyed getting to know you online. I wouldn’t worry too much about commenters who drift in and out – there are so many blogs out there. I doubt it was about anything that you wrote. Fun dancers.

    I also started in 2007 and couldn’t think of a title that would last a lifetime or cover my diverse interests so I used my real name, adding blog to distinguish it from my website.

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  40. Happy New Year to you too dear Cuban!
    it was a lovely surprise to see you today!

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  41. You really know how to put it in words. That was beautiful - along with your "about me" sanskrit quote.
    Thanks for the peace, and for the goodness...x

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  42. p.s. I have always loved that video... So full of life and the best of silliness :^)

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  43. It's very nice to hear how "A Cuban In London" came about and to hear a frank discussion about blogging and the virtual friendships we all develop. I enjoyed your honesty and view ever so much. And a hearty congratulations go out to you for blogging so very long! Here's to many more years of blogging!

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  44. Where are you? I miss you.

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  45. Even bloggers seem to be anti-blog blogging these days! The title of your blog was what first attracted me to it. I thought from the off that it was an excellent title and promised well as a blog in which there might be a new slant on things. I have never been disappointed by it, and certainly not this time. More power to you.

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  46. A very happy new year and all the best in 2011!

    Wishing you lots of creativity, and that you write about all the topics you love:)

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  47. Many thanks for your feedback. I am back, alive and kicking! :-)

    Greetings from London.

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