Waking Up The Beast: The Never-Quiet Griot Riot
I wish I knew which version of this posting will ultimately see the light of day. I’ve false-started this thing so many times, because this post is the kind that doesn’t birth easy. Approaching this level of vulnerability is not simple. Writing hurts a lot when it’s done right.
“You just sit down at the typewriter, open a vein, and bleed.”
I’ve begun to make a distinction between writing and storytelling. Not always synonymous. You’re not always trying to tell a story when you write, and some things make you a “better writer” and not always a better storyteller. Much of my research into what makes better writers is a little different from what makes a better storyteller. If you want to be a better writer, you need Strunk & White: Elements of Style. If you want to be a better storyteller, that’s not really your source for that. I actually have several books I can recommend as of late, but there’s not really a need to be that specific unless someone wants me to do that. You know the appropriate social media pages if you want that kind of instruction. Regardless, storytelling is an ancient and respected artform that has been integral to the human existence and experience. The African traditions call us the Griot.
Writing is a practice. Storytelling is in the blood. You can practice writing until it becomes second nature. So too can storytelling become an instinctive response. I recently watched an excellent video about how Dan Harmon can’t help himself but to think compelling elements of story even in an improvisation. Dan Harmon has written hundreds of episodes of television. He’s a “beat” guy, and he will make it work on a subconscious level at the very least. Elements of story and style can both be taught.
There is a germ of storytelling that starts when you hear the first story that captures you. That contagion takes over you and you want to wield that same alchemy. It’s the most potent of intoxicants. It’s probably the same fever that came over Anansi when he decided that all the stories should belong to him. Compe Anansi had to have all the stories from the other gods, because the stories were the power, and the power is the magic. The more stories you have, the more power you wield.
This power is history, heritage, and legacy. Now that I’m writing all this out, I imagine parts of who and what I am are just becoming aware of what it is I need to do. Anansi wants the stories. It’s always been about the stories for me.
I’ve been telling my story as it relates to my mother and her fight with cancer for months now. I didn’t know this battle would come for her, come for our family. It swept in, ravaged us, then left us cold and stunned. It’s still out there. It could come back for me in a few years.
Losing your parents shows you your own mortality in crisp detail. My mother used to say, there’s one way in, and one way out… The same way you got in here, you get out. That’s the price of admission to this plane of existence.
I could not tell you what it feels like to not be a writer. This is what I am. I’m wasting my time trying to do anything other than writing. I’ve been fighting to do writing, just writing, and only writing for as long as I can, and I’m exhausted of trying to make people understand. So I don’t think I’m going to anymore.
“No one can stop you from being a writer. Only you.”
I’ve written that phrase many times in different pieces, but now it’s a mantra. No one can stop me. Only me. Doesn’t matter if the laptop I’m on right now decides to shit the bed tomorrow. I have composition books and pens. Even if I lose them, I can buy more. They’re cheap. I’m addicted to buying them anyway, I don’t think I can stop that, either. All goes back to that “writer” thing. Can’t be stopped. That’s just the beginning of it, though.
The work has to be done. Writers don’t like to write. Something else I’ve written, but not completely true. We don’t truly hate the process. We hate the drudgery. We self-sabotage. In all honesty, the world is right there waiting to help you talk yourself out of it. Rarely do you have those voices who are as relentless as the doubts to be there in the moments where you feel completely self-indulgent trying to exercise your voice.
“Just who the fuck do you think you are?”
That’s not a bad thing, though. Is it? I reflected in another piece about how people don’t like having that phrase thrown at them, but that’s a bit of the problem, isn’t it? Some of us don’t like that question because it’s one of the hardest questions to answer, and it’s the one you’re going to be answering every time you put something out, whether you admit it or not.
Who are you? You are who you are. Writing is who you are, what you believe. Every inocuous word and banal utterance reveals that which you attempt to conceal.
It’s honest. Not everyone deals with honesty well.
That’s all I want to deal with from now on. Life is too damn short. Way too short.
It was 63 trips around that yellow burning ball of gas for my mother.
Not nearly enough.
There’s a lot of ideas and concepts that go into being a writer that can be confusing at first, but are deceptively simple when you get into them.
Themes. What is a theme, in the context of writing?
It’s who you are. It’s why you tell stories. It’s the whole point for even starting the “Once upon a time…” You had a theme. Something you needed to express. All meaningful writing has it. All meaningless writing doesn’t.
You might not have known exactly what it was, but if you give any writing time, it will reveal itself. Once you do that, it will become second nature to the activity of writing. It will find you. Your theme is the big “what is the point of all this?”
And trust me, there’s a point, even when you want to say “There is no point.”
Still a point. Form is formlessness. You can tell us a story about how that works. Either way, you got your theme, and you’re passing it on to us, the audience. I’m giving you my theme right now. My theme is “Who you are, is who you are.” Who I am is who I am, and I am a writer.
This is the fundamental truth that I’m going to pursue each day I wake up and see another day, because when I’m done with everything I want a string of words that stretch from where I started to where I left. I’m telling my story because the story needs to be told. It wants to be told. I want to tell it.
If you’ve hung around to this point in my essay, thank you for indulging me on this level. I’m all in and all into what I’m saying, but that might not be what you’re in for.
(See? Imposter Syndrome creeping in when the word count starts to expand. Is this even worth reading? Why am I still here?)
I have an ex-girlfriend who is an excellent writer. She’s an excellent writer because she feels very deeply. I used to encourage her to write because I loved to hear her authentic voice. That’s the thing new writers are tripping over themselves to figure out, and it always sounds weird to them when they first encounter it the same way babies do when they become self-aware. I loved reading her work because I was in love with her, and who doesn’t want to know as much as you can about the person you love? She never believed me when I told her she was a really good writer despite when she posted blogs, other people told her the same thing. Her excuse was “I’m not writing, I’m rambling.” She couldn’t understand that all writing is rambling until you revise it.
I guess some of us make this look easy, but I don’t know that it’s ever easy. It’s giving birth, it’s excruciating. The best work always makes you scared. Letting anyone read the stuff where you know you laid yourself bare is angst-ridden. But in the end, it’s about catharsis. Starting over and doing it again.
I’m a little obsessed with the idea of legacy right now. Just saying the word: Legacy. What does that mean?
Good goddamn question. It’s up to me to figure that out.
At the very least I find myself in a position of transformation.
I’ve been writing my whole life, managed to work on a few school papers, kept journals, a couple of local music magazines that no longer exist, a few websites that have come and gone, until 2005 when I started blogging. I never saw a need to grow beyond what I did for years, because I did what I did for free. I did what I did because that’s what came natural. And all that is well and good.
But I have a responsibility. I am a Griot. We uphold the traditions. We record the memories. We are the Priests of Anansi. The weavers of tales. We are the Watchers.
I know what it means to be a storyteller, to have that connection between yourself and your reader, to enter that sacred agreement to reveal all truths, the answers to the questions they ask and even the ones they didn’t know they needed to ask, to spark something in them that hurls them into their own journey of self discovery.
I read something just after my mother passed away (more of a direct description than regional colloquialism, I promise) that said that losing a parent, or both parents in my case, is the kind of event that sends you into some very deep emotional troughs, but when you experience those kinds of lows it makes you capable of swinging to comparable heights of success and accomplishments. It’s an emotional slingshot into the best parts of your life… if you can weather the storm.
That’s one thing we can be sure of; the storms, metaphorical and literal, are going to come. In the last year I been hit by two storms that have been retired from usage: Matthew and Irma. I lost my father at the end of 2016, my mother the middle of 2017. My mother will never see the end result of her taking her firstborn little boy to the library instead of the park, teaching him to read before he set foot inside of anyone’s school. For letting him believe that he might have duck feet and do impossible things, she created the writer, the storyteller you see before you.
She has become the Voice in my head telling me that this story, our story, needs to be told, and I don’t have much time to do it. She’s become my beacon to What I Desire Most.
And I’m not coming alone. I’m bringing the Never Quiet Griot Riot with me. I”m going to inspire other writers to come with me in the spirit of what my mentor, Octavia Butler, would have wanted. She wanted people like me to exist. I want to be the person she was. I’m going to mentor and advocate for Black writers of all orientations and genders to tell their story, to not be ashamed of who they are and live their truth. We are powerful orators in whatever medium we choose, and more of us should see a path to that. It should not be outrageous to dream of a kid in a school right now thinking of being a writer and making a life from that.
So this is just my way of saying “I’m back.” I been writing, but nothing felt like I was “there” yet, until now. I think I’ve been waiting for this guy for quite some time, and now, I get to be him.
I have some very specific ideas for the evolution of YCDTOTI, which was always the initial idea. You Can’t Do That On The Internet is the brand, the whole idea behind what we wanted to do with it was more than just the podcast. I can’t do the show without my co-host, so I’m going to have to do something else, but it’s something that I think I’m going to really enjoy until such a time that I can once again record shows with my partner.
Because I am a writer, I need to make more if an effort to provide you with a lot more interaction through my writing. I want to do that on a consistent basis. The only way to do this, is to do it. Do it when you want to do it. Do it when you don’t. Especially when you don’t.
The hardest thing to do when you’re a writer, is to write.
The second hardest? Is to not write.
Write on, right on. #writeonrighton