From their literary Mount Olympus, where they had already given the world their tremendous fiction, Borges, Monterrose, Quiroga, Bukowski, wrote Decalogues for young writers. Decalogues and, perhaps, subtle warnings.
Others, not content with brevity, took it more seriously; Rainer Maria Rilke published his “Letters of a Young Poet,” and Mario Vargas Llosa, balancing genders, his “Letters to a Young Female Novelist.”
I share only one aspect with them, the disease of writing. I’m not an Olympic winner, although I blatantly desire it. But I have an advantage over them in one way: these gentlemen of deserved immortality (saving the recent Nobel Prize winner, who is still alive), never knew the word “blog.” Not even a fantasist like Ray Bradbury could envision a future of digital spaces where one can publish with demonic freedom.
So today I wanted to perpetuate the tradition. This time, outlining a Decalogue that, sadly, lacks universality: I wanted to dedicate it to a potential Cuban blogger who, perhaps, at this precise moment, is assessing the possibility of opening his defiant blog.
1. You have already decided, and given it a name. You’ve launched it on the great web. With luck, some colleague will promote is in his own space and earn you your first readers. Well then, you know: you just took on a tremendous weight. Your blog does not become a pet, it becomes your child. And the difference from a pet is that you can play with them for a while and leave them at home whenever you like, but children won’t tolerate the distancing. You know that, like Cortazar’s text about the clock, you haven’t given yourself a gift of a blog: you’ve just become the gift for a blog that from now on will keep you on your toes.
2. The day you publish your most painstaking text, you might count ten readers, of whom half will have come to your site by mistake. The day you publish your most mediocre and unfinished text, you could attract the attention of someone very well-known on the web, and be recommended. This day you will have thousands of readers to whom you won’t be able to say, “Please, when you finish this one, go read the other one, it’s better…” First conclusion: never publish fillers. Second conclusion: pray that the day on which you publish the filler, the text that you couldn’t improve, no one with credentials will decide to visit you.
3. As you live in Cuba, freedom of expressions sounds like a hollow expression to you. However, you know you need it. And you try to procure it swimming against the current. This will always be admirable. Infallible rule: readers can tell when something is written honestly, and when it is written obeying orders from above. Spaces written from the need to express oneself, will always have incomparably more followers, people who consult them, readers in general, than ones written because it’s your job. Perhaps this answers your question about why official Cuban bloggers can only count on their family and friends as faithful readers.
4. Your daring will earn you immediate followers. They will applaud your courage in facing the regime you disapprove of. It’s beautiful. But take care: don’t believe all the applause is sincere. Many applaud only when your posts match their own points of view. Some alleged democrats who will cheer you on will also be the first to throw you into the flames, if something you write with the same honesty as usual goes against ideas that to them are nonnegotiable. The lesson is: Remember you are all alone. Remember you must obey yourself, your vital impulses, And you should be less and less interested in applause.
5. And as you are alone in the conceptual, so you are in practice as well: it doesn’t matter how many times you ask for financial help to sustain your blog. It doesn’t matter how many thousands of people take it as a reference. In the instant in which some of those thousands of readers have to make a contribution for your work, you will become fully aware of your quixotic solitude. Fine irony: the same ones who demand that you update, who demand certain themes and approaches, they are the one who, once they finish reading, lose all interest in your page even if you say you need some economic support. The loneliness of the writer and of the blogger are flesh of the same flesh.
6. An interesting point: never doubt, despite the loneliness of the previous point, you will find supposed administrators of your blog, censors, directors of your editorial policy. It doesn’t matter that you affirm, over and over, this is my space, here I say what I say, for this I created it. It doesn’t matter. Someone will always come along to tell you, “I think you shouldn’t write on this topic, but rather on this one.” Someone else will come along to tell you, “You are completely wrong, what are you thinking to say this?” And you will come to doubt, between responding that you are the author of this page, that you don’t ask permission from a reader to write, just as you don’t ask it of the government; or you will respond with your silence. There are times when silence is better. Don’t waste resources defending your right to say whatever you like. Those who at times wear us down, we have to accept that they’re a lost cause: they don’t understand that your freedom of expression is the truth.
7. The other side of the coin, which must be dealt with squarely, is the employees of Power. The diligent workers on the web, who find funding from the Island’s government, and whose only function will be, from now on, to fight your space. How? The methods are infinite. Get ready for a war without quarter, and without principles nor codes of ethics. These same people will post comments saying you are a child molester, that your sister is a lesbian, that they’ve heard verifiable rumors: for example that you are State Security. This is a brilliant tactic against which you can do nothing: there is very little harder to prove than innocence. Get ready to see photo montages of yourself, to know that your friends now reject you from fear, and that many doors will now be closed to you. Some in a literal sense. Ask since when Claudia Cadelo has not been able to pass through the doors of the Chaplin Theater. But you know what? There is something against which the employees of Power have no weapons: against your will to be dignified, your will not to remain silent. This is what will rob them of their sleep, not yours.
8. Don’t wonder how, because at times you won’t understand it, but rest assured that the people around you, even those you don’t know, will be reading your blog. Exotic phenomena attract attention. And a fearless blog in a county filled with cowards is an exotic phenomenon. When you think you are writing only for the world, be aware that your neighbor, though he won’t tell you, as a precaution, is reading and printing your texts. And secretly, he admires you.
9. Patience with human stupidity. If you accept that other people, your followers, are going to add their opinions below your writing, you should arm yourself with a solid shield against insults and nonsense. If you don’t have the iron constitution to deal with this, better that you turn the comment function off. It’s a simple thing: send them to the trash if they’re obscene or offensive, or approve them if they’re feisty but friendly. As you are alone in this, you don’t have to consult or ask for votes for and against. Your blog is your democracy, and don’t forget that since you suffer it, you decide.
10. Ask yourself, as Rilke asked the poets, if you could live without writing your blog. If the answer is yes, don’t take the trouble to start it. You will abandon it very quickly. If the answer is no, if your need to express yourself is unstoppable, if you think you really have something to say, ignore the nine points above and inscribe only these words in your mind: you will have no greater happiness than knowing you are true to yourself. Your blog will be a cry of freedom that we will from both sides of the sea.
April 18 2011