By Joel Daniels @JoelakaMaG
It is almost midnight. My daughter has finally fallen asleep, which means I still have time before my eyes sag and my age plays catch-up with my mind and I doze off. In the interim, I have spent time sifting through emails, checking my social media feeds, refreshing, and scrolling, refreshing, and scrolling — we have learned to play the role of zombie so well nowadays, have we not? I have drafts upon drafts of ideas that have yet to see the light of my social media feeds, some of which may never make it past the publish and edit phase. I have become the reluctant recluse of sorts, holding and clinging on to pieces, ideas, thoughts — some require full-length “we need to talk” convos prior to me releasing their contents; others are far less dramatic in tone and subject, and merely are my “I hope this one lands me an agent” work.
The truth is, I do not want to self-publish. I spent years toiling away in the underground Hip-Hop circuit, emailing bloggers, A&R’s, radio show hosts and booking agents. I was my own manager, agent, and PR. If I needed a producer? I found one. If I needed an artist to do some cover art? I found one. All for what felt like the endless pursuit of clicks, plays, album reviews, and stage time. Networking, or as I like to call it, “village building” was in line with how Jay-Z would go on to describe hustling: it comes “out of a sense of desperation.” How else do you explain cold emailing journalists and record label presidents, using the information I was able to gather off of Linkedin connections, all from the desk of my steady 9-to-5?
The DIY entrepreneurial spirit feels embedded in my bones, encoded in the webbing of my DNA. Self-publishing feels like an extension of that voyage, a voyage I no longer have the patience, time, nor energy for. I need to focus on my writing, and feeding and keeping clothed a growing 10-month-old magical little person. Maybe it’s the old-school kinda stubborn I inherited from my father, but letting go of being the guy with a book jacket that says “Penguin” on the back, is something I find hard to let go of. So with that, I keep writing, regardless of whether or not the guarantee of what I covet will actually become a reality. I will continue to write, and I suggest you do the same.
Write long after the Red Bull is done, the espresso has worn off, the incense has burned to its last ash; until the wicker is all that is left and the effects of that 2-hour “nap” are null and void. What comes out of that is almost inconsequential. The process is the liberation, the libation poured onto the page lines. It is the releasing of that tension between tendon and pen, that affords us the right to write; that gives credence to the written word and a sense of purpose to and for the author who scribes their hearts to the page. Writing is religious, writing is an act of sacrifice. Inside each pen, stroke is an idea, a movement,a solution, a whisper. All of this is here if we are willing to grab, to grasp, to hear.
The calling only beckons when we open the door for its arrival. Stories literally do not write themselves. They do live for us, however. They are everywhere and anywhere that we are present for them to be had, heard, and held. The stories gather like fireflies flung to the heat, and we catch them in mason jar lids with the holes poked through, giving them air and light and nurture. We draw the path out with our words, and sometimes, if you are anything like me, you wing it. My favorites, the Giovanni’s and Barakas and Junots and NaS’ of my day and yours, accomplish this over meters and alliterations and iambic parables with precision; the Keats and Ginsberg’s and Kerouac’s and Christopher Wallace’s are my idols, icons, heroes.
The literary giants I admire the most have coerced me into planting my flag firmly in the sand and saying, plainly: go.
So, my challenge to both you and I to do the same. The biggest and brightest writers, the untapped and undiscovered that will soon be the most coveted of the lot that currently exists in editorials, should be the ones to lead the charge. It is in the writing that more writing is welcomed in. Writing begets more writing, sorta like in the Bible where baby making begets more baby making. Look it up, it’s in there. Write when you feel like the idea is there, and even when it is not (especially, when it’s not). Write when you are bored, on the train, in meetings, at your desk. I write on the bus, in the bathroom, on my phone, on notepads, napkins;whatever is accessible. Write when you are tired, write in your bed, write until you are tired, and bump your head. Shout-out to Dr. Seuss.
Joel L. Daniels is a writer, actor, father, emcee and dreamer, and story-teller, born and raised in the Bronx. He was the recipient of the Bronx Council of the Arts BRIO Award for poetry, and his work has been featured in the Columbia Journal, The Boston Globe, Thought Catalog, The Smoking Section, Blavity, Huffington Post, BBC Radio, RCRD LBL, URB, BRM, AllHipHop, The Source, RESPECT, and HipHopDX. He's spoken/performed at the Apollo Theater, Joe's Pub, Rockwood Music Hall, Columbia University, The National Black Theater, NYU, Webster Hall, Pianos, and Brooklyn Bowl.