On writing the future of LA

Last Tuesday I was part of a panel on digital media and blogging at Loyola Marymount University’s annual LAy of the LAnd conference. The theme for this year was “The Wired City: Writing The Future of LA.” I joined Kevin Roderick of LA Observed and KCRW, Juan Devis the webmaster for KCET’s Departures, and Kyle DePinna an LMU senior and co-founder of an electronic music blog, Shifty Rhythms. We were introduced by Rubén Martínez, the organizer of the conference and a member of the faculty in the English department. The panel was moderated by Evelyn McDonnell, a new hire in the department. About 40-50 students attended the talk.

I arrived a few minutes before we were set to start and me the co-panelists and moderators. Although I’m familiar with Kevin’s work on LA Observed and his commentary on KCRW, I’d never met him in person. Likewise, I’d spoken to Juan Devis before, but it was my first time meeting him too. I’ve met many bloggers (and non-bloggers) before and it’s always a good experience. This was no different.

I was a little nervous for the panel as I didn’t really know what to expect and I didn’t want to sound like an idiot. Thankfully, it went well and I’m pretty sure I sounded competent thanks to Evelyn and Rubén who moderated the discussion. The moderators introduced each invited panelists. We then spoke for about 5 minutes about our blogs/sites and our roles in digital media. As Kevin mentioned in his recap, he was the self-appointed old guy who transitioned from old media to new media. He spoke about LA Observed’s early years and it’s growth. Juan spoke about telling the stories of communities through interactive web content. I focused on using personal blogs to tell stories. I read lots of personal blogs. The ones I enjoy most are written by strong writers who have interesting and funny stories to tell, even about mundane things. This doesn’t even have to be done with words all the time. Oftentimes, photos or music are prominent part of the story. Kyle finished off by discussing the role of music in blogs and how he uses his blog to promote local DJs.

Afterward, we started a Q&A. Rubén asked me about finding my voice and how I developed it. I’ve never thought of this before, but it wasn’t a difficult question to answer. I grew up with my nose in a book. English and literature classes have always been amongst my favorites. I studied literature in college and took a couple creative writing courses. My “cuentos” posts are heavily influenced by Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street. It’s not my favorite of of her books, but it was the first I read like a lot of other people. Before Mango Street, I’d never read anything in vignette format. I see my “cuentos” posts almost like vignettes, maybe a little more sparse as I try to keep blog posts relatively short. Cisneros definitely influenced me.

We also discussed editing and sustaining oneself. I’ve never been an anonymous blogger, but for a long time there was no link between my last name and my blog. That changed about 6 years ago when I started contributing to other blogs. My writing changed too. I’d always self-censored, but now I was more careful to follow the mom/boss rule. Basically, if I would not want my mother (or father, hi dad!) or boss to read what I wrote, I wouldn’t post it. I don’t feel limited by this most of the time. I just accept it as part of the blogging medium. I also edit by researching, even when I’m telling personal stories. I’ll sometimes call my mom and ask if something really happened the way I remembered it. I also take pains to properly credit sources. That’s my academic side coming in. Kevin said he’d love to have a copy editor. That would be nice. I hate posting something and then finding several errors later.

As for sustaining oneself, no one on the panel made a living from blogging, except Juan but he’s not a blogger. However we all get some kind of tangible awards, opportunities we wouldn’t have had otherwise, or even advertising income. I’ve never tried to make money from my blog or post ads mainly because of aesthetic issues. Blogging is primarily a labor of love, but occasionally I’ll get a free movie or book because of it. I usually ignore emails from PR representatives, but if the email is about something I’m personally interested in (e.g., Harry Potter movie or Julia Alvarez reading), I’m fine with using my blog to promote it.

Following the talk, we chatted over wine, cheese and fruit. I met some other LMU faculty like Lynell George (another writer and new hire in English) and Eliza Rodriguez y Gibson from Chicana/o Studies. Rubén asked me if I’d ever considered taking parts of my blog and expanding it in to a book. It’s definitely crossed my mind, but until recently I had no idea where to start. I also don’t want to start a project while I have another big project looming.

Many thanks to Rubén and LMU for the invitation. I’ve spoken at local colleges a few times about blogging and it’s always been a great experience.

Note: The panel was video recorded. I don’t know if the video is ready. If I hear anything, I’ll post something here.


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