Tag Archives: WordPress

2014: The Year That Was and Will Never Be Again

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.  Witnesseth henceforth the spoils:

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 18,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 7 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report, if that floats your particular boat.

As many of us seem to live by the credo that an unexamined life is not worth living, December 31st offers us the perfect chance to cast our gazes backward upon feats both accomplished and fallen short.  Insofar as we limit our lens to this blog, it was a year of new roads taken with just as many varying degrees of success.  There are some posts here that I’m very proud of and others that inspire nothing but a shrug.  As always I’m disappointed that I don’t write more.  Sticking to a writing schedule becomes problematic when the priorities of life, work and family have a tendency to push it far down the list.

Still, there was some good work done here this past annum, and I had the honor of receiving the coveted Freshly Pressed award back in February, for a post about Justin Bieber, of all things.  What made it really special for me though was seeing some of the writer friends I’ve made receive the award themselves in due course:  Rachael, Drew, Debbie, Amira and Nillu.  I was incredibly proud of all of them, and one of the things that excites me most about 2015 is getting to continue to read their inspiring and divinely crafted words – along with many others whose Freshly Pressing is undoubtedly a mere matter of time.

I suppose two groups of posts really stand out for me, as concerns my own work.  The first was my participation in April’s A to Z blog challenge, which involved 26 posts in 30 days, and I chose, probably from a bout of temporary madness, to try and find an alphabetical list of songs that had some meaning for me throughout my life upon which I could expound at length.  In some ways it was one of the easiest writing assignments I’ve ever given myself, peeling back the layers to put a little more of my experiences out there for the world to peruse, rather than simply commenting on the course of events affecting others.  And I was delighted to be joined in the challenge by two terrific writers who provided plenty of encouragement along the way, both in their comments on my posts and the imagination showcased in their own:  the amazing Joanne and the irrepressible Gunmetal Geisha.  Thank you for so much.

The second was the little tale that has occupied this blog exclusively for the last four months:  Vintage.  It began with a dream of the image that, ironically, closes the most recent chapter:  a beautiful witch standing over a man she’s frozen in a lake.  From that single still has sprung a sprawling story that has given me a new opportunity to stretch and explore the power of words, and many thanks must go out to you readers who have stuck with me during this radical change of direction.  The new year will see me returning to my usual bailiwick, but Vintage will continue to unfold on a semi-regular basis and once it is finished it will be made available here as a complete PDF you can download and peruse to your heart’s content.

As I write this there are a little over six hours left in 2014, and my observations suggest that few of us will be sad to see it go.  The world really took it in the teeth this year, and the bad guys got away with way too much.  But turning the page on this calendar offers us a chance to regroup and reboot and come at our challenges armed with a fresh infusion of optimism – the world’s most renewable resource.  I’m not sure where I’ll be on December 31, 2015, or what will have transpired between now and then (I’m not very hopeful of the release of hoverboards at this point), but we’re only limited in the realization of dreams by choosing not to go after them at warp speed.  I’ll be turning 40 this coming year, and when you start to accept that there are fewer years ahead than there are behind, your perception shifts.  No one wants to look back on their life with the phrase I should have.

Happy New Year, everyone, and whatever you wish for 2015, may you find the courage to chase it, wisdom to understand it and above all else, joy in the accomplishment.

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The Advice Guy Is In!

Wikimedia Commons.
Wikimedia Commons.

Anyone who blogs is familiar with search engine spam:  the nigh-incomprehensible, often hilarious terms that somewhere, someone is typing into Google and finding themselves directed to your site with.  Since I’m a conscientious writer who likes to ensure that no fan is left behind, I’m taking this opportunity to address some of the possibly legitimate questions that have gone unanswered.  Let us have at it then, and continue doing our part to bring light to the world’s mysteries.  I should note that according to the WordPress calculamatron, every single one of these searches has been entered more than once, which means somewhere someone waits in vain for a response.  Wait no more, say I!  Behold:

“how to sick solar panel to car bonnet”

Firstly, you should check the solar panel’s temperature to determine whether or not it has as a fever.  If it does, make sure it stays warm and feed it plenty of broth.  Flat ginger ale is always a good option as well, but be sure it’s completely flat because you do not want to have to burp a solar panel.  Once the panel is feeling better you may then go ahead and attach it to the car bonnet.  I recommend a good strong length of rope and a bowline hitch.  Do not drive faster than 20 mph or in southeasterly wind conditions.

“where can I buy graham crackers in london”

Round the shops, guv.

“el final de Breaking Dawn: Part II”

Mucho gusto!  El final is caliente with mucho, mucho vampiros emos attacking el chupacabras with nada shirts on.  Es muy bueno!

“face Stockholm French martini”

This is actually one of my favorite drinks.  To make it, shake equal measures Lillet and Bollinger over ice and pour into a chilled martini glass.  Garnish with an Allen key and then smash your face into it.

“have I displeased you”

Yes.  And you know why.

“what does being forged through fire mean”

I had to check Google Translate on this one but the closest definition I can find is that apparently it involves taking an item, placing it in a fire and hammering it until it’s the right shape.  It is strongly recommended that said item is not any part of the body.

“did john lennon appear in on her majesty’s secret service”

This is a little known piece of movie trivia, but in fact, he did.  About thirty minutes in, he can be spotted hiding behind George Lazenby’s left eyebrow.  The predicament of Lazenby as the only James Bond to ever appear in only one movie inspired Lennon’s later solo unreleased demo, “You Cooked Yer Golden Goose You Naff Git,” which was rerecorded by the surviving three Beatles in 1995 but lost after the master tape was eaten by a passing walrus, goo goo g’joob.

“professor splash sexy picture”

Borat, is that you?

“life lessons learned from Mario”

  1.  Eat every mushroom you can find
  2. Stars are a plentiful source of invincibility
  3. Avoid bananas on the rainbow road
  4. The princess is in another castle
  5. Keep leaping because there’s always another barrel coming

“my little pony dude”

Now that’s a name nopony would self-apply where I come from.

“google coldplay”

Google them yourself.  I’m not your damn keyboardist.  Well, I was, for a time, in the hazy progressive rock band days I don’t like to talk about, where we would eat mushrooms (see above) and spend hours contemplating the collected works of Frank Herbert before attempting to translate them into song form.  Sadly, “Be My Shi-Hulud” never really burned up the charts the way we hoped it would – though it did result in a surprising number of restraining orders.

“snack crackers shape”

Trapezoidal, because five-sided crackers are for posers.

“sequence of events to become president”

Witness:

  1. Make a lot of money
  2. Join a political party (suggested method:  coin flip, depending on weather)
  3. Find someone else who is richer than you to back your campaign
  4. Run for office and don’t say too many stupid things
  5. ??????
  6. PRESIDENCY!

Alternatively, use the Frank Underwood House of Cards method:

  1. Be evil
  2. Convince everyone between you and the presidency to resign
  3. PRESIDENCY!

“conjuring demons through music katy perry”

It’s relieving to know that I’m not the only person out there who thinks “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” is an invocation of the evil power of Our Dark Lord Satan.  I mean really, when she sings about dancing on tabletops, that would be enough to get you burned at the stake in Inquisition-era Spain.  I know, you probably weren’t expecting the Spanish Inquisition.  *loud, ominous note*  NO ONE EXPECTS THE SPANISH INQUISITION!  Our chief weapons are fear, surprise and Katy Perry.

“sean bean 2012”

I totes would have backed that ticket.  Oh well, there’s always 2016.  As long as he can pledge not to be beheaded/impaled/blown up/shot/drowned/stabbed before the end of the term, I think he’s in like Flynn.

“argument for god the devil and the perfect pizza”

I’m for it unless it will make me unpopular, then I’m against it to my dying breath.

“I just wanna spend my life with you lyrics”

You know, some men will search their entire lives to find a really beautiful, deeply understanding and heartfelt set of lyrics they can pledge themselves to until death does them part.  I mean, I’ve had a desperate crush on “Subterranean Homesick Blues” since puberty, when lyrics stopped seeming so icky, but she’s never had any time for me.  Seriously, once you’ve heard that “Johnny’s in the basement, mixing up the medicine/I’m on the pavement, thinkin’ bout the government” couplet, how can your heart ever belong to another?  Though I’ve found as I’ve aged my tastes too have leaned toward older lyrics and now I find myself very curious about “Use your mentality, wake up to reality” from “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”

“tolkien rips off harry potter a lot”

Please, do the world a favor and just go away.  There are some lovely caves in Canada’s north that you might find appealing.  Unless bitumen is located beneath them, then it might be a bit noisy with all the drilling and fracking equipment moseying about.

“things people do not know about graham crackers”

If you eat 100 of them in a single sitting you will attain superhuman strength.  (Editor’s note:  DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME, IN A CAR, AT WORK OR REALLY, ANYWHERE YOU MAY FIND YOURSELF WITH OCCASION TO TRY EATING 100 GRAHAM CRACKERS AT ONCE.  THE MANAGEMENT BEARS NO RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR INABILITY TO DISTINGUISH SATIRE FROM ACTUAL THINGS THAT ARE REAL.)

“the parent trap the end”

The twins realize life is a meaningless existential hell and tragically accept a teaching post in Australia.

“youtube videos of sweet honeys tied and gagged in inexorable bondage”

I don’t… I can’t even… heavens, where to even begin.  I’m not sure what’s more perplexing, that such a query would lead to my site, or that the person searching for said videos was literate enough to include the word “inexorable” in their search string.  Admittedly, it is possible that each one of those words has appeared in a different context somewhere back in the archives of my 262 posts, but that the mysterious forces of the algorithm should see fit to mesh them into a giant arrow that points here is, honestly, an argument for the existence of the fickle finger of fate, or at least, the conclusion drawn by the twins at the end of The Parent Trap.

This post is humbly dedicated to all those who have ever penned a “sarcastic advice” piece, because Zeus knows I didn’t come up with the idea.  And to all those who continue to fuel our biting wit with their comical inability to use the Internet properly.  We salute you.

The WordPress (Non-Dysfunctional) Family Award

family

Happy 2014 everyone!  And what better way to start it off than being recognized by an incredibly talented peer?  The lovely Nillu Stelter nominated me for the WordPress Family Award.  So many people to thank:  my agent, my lawyer, my manager, my agent’s lawyer, my lawyer’s agent, my manager’s lawyer, my lawyer’s manager, the incredible electrical crews and the guy who gets me my blueberry danish every morning.  Free Tibet!  Okay, on a serious note, I am deeply grateful, and it reinforces the truth that when you put goodwill out into the world, it comes rushing back to you in a wave.  I admire Nillu’s talent for being able to pack a novel’s worth of emotion and imagery into her short pieces, and you should absolutely check them out instead of wasting your time here listening to me pontificate on whatever bee crawled into my bonnet this morning.

Accepting the award mandates that you nominate six other bloggers you feel are deserving of the honor – people who have been welcoming and encouraging in your blogging efforts.  Ironically, Nillu herself nominated several of the folks that I would have included on my list.  Rather than re-nominating them, I’ll bestow upon them honorable mentions instead:  Rachael Spellman, Drew Chial, Jessica West and Amira Makansi, and defer to Nillu’s excellent encapsulations.  I also want to give shoutouts to two bloggers whose work and whose virtual friendships I treasure but who aren’t on WordPress so they technically don’t qualify:  Ksenia Anske and Heather Archuletta.  Heather’s site is a bit different from the rest as she writes about all things NASA and space exploration, and about her experiences as a “pillownaut,” i.e. a participant in NASA’s bed rest studies, which simulate the effects of low gravity on the human body over long periods of time.  It’s a whole area of space science I knew nothing about until I met her on Twitter, and it’s quite fascinating.  And she’s a fan of all things Star Trek as well, so, well worth your while.  Ksenia you probably know about already, so no sense retreading the obvious, other than letting you know that she just began writing her literary novel Irkadura two days ago and banged out an incredible four and a half chapters in a single sitting.  Something to think about the next time you’re lacking motivation.

Introductions out of the way, let’s move on to my list:

East Bay Writer – EBW merits a special place as she was the first WordPress blogger I really “connected” with when I started doing this back in 2011.  Absent the magical “Freshly Pressed” designation that points a massive spotlight on you out of the gate, you really do have to do the work and crawl your way out of the anonymous cellar in what is essentially complete darkness, fumbling for a grip and swinging wildly until you catch hold.  I’ll always be grateful to EBW for extending her hand and letting me know someone out there in the wilderness gave a damn.

Tania Monaco – tania2atee – I first met Tania in 1999 when we both enrolled in the “Crafting a Novel” class taught by the next person down on my list, and we were part of a critique group that grew out of that class and continued for several years.  Her feedback helped to shape the novel I tinkered with for way too long before finally growing the spine needed to submit it to agents (ongoing as we type), and I’ll never forget one comment in particular she made that was manna for a man trying to write a book from a woman’s perspective:  “How do you know what we’re thinking?”  Tania blogs about parenting her two young children and her posts about favorite songs are always a treat.

Lynda Simmons – I Love a Parade – My first creative writing teacher (at least, the first who wasn’t also trying to teach me to write essays about long-dead English novelists), a family friend from way back, and a by turns witty and poignant novelist whose book Island Girl is a rending story about a woman struggling to put her family back together before the ravages of Alzheimer’s Disease claim her memory and indeed her very soul.  The woman who told me to my chagrin to ditch the 400,000-words-and-counting pile of rambles that wasn’t going anywhere and start something fresh and new.  Everything that followed is essentially her fault, so address your angry comments to the address in the link.  Just kidding.  Thank you Lynda, for so much.

Andrea Montgomery – My Simple Desires – Andrea doesn’t blog nearly enough, so my ulterior motive in nominating her is to try and give her a little nudge of inspiration.  She again is someone I have the fortune to know personally, and to envy from time to time since writing is her day job, as a communications professional.  There is a joyful touch to her blog posts which I’m finding myself missing, so, here’s hoping she gets back to it soon.

Tele Aadsen – Hooked – One woman at sea, trolling for truth, and what a beautiful journey it is.  Like EBW, Tele was one of my first “blog friends” on WordPress and it has been a privilege to read this amazing woman’s words these past years.  Taking a sabbatical from her career in fishing off the Alaskan coast, she is currently in a writer’s residency at the North Cascades Institute in Washington and working on her memoir, also entitled Hooked, to be published by Riverhead Books.  Cannot wait to hold a signed copy of that in my hands.  Reading Tele’s posts or seeing her comments on my own site are like a chat with an old friend, the kind with whom you can pick up like it’s only been a day even though months and months have passed.

And finally, the sixth blog on my list:  yours.  Yes, yours.  You, reading this right now – not the person next to you, you there.  Maybe I’ve stopped by yours in the past, maybe I haven’t.  But the fact that you’re doing it makes you a part of a family you may not even know you had.  You’re part of a tradition dating back to the first scratches on cave walls and extending far beyond the limits of our mortal shells.  We’re the reason our species has a history to remember, and dreams of the future to pursue.  We are writers, and whether we are read by millions or only a select few, we are each leaving our imprint upon a complex universe that is often difficult to understand.  Each book, each article, each post, even each thoughtful Twitter musing is a small step towards solving the greatest puzzle of all.  What does it mean to be us?  Choosing to enter into that conversation earns you a place at the table.  Welcome, friend; pull up a chair, pour yourself a drink and tell me a story.  Tell me what you think of mine.  And let’s create a new one together – as a family.

Criticizing the critics

"What's the best part of this blog post?"  "It ends!  HAW-HAW-HAW-HAW-HAW!"
“What’s the best part of this blog post?” “It ends! HAW-HAW-HAW-HAW-HAW!”

Did you know “hate-watching” was a thing?  I suppose it’s been around for decades, an extension of the phenomenon that makes everyone slow down to gawp at an accident on the freeway despite the same everyone complaining about rubberneckers (i.e. everyone else).  We have this weird fixation/fascination with things that repel us, and in the same way we will gravitate towards stories in the news that piss us off, so too are we drawn to watching shows we don’t like so we can… well, I’m not exactly sure what, other than write snarky columns about them, gloat about them with friends and continue to wallow about in our own high-mindedness, supremely confident of our genius turns of phrase.

A focal point for hate-watching is Aaron Sorkin and The Newsroom; in fact, I hadn’t heard the term until it surfaced in more than a few snotty articles about this particular show.  For the life of me I can’t find another program that is so piled on by sniping television critics both amateur and professional, steering clear of the low-hanging fruit of reality shows and looking instead to take one of Hollywood’s most successful writers down a plethora of pegs.  It has not escaped my notice that the tone of many of these pieces resembles retribution for a past slight, as if Sorkin’s dog once soiled their lawns.  The counter-argument is that Sorkin brings it on himself in how he deals with things he doesn’t like – either depicts the advocates of his bêtes noire in his fiction as inarticulate, uneducated simpletons begging to be schooled at every turn by smug know-it-alls, or just attacks them outright in the public sphere (you don’t need to be an English major to see the irony at work here in the writings of those who respond to him in kind).  Back when his ire was focused singularly on the Republican Party – the West Wing years – we were happy to play along, but when he turned his pen on the media (Studio 60 and now Newsroom) the knives came out.  As for his public persona, I can’t comment, except to remind us with a nod to Citizen Kane that the perception of the man through the filter of other people’s words is not the same as knowing him.  Maybe he’s a great guy, maybe he’s a jackass.  I’ve never met him and have suffered no injury to my person or property from him, or any of his works.  The worst I can say about him is that there have been a few of his projects I haven’t cared for as much as the others.  I am not going to then write a series of “10 Reasons Why Aaron Sorkin Sucks” articles while continuing to DVR The Newsroom obsessively and live-vent my spleen in 140 character bursts every time one of the actors delivers a cadence of familiar patois I might have once heard on West Wing.  I’m a fan.  Every time I fire up the newest episode I want to be blown away.  If I’m not, I may have some modest suggestions about where I felt things went off the rails.  I’m not approaching the show from the perspective of “well, let’s see how he disappoints this week.”  I am, and remain, a love-watcher.

Drew Chial wrote a fantastic piece yesterday about the glut of ridicule in our culture and why it’s foolish for anyone to think it needs a supply-side solution.  You can blame the spread of snark on any number of factors both socioeconomic and not, but ultimately, snark succeeds because it’s the comedy of apathy; that is, it’s cheap and anyone can do it without expending much effort.  Why bother trying to write a thousand words of reasoned analysis when you can just follow the lead of the Ain’t it Cool News comment section and dismiss something as a “crap-spewing donkey abortion oozing from a gangrenous sore on Satan’s left ass cheek”?  It reminds me a bit of that famous comedian’s joke that they made the documentary about, “The Aristocrats,” which is a can-you-top-this exercise in inventing examples of inconceivable raunch, sleaze and gore.  The same goes for the state of criticism, in which the object is not to offer suggestions for improvement but to find the most incisive way to reduce the subject to the tiniest, most pathetic, withering shell of its actual self, something we can all have a good guffaw at while it cries in the corner.  How dare they even try.

As has gone political polarization, so has criticism.  Moderates, the ones who do it because they’re fans and they want the best for the genre they love, are an endangered treasure.  Rather, the critical mass (pardon the pun) has split, with the intellectuals twisting themselves into polysyllabic, pretentious knots to fly above the fray (the nadir was The New Yorker’s review of the Vince Vaughn-Owen Wilson comedy The Internship, which for no discernible reason managed to include a paragraph about the collected works of Michelangelo Antonioni) and the lowbrows hiding behind online aliases acting like a thousand monkeys on a thousand keyboards flinging verbal feces, yet both self-tasked with the singular objective of tearing down instead of building up, as though validation for a life misspent can be achieved only in annihilating the accomplishments of others.  The late Roger Ebert was lambasted in many circles along with partner Gene Siskel for reducing the nuances of film criticism to a binary “recommend/don’t recommend” state, but one of the things I always appreciated about Ebert was that he always evaluated a movie for what it was.  He didn’t attack Dumb and Dumber because it wasn’t Schindler’s List.  He was not above succumbing to snark once in a while (as his famous “I hated, HATED this movie” rant about North proved) but he was first and foremost a movie fan and hoped each time, as the lights went down, that what he was about to see was the greatest movie ever made.  This I think is a sentiment that has largely been lost, perhaps in the wake of the tsunami of disappointment the planet felt as the words THE PHANTOM MENACE scrolled in front of us and we learned about the galactic dispute over taxation of trade routes.  Our primary instinct now is expecting things to suck (and then, ironically, raging about them even though all they’ve done is meet our lowered expectations).

It’s telling, and fortunate, that Facebook and its social brethren (like WordPress) don’t have a “Dislike” button anywhere, as we hardly need to make being a snarkily dismissive asshat more convenient.  But we need to get away from the whole “hate-watching” concept, where we aren’t just saying we don’t like something but are instead devoting hours of our time to viewing and then regurgitating and ripping apart every single flaw, in furtherance of whatever the endgame is – proving ourselves better, smarter, wittier?  What, truly, is the goal in hate-watching The Newsroom:  getting it canceled or making Aaron Sorkin cry?  And will either of those (one a little more likely than the other) outcomes result in a substantial improvement in our lives or the lives of our fellows?  Criticism for the sake of itself misses the point.  How do we get better?  We improve upon our mistakes.  At its best, criticism is how we help each other do that, by pointing out the missteps the subject may not see and giving them the opportunity to address them or ignore them as they see fit.  The key to good criticism lies in the nobility of its motivations, and if the motivation is the aggrandizement of our own egos, then We’re Doing It Wrong.  And anyone who thinks otherwise is a crap-spewing donkey abortion oozing from a gangrenous sore on Satan’s left ass cheek.

Happy blogiversary to me!

Somewhere, someone is looking at this right now.  Wave to them.
Somewhere, someone is looking at this right now. Wave to them.

I got a little note from WordPress yesterday that I’ve been blogging with them for two years.  Two whole years!  It doesn’t seem that long since I was idly musing to the better half that I was thinking of starting a blog, and yet here we are, two entire trips round the sun later.  Strictly speaking this is not my first blog – there were two antecedents that have long since vanished from the face of the net, and good riddance to them.  (The second one actually didn’t have any posts on it, if I recall correctly.)  So, two years then; seven hundred and thirty days of wondering what to write about, failing to write anything, figuring it out and writing it, being afraid to hit the publish button once written, worrying that nobody will click on it, getting mad that no one clicks on it, squirming a bit when a copious amount of people are clicking on it and sharing it far and wide.

Have I any insights to share about the experience?  Well, a few, take ‘em or leave ‘em.  First and foremost it’s made me a better writer (though your opinion may vary).  As others have pointed out, writing is a muscle like any other and the more exercise it gets the stronger it becomes.  I’ve been able to sharpen my voice and deliver my arguments in a more cogent, more impactful manner.  I’ve learned also that an audience is a ravenous beast, and that you cannot drop off the radar after one well-received post and expect people to keep coming back in search of your brilliance.  To that end, regular updates on a predictable schedule are a must.  This past week has been quite productive and I’m not certain I’ll be able to keep up that pace, but I’m damned well going to try.  The only reason not to post is laziness.  There are always things to write about, and inspiration can come from the most unlikely corners.  I’m finding a lot of it lately in my interactions on Twitter – conversations there can swing into unexpected and wildly amusing detours, providing more than enough fodder for posting more formally later on.  Because this is ultimately a form of conversation, I’ve realized that it isn’t enough to post and forget and wait for acclaim to roll in.  You need to get out there and talk to other people proactively, follow their blogs, comment when you feel you can contribute (as opposed to just saying “Great post.  Check out my blog!”) and be a member of a community.

Above all else, the most important thing I’ve learned is to BE POSITIVE.  Even when you’re writing about something that enrages you to the deepest core of your being, you must find it within you to locate the silver lining (and it is there, believe me).  There may be a market out there for endless cynicism, for paragraphs of disgust flung at worthy targets like so many buckets of monkey feces, but Jesus, do you really want to be that guy?  The nihilist who sees nothing good in or about life and spreads his gloom one kilobyte at a time, determined to twist smiles into frowns wherever he finds them?  Yes, a lot of our world is unfair, unjust, even horrifying, and it does us no good to stand in ignorance of that.  But the people who have managed to effect positive change have done so from a place of hope and faith in the potential good.  An unshakeable trust in the nobility that can arise from the human soul.  They have reached out their hands and helped lift others into greatness.

I’m not so naïve to think that I’m changing hearts and minds on a vast scale here.  But sometimes I look at that stats map above and it gives me tremendous pause.  Each part that is colored represents a different country where someone (and in the cases of the darker colors, quite a few someones) has lent me a few moments of their time to look over what I’ve written.  Yeah, maybe some of them are accidental hits while looking for something else.  But perhaps one or two of them stayed for a while and poked around a little and came away thinking they’d found something of value.  The most wonderful thing about blogging is the ability we now have to touch a truly global audience – to reach out with our hands and lift someone else up, someone we may never meet or even be aware of.  How is that not motivation to keep going, to keep pounding out the words, to fight through the self-doubt, the creeping ennui and cynicism and fear?

The right words can change the world.  So let’s write a few more of them.  Here’s to the next two years.

Fishing for the little pellets of love

water

Some depressing Graham’s Crackers statistics to start off with.  Total posts, March 2012:  26.  Total posts, March 2013:  2 (including this one, 3 if you include the piece I did for HuffPo about International Women’s Day).  And the frogurt is also cursed.

Yes, I know, oh mighty gurus of blog, you’re not supposed to post about how you haven’t posted in a while.  But this is my sandbox and my rules and prithee, I shall beg indulgence while I raise a kerchief to my brow and lament in plaintive tone the lack of productivity shown these past fortnights.  It isn’t as though there’s nothing to write about, after all.  Nay, verily, my literary cup runneth somewhat over.  I do admire though, those who can juggle the heavy spheres of work and family and simply keeping up with the pace of life and still churn out a few thousand words each day.  Something one should aspire to as well, if one were not such a piss poor scheduler of one’s time (guilty, Your Honors).

To that end I am raising a metaphorical glass to my friend Tele Aadsen of Hooked for her much-deserved accomplishment of landing a publisher for her memoir.  Now, Tele and I have never met or spoken to one another and our interaction has been entirely in reading each other’s writing and exchanging comments and tweets.  But ours, I think, is a kinship of letters, of recognizing and appreciating the power of the written word and how we can use it to connect across otherwise impassable chasms of time and distance.  Would I, a dude of a somewhat insular urban upbringing in the Greater Toronto Area, have ever assumed that I would have the slightest thing in common with an Alaskan fisher poet?  Yet I do, and I’m grateful, and my life is the better for it.  Anyway, there was a Twitter hashtag that was trending a few days about people you’d most like to meet, and predictably, the most common answers were celebrity names (Bieber again?  REALLY?)  Tele’s at the top of my list.  Someday soon, I hope – that is, if I haven’t now come off sounding like Creepy Stalker Guy™.  If for nothing else than just the chance to say thank you.  And get a personalized, autographed copy.  It’s not for me, it’s for my friend of the same name.

Onwards and upwards then.  Amongst my pursuits I am occasionally fortunate enough to attend digital media conferences.  Toronto held its second annual Digital Media Summit last week, gathering a roster of experts and thought leaders from across the industry of ye olde cyberspace – names like Don Tapscott, Erik Qualman, Cindy Gallop, Amber Mac and Neil Shankman among dozens of other luminaries delivering informative addresses to hundreds of lanyard-wearing, smartphone-tapping digital worker bees.  I was there on behalf of my employer, of course, but I still view things through the filter of writing and how what they were all saying could be used to further a writer’s reach (who are we kidding – my reach) in this rapidly advancing age.  You know, sometimes one can get a bit cynical as one carefully strings his words together and hits “publish” and… nothing much happens.  Admit it; on the surface, we’re all happy for the blogger who rejoices “I got Freshly Pressed on my very first post!” while inside we seethe that our own 189 pearls of literate wisdom usually go unnoticed by all but a select (if wonderful) few.  If you can take your ego out of the equation, it’s not difficult to understand.  Time is precious, an individual’s time is even more precious, and in order for them to grant you even a few seconds of theirs in between bathing the dog and walking the baby, you have to touch them with something that inspires real passion.  There was an interesting statistic revealed at DMS that on Facebook, even posts by the most famous, highly-liked brands only reach about 15% of their followers.  (That’s why, even though in between Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, G+ or whatever else you’re linking your blog posts to you may have a thousand connections, hits on your latest and greatest might not top a hundred.  At least, that’s how it works for me.)  And just because you get them, it doesn’t mean you’ll keep them.  I’ve received a couple of (relatively) huge traffic spikes that have come from famous people tweeting links to my blog.  But they don’t last – after a few days the hits drop to their usual, more stable level.  Maybe you retain one or two, but the vast majority treat you like a cheap motel along I-75, moving on once the new day has dawned and the open road beckons.  And that’s cool.  I mean, how many blogs have I looked at once because they posted something I wanted to learn more about only to forget about them thirty seconds after hitting the red X?  It’s life, and if you want to be loved, adopt a golden retriever.

Those moments when you do tap into something and really connect with people, well, I suspect there are few varieties of crack cocaine that can measure to the high.  Someone at the DMS called them “little pellets of love”; you know, the tiny charge that you get when you open your Facebook and see the little red number in your notification section.  “People are interested in me!  Yay!”  Same goes on Twitter when we get a retweet, or a new follow, or a reply from a celebrity we really admire, or on WordPress when we get the notification that somebody liked, commented or shared our work.  When one finally does cross that fabled Rubicon from giving it away for free to receiving the first cheque for something we penned, does that vindication truly compare to the spiritual fulfillment of knowing that someone, even a stranger, really digs us?  I suppose in those cases by contrast when we’ve written something that really pisses people off, the money compensates for the death threats.

What then, is the lesson for today?  It’s karma, sports fans.  Ya gotta put it out to get it back.  And as my learned better half is wont to tell me when I sink into the occasional bout of self-pity, you need to write to touch people, not to prove how smart you are about things no one cares about.  You’ll see, I’m sure, when Hooked is released, how Tele does it.  Hopefully as I continue along here I’ll get better at it.  And we’ll see where the ocean takes us.

Around the world in 80 clicks

50 Shades of Orange and Red.
50 Shades of Orange and Red.

The “views by country” application on WordPress holds endless fascination for me.  As I’ve said before it’s a reminder of how small the world has become in the digital age and how one does not need a multi-million-dollar book deal or internationally syndicated column to have a reach that spans the globe.  Since my last update, we’ve now filled in the entire north coast of Africa, all of South America save Guyana and French Guinea, Belarus finally got on board to complete the Eastern European bloc and the U.S. has regained the all-time lead from Canada following last June’s spike (thanks neighborinos!)

I wonder about some of the countries where the total number of views is in the low single digits.  What were they looking for, did they find me by happenstance, and did they at least enjoy what they stumbled upon?  I wonder about those nations where the Internet is guarded tightly by the government and who seem to be, at least for now, the Holy Grail in terms of getting a blog hit – places like China, Iran, Cuba, North Korea.  (Don’t know what Greenland’s excuse is.)  We know that in those countries, a privileged few do indeed enjoy unrestricted Internet access so the possibility exists.  There was an interesting article released last week about Jimmy Dushku, a 25-year-old American who for whatever reason is one of three accounts being followed by North Korea’s official Twitter account.  Though considering what goes on in that despotic mess of a country, I can’t say I’m that eager to fill my map in.

What’s the scoop, fellow WordPressers – anybody out there get a hit from somewhere completely unexpected?

Paying it forward – part deux

Confession time:  I’ve been negligent again.  In the middle of my somewhat obsessive trip through Bondage of late, the ever-awesome Samir from Cecile’s Writers was kind enough to nominate me for the One Lovely Blog Award.  It’s always terrific to be acknowledged in this way by our fellow scribes; as I’ve observed in the past, what else is blogging or indeed writing but the cry into the lonely wilderness hoping for an answer?  Samir and his colleagues over at Cecile’s are really quite amazing; you should check them out, and often – there is always something different to peruse, a new, insightfully crafted exploration of this mad journey of stringing together words to form images and ideas we have chosen to undertake, whether for the love of language, the desire to reach or simply because we were intoxicated at the time.

I’ve also observed that the words matter more than the man behind them, and so in that respect it’s difficult to come up with seven random things about me that would garner any interest beyond that of my immediate family.  Most of what I would consider important to understanding who the guy behind the glasses is has already been divulged in the course of the 175 essays that precede this one.  But I shall give it the old college try:

1.  I have a crippling addiction to red velvet cake.  If there is ever an “RV-Anon,” I could easily be its spokesperson.  Assuming my arteries haven’t been completely clogged by cream cheese icing first.

2.  The only accent I cannot mimic well is Afrikaner.  I can usually spout off a few brief phrases before it starts to devolve into pidgin-Australian meets effeminate German.

3.  I was once chased away from near the exterior set of Days of Our Lives at the NBC lot in Los Angeles because I was wearing a Universal Studios jacket.

4.  Over 90% of my music collection is movie soundtracks – and not those half-assed packages of unrelated pop songs that are released purely for marketing purposes, but genuine orchestral scores.

5.  On a related note, when I am really in a serious spot of writers’ block, the album that has never failed to save me from it is U2’s The Joshua Tree.

6.  Queries for my novel have (finally) gone out to literary agents.  More to come and good news (if any, hopefully) to be shared here first.

7.  I currently (for November, at least) sport a moustache.  Squint your eyes at my gravatar pic and imagine the horrors.

Writing is about breaking rules sometimes too, and to that end, I’m going to deviate from the last requirement of this award just a little bit.  You’re supposed to nominate an additional 15 blogs that you think merit consideration as well.  But I find myself unable to do so.  For one thing, ashamed as I am to admit it, I don’t read that many blogs that regularly – I have the “fabulous five” that are linked on my front page which I of course recommend heartily to anyone in search of wordly (not a misspelling) fulfilment.  I have a few more that I follow and enjoy from time to time.  However, stretching the list to fifteen – arbitrarily slapping a few extra names on there just to reach an artificial threshold would be unfair to the authors of those blogs, and would serve, I think, to diminish the worthiness of their efforts.  WordPress is a vast and welcoming sea, and the task should be not for me to point you hither and yon based on what could very well be a fleeting fancy of mine, but for you to plunge in without a lifejacket and discover the many sumptuous treasures for yourself.  So instead of hyperlinking fifteen blogs, I’m going to nominate every WordPress blogger who dedicates his or her words to improving our human condition, to expressing positivity and hope.  To everyone who wants their work to create a smile somewhere out there in the world – to everyone who wants the words they etch in the unforgiving cement of the Internet to be an enduring message of joy and celebration of all we are and all we can achieve.

This award is for every last one of you, and that’s the best part – you already know who you are.  You don’t need me or anyone else to tell you.

We get letters

“This new learning amazes me, Sir Bedevere. Explain again, how sheep’s bladders may be employed to prevent nonsensical blog comments.”

Spam, as the old Monty Python song reminds us, is ubiquitous – you get it whether you like it or not.  We’re all familiar with the Viagra ads and the dubious promises of freaky sexual encounters that show up in our email inboxes.  The spam you get on blogs is a bit different; I’ve yet to be assured that I can expand my manhood by several inches in only 30 days, or that Prince Nbeke Mbala desperately needs my help in extracting his oil fortune from Lagos, Nigeria, if only I can send him my bank account details and exclusive rights to my firstborn.  Really, the spam you get in the comments is quite dull.  No one is trying to sell me anything, or asking me to click on a weird link.  What if these are genuine comments from lonely people just looking for a connection, cruelly barred from my site by the unfeeling, unsympathetic Akismet?  What if all they want is an answer?  Well, let it never be said that I don’t consider the needs of my fans.  Here we go:

“Omar” writes:

I thought your video was very intgihsful. I’ve been blogging for about a year & just like Missmikela I’ve yet to make any real money. How did you join Glam, were you referred & also who do you recommend for text links.

Hi, Omar, glad you found the video full of intgihs.  I’m pretty sure she told me she was eighteen, but I wasn’t sure what the stuffed elephant was for.  Anyway, I’ve been to Missmikela’s site and quite frankly, with the questionable theories she puts forth about French deconstructionist literature and its relationship to early Marxist writings, I’m not surprised she hasn’t picked up any spare coin.  My work with Glam kind of began the old-fashioned way – I was enjoying a malted in the soda shop when the agent walked in, handed me a card and asked if I’d done any modeling.  The shabby furniture in the office should have been my first clue, but sometimes it’s just nice to be noticed.  Besides, you can barely tell it’s me in the pictures.  Thanks for writing!

“Gabriela” says:

So much good stuff! Can’t wait for these. I love the new extra weapons some of them come with. I was gttieng tired of the previous ones, so many already and all the same ones. These have more of a mix of weapons.Aside from that, so many great figures, even the repacks. Don’t care much for the game though.

Hey there Gabriela, I know, I was just saying the other day that when I really need to kill something it’s good to be able to choose between the rocket-propelled Semtex grenades and the super-high-velocity repeating bolt action rifles.  A week ago some guy in the mall was looking at me funny and I thought to myself, “if only I had my depleted uranium shell crossbow, I’d show him a thing or two.”  I agree, I much preferred the first version of the game where the princess was in the other castle and there were only twenty-six mushrooms to jump on while avoiding the giant monkey.  Appreciate your thoughts!

“Edinaldo” opines:

First, I’ll give you an example for me. I have a nomarl blood sugar reading of 72 and the nomarl should be 80 120. Sometimes, our bodies can get use to something and that can be our nomarl. As for your situation 90/47 is a very low blood pressure. The bottom is low and the top isn’t to bad. However, you do not want them running close to each other because of risk of stroke or pass out. The nomarl reading for blood pressure is 120/80. So, if you take that into account your blood pressure is moderately low but your body could be use to it.There is no reason for concern.

Wow!  Thanks for the reassurance, Doctor Edinaldo.  Are you the guy from that weirdly compelling telenovela?  I was a little worried after eating that triple cheeseburger with the fried chicken bun and the barbeque sauce when I started feeling palpitations in my thigh.  The weird thing was I was running a half-marathon at the time.  But as long as I increase my daily ice cream intake and follow it with a few good shots of straight vodka at bedtime, I should be able to get this rash under control.  The twitching and night sweats should stop shortly thereafter.  Have a great day!

And finally, from the very cranky “Vasile”:

Well What do you think? It’s not rocket siccnee. I was complimenting you. Where in that sentence did I say, It sucked and was a bad movie ? I said that I remember the good old days using Intel Play and that it couldn’t have been any better with the amount of technology Intel Play provides. Now this I don’t get: Are you a kid or a teenager or what?

I understand where you’re coming from, my friend.  There were script problems from day one and honestly, when you’re dealing with a diva like Marjoe Gortner it’s tough to keep the big picture in perspective.  I’ve never been a fan of Intel Play – I thought their first album showed potential but their misguided foray into Turkish hip-hop was a load of pretentious tripe, and what the hell was with that eighteen-minute timpani solo on “Who Loves a Sailor Then”?  I dig a good set of kettle drums as much as the next guy, but come one, even artistically speaking a little goes a long way.  In answer to your next question, yes, I may come off sounding like a guy in his thirties but I am in fact just on the high side of seven, and I am mocked on the playground constantly for my references to Proust and Aeschylus, but then again, at least I don’t wipe my nose with my sleeve very much anymore.  All the best!

Hat tip to East Bay Writer who publishes her blog spam as a regular (and hilarious) feature.

What’s the matter with Belarus?

Greenland is still not that big.

Like many of my fellow WordPressians, I find the country view statistics page fascinating.  It’s a bit surreal to see how wide your “reach” truly is (and a good reminder to not put anything on the web that you wouldn’t be comfortable carving in cement on your front doorstep).  Again, I’m not under any illusion that a lot of these hits are anything but accidental, as search engine terms meet in the conflux of wilderness that is the Internet.  But like any good geek, I’m a completist, and there’s an indescribably giddy sensation that results whenever I check this map and see a new country colored in.  The sad reality of the world, however, means that barring radical change, none of us will likely ever be able to complete the set.

Glaring exceptions like the over 1 billion people locked behind the Great Firewall of China continue to stand out. North Korea, where despots would rather build useless rockets than let their people watch cats dance on YouTube.  Closed internet systems like the ones operating in Cuba and Burma. Iran’s Supreme Council of Virtual Space (ironic given that there are, according to Wikipedia, over 700,000 Iranian blogs.)  The big annoying exception there in Eastern Europe, Belarus, where no website is allowed in country unless it has registered with their Ministry of Information first (can’t believe I forgot to send the form in again!)  Afghanistan, or huge portions of Africa that are too poor to feed themselves or too consumed by tribal hatred to live in peace, let alone gain anything as First World-privileged as regular web access, are a reminder that this freedom that I and millions like me have to share our words is so very precious, and so terrifyingly fleeting – we need to guard it with our lives and celebrate it at every opportunity.  And not only that, we owe it to the rest of humanity that what we are sharing is something worthwhile – worth whatever amount of time we’ve so humbly asked for your attention.  Squandering a post on a mindless, misspelled profanity-laced rant about some band you’ve never liked is not only a waste of your own intellect and time, but it’s a virtual slap in the face to millions of people who would love to be able to read what’s out there and can’t because of poverty, oppression or a hundred other reasons that would never even occur to us.  We owe it to them to always try to raise our game, to elevate the conversation and push things forward.

There is nothing as singularly powerful or resilient in the universe as an idea, and those ideas can spring from the humblest beginnings; an idle thought on a spring morning can one day come to change the world.  On a blog, we don’t have to answer to an editor or fit a predetermined viewpoint based on an advertiser’s demands.  We are ideas in their purest form, and participants in a grand tradition dating back to the first time one homo habilis showed another how to use a bone to smash open a piece of fruit (or, depending on your beliefs, to when Eve suggested to Adam that he take a bite of that fruit).  So let’s make our ideas good ones.