Blogging Around the Coffee Table

Fill the paper with the breathings of your heart.” – William Wordsworth

I have a feeling when I blog – both reading and writing – that it’s like having coffee with a group of friends. I get to talk about what is holding my interest these days and I get to hear about what’s going on for other people. The topics are wide-ranging but the lovely part is that there’s space for everyone to share.

My experience differs based on whether I show up to share with my head or my heart.

When I write from my head, it feels as if I’m tussling with my inner critic. I find myself more restless and wanting to rely too heavily on other people’s ideas and words. It feels as if my fingers are encased in bubble-wrap and I have a harder time getting the message across. If I were to name someone I write for when I’m in my head, it’s my mom who is incredibly smart, very literal and a stickler for a solid argument and perfect English grammar.

When I write from my heart, it feels like being in the flow of the stream. I can produce faster when I get out of my own way. It’s not that my head isn’t present – it just has accepted its position to be subordinate to the heart. In that way, I get to the point more quickly, as to the “heart” of the matter. When I’m writing from my heart, I write as if for my dad, the person who is incredibly generous in their desire to understand the point of what I’m saying even if I miss a couple of steps in my argument.

Where do you go, metaphorically speaking, when you write? Do you have a specific person or image that you write for? What does the blogging experience feel like for you?

(featured photo from Pexels)

Milestone Moment

The difference between winning and losing is most often not quitting.” – Walt Disney

I’m celebrating today. I’ve published a post every day for a year. And since late October of last year, I’ve also written a weekly post on the Pointless Overthinking blog as well. That’s about 400 posts total.

Looking back on the experience, I realize that what happened to me over the year was a far different thing than what I thought going into it.

Write What You Need to Read

I was reminded of this adage somewhere in the middle of this year of posts and connected it to what I’m doing here. I’ve been writing what I need to process and remember this precious time that is so busy it could go by without notice. The posts that I imagined I would write – clean, full of poignant phrases, powerfully evocative – are not at all what came out. But what came out was something like little snapshots of learning, appreciating and searching for the depth and richness of life as it is right now.

Themes

I imagined that I would write a lot more about faith and God because this was going to be my meditation journal for parenting. But it turns out that I can’t easily find the words to describe this core but non-denominational factor in my life. I suspect that because my beloved dad had such a definite view of God through Presbyterianism that I imbibed that deep belief but have trouble intellectualizing the faith, hope, and optimism that keep me going.

Instead I find myself writing about friendship, learning, trying, failing, confidence, feelings, the precious lessons I see unfold in my kids, meditation and breathing, imperfection, healing. And though they are all colored by my faith, hope, and optimism, they reflect life as I process it in all its messiness.

Community

I expected that writing posts would help me practice to become a better writer. But I had no idea I was joining a community. In many ways, the beauty of this experience had very little to do with the keyboard and everything to do with finding a network of interesting, inspiring and invested people. Writing blog posts has helped me remember this year of my life – but commenting on them and other people’s post filled a need I didn’t know I had for daily interaction with grown-ups that I wasn’t getting from my professional or family life.

As an example, in the beginning, I had my Gravitar website pointing to an outdated URL. Fortunately, Ab pointed that out to me, I fixed it and we connected. He has commented on every single post of mine since which deserves its own medal. Thank you for that gift, Ab!

That experience multiplied by many including Alegria, Ally, Art, Ashley, Betsy, Caitlyn, Chaya, Claudette, Cristiana, Deb, David, Dr. Stein, Dutch, Endless Weekend, Fred, Gary, Grace, Jane, Julia, Kathy, LaShelle, Mark, Michael, Michelle, Nancy, Natalie, Rebecca, Rosaliene, Susan, Tamara, and so many more is a treasure trove of goodness for which I’m so grateful. Thank you all!

I’m going to go celebrate. See you tomorrow – because even though my experiment is over, somehow I still have more to say… 😊  

(featured photo is of my kids celebrating a few years back)

Data With a Grain of Salt

Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” – Albert Einstein

Talking with some blogging friends the other day, the topic of blog views came up. We were discussing all the different reasons that view numbers could be less this year than last year: people’s attention spans getting shorter, maybe viewers read more when the pandemic shut down other activities and now they are reading less, etc..

I’m too new to blogging to have enough historical data of significance, but I’ve studied similar data in my professional life to know that numbers aren’t as concrete as we think. So I did some digging and thought I’d share the results of my research specific to WordPress.

First of all – what is a view?

According to the WordPress stats and insights page it is:

“The two main units of traffic measurement are views and visitors:

  • view is counted when a visitor loads or reloads a page.
  • visitor is counted when we see a user or browser for the first time in a selected time frame.

visitor is an individual looking at your site. A visitor can view many different pages of your site or view the same page multiple times. Therefore, the views number is typically higher than the visitors number.”

With those definitions in mind. Here are some things that impact the numbers.

  • If a viewer reads your content in the body of email notification and never clicks on any links within the email, it doesn’t count as a view.
  • If a viewer reads and/or likes your content in the WordPress viewer but does not click through to the full post, it does not count as a view.

One of the blogs that I write for has changed in the last few months so that when posts are emailed out, they no longer have a “like” link at the bottom, just the “comment” link. However posts that come from my blog still have both “like” and “comment” links at the bottom. Some posts are emailed out with just the summary and then something like “click here to read the full post.” For people who are reading blog posts in email like I do, those three differences are going to impact the number of views.

There are some things that WordPress makes a point not to count as a view – search engines and views from anyone that has logged in and who has authoring permissions. Generally speaking, there are trying to report how many views of the content by readers as accurately as they can.

The technology is constantly changing so things like a change in the format of the notifications by email or even how well the WP Reader performs on a mobile device can impact things like view numbers. Numbers as reported within a week are probably pretty accurate in relation to each other because the functionality is consistent. There are likely seasonal differences with dips in summer and holidays. Year over year numbers, comparing the same month this year to the same month last year, is very interesting data but needs to taken with a grain of salt.

If a blog has a drop in views, it’s possible that it’s because the author(s) has alienated the viewers or our collective attention span has gone to seed. But since the trend over time for active bloggers is towards more followers and views, it also might be worth considering these technical factors as well.

For those of you who are interested in more information on the many way people read blog posts from two incredibly talented writers and experienced bloggers, both Ashley and Claudette have covered the topics in depth and by survey here:

Ashley Peterson’s post on How Do You Read Blog Posts? on her Mental Health @ Home blog.

Claudette Labriola’s survey results of How Do You Read Blogs on her Writer of Words, Etc blog

(featured photo from Pexels)

An Honest Mistake

Make your ego porous. Will is of little importance, complaining is nothing, fame is nothing. Openness, patience, receptivity, solitude is everything.” – Rainier Maria Rilke

I wrote a post for today to celebrate one year of doing a post every day. Then I looked back at my posts to confirm whether it was May 19th or May 18th when I started the practice, I found that I skipped a post on June 11th. Damn! If I hadn’t looked, I could have posted my victory lap and it would have been an honest mistake but once I knew, then I couldn’t celebrate because it became a dishonest mistake.

Not that I think anyone who reads the blog would have noticed. In fact, there could be some followers who wished I skipped more than one day, if you know what I mean… 😉

But somehow it matters to me because I think that if I’m going to go to the effort to write about my life, I might as well be as honest as I can be. I’m sure I have blind spots that keep me from seeing who I am in totality but at the very least I can not believe the BS my brain produces when I see it. Because when I do buy into the fiction, it just wraps one more layer between me and my experience of life that keeps me from feeling the beautiful, joyful, and yes, sometimes gritty reality.

I dated a guy when I was in my early 30’s who was always telling me what a nice guy he was. He’d usually say that as an addendum to a story he’d be relating from work or his first marriage that involved a kerfuffle of some sort. And because he got into a lot of disagreements that related to him needing to be in control or not listening very well, he had to tell me quite often what a nice guy he was. I think he really thought of himself that way but (and this probably goes without saying) I think that he was many things good and bad but objectively speaking, he wasn’t that nice of a guy.

Reflecting on the relevance of this to life, I went looking through Brené Brown’s book Atlas of the Heart to find the section on Places We Go To Self-Assess. There are three definitions offered there:

Pride: Pride is a feeling of pleasure or celebration related to our accomplishments or efforts.”

Hubris: Hubris is an inflated sense of one’s own innate abilities that is tied more to the need for dominance than to actual accomplishments.”

Humility: Humility is openness to new learning combined with a balanced and accurate assessment of our contributions, including our strengths, imperfections, and opportunities for growth.”

I loved that Brené Brown includes that word humility derives from the Latin word meaning groundedness. So I’m practicing humility to try to accurately assess my blogging contribution and opportunities for growth until I actually reach the 365 days of posting. And then I’ll celebrate the milestone with pride, not hubris, I hope!

Anyone else meet a “nice” guy that wasn’t? Or discovered an honest mistake recently?

(featured photo from Pexels)

Confession of a Writer

What you are afraid to do is a clear indication of the next thing you need to do.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

In the year before my dad’s sudden death in a bicycle accident, I had a soul whisper that I needed to get to know my dad on his terms. He was such an enthusiastic supporter of so many people that it was hard to get him to talk about himself. But I sat him down and asked questions and recorded his stories. It was one of the most inspired things I ever did. His death catapulted me into an ambition to write a book about him.  In those months as I was pregnant with my daughter and writing about my dad, spinning between death and birth, I met Sheila, my writing coach.

With her help, I finished and published the book, and after my daughter was born, I found more to write about. When I contacted Sheila again, she asked, “Do you remember the first thing that you said to me?” I didn’t so she reminded me that I had told her I wasn’t a writer, I just wanted to write a book about my dad. But as we worked together, she told me along the way that I would have more to write about.

I think back to how I was so quick to disavow any greater aspirations to be a writer and it showed how much I feared admitting what was calling to me. I didn’t want to presume that I had anything valuable to say (or write) and it wasn’t what I went to school for. In fact, when I was finishing my BS in Electrical Engineering, the last course I needed to complete was a technical writing course, and it took me until after I walked through ceremonies and had a real job to complete those credits and finish my degree.

Sitting down to write and publish blogging posts every morning has been my practice to walk what my inner self already knows is true. That I’m driven to write about this one wild and precious life of mine, to quote Mary Oliver, and that it’s not presumptuous to own that.

I like to think of writing as the last gift that my dad gave me before he departed this planet. And as such it’s the one that helps me integrate him with the life I have now with these two beautiful children. It’s the gift that has brought me depth and wonderful relationships with you all in the WordPress community. To not own that I love writing is a betrayal of all that so I guess I need to call Sheila back up and tell her I’m a writer.

How about you – do you admit that you are a writer?

(featured photo from Pexels)

Influence

Be sure to taste your words before you spit them out.” – unknown

I went back to look at footage of an interview with Madonna in 2012 that has stuck in my mind. In the interview, she’s being asked about Lady Gaga’s music and she calls it “reductive.” Something about her facial expression made it stand out when I watched it even though I’m not deep into either of those artists’ work.

When I went back and watched it, I saw a lot of things that I didn’t remember. The ABC News interviewer was really pushing Madonna to say something unkind about Lady Gaga’s music – to weigh in on some perception of “feud” that was being circulated online. Madonna says a number of things about influence and being amused before being pushed to call Born This Way reductive. When the interviewer pushes further to ask what that means, Madonna gets this sassy look on her face and says, “Look it up.”

According to the Oxford Dictionary, it means, “tending to present a subject or problem in a simplified form, especially one viewed as crude.” Setting aside the issue of what we do to celebrities to try to stoke a controversy or conflict, I suspect I’ve always remembered this because I wonder if what we all do is reductive.

Speaking for myself, I think everything I do is derivative or reductive of someone else’s work. I’m endlessly influenced by the books I read, especially the Mark Nepo and Frederick Buechner meditation books that I read every morning before I write. But more than that, I’m influenced by all the posts I read from everyone else and the podcasts I listen to when driving. I try to carefully quote and link when I use material but often times what I get is inspiration or ideas about how to think about a topic.

Celebrity feud aside – isn’t what we are here to do to influence each other? And isn’t that an honor to be a part of someone else’s path? I’m not talking about plagiarism or giving credit where credit is due – but just knowing that our content might touch one other person in a way that is meaningful, isn’t that a good thing?

(featured photo from Pexels)

Worth Quoting

Do small things with great love.” – Mother Teresa

I like quotes. I curate them the way my dad did humor – but instead of using notecards, I use an Excel spreadsheet with a column for where I’ve used them and where I got them. I loan my spreadsheet out now and again – like to my friend who was taping quotes to her teenager’s mirror every morning as they waited for college admissions results to come in.

Quotes have such an elegance – a succinctness of capturing a particular idea so that it can be passed on. It’s an amazing gift to be able to do that, to coin a phrase or sentence worth repeating. And worth repeating outside of the context of any longer writing.

There is also an inferred meaning of a quote based on who said it, if attributed to someone. One of my favorite quotes is from Anne Sexton “Put your ear down close to your soul and listen hard.” It doesn’t take much looking to find that while Anne Sexton tackled some deep and revealing subjects in her work, she also is alleged to have physically abused her children. Knowing that, I find it harder to use that quote because who said it matters.

When I first started writing, I had a difficult time believing my own voice had any credibility so I wanted to rely on quotes as a crutch. To counter that, I changed my process so that I wrote and only when I was done or had trouble pulling together the last sentence did I go and find a quote that helped me clarify my topic. In that way, I’ve found a way to add another voice to what I’m writing without silencing my own.

The quotes that I think of when I’m in a crunch or stuck change with the major themes in my life. I had a different set of go-tos when I was trying to work up the courage to have kids then now when I’m in the thick of parenting. With that said, here are a few of my personal favorites.

You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings.” – Elizabeth Gilbert

Whether you think you can or think you can’t – you’re right.” – Henry Ford

Above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” – Roald Dahl

“Everything you’ve always wanted is on the other side of fear.” – George Adair

When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.‘” – Erma Bombeck

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” – Matthew 7:3

The two most important days of your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” – Mark Twain

“God breaks the heart again and again and again until it stays open.” Hazrat Inayat Khan

“Please remember, it is what you are that heals, not what you know.” – Carl Jung

Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase. Just take the first step.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Great things are done when men and mountains meet.” – William Blake

You don’t have a soul, you ARE a soul.” – Dick Leon

And the perfect one to end this post comes from the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, “Everything will be alright in the end, and if it’s not alright, it’s not the end.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

(featured photo from Pexels)

Expressive Writing

Fill the paper with the breathings of your heart.” – William Wordsworth

My 6-year-old daughter, Miss O, brought home her journal from first grade because she’d filled the composition notebook. The teacher gives them a topic and they write a little bit every day.  Miss O sat me down to show me how in the beginning of the school year she wrote a couple of words and doodled. By her entries in March, she was writing a couple of paragraphs. She was incredibly proud of her work.

It reminded me of a recent reference I heard to the work of James Pennebaker, a professor of psychology (and formerly the chair of the department) at the University of Texas, Austin. In the late 90’s, he wrote a paper summarizing the findings of studies he’d done that showed that people who practiced expressive writing, writing about thoughts and feelings, tended to have positive health outcomes (less visits to the campus health center or evidenced by blood pressure and heart rate).

In a summary paper published in 2017, Dr. Pennebaker theorizes that expressive writing helps because keeping things secret causes stress. I’d say that many of us creative non-fiction bloggers, know the benefits of expressive writing anecdotally – in the community that we create and the support we get from others. Sharing our thoughts and feelings, even though unnecessary to reap the health benefits according to Dr. Pennebaker, makes them feel more normal.

It feels to me like words give our thoughts and feelings definite shape. It morphs them into things that can be actionable. There is a magic that comes from owning our stories.

This brings to mind the post I wrote about humorist Kevin Kling whose therapist was helping him through a bout of PTSD stemming from a motorcycle accident in which he lost his arm. He was angry and unable to sleep until his therapist had him tell his story about that day as if the accident didn’t happen and he reached his destination unharmed. It worked like a charm and Kevin’s takeaway was, “we need to rewrite our story sometimes just so we can get some sleep.”

Flipping through Miss O’s journal, I find this entry that I share with her permission:

“Wen I grow up I want to be caring. Because caring is nise [nice] and I’m areredey [already] nise. Caring is what you shod be!”

Miss O’s 1st Grade Journal

The Fruits of Blogging

I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” – Pablo Picasso

I have just passed the milestone of posting to this blog 300 days in a row. Writing a blog has been so personally gratifying to me, mostly because of the community of friendship and support I feel with fellow bloggers on this journey.

So I looked around for studies about blogs and found some interesting conclusions that come from a paper published by the Canadian Center of Science Education. The paper entitled The Effectiveness of Using Online Blogging for Students’ Individual and Group Writing studied a students who were learning English as a Foreign Language. Studying their writing styles before and after a 14-week period of blogging, here are some of the key take-aways that caught my eye:

  • Not only do learners better improve their writing skills through blogging practices, they can also build their self-confidence as writers and attract a wider audience.
  • Blogging practices play an active role in encouraging learners to experiment, take risks and foster their awareness to be private and public writers.
  • Blogging helped both individual learners and groups come up with more engaging ideas.
  • As practice time progressed, learners using blogging tried to transform their writings when they acknowledged their audience and expected or anticipated a level of interaction in the form comments, criticism or support.
  • Blogging became a space where they could improve their writing, and where numerous readers and bloggers were also arbiters in matters of language usage and mechanics, cohesion, coherence, idea generation, debate, discussion, critical thinking and so on.

I couldn’t find a study that verified the positive benefits of interacting with an interesting and interested group of people with whom one would have never met otherwise and who comment in ways that inspire and delight. But I don’t need a study to affirm that – because I live it every day! Thank you my blogging friends!

(featured photo from Pexels)

What’s Next

The purpose of life is a life of purpose.” Robert Byrne

Several months back when I wrote a post about performing for likes, Ab of the My Lovable Pest blog, made a comment that he had turned off notifications for when people like a post. I thought it was a pretty good suggestion so I modified the notifications on my own blog so that I don’t receive notifications when people click “like.”

It had a funny effect. At first, I really missed getting the emails that “[alias] liked your post and went on to say “They thought [post name] was pretty awesome.” Actually, they didn’t necessarily think it was awesome – they “liked” it. But more to the point, I had to go through the withdrawal of not getting those dopamine hits in my inbox.

Eventually I got used to it and it led me to focus more on the comments I was getting which was a far more meaningful experience of interaction around any particular topic whether it was something I wrote or I was commenting on something someone else wrote.

But then I started writing for the Pointless Overthinking blog. On Wednesdays, I publish a post on that blog with 27,404 followers. And the settings for that blog are tuned differently so that I do get the “likes” for that post, usually about 100/week.

That felt pretty great for the first few posts but then it morphed into a feeling of “what’s next?” A feeling that Harvard professor and social scientist Arthur Brooks describes as success addiction. We get to a new level and it feels pretty great – and then we adjust to that level and look to the next thing.

His cure for success addiction is to know our “why.” By being deeply rooted in our why, we can hope to get off the treadmill of looking for the next thing because we are grounded in our mission.

The why of my blogging has evolved over time. I’d say that I blog because it helps me process the depth and delight of my experience in life. I find something that I learn or see or feel in a day and by writing about it, I burn it in a little deeper. And when I talk about it with people through comments, I get the gift of seeing it through others’ eyes.

Puzzling through this helps me move through that “what’s next” blah because I remember that what’s next is another conversation with my delightful blogging friends.

(featured photo from Pexels)