GUILTY PLEASURES – REDUX

Grateful and Guilty – Whether it’s a trashy TV show, extra-pulpy fiction, or nutrient-free candy, write a thank-you note to your guiltiest guilty pleasure.

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This prompt is 100% rerun. And this response is the identical (except for a teeny tiny bit of editing) response I made the first time around, on June 23, 2013. I keep saying: if you are going to re-issue the same prompts, I’m going to republish what I wrote in response. Not that anyone from WordPress pays the least bit of attention to what we write. You guys up there think we are really not very bright, don’t you.


No matter how sophisticated we become, how many degrees in film, literature or the arts we obtain, we keep our guilty pleasures. By which I mean the movies, books, books, and television shows we know aren’t great — and may be really dumb.

It doesn’t matter. We love them anyway.

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I have a whole bushel of them, ranging from television shows about vampires with glowing eyes (Forever Knight), to reruns of the original Lassie. I’m a sucker for any movie featuring a non-human, be it cat, dog, horse, or sea creature. I’ll watch pretty much anything in which Candice Bergen starred or was at least featured. I’ll watch anything from any season of any Star Trek, even if I’ve seen it a hundred times.

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I love comedies by Mel Brooks, even the bad ones because they make me laugh. Ditto the Zucker brothers for the same reason. If you can make me laugh, you’ve got me. Sometimes, I watch things that are unintentionally funny … Xena, Princess Warrior comes to mind. I don’t know whether it was supposed to be funny, but it made me laugh until I cried.

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My lists of favorite movies, books and television shows are a study in contrasts. I love The Lion In Winter and The Seventh Seal. I love Airplane and Hotshots Deux. I never miss a run of Best Of Show or A Mighty Wind. Or the original version of The Haunting.  From the sublime to the ridiculous, I will watch or read whatever grabs my fancy or makes me laugh without discrimination.

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It’s one of the reasons I think that “awards” like the Golden Globes and the Oscars need many more categories. How can you put a screwball comedy against a serious drama and have any kind of sensible outcome? It would be like having a dog show that included camels and goats. It wouldn’t matter how beautiful a goat or camel you have entered, it would never win Best of show.

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What makes you laugh? What cheers you up when you’ve got the blues? Are you a secret fan of Gilligan’s Island or Love Boat? Time to come clean!

SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION

A friend asked me why I do this, why I blog. So I asked her why she plays golf.

We do what we do because we love it, need it. Or both. Because, despite the fact the many bloggers pretend they “write for themselves,” it’s untrue. We blog because we want other people to read our words, to connect with our ideas. If we wanted to write “for ourselves,” we’d keep a diary.Garry - Writer Christmas Day

Why are bloggers so coy about wanting an audience? Is it because they aren’t getting a good response, so instead of trying to figure how to bring in more readers and followers, they say they don’t care whether or not anyone reads them?

And then when one of us is moderately successful and popular, they get all squinchy-eyed and moralistic, as if  we’ve ruined the purity of the blogging experience.

Really? Seriously? When did we achieve that lofty spiritual level where we are above worldly concerns … like popularity and success? The hypocrisy of it takes my breath away. If that is how you really feel, you shouldn’t be blogging.

We all care. Anyone who says otherwise is lying — probably to themselves and definitely to us. We all want to be read, to be seen, to have an audience. If we take pictures, we want people to look at our images and say “Wow, that’s amazing.” Because we want to be amazing.

Writing is like breathing. If I don’t write, I suffocate. My friend?  She needs to compete. To play golf. Or she will suffocate.

TELL ME HOW TO WRITE

I can’t begin to count the number of people who tell me they want to be writers, but don’t know how to start.

That they ask the question suggests they will never be writers. Writers write. No one has to tell you how or when. You write and will keep doing it because it’s not what you do, it’s what you are. You may not write brilliantly, but you will write. You’ll get it right eventually. Doing is learning.

I started writing as soon as I could read. Putting words on paper was the same as speaking, but took longer. I didn’t mind the extra time because I could go back and fix written words. Being able to change the words and keep changing them until they said precisely what I wanted them to say was the prize.

I was socially awkward and my youthful verbal skills not well-suited to my age and stage in life. I wasn’t good at sports. No one wanted me on the team. In retrospect, I can understand it, but when I was a kid, it hurt.

Games and other social activities let you become popular, make friends, and do those other things which matter to kids. I couldn’t do that stuff, but I could write. And read. I might be a klutz, but words let me build worlds.

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If you are going to be a writer, you know it. Practice will make you better, help you understand how to build plots,  produce books publishers will buy. But writing itself is a gift. If you have it, you know it.

Writers have words waiting to be written, lining up for the opportunity to be set on paper or in the computer. It may take a while for you to find what you want to write about. But you will write.

Talent comes in an endless number of flavors. If you are a musician, you’ll find a way to make music. The same with painting, photography, drawing, running, hitting a baseball or throwing one so that it just skims that outer corner of the plate at 96 miles per hour. Mathematics, engineering, architecture … creativity and talent are as varied as the people who use it.

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ADVICE FOR THE BEWILDERED 

My advice to hopeful writers is simple. Write.

Don’t talk about it. Do it. Write a lot, as often as you can, even if most of it is crap and you won’t show it to anyone. Sooner or later, you’ll find your way. If you don’t write, it’s your loss, but it may also be the world’s loss. You never know how good you can be if you don’t try.

This blog is my outlet for the millions of words stuffed in my head. Yes, I really want you to read it. It matters to me and I see no reason to pretend it doesn’t.

On the other hand, I hate golf. Can’t figure out why anyone would want to walk around an enormous lawn hitting a little white ball. I can’t think of anything more boring, but I know a lot of golfers. They live for it. The rest of the week is just a pause between tee times.

So, if you don’t get why I write, that’s okay. You don’t have to get it. That I get it and can do it and other people read it … that’s fine.

You do your thing, I’ll do mine. And we will all find happiness doing stuff we love.

BROADCASTING HALL OF FAME – SEPTEMBER 2013

Achievement – Have you just run 26.2 miles, finished a long-term project, or met a personal goal? This week, show us an achievement.


My best achievement seems to be staying alive, but my husband, Garry Armstrong, has won a few awards in his day, Most recently — and memorably — was his induction into the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame last September 12, 2013.

It was a well-earned recognition for a lifetime of public service as a television news reporter and journalist.

A fantastic day!

A LITTLE BIT FAMOUS. MAYBE.

Ready, Set, Done!

I’ve been brooding over statistics. In particular, I keep staring at my follower numbers, puzzled, and I’ve reached a conclusion.

I don’t really have more than 7000 followers no matter what the numbers say. I bet most of these “followers” are spam-bots or people who stopped by once, clicked “Follow” and disappeared. Who knows what motivated them to “follow” at all? Maybe it was a slip of the mouse, pure accident?

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Daily views of posts are something. They lend themselves better to analysis. I disregard surges on a single post. Often it’s situational: a big snow storm and everyone shows up to read Garry’s experiences in the blizzard of ’78. Or I write something about a new TV show so when it’s Googled, I pop up. Voila! Thousands of hits on an unexceptional post.

Most people who come to read a post for a specific reason don’t come back. Maybe a few of them will drop by again, but mostly, they won’t. It’s not personal. These are not people who follow blogs. They are looking for information and when they find it, here or elsewhere, they go home.

But I can’t ignore the more than 213,000 views I have on Serendipity. Or the recent upsurge of daily visitors. This does not seem to be a “blip,” and might constitute a trend.

I don’t know most of the people who “read me.” I don’t generate as many comments as more controversial sites. Sometimes, I regret that, but not usually.

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Most of my visitors don’t comment. They don’t even click “like.” Yet I’ve started to meet strangers and discover they’ve “read me.” I’m pleased and happily surprised when it happens.

Blogging can be weird that way. You can be a little famous — and never know it. I’m sure it’s the only kind of “fame” you can achieve without realizing you’ve achieved it.

MYSTERIES OF BLOGGING

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Statistics are the eternal mystery of blogging. I’ve been blogging 2 years, 9 months and I’m pretty happy with where I am these days. I’m popular enough to feel my voice is heard, but not so busy I don’t have time to answer comments and interact with the people I enjoy on the big wide web.

I keep hearing about the “cool kids,” popular bloggers with large followings. Compared to the really big blogs, I’m not even a drop in the bucket, but for my own purposes, I’m in a good place. Last week, my “followers” — whatever and whoever they are — exceeded 7,000. So — does that make me one of the cool kids?

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Me and Bette Stevens. Two veteran bloggers enjoying lunch in Skowhegan

That would be funny because never in my life have I been a cool kid. At this point, I’m no kind of kid. Senior citizen. Retired writer. Amateur photographer. I use my time to do something fun and productive. I blog. But I wouldn’t mind being cool or a kid.

Yesterday I got the most hits of any day for the last year. My view stats have been climbing all year. October’s numbers were the highest of any month since I began blogging. The beginning of November looks even better.

The first time my numbers approached this level was November 2012. I had some help from a contentious presidential election and super storm Sandy. That rising tide lifted a lot of ships, mine included. This time, though, I suppose I can take the credit. Whatever that means.

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I keep wondering why me? My husband, biggest fan, loyal supporter, says it’s because I write interesting articles and take good pictures. I will concede October was a fantastic month for photography. It was a glorious Autumn and I was well-positioned to capture it.

Can the formula be that simple? Maybe it is. But there is a bit more to it. Popularity has a momentum of its own. At some point, you become like a rock rolling down a steep hill. It’s hard to get moving, but once you’re in motion, gravity keeps you going.  Success — to some degree — leads to success.

As far as I can tell, the deepest mysteries of blogging are ridiculously simple:

  1. Write interesting posts
  2. Display good pictures
  3. Maintain high quality.
  4. Post often so when people visit your site, there’s something new to read, something interesting to look at
  5. Don’t quit.

Reuse material if you think it deserves it. Many posts get minimum response the first time around, but do much better on subsequent publication. I don’t know why people have problems with this. You wrote it, you own it. You are free to use and reuse it however you like. Networks don’t apologize for rerunning series, and you shouldn’t either.

When I started blogging, I figured there was a magic bullet, a formula that would assure success. Just do “this” and you’ll get a big payoff. It has turned out to be both simpler and more work than I imagined.

Keeping at it when you are getting very few hits and hardly anyone comes to visit is hard. You have to believe you have something to say and people will want to hear it. Persevering in the face of apparent disinterest can be disheartening.

Regardless, resist the temptation to post  junk (unless it’s especially funny junk) and reblog carefully and selectively. If you are ever going to have a following, you want them to follow you, not the stuff you found on Facebook or other bloggers.

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NOBLOPOMO OR, AS I LIKE TO CALL IT, NOBLOWME

You may have noticed (maybe you didn’t) that I’m not participating in NoBlowMe this year.

Whether or not these kind of “challenges” do anything for you is open for debate. Participate because you want to, but keep your expectations reined in. I joined last year because someone I liked very much asked me to join her team. I was already posting daily, so I didn’t need to be spurred to post more. If anything, I need a whack on the head to make me post less.

It was disappointing. To me, the voting seemed nothing but a popularity contest based on how well you could organize your “troops” to vote for you. Because I refused to ask anyone to vote for me, pretty much no one did. I had thought it was about quality, but it wasn’t.

If you are looking for something to help you post more often — daily — maybe it’s worth it. Or maybe you want to do it just to give it a try. But none of these are any kind of “fix”. Do it for fun or comradeship, but don’t expect miracles.

Did participating improve my numbers? Look at the numbers for November 2013 and decide for yourself.

YOU LIKE ME, YOU REALLY LIKE ME!

I don’t officially encourage adoration nor do I try to organize anyone to do anything — except vote in elections. Even though I’m totally adorable, in an elderly sort of way.

WHY I FOLLOW THE DAILY PROMPT

I’ve been asked why I bother to write stuff based on WordPress’s daily prompt, especially since the quality of the prompts has been more than a bit lackluster in recent months and I’ve needed considerable self-restraint not to snarl, growl, or try to (virtually) bite the editor.

But I do them anyway and finally, I figured out why.

I am an incorrigibly anal-retentive writer/editor. If I give free rein to my natural inclinations, I will edit everything to death. Nothing will be good enough. I will write every sentence over and over until it’s as near perfect as I can make it. What it will not be is spontaneous.

Some of my best prose is written quickly, barely edited at all. Which means that after publication, I spend the following 12 hours finding and fixing typos — a different conversation.

But what the prompts do for me is give me leave to write quickly, off the cuff about a wide range of subjects that I would never otherwise choose. I post them immediately and don’t let myself get into a never-ending round of edits. Sometimes I get a bit fancy with illustrations, but I keep the writing simple and tight. Rarely does a response to a prompt exceed 500 words. Most are fewer than 350 words.

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It’s hard for me to be spontaneous. About anything. I’m not sure if I was ever a free spirit, even as a kid. I’ve always lived in my head. Never been a party person. Never a “just do it” kind of gal. My two creative outlets, writing and photography, are the only areas where I can break free of my self-made restraints.

So I follow prompts. Occasionally, I use a prompt to publish something I was planning to post anyhow. The prompt, in those cases, provides a link so a few extra people might to read it.

I wish the daily prompts were more original, less repetitive. A “free write” exercise is not a prompt at all. It is the stuff of school assignments. Otherwise, WordPress prompts, even if they are obviously constructed using little effort and less thought, offer me an opportunity to write about something I would not ordinarily consider. Some of my best stuff has been in response to silly prompts. Some of my worst, too.

And that’s why I follow the prompts. (Phew. Finally answered that question. Took me long enough!)

AS THE LEAVES FALL, SERENDIPITY REMEMBERS

Every year, when the leaves fall and the ground is crunchy, I get a rush of nostalgia. Autumn for me is the start of the year. It’s the time of squeaky new leather shoes, of brand new notebooks and pencil cases. Book bags. A new winter coat and new wool skirts because I grew out of last year’s clothing.

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In the spirit of harvest, I thought I’d give you a dozen or so favorite posts from the last year. They aren’t necessarily the most popular posts because popular taste and my taste sometimes differs.

So, in no particular order, here are some of my favorite posts. Kind of an author’s potpourri.

THE NANNY TRIAL – A TRUE STORY OF AMERICAN JUSTICE  - Did the young British nanny kill that infant? Even all these years later, no one is sure what really happened.

TERTIARY SOURCES. LIKE ME. – How alarming is it to realize Wikipedia is referencing me? It gives one pause for thought.

HANGING OUT – GREENWICH VILLAGE IN THE 1960s – The way it was. Hanging out. Before cell phones. Before computers. Before cable. How did we survive? We had to (gasp) talk … or (yikes) … read!

YOU MADE THAT YOURSELF? – A humorous look back on why I do not make my own clothing. And why I shouldn’t even try.

DON’T DRINK THE KOOL AID: THE JONESTOWN MASSACRE - The ultimate statement of what happens when the lunatics are running the asylum. Too horrible to think about, too important to forget. This is one of the most-viewed of my nearly 3,000 posts.

I JUST WANT TO FEEL BETTER: A MANIFESTO – Feeling lousy is not a medical condition and wanting to feel better isn’t the goal of medicine. What’s wrong with this picture?

OY VAY! GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER? – When a relative from the Old Country hops through a wormhole and lands in your living room just in time for dinner.

I sort of feel like Garry trying to pick his ten favorite movies. I have nearly 3,000 posts in archives. These are but a sampling of favorites from the past 12 months. There are many more, equally — maybe more — deserving of mention.

So I promise to do another “best of” post. Probably several. According the sages of WordPress, this is a good way to get you guys to go rummaging through the archives. Feel free to rummage. There’s a lot of stuff there.