A WORLD FULL OF FRIENDS

Daily Prompt: Cut Off – When was the last time you felt really, truly lonely?


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Until this morning when I saw this prompt, I was feeling pretty good about the friends and relationships I’ve formed during the past three years of blogging. Now why would you go and ask this question? The people who write these prompts must be very young. They are forever bringing up depressing topics that are real downers. Only the young think it’s fun to explore bad times.

But here’s a real, no kidding, response. Because Garry and I were talking about this very thing last night before bed.


Years ago, when I moved to Israel, I was suddenly a single mother in a new country with no friends, or acquaintances. Most people spoke English only a little and the customs were different. Emigrating to another country and culture is hard, but that’s what I signed up for. I wanted culture shock. I wanted something different, new. I wanted to tough it out and discover I could do it on my own. I was just 30 and I was ready to take on the world.

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It has been a long time since I felt that way. Nothing I could do in my native land and language, could match or exceed the isolation of being on my own on foreign soil.

Of course I felt lonely and isolated. I really was isolated. It wasn’t a mood I was in, or a feeling. It was reality, even though it was in a place I had chosen. With all its perils, change is healthy.

I am not lonely anymore. Being physically challenged, if this were even 25 years ago, I probably would be. The Internet lets me reach out and find friends all over the world. You — yes, you with your pot of tea and crumpets — have rocked my world. You are my friends, my support. How can I be lonely with wonderful friends like you?

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Across continents and oceans, from every corner and culture around the globe, you are my friends. I have a whole world full of friends. What a wonder this blogging thing has turned out to be!

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY SERENDIPITY — A QUARTER OF MILLION VIEWS

I wrote when I hit 200,000. Then vowed I’d wait until I hit 250,000 before I’d write again. I got here faster than I expected. During the past few months, Serendipity had lots of traffic, even during holiday periods which are typically slower.

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Meanwhile, my third blogging anniversary was February 4th. Oops. Missed it. I guess I’ll have to wish myself a belated anniversary. I’m nothing if not fair. I forget everything and everyone equally.

3 YEARS OF BLOGGING
THREE YEARS!

It would have been delightfully symmetrical if I’d hit a quarter of a million on Serendipity’s third anniversary. I came close, just 16 days later. It’s hard to predict precisely.

Views come in bunches. The first year was slow starting, yet I finished my first year with numbers I wouldn’t duplicate for two more years. The whole second year was about steady growth. Not many big days, but few bad ones, either.

During this third year, I doubled the average daily views. The end of 2014 was a roller coaster. Big days then slow days. Bursts of views, then nothing. Followed by another big day.

new stats

250,000 feels like a lot of views. I know there are lots bigger blogs, for whom 6,200 followers is no big deal. Where a quarter of a million hits is a drop in the bucket. Considering that I expected nothing, I’m amazed I got here. I started blogging knowing nothing except that I could do it. I learned along the way using the best tutor in the world: trial and error.

Each time I think I’ve worked out “the formula,” I discover I haven’t. I’m pretty sure there is no formula, at least none which works for everyone. The best part of blogging is its lack of structure, the freedom to be whatever (whoever) you want. To keep redefining yourself without answering to anyone.

A note about followers: Until about a couple of weeks ago, follower totals included WordPress blog followers, plus Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. In January I had almost 8,000 followers. At some unknown recent moment, WordPress stopped including all but blog followers.

I don’t mind the new formula. This is how it should have been from the outset. It is, however, a bit jarring to see ones followers count drop like a rock for no apparent reason. A warning would have been nice.

My years in blogging
My years in blogging

I’ve written more than 3,200 posts. So many, I can’t remember most of them. Or find them in the archives. I’ve posted I-have-no-idea-how-many pictures. I keep waiting for my blog to collapse under the weight of all those posts and pix. So far, so good. That being said, I wouldn’t be surprised if Serendipity blew up tomorrow. If I disappear, remember me kindly. I’ll always be out there, somewhere.

I’ve had a difficult year. For me, this journey has not been about popularity. More about perseverance. About writing even if I’m sick and can’t find my muse. No one is more surprised — and pleased — than I am to have survived and done pretty well.

I’ve been blogging long enough to know each post won’t be a winner. It doesn’t mean I should quit. Writing is important to me in ways I can’t explain. If I stopped blogging, I don’t know what I would do with my days. Blogging is communication, networking, self-expression, and a focus … all wrapped up in a pretty bundle. And I don’t have a boss (YES).

I know — because I’ve done it — it’s worth hanging on. Numbers go up and down, but when you stick with it through the valleys, eventually, you get to the peak.

HUNTING FOR A THEME

Having crashed and burned with Blogly, I’m not about to buy another theme. Probably never. Regardless, we all need a theme, a template for our pictures and writing. During this past week, I used two themes I’d worked with in the past: Yoko and Able. Both are clean and simple.

I quickly abandoned Yoko after encountering a problem with font sizes in the headers. I went back to Able which, while uninspiring and lacking pizzazz, is stable and more or less glitch free — at least as far as I can tell. It’s my fallback position. Able isn’t fancy, but it works.

twenty-fifteen

Nonetheless, I wanted a theme with a bit more dash. As I’ve been visiting other bloggers, I’ve also been theme shopping. Looking at templates to see if they might suit me. And — I think — I found one. I hope.

So far, so good.

Twenty Fifteen is the most recent of WordPress’s annual default themes. Each year beginning in 2010, WordPress has created a “flagship” theme for the year. It becomes the default template for new blogs. Thus, if you are a new blogger, this will be the theme you will automatically use unless you pick something different.

When I visited Nancy Merrill today, I noticed she had changed themes, had switched to Twenty Fifteen. I liked the look of it. I asked her how she liked it. She said she did like it, though it had taken a bit of fiddling with the header image (really, in this case, a sidebar image) to make it look right.

Forewarned is forearmed. It turns out that the default proportions of many of my pictures fit neatly in the sidebar. The only problem was getting the text to show up clearly against the picture. And matching the background color.

Lucky me, I have the customization package which lets me change colors of fonts, backgrounds, headers, and links. I can also alter other template features, depending on the theme. Some are more amenable to customization than others and it is often impossible to know exactly what you can do with a theme until you test drive it. The package also gives me a domain and more storage space in WordPress’s cloud.

I have come to appreciate being able to customize themes. Fonts and colors make a huge difference. Any theme you use becomes unique. And I have to admit, it’s fun playing with graphics. I enjoy messing around with fonts and backgrounds.

This theme is designed differently than anything I’ve tried before. It doesn’t allow a standard header picture, which is a big change for me. It does let you put a picture in the left sidebar under the text. Like wallpaper. I can change it as often as I want, but I’m trying to lessen the amount of maintenance my site needs. I want to build a little library of sidebar pictures I can change with the seasons, holidays, or special occasions. Or my mood.

So far so good. I haven’t bumped into any glitches. Of course, I’ve only had it up for a day, but it is a well-supported theme. Maybe WordPress’s best-supported theme, being it is the default for 2015. I’m hoping it’s solid.

I’ve learned a lot about what I want in a theme in recent months. The big one, which I never considered in the past, is support. Ironically, there’s better support for popular free themes than for expensive purchased ones. I think that could be considered ironic. Sort of.

DON’T LET THEM NEAR A COMPUTER

Today, ignoring everything going on in the world, the Daily Prompt is “Five a Day -You’ve being exiled to a private island, and your captors will only supply you with five foods. What do you pick?

It’s a pretty dull prompt. Unlikely to inspire anyone. Trivial. Not funny. Dull, flat, and forlorn. So, instead, I’m going to tell you a true story. The names have been not been changed to protect the guilty.

Just before Christmas this past year, I treated myself to a long-deferred gift: a premium theme. It is/was not WordPress’s most expensive theme. At $49, it was on the low-end, but it was the first one I liked enough to consider buying.

It wasn’t cutesy. Blogly is tidy, squared off. Black on white text, with a choice of background colors. Flexible layout. Many post styles (which, it turned out, never worked).

A left-hand sidebar for widgets. Pictures feel cramped when hedged in by a right-hand sidebar.

Looks good, doesn't it? Caveat emptor!!
Looks good, doesn’t it? Caveat emptor!!

The more I looked at it, the better I liked it. I gave it several test runs. Finally, I bought it. I figured, hey, I’m a blogger. I can have a nice theme. It’s a one-time purchase I can use forever.

It turned out that forever was not long. In January, WordPress decided including an “Edit” link in the “My Sites” drop-down menu would ruin their design. This made no sense. Regardless of any other consideration, the ability to conveniently edit your blog is critical for all of us.

It was particularly important to me, because Blogly, unlike most themes, had no built-in “edit” link. Without its own link — and after removing the Edit function of the drop-down menu — making even a simple correction became nearly impossible. I was not the only one who got upset. A lot of furious bloggers later, WordPress restored the edit function to the “My Sites” menu.

But — they weren’t through messing with me. They decided to “fix” Blogly because, they explained, it should have its own internal edit link. All themes should have an edit link. So the talented development team (they keep telling me how great they are) put an edit link in Blogly. Not where it belongs, in individual posts, but only when you are looking at posts in “home” and scrolling. So if you had an individual post open to read it, there was still no edit link. I consoled myself that at least they’d restored the link on the drop-down.

Thing is, half the things it says it does don't work. But you won't know that until you already own it. There's only so much you can test in their trial mode.
Thing is, half the things it says it does don’t work. But you won’t know that until you already own it. There’s only so much you can test in their trial mode.

Then they did something else to Blogly. I don’t know what they did, or any idea why , but suddenly, when you clicked a comment, you went to the comment. The rest of the post — the rest of the site — became inaccessible.

You could not scroll up past the start of comments. Getting home was daunting. Complaints from readers poured in. I checked the function in Safari. IE. Chrome. I checked on my laptop, desktop, Kindle and iPad. I had the same problems across all platforms and browsers.

Blogly was dead. I could not re-size graphics. Text got weird. I was never sure what margins I would get — or what size titles would be. So many issues. A couple of nights ago, when all my text got pushed to the far right into an ugly narrow column with pictures glued together in a solid lump, I gave up.

I was pissed. The next time the annoying “How can we help you” box popped up, I asked for my money back. Barring that, I suggested they let me select a different theme that actually worked.

They said it was too late to get my money back -- you only have 30 
days to change your mind.

I pointed out that I hadn’t changed my mind. They had trashed my theme. They broke it and they owed me. They called in the infamous “Happiness engineering” development team. They were sure it would be a simple fix. Not.

Today I got my money back. Apparently it was not simple.

The good news? They did the right thing. Somewhere, somehow, someone in WordPress stopped spouting the party line and acted like a professional.

The bad news? How could this mess happen? And why are they still offering the theme for sale?

It was not always like this. Those of us who have been blogging on WordPress for more than a few months remember when it was a happy place with support, encouragement, and sometimes, inspiration.

They’ve taken all the good stuff away and left us with warmed over prompts and what has got to be the most incompetent crew of developers and customer disservice people anywhere. They are worse than my cable company and I don’t say that lightly.

It doesn’t have to be this way. They have taken a good thing and are destroying it, piece by piece. Bad choices, a determination to create a platform for a market that doesn’t exist. Despite their firm belief that the future of blogging is on small devices, it’s not true. People may view blogs on small devices, but no one writes or creates them that way. All of us use a computer. With a keyboard, mouse, or other pointing device.

The success of WordPress depends on having bloggers who attract readers. That means content creators. Writers, photographers, artists. Chefs, craftspeople. All if whom need professional tools to do their thing — and that thing is never going to be done on a phone or tablet.

We are their customers. We generate revenue for WordPress in exchange for a platform. At which WordPress keeps chipping, making it harder and harder to do what we do. Making it easier to view blogs on cell phones while taking away critical tools bloggers need to produce content is stupid. Short-sighted. It will eventually bring down the house.

So I say, send them all to their favorite desert island. Give them just five foods to eat forever. Most important, don’t let them near a computer.

PRIDE GOETH BEFORE THE FALL

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People give me more credit than I deserve. It’s the blogging. They see me as the person I portray. They don’t see me in a bad mood. They don’t have to deal with me when I’m not much fun to be around. All of us put our best foot forward, even if we don’t mean to do it. It’s normal and that’s part of the fun of blogging.

We get to put on our virtual party clothes and present ourselves the way we want to be. Which is fine. As long as you don’t believe your own publicity.

So last night, I was thinking (always a bad sign). I was thinking about yesterday’s prompt … about talking about what you know best that other people don’t know (or don’t know as well as you do). And I thought this terribly quotable thought:

I KNOW A LOT ABOUT A LITTLE. A LITTLE ABOUT A LOT.

AND SOMETHING ABOUT ALMOST EVERYTHING.

You know what that means? Really? It means … (wait for it) … I’m a terrific “Trivial Pursuits” competitor.

Pride is one of the seven deadliest sins for good reason. It can get you into serious trouble. It’s not (pardon the pun) something to be proud of.


THE DAILY POST: PROUD

GETTING THE FORK FROM WORDPRESS

DAILY PROMPT:  Morton’s Fork

If you had to choose between being able to write a blog (but not read others’) and being able to read others’ blogs (but not write your own), which would you pick? Why?


I wish this were about Morton’s salt rather than the fork. I could get my head behind the salt, that cute round container and logo with the little girl and her umbrella.

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A no-brainer for any writer, I should think. I need to write. Because I’m a writer. If I could not write, something in me would die. What’s with the questions to which there’s no reasonable answer? These prompts have gone from uninspiring to depressing.

When asked “what are you,” I never say I’m a wife, mother, grandmother — or even a woman. I automatically answer “I’m a writer.” Because I am. Being a writer is embedded in my concept of “self-hood,” if I am not that, then I’m not sure what else I am. Writing was my profession, but I was a writer before I earned a salary doing it. I will always be a writer, and it has nothing to do with whether or not a sell my words … or even whether or not anyone else reads them. Whether or not I am still a professional writer is a different question.

Unlike other professions … probably this is true of all the creative arts … what you do is more than how you make a living. It’s the way you synthesize your world and experiences. It stays with you as long as you breathe, long after paychecks stop coming and often, even if the paychecks never start arriving. Writing is so deeply embedded in who I am that I cannot imagine not needing to write.  I think only death will stop me … and depending on how that works out, maybe not even then.

If there’s an afterlife, I’ll be writing and blogging about it. But not on WordPress. By then, I’m sure there will be a platform which actually wants its customers to succeed and won’t keep making it harder and harder to get the job done. But that’s another post for a different day.

Reading blogs is fun. Often inspirational and it lets me connect with other people … which has become an essential part of life. But there are other ways to connect — email, telephone, letters, etc. As for reading, as long as there are books, life goes on.

Writing can’t be replaced. Accept no substitute.

DEAR READER

Audience of One – Picture the one person in the world you really wish were reading your blog. Write her or him a letter.

selfie me with camera

Dear Reader,

I should have written sooner. You have been following me since I started this whole blogging thing, when Serendipity was new and I wasn’t sure it would fly. Didn’t know what I was doing. You helped me define myself as a writer. Nearly three years now and more than 3,000 posts later, all those old posts are floating around cyberspace. It must be getting crowded!

I’m really talking to you. That’s right. You, in the Lazy Boy, with the cup of coffee. You should drink it before it gets cold. (I should take my own advice.)

Take a sip. I’ll wait. No hurry. I cancelled my doctor’s appointment today. I can’t really afford the copay right now. With the “good” car in the shop and the repairs not yet paid for, money is painfully tight. A bit frightening if I think about it. The best I can do is postpone anything that costs money until (hopefully) the coffers refill, at least a bit.

It’s good my husband likes pizza so much. It’s amazing how happy the man is eating a cheap frozen pizza. I try to fancy it up, adding mushrooms, sometimes some bacon or whatever other bits of stuff we happen to have in the house. But it’s still pizza. The king of junk food. It goes very well with football.

You are the one I write for. A lot of old friends are gone, either to that great beyond or moved too far away to ever see them. It’s sad, but you help fill that empty place.

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I’m glad you exist. I’m grateful you like me well enough to spend some of your day with me. Maybe I follow you. I can’t follow everyone because there aren’t enough hours in my life to read that much and also write, but I try.

I don’t always comment. It doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy your post, just that I’m not feeling witty … or everyone else in the world has already said whatever anyone could possibly say. If I can, I will always send a like. So you know I’ve dropped by.

I hope I can be as much a part of your world as you are of mine. You are terribly important to me. I don’t say how much I appreciate you nearly often enough. You brighten my day when I’m feeling poorly. You make me feel appreciated when I think I’ve been forgotten.

I wish we could meet. Get together to laugh and drink coffee or tea. Eat a few crumpets or donuts. Maybe someday we’ll have a giant convention. I’ll be there, with all my bells on.

Meanwhile, thanks for everything. For caring, sharing, being there. For liking me. For being part of my world and letting me into yours.

Lots of love and a great big fuzzy hug,

Marilyn at Serendipity.