WHAT’S WITH 1337?

What’s with the 1337 thing? WordPress uses it for a lot of things, for the top number in posts, in follows. I figured it must have some kind of historic significance to them, like the amount of money they had when they started the company, or maybe a time or maybe map coördinates.

Nope.

I looked it up. Whatever did we do before we had Google? Of course, before the internet, we would not be looking it up because this is the straight stuff: pure internet/gamer/hacker gibberish — er, slang. A bizarre distortion of language and a techno-geek in-joke.

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1337 means LEET,  a twisted version of the word “élite.” Which, over the years, has become internet slang for superior. Here’s the math: 1337 (1 – L, 3 – E, 7 – T) = LEET = ELITE.

This is supposed to be tres cool. Do you think it’s cool? I’m curious to hear what you think. I think it’s lame and annoying, but hey, I’m old. Definitely not one of the cool kids.

In fact, I’m not a kid at all.

GIVE YOUR BLOG SITE A PAINLESS FACELIFT

Usually when I switch templates I do it because I’m in the mood for change. This time, I had to change after my site went all wonky. The main text font turned pale — nearly invisible — silver and I couldn’t get it back to black. When I realized I couldn’t fix it, I migrated into SUITS. It is similar enough to ZOREN so migration was simple and quick.

Suits

SUITS solved my immediate problem. My text was black again and it looked pretty good. No need for major surgery. But the main column is narrow compared to ZOREN — not photo-friendly — and I decided I didn’t like the way the header image displayed. I returned to ABLE, a theme I used for months before ZOREN.

If you go back to a theme you’ve previously used, it usually remembers your settings and header images. ABLE remembered me, so it was painless. One click and it was a done deal. It picked up all my recent changes too. Like coming home.

A lot of folks go into a tailspin when they decide to change templates. Yet it’s easy. If you understand what elements you use, what elements you need, all you have to do is pick a template that has those same elements, preferably arranged in a similar way.

Able

For example ZOREN is very much like ABLE. It lets you use a full size image in the header and it’s a wide format. It includes a bunch of different post formats and is widget-ready. Flexible and good for photographs, but also attractive for text — until it went bonkers yesterday. I’d have stayed with it otherwise.

ABLE has  the same basic design. I put the sidebar on the left since ABLE lets you put the sidebar left or right. ZOREN, SUITS and ABLE all use the same layout. Only decorative elements and proportions are different.  As soon as a new theme is active, I can customize it: change the header, modify colors and fonts because I have the customization package. But even if you don’t, you can make small adjustments to make it uniquely yours.

I made the initial switch from ZOREN to SUITS in about 2 minutes using a slightly broken laptop while I was in bed. Really. In bed. In my jammies. And I still had time to read before lights out. I switched to ABLE today and it took me literally a single click.

ZorenChanging templates doesn’t need to be scary. Pay attention to what elements comprise your site. Decide what’s important to you and what’s not. Pick a template that has the features you want. Use the preview to see how it will look. Too narrow? Don’t like the way your photos display? Too wide? Don’t like the way text looks?

Preview a different theme. I’ve sometimes tried a dozen or more before I find one I really like. I wasn’t particularly picky last night because I needed an instant fix. Fortunately, SUITS worked.

What elements are important to me?

  1. It must be wide enough to display photographs well. Pictures are important.
  2. The fonts have to be easily readable, with good spaces. Never white or light on black — too hard on the eyes. I’m too old to squint.
  3. The page must show at least 50% white space. White space includes empty margins, line spacing, column spacing, empty areas around the header and pictures. Any space that does not contain graphics or text is white space, no matter what color it is. Without adequate white space, your site will be cluttered, hard to read and many people will find it annoying — but may not know why.
  4. I prefer a header which lets me use a picture, but I’m flexible about that.
  5. I prefer a left-hand sidebar, but can live with one on the right if the main column is wide enough. We read left to right, so I like to have my important stuff on the right side of the page. Note: Right hand pages cost more when you are buying print advertising for this reason.
  6. I want my widgets in a sidebar. Therefore, I can’t use any of the single-column templates, some of which are otherwise very attractive. I also won’t use any of the magazine-style multi-column templates. They are too busy. Clean and easy on the eyes are my goals. Also, multi-column themes don’t display photographs the way I like.
  7. I want a low maintenance format. Intense graphical formats require a lot of tweaking and tuning. They are prone to inexplicable glitches. I don’t have time to diddle with formatting nor do have I enough interest in the technical aspects of blogging to devote myself to the care and maintenance of a fussy design.

You need to know yourself. What you like, what you want, what you need. Keep an image in your mind of how you want your blog to look. Don’t get distracted by every pretty face you see. I’ve found the more complicated the template, the more problems it develops. There are more than enough glitches without adding more.

Following are some of the other templates I’ve used successfully. The differences are fewer than their similarities. Look past colors and decorations to the structure. If you’re tired of your template, not really thrilled with the way your site looks and you’d like a facelift, consider a new template. It needn’t be a difficult process of rebuilding. Pick one that has the same shape and elements you already use — and want to keep. Then do a some previewing and see if you like it. Next? Just do it.

Voila. A whole new look!

Yoko

Twenty Eleven

SnapIt-191

Adelle

crafty

splendio

HOLY EXPLETIVE! I AM FRESHLY PRESSED!

Congrats, you’ve been Freshly Pressed!

That was the subject of the email and it was addressed to me. I was stunned into speechlessness and that doesn’t happen very often. What can I say except “WOW.”

I’ve written 1850 posts, gotten 120,200 hits. I have 1350 WordPress followers. But never Freshly Pressed. I figured I had pissed off the editors. I’m good at pissing people off. I do it all the time with followers, friends, family and total strangers. Why not the editors of WordPress? After a while, I gave up hoping it would happen. I stopped waiting, figured okay, it’s not so important. If there’s one thing I know, absolutely 100% I can do, it’s write. I have a body of work and a résumé. I don’t need external validation.

Mass Broadcasters 12Except, it wasn’t true. I may not need it, but … okay, I’m human. I crave recognition. Writers — all artists, really — want recognition, whether or not we are ready to admit it. Apparently the trick was to stop brooding about how come it never happened and just … write.

The piece which got the nod is GONZO GEORDI HAD AN AX, a piece of writing so different from my usual style I’m not sure how I feel about it. I know I wrote it … but it was like someone else wrote it too and I was a conduit. I hope I’m not channeling serial killers. I know I’m odd, but that’s more odd than I want to be.

Garry was disappointed when I explained Freshly Pressed doesn’t come with a statuette or even a plaque. He wanted to know if I can create one. I can try. There’s no end to what you can do with Photoshop.

Garry has awards all over the house. Plaques and statuettes abound to such a degree that the last two — from the Massachusetts’ Broadcasting Hall of Fame and Hofstra University’s radio station WRHU Broadcasting Hall of Fame — are on the fireplace mantel. There’s no room on the walls. Let me say up front that Garry deserved every one of those awards, but he feels I should have awards of my own. I didn’t work in an industry that gives awards. If you got a regular paycheck, that was the award …. these days, even more so. I’ll think about it. Anything to make my guy happy and I suppose I wouldn’t mind either.

For my friends who are unFreshly dePressed and yearning for recognition, all I can say is — sometimes, after you stop expecting it, the thing you want happens.

Thanks everyone for sticking with me. You are the best!

WE’VE COME A LONG WAY

When you look back at your blog on January 2, 2015, what would you like to see?

Photographers, artists, poets: show us PROGRESS.

I like the way my site is developing. I like the people who visit, the folks  I’m getting to know. I even believe I’m making progress with writing shorter, pithier pieces — with fewer typos — but it wouldn’t be Serendipity without a few mistakes, right?

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A year from now? I hope WordPress has added more formatting options for text, especially the ability to change fonts and font sizes on the fly. Otherwise? I’m a pretty happy camper!

One REALLY big wish: WordPress, are you listening? Please make the reader part of the statistical hit count. It’s a great tool, especially when you follow a lot of blogs and have limited time to visit, but the bloggers you visit via the Reader don’t get the “credit” for your visit … which seems kind of unfair.

Otherwise, I think I’ll just keep on doing what I do and hopefully will still be around to worry about it a year from now. Blog happy, my friends.

SERENDIPITY’S 2013 YEAR IN REVIEW – FROM WORDPRESS

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog. It always amuses me that my most popular post — for two years in a row — was that article on the 2012-2013 première episode of Criminal Minds. But my analysis shows that though they don’t get viral numbers, other pieces have done well — and have had a surprisingly long shelf life, with people searching them out and reading them long after initial publication. It’s been a fun 22 months with Serendipity. Now, with Rich Paschall aboard and maybe about to have a little more written input from our own Garry Armstrong, we’ll be even better in 2014.

Hope you’ve having a great New Year … and keep having it for years to come.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 78,000 times in 2013. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 3 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

 

BEFORE YOU ASK, YES, IT’S A DIFFERENT (SLIGHTLY) TEMPLATE

This is a slightly different template. I wanted something with just a bit more structure and a bigger selection of post styles. It’s not a lot different from the previous one, even wider than Able (this is Zoren). It’s very wide and I notice it mostly when I’m writing because the lines are much longer than I am used to. I haven’t decided whether or not I like it, but I need to work with it for a while to see.

Zoren template

Otherwise, it’s got the column on the right rather than the left and what I think are somewhat easier to read typefaces. I like the layout of the blog title above the graphic. The template allows using a full-size picture below the title, but I’m trying to keep them small to make loading the blog less difficult for people who use portable devices.

I welcome feedback!!

My WordPress wish list includes a nicer holiday template to use for the next few weeks. They only have one — a bit squinchy for photography. Oh well. Let it snow!

999 BEFORE THE CRASH – STATS AND STATS

Stats OverallShortly before our ISP crashed and burned last night, I took a look at my statistics. Just before midnight, I had 999 followers. WordPress followers. Not including comment followers, Tumbler, Twitter, Facebook or anything else. On my most active day in November — a good month statistically and quality-wise — I got 300 hits from 162 people.

Where are the other 838 followers? I know I’m not the only one to ask this question. I have no doubt more than half of them are spammers, hoping to find a way to hook me for some nefarious purpose. Some are impulse follows. They liked a picture or a post and clicked follow, but have no enduring interest and never visit again.

Let’s say that accounts for 75% of what today’s statistics show as 1004 followers.

Despite the rolling peaks and valleys of hit counts, the number of people who visit Serendipity is relatively stable. Typically, it runs between 75 and 150 individuals, averaging around 100 on a “regular” day, almost all of which come in during the late afternoon and evening.

What changes more is how many articles they read, how many pictures they click on. Sometimes, the number of visitors is quite low, but the hit count is very high, meaning that each visitor hit 3 or more posts per visit. I feel very successful when I see that. Raw numbers are one thing, but seeing what people really read gives me an idea what you appreciate. If it’s something I’m especially proud of, I’m doubly pleased.

Who is everyone else? Are you real? Do you look at the email but never come to the site? Are you following through the Reader from which statistics do not count? And why don’t Reader hits count? Does anyone know? I love using the Reader. It’s a great tool that lets me identify stuff I want to spend more time exploring, but also gives me a chance to “say hello” to others bloggers without eating my entire day. But, great tool or not, I’m hesitant to use it — saving it for when I’m most pressed for time — because I know it doesn’t register statistically.

We may deny we track our stats … but we all track our stats, one way or the other. It’s the only way to get a grip on how well we are doing.

Big Stats

No answers. Still, I’d like to know who you are and what you liked that made you follow … and why you don’t participate more actively?  I’ve never been Freshly Pressed either (are you embarrassed to visit an unrecognized site?). I think am close to a world record for non-recognition.

Whatever brought you to me — spammers, you may leave the room — thank you. To all who come and visit, to everyone who reads the emails or checks me out in the reader. Whatever your reason or method, you are welcome and I hope you find what you are looking for.

Spammers, please ignore this message.

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LABEL ME YESTERDAY 2013

International Label Day is a holiday created by WordPress based on a Daily Post prompt in 2012. Technically, the Day was yesterday, but I have no problem being a dollar short and a day late. Time is an illusion and any case, we live in a parallel reality. Trust me (heh heh).

So this is officially an Annual Tradition. A brand new one. Which is an oxymoron, but who’s keeping score? We live in an oxymoronic world, so why should the blogging universe not reflect this?

Is labeling good? Maybe. Sometimes. Is refusing to label things better? It depends on what you aren’t labeling. Fish? Veggies? Spices? Medicine? Label away please. I want to know what I’m getting. People are a bit trickier. Even fictional people can be slippery. A labeling challenge.

I took this as a visual challenge, an exercise in creative photography. What image could I create that would scream ME ME ME. It took two images, a lot of editing and Photoshop to get it done, but here’s the official ME ME ME picture.

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Does it scream? I hope so. It took me long enough.

People shouldn’t be allowed label themselves. Too close to home. But who then should be the labeler? If any one is going to label, no one but me will do. Who else would understand? As far as “me” goes, everyone but me is uninformed. Prejudiced pro, con or both. Other people have axes to grind. I resemble a grindstone.

So labels are a terrible idea for people. But they are a bad idea whose time has come. We get labeled by everyone all the time. We might as well get a shot at putting our own oars in the water. Right? Of course I’m right. I’m always right. I know because my husband said so, just the other day. Okay, maybe he said “Why do you always have to be right?” But that’s the same thing, isn’t it?

NOT FRESHLY PRESSED? HELP IS ON THE WAY!

What is Freshly Pressed? It is the opinion of editors hired by WordPress. It promises that some blogs are better than others, deserve special recognition and indicates that these people know what good is and have assigned themselves the task of giving out this recognition.

YOU ARE A WINNER - 150 12X12

I believe in merit. I also believe in fairness. While some awardees have created funny, creative, original material and have earned recognition, that is far from universally true. Many other recipients are nothing special, writing stuff that has no social value and little relevance. It’s not especially funny or even interesting. But it is whatever pleases WP’s editors — and they answer only to themselves.

Freshly Pressed gets dangled in front of bloggers not only as an award, but as the opportunity to gain a broader readership. They will promote you, put your material where everyone can easily see it. For those of us who have labored long and hard, produced a lot of really good material only to have it ignored, it’s a virtual slap in the face and it hurts.

Why are the same sites recognized over and over again while others, as deserving or more so, are shut out? Some of us apparently can never meet whatever ephemeral standards are being applied. Because the judging standards are never stated, you can never object to the judgment. There are no criteria to be met, just that somebody noticed you and deems you worthy.

This kind of thing makes many people, including me, feel sad. We aren’t just blogs. We aren’t faceless corporations. We are real live people doing something for which we get no reward except the chance to have our words read, our photographs reviewed. Yes, we crave recognition. Who doesn’t? Who doesn’t want the validation of being Officially Recognized? Even if it’s by a self-appointed board of recognizers?

I’ve appointed myself an official recognizer. Allow me to present my bona fides.

I spent more than 40 years as a professional writer by which I mean I got paid to write and my work was published by the people who paid me to do it. There is nothing which screams professional more than that. I also wrote and published a book that still, to this day, actually sells a few copies here and there, though it was published originally in 2007. Just last week, Amazon notified me that I have earned $10.24 in royalties this past quarter (be still my heart)!

I am a real editor of real books and a pretty good photographer, if not the most skilled user of Photoshop. However, my skills are improving and towards that end, I have created an award. It’s the “I deserve an award,” award. You don’t have to pass it along to any specific number of people. You don’t have to reveal 12 inner secrets you’ve never revealed before. You can send it to people you think would like to have it and deserve it. Display it on your site and maybe this thing will catch on.

Have fun. Remember, guys and gals: We do not need validation or approval from WordPress. Their opinions as to what constitutes quality are no better than mine or yours. It is merely their opinion. If people like you, read you, visit your site, look at your pictures, comment on how they appreciate what you do? That is validation. That is approval. That means something. Don’t let a lack of “official” recognition sour you. Don’t stop having fun doing what you do!

This badge is 375 pixels square and should fit comfortably into a column or footer. I’ve put one on my front page so you can see if that’s the size you want. If you want a badge in a different (smaller or larger) size, I can fix it for you. Let me know what you want.

YOU ARE A WINNER - 180 275px sq

I’m going to pass this to a few of you and leave it to you to pass it to others. Use discrimination and give it to sites that do quality work, help others, rescue dogs, provide important medical information that can be hard to find. Give it to those whose pictures make you say WOW, whose posts make you laugh and cry and think.

I’m picking a few of you to get the ball rolling, but many more of you deserve it. I am just flu-ridden and too tired to pick through the many worthy bloggers I know. I’m not ignoring anyone, honest. I have the kind of chest cold that makes me feel a poke in the eye with a sharp stick might be more fun. You know, wheezing, coughing, can’t breathe, eyes running headache, fever and even more body aches than usual? I’ve gotten this far, but I can’t go another inch. I’m done and used up. Love you all!!

You don’t have to do anything with this if you don’t want to. And anyone reading this is welcome to join in and pass this to others who you believe have been unfairly overlooked. It is entirely up to you.

Let’s encourage each other. Be strong and blog on!

ENCHANTED SEASHELLS: Confessions of a Tugboat Captain’s Wife

The Library Lady and Rosie Bear: Humor / Book reviews

4 writers and readers

Catnip of Life

Sunday Night Blog

Sweetwildflower: Recipes, Crafts, Tips, Writing

WHAT’S THE SECRET?

Closing in on 2 years of blogging, with more than 1500 posts and over 100,000 hits … I’ve think I’ve finally figured it out. The secret to getting more readers, more followers, more hits, better stats is that there is no secret.

Just do it.

Post interesting material often. Include graphics. There is a direct correlation between number of hits and number and quality of posts. Although some posts go bigger than others — often not the ones you expect — the difference isn’t huge, more incremental than geometric. Most of my posts get reasonable hits. Some do better, some get ignored (I rerun these, often with much better results second time). A few posts generate big numbers. Every once in a while, something hits a hot button, but typically the number of visitors per day doesn’t change much. What changes is the number of articles each visitor reads when they visit.

Some of my biggest days have been those with low visitor counts, but when each guest accesses 3 or more posts and/or pictures.Visitors average around 100+/- 15 — so between 85 and 115. Hits that come through the Reader or email do not count in the totals so you can reasonably assume you have more people reading you than stats indicate.

If guests hang around and read a lot, open pictures, poke around, you get the bigger hit counts.  I’m betting the same people come almost every day. If they find interesting things to read and view, they hang out. Which is what you want them to do.

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There are slow days of course. Everyone has them. And hyper-active days. We all have them, too. On a very active day, I might get 150 visitors, but that doesn’t mean the hit count will be 50% higher than on a day when I get 75 visitors. On a high visit count day, each visitor may only read (hit) one post while on a different day, each visitor may hit 3 or 4 times.

For example, on a day last winter when a blizzard was on the way, I had more than 250 visitors, but each one only read one post … the one about the coming storm. So it was a good day, but not extraordinary. My highest hit days were specific posts where a lot of people — thousands — came to see a single post. Every other high hit day included a normal number of visitors who spent more time exploring my site. No hocus pocus, no magic recipe.

Putting out the welcome mat.

The design of your website matters. You will absolutely get more people to stay long, read more stories, look at more pictures if you make it pleasant and easy for them. Make it easy to find past posts by subject, date, key word search. The more ways you help your guests find stuff that interests them, the better.

When I am on a website and can’t find a search box, no list of previous posts, no keyword search, I give up and go elsewhere. The web is infinite and gives us uncountable choices. Make your site accessible — transparent — and visitors will stay.

What I’ve figured out.

I know a few things and here they are:

  1. Articles about technology have a long shelf life. Reviews of cameras, computers, telephones and other techie stuff don’t get a lot of hits when they are first published, but continue to get hits for months, sometimes years. As long as the technology is in use, people who are shopping will look for reviews.
  2. Book and movie reviews (unless they are particularly “hot”) don’t usually go big initially, but will continue to get hits forever, as long as the search engine can find them.
  3. News and current events get a lot of hits when first published, but have no long-term interest.

If you are in this for the long haul, the backbone of your blog will be articles of enduring interest. Perhaps not the sexiest stuff you write, but stuff that contains information people need, reviews people look for. Pictures — properly tagged — get hits forever.

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Buried treasure.

If you post a lot, older posts become hard to unearth. Even when you know the name of the post and search for it by its name, items older than 6 months old may not turn up. I don’t know if there’s anything you can do about this short of opening a new site.

What I do? I sift through archives, pick out the best pieces. Re-edit and re-publish them. Doing this prevents them from disappearing forever.

How often is often enough?

I’m going against common wisdom. I am sticking my neck out here and saying that a post a week isn’t enough. One single post per week, unless you are brilliant, writing about a subject with a guaranteed audience, are already famous so anything you post will get lots of attention — once a week isn’t enough.

Who makes a success of once-a-week blogs? Historians. Scholars. Well-known authors (though most of them post much more often). Newsletter writers. Everyone else?

You need to make visiting your website worthwhile. That means stuff to read. Entertainment, information. Great pictures. If you really don’t have time to create sufficient material to feed your readers and keep your site humming, maybe consider joining forces with other bloggers and take turns producing content? Without enough content, your site isn’t going to do much.

The formula is simple. Write well. Post often. Include pictures.

And finally: HAVE FUN! If you aren’t enjoying it, making friends, forming relationships, what’s the point? Successful writers and bloggers have verve and enthusiasm. You can’t fake that.

 

Daily Prompt: RELEASE ME? FEAR THEN NOTHING MUCH

PA Unite Against the War on Women Rally

Right before I released a long, heartfelt piece in support of the right of women to choose abortion — early in the ongoing War Against Women being waged by the GOP in Texas — I got a bit nervous. I’m not afraid of controversy, but abortion is such a visceral, hot-button issue. No one seems to be able to deal with it rationally. Including me.

So I did something I never do: I asked Garry to read it and tell me if he thought I or it was over the top.

Was I going to be getting hate mail and death threats? He thought it was well-written and not at all crazy.

Stop GOP War

As for hate mail and death threats? “The crazies are always out there,” he said. You can’t let them tell you what you can or can’t write.”

So I published it.

Controversy? I don’t think anyone read or commented on it. It was humbling and funny. Here was probably the most “dangerous” topic about which I’d ever written … and no one noticed. It lingered around then disappeared without a trace beneath a pile of other blogs.

So much for fear! I’ve never worried about releasing anything since. It reminded me I’m just not that influential or important. I can try, but that doesn’t mean anyone is paying attention or cares about my opinion one way or the other. Sometimes, it’s healthy to be put in one’s place. Puts everything into perspective.

 

A FAMILY OF WORDPRESS AWARD

This award was made by Shaun @ http://prayingforoneday.wordpress.com “I am part of the WordPress Family Award.” I’ve received it from Annmarie at Sweet Wildflower where you always get a hug and something good to eat.

It’s very timely since, having started a second blog at Blogspot, I am pondering the difference between therm and WordPress and finding that though I rack up good numbers there, the whole sense of family is missing. Maybe it’s too soon to expect it, but this still feel like home to me

There can’t be much my followers don’t know about me. Photography, writing, humor, sad. I write and I take pictures. My husband writes (a little, when prodded) and takes pictures so good I’m getting envious (no I’m not … I’m just proud!). I struggle with life, try to remember that what is terrible today may will be a belly laugh tomorrow.

Rules:

1. Display the award logo on your blog.

2. Link back to the person who nominated you.

3. Nominate others you see as having an impact on your WordPress experience and family

4. Let your Family members know you have awarded them

5. That is it. Just please pick people that have taken you as a friend, and spread the love.

The Envelope Please

Now it is time for the thank yous. No one is obliged to do anything with this except know that I appreciate you and consider you friends.

HeadInAVice – Tyson was one of my first cyber friends and he’s still with me. Thank you again.

alienorajt - Alienora who writes like an Angel demon, makes me laugh, cry, think … and makes me feel loved. Hard when you’ve never really met :-) Thank you!

For Rarasaur - Rara is the rarest of the old timey dinosaurs. What a fine friend she has been to me, supportive and kind and cheerful even while her own problems swirl around. This is a mere token, but I’d like you to know I care.

For R. L Culpeper who makes me think and keeps me on my toes :-)

To Awakenings - Sharla, we have traveled a ways together. We struggle, but it’s getting better. Believe it. We’ll go there together.

Eagle-Eyed Editor, you have been there from the start. I owe you. More than one!

Bette Stevens — 4writersandreaders — a gift to all of us, always ready to lend a hand, offer encouragement. Thank you!!

Other friends belong here and I would put you on, but many of you don’t “do” awards. If you ever want one, drop by. I have a dozen or so extras and you can take your pick! I haven’t forgotten anyone. As far as I’m concerned, you ALL deserve this award because you are all my family.

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BLAST FROM THE PAST -The Best Medicine

Life in shreds? Out of work? Evicted? Hiding from the repo guys? Other half dumped you? Bank threatening to foreclose? Don’t take it personally. It’s just  a joke. No, really. Disaster is life’s cute and funny way of pointing out how little control you have over your fate. Don’t cry. No one likes a cry-baby. Smile! That’s it! Go on, now, no suffering allowed. This personal disaster is your cue to laugh. No one wants to hear your sad story … unless you turn it into a funny story! Then everyone wants to listen.

The first time my world went to pieces, I walked away from a dead marriage, gave everything to my ex and moved to another country. The joke was on me. I promptly married a guy so much worse I get dizzy thinking about it 30 years later. When that fell apart (though it lasted longer than it ought because I wouldn’t admit what a horrible mistake I’d made), I staggered — bloody, dazed and penniless — back to the USA. When I stopped feeling as if I’d gone through a wood chipper, I married Garry which I should done in the first place, except he hadn’t asked. Minor detail.

All that seemingly pointless pain and suffering was not for nothing. Stories of hideous mistakes and horrendous outcomes are the stuff of terrific after-dinner conversation. A few drinks can transform them into hilarity. Misery fuels humor. It’s a fact. Misery, mistakes, and disasters are high comedy. Funny movies are not about people having fun. They’re about people in trouble, with everything going wrong, lives in ruins. The difference between a comedy and a tragedy is the ending. Tragedies usually end with a pile of corpses; comedies (usually) don’t. Otherwise, it’s just a matter of timing and style.

Funny stories weren’t funny when they happened. Now, well, yeah, they’re funny. After I was told I had cancer in not one, but both breasts (they were having a two-for-one special at the Dana-Farber), I had them removed and replaced by silicon implants, but stopped short of adding fake nipples. Previous surgeries having left me with no naval, I now present myself as a space alien. You don’t believe me? It’s true.

And about those fake tits: I own tee shirts that say “Yes, they are FAKE. My real ones tried to kill me.” I’m wearing one right now. It’s a killer at parties and is the high point of my cancer experience.

Fake breasts

When life goes to Hell in the proverbial handbasket, a lot of folks who were sort of friends eye you with suspicion (is bad luck contagious?), but also with a subtle hint, a light whiff, of profound satisfaction. They wouldn’t be rude enough to say so, but they are overjoyed that it happened to you, not them. Sorry about your life, really. (Furtive, slightly smug grin.)

If you are a writer, out of the wreckage will come a book or at the very least, a Freshly Pressed badge from WordPress. Yay! See? It wasn’t for nothing!

Our personal traumas are collateral damage in a Darwinian battle of the fittest to survive. No one gets through unscathed. So mindful of whatever tragedy lurks just over your personal horizon, why not prepare some clever repartee? You can give it a test drive at the next get together with your more successful pals. It will give you something to look forward to. And, as a bonus, you will really appreciate the irony when your friends’ lives go to pieces later on. You’ll be able to give them great advice on how to survive their personal Apocalypse! Cool!

So no matter how horrible things are right now, don’t worry. You will stop bleeding and screaming. Eventually. Black depression will ebb. You won’t always feel you can’t breathe. That crushing weight on your chest will be replaced by a permanent sense of panic and mild hysteria you will call “normal.”

Start laughing right this minute.  No tears allowed. Tragedy is hilarious. Heaven may be droll, but Hell?  Everyone is yukking it up down there. Watch out for the flames (OUCH).

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Prompts for the Promptless: 502 Shining Lights

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In the midst of one of the more difficult weeks of my life, with all of the Sturm und drang, agonizing and fear, two strangely marvelous and marvelously strange events occurred.

First, because kindness and generosity are always a marvel, a gift never to be underestimated or ignored, my kind readers have rallied around — along with my oldest and best-loved friends — to make me remember that there is always a reason to go on with life.

To accentuate the amazingness, rediscovering how people you’ve met through an electronic, completely magical medium, can show they care, are real people, even though they are too far to come and personally offer a hug … I tipped over the big 500 number and stand at 502 WordPress followers.

That’s amazing. Hard to believe it’s real. More than 500 people like my pictures and my writing — and me — enough to subscribe to this little blog. It’s awesome, marvelous, and strangely wonderful!

I hope the months to come won’t take me away from this remarkable connection to so many people I have come to cherish as a virtual family. I know there will be a break at some point, at least for a while — but I hope it won’t be for too long … and won’t happen for a while yet.

There’s a third thing. It may not sound so marvelous but it means more than I have words to say. A simple thing … a bouquet of flowers from my husband. Bright and shining on top of the cold woodstove on the fireplace mantel. Reminding me that I am, despite how crazy, broken and difficult I am, I am nonetheless loved.

Thank you. All of you. From the bottom of my imperfect heart.

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Daily Prompt: My name is Marilyn. I’m a teepee.

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My name is Marilyn but you can call me Teepee12. I am alive, if not entirely well. I plan to stay alive as long as the choice exists.

I never intended to hide my identity when I chose this Internet ID as a username for my blog on WordPress. I chose it because I’d been using it since 2007 when my book — The 12-Foot Teepee — was published. It was easy for me to remember and no one else wanted it — as opposed to my real name for which there is heavy competition. The perils of having a common name were never more obvious than when I tried to get a piece of my real name for use on the Internet.

I began using the Internet back in prehistory. No one used real names back then. It was considered most uncool. I went through a lot of names before starting to use Teepee12. Unlike many other names I used and abandoned, it stuck, though no one can spell it and auto-correct always changes it to Steeper (damn you auto correct!). I wish I could go back and do it over, using my real name or something close to it  The problem is that there are dozens of Marilyn Armstrongs all over the Internet, on every continent and a bunch of my namesakes recently died. If I Google me I end up  reading obituaries. This can be troubling in some indefinable way.

I got the name Marilyn — never a common or popular name — because my great Aunt Malka died right before I was born. In Ashkenazi families, babies are named after recently deceased family members. They don’t have to be favorites. You don’t even have to like them. In fact, as was the case with great Aunt Malka, you don’t even have to know her personally. It’s just a custom and no one, including my mother, could explain why we clung to it. We weren’t  observant … but my Aunt Kate, who was indeed a traditionalist and family Matriarch, quite insisted.

My mother refused the straight “Malka” because she said it sounded like the cleaning lady. It means “Queen,” actually but doesn’t sound queenly. So she suggested Mara because apparently, to maintain the tradition, all you need is a name that begins with the same first letter sound (the Hebrew alphabet is, after all, different from English). But Mara (the root for all “mar” names like Mary, Marie, Mireille, Marilyn et al) means “bitter” in Hebrew and my aunts collectively objected because you should not name your daughter “bitter,” feh, bad luck. Ptui, ptui, ptui.

“Fine,” said my mother. “Marilyn.”

No one had any objections so Marilyn it was. How romantic! To be named almost randomly after a dead relatively about whom no one much cared. Wow. And to add insult to injury, I wasn’t given a middle name, so I had no name to which I could retreat.

I struggled with my name. I hated it. I’m still not fond of it, frankly, but I’ve at least made peace with it. No one can spell it correctly and it has never felt like me. When I was a kid, I tried to change my name to Linda, which I heard meant “pretty.” Then “Delores,” which sounded like the heroine of a romance novel. Finally, I tried for “Spike” because I figured tough would be better than dorky Marilyn.

96-Me Young in Maine

Nope. No other name. Not even a nickname unless you count “Mar” which is just a way of saying it shorter.

As for children? My son’s name is Owen. It’s become quite a popular name, but wasn’t when I gave it to him. It sounded good with his last name, a bit Celtic or Teutonic, depending on how you look at it. Everyone called him “O” from the start and still do.

At this point, my name doesn’t really matter. My identity is defined by electronic documents collected by daemons and maintained in various government and other databases. No human beings review the data. If you find errors, you cannot correct them because being you is not considered sufficient credentials. Human knowledge has no force of law any longer. I’d find that scary if I weren’t so funny.

A lot of people worry about keeping off the radar. The thing is, the radar is so inaccurate, it doesn’t matter. No one will find you because your address is wrong, your age is off by ten years, you live in a house you never owned at the opposite end of the state and have a phone number that was disconnected over a decade ago. Your email address belongs to an ISP that went out of business in 1992 and it is spelled wrong anyhow. I think you might be safer on the radar than off.

Marilyn and Bonnie

I’ve been blogging for a while now and I can’t figure out how to get my name back. I’ve put my name on Serendipity’s header and in the “About Me” section. I sign my name when I write to people. But it apparently doesn’t matter. I have become a teepee and a teepee I shall stay. A 12-foot teepee, which is the smallest possible teepee that isn’t a miniature. Pass the pipe. I like teepees, which is fortunate.

So, consider this my official coming out party. My name is Marilyn Armstrong. I wrote a book titled “The 12-Foot Teepee” and my online ID is Teepee12 whether I like it or not. Marilyn Armstrong is not available and I would have to be MarilynArmstrong00054 or MArmstrong876987 or something and that sounds too much like an android or robot … so for the forseeable future, I am a Teepee.

Teepee12 to you.

Daily Prompt: If you feel successful, you are.

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You can’t write about success  without defining the term. Success is relative, after all. When I started blogging, success was ten hits in a day, five of which were no doubt my husband. Then, as numbers rose, I  began to get the hang of it. The election kicked into high gear and a monster storm battered the east coast. I wrote about them and began to see pretty large numbers. My expectations rose accordingly, while simultaneously, my definition of success subtly altered.

September 8, 2012

September 8, 2012

Driving home last night from the Cape, I began thinking about where I am these day with my blog. I passed 90,000, close to 91,000 now. When it gets to 100,000 … I’ll celebrate. Maybe. Or when my followers, now at 476 (more or less, last I checked) hit 500.

The thing is, my numbers have slowed. Or maybe stabilized … sort of. I could push to speed them up … but I don’t want to. Because that would mean I’d have to write about things only to pull people in rather than what I feel like writing about. If I do that, I won’t have so much fun. My readership seems more or less steady. I’ve got friends out there. Maybe that is success.

My most popular all time post was written during a five-minute commercial interruption of the 2012 première episode of Criminal Minds. Over a thousand hits came pouring in for it in about an hour plus another few hundred over the next few days and many more in the months since. It remains my highest drawing post. When the season première came around in England, I got 1400 hits in one hour. It’s time has, I think, finally expired. I used to get a steady 50 or more hits a day from it, but it no longer makes the top 10. Just as well. It was a false statistic and only obscured the more important numbers.

I always know when the episode is playing somewhere because each time it shows, anywhere on earth, in rerun or as a new series, I get another thousand or so hits. The last time was the middle of June when a rerun of the episode was on cable and I got just under 900 hits in about an hour and another 300 the next day. Sure does goose up those stats, eh?

June 2013

June 2013

What have I learned from this? If you want to be popular, write about television shows. Be lucky. It helps if Google has you at the top — or near — of the search results. I wrote a little piece quickly, published it within a couple of minutes. It accounts for 10,111 total hits: The FBI can’t do a simple Google search?

In second position for all time hits, with a solid showing of 5,043 hits is a joke about cell phones and Albert Einstein. I copied and pasted it from Facebook: The man who saw the future …

Other very successful posts (in a viral kind of way) include reblogs, tech reviews, and photo galleries. The pictures never go “viral” like writing can, but good pictures get looked at. Nice and steady.

August 2012

August 2012

And well-written articles get read. Not as much as pictures get looked at, though. In the grand scheme of things, probably 75% of my followers come for photography. Which is okay. I make pretty pictures. Photography has been an important hobby for more than 40 years, though writing and editing has been my profession. I’ll bet a lot of people who follow me don’t think of me as a writer at all, but as a photographer.

We have, some of us, many lives. I have one friend who still thinks of me as a musician. When we were closest, back in college, we were both musicians. He stayed a musician, or at least, music has remained the center of his world, even if performing is no longer how he earns his daily bread. Me? I didn’t entirely abandon music, but I went back to writing — my first love, nearest and dearest to my heart. And stayed there for nearly 50 years. I took pictures too. But never professionally.

December 2012

December 2012

The thing is, I write about what I love and many of them, being books, are not my most popular posts. I also write about history and love those articles because ferreting out obscure historical stuff is fun. Doing it makes me feel like “The Time Detective.” If only numbers counted as success, these not-so-popular posts would disappear. Sure, I wish more people read them but I don’t write just for numbers. If that were the single reason to keep blogging, it would be work.

Blogging would stop being fun — and I would stop blogging. I would be poorer for my loss and maybe, here and there, a few others would note my disappearance.

Fortunately, there are times and areas where high interest (on the public side) and my interest (on the writing end) coincide. That’s when things get a little “hot.” Comments and hits roll and it’s fun, but I know the curve will continue to roll up and down and I have to live with that or become something I don’t want to be.

The real bottom line success is I love writing, love the interchange with readers. Love the conversations, pictures, life stories, new relationships. I love reviewing new books, even though they are my least popular posts.

The Best Moment Award - April 2013 from Mike Smith

The Best Moment Award – April 2013 from Mike Smith.

I am mad about books and being even a tangential part of that world makes me happy. That IS success, though there’s no statistical way to compile it.

I’m not a one-subject, focused blogger. When big events or issues are in the news, I write about them and reap a statistical bump from them. I enjoy it when it happens and if I can tie in news and other trendy stuff to this blog, I do. But I won’t force the issue.

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