writing

NEVER BEEN BIG ON BINGO

So, the Great Minds of WordPress asked: “What’s the longest stretch you’ve ever pulled off of posting daily to your blog? What did you learn about blogging through that achievement, and what made you break the streak?”

Well, now that’s a fine question. I was reading CHRONICLES OF AN ANGLO SWISS and realized while I was answering her, I was writing the whole answer (more or less), so really, she was my morning’s inspiration. That and discovering the new little Shark rechargeable vacuum cleaner I bought really picks up the dog hair. I was dubious about their claims, but by golly, this little machine has balls!

Shark Bagless Navigator

I digress and apologize. It’s hard to keep on point this early in the day. Well, maybe it isn’t all that early. Never mind. I need more caffeine before I can properly focus on being witty.

First of all, blogging is my current profession.

Otherwise, life as a senior citizen is 24/7 tech support to family, friends, and sometimes random strangers. I admit, I get a buzz when the young whippersnappers ask for my help because they don’t know anything about their computers except how to turn them on and off. Oh, they also know how to plug them in. They grasp the finer points of supplying electricity and charging batteries, but that’s as far as they can go.

I don’t know exactly when I started daily posting. More than two years ago. It’s not a statistic WordPress provides. My streak was rudely interrupted by a vacation at a Cape Cod dump where WiFi didn’t work. While I was in the hospital, I had to send in substitute authors while I did a little pas de deux with death. I was very lucky that Garry and Rich were there for me or this blog would probably have died, even if I didn’t.

It turned out, Garry got better stats than me, which is embarrassing. What a guy. He didn’t let popularity go to his head , which might have something to do with other prizes he won over the years. I think he only counts success if it comes with a statuette or plaque.

There I go, digressing again.

In any case, the moment I could write, Garry retired. My husband is a noble man.

And so, with all the flaws in the system, I forge (forage?) on ahead (a head?).

72-MorningCabin-10-6_22

The more interesting question is why? I don’t know why I started posting daily. I know I’m as addicted to writing as I am to the coffee I drink while I do it. It keeps my brain ticking along, keeps my writing skills from fading into something I “used to do”. Writing stimulates all those electrical impulses in the cranium. Because I blog, I have a use for the strange thoughts that pop out.

In retirement, blogging is a healthful activity. The alternative would be sitting around the local senior center waiting for the next bingo game. I’ve never been big on bingo.

What did I learn from daily blogging aside from the satisfaction it gives me? Here it goes:

  1. Write often.
  2. Write well.
  3. Post good photographs.
  4. Be nice to the people you meet online.

That’s it. That’s all of it in a nutshell. And beware of enraged squirrels.

HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT: THE OTHER PEOPLE IN NORMAN ROCKWELL’S AMERICA – JANE ALLEN PETRICK

Freedom_from_WantThis beautifully written book about Norman Rockwell, the artist and his work focuses on the non-white children and adults who are his legacy. The book will be an eye-opener for many readers despite the fact that anyone who goes to the Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts — or seriously looks at Rockwell’s body of work — can see that Norman Rockwell never portrayed a purely white America. This country’s non-white population have always been there, even when he had to more or less sneak them in by the side door.

These people — Black people, Native Americans and others — are not missing. Rockwell was passionate about civil rights and integration. It was his life’s cause, near and dear to his heart. It is merely that the non-white peoples in his pictures have been overlooked, become invisible via a form of highly effective selective vision. Despite their presence, many people choose to focus on the vision of white America and eliminate the rest of the picture. Literally.

The author tells the story not only of Rockwell’s journey and battle to be allowed to paint his vision of America, but also of the people who modeled for him, both as children and adults. She has sought out these people and talked to them, getting their first-hand experiences with the artist.

It’s a fascinating story and I loved it from the first word to the last. HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT is available on Kindle for just $3.49. It’s also available as a paperback.

InPlainSight

From the Author

Whether we love his work or hate it, most of us think of Norman Rockwell as the poster child for an all-white America. I know I did. That is until the uncanny journey I share with you in this book began to unfold.  Then I discovered a surprisingly different truth: Norman Rockwell was into multiculturalism long before the word was even invented.

Working from live models, the famous illustrator was slipping people of color (the term I use for the multi-ethnic group of Chinese and Lebanese, Navajos and African-Americans the artist portrayed) into his illustrations of America from the earliest days of his career. Those people of color are still in those illustrations. They never disappeared. But the reason we don’t know about them is because, up until now, they seem to have been routinely overlooked.

For example, in her book, “Norman Rockwell’s People,” Susan E. Meyer catalogues by name over one hundred and twenty Norman Rockwell models, including two dogs, Bozo and Spot. But not one model of color is named in the book.

Another case in point? “America, Illustrated,” an article written for The New York Times by Deborah Solomon, art critic and journalist In honor of (an) upcoming Independence Day, the entire July 1, 2010 edition of the paper was dedicated to “all things American.”

“America, Illustrated” pointed out that Norman Rockwell’s work was experiencing a resurgence among collectors and museum-goers. Why? Because the illustrator’s vision of America personified “all things American.” Rockwell’s work, according to the article, provided “harmony and freckles for tough times.” As Solomon put it, Norman Rockwell’s America symbolized “America before the fall.” This America was, apparently, all sweetness and light. Solomon simply asserts: “It is true that his (Rockwell’s) work does not acknowledge social hardships or injustice.”

The America illustrated by Norman Rockwell also, apparently, was all white. Seven full-color reproductions of Rockwell’s work augment the multi-page Times’ article. The featured illustration is “Spirit of America” (1929), a 9″ x 6″ blow-up of one of the artist’s more “Dudley Doright”-looking Boy Scouts. None of the illustrations chosen includes a person of color.

This is puzzling. As an art critic, Solomon surely was aware of Norman Rockwell’s civil rights paintings. The most famous of these works, “The Problem We All Live With,” portrays “the little black girl in the white dress” integrating a New Orleans school.

One hundred and seven New York Times readers commented on “America, Illustrated,” and most of them were not happy with the article. Many remarks cited Solomon’s failure to mention “The Problem We All Live With.” One reader bluntly quipped: “The reporter (Solomon) was asleep at the switch.” The other people in Norman Rockwell’s America, people of color, had been strangely overlooked, again.I have dedicated Hidden in Plain Sight: The Other People in Norman Rockwell’s America to those “other people”: individuals who have been without name or face or voice for so long. And this book is dedicated to Norman Rockwell himself, the “hidden” Norman Rockwell, the man who conspired to put those “other people” into the picture in the first place.

MYSTERIES OF BLOGGING

screenshot-My Stats NOW — WordPress.com 2014-11-10 00-02-49

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?

Marilyn and Bette

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.

screenshot-My Stats — WordPress.com 2014-11-08 23-06-56

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.

screenshot-weekly Stats — WordPress.com 2014-11-08 23-09-22

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.

72-Peacham-Sunday_092

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.

AutumnalFigs-4-72-11X14

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.

TIME AND THE ASSASSINATION OF JFK: 11/22/63, STEPHEN KING

Don’t let the title fool you. This book is about a lot more than time travel, the Kennedy Assassination or any single thing. It’s about life, loss, change and human relationships. What makes it so brilliant is that all of these elements are bundled together into a book that will make you laugh, cry, and think. If you are of a certain age, it will also make you remember.

11/22/63 by Stephen King is so good it took my breath away. I’m not a Stephen King fan per se, though I have liked several of his books and stories. I never have a problem with his writing. He’s a great writer, but I don’t always like his subject matter. Horror is not among my favorite genres.

11-22-63 king

This is not horror. Although small sections of the book touch on it, it merely grazes the outer edge of familiar King territory. 11/22/63 is science fiction. It is as good a book on time travel as I’ve ever read. Considering that I have read everything about time travel I could find, that’s a big statement.

Stephen King does the genre proud. Beyond that, this book is beautiful. It is not merely well-written. It is eloquent, poetic, lyrical. My husband, is not a King fan — except for his stories about baseball and the Red Sox — was dubious when I handed him the book and said “Read it. You’ll love it, I promise!”

Typically, he makes faces and argues with me, but this time, he read the book. Once he began, he couldn’t put it down. He read portions of it out loud because he felt they were perfect and like poetry, deserved to be read aloud.

The story is rich and complex in the telling. A writer determines to go back in time and prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy. His attempt and travels in time produce many repercussions both for him personally and for our world. The “Butterfly Effect” has never been better illustrated.

Whether or not you usually like Stephen King’s books, if you are a science fiction and/or time travel fan, you owe yourself a trip through this wonderful book. King’s version of time travel is history-centric, omitting the technical details. I’m fine with this approach. He uses the classical dodge via the tried-and-true “hole in the time-space continuum” ploy. It lets him move his characters without explaining how it works. King does it well and makes it an interesting part of the journey.

Many of us feel this is the best book King has written, bar none. Granted that this is a subjective statement, but I guarantee if you read this book, you will not be disappointed.

This is a master story-teller at the peak of his abilities. Stephen King gives us emotion, poetry, depth, beauty, intelligence and does it without taking any short cuts through the complexities he creates. It’s an amazing book.

If you like science fiction reader, history, or are just looking for an exceptionally well-written book, you should read 11/22/63. It’s too good to miss.

11/22/63 is available from Amazon right now for just $2.99. It includes a 13-minute film, written and narrated by Stephen King and enhanced with historic footage from CBS News, that will take you back—as King’s novel does—to Kennedy era America.

FAILURE TO COMMUNICATE – DAILY PROMPT WAS DOWN. AGAIN.

Today’s Daily Post in a Nutshell: Locked and Sealed, is locked and sealed. And — how ironic — was hit with the old “where did it go” bug. But, it’s back up. Sing hallelujah. Till the next time.


Can you keep a secret?

Yes.

Have you ever — intentionally or not — spilled the beans when you should have stayed mum?

Not that I can recall.

Note: Your secret is probably safe with me because I will forget it almost as soon as you tell me.


Well, I’m glad that’s out of the way because I wanted to talk about communicating on the Internet and how ridiculously easy it is to misunderstand each other.

FAILURE TO COMMUNICATE, BOSS

This is the big problem with electronic communication. I suppose it’s a problem with any communication that isn’t face-to-face. People probably misunderstood each other’s handwritten letters too.

:-D I believe the :-) was invented entirely to convey that what you wrote was not meant negatively :-(

I use emoticons liberally, though they are considered bad English (they aren’t English) and childish. Children are good at conveying feelings, so I’m not averse to being childish if it improves communications a little.

communication-intimacy-10-levels

I tend to be brusque. Short. I try to be witty, but it doesn’t always come across that way. My attempts to be “cute” can easily be misread as snide, snippy, and dismissive. So:

1) If I’m being snide, snippy, or dismissive, you’ll know it. I’m not that subtle. Really.

2) My wrists hurt. My typing is getting worse. Of the emerging issues caused by pain in wrists, the most malignant are missing words. Not misspelled or otherwise mangled. Words that aren’t there at all. Particularly unfortunate when the missing word is “not” — exactly reversing the meaning of a thought yet appearing grammatical.

SOLUTIONS?

Lacking fonts that clearly express sarcasm or irony — both of which are better expressed by tone of voice, body language, and facial expression — maybe we (me) should consider alternate forms. This is difficult since I have always tended to be sarcastic. (I used to be worse, but I’m in recovery.) That kind of wit (?) doesn’t translate well in text. Not yet, anyhow and until it does, I’m considering humor less likely to be misread.

The second solution isn’t a solution, but might help. Before you decide you’ve been insulted, dismissed, treated with scorn, etc., check with the comment’s originator. Make sure what you know is what was meant. That it wasn’t a complex typo, or a failed joke.

PARANOIA

It’s easy to read everything as a form of criticism. I’ve seen people slide into this by degrees until they successfully misinterpret everything. You need some toughness to live in the virtual world. You also need patience, in the sense of not jumping to conclusions. Finally, you have to remember you are not the center of everyone’s world.

One of my many problems with the whiners, complainers, oh woe is me-ers is they have sunk so deep into their own “issues,” they forget other people have lives. People can be brusque — dismissive — and it hasn’t got anything to do with you. They are responding to something going on in their world to which you are not privy.

Usually, you will never know what is or was going on unless they choose to tell you. Because many of us like to keep our private things private. I deal with intimate issues intimately, face-to-face. Or telephone-to-telephone. Not on my blog.

PRIVACY IS A GOOD THING

Which brings me to the final point.

Bloggers can easily contact each other privately. If you have a bone to pick with someone — or think you do — try email. Directly. To the individual. Even if your position is righteous and your cause is just, public isn’t the best place to resolve a dispute.

Why not? Because it invites strangers to jump in — which won’t help anyone fix anything. Because once you’ve publicly insulted someone or hurt their feelings, they may be disinclined to forgive you. Ever.

And finally, because squabbling about personal stuff online is tacky. Totally teenage, very Facebook, and not classy at all.

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