L’appel du vide: The Biggest OOPS

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Maybe it’s stretching a point … maybe not. On a physical level, I have never had any kind of urge to walk through the fire or off the cliff. But that’s on the physical plane. My suicidal urges have been less tactile, more psychological, social, personal.

About my second marriage, the one I don’t talk about. I married a man blatantly wrong for me. As inappropriate, abusive, unintelligent and uneducated as anyone could be. That’s what happens when you marry on the rebound. In a foreign country. When you don’t speak the language and you’re lonely. Like the edge of the cliff or the fire, I knew with certainty before the wedding I shouldn’t do it. Bad idea. Big mistake. Why, then, did I?

Hormones? Hubris? Maybe because it was so wrong and such a terrible idea? Did I need to test the depth of the water or the heat of the fire? How long the fall down the mountain? Whatever it was, it cost me.

My mother met him shortly after the deed was done. She looked at me, sadly. “You’ve really done it now.” Cryptic though her words were, I knew what she meant. Knowing didn’t help. I had indeed done it. L’appel du vide describes it as well as anything. It took eleven long years to undo what had been so quickly accomplished. It was a learning experience. Not in a good way. Catastrophic stupidity on my part.

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There are many ways to achieve self-annihilation. A long walk off a short pier is less painful and more efficient. I recommend to anyone inclined to doing something highly self-destructive — take the short route, not the long and winding road.

Getting hits for being relevant

If you’ve ever worked as a reporter — or any kind of researcher — the instinct to follow a story persists. Sometimes, it pays off. For me, the turning point of this blog was when I got thousands of hits on a reblog about hurricane Sandy in November 2012.

November 2012 was something of a super month for bloggers. Between the presidential election and Hurricane Sandy, activity on the Internet was much greater than usual. Even people who were normally not especially interested were hopping online to follow current stories.

The thing was, the article that started bringing in all those hits was a reblog, or more accurately, a scoop. Anyone could have as easily read the same article on its original site. I was not at the top of a Google search. I tried using the phrase everyone else was using and Serendipity didn’t come up. At all. So people were seeking me out. Rather than reading the original article, they came to my site. Even giving me a point or two for attractive presentation, there were more than enough stories on the same subject all over the Internet. I’m not being modest. I wanted to know: why me?

Coney Island post Hurricane Sandy.
Coney Island post Hurricane Sandy.

I decided to analyze what I did better or differently than others. I looked at the total content for days when my numbers were very high. I realized all involved current events that were unusually high-profile. My best days involved Hurricane Sandy (November 2012), the blizzard Nemo (February 2013) and the days leading up to and immediately following the storms. Also the beginning of the new television season, the Oscars (before, after and during) and (of course) the election. And sadly, the bombing at the Boston Marathon (April 2013). Plus every time they play the première episode of Criminal Minds.

When major events occur, I write about them. Not one story, but a series of posts. I start with an article that covers the main story, then add to it. If the initial story was reblogged — often the case — I add graphics and photographs. I add commentary and analysis. My additions are typically longer and more detailed than the original. I don’t alter the original author’s text and I always give credit, but I build on it.

Nemo blizzard, February 2013
Nemo blizzard, February 2013

In this case, the original post was a reblogged (using ScoopIt) standalone post. Using it as a jumping off point, I followed a trail. I gathered pictures, stories about hurricanes and other storms. I wrote about them from my perspective, if I remembered them. Then, I asked Garry — my personal treasure trove of first-hand experiences — to talk about his experiences during the Blizzard of 1978 and other storms.

New York during the The White Hurricane, The Blizzard of March 11, 1988
New York during the The White Hurricane, The Blizzard of March 11, 1888

I roamed the web to see what was happening in various places being hit by the storm. Although I focused on Sandy and it’s impact on Coney Island, I discovered many other places along the coast which were equally affected. I posted what news I could gather about these areas.

I kept gathering and adding information, especially photographs, historical background and apocryphal stories. I just did what I always do when something interests me. I get into “bloodhound mode” and I followed the scent. The circles kept getting wider and including more locations, more events.

I eventually included stories not directly related to Sandy but which were thematically related. Other monster storms have paralyzed the Atlantic coast, some relatively recently. I love history so it was fun digging up historical information. Research can keep me glued to the computer for very long stretches. It’s how I learn.

I googled “hurricanes past 100 years East Coast” and could have filled an encyclopedia with the results. Research became stories. I hunted down historical photographs. I remembered stories I heard from relatives and friends about storms. My husband covered every storm to hit New England for more than 30 years, so he is a nearly bottomless repository of great first person experience.

Stranded cars on Route 95, Blizzard of 1978, Boston.
Stranded cars on Route 95, Blizzard of 1978, Boston.

I ultimately produced a series of stories over almost a week.  News, mood  and background stories, data, photographs. I stitched them together. Each post was separate, but they formed a continuity. One thing led to another. When I thought about this storm, I remembered other storms, wrote about the storm that hit on my birthday in 1888 … and I offered facts, stories, and historical background, sidebars, and photographs.

The combination worked. Folks came to read one story and stayed to read many more. Some of them signed on as followers. It turned out that I didn’t have such a huge volume of visitors, but everyone who did visit stayed and read as many as five or six stories. A lot of hits.

Since then, I have more visitors on a regular basis and most of them read at least two or more stories. It’s not complicated:

  1. Be current. Don’t ignore major events. You don’t even have to write the stories yourself. Which brings me to the next point.
  2. If you don’t like WordPress’s reblog format, try ScoopIt. It seems a waste of time to write an essentially identical story when someone else has already done a great job writing it. Being relevant doesn’t mean you have to write it, but at least include it by reference.
  3. When something signficant or interesting is going on in our world whether it’s a national election, a hurricane, tsunami, the new television season or the upcoming Oscars, pay attention. You don’t have to write about just that subject, but maybe you shouldn’t completely ignore it either.
  4. It’s fine to march to the beat of your own drum, but it’s good to also pay attention to what the rest of the band is playing. If you march alone most of the time, occasionally it’s not a bad idea to join the chorus … or sing counterpoint.
  5. If you can’t be relevant because there are no big stories, be entertaining. Use those lemons to make delicious lemonade.
  6. Include lots of photographs.

Ivory towers can lonely. If you want company, you need to associate with the rest of the world and pay at least some attention to what interests them. If you write entirely for yourself, it’s a diary, not a blog.

Sunset – Blake Edwards, 1988

File:Sunsetsmall.JPGSunset is a movie that grows on you, or at least it has grown on us. We’ve always liked it. Now, many watchings later, we like it even more. With Blake Edwards directing and starring James Garner, Bruce Willis, Malcolm McDowell and a score by Henry Mancini, you’ve got to figure this is going to be good entertainment. And you would be right.

The story starts with Wyatt Earp (James Garner) arriving in Hollywood to consult on a new film about the gunfight at OK Corral. Wyatt and Tom Mix (Bruce Willis) strike up a friendship, then team up to solve a real life crime committed by evil movie mogul Alfie Alperin (Malcolm McDowell). There are great lines in this movie, but the best is the wonderful refrain line, “Give or take a lie or two.”

The movie makes no pretence at historical accuracy. This is fun and fantasy, historical fiction mixed liberally with guns, early Hollywood mythology and at least one classic gunfight. It’s “once upon a time” style clearly announces that this is not a movie to be taken seriously. The characters are loosely — very loosely — based on real characters but the events portrayed never happened … give or take a lie or two.

So yesterday, while we were watching another favorite Blake Edwards film, S.O.B., we got to discussing which of the characters was Blake Edwards daughter Jennifer (it turned out to be Lila, one of the young hitchhikers). Garry pointed out that she had played Victoria Alperin in Sunset and while I was looking all this up, I wandered over to Wikipedia and started reading various bits of stuff about Sunset.

What to my wondering eyes should appear but a section titled “Historical errors.” Huh? I was intrigued, being as the film never claimed to be historical, accurate or otherwise.

They actually used to have a section in Wikipedia pointing out the historical inaccuracies in the movie:

Historical Errors

The action takes place in the year 1929, the year of the first Academy Awards presentation. It depicts Wyatt Earp arriving (and later leaving) Los Angeles by train; in fact, Earp had been living in the Los Angeles area since about 1910. It depicts Earp as single, in reasonably athletic condition, and carrying on a brief romance with young Cheryl (Mariel Hemingway); in fact, Earp, who was born in 1848, had long been married to Josephine Marcus. It similarly depicts Tom Mix as single and carrying on a prolonged and uninhibited romance with his assistant, Nancy; in fact, Mix was then, and for years afterward, married to his third wife. In the course of the film, Earp says that Calamity Jane’s real name was Mary Jane Cannary; her first name was Martha, not Mary. It depicts Earp as technical advisor to a Tom Mix film of the gunfight at the OK Corral in which Mix portrays Earp; Mix made no such film and never portrayed Earp, who served as an unpaid advisor, years earlier, on some silent movies. The film depicts Earp attending the first Academy Awards presentation at a late evening dinner; in fact, the awards were presented at a brunch on May 16, 1929—four months after Earp had died at the age of 80.

Final title cards of the credits:

Title Card: …and that’s the way it really happened.

Title Card: Give or take a lie or two.

It’s at moments like this I wonder if the people who write this stuff watched the movie. This is not a documentary. It isn’t even historical fiction. It’s a comedy, set in Hollywood circa 1929. The villain is completely fictitious. Whatever relationship existed between Wyatt Earp and Tom Mix is anybody’s guess. The only fact is that Tom Mix was a pall bearer at Wyatt Earp’s funeral.

Including this section at all indicates that whoever wrote it never watched the movie or missed not merely “the point,” but everything. For the first time in my life, I actually put a note into Wikipedia:

The movie is pure fiction and the refrain line, “Give or take a lie or two,” more or less sums up the “historical” accuracy. It does not claim to be historically accurate and in fact, makes a point — frequently repeated — that this is a Hollywood fairy tale that begins with “once upon a time,” or words to that effect. Critiquing the historical accuracy of a piece of comedic fiction is absurd. The following information may be correct, but it’s entirely irrelevant to the movie. —

Since I added my note, they changed the section to indicate that the movie is not supposed to be historical. Nonetheless, they continue to correct the history except they retitled the section Historical Context. So it’s slightly less stupid now. Glad my futile gesture was not entirely futile. What is the point in correcting historical errors — or providing historical context — for a movie that makes no claim of being historically accurate?

Who writes this stuff? You have to wonder. Or at the very least, I have to wonder.

Anyway, if you’ve never seen Sunset, the chemistry between Garner and Willis is great, the dialogue is witty, the movie is both funny and occasionally even suspenseful. Willis is at his charming best, as is Garner and together, under Edwards’ adept direction, they make magic.

Give or take a lie or two.

I'm part of Post A Day 2013

Mill No. 4, 1911

All over the valley, they are remodeling old mills and turning them into office space, housing, places for crafts and shopping. This mill is in North Smithfield Rhode Island.

The clock tower from the side.

It bears the name of Mill No. 4, 1911. I haven’t been able to find out more. Yet.

Tower from the front.

I’ll keep searching, but meanwhile, Mill No. 4 is now an office park. Not bad.

The tower looms at certain angles.

Behind the façade, bits of the old mill are still visible. I guess that’s why they call it a façade.

Behind the façade.