THE BELLS ARE TROLLING – Marilyn Armstrong

There are subjects I avoid writing about because no matter where I go, there’s a troll lurking and waiting for an opportunity.

Gun control and “right to life,” or more to the point, the right of the unborn as opposed to the rights of the already alive are big troll-gatherers. They have always been two of the hot topics on the Internet and the trolls follow them like moths to flames in the dark of night. At least I have some control over them here on Serendipity. It’s the big advantage of blogging rather than being part of an “open” bulletin board — or heaven forbid Facebook.

How do you know you are being trolled?


I’m usually pretty good at spotting trolls, but sometimes, they creep in. They make a normal comment and as far as you can ascertain, they seem okay. There aren’t many ways to figure out if someone new is a follower or a troll other than whether or not they have a valid blog. But not all followers have a blog. Some people simply enjoy following other people’s writings.

So you have a new follower. They start a conversation, but they never quit. By the time the second day of conversation arrives, they have stood on every side of a “discussion” … and are getting aggressive.

I have been trolled on places like Amazon. You would think a biography about Alexander Hamilton would be essentially troll-free, but you’d be amazed at the damage they can do. I think Amazon has done something to control these jerks, but not enough. If they want reviewers, they will have to end the trolling.

Places like Facebook are obvious trolling sites. If you are fool enough to open yourself to that sort of thing, you will get what you deserve.

This isn’t Facebook, so it’s simple. I’ll put up with a conversation as long as that’s what it is. The minute it starts to edge into trolling, I will end it. One warning from me — and if there is another murmur from the aforementioned troll — he or she is blocked.

I tell them why and they say I’ve misunderstood them. They were merely trying to “liven up” the conversation. There was a time when I actually believed that line. I don’t believe it anymore.

These trolls actually think their viciousness is funny. They think they are being “cute.” Or anyway, that’s what they say. I still don’t believe it. Cute and funny isn’t nasty, angry, and mean. Sometimes, you get an apology. “Oh, I was just trying to make conversation.”

Don’t believe it. Trolls know exactly what they are doing. They do it wherever they go. They aren’t stupid. They think getting you angry and upset is hilarious. For them, anyway.

If it makes you unhappy, they don’t care. They are doing it for their own amusement, not yours. Their idea of livening up the conversation is to get a lot of people upset and if possible, feeling bad about themselves. When you ask them they will say they like “stirring the conversation” by which they mean insulting and harassing people they don’t even know. It’s their version of “getting the conversation moving.”

It’s trolling. If it is making your nervous system jangle, you can bet it’s trolling. Unless it is someone you know who has just gone a little over the edge, it’s trolling. Do not let them turn your site into a battleground. Spam them, block them, get rid of them. They will drive your real readers away and inflict a lot of damage — to you and others. Trolls are ugly people and their idea of humor has nothing to do with how anyone else feels. The more upset they can make you, the more they enjoy it.

I sometimes wait a while to see if the commentary is going that way, but when it’s a “new reader” with a flurry of nasty, sharp things to say? It’s a troll. Bet on it.

There are things we need to say and sometimes they are controversial. People argue, sometimes with considerable fervor, but I think you will know the trolls from regular readers with strong opinions who have maybe gone a little bit overboard. You’ll know the difference.

Shut down the trolls. Don’t let them back on your site, no matter what they tell you. Once a troll, always a troll.

BLOGGING – IT’S A NEW YET SOMEHOW OLD WORLD – Marilyn Armstrong

I’M NEW. WHAT SHOULD I DO?

It’s interesting, looking at an earlier post and realizing how many “givens” have changed since you wrote it. It was just a few years ago. But oh my, how times have changed.

Maybe I’m just getting a bit beat up from having hung around the blog world too long … or maybe it’s the endless pressure of political reality that is making me crazy and mentally exhausted. Maybe it’s everything.

I think it’s harder to blog now than it was. We used to be able to have fun –without feeling the responsibilities of the world. Funny, light, and airy have become harder to find. Some elements of humor have gone out the window. It’s not that I wanted them to go away, but it has been hard to let go of the awful developments going on around us.

That being said, I can’t talk about the “issues” all the time. I can’t even think about them all the time. In that direction lies madness.

Everyone knows that there are dangerous developments in the world, but we can’t think about them every minute of every day. The world is undergoing a bad turn. We are atop that evil pile. I often wonder if I’m still living in the same country. Is this America?

And it’s international too. Is this my world or have slipped into a parallel reality?

Nonetheless, the basic rules still apply — with a few caveats. WordPress is no longer providing any kind of support to bloggers. No prompts, no awards, no nothing. They ply you with endless advertisements to join up with their “business plan” even if you don’t have a business. They pay no attention to what we ask for. Instead, they give us what they feel like giving us … IF they feel like giving us anything. And they do not believe in beta testing their software.

Don’t count on WordPress to give you a hand. They won’t. Do count on fellow bloggers to give you a hand because we will if we can.

So:

    • Do what you love. If it’s writing, write. Photography? Take pictures. Excuses are boring. A lot of people spend more time explaining why they can’t write or take a sharp picture than actually writing or focusing the camera.
    • Don’t whine. We all have problems. (Remind me I said this.) If you are going to whine, try to be funny too.
    • We are all entitled to a good online rant. Just not every day.
    • Funny is good.
    • Keep posts short or at least as concise as you can — given the subject. Some things need more words than others, but when you’re running over a thousand words, put the post away and read it again later or better yet, the next day. I bet you’ll find at least 500 (or more )words you can cut.
    • Don’t post blurry, bad pictures. Learn to look at your work and appraise it as if it were someone else’s.
    • Work on improving your craft(s). Write better. Take better pictures.
    • Proofread! If, like me, you’re a terrible proofreader, use whatever free proofing device you can find. I’m using the free version of Grammarly. I hate to admit it, but it has helped.
    • Follow your gut. If your gut isn’t telling you anything, try your brain and imagination. If that’s not working, read a book.
    • STICK WITH IT. You don’t build a following in a week or two.
    • PERSEVERE! You need to post regularly and often. If you don’t post regularly and often, your readers will wander away.
    • Many followers will wander no matter what you do. They have their own lives and their own reasons. It isn’t about you. Every two or three years, with some important exceptions, you’ll find you have a new group of followers.
    • You never know who is reading you. Many folks read, but many fewer comment. Most won’t even drop a “like.” I’ve been shocked at who reads my blog.
    • Don’t let other people’s stats make you envious. If you stick with it, you’ll get there too. 
    • Check your facts if you are writing anything that contains facts. It’s called credibility. You need it no matter what your government is doing.

NO SPORTS, POLITICS, OR RELIGION – Rich Paschall

Some Old World Wisdom, by Rich Paschall

When thinking of blog topics, there is no shortage of subject matter. Some general areas offer a lot of topics.  With a bit of extra thought, there’s an endless supply. Consider well how many areas you can pursue if you are willing to delve into sports, politics, or religion. Each is bound to set some readers ablaze.  They would surely bring lots of comments. You do want lively discussion, don’t you?

How lively do you want it?

conversation1

Venture into a sports bar well into the evening and you are likely to find plenty of spirited discussions regarding sports.  These ideas should help you out:  Will the Cubs win another pennant?  Will the White Sox ever get the love the Cubs get?  Will the Blackhawks win another Stanley Cup?  Will the Bears get back to the Super Bowl?  Will the Bulls beat the hated ____________ (fill in New York team here)?  There is little reason get into crosstown rivalries. Dissing out-of-town teams works, but only locally.

DeflatedBallsThumb2

We could always take off after the Bronx Bombers, the Patriots and _______ (name your alleged scandal here), or Jerry Jones and the Cowboys. But why alienate readers in New York, Boston or Dallas? Perhaps we should just write about the ridiculous BCS Bowl series or the commissioner of _________ (name your least favorite here).

A good informational, yet rather neutral article might find favor. Others might conclude that you are trying to make a point, like promoting someone’s stats for the hall of fame.

A discussion of gays in sports or an Olympic diver coming out of the closet might get you into politics so we may have to think carefully about those.  Yes, we will leave the political area of sports alone.

politics-1800s

Speaking of your politics (or mine), perhaps we can find common ground. I could write short stories with a political theme, or write about a run for office that brings victory, but no win for the candidate. Too improbable?

How about the death of democracy through campaign spending?

Imagine buying an election. Maybe this hits too close to home … or do you think it merely fiction or satire?

Political satire is sure to get people discussing or fighting, especially if you throw in climate change as the kicker. Then again, maybe no one will bother to read this stuff. Maybe not such a great idea after all?

How about hitting the topics head-on in a nice well-researched article? We can talk about Democrats, Republicans, capitalists, or socialists. On second thought, that could split the audience from the get-go. Better to look at the subjects of the debates and write a well-reasoned essay.

women's suffrage-2

Where to begin?

Abortion? Immigration? Gay Rights? Civil Rights? Gun Control? Campaign reform? Welfare Reform?  Any reform?

National defense?

Can we all consider any of that without alienating people? There’s always alienating the aliens. Can’t go wrong with that, right?

Well, maybe not.

If politics is too risky, how about the world’s great religions? They’re all rooted in love, are they not? We could discuss the philosophies that ignite the passions behind our beliefs and thus find common ground. Peace and harmony at last.

Except that so many people believe their god is the only one. Some believe their god is telling them to kill others — which sets religion against religion. Alas, there’s nothing new about that. Belief is supposed to bring hope and joy, not war. Yet religion has been the cause of many wars. They are all about religion or land. Check it out.

God is on every side of every war, or so they say. Who goes into battle without the blessing of their particular deity? How can I expect to have a civil discussion in such an emotionally-charged arena?  I have innocently had to extract my foot from my mouth before. Maybe I should let the Dalai Lama write on this topic.

Soon, there won’t be a Dalai Lama because the Chinese won’t allow one. Oops.

The "Dodge City Peace Commission", June 1888. (L to R) standing: W.H. Harris, Luke Short, Bat Masterson, W.F. Petillon. Seated: Charlie Bassett, Wyatt Earp, Frank McLain and Neal Brown.
The “Dodge City Peace Commission”, June 1888. (L to R) standing: W.H. Harris, Luke Short, Bat Masterson, W.F. Petillon. Seated: Charlie Bassett, Wyatt Earp, Frank McLain, and Neal Brown.

Years ago, when one of my favorite innkeepers was alive, we used to drop by his establishment.  It was a great place for lively discussions. If anyone got a little over-heated, the owner walked over with a wink to say, “No sports, no politics, no religion!”

Seemingly a strange thing to say when a sports channel was almost always playing nearby, but he meant “No arguments, no heated discussions.” If arguments got out of hand, he’d say “No sports, no politics, no religion — or you’re out of here!”

That seemed a good approach to barroom politics because these were the areas of discussion that often ended with unpleasantness. Especially when dialogue was fueled by alcohol. Maybe his attitude probably short-circuited a few lively discussions, but he definitely cut off some brawls, too.

Let’s avoid them in the blog-o-sphere and cyberspace too. If Facebook is any indicator, that sounds like a plan!

I WILL WORK FOR FOOD BUT NOT PIZZA – Marilyn Armstrong

I’ve had enough pizza. I like it, mind you, but I’ve had an awful lot of it. Especially since we discovered frozen pizza we can throw in the counter oven. DiGiorno’s sausage made with marinara sauce is my favorite. It tastes pretty good. The dogs appreciate the crusts, too.

There is a rumor, perpetuated by television shows, that bloggers earn a living. Someone in Hollywood thinks people like me make money doing this. I am depressed to admit it, but not one cent have I ever made from this site — not counting the occasional free book for review.

I don’t advertise on this site. In fact, I pay WordPress to not put their advertisements here. My dream is not to monetize my site, but be such an incredible writer that the world will shower me with money — just because I’m me. I won’t have to ask, and I will owe nothing to anybody. And I could pay the bills! Yes!

Money for nothing. It brings tears to my eyes.

Somewhere, some blogger must be making money on his or her site, but I don’t know them. I’ve been around the world, blog-wise. I have yet to see a single blogger bringing in the big bucks. A few people have tried to at least keep even by putting advertisements on their sites, but the amount of money this earns them wouldn’t add up to a good meal in a mediocre restaurant. Moreover, advertising annoys readers. Sites with spammy ads and weird pop-ups make me want to go somewhere else.

Since the Internet remains one of the last, free places on earth, that’s what I do. I go elsewhere.

I don’t do this for money. I don’t even do it in the hopes that someday it might make money.

I don’t run advertisements, have no connections to any organization who will pay me for anything. I get offers for free applications for an “honest review,” but between the lines I read “positive, glowing review.”

I turn them down. “Money for nothing” is a delightful dream and that is all it is.

If for some obscure reason, you want to buy me off? You’ll have to do a lot better than any offer I’ve yet gotten. I’m sure everyone has a price, so I probably have one too, but no one has come close to meeting it.

Please, feel free to keep trying!

Meanwhile, there will be no big money coming from this blog. Not without a humongous payoff. That life of luxury? Waiting in the wings.

STATS AND BUMPS ALONG THE WAY – Marilyn Armstrong

During my first three years of blogging, I got around 100, then 200, then 250 to 300 views per day. In year four, it slid up to around 350 to 400. Where it stayed, showing a gradual, slow but steady upward movement with occasional shots of one post being exceptionally popular and periodic dips, especially around holidays.

A couple of years ago, we started getting more than 400 hits regularly. Which I thought was phenomenal. On October 10, 2017, something else happened. Suddenly, we shot upward to 500 and started getting hits as high as 700 or 800. The funny thing was, regular posts were not doing better than usual. They were doing pretty much the same as they always had.

It was a “Google” bump. For no particular reason, Google had found this blog and we were getting hundreds of hits. It kept going up until it hit 1400 at the beginning of November. Which was crazy. Blogs like this don’t get those numbers. It stayed up there for a few days, then started to drop.

I did not expect it to stay in those numbers. The archives were getting all the action. Old blogs were being read by a lot of people — which was fun — but I knew it would not last.

Statistical bumps are not “normal” growth. Somehow, some way, your blog gets picked up by Google or some other search engine and for a while, everyone who looks for something finds you at the top of the list. Thousands of people come and read your archived posts. Some visitors actually sign on and become regulars, but 90% or more will show up once, maybe twice, then disappear.

Red-bellied (or Golden-fronted) Woodpecker

They came to see one post, maybe read a second one while they were at it, but your “real” daily numbers haven’t changed. Without the input from the out-of-control search engine, you are exactly where you were before the bump.

It’s a bit startling and melodramatic when all that activity drops away– and you are left with your normal feedback. Even though you knew it wouldn’t last, you hoped it would.

Sure enough, we dropped back to pretty much where we were before the big bump. Riding “high” was fun, but it wasn’t realistic. We are not a news service and we don’t get huge numbers of readers for posts.

House Finch and Brown-headed Cowbird

The thing is, blogging is not about statistics unless for you it’s a business. It’s about communications with the people who follow you.

You follow them, they follow you. You feed each other ideas and give each other encouragement. The actual writing of a blog is only half the fun. The rest is people and relationships. The ideas you get from reading other people’s material.

Tractor with daffodils

Also — popularity isn’t always as much fun as you think it will be. I spend a huge amount of time writing, photographing, processing pictures. Keeping track of what’s scheduled. I answer all my comments and sometimes, I end up using a full day just answering comments. It is fun — but it eats a lot of time and it’s hard to find room for other things. Like buying groceries or replacing the kitchen faucet or getting back and forth to a hospital.

Luckily, I don’t have that much else to do. Except when I do.

With a few exceptions, I’ve talked to the entire world!

Like other people who blog a lot, I love it. I love the people, the ideas, the stimulation. I don’t get out into the world the way I did when I was younger. If it weren’t for blogging, I’d be isolated and probably lonely.

The thing to remember, for all of us, is statistics bounce around. A fantastic couple of months can be followed by a serious drop in readership. Why?

People move on. WordPress messes with the software and you lose a few thousand followers. And sometimes, you simply hit a lull. If you aren’t blogging for the numbers — if you are doing it because you genuinely love writing or posting pictures or whatever it is you do — then a drop in your stats doesn’t change anything. You are still you and you will do what you’ve been doing and all will be well.

Remind me I said that that the next time I lose 800 views a day overnight!

THE SUNSHINE BLOGGER AWARD: KUDOS TO MARTHA KENNEDY – Marilyn Armstrong

Sunshine Blogger Award

I don’t do awards. Except occasionally, I find the questions intriguing and decide to throw my hat in the ring. Except I’m not nominating anyone because so many people I know really dislike getting nominated, I’m just not going to stick my foot into the trap again. I still have scars from the last attempt.

Martha wrote some really good questions that are worth answering, so that’s what I’m doing. Anyone interested should definitely go to Martha’s post, copy the original questions, and take it away!

Here are YOUR questions

1. What made you decide to write a blog on WordPress?

What made me decide to write a blog was that I’d been following a couple on WordPress and I had to sign up with them just to have a conversation. Of course, this automatically gave me a blogging space. I didn’t really think very hard about blogging because I had never wanted to do it … but I had some space. And I had a few thousand photographs that no one ever saw because they were on my hard drives and would never get printed.

I didn’t actually think about the writing part of the exercise at all. I just figured I’d post pretty pictures. Technically, I started in February of 2012, but really, I didn’t write or post anything until May and that was one single post. The next month, I posted maybe half a dozen times.

Then something happened. I realized blogging was exactly like writing letters and I used to be one of the world’s great letter writers. Between editing material about air pollution, the spread of Hepatitis B in Israel, and reusing water for crops and raising carp, I wrote letters. Mostly I wrote to Garry who had a full drawer of my letters when I got back from Israel.

I should have saved them, but when we were moving, I dumped everything we didn’t absolutely need. I later regretted it but gone is gone.

So I started writing letters on my blog. Various subjects. Political. Funny. An occasional book or movie review. Opinions on this and that and sometimes, bits of fiction. And I posted pictures with the stories, so I sort of got to do both things, which was good. My best hobby combined with what was left of my profession.

Why WordPress?

I had already landed there. I had signed up when I started following other bloggers and it was free, so why not? I didn’t get serious about it for a few months, but it was an explosive time on the web. It was right in the middle of Obama’s second run for office and everything online was hopping and crazy. There also weren’t nearly as many bloggers then as there are now. I picked up a lot of followers pretty quickly.

After a while, Garry started writing pieces when he felt like it. And Rich started contributing and eventually, Tom and Ellin pitched in.

As it turns out, WordPress is pretty much the only game in town right now. Blogger (Google) has just as many problems and lacks the easy communications you get with WordPress. I originally thought I’d go find another place to do this again, but I have realized that I don’t want to do it again. Once was interesting and fun. Another would be work.

2. You’re writing a blog post and you find it taking on a direction of its own. Do you assume control or do you follow it?

Most of my pieces take on a life of their own and I follow faithfully. I’m often surprised where my posts end up, too. Sometimes, all I have is one good line and the rest just falls into place.

It’s getting the typos out that really kills me. I’m such an awful proofreader.

3. What are your goals as the writer of a blog? What do you hope for?

I really never had any goals. I write anyway, whether I have a blog or I’m just writing. I have always written, even when I had no one to read it. I might as well blog because at least a few people do read it. Also, it has really improved my writing.

Having no goals to begin with, I have none now. I like to write and I love the friends I’ve made online. They matter to me more than I imagined possible.

4. Describe the best day you’ve had in the past twelve months.

Yesterday when the birds stayed put and I got some great shots. The best day before that was the day we went to the movies.

A flock of Goldfinches
Cowbird and House Finch

Before that, the day they installed the new shower.

Looks pretty good!

I think every day I wake up still breathing is a GREAT day.

5. If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go? Why? What experiences would you hope for?

I’d like to go to England and see Sue Vincent and the great, ancient stones. I’d like to go to Switzerland and have tea with Pat and Australia and New Zealand and Utah and drive through the Rocky Mountains.

I don’t think we are really going anywhere except down to the river, but Paris would also be very lovely. Because it is Paris.

6. What was the worst road trip of your life? What happened?

Any trip I took with my parents as a child. They were ALL nightmares.

7. How much time do you put into your blog? Do you write every day?

I write every day. Even when I have decided NOT to write, I can’t help myself. That seems to be what I do.

8. Do you write to a daily prompt? Why or why not?

Sometimes if I can think of something to go with them. But I often have my own ideas of what I want to write and when I do, I don’t bother with a prompt.

I do use a lot of photo prompts. They help me find uses for many of my archived pictures.

9. What’s your favorite post? Why? Please share. 

https://teepee12.com/2019/01/31/my-best-year-1969/

Titled: MY BEST YEAR -1969

I think I’ve rewritten is half a dozen times at least and I’m sure I will again. It brings back happy days when everyone was young.

10. Is there a book, film or person (or animal) that inspired you and changed your life? What or who was it? How did it have such a profound effect on you?

Angelique by Anne Golan.

11. What advice do you have for someone who has just started writing a blog? What rewards has it given you that might inspire someone else?

If you enjoy it and if you are having fun, don’t give up. Everyone starts slowly. A blog needs time to find its place in the online world.

I really don’t have any questions to add. There have been so many question-asking blogs this year, I feel like I’m questioned and answered out. I do apologize. I think since Martha put so much thought into HER questions, you should definitely use hers!

GREAT, GREATER, GREATEST – Marilyn Armstrong

Kind of reminds me of the old talkin’ blues — “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like!”

I don’t know — or care — if the blogs I follow are great, greater or greatest. It’s entirely subjective. Great for who? Me? You? Everybody on the web? I doubt there is any such blog. If there were, we’d never agree on it, so the real question is what do I like and why?

I’m pretty sure this chickadee could talk., but he can’t type so he doesn’t comment.

I like humor. If you make me laugh, you own me. I am perhaps overly invested in wordplay and wit. I like photography, so if you post astounding pictures — or just pretty ones — I’m in for that too. I appreciate thoughtful posts on subjects ranging from ancient history to the meaning of life. If you combine them all, even better.

I adore authors and try to support them, even if what they write isn’t my favorite stuff. I’m a gadget freak and faithfully follow blogs that delve into hardware and software. I read movie reviews, book reviews, product reviews. I trust my fellow bloggers. From your blogs, I’ve discovered books, authors, movies, cameras, lenses, software, and accessories. I don’t know where I got information before I found you all!

Metropolitan Museum of Art – The fighting Unicorn

I follow many blogs for many reasons. Some are written better than others. Some photographers are more skilled than others, but I don’t count typos or ignore less than perfect pictures. Many people lack technical finesse, yet have true vision and thoughts worth hearing. I’m egalitarian by principle and inclination.

I love animals. Dogs, cats, horses, birds and everything else. Wild animals and pets. But not insects. Sorry bugs, I just can’t love you. I’ve tried. Maybe in my next incarnation.

I hate haters. I admire kindness and generosity especially because I’m not as good as I want to be. I don’t think cruelty is funny. Even when deserved, suffering makes me wince, not laugh.

I’m interested in God, religion, and faith — but can’t stomach being bullied to believe a particular dogma. One size never fits all, not in philosophy, religion, political system, technology or clothing. I read blogs by ministers and other religious people. I want to know what they think and why, how they made their “leap of faith.” Seeking is good.

Then there’s information, ideas, useful hints, suggestions on how to do things differently. I love learning new stuff. Don’t we all?

I don’t read everyone every day. There isn’t enough time, even if I did nothing but read other blogs. And then, I’d never get to write one or take a few pictures. I do try to peek at everyone, even when I’m a couple of days late.

Personally, I think you are all great.

We are great because we care about something that is not “us.” We share ourselves, our knowledge, our hopes, our dreams. Whether we want to change the world or make someone smile, help with a problem, teach a new way to do an old thing, offer a different way to look at the world, we don’t just talk.

We don’t have the power we wish we had, but we do the best we can and that’s a big deal. Especially today. There are problems way beyond our ability to help fix them, but I think we all, in our own way, try.

Greatness is in the eye of the beholder. I behold you all and thank you. You’re the greatest.