Bloom

 

In 2010, my first year of blogging on Red’s Wrap, I got two likes. The next year, 2011, saw a big increase to three likes. So this fabulously successful blog got five likes over the space of two years. That may have been five different people ‘liking’ or just one dear person pressing the like button five times, I don’t know. I want to think it was a small but very intelligent and discerning crowd but it doesn’t matter.

What matters is attention. I go back now into my archives of nearly a thousand blog posts and there are many with no likes. How did that feel? I don’t remember. I just continued. Certain people always read what I wrote. My husband, a couple of friends, a few business colleagues who would slyly sidle up to me to whisper a quote of something I’d posted the day before. There were readers, I guess, just not very many and not very expressive.

Schooling people how to formally register their ‘likes’ seemed phony, like buying my own birthday present and signing my husband’s name to the card. Did I really need that kind of attention?

Yes.

Likes jumped from 137 in 2012 to 830 in 2013 and then took an enormous leap to 3,256 in 2014 primarily because WordPress featured an essay called You’re Asking the Wrong Question on Freshly Pressed. This year’s total, with a few days to go, is 5,199, a long way from the two lonely likes of my first year of blogging. 2016, like 2014, was a year when WordPress exposure, this time of an essay called Book Mark, brought a ton of new readers and several hundred likes.

All the while, I was trying to bring new readers to my blog by cross-posting in other places. I loved cross-posting on Open Salon which was a curated forum hosted by Salon.com. Open Salon featured an essay of mine which was later picked up and widely circulated by Salon.com. The essay, called The Wire, was the first time I’d written about an illegal abortion I’d had while in college before Roe V. Wade made abortion legal in the U.S. After the essay came a visit back to that same college at the invitation of the local chapter of Planned Parenthood. I stood on a stage and told my story. It was extraordinary.

But the charm of cross-posting has faded. The last post I wrote that was featured by BlogHer/SheKnows appeared next to a post about five ways to improve anal sex. It irked me. Not from a prudish point of view but from an aesthetic one. I want my stuff to be found among the diamond rings, not the K-Y Jelly. Is that wrong? Putting on airs? I don’t know. And then there’s the thing about once a post is published on some sites, it becomes theirs to use, re-posting as they wish with no prior notice or permission. If you want their attention, you see, you have to pay for it as long as they want.

The one exception to cross-posting right now is participation in the Yeah Write weekly challenges. Whenever I can, I post a nonfiction piece, a poem, or a story to the Yeah Write grids. Each week there is a dose of writing guidance along with explanations of what makes writing really stand out. I’d recommend Yeah Write to any blogger who wants to take their writing from keeping on online diary to publishing pieces of significance. A lot of good writers have emerged from Yeah Write. Good company to keep.

So what’s with my preoccupation with likes? If nobody buys the book, it doesn’t matter how good the book is. By that I mean this: it doesn’t matter how fabulous I think I am if no one else thinks my writing is meaningful. The likes are a metric* of the extent to which what I write hits home with people. If I’m not striking the right chords, I’m failing. In other words, if I’d kept getting two or three likes a year, I’d have quit. No one would be buying what I was selling so why keep pushing my cart up and down the street?

I haven’t changed what I write to get more likes but I have focused on what could make my writing better. I’ve tried to tackle tough issues like disability, race, and mental illness. I’ve taken chances on topics and tried to push forward what I could trust myself to say well. And I’ve decided to own my work. I don’t want to be part of the cheap churn of articles on mega-sites. I don’t want to be part of the ‘list generation’ of writers in order to post 10 things I love about winter and 5 strategies for a stress-free divorce. And I don’t want my post to be next to the K-Y Jelly ad.

Red’s Wrap is my little jewel, my little flower. I’ve been watering it pretty steadily for six years so it could take root and be something beautiful. And bloom. I wanted it to bloom and to keep blooming. And I think it is.

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*Wordpress generates real-time metrics for WP sites, like Red’s Wrap, which include #views, #unduplicated viewers, #followers, #likes, referral sources, and viewers’ countries. Data are aggregated daily, weekly, monthly, and annually.

Written in response to The Daily Post prompt to reflect on the past year of blogging: Retrospective

When Peaches Aren’t Ripe: 5 Ways Youth Disappointed Me

We give youth everything. We give them looks. We give them brains. We give them energy. We give them political power.

And then we sit aside and envy. Oh. If we were young, we’d be beautiful and so brilliant, incandescent in our energy and defining in our politics. If we were young, we would change the world.

No, we wouldn’t. The only reason we yearn for youth is that we’ve forgotten how profoundly disappointing it often was. This is what I remember from my twenties and I’m betting my recollections aren’t too different than many people who haven’t been young for a very long time.

For me, youth was a time when the peaches weren’t ripe but I thought they were. So I’d take a bite and have that awful peach disappointment. When a peach is ripe and perfect, it’s sublime. Otherwise, it’s a terrible trick.

Looking back, these were the disappointments of youth that I haven’t forgotten:

Unrelenting relationship angst – dating, not dating, being a couple, breaking up, getting back together, marriage, divorce, love on the rebound, infidelity, leaving, being left, ending the decade not having to share a 6-pack of beer.

Assumptions about my competence that were true – not knowing how to do much, making mistakes because I was too proud to ask, having an impossibly narrow view of the world, having to be told things that would be obvious just a few years later,  no one looking to me for answers.

Being broke 90% of the time – being a single parent and making $5 an hour with no benefits, having health insurance I bought by sending in a postcard, my dentist offering to let me pay off my bill $10 a month.

Mothering without having read the book (or knowing there was a book) – envying June Cleaver but channeling Joan Crawford, treating my daughter like a child or my best friend, depending on the day, believing all the other mothers knew what they were doing.

Premature, stifling regret – feeling bad most of the time about decisions I’d made, thinking my mistakes were printed on my face and arms like florid tattoos, believing I would never get my life straight or make things right.

My twenties were tough. They were hard, messy years that I don’t miss or yearn for in any way. But my thirties, forties, fifties and sixties shared one characteristic – at any given time, any given year, I would have been happy to have been that age forever. I figured out how to live life and love it. It was a joy not being young.

Once I wasn’t young anymore, the peaches were all nice and ripe.

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How will I stay young at heart? You’re Asking the Wrong Question

Written in response to The Daily Post prompt: Youth

Riding High on Hope

Flying Bicycle

Here are eight things that give me hope:

  1. I went in the garage this afternoon and saw my bike in all its clunky silver and pink glory locked to the door of an old refrigerator and it made me feel like I did when I was a kid and took a can of spray paint to my old Schwinn every spring.
  2. Donald Trump is going to be the Republican nominee and no Republican big shot wants to be seen with him (excepting Chris Christie who is still hoping the bully will give him some candy and Ben Carson who just is the world’s biggest puzzle of a person).
  3. Hillary Clinton is probably going to be the next President of the United States despite a dozen missteps in the past few weeks. Bless her for her flaws, though, and thank goodness for her brains and heart. It’s her time (at last) which also means that it’s our time (at last). Unbelievable for us who came up when Under My Thumb was an actual song sung by the world’s leading rock and roll band.
  4. I am less and less concerned about going places and doing things on my own, this hesitation having grown in the years of my most acute hearing loss and abating with my cochlear implant. I think my solo road trip to Dayton broke a little wee barrier for me so now I think I could drive across the country if I wanted to. Or walk across, I think of that, too. You know, it could be done. Doesn’t mean I want to do it right this minute but I could, you know?
  5. The City of Milwaukee planted our new tree. Last fall, when the forester told us that they were cutting our 70-year old tree down, he said I’d like having a new tree because “it’s like having a puppy.” It has little branches and buds and is the poster child for hope.
  6. I am liberated by reading instructions from Mary Oliver that poetry is about how words sound, how they look on a page. I know there are many other secrets beyond the great economy of words and their beauty arranged on a page and in my head but I’m happy with those two. It gives me the tiniest green light.
  7. This year could be different on the garden front. It might not begin great and end eight weeks later with the usual wild nightmare of gargantuan zucchini plants waving their leaves like plates in the wind and swallowing the pepper plants whole. The hope is fleeting but it’s real.
  8. There are several brave and valiant people I know who are unwittingly showing me how to be brave and valiant when it’s my turn. I hope to remember their example and pass it on.

There’s no world peace on my hope list. I’m more pragmatic than that. Call me the Hillary Clinton of hope. A bike in the sky, no pie.

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Written in response to The Daily Post prompt: Hope

Note to New Bloggers: What to Write About

Comparison is both the fuel and the death of creativity.

Knowing that, I read just a few other blogs. Not all of them are terrific but they all have something unique. Artwork, humor, insight, style. Comparing my blog to theirs and to others highlighted by Discover, a curated site operated by WordPress, helps me position myself in terms of other writers. How do I measure up?

But as in the rest of life – brains, looks, charm – the comparison game quickly sours. That’s when I know that if I persist, I’ll get depressed. And because much of my life is about mood management, I am loathe to continue down a road headed for a cliff with rocks and thorny cactus below. Self-preservation outweighs my attraction to the creativity of others. I have a pretty high opinion of myself but it needs constant protection. Too much information about the glory of others is not helpful.

I think this is a valuable tidbit for new bloggers. Manage your exposure to other bloggers for a while. This is another way of saying manage the intimidation you feel. Just write what you write and let things unfold. I talked about this yesterday. Be glad that no one reads your blog when you are starting out; there’s protection in being ignored. Revel in it for a while until you get your bearings.

So what do you write about when you’re starting out?

Write about the smallest big thing that happened to you today.

Be a laser beam.

Find the tiniest stitch.

Paint the untied shoe.

Love the one thing.

This is so hard for people who have been driven to writing a blog because they have a lot to say. But let me tell you this, don’t say all you have to say. First of all, you won’t do your experience justice in one blog post. Secondly, you can’t convey true heart with too big a picture. Third, the tiny and beautiful draws people to you.

It takes discipline to find the smallest big thing. And the discipline has to do with not thinking about what other people will think is the smallest big thing.

It has to be entirely yours.

I will tell you about the smallest big thing that happened to me once. It was the day this picture was taken.

IMG_3994

This was the moment that one of my grandsons took a shell from the hand of a stranger at the coffee shop. I wrote about that moment and what I thought it meant. I’m not saying this is the world’s greatest blog post. It’s just an example of zeroing in on a moment in time. And then realizing what the moment told me: my daughter, these boys’ mother, is raising them to be happy and friendly. I loved that about her and about this moment in time and so that’s what I wrote about.

So that’s what I encourage people who are just starting out to do: write about the smallest big thing. Make it your precious moment. Unique and glowing.

And then share it.