What? Who, Me? Dogged?

 

Over the course of 15 months and 99 WordPress entries, I’ve managed to avoid dependence on two staples of the blogging life: quizzes and memes.  The quizzes, popularly drawn from sites like BlogThings, can be amusing but seem a colossal waste of time.  What season do I feel like?  Am I high maintenance? What’s my pop star name?  I don’t know, and frankly, my dear…   Let’s just say I don’t care.

Memes are more interesting because they’re more open-ended.  Some are transparent invitations to embroider the truth  ~ “Share Ten Interesting Things About Yourself No One Knows!”  Others, a bit more substantive, ask for those lists we all live with (“Name Ten Books You Intend to Read This Year”) or demand more information than we really want to provide about our lives or preferences (“Which of Your Relatives Do You Wish Belonged to a Different Family?”)   

Despite my inclination to approach these diversions with the same enthusiasm I feel when faced with a trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles, this past week I took a quiz and agreed to participate in a meme.  I was surprised to discover myself enjoying both, and even more surprised to find them related to one another.

I bumped up against the quiz on another site.  “What breed of dog are you?” was the question of the day.  Since I enjoy PenguinLover, who posted it,  like dogs in general and had time to dally a bit, I began answering questions.  The results were interesting.  As it turns out, I’m  a German Shepherd, and the profile provided by the author of the quiz is apt. (more…)

Published in: on July 23, 2009 at 4:08 am  Comments (17)  
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Content Theft ~ It Matters to Me

 

Writing has brought innumerable changes to my life. In addition to the need for solving quite concrete and practical problems, like finding enough time in a day to write, I’ve been forced to confront issues which, quite frankly, didn’t concern me even a year ago.

One of those issues is content theft, known more formally as copyright infringement. Across the web, musicians, photographers, writers and artists of every sort have been forced into a kind of guerilla warfare with folks determined to take and use what is not theirs. Some people do it casually and without thought, not intending to offend. But now and then I find comments which indicate other attitudes underlying the actions. “If they put it on the web, it’s fair game”, commented one blogger.  “I figure they’ll never find out,” said another. And recently, I read that “it doesn’t make any difference” who authored a particular piece of work. Having just written and posted what is my favorite, and perhaps best poem, Watching Comet Lulin, I’m afraid I took that rather personally.

To say it makes no difference who wrote something is to say that, when someone comes along and steals my work, I should smile and say, “Well, it’s my vision.  I struggled to put it into words, and took the time to copyright it and claim ownership of it, but that’s ok. If you want to put your name on it and pass it off as yours, I’ll just sit back and let you do it”.

As you might assume, that isn’t going to happen. Intellectual property is intellectual property, and copyright law is binding, and the entire reason for things like the Digital Millenium Copyright Act is to protect artists and writers who deserve the rights to their work.

I’ve had my work stolen, and it’s not a good experience. The first time it happened, I was stunned, barely able to breathe when I saw someone else’s name on my essay. Now, about two dozen thefts down the road, it isn’t any easier. The difference is that now I know what to do, and I do it. (Click here to read more)

Reading, Writing and Thinking – A Paradigm for Blogging

Recently in the WordPress Forums, justjosie asked a question: “Is there any easy way to just find something in a normal day that you can make interesting and into a blog? This may be a stupid question but I just can’t figure out what the Good Blog formula is.”

 

It isn’t a stupid question at all.  When I first began writing online, people seemed to enjoy my posts, but I continually was haunted by the thought: “What if I can’t do it again?  What if I can’t think of something to say?  What if I don’t have the ability to string words together time after time after time in a way that will be satisfying to me and interesting enough to draw in readers?”

As weeks passed, finding a topic became less of a concern.  Since coming to WordPress, I’ve posted 26 blogs but during the same time period I’ve placed 43 drafts in my files.  A “draft” may be nothing more than  a title or a quotation, but it still is a working point, a place to start, a bit of inspiration that can grow into a full entry.   I do “write” my blogs – I see them as essays – and I’m not certain I’ll ever be able to turn out a new entry every day.  But writing well and communicating is my primary goal. 

Even though I’m just beginning and still am feeling my way through the process, I’ve written enough to be able to look back and suggest an approach that may help other bloggers.   What works for me may not work for you, but I’m more than happy to share what I’ve found useful in this new venture.

 

 The first step in any new blog entry is that moment when something catches my attention.  It may be something in nature, like the two purple snail shells that were the genesis of The Surprise of Tiny Purple Things.  It may be something utterly mysterious on the internet, like the name Yoani Sanchez left on the title line of a blog listing page with the entry removed.  It may even be a memory that suddenly resurfaces, with power enough to make me look again at my own past, and re-work it in new words.

I’ve noticed my own untied shoelaces, the summer constellations, the ubiquitous presence of Sisyphus in our world and an old photograph of William Faulkner’s home.  Each of those was a starting point, just as GPS technology, peanut butter sandwiches, plywood boats, the phrase “no problem” and upside down rainbows will be starting points in the future.

So first of all: look.  Open your eyes and your ears.  Be receptive to what you see around you, and what you hear people saying.  Look for the odd, the unexpected, the commonplace that isn’t even seen any longer because it is so common.  There’s enough in the world to keep us all going for lifetimes.

The next step may be research.  I say “may” because research isn’t necessary for every blog.  A few times, I’ve done no research at all.  But when it is needed, research can be as simple as looking up the lyrics to a song or the colors in the eight-count box of Crayolas.  It also can be as time-consuming and complex as tracing the vocational path of an early environmentalist.  Where research is involved, follow the practices of a good journalist: fact check, and check again.  Get multiple sources, if you can.  Use primary documents rather than secondary if possible, and cite – accurately and in a consistent style – until you feel yourself living the life of a dedicated student.

Writing and Thinking belong together in a reciprocal relationship.  After noticing something interesting and getting the facts straight, the time has come to decide what you think about it and what you want to say.  The process is a bit chicken-and-eggish.  I often think about my subject long before I put words to paper, but there are times when words or phrases come to mind first, and then I think about them.  This is the one point where I will offer what I suspect should be an ironclad rule for good writing:

As I write, I continually edit, and my editing process is concerned with far more than correct spelling and grammar.  I edit for clarity of thought, for logical consistency and personal conviction as well.  Because I want my words to be a direct expression of who I am – because I want them to be true, in the fullest sense of that word – I’m forced to think to be sure my writing does the job. 

You may have realized by now that focusing on one step or another in this process will bring very different results.  My first blog about the two tiny janthina shells, The Surprise of Tiny Purple Things, was one kind of entry.   Almost all “noticing” and “writing”  it could have worked as a travel article.  On the other hand, the second blog that grew out of the experience, The Sage of Biscayne Bay, was heavily researched and more educational in nature.   A blog that is all thought, without any research at all, will be more personal and reflective.  An entry that simply reports, that is all “noticing”, invites others in for their own thought, research and reflection.  “Look at this,” the writer says.  “What do YOU make of it?”

Of the four steps, noticing comes most easily for me.  It’s a bit like breathing – I simply do it.  Research takes time, but it isn’t hard. Writing takes much more time, and is a good bit harder but not impossible. It’s the thinking that takes the most effort.  I’ve never thought so much in my life.

Once again, what I have in mind for my blog will not be to everyone’s taste, and not everyone will want to approach blogging in this way.  But no matter what form a blog takes, or what the content may be, the steps still apply, and all of them represent skills that can be learned, developed and put to use.

When one of my readers recently mentioned the Hotel Coral Essex and the film Revenge of the Nerds in a comment, it was unusual enough that I noticed it.  Since I didn’t have a clue about the Coral Essex or the film (I live under a large rock), I peeked at a YouTube clip – that’s research.  Now, I’m thinking about it, turning my nugget of information over and over in my mind.  Eventually, I may put a title or a phrase in my files, and there it will be: draft number 44.

See?  Easy!  Now, it’s your turn….

Published in: on July 2, 2008 at 1:03 pm  Comments (7)  
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The Joy of Learning to Close Those Tags

 

In 1987, a friend invited me to help celebrate her 40th birthday aboard a chartered catamaran on Galveston Bay. I wasn’t a sailor, and never had boarded a sailboat, but I accepted the invitation because I loved my friend and wanted to share in her happiness.  Driving to Galveston, I never imagined I was heading toward  an experience that would still be affecting my life nearly 20 years later.

As we loosed our lines that hot August night, there was a freshening breeze, and a lapping of wavelets against the hull. As the sun touched the dusky horizon and stars emerged above the mast, I felt a sudden impulse. Walking to the stern, I asked the captain, “Do you teach people to do this?” Glancing in my direction, he mused, “No one’s ever asked”.  When I asked again, he gazed at the darkening shoreline a long moment before saying, “Fine. But you’re going to learn it all.”

He was true to his word, and he taught me well.  No one “learns it all”, but I learned enough over the next months to know the joy of competence, and the discipline of the sea. In bays and waterways, offshore swells and quiet anchorages, we practiced navigation, rehearsed Rules of the Road, bled fuel lines, and mended sails. I learned to single-hand, and I learned to crew.  Above all, I learned to love water, wind and sky in a deep and profound way.

The learning took time, but the most important lesson I learned immediately. On my first day aboard, Tom asked me remove the canvas cover from the mainsail furled on its boom. The boom was higher than I could reach; the sail was tightly stacked and tied. Looking at it, I spoke the first words that came to mind: “I can’t reach it.”

Bent over the anchor chain, Tom never moved. When he spoke, his tone was clear: “Never again will you say, ‘I can’t’. If I tell you to do something which seems difficult or impossible, ask, ‘How can I?’ The answer may be that you ask for help, or find someone else to do it, but that’s not where you start. The only way you’ll succeed is by first asking, ‘How can I?’”

“Over the months, there were difficulties to spare. Each time I hesitated, Tom would grin and say, “You know the rule.”   By that time, I certainly did.  When difficulties arise, the rule says: relinquish pessimistic or petulant “I can’t” for curious and optimistic “How can I?” 

Then, begin again.

Over the years, the question I learned to ask on that sailboat has embedded itself so deeply into my psyche it seems a birthright, true across every realm of life. No matter how painful a relationship, no matter how fearful the unknown, no matter how difficult life’s challenges, there always is a way forward.

I’ve had more than a few occasions to remember my “rule” since coming to WordPress.  When I posted my first blog, I was as Dazed and Confused as the title implied.  Confronted by a site filled with people  comfortable with categories, tags, css, rss and html in the way I’m comfortable with my cousins or my cat, I could only admit to the truth: “When I look at a hyperlink, I hyperventilate.  When I hear the word “tag”, I think of a children’s game.  If any computer guru in the world begins a sentence, “All you have to do is…”, I’ve already done a mental turn and am running for my life.  They mean well, and so do I.   It’s just that “intuitive” is not a word I associate with computers or their programs.”

On the other hand, I’m not oblivious to the fact that the world has changed in my lifetime.  I’ve been forced to admit that, “whether I like it or not, the day of the Number 2 pencil, or even the old, clunky Underwood, is over.  If I am to share my words and my vision, technology must become my friend.”

And so, taking a deep breath and with my somewhat older friend “How Can I?” by my side, I began to create a blog.  Step by step, I learned to work with images, and colorize my text.  I learned not to use Word to create my entries, and how to create links.  I learned about blogrolls and Blogger,  text-wrap and Twitter.  It was slow and more-or-less awkward, but all worked well until my last post.

I met my match in the form of four links which wouldn’t format properly.  I like to emphasize links by making their color different from the text around them, and never had problems doing so.  This time, it was beyond me.  I tried everything I knew and a few wild guesses for good measure.  I simply couldn’t make it work.  The only solution was to swallow hard and head off to the forums, to see if I could ask my question clearly enough to find an answer.

The details of the question and answer aren’t really important.  The fact that I was able to solve my problem with the help of a forum volunteer is wonderful, but somewhat beside the point.  The point of it all appeared a day or so later, when I stopped by my blog to answer a comment.

I’ve begun responding to readers by adding my italicized comment directly beneath their post.  It’s neat and tidy, and helps the flow by keeping comment and response together in one place.  This time, when I added my response, the entire comment-and-response became one large, clickable link.  It didn’t hurt anything, but it wasn’t right.  Staring at the screen, caught up in html-phobia, I stopped hyperventilating long enough to remember my success in repairing those four recalcitrant links simply by re-arranging a bit of code.  I thought to myself, “It was easy enough to fix that, once the problem was pointed out to me.  How can I fix this?”

Clicking into the html editor, I looked over the page.  I examined the code as though it were a lab specimen, looking for the anomaly, the error, the out-of-place character.  Making myself slow down, I went through the code one line at a time, over and over, until I found it: an unclosed < a > tag.  Amost breathless with excitement, I added the necessary  < /a >, saved it, and previewed the page.  It was perfect.  

Sometimes, a tiny triumph is enough.  Sometimes, solving even the smallest problem will do.  Now and then, just a glimpse of a present reality can open our eyes to the wonder of future possibilities.  After two months at WordPress, I’m still a bit dazed but not nearly so confused, and I’m learning once again the power of those simple words: how can I? 

It will take time to learn the vocabulary, the culture and the simple etiquette of this blogging world, but I find it more accessible every day.  There’s a certain elegance to this “other language” called html that intrigues me, not to mention the pleasure of learning so many new skills. 

Now and then, someone will ask, “How can you spend so much time messing around with that computer?”   Reading my words, looking at my images, I ponder a bit, and then ask in return, “How can I not?”

 

 

 

 

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Published in: on June 25, 2008 at 2:50 pm  Comments (5)  
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Dazed and Confused

With more years behind me than I like to remember, startled into cyber-sensitivity by assorted encounters with a brave new world, I stand at the edge of the precipice:  leaning, looking, listening for the voice that has lured me to this place.

What do I know of websites, blogs, html, css, pagemaker?  Not a thing.  Or, at least, so little that my friendly five-year-old neighbor could out-navigate me in any cybercontest.  When I look at a hyperlink, I hyperventilate.  When I hear the word “tag”, I think of a children’s game.  If any computer guru in the world begins a sentence, “All you have to do is…”, I’ve already done a mental turn and am running for my life.  They mean well, and so do I.   It’s just that “intuitive” is not a word I associate with computers or their programs.

But I have things to say – words to write, metaphors to build, conclusions to draw, paragraphs to stack and reorder and move around to suit myself, and perhaps others.  Whether I like it or not, the day of the Number 2 pencil, or even the old, clunky Underwood, is over.   If I am to share my words and my vision, technology must become my friend.

Friendship, of course, takes time.  It requires energy, and perseverance.   Friendship isn’t an afternoon project, a weekend diversion, a passing inclination for those times when nothing else piques interest.  Friendship is a commitment as well as a delight; it requires attentiveness and care.

I have far less time than I wish, and my energy can ebb, but I know attentiveness and perseverance.  Perseverance is making coffee at 2 a.m.  Perseverance is changing a title in order to attract more readers, and then changing it back  to its original form because it is right.  Perseverance is continuing to listen for the voice that lures us to the edge of the precipice even when the voice falls silent.   Perseverance is singing in the night, though all others may sleep – believing that the song will be heard.

The question no longer is: do you want to write?  For good or for ill, read or unread, poorly scribed or passionately sung, I will write.  At the edge of the precipice, a bit dazed, a good bit confused, I have made my commitment.  Let the perseverance begin.

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Published in: on April 19, 2008 at 12:45 pm  Comments (3)  
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