I Enjoy Stripping

cake2I don’t like having more than one of anything. It feels wasteful. I mean, one hairbrush will do. My wedding dress and cake had no decorations, no ribbon or flower. Nothing. In my day-to-day, I map out the most efficient route for errands. Lose time and you’ve lost the irretrievable.

It hit me that the way I relate to money and time is how I write. I try to work each word full tilt. I love having guest writers see they can toss two, three hundred words to find the heart of their story. Of the 42 who have come through these doors, virtually all have sworn they have “cut to the bone” and just can’t reach the word limit I set. I plunge my knife, head straight for the marrow, send them the bloody remains. Yes, all the while laughing like Cruella De Vil. My own toughest critic, I stripped a short February post of a dozen words last night. There: cleaner, tighter. Because I do my best to preserve the unique voice of every contributor, we have had 42 different voices in the repertoire. No one should sound like me. Goodness, not with the literary greats to emulate. But I believe we can apply principles of efficiency no matter what our style. Because we writers and poets love our words so much, we tend to err on the side of overstating and in our earnestness, try too hard. We all know less is more, but my guests still scrounge for the anesthesia when they see the knife. Which reminds me. I need to wipe that blade.

Comments closed.

HW, in cahoots with the Mafia

What I’m Not Sorry About

While I’ve been sad and frustrated, I am not sorry about having broken my record for the longest breath I’ve held (not writing, that is) on this blog.

“I’m sorry I haven’t posted in a while.” I shake my head at these earnest apologies. Sweet and courteous of you, I think, but you really believe people were sitting there drumming their fingers, waiting? For you? Everybody. Is. Busy. With their own blog, their own drama.

It is innocent narcissism to think it’s time to post. Don’t worry about it.

Disabling the likes on On It’s Your Fault was loads of fun. Comments disabled here. =)

How You Fit Into My Prophetic Dream

I flew a lot in my dreams when I was a kid. It would start a bit slowly, and sometimes I rowed the air with my arms while swinging forward on a pillow to build momentum. Even now I could feel the exhilaration of taking off, sailing above land. This one particular dream was different, though. Vivid with a heaviness of meaning.

Up in the air stood a booth with wide oblong belts for sale, each with 666 stitched on. Everyone was required to buy and wear one. To refuse could mean death.

I refused.

In the dream I said it was because Jesus enabled me to fly that I wouldn’t dishonor Him. In the next moment, I found myself soaring higher than I thought possible. I perched atop a fence that scraped the sky and beheld the city below.

Fast-forward about a decade. I wished the fight between Mom and Dad were something I could wake from. It got so bad my mother and I ended up spending a surreal night in a motel. In the morning I found myself in a church van on the way to a retreat I had agreed to go to for some unaccountable reason. Broken, angry, I was one unapproachable 17-year-old who scared the counselors away. But the speaker shared something out of the book of Exodus that caught my attention. “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.” The eagle pushes her young out of the nest not to abandon them but to teach them to fly. And eagles are the only birds to chase the eye of the approaching storm. Using the pressure of the fury for wings, these regal birds go right through it only to come out higher.

Into my darkness came this beacon of understanding about God’s loving dealings with His own and called to sudden memory the dream where I had flown, spurning the mark of the devil. I sensed the specialness of my dream all over again. I felt its promise of good. The reminder of the ways of eagles was meant to prepare me for the many storms I would face into adulthood. God started putting back together the shards of hopelessness in my spirit and I left the weekend retreat one radically transformed convert.

Two years later I was thrilled to settle into a large apartment-like college dorm unit. But I slowly came to feel something was off. One day while brushing my teeth, I leaned forward to study some engraving on the wall. My eyes grew wide. 666. It was carved in invisible ink but get this – one that glowed in the dark. And I discovered the number all over the walls and in the bathroom, with splotchy marks on the ceiling and an eerie stick figure of an angel on the inner door of my room. I learned from others that Christians have felt freaked out in that building, and friends urged me to request relocation.

I stayed.

I would live my old dream, meet the trial head-on. I couldn’t in good conscience flee the force of darkness with the power of light at my disposal. But it was really difficult and I actually look back in wonder at the determination of the girl twenty years my junior. I’ve grown softer since, for better and worse. Let’s just say I prayed a lot that year.

So you see that my dream has resurfaced at certain mileposts on my journey, a harbinger of the challenges and joys. Thinking about the blogging that has been so transformative for me, I made the connection once again. It’s felt like I’ve been flying. Not for my numbers, with bloggers out here who have done far better, but because writing with you has given me another life. I feel direction. I have a blueprint for my blogging. I’m not posting primarily for the likes or to raise my stats though I’m glad they help mark my blog. I don’t try to come up with the next post simply because it’s time. I don’t want to just take up space on WordPress. I hate inefficiency in all things. If I’m going to think and stomp and sing and ask why and why not and eat my words and be filled I want to do these things with you. You’ve received so well the collaborations I have tried out that you gave me a taste for what is possible in community. When I toss my list of daily to-dos and silence the noise of talk and cars, I don’t want to find at the end of the day I’d been running in a hamster’s wheel. Which I do, in many areas of my life. But on A Holistic Journey, I have drunk air that’s revived me. I go places, I daresay, on wings.

And the best part is not flying solo. Today’s sermon at church happened to cast fresh light on my ruminations on this post. The Bible does not talk about my potential, my personality, my gifts. Our personal fulfillment comes naturally when we pursue our calling. And our calling is for others. Not just in the Race Around the World but in our interaction and discussions, my purpose has been to encourage you out of your nest of fears, setbacks, uncertainties and to test those wings. Your steps echo off this blog as you hurry away to write something for your own readers. Your heart reached your mind, which they say is the longest distance between, longer than how far we are across the world. And fingering the ball and chain of my disappointments and burdens, I cheer you on to gain your ground and lift off. Because dreams do come true.

Seven Signs You’re a V.I.P. Blogger

1. You laugh and cry with people you’ve never met. And if anyone tells you they’re not real friends, you know which friend is on his way out.

2. You feel like a superhero. Not because you’re out at night saving the world but because you have this whole other identity, a life some friends have no idea you live.

3. You burn your third pot in a month, preoccupied with the new post bubbling in your head that eclipsed the bubbling on the stove. No one can get mad when you’re…InspiRed.

4. You have not only given up on the dishes but quit stressing that they’re in full view of guests. No time, no pride, no shame.

5. “Sorry? I don’t follow” or “You follow?” isn’t something you can say in cyberspace anymore.

6. Your vibes with bloggers run in sync. Just when you’re thinking of a reader, a like from the dear soul comes whizzing through.

7. You’re reading this blog. (This suggestion from a follower on Ten Signs You’re a Real Blogger. I will say it again: I have the best readers!)

Ten Signs You’re a Real Blogger

1. Your username sounds like your real name. To you.
2. Friends will reach you faster through a comment than email.
3. Readers actually start showing up in your dreams.
4. Your sweetheart quotes from your posts. “It’s not aBoUT you, k?”
5. The dish pile has become part of the furniture.
6. You know you’ll organize that drawer. You will. Someday.
7. You get real crabby the days you don’t get to touch your beloved blog.
8. You’ll spot the seed of a post on the dirt and gravel, catch the scent a mile away.
9. Your six-year-old says, “I love your blog.”
10. You will stop blogging over your dead body.

Are you for real?

Do You Love Your Blog?

We make a thousand choices each day. What to wear, what to eat, how much, which errand to run first, how to get there, what to say. Ever notice how one simple decision ushers you into a world of unforeseen events, some that are life-changing? In the aftermath of the accident you think, “Why did I have to turn on that street today?” March 6th last year, I brought over to WordPress the handful of posts I had started loading on Tumblr. Little did I know. I would never be the same on the Holistic Journey after putting up that first post Lessons from my 30s.

You’ve shown me so much love already, I had wanted to celebrate AHJ’s birthday in quiet. But I decided to share some thoughts on blogging.

BIRTH PAINS
I wish I could whip out posts like cowboys with their pistols. I have asked a lot of myself here. Every post is a birth. I don’t write for your respect or like but feel I must bleed to earn it. Even if it’s just a paper cut. Has to be the masochistic Korean in me. Some posts I’ve spent months preparing. I have asked through many of them why in the world I was exacting a college paper from myself. I think, squint, think some more, hush the groaning in my brain. And after handing you the gift I prepared with love, I crash. Am physically drained after clicking publish.

WHY I SUFFER
How can I not? Why would I not give you my best? You fit my holistic journey into the countless choices you make in your week. The question of why it is we do what we do as bloggers came up in a conversation with a reader. I discovered my reason was curiously one that many men would have. Impact. You know how women are supposed to derive satisfaction most from relationships and men from a sense of significance? Obviously the goals are not mutually exclusive. But isn’t the angle many men and women approach people and work from interesting? I was able to distill my purpose in blogging to the extraordinary satisfaction of making an impact, in whatever way that happens. No real surprise, actually. Like many men, I’d rather have respect than love. Yeah, you can imagine how it pleases my husband to tap my soft side (reLiEf). I have written so that my words would land somewhere and do something. Otherwise I would’ve kept to a journal. I have written also because I couldn’t stop once I started. I’ve gone about the past year more inspired than I could handle. CPU overload. The floodgates had burst.
Gold
IT’S GOLD
Many say they blog because they like to socialize. The relationships that gave me new life have been an unexpected reward for what I’ve put into the writing. The connection with my readers is so magical I’d have to call it alchemy. There are more than words in this place. There’s a couch, a box of Kleenex. It hit me recently that the couch was for me, too. It wasn’t just readers who walked away with food for thought. You have given me much to ponder, to reconsider. I have a treasury of insight and wisdom under every post to revisit when I need to. Gold. You’ve made me a rich woman. Do you love your blog? I shamelessly confess I love mine because my readers have turned it into what it is and I love my readers. Why should you like it if I didn’t myself? While having fun sharing some old posts with Opinionated Man‘s crowd, I put out The Power of Unstoppable Love for you here. And you responded. You didn’t know how good it felt to be home.

I was speaking to all my readers, which means you, in my last post on his main blog this week:

I don’t hear just the song and the band when I play an artist. I observe the inflections that say it’s Celine. I hear Josh Groban’s breath between the lines. And breath is something you don’t just hear. It’s something you feel.

I’ve noticed in the past year how up-close blogging brings you. I mean this even of posts that do not divulge personal stories. It’s the nature of writing. The voice, inflections, color of your words reveal so much of how your mind works, who you are, where your heart is. I feel the writer’s breath, his laugh, her cry. I’ve seen how high your sky is, how deep your night. When I see a reader on my Stats burrow into my archive, I almost want to cover myself. Hug my chest. He’s digging to know me better. He lifts page after page of my mind. Her understanding of the things deeply important to me will grow clearer with each post. She hears my voice. All to say, I have really enjoyed my time with you. Thanks for caring to read – and as many of you have, for doing it so faithfully.

My final song on mike, Curtain Call, I dedicate to you. It goes like this. If the curtain were to close on you in some way and the post you’re working on turns out to be your last, would you be pleased with your content and presentation? Would you be glad you got to tell your story? Did you leave us something worthwhile? Even a good laugh is a saving reminder of the joy of lightness. Make your posts meaningful or fun for yourself so that it’ll be meaningful and fun to us. Are you inspired, excited by your art or photography? Then you can hope we will be. Make the most of the time and attention on you, and the endless potential for connections from your post.

If we were each writing in our own cubicle with no way to visit one another – bring a cup of coffee – we know blogging would be a whole other experience. Pen name or no, you want to be known. Want to know you matter. So you splay your heart, asking us to feel its pulse. Make your posts matter, then. My readers don’t stop by my cubby with feedback on my posts. I’ve cleared the walls and we sink into the couch, our circle, with lots of pen and paper and the light in our eyes. While blogging has threatened to detract from the duties of living, my writing through this beautiful intimacy has been my living. My breath.

I’ve given you myself. I hope it was enough.

How to Succeed as a Blogger – Lighting Dynamite, Part 2

Socializing
I just finished saying in Part One that before you connect with others, you have to know and be yourself. Moving on, we see that a purpose-driven blog won’t stand alone. Because it’s a blog, not a book. If you are putting in the time to draft posts that are four, six, eight paragraphs long and are counting on one or two hands the number of likes and comments coming in or haven’t seen a rise in readership, it’s probably a good idea to step out and socialize more with other bloggers. You can write, sing, preach, journal, cry, paint your heart out but if you’re not investing in other blogs, you’re not as likely to draw investors for yours. In the world of business, you need to offer a product that is unique and consumable, something people need and want to come back for. But even generic goods will earn sales if you put in the time. It’s a simple correlation between exposure and growth potential.

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

Connecting
More than the quantitative aspect of blogging, though, I would like to look at the qualitative. Your zeal will ring out, only to fall flat, if it doesn’t offer relevance or resonance. I repeat something I was impatient to throw out in Part 1. Ask yourself why anyone should read, let alone follow, you. I shouldn’t have to declare I’m a writer on this blog. You should be able to see and feel it. But let’s go a step further. So what if you do? Do I seriously imagine that thousands of people week in, week out will be as involved in my struggles, questions, poetry as I am? You ought to see something of your own story here – your past, your hopes, your convictions which grow sharper in your assent and dissent. Isn’t the finest literature or visual art a mirror of human experience? Why is this so? I borrow from the wisdom of a professor who said years back: we listen autobiographically. This gem of a truth is a whole other post but keeping to this discussion, it’s good to bear in mind that people are reading and processing what you offer from the reference point of their own story. Rather, this is what they want to do. Here’s a powerful example. I assumed it was the thought of divine sacrifice that brought Casey to tears over the sculpture of Mary holding her dead Son after the crucifixion in this post. Casey clarified that she was, in fact, “very moved by the poignant imagery of being held by a loving mother” because her own childhood experiences had left her beggared in this regard. We approach a relationship, whether with a friend or work of art, through the screen of our own story. This describes the wife, reader, consumer in me. But as an artist I blog by seeking to tap a part of life that we all participate in so you can relate to me in the most fundamental sense of the word relationship. In your own blogging, you can target a topic relevant in your niche. Or more broadly, keep up the writing, dance, artwork that touches the universal longing for knowledge or intrigue in what is fantastic, beautiful, and possible. You will find more on resonance in this post Why We Read. It is not a strict dictum of blogging to give viewers something they want or can identify with but it’s understandably the ideal. Something neat can also happen along the way. Once you establish a loyal readership that comes to trust you will deliver the goods (or at least die trying), it almost won’t matter what you offer. This, from my observation of dynamic bloggers who have charmed their crowd. It is the faith of relationships, the magic when your readers want you.

Discovery
When we’re moved to action or wonder we don’t stay self-absorbed. Or silent. We express how we were affected, tell how we found a forgotten part of our heart or the door of a mental paradigm opening. It’s the relating back, our need to deepen connections. I went ahead with this miniseries largely to acknowledge the remarkable support that has made this holistic journey as transformative as it has been for me. It gets electric here sometimes. I told Casey, a new reader, that it felt like we were lighting dynamite in the conversation. We agreed it was kaboom! My generous supporters wow me with their profound, eloquent insights. Fourteen hundred followers with and without the verbal response will be two different blogs. I’d be willing to lose a piece of my stats if that were the only way to keep the extraordinary comments – no way on earth am I parting with them. My grandchildren will know me more richly and deeply for them. In sharing how my writing affected their spirit, beliefs, decisions, my readers have in turn pulled parts of me out of the shadows. I’ve discovered more of myself in the connecting. It was a blogger who folded the poetry back into my hands and told me not to give it up. And though it’s comprised only 15% of my posts, poetry has made up the majority of my Top 10. Which means that if I want to grow faster, I should put out more poems (or shorter posts). It is unthinkable that I almost closed shop in the early days. I was torn between the helpless writing and the uncertainty of blogging. “Who the hec wants to hear another mom blogger?” I grumbled at my husband. Little did I know that my readers would show me I am more than Mother, especially through the feedback on the poems I had yet to write. That yes, I can stake a place among 74 million WordPressers.

Conscious Blogging
Listen to your supporters. Just as you have to move in tune with your dance partner, cue in on their response. Observe your most popular posts. They might shape your blogging. Seeing the Black Santa garner the greatest number of comments among all my posts (until the posts on blogging came out) confirmed I was on track with a big project that’s in the works. I also discovered that I thoroughly enjoy playing Barbara Walters – to gain access to motivations and history, encourage people to spill their guts. Turns out, my readers got a kick out of the role play and the results as much as I did. So it seems my alter ego should be let out again someday.

Community
As each blogger is unique, so will each community be. This reader left a wonderful reply on Part 1. Like energies will find like energies. And this is why I feel compelled to read and comment here. It’s the reason others are compelled to read and write where they read and write. There is an energy that is often more than the sum of the parts. But it all starts with the craft, the need to expel and breathe out something that nudges us to move from us. Just the other day I visited a blog with an energy very different from the one here. The personality, the language of the blogger drew company I probably won’t. It was an active site and the group was having fun. I think two bloggers can also put out a similar post and get a different type and level of response. Your community will be its own.

There’s nothing complicated about blogging at core. To succeed, you need both the interaction and the content others want to interact with. Many of you have made me feel like the richest woman this side of heaven. But the point of this post is to serve my fellow bloggers, to help pave your road of gold.

Let me know what was most helpful. I appreciate the interest in this miniseries.

How to Succeed as a Blogger – But This May Not Work For You, Part 1

This is one post I did not see coming. When a reader recently asked how I built my “vibrant community in such a short time” and solicited a how-to, I thought of the reasons I’m not the ideal blogger to be offering advice. While I’ve been blessed with a dynamic readership, my numbers are not something power bloggers would dignify with a sneeze. I also was as clueless as they come to the blogging world, and got off to a fairly slow start. I didn’t understand what the Reader was, took weeks to learn how to manage my dashboard, did not know to tag my posts (correct, I did not tag them), reparably broke my Follow me widget, had no idea bloggers reached out to one another. Precisely because my learning curve had nothing to do but shoot up, I decided I do have something to say after all. I will share in Part 1 the choices I have made in the blogging and talk more in Part 2 about how this responsive community grew.

Define Yourself
I’ve done network marketing, and appreciate the importance of goal-setting and positive thinking. But I’m just not one to determine I will have X number of followers by such and such time. A part of me remains in awe of people, both in and outside the virtual realm, who will their aspirations into being. Here are a few reasons I don’t dream to the moon as a blogger:

1) My cautiousness against presuming upon my life circumstances
2) Realism. The simple math in my weekly allowance of blogging hours. After Day 5 of not being able to put out my next post, I’m one ornery wife as it is.
3) A different purpose. In what I like to speak of as an organic process, I discovered my blog would be an art gallery – at least an attempt at one. Not of paintings or photographs, but words. And so the way I give birth to my posts fits that vision. If I had to choose between searching for the perfect word and befriending 20 new bloggers in a given window of time, there would be no competition. Because my goal isn’t to bust the roof on my stats. My art will always trump the blogging. This is the act that disqualifies me from any chance at power bloggerdom. Not to say the celebrities among us don’t write well because you obviously can’t attract and sustain a massive following without good content. But those rocketing through the virtual stratosphere will not get hung up over a word. Most people won’t because it isn’t smart to. It’s the romantic in me. The Starving Artist Syndrome. I believe the readers will come, as they have – those who will think with me, drink words with me. Would Hemingway have spent his time marketing himself before perfecting a story? Just heard the man turn over in his grave, swearing at the comparison to a ten-month-old blogger. My writing isn’t perfect, and I continue to go back and touch up old posts. My husband withholds the “like” where his wife falls short of his expectation. Now, of course like any of us I would love to speak to an audience ten times larger. But numbers will not woo me from my beloved word, a writer’s dream and duty to self.

One of the first rules of Blogging 101 is to identify a clear motif for what we want to share along with our target audience. In my earliest days, I read plenty of warnings against keeping my topics as broad as I have. I took a chance and look back, grateful I got away with it. I managed to because while my blog was open-ended, I was not aimless. The intensity I had to pack up and ship back to New York when I settled in the easy West I was able to reroute to cyberspace and put to work for me. I could go all out on my blog, simply be the woman who would much rather sit in on a college lecture than a baby shower.

I’m speaking of what’s consistent with my ability, nature, and temperament. It will be a different story for most of you. Many bloggers are and want to be more carefree and freewheeling. We need four of you for every one of me. Make the fun spirit and fluid energy work for you. As hard as I dig my heels in on some issues, I haven’t built this blog upon rants because I don’t want you coming near only to hear me yell all the time. I want to stay more measured. A philippic of a post that’s been sitting in my drafts pile will be a rational appeal as much as an emotional one when it’s published. I don’t bother sharing what new gizmo my husband got and don’t put up photos of breathtaking places in CA. I screen post possibilities through the grid of my goal, which is to elicit as much mileage out of the limitless potential we enjoy to sharpen one another, provoke thought, examine truth, celebrate beauty. The purpose might sound good to you but you may want to achieve this through a medium other than words.

But Don’t Just Be Yourself
I’ll be talking about the social aspect of blogging in the next segment but once people happen to swing by your site, you need content that impels visitors to become readers, right? Else, they will drop in and drop right back out. I never set out to capture followers in the writing. I don’t think you can decide you’re going to produce a post that will make others want to read and stay. I just write. Like my life depends on it. What gets you up in the morning, inspires you during the day, keeps you up at night? If what you want to share with the world does not light your eyes, you can’t expect it to strike anyone else’s gut or funny bone. Why should people follow your chronicle of pain, emotional or physical? How does your photography or drawing stand out? I am not speaking from the angle of competition. You are already unique as a person. How does your blogging bear your thumbprint? Don’t just be yourself. Be yourself in the fullest. For me, this means the 20th draft. I’m sorry that the bloggers who have collaborated with me know this is no exaggeration. Take the compulsion for the best word, every post signed in blood; and the desire to encourage others along the examined life, and what you have is A Holistic Journey. What are the defining characteristics of your blog and why do they matter?

How can anyone really tell you how to prosper out here when there are over 74 million WordPressers, each sui generis? Be who you are – but I mean, at your best. Find your best. This is what I ask of myself both to please the mirror and make it worthwhile for my readers. Locate your mission and be all you.

Continued in Part Two.