Your Place in the Virtual Revolution

This post is for parents, bloggers, Facebookers, anyone who’s stuck a foot out on Cyberland. In our talk about belonging, we seemed to think in terms of the social Haves and Have-nots. Many of you spoke of the self-consciousness of often feeling on the fringe. Some shared you were too fat or too this or too that to fit in, others that you never even figured out why you always seemed to find yourself on the outside. I wanted to bring to attention something that’s as right in your face as the computer or phone screen in front of you. The Internet has given every one of us the power to lead. It has made us all insiders.

It’s a new day, a global Do-It-Yourself culture everyone with online access is privy to. YouTube alone is an open platform where anyone can catapult himself into stardom and not hurt himself trying. You can post the silliest, quirkiest, most informative videos and reach thousands in the least – and make as much in dollars. My husband has had the opportunity to monetize his funky YouTube tutorial on how to make Man Kimchee (kimchee made by a man, unheard of in Korean culture. No, I didn’t edit the instructions. See? You can toss basic grammar out the window and still have a shot at good money). We all have watched publishing, newspaper, music conglomerates groan as they caved, giving up a share of the power to self-publishers and bloggers. Cyberspace has become the Great People’s Republic. Alongside the question of copyright; space, boundaries, relationships have redefined themselves yielding a new profile on leaders. Here’s a snippet of a TED Talk from Squidoo.com’s founder Seth Godin and my thoughts on the traits he believes leaders have in common:

1. They challenge the status quo. I’ve observed that high achievers in any field are always on the move, eyeing the next benchmark or creating one. They’re never static.
2. They build a culture. Leadership is less about giving orders as it is about connecting people over shared values and goals. It is the worldwide web, after all. Tribes are no longer bound by geography, no longer have to adapt to the dictate of seasons. Virtual tribes can build community across distance and time, and determine their own climate.
3. They have curiosityabout the people in the tribe, about outsiders. They’re asking questions.
4. They connect people to one another. Do you know what people want more than anything? They want to be missed. They want to be missed the day they don’t show up. Seth wasn’t clear if he meant that leaders help people feel valued or if they themselves end up missed where they leave a vacuum. But I found this a fascinating point. We want to know we count, don’t we?
5. Finally, they commit. To the cause, to the tribe.

Seth also describes leaders who have risen from the masses by sheer drive, people who outside their success are socially awkward. “You don’t need charisma to become a leader. Being a leader gives you charisma. You know, Bill [Gates] has a lot of trouble making eye contact. Bill has a lot of trouble getting a room of strangers to come around to his point of view. But now, because of the impact his foundation has had, people feel differently around him.” Interesting. People are drawn to success. Social Have-nots can actually get.

Seth points out that you don’t need permission to lead. I would add, to make a difference. “I’m not the best blogger there ever was, but I’ve been persistent at it. Anyone could’ve done what I did. But they didn’t. And we keep making the same mistake again and again where we say, Oh no, no. That’s not for me. Someone else is going to do that one. [We make] excuses from fear.” So it seems all that’s left if you hope for a voice and an audience is to deny yourself the fear and get out of your own way.

Last Sunday I hit 1000 likes on my About. A part of me finds it a pretty remarkable milestone for someone who didn’t know which way was up when she started out. If I can do this without the aid of other media platforms, you can get along farther than you think. But the rest of me isn’t starry-eyed about my numbers. Partly because I’m too tired to be impressed, partly because others out here have done that and more, partly because you quickly adjust to your new heights and press on to higher ground. Like those who’re not satisfied with just one medal, title, or mission. This last feeling is a point of transformation all its own for me as one who is not a born dreamer. I was a wide-eyed baby blogger, seeing 200 follows on a board. And wow, how’d she rack up 75 likes? But I’ve come to a point where I’m not concerned about the numbers anymore. They’re nice but they’ll take care of themselves. My focus is on delivering the goods and on my relationship with you. As for authenticity, at the time my About page walked itself right out of my head, decided it had to live. What in your life insists on its own breath? Give it sun and air. I will support my son in just about anything he wants to pursue when he’s older. But I’ll want him to stay persistent, skillful, and inimitable. Do what he wants to do beautifully, his own way. Leave a mark. It’s my job to provide the opportunities for him to hear what in his spirit asks to live and nurture the will for him to shoot it to the moon. The majority of us has limitations weighing on our dreams, but don’t let your self-talk be one of them. We stop making excuses for ourselves, license to achieve little, when we accept that the stars usually won’t align over our head or the red carpet run under our feet when we want to set out. We each have our pace, mine maddeningly slow most days. A dream to me feels like a painstaking tapestry of priceless minutes I thread here, braid there, working my way around this giant rock I resent that’s really just the stuff of life. We make do. Berlin isn’t the only place the Wall’s come down. We’re talking about leadership in any context but the virtual world has leveled the playing field. Take your place. Claim it. If you want to.

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.

 

The Profile of a Successful Blogger [The Art of Writing]

P1030793There’s the uber exemplar. The blog pinwheels through cyberspace on steroid speed. If online success bore a currency, these bloggers would be the Donald Trumps on the virtual mountaintop. And there are those whose site (or gravatar) is attractive, who’re good at stroking egos or who trumpet outrageous claims. By common definition they’re popular. Do these guys leave the rest of us out in the cold? It can’t mean our blogs are not worth something. Every blog is unique in its DNA, takes its own road and speed, just as every child develops at his own pace. Is comparison among bloggers really possible on the long spectrum of content and purpose? A photographer’s gallery has a look and mission far different from my site, though mine also is a gallery – of words. Given that we’re all out to communicate, can we measure the success of a blog?

I started writing midway into February, but it’s been less than two months since I set up camp on WordPress. I backdated my earlier posts. This morning I found on my Stats report 100 wonderful subscribers and 2,120 aggregate hits. I’m not even active on other social networks (yes, I took the slow lane). Thank you for the support! I put on hold another labor of love, my original blog, to journal the personal journey. Head bowed, at the restaurant. See the menu photo? On the elliptical. At three in the morning. I did not know what a post could look like nor did I know how to tag. I wrote blindly. Up until a month ago, I didn’t have time to look at what other bloggers were doing. There came a tipping point where I discovered a community of readers coming back and pulling up a chair to stay. I haven’t made my way back to my other blog, enjoying the Conversation as I have. I am grateful for the welcome of seasoned bloggers pulling me up on higher ground, the deeply heartwarming comments and encouragement to keep up my work. A good many readers with a worldview diametrically different from mine who subscribed to bending an ear to my perspective. Even a mother who shared that she’s rethinking some decisions after reading my thoughts on motherhood.

I’ve seen a number of people pose the question why we blog. Some bloggers seek to share knowledge and enlighten. Their work offers a personal value of usefulness. Others want to make money, a legitimate wish. Many of us want to tell our story. I inform, perhaps even educate, on my food blog My Holistic Table. Its informational value is substantial. On A Holistic Journey, I express. Question. Sing. So how do you appraise the success of a blog? If you or your site is good-looking, if you’re hummingbird-chatty, good at stroking egos, or trumpet outrageous claims (because we all know notoriety begets celebrities, especially in America), by common definition you’re popular. But I would measure blog performance by art and impact. As much as I can, I want to leave my readers with something they can walk away with for their own journey, on or off their blog. My hope is not only to relay the narrative, as a nine-year-old can about his zoo trip, but also to open up dimensions of living that readers otherwise might miss in a way they can experience. Life expressed in all its colors. I can boast the most beautiful blog with appealing titles – in vain, if no one felt his visit was worth the time. To hear my work bears impact is so very fulfilling. On this note, I’d like to segue into a series on the writing process.

Feedback and support like yours take blogging to its potential. Lone ranging bloggers don’t make it far. It’s a communal enterprise. I could have kept the thoughts on my 30s in my private journal. But here we are at the coffee house. I think this gathering is what makes the stories live. I’ve seen blogs that boast stats more impressive than mine. But you know what? I feel successful.

Technology: The Dark Side of Efficiency, Finale

Of course we don’t feel drugged when cruising in cyberspace or playing a video game. Nor am I saying schools are not teaching history or providing solid language arts. I’m speaking of the proverbial frog in the water that’s getting unnoticeably hot. When kids go full throttle in all things virtual, it fosters a habit of the mind, affects how hospitable their brain grows to the rigors of reasoning that enables ease of articulation. Inhospitality in this case makes for inefficient learning, academic ill ease. Because you just can’t get the results in some things but through the old-fashioned road of exertion. How do you build muscle? Strength? There is no shortcut for the consistency of an hour’s sweat, four times a week. The sweat is proof of progress. The body can’t fool itself, so why do we think any differently of the developing mind? It is one thing to welcome structural and organizational timesavers in teaching and even in methodology. The features of Gmail alone can help streamline teaching beautifully. I would love to learn more ways to harness both wired and wireless power to facilitate instruction. It is a different story, though, when it comes to content and the discipline of the mind, what we expose eyes and brains to on a regular basis. Machines can’t think for us, at least in all the shades and emotional context the human brain functions. Quality books challenge the mind to hold something deep and expansive, along with sophisticated syntax and diction. We let Johnny off the hook in some tasks that require straightforward verbal and auditory attention. But I’ve always wondered to what extent we ourselves have been creating visual learners hooked on pictures that speak the 1000 words they’re becoming less capable of producing. Have we written off trained hypersensitivity to visual stimulation as a matter of learning style?

I am quite happy with my electricity and computer. And I don’t have muscle enough to survive on the prairie. For sure, technology has enhanced how broadly we communicate, relate, and learn. But I fear, at a price. The practice of waiting characterized life on the prairie. Season into season, the kids grew up hoping, anticipating, predicting things about the crop they had helped sow that was to be their very survival and nourishment. What is it that today’s youth have to wait for? Given over to machines in play and study, kids could end up paying for the efficiency we buy into with a laziness of the mind. We underestimate what our children are capable of, both the responsibilities they should bear and the skills they can apply themselves to. It is the Tiger Mom’s question I circle back to, the line I at times can’t easily make out between pushing too hard and encouraging too little.

Technology: The Dark Side of Efficiency, Part 4

Will kids accustomed to virtual magic tricks readily invite self-discipline, the handmaid of hard work? We express ourself through the click of likes and flurry of fingers on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram (not saying I object to your liking this post). The breeziness with which kids are talking online from a progressively younger age will wear on their ability to articulate themselves on important matters. To frame an opinion, analysis, insight on literature, politics, faith. Navigating gizmos well does not mean they will be unable to communicate effectively. But obviously, times have changed.

P1030705Life is far different today from the Prairie Days when, sun-up to sun-down, physical exertion and problem-solving called upon both young and old. Though limited schooling often gave way to marriage or a trade in the pioneer days, when children did study they did not read and write clipped thoughts. Those able to pursue an education learned proper grammar and speech, were taught to recite the history of their nation so they could understand their place in the world, joined the Great Conversation of literature. That is, students took in and engaged written works that were a complete thought. Edith Schaeffer has said, “They need to love books, for books are the basis of literature, composition, history, world events, vocabulary, and everything else.”  There was an organic wholeness to the process of formal learning, of building the stamina called for in the training of the mind. Students did not have the option of flipping channels, websites, or even their own book pages every 30 seconds, dissatisfied with pictures or content that did not titillate. Rather than take the time to sit and drink in great works, more and more postmodern kids are looking to quench their thirst for visual excitement. The next hit. We don’t read LOTR and indulge our imagination anymore. We watch the epic and let the screen tell us what Middle-earth looked like. With each generation becoming literally more restless from the luxurious feast of options, how will it develop the patience needed to examine, ponder, question, argue, reason?

In his keen social commentary Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman teases out the effects of television viewing on the mind. In the briefest window of time, you can go from a news segment to a commercial to a soap opera, each presentation itself spliced by dizzying action, noise, and change of scenes. The watching brain gets a string of disjointed messages that remain incoherent together. Postman asserts that the problem of television is not what we watch but that we do. I suggest that with the infinite number of channels procurable on YouTube alone now, not to mention the 3-D magnetism of so-called kids’ movies, what the mind experiences is like the discrete, disconnected, visual provocation of the TV, on amphetamines.

Technology: The Dark Side of Efficiency, Part 3

angry_birdIn my lifetime, global tech advancement turned a corner, and a sharp one at that. For all their benefits, the microwave, internet, multipurpose cell phone have accelerated the pace of living. When I was in elementary school, a digital Hello Kitty watch was hot stuff. Today, I sight at least 3 kids out of 5 with an iSomething in their hand. Only, they’re not the ones really holding the machine. It is the kids who are held captive by their tablet, their iPOD. As technology serves our demand for instant amusement and excitement, our dependency grows.  With the computer literally shrinking, more compact and portable every year, our minimachines ironically are not an accessory but a necessity. Left unchecked, the reliance has the potential of tailspinning into an addiction. The South Korean government is scrambling toward yet another law to constrain the number of hours kids under 16 can play virtual games within a 24-hour period. The nation whose youth has been known for its academic ambitions is buckling under the weight of her children’s virtual obsessions. I can only imagine how the typical gaming brain of the Korean student has rewired. It has become a product of clicking for instant gratification, not of laboring to produce something deep, meaningful, or imaginative.

As a former teacher in the public schools, I know enjoyment enables and enhances learning. But the world of video gaming has redefined fun. Our young ones are not inherently different from kids two hundred years ago. Our physical apparatus has not changed. The parenting, the environmental influences we watchdog or don’t, condition our children’s preferences. So, at least from observing my own son, it seems to me kids still can get quite a kick out of the incarnations they can summon out of a cardboard box – were it not for the etoys readily put in front of them.

Preoccupation in the virtual sphere can redefine not only amusement but reality.  How many of us believe it’s healthy to keep lost in a world of fantasy? The transfixed gamer not only loses time and opportunity to engage the real world and people, but becomes enamored with a place that does not exist in nature and with powers he in fact does not have. The gamer enjoys the delusionary high of being able to make cool things happen quickly and easily – whenever he wants. It is the omnipotence of the Hero who’s simply changed costume every decade, the Lone Ranger, Superman, Ninja Turtles, the Incredibles: we love being able to manipulate boundaries, play God. Where we are not careful, we could be nurturing impatience and restlessness of character and thought in our children.