My Existential Blogging Crisis

Door Closed

Blogger, Writer, Tech Support

I stop by my blog every now and then to dust off the dashboard.“Why am I here?” I ask, waiting for divine intervention. But, all I got was spam.

Other times, I return to the dashboard after receiving a bad news email from a security plugin that’s a bit of a drama queen.

“Stop what you’re doing and get over here!” It said in a panic. “I found a virus in a WordPress file.”

My instinct was to ignore it. But if I did, the plugin would just send ten more emails, screaming in all caps, “IF YOU DON’T GET RID OF THE VIRUS, I’M CALLING THE CDC.”

To avoid ending up as a hot spot on the government’s map of diseases, I logged into the dashboard and wasted an hour trying to fix the problem while food deprived and cranky from working all day. Clearly, I was in no condition to tackle a WordPress pandemic of this magnitude.

I called BlueHost tech support who couldn’t help me. Thirty minutes on the phone with them resulted in a support ticket and “Good luck with that,” which galvanized me to fix the problem as I scarfed down a snack at my computer.

Technical issues are one of the hazards of running a self-hosted WordPress blog. I was clueless about 404 pages, plugins, and widgets before I made the transition from Blogger to WordPress — a birthday gift from my parents while I was unemployed. Though the last thing I needed was more stress in my life at the time.

The Blogging Conundrum

When I started blogging over eight years ago, I wrote about the pitfalls of having an open-ended schedule while looking for work and then keeping the work I had found. As I told my husband who thought that writing meant goofing off, “Blogging is my therapy. There are just so many hours in a day in which I can look for a job or hold onto one.”

Blogging kept me as sane as I could possibly be. As a creative thinker, one hundred percent sanity is a condition I try to avoid.

In 2010, after I became a member of the underemployment club and started working four days a week, I published fewer and fewer blog posts. Until a year ago, my blogging screeched to a stop and skidded into a ditch. I didn’t know what to write about. My creative GPS was directionless. She kept telling me to “Make an illegal U-turn if at all possible.” But I couldn’t because I was stuck in a rut after getting lost from all the confusing signs along the Internet highway.

Signs like…

“You need to have a direction for your blog.”

“You need to know your audience and write for them.”

“If you cover too many topics, you’ll confuse your readers.”

Blah. Blah. Blah.

“My readers?” I said. “You mean the trolls who leave spam comments and thrive on chaos? I don’t want to encourage them.”

Confusion Is Confusing

But, I was still confused. I stood in the ditch watching the traffic light turn from red to green while others, who knew where they were going, whooshed on past me.

Then a thought approached me from behind and tapped me on the shoulder. “Excuse me,” it said. “Maybe confusion should be the focus of your blog.”

“Isn’t that crazy?” I asked. “Confusion would be too confusing, unless…” And at that moment, I realized that the thought was right. I should write about my journey to find a focus for my blog and my writing, collateral damage from being stuck, as well as the distractions that drove me into a ditch. Confusion will be my hook.

Today, I embrace chaos.

That Awkward Moment – Writing A Blog Post Then Promoting It.

PERFECTION IS A FANTASY

Once you finish writing a blog post and then publish it, you panic.

You see a word or two you want to change, a sentence that could be phrased differently.

And you think. Who would want to read this? It’s crap! It needs another revision. You backslide into “this isn’t good enough syndrome,” and get stuck in the weeds.

Literally and figuratively.

Writing IS like weeding. You’ll always find something you want to pull and toss.

Stop oppressive gardeningAfter bagging hundreds of dandelions you caught choking the life from your somewhat greenish lawn, you’re ready to drag the bag to the curb. You grab it, then stop.

You spot a dandelion at two o’clock. It taunts you. “Come and get me, plucker!”

“Me, too!” another one screams.

“And me!” laughs Dandelion #3.

You drop to your knees and continue yanking and bagging. Every time you think you’re done, more dandelions appear.

The same is true with writing. You’ll always find a weedy word you want to extricate from the page.

But don’t let your proclivity for perfection paralyze you.

Your post may not be perfect. But, Damn it! It’s close enough.

Restrain the obsessive beast in your brain by setting a deadline before you start to write. When you reach the deadline, stop and say, “I’m done! Really done. Now, what?”

It’s time to promote your post.

CLIMB OUT OF YOUR SHELF

The brain

The brain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How does a writer reprogram their brain from writing to promoting?

For a writer who’s thrilled when anyone reads her work, the thought of promoting it can be terrifying.

But don’t give in to your fears. Push past that fluttery feeling in your gut and seek out other like-minded souls on the Internet.

Join Twitter, FacebookPinterest and other social media sites.

Find your tribe: people you want to hangout with. Join a writer’s group on Facebook.

After you find your tribe, don’t bore them by only talking about your writing. Join the conversation.

Just like at a cocktail party, if you meet someone who talks at you, not with you, you make excuses and walk away. You avoid self-absorbed people who tell you how great they are. The same is true with social media.

Don’t monopolize your tribe mate’s time by promoting your work. Promotion is NOT one-sided. Promotion IS interactive. Make friends. Say hello. Share a post. Ask them about their day.

Then something amazing happens. Your tribemate cracks a joke. You LOL. And someone shares your post.

The more you meet people and engage them, the more comfortable you’ll become with social media. After a while it will be fun… maybe too much fun, maybe a bit addictive. That’s when you need to take a breath.

Learn to manage your time, so you don’t stay online for hours, or days, and lose focus of your passion. Take a break. Quit the Internet. Reboot your brain and write!

 

This post is based upon the recent Twitter chat, “How to Overcome Self-Promotion Anxiety As A Writer,” hosted by Amanda Chiu of Atomic Reach #AtomicChat.

Thanks again for inviting me to be a guest on the last chat of the year.

You Don’t Know Jack Schmidt!

Jack W. Schmidt was born on September 19, 1927 and died on July 25, 2015 at age 88.

The world seems a bit off without him in it… this Jack of all trades who was an actor, writer, cryptologist and a financial analyst for the aerospace industry.

In Jack’s career as an actor, he appeared on Broadway in a short-lived musical spoof of Agatha Christie’s “Ten Little Indians,” and off-Broadway in “Little Shop of Horrors” as well as “The Fantasticks.” In film, he was an extra in the bank heist scene in Woody Allen’s “Take the Money & Run.”

A two-time winner of the “Bad Hemingway Contest” with wife Liz, Jack also won the hearts of the writers in the Ridgefield Writers Guild, a group he was a member of for 12 plus years.w-OBT-Schmidt

Jack was a formidable man, in spirit and stature. He was tall, but thin and frail in recent years and walked with a cane. His frailties were the antitheses of the strength he wielded in his voice and stories. The timbre of his voice resonated in a room when he read aloud and commanded the attention of those who had the pleasure of hearing him speak.

The stories Jack wrote were as much about his life and travels as they were about the people in his stories who shared his experiences. From his time spent in Mexico with literary peers, to witnessing H-Bomb blasts in the New Mexico desert, which he chronicled for the Air Force, and then later wrote about in story form — I was there with him, a passenger on his journeys, seeing the world as he did through his eyes and his words.

Jack was a gentle giant of a man and had a heart as large as Mexico. He was an inspiration to our writing group and always supportive. His talent and kindness will forever remain in our hearts.

In July, we lost an elegant writer, speaker and friend. A selfless man who lived big and dreamed bigger.

Carpe diem. Seize the day -Love Jack, he wrote in a 2009 email, a phrase that captures the way in which he lived his life.

We miss you, Jack!

RIP…

What Kind Of Thinker Are You?

The Thinking Man sculpture at Musée Rodin in Paris

The Thinking Man sculpture at Musée Rodin in Paris (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been thinking about thinking a lot and the different ways people use their brains, or don’t use them.

I recently wrote a post about the subject at Huffington Post and would like to expand upon it here.

As an “outside the lines” thinker, I’ve been listening to this thought rattle around in my head:

Can a “within the lines” thinker let his mind wander beyond the perimeter outside conventional thought?

Specifically speaking, can a rigid-thinking mathematician who values the orderly nature of numbers use his thoughts as a flotation device? — In one-tenth percent of a moment, can he disavow digits and embrace escape?

I think Mr. Numbers can if he’d be willing to take his thoughts out for a spin on the far side — a magical place to visit whenever life broadsides your brain.

Just two words can take you there: “What if?” A game writers love to play.

“What if my house is really a spaceship that landed in my yard while I was asleep in a coma tube?”

“What if the universe is really a diorama in an alien museum?”

Try to prove or disprove that theory my “within the lines” thinking friend.

Perhaps, rigid thinkers, like Mr. Numbers, are a necessity for those of us who landed on Earth in a coma tube. We need practical thinkers to counteract wily thinkers like us.

Rigid types create structure that prevents wily thought travelers from disappearing into a virtual vortex of vex.

Perhaps, one structural creation device is a pharma helper called Concerta for attention drifters whose thought migration patterns follow the sparkles in shiny things.

As an attention drifter myself, Concerta helps me travel round trip from left-brain to right. Now when I clock in at work, my mind clocks in, too. Concerta keeps my thoughts on a leash inside the perimeter in which I sit. If I’m not busy, I find work to occupy my time to prevent my thoughts from taking a sudden trip to Imagination Island.

Mr. Numbers has a problem that’s 180-degrees from mine. He’s a “within the lines thinker” and could benefit from a pharma helper with a psychedelic twist. Not that I condone taking “under the counter” drugs. I don’t. In many cases, even “over the counter” drugs aren’t the best way to fix an anomaly in the brain.

Let’s take the natural route, instead, and ask Mr. Numbers to try meditating once a day without clutching his calculator.

I only use a calculator when adding or subtracting, which consumes most of the focus in my focus meds.

By the time I get home, my mind is in a hibernation state. All I’m capable of is staring at the brain-suck box in my living room. It whites out lingering dark figures that prowl the corridors in my head searching for answers to sum up their existence.

I wonder if things ever add up for them.

What sums up the kind of thinker you are?

Disclaimer: This is not an endorsement of Concerta. I am no fan of pharmaceutical ads and their side-effect warnings — especially, the latest ad on Shingles that shows gruesome pictures without a warning beforehand of the PTSD side effects of viewing red oozing back sores. Somebody please get Shingle ads off my TV.

Why Festivus Matters

Happy Fesivus

This time of year can be difficult for some — people who are going through a rough time because they are sick or alone — because we have grown to believe that Christmas is a family tradition. For those who don’t have family, or can’t be with them on Christmas, this day may be intolerable and feel more like a weight.

Removing the family-tradition weight from Christmas and replacing it with the lightness of Festivus will infuse somber souls with the whimsy of humor — the great equalizer.

Just thinking about Festivus makes me smile. It adds another dimension to our prepackaged beliefs that the holiday season is all about family. Maybe it’s time to rewire our thinking and embrace the possibility that Christmas can be more than the Pavlovian warm and fuzzy feeling we associate with the day. That “warm and fuzzy” can be two of the many other feelings that can light up our brains on Christmas day.

 

Maybe Festivus appeals to me because I am a holiday heretic and not beholden to anyone this time of year. Culturally, I’m supposed to celebrate Chanukah but when I was young, my family always celebrated Christmas.

Over the years, the message of love and giving that once symbolized Christmas has been shoved to the back of our holiday consciousness by brash commercialization that has elbowed its way to the front. Christmas songs blaring from speakers in supermarkets and retail stores, give me a headache, shatter my focus and shorten the time I spend there shopping.

Mostly, I try to avoid shopping at brick and mortar stores when possible this time of year. The onslaught of Christmas — the crowds and circus like atmosphere — is too much for me. The spectacle and image of screaming shoppers thrusting elbows and impatient drivers honking horns lingers in my head and silences the true meaning of the holiday.

Festivus, a holiday conceived in Larry David’s head, is the antithesis of the spectacle that Christmas has become. It gives people back their humanity lost in the seizure-inducing blinking light displays and siren-sounding songs that assaults us every time we walk into a store.

Yes, Christmas still thrills and delights the children. But for those of us who long ago learned that Santa was a fraud, Christmas is epitomized by YouTube videos of shoppers being trampled at Wal-Mart.

That’s why I embrace the levity of Festivus. The idea and the pole will never grow old and won’t kill the 21 species of trees we smother with Christmas lights and tinsel.

That’s why I say, “Happy Festivus for the rest of us!”

Do You Feel Like You’re Blogging In An Evening Gown?

That’s how it feels when I write a post on WordPress. I need to put on an evening gown to write, unlike Blogger, which has a casual dress code.

English: Geraldine Farrar in evening gown

English: Geraldine Farrar in evening gown (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In September Ron, head writer of the fabulous blog Being Ron, wrote a post asking which blogging platform we preferred WordPress or Blogger?

I responded with this comment:

If I could do it all over again, I probably would have stuck with Blogger. For some reason, I had more fun when I had a Blogger blog. I think upgrading to a “professional” site has taken the fun out of blogging. It’s more formal. It’s like typing in an evening gown. I’d rather write in jeans…I miss Blogger. I upgraded my site for my writing platform. But, what’s the point of upgrading for your writing if you end up writing less?

I then told Ron that I would eventually write a post about the subject, citing him as my inspiration.

Well, I did write that post and called it Blogging In An Evening Gown. It was published yesterday at Huffington Post.

Thank you for starting the conversation, Ron.

Since upgrading my blog to WordPress, I’ve had to deal with many technical issues that were far above my pay grade. I’ve spent hours searching for answers online that I never found. Finally, I hired a tech-savvy avatar to fix all the problems that pissed off Google — who gave me a timeout.

For writers who blog, it’s difficult enough switching between writing in the sky and writing on earth. (It’s a different mindset.) Add tech issues to the mix and blogging/writing becomes toxic. That’s why I stopped messing with stuff in the dashboard I should have left alone. — I was ground zero. — I am my own worst enemy in the sky and on earth.

Shortly after being released by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), I learned how to achieve a fragile balance between blogging and writing. The result: I blog less but write more. It was the only way I could remain almost sane.

Thank you for reading the words of a somewhat sane madwoman.

I hope you’ll stop by Huffington Post and read my post that was inspired by Ron. And please stop by Ron’s place for some great stories and photos.

 

Office Deja Vu: A Shoeless Tuesday Ago

 

A flash of memory pops into my head, illuminating a moment I try to forget.

Sounds of summer in the office: copiers chirping, papers flapping in the breeze and the intoxicating scent of Wite-Out — always helps me through the day. I need my Wite-Out fix to escape V.P. sales hysteria, the cause of office chaos.

Six sales people, each with their own personality quirks, try to burst into my office every day of the week. They try, because I keep the door locked.

On the other side of my door, the sales staff wanders in a fog. I am the traffic controller, the manager of the office. On most days, they can’t function without direction from me.

While their heads bobble on their shoulders outside my door, I work on an excuse for locking my door today. Luckily, my silence is interpreted as hyperfocus. I know this because they yell when they talk.

SALES GUY 1
What’s Lauren doing in there?

SALES GUY 2
Hyper-focusing. She’s swamped.

I laugh. I’m playing FreeCell. But the jokes on me because I’m stuck. I study the screen, eyes glazed like a donut.

My problem-solving process ends abruptly at the shrill ring of the phone. I awaken from my FreeCell coma, hand shaking as I answer the phone.

ME
Hello.

MOIRA
Lauren, is that you?

ME
Who else would it be? This is my extension.

MOIRA
Oh, good.

ME
Why are you whispering? This is Moira, right?

MOIRA
Yes. I don’t want anyone to hear me. I’m in my car.

ME
Are the windows open?

MOIRA
No.

ME
Then how can anyone hear you?

MOIRA
No, no…It’s more of…if anyone can hear YOU talking to me.

ME
They’re yelling out there. I’m in my office with the door locked.

MOIRA
What are they yelling about?

ME
The usual — holes in pages in the magazine. Lou’s yelling about the lack of ads. It’s hell out there.

MOIRA
I’ve got problems, too.

ME
Where are you calling from?

MOIRA
The garage. I’m downstairs in the garage.

Scratching head.

ME
Why don’t you park and come upstairs?

MOIRA
I can’t!

ME
Why?

MOIRA
It’s embarrassing.

ME
Moira, please tell me. I think ten calls just went into voice mail.

MOIRA
Uh, well…The thing is…I drove to work without my shoes.

ME
I think we have a bad connection. Did you say you drove to work without your shoes?

MOIRA
Yes.

ME
How is that possible?

MOIRA
I always drive barefoot and keep a spare pair of shoes in the car. I must have left the spare at home.

ME
Jesus. It’s not like keeping a pair of bowling shoes in your car, though it would have solved your problem.

MOIRA
Christ, Lauren. I don’t bowl. It’s also why I don’t type — fingernail polish. Let’s move on. Do you have an extra pair of shoes?

ME
WTF? No. I don’t even have a pair of rain boots. We’re in the middle of a drought. I’ll check the shoe vending machine.

MOIRA
Thank God, there’s a shoe vending machine.

ME
Moira, I’m kidding. Though I’d be happy to get you a bag of chips. Hey, maybe you can eat the chips and use the empty bags as shoes.

Momentary silence. Moira likely deep in thought.

MOIRA
Sounds too messy.

ME
Maybe I can get two garbage bags from the cafe upstairs.

MOIRA
I’m not walking around with garbage bags on my feet. That’s too weird.

ME
And not having shoes isn’t?

MOIRA
Please don’t judge me. I’m having an anxiety attack.

ME
Do you have a paper bag? Put it over your head and breathe slowly. If you have two, you can use them as shoes.

MOIRA
You know how I feel about bags. I’m calming down. You obviously can’t help me. Thanks for trying. I’ll just go to the drug store and get a pair of flip-flops. No one will recognize me if I’m wearing sunglasses and a hat.

ME
Good luck! Are you coming back?

MOIRA
No, I can’t attend a meeting in flip-flops. I’ll call Lou from home.

Click

Back to FreeCell.

 

The Doctor App – Just Say, “Ah,” and Fog Up Your Phone

Our healthcare system showed signs of dementia last week when BlueCross BlueShield launched the LiveHealth Online App — when you can’t get an appointment with your local doctor.

Just download the app from the iTunes App or Google Play store and get a live video chat with a tiny flat screen doctor from Walla Walla, Washington or other places you usually don’t go.

Yes, you can have an intimate doctor-patient chat with an avatar in a white coat for virtually the same cost (or lower) of visiting your doctor on earth. Because healthcare isn’t impersonal enough.

On Wednesday, I answered the phone and spoke to a Stepford Robo caller from Blue Cross Blue Shield. She was more animated than the usual telemarketing robot, and chatty, too.

In fact, she wouldn’t shut up. “Blah, blah, blah. LiveHealth Online is a new covered benefit of Empire BlueCross BlueShield…No waiting. No people coughing at you…like in the waiting room of a real doctor’s office.”

I hate getting sprayed in the face with a gaggle of germs.

More blah, blah, blah and Robo call gal said, “… And the first 500 people that sign up get a free Amazon Gift Card.”

Sign me up Scotty or is that beam me up?

I suppose a Smartphone doctor would be less creepy than the doctor my medical group schedules you with when the other doctors aren’t available. During my last physical with him, when he asked if I needed him to do a breast exam, I said, “If you want to.”

AWKWARD!!!!

At that moment, I would have preferred to see his face smushed against a screen.

I don’t think teledoctoring is a state-of-the-art service. It’s more of a state-of-a-broken healthcare system, an insurer’s creative attempt to cut back services in a shiny new way.

I mean really. What can be accomplished with a virtual face-to-face appointment without a stethoscope? How do you give a urine sample?

What if your appointment is for an ear problem and the connection drops? Your “I can’t hear you, Doctor” may be misinterpreted as an ear blockage. Then you’ll have to fly out to Walla Walla, Washington for the doctor to shove a light in your ear.

It’s hard to get a good shot of an ear with an iPhone. Getting a flattering selfie is challenging enough.

And how does a Smartphone doctor get a throat culture for Strep? Do you lick the screen?

As BlueCross touts ”…the telehealth service is…a two-way, face-to-face video chat with a doctor who can both diagnose and treat them, along with their family members for non-emergency conditions such as the flu, cold, strep throat and ear infections.” – HealthTechZone

You know how I feel about ear problems.

Frankly, I think BlueCross BlueShield should have their head examined. Just hold the phone over your head and snap a picture. My telediagnosis — shit for brains.

What do you think about the new telehealth service?

When you get a moment, please check out my latest piece at HuffPost/50, “How to Say Goodbye to Summer.”

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