Yesterday I made a video blog so I could test my new microphone, and during part of my little talk there I kind of bemoaned the fact that it had been so long since my last entry, months, in fact. Afterwards, I was struck by this single observation: It took me three and a half minutes to make that video. I tried afterwards to see if I could do a better job, but the two takes I took after the initial one were disappointing. The one in which I flew by the seat of my pants was leagues better. I thought to myself, what if I flew by the seat of my pants more often? First take. No edits. No do-overs. So I tried it again today. This could become a thing.
Tag Archives: blogging
Diary of an English Teacher in His Penultimate Year, Redux: It’s Raining and I’m Flying By the Seat of My Pants!
I often get comments
on my blog posts that read
almost and sometimes
exactly like this:
“I am genuinely
delighted to glance at this
which consists of lots
of valuable information,
thanks for providing these
kinds of data,”
apropos of absolutely
nothing. I’m puzzled.
Is this the deliberate work
of a real person, a real
person who either is
half literate or not a
native speaker, or is
there a machine that
spits this crap out
randomly into the web,
programed by such
a person described
above or acting on
its own, hoping somehow
the message will stick
somewhere? And to what
purpose? What could
the person or the machine
possibly expect from me
besides: Mark as Spam?
Am I supposed to be impressed?
Am I supposed to become their friend?
Am I supposed to feel inspired
to provide more “valuable information”
and “kinds of data” to this person,
this machine? Are they hiding
somewhere, in wait for me,
to infect my computer, rob my bank,
spy on my surfing, co-opt my bloig?
Whoever they are, or whatever it is,
I thank them for providing
subject matter for another poem,
but would request respectfully
that henceforward they refrain
from posting comments
on a blog post they’ve never read
unless they are willing to
tell me who they are
and what they want.
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog. I’m not sure if people are interested in this thing or not, but the WordPress.com helper monkeys sent me this report and offered me a link that would allow me to share it with my readers, so at least in the opinion of the helper monkeys, some people might think it’d be a cool thing to see. What’s most interesting to me is the info right out of the gate there, which you don’t even have to see the whole report to get, and that is that 2013 was my best year. 7,600 views. I have nothing to compare that to, so I don’t know if I have a hit or a dud; what I do know is that I’ve been doing this for two full years plus now, and with a total number of views at 10,737, my readership has, in the last year, how do I say, blossomed–at least comparatively speaking. Hey, all you readers: thanks so much for that!
For those of you blogging and for those of you otherwise interested, I have two theories about my bumper year. On my best day ever here at michaeljarmer.com, I stirred up some controversy. Actually, I didn’t stir it, somebody else did–by reading a particular blog entry I’d written about the rigors of teaching writing for your average high school English teacher and then by posting the link on Reddit with the headline “This Guy Is What’s Wrong With Education in America” or something to that effect. So, one lesson about getting more readership might be to piss someone off to the extent that they would say nasty things about you on some other social network site and post links to your blog. That was an interesting experience, but it consumed me for several days running, and that was bad. It wasn’t all bad. Readers stood up to the guy and defended me–people I didn’t know, and that was good. And of course, it was my busiest day ever, and that was good.
My other busiest time of the year was during the cruelest month of April when I participated in the NaPoWriMo, meeting the challenge of writing a poem a day every day for a month. And here’s the other wisdom nugget: a way to increase readership is to post something every day. That’s it–but you already knew that. That’s no easy task–for so many reasons, not the least of which is time, and not the least of which is the problem of having a new idea every day–those two reasons are often insurmountable for people. I doubt very much I could sustain that for any longer than a month, not without neglecting things around the house, or neglecting people around the house, or neglecting work and sleep around the house. And as far as I can tell, I’m not earning anything, monetarily speaking, from my blog. That might be a game changer. Anyone want to pay me to do this? For right now, I do it because I dig it, and for now, that’s good enough.
Again, thanks so much for being here, for reading, for commenting or not, for sharing or not, and even for saying nasty things about me on Reddit. I couldn’t have done it without you, without all of your 7,600 views. Happy New Year and happy blogging.
Here’s an excerpt:
A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 7,600 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.
I began composing a blog entry this morning about New Year’s Resolutions. The direction I was going felt compelling. I was proud of the opening paragraph. I was on to something and feeling clever and witty and all of that jazz. I was also feeling a bit of deja vu, like somehow, I remembered writing, if not these very words, about this very topic at least. So I started doing some research in the archives of my own damn blogsite, and lo and behold, I found an entry called “Of Resolutions,” published exactly 365 days ago today, on December 30, 2012. It made me wonder how many times I have already done this. In 131 blog entries, how many times have I said the same dumb thing over and over again in just slightly different ways? Have I become a broken record? Have I run out of ideas? After a brief little panic, I come to the conclusion that no, that if in fact this has occurred throughout the annals of my blogging, it is no big deal, because I think it might be possible that some things are worth repeating. It might also be possible that my memory is not as good as it once was–but I’m sticking to this first possibility. Some ideas are worth repeating. Many good ones are. And sometimes it helps to repackage the same ideas in a new way, for fun, to keep them fresh, to try them out again in a different way. Other times, perhaps the best option is just to repeat yourself verbatim. I read that original post of a year ago and I did not find it lacking too terribly much. So I choose now to repeat myself verbatim, because I can, because these ideas are worth repeating, and because of this recent mini-lecture I found on Upworthy.com by Dr. Mike Evans:
So, with that, here’s this, again. I’ve only changed a few words so that the thing can be about 2014 and not our current but waning year:
The only new year’s resolution I’ve ever made and then kept was the one I made two years ago to publish my novel Monster Talk in 2012. But I think I was cheating because the decision to do the thing was made before the close of 2011 by a couple of days–so the ball was in motion and there was very little I could do to stop it, even if I wanted to. I mean, I could have dropped the ball at any point in the process, but I didn’t, and there was lots of work to do around revision and editing and proofreading and arranging art that kept me busy all the way into spring of 2012. That was an impressive resolution to make, though, the results of which were public and out there in the open for all to see, unlike most resolutions people make to drink less or eat less or lose weight or be nice–things that are very difficult for anyone other than the person making the resolution to see or keep track of.
So, I’m having some difficulty this year thinking of a suitable resolution. Maybe I will resolve this year to make no resolutions. Isn’t it true that people, on the whole, do things they really want to do, achieve the things they really want to achieve, and those things they don’t want to do or achieve, even if they’re really good for them, don’t get done–whether a resolution is made or not? Maybe deep down I don’t want to drink less, eat less, lose weight, or be nice. And most of the things I might resolve to do in 2014 (write more, finish the draft of the new novel, read more, record more, stress less, meditate)–these things just might happen anyway. But perhaps, even when a resolution is not kept, in part or in full, there is still some value in resolving to do something in the new year. Just saying the words–especially in earshot of someone who might notice or care–might be worth doing.
It’d be nice, though, wouldn’t it, if resolutions could be more transformational and radical. If resolutions could really shake things up, present real significant challenges, create profound and lasting changes. I imagine that some people accomplish these things with their resolutions, but I bet it’s more likely that these people are transforming their lives or the lives of others through a daily process of working toward some goal, some dream or another–it’s a part of their daily living and their way of being in the world and likely has nothing to do with a promise they made on New Year’s Eve. This is just leading me down a kind of sad path as I realize how little agency I sometimes feel to make radical changes in my life–whether it is about some significant change professionally, creatively, personally, in my relationship to people and things, in how my values reflect or don’t reflect the way I actually live or work. It’s an interesting, profound, and difficult question–if there were no limitations on things you could decide to do or try in the new year, what would you do? What would you try? What’s holding you back? Would it help to make a resolution?
It’s a milestone, don’t you think? It seems so to me. This blog post right here, the one I hope you are currently reading, is the 100th blog entry by Michael Jarmer. It took me two plus years to get here. So help me do the math. What is it? 50 posts a year? That’s 4.166 posts a month–but that wouldn’t be accurate, really, because there have been months at a time when I posted not a thing, and I’ve never posted less than a whole post, a fraction of a post, unless you consider a poem as something somewhat less than a full post, but then you’d be in some hot water with the poets. I wouldn’t want that for you. But, to be truthful, the 45 poems I’ve posted, 30 of which were composed one-a-day as part of National Poetry Writing Month in April, did enhance my numbers, productivity speaking. So, suffice it to say, I’m pleased with myself and I hope you are too–and to all of you who have made this blog site a regular stop of yours, I thank you from the very depths of my being.
Other than just to make a celebratory statement about my 100th blog entry, I’m not sure what to write about here. Perhaps I could just muse a little bit on the effect blogging has had on my life and on my writing. That might be good. Perhaps, I could talk about the pros and cons of blogging. At the very least, there may be some learning about the whole process that I could discover and then articulate for your reading pleasure, that is, if you find that kind of thing pleasurable. Let’s have a go at that, shall we?
Blogging has made me more productive. I’m a fiction writer, primarily, but I find that to write fiction, I need sustained amounts of time to immerse myself in the fictive dream, so to speak, sustained amounts of time that don’t occur for me on a regular basis–so my fiction composition is as slow as mud; it took me ten years to finish Monster Talk and probably another ten years before the start of that project to finish my first novel, the one that’s been sitting in a box on my desk now for the better part of the last decade, yeah, the one about Spontaneous Human Combustion. Outside of my fiction writing, before blog (B.B.) I’d find myself writing poems every once in a while, sometimes in flurries far and few between, and sometimes I’d write a little bit of something in the context of my teaching for my colleagues, and whenever I could I would write alongside my students. But never could I say, that over the course of a year or two, that I had “finished” 100 pieces. I’m still writing my fiction, slowly, I’m still doing odd writings here and there at work for colleagues and students, but on top of that, I have completed 100 blog entries. Perhaps, embarking on this endeavor, I have written more, finished more short pieces than I ever did B.B.
Blogging has widened my repertoire. I’ve written here essays about teaching, essays about parenting, essays about music, essays about writing, essays about fashion for crying out loud (thanks to Betabrand), autobiographical essays, cultural criticism essays, and blogs about blogging. And I’ve written poems about 45 different things. First off, my non-fiction output has shot up from no thing to 100 things! And secondly, none of those things are the things for which I think I am truly skilled and for which, as evidence of said skill, I have a piece of paper and a book! So blogging is helping me come into my own, I hope, as an essayist.
Blogging is spontaneous, improvisational in nature, at least it is for me, and that’s helpful because it has enabled me to explore things about which I have questions. I choose a blog topic simply by intuition. I’ve got lists here and there, but I don’t often refer back to them. Rather, an inspiration will hit, stick with me for a day, an hour, or a few minutes, and I kind of know right away, I get a kind of temperature, and if it’s hot, if it sticks with me, if it compels me to sit down and begin typing, I go for it. I rarely abandon a piece that I’ve started writing. So blogging has also brought me a level of commitment toward finishing the things I start. I appreciate that.
Are there any negatives in my blogging experience?
There’s a part of me that says ANY writing I do is a good use of my time. Writing is something I want to do, so if I’m doing it, that’s a good thing. But I have to ask myself, if all the time I devoted to creating blog entries over the last two years had been spent on fiction writing, how much further would I be toward the completion of a new novel–and wouldn’t that have been a BETTER use of my time? My gut response is to answer no to that question. When I think about the pleasure I have found in blogging coupled with the productivity and the way I feel like it’s broadened my writing, I am glad to have started the blog site and glad to have kept at it for two years. I wouldn’t want to undo that progress in exchange for a draft of a new novel. And what’s to stop me from blogging progress on the new novel? What’s to prevent me from blogging fiction?
Now this is a difficult and dicey proposition, one that I have explored a little bit in an entry I wrote after National Poetry Writing Month. There’s something scary and negative and offensive to me about drafting fiction in public. I’m not sure exactly why–but I kind of feel like it demeans it somehow, and I’m guessing real poets feel the same way about publishing poems on a blog site. I’m not sure I consider myself a real poet. No, that’s not true. I’m as real a poet as any other poet. Maybe it is that I have a different relationship to my poetry than I do with my fiction. My poetry is kind of offhand, not meticulously crafted, and doesn’t have behind it a piece of paper and a book. I know that and accept that about my poetry, so I’m not as guarded about it or as protective. And the comment earlier, that I’m not a real poet, is only an effort to honor those poets who are guarded and protective about their work, who feel like publishing their poetry in a blog post would somehow be demeaning or disrespectful to the work. I’d love to hear other writers’ takes on this. Ultimately, I think it’s all in my head. That’s the truth of it. And that leads to another potentially negative aspect of blogging. This stuff in my head, emerging, not quite perfectly formed, sometimes even faulty, frail, wrong–it’s all right here on my blog site.
Blogging has made me a kind of statistic blip addict. And that’s not a good thing. It’s something I want to work on–not being so needy about that. Part of the beauty and conversely the danger of blogging is the experience of instant publication and often instant feedback. How many visitors, likes, new followers, new comments, did that entry receive and what does it all mean? This is something bloggers should be interested in, I suppose, but not obsessing about. Only once have I obsessed–and it was terrible. Long after its original composition, a blog entry I wrote entitled “English Teacher Math: Teaching 200 Students How To Write” was posted and roasted on the Reddit social network site. It resulted in the busiest single day or two ever on my blog, and it resulted on Reddit in some pretty good conversation, some of it smart and helpful, but it also resulted in a number of absolute looney tunes posting comments after that blog entry on my site–all of which culminated in a near complete and total TIME SUCK in my life and in my head. You know, hatred from strangers will have a tendency to do that–unless you have developed a strategy for dealing with it, which I had not. I was a complete basket case for three days. I got over that, and I have never had a repeat performance. If another one comes up, I hope I will deal with it more effectively. Blogging should not be a stress producer–and I’m thankful to say that exactly 99% of the time it has not been!
So there you have it, for now. A meditation on my first 100 blog posts. If you got this far, I thank you. If you have been a regular visitor or a follower, I thank you. If you would purchase my novel Monster Talk, I would be forever grateful. It’s been a good trip, thus far. I think I will continue doing this thing. Cheers.
Sunday, January 6, the end of Winter Break in the school district for which I work. Always mixed feelings about the end of any lengthy break from teaching. There’s some dread about having to get up and work hard again, always. And there’s a sense of discombobulation and confusion about what it was we were doing before this two week interruption and how again were we supposed to get back to business. But there’s also a sense of longing again for the normal rhythm of the school day and the five day work week, for mostly positive interactions with colleagues whose company I sincerely enjoy and miss, and for my students who, because there are just so damn many of them, guarantee always that no day will be the same as the last day.
It’s been a productive little break for me, but in unexpected ways. I’ve been writing like a fiend. This will be my eighth blog entry in two weeks time–nine, if I decide to publish the really weird one I wrote about prepositions. I wrote almost 2,000 words toward a new novel. I decided to participate this January in an off-shoot bastard child of National Novel Writing Month, January Novel Revision Month–which for me, will be less like revision and more like drafting, but without the kind of hard core goal of 50,000 words in a single month. I have made for myself a goal of 20,000 words. We’ll see about that once the work week kicks up again. So, this productivity has come with some costs. I feel selfish. We haven’t done very many things as a family this break. I read only about 70 pages into one book by Andrew Pham called The Eaves of Heaven and played around a lot in The Onion Book of Known Knowledge. We saw The Hobbit. I didn’t see very many friends. Didn’t make any progress on the new Here Comes Everybody recording–which I fantasized about finishing over the break.
Productivity seems to be always a kind of balancing act and all the things I’d like to get done during a break away from teaching get thrown into a big sack and tossed around and dumped out and always some things get done, maybe even some really impressive things get done, like nine blog entries and 2,000 words of fiction, but nevertheless, I feel somehow disappointed. It’s a personal problem, I know.
And the project to enlist subject matter help for blog entries from readers and friends has been fascinating and inspiring. I may keep going with this, but I like the idea of this blog entry being a kind of conclusion to that particular project–which is a bit of a problem, because I got lots of subject matter suggestions that I have yet had an opportunity to tackle, a whole bunch of other OF essays that I did not get to write. So, perhaps, in conclusion, it might be fun to tackle a bunch of those in short form–the aphoristic OF essay.
Of Aging: I’ve been thinking about this one a lot and have come to the conclusion finally that there’s not a lot of good to say about it. With age comes wisdom and with wisdom comes ambiguity and with ambiguity comes complexity and confusion, pain and suffering.
Of Sanguinity: Despite that fact that aging is not good for anyone, at least physically, there are always things to be happy about.
Of Textbooks: except textbooks.
Of Eternity: We are blips in space and time.
Of Milk: I hate those posters of celebrities with milk mustachios. They seem somehow obscene. And I hate the grammar problem there, also. No, I don’t got milk. I don’t have any milk. Or, if I do got milk, I have it. I have milk. But that’s no good either. I am drinking milk in this moment. Or, yes, there is milk in the fridge and I can drink it if I choose. Otherwise, outside of my aversion to this particular ad campaign, I am totally in favor of milk, enjoy it on cereal, appreciate its contribution over the years to the health of my bones, and recommend it to young people everywhere. And I’m fascinated by the thought of the first human being to ever drink the stuff or suggest drinking it to others.
Of Beer: I love beer. Last night I had a really great one, aged in bourbon barrels, served in a brandy snifter. I love bourbon and brandy and beer.
Of Good That Comes From Vice: Good things come from drinking beer. But in particular, with this one, I was thinking about how much blog writing I finished in my efforts to procrastinate the writing of fiction.
Of Sincerity: This one fascinates me. Especially as a teacher, or as an artist, there are a bizillion opportunities to tell people what you think of them and their work. I find it difficult to be sincere and positive all of the time. Sincere negativity, while it’s honest, is not always helpful because it has the potential to hurt. But I would rather say nothing than to say something positive when I don’t mean it. And I often find myself NOT responding when students say stupid things–and I know sometimes they perceive that as negative response. Did I just say that sometimes students say stupid things? That was a moment of sincerity. They really do sometimes say stupid things. But I would never say to a student, “that was a stupid thing to say.” Is that, then, insincerity? Not exactly. Do you see the problem? I guess you’re not being insincere just because you don’t speak out loud what you honestly feel–out of respect, decorum, or common courtesy. That’s just about being in the world and not making enemies and trying to be kind as often as you can without lying to people.
Of Strange Phobias: I have little first hand knowledge of this, but I can imagine all kinds of interesting things of which to be afraid: bean bags, Scotch tape, post-it notes, music, flowers, cute puppies, dust motes, light, sugar, pencils, insert any mundane object here. In a twisted world you could make any of these things scary, I suppose, and that has to be the answer, right, that people who are afraid of the mundane, or conversely, those who are in love with or who fetishize the mundane, have had some kind of life-twist, biologically or experientially, that has made them respond to particular objects in “strange” or at least unconventional ways. Of this one, someone should write a book. I’m 99% sure someone already has.
Of Ghosts: A great song by the 80’s English pop band Japan. Otherwise, yes, I believe in ghosts–as memories. I’m haunted on a regular basis by quite a few, thank you very much.
Of Music As Language: There’s nothing else to say, perhaps, at this juncture, other than, yes, music is a language, universally understood, perhaps, the solution to all of humanity’s problems. I don’t know if I believe that, but I’d like to.
Of Course: Yes. That’s it. It’s obvious. It’s true. I am in complete agreement. No doubt about it. Of course.
And in conclusion–Of Gratitude for Good Suggestions for Blog Topics: thanks to Michelle, Michelle, Mary, Chris, Chris, Kraig, Cary, Jim, Kerstin, Eric, Jeff, Cody, Brandon, Ostin, Don the Geek, and if I’ve forgotten someone I am terribly sorry.