IMG_2838

Seven years

WordPress just sent me a delightful canned anniversary notice. Congratulations! I’ve been blogging for seven years!

Dang.

That’s a lot of writing. 1,097 posts.

I started this blog to heal wounds. I had low writer-esteem. I was desperately lonely raising a baby in a strange land. And I had so much to say, but only a few poor souls to talk to.

And they needed a break from the details.

I wrote, and a few people read. And a small percentage said they liked what they read.

At that I was heartened. I felt connected and I felt heard. In fact, once or twice, someone told me that my writing really helped them.

Good gravy, isn’t that all anyone on this planet wants?

I talked to the Internet’s kindest people about homesickness and how hard it was to choose a miraculous and ridiculously confusing creature over the PhD I could have handled much more easily. I talked about deaths that rocked me over and over, friends who abandoned me, the relationship I completely failed at, and wonderful days of joy and light.

I wrote about books I loved and problems I couldn’t solve.

And I have so much more to write. I have a list in my phone that is, currently, nine posts desperate to be written. Those of you who’ve been to this little corner of the Internet before know most of my posts are 2,000 words or so, and that 18,000 words ready, in my head, must create quite a bit of intracranial pressure.

But as I struggled a few months ago with four part-time jobs, two bickering children, one divorce, and a blinding case of I Must Do Better on All These Fronts Even If I Never Sleep because I’m Nothing If I Don’t Excel, a wise friend told me that my to-do list is too long. That there’s enough time. That the stuff with real deadlines should come first, and then I should feed my soul. Do things to feel good, and put off the unreasonable 40+ “to do this week” things I genuinely rewrote on my list every week.

Because there’s enough time. The posts will still want to be written in a few weeks. And the words will come.

Later. Because as much as I love this community, and as much as I need to be on this space, I’ve been here for seven years. And there’s enough time to write a great post later.

Love blogging? Look behind the curtain.

I attended and spoke at WordCamp San Francisco this year, and the experience, community, content, and implications blew my mind.

IMAG3641

Holy moly, did I ever.

I attended the technical sessions and understood, genuinely, 20% of what I heard in the weekend’s presentations. Okay, maybe 15%. I don’t know the acronyms, I don’t know the language. But I solved those small technicalities with a post-session questions to the friendly people around me. [I, in return, explained to them what recycled leather is. Misnomer. It’s upcycled leather scraps, not recycled anything. In fact, recycled leather is the plywood of fabrics. Or the Pringles of fabrics. Or…okay, that’s enough.)

More generally than not knowing the vernacular of development, though, I don’t know the thought processes behind building platforms and plugins. I’ve never thought about the structure on which my blogs reside.

Have you?

There’s the base structure of the web, of content management, of plugin modifications, of things I don’t have words for. I’ve simply never even thought about how the technology works. And I don’t think I’m alone.

What if you parked at your house every day, put your key in the door, and instantly it was the next morning? You’re refreshed from sleep and food, you’ve changed your clothes and cleaned up. But you have no idea how. You don’t know what the inside of a house looks like, you don’t know how plumbing and electricity work. You don’t know there a distinct structures for food, sleep, movement, entertainment. You don’t know about hot showers.

[Dude. Hot showers completely foreign and inaccessible? This metaphor is totally creeping me out.]

It would feel weird coming home and leaving again, right? With a black hole in which your living-slash-resting-slash-eating processes happen?

That’s now how I now feel about blogging. I feel as though I’m missing half of my blogging life by creating content and publishing it, without knowing the structures on which my blogs reside.

so many questions, even though I took this photo

And I want to learn the guts. I want to learn the language of coding, I want to teach that language to bloggers. Or, at least, I want to build/supplement/fortify a really awesome bridge from developers to bloggers, so we can consider the people behind the code-poetry on which our posts live. If we know that there are different rooms for different functions, if we actually choose the food instead of just fueling with whatever we’re given, if we learn the glory of a hot shower and know that we could, if we want, choose a bath instead, wouldn’t that bring more life to the ways in which we publish our writing, photography, and images?

You choose what type of paper you write on, right? You know what you do if you have to scribble on napkins and envelopes, then save them for later, right? You know how to translate your late night, sleep-drunk scribblings into posts? What about the digital napkins and envelopes and notebooks and Moleskins?

All through the conference—in Boone Gorges’s compelling call to contribute, volunteer, and consider pro bono code the same way we all volunteer in our communities; in Andrew Nacin’s talk about globalization and how to think about more than just language and access but to understand why those are important; through Matt Mullenweg’s State of the Word address about developing the future and democratizing publishing; in Mickey May’s celebration of announcing you don’t know and learning from the community of developers; in Josepha Hayden’s talk on writing for two audiences (the one that reads posts and the one that crawls them for search engines); in Tracy Levesque’s presentation on how to effectively teach software use–genuinely smart and engaging people talked about making code useful. For users.

Users.

I’ve never been called a user before. In my world I’m a writer, an editor, a blogger, a creative. I know my role in the agency world, consultant world, and publishing world. I have literally no clue about my role in the blogging world, despite having been a blogger since 2008. At WordCamp I felt like an exotic animal sitting in on the zookeepers’ meeting. They certainly respected my role and wanted to honor it. But I never realized brilliant people were building and supporting my blog for me. I assumed the toys and plants and prey staged in my exhibit were just there, but smart and resourceful zookeepers placed them there. Zookeepers? Blogkeepers? My extended metaphor is tiring me.

I’m used to talking with bloggers about writing. I’m not used to thinking about how my blogging behaviors affect the platform on which I publish.

Have you?

Your developers have.

Take a bow, Crew, Stage Managers, Lighting, Sound, Production, Costume, Marketing. Take a bow, Developers. You really have revolutionized publishing, democratizing what used to be a highly privileged act, and made it free and public. You have a lot more work to do, I know. I can’t wait to see what you come up with.

Thank you WordCamp. You rocked my world, and I shall now do my best to bring that sense of wonder and engagement to bloggers.

photo credit: Scott Robinson via creative commons attribute license

Finding Your Blog Voice: A Preview

I got caught up in federal grant proposal season and didn’t tell you that I’m going to be speaking at WordCamp San Francisco this weekend!

I’ll post highlights from my talk either here or on my business site, but for now I want to offer a few tidbits and ask what you think about, or want to know about, blog voice.

photo credit: Scott Robinson via creative commons attribute license

photo credit: Scott Robinson via creative commons attribute license

I believe that voice, for writers, photographers, artists, and bloggers, simmers when you cook a topic in style and passion. When you choose what you want to communicate, form it in the way you, a human with experiences and opinions, want to convey it, and inform that communication with the reasons that drive you to write/photograph/draw/blog…that concoction is your voice. And it’s repeatable when you focus on the how and the why of what you choose to talk about, as long as that style is your genuine voice, your impetus is honest, and your style gets out of the way of your truth.

Wordy, I know. I have a couple of days to make that more clear. Luckily, between my slides and my tendency to present in monosyllabic caveperson grunts, my experience with and ideas about voice should be clearer in the talk.

I have really cool examples, too.

So what do you want to hear about blog voice? If I can, I’ll add it to the talk before I present and subsequently post.

Requests?

You Have to Know Who You Are

Each morning when I dress the part of the human I’m pretending to be, I think about the contexts in which people will see me. An all-kids day means I wear a geek T-shirt, skort, and pair of worn-out Chucks with red recycled-kimono laces. A meeting with clients means a suit (despite the fact that I’m still clinging to pre-kids suits that are way too tight and too short. Because children, apparently, made me grow several inches. Or made my rear-end absorb several inches of pant-length. Probably the taller thing. Because science.) I reject heels with those suits in favor of sturdy brown wingtips with yellow recycled-kimono laces.

When I’m headed to a conference I feign disinterest and fight my personal love of tweed trousers. I pair a crisp French-cuffed shirt with jeans. Sometimes a tweed jacket. Because I can’t help myself. Oh, my word, the draw of elbow patches. I would put elbow patches on T-shirts and jammies if I could. To fight the corporate-academic look I wear boots, especially my canvas and leather jump boots. Because nothing says badass-academic like jump boots and Scrabble-tile cufflinks.

But an upcoming conference poses a perplexing problem. I’m headed to Chicago for BlogHer, a massive conference for bloggers that I never really thought I’d attend. I’m not sure how I got caught up in the excitement and the joy of this conference. Except that I know exactly how it happened. I won a kind-of-a-big-deal blogging award.

A lovely human named Alexandra, who blogs her infectious love of life, family, and women in several places including at Good Day Regular People has been outrageously kind with me since she found my blog last year. She has connected me with sites she thinks I should blog for and has cheered my accomplishments. She’s my age, but I think of her as my abuela. She’s kind and supportive in the way everyone’s families should be.

And when the BlogHer Voices of the Year submission process opened, Alexandra tweeted to her Empire that everyone should submit because everyone is worthy.

Trying to learn from her example, I slammed the door on self doubts and submitted three pieces from last year.

And promptly forgot that I had entered. I was proud enough to have sneered at the internal, “why would *you* ever…” long enough to submit. I didn’t actually think about the process or the possibility that I might be selected.

But my post on autism is one of twenty-five blog posts being celebrated for inspiration at the upcoming conference.

And when I found out, I was incredulous. Then I cried. And then assumed that all further references to Voice of the Year would necessitate an asterisk.

“Tonight we celebrate 99 bloggers who inspired us, and one extra, whom we chose to fill out the extra seat next to them.”
“We have worked diligently to select some of the best writing online this year, and are throwing a bone to a post by a mediocre writer at whom we shrug a lukewarm nod. You know whom we mean.”
Seems a rather disrespectful view of the judges. [Not of myself or my writing, by the way. The judges did all the work. And the other writers. And the webmaster. And conference planners. And the snack vendors. They all deserve the credit.]

After a bit of this disrespectful drivel, I started to think, maybe, perhaps, there are a few other honorees who similarly think their mention is a mistake or footnoted pity vote. That when I’m clapping for the other bloggers whose posts just *wrecked* me with humor and heart and compassion and truth, perhaps one or two might be hanging their heads in embarrassment, too.

Probably not.

What did this to me? What makes me think what I make doesn’t matter? Or shouldn’t count? Or that when people say, “I read that and liked it” that they’re wrong/lying/trying to be nice? Why wouldn’t I say thank you the way I do when clients like my writing or academics like my writing? Why is creative writing, unpaid writing, heartfelt writing less worthy?

I did feel proud of my writing when I hit “post.” And I did feel satisfied enough in my writing that I entered a contest, something I never, ever do. So why would that pride die when I won? What kind of headcase freakiness is this?

All the other VOTY posts I’ve read, without exception, have floored me. They’ve made me want to write more.

And dozens of people commented that my post was important to them. I have a responsibility to those readers, including the judges, to smother the ridiculous nonsense in my head and to take a bow.

So I’m going to straighten up, allow the smile to settle in, and sit proudly with those wonderful writers at the Voices of the Year celebration later this month.

Because I need some applause in my life, yo. And all I have to do is stop knocking myself down to see the hands making that noise. They’re lovely, gentle, raucous, funny, smart, activist, human hands.

So now to the last, little problem.

What does one wear to act the part of someone who is learning to shut the door on self-doubt and to take full possession of her body, brain, and writing? Is there such thing as a tweed skort and french-cuff shirt with recycled-kimono elbow patches? Designers? Call me if you can hook me up with that kind of swag.

Plug for new blog

In my massive 2012 self-rewrite, I have decided to split my creative tasks a bit. The big piece of my reorganization involves more fiction and academics. Less client work. Less social media. Less of the stuff I don’t need.

I’m also honoring my split personality by giving each of the voices in my head a blog. (I’ll begin with just voice-amplifying blogs, because some of the people in my head are just horrible and don’t deserve to have any more power than they already do. In fact, drowning them out with productive, creative, awesome work is a damned fine reason for another blog.)

Check out my other side, the logophile who rarely mentions children. (Except for the fact that they inform who I am and what I write, research, and read. You know: the little things.)

Find my professional, less frazzled writing persona over at ChristineHarkin.com. Lots of glitches still, including evidence of the egregious mistake of having register.com handle my domain. That mistake will soon be remedied (and if you’re curious about who should register your URL, check out this review at LifeHack, which I found after hating register.com. Lesson learned, again: do not search Google for tech stuff. Search Google for reviews of tech stuff and trust only established experts.)

Anyway. Follow and comment and join the Me who is creating a space for Me now that I know more about Them and how wonderful and self-eroding They can be if I don’t force my way into some personal headspace.

New Math

It’s been soul-searching time around Chez Nap, and I’ve pared down the emotion and the catastrophizing to simple math:

There are seven specific tasks that I want to work on almost every single day of 2012.

I have, at most, four hours to myself each evening. Zero hours during the day belong to me for the tasks that need attention.

There are twelve things in my life that are in desperate need of attention.

There are at least eight specific projects I want to finish in 2012.

So if I need to somehow cram seven activities and eight goals into the four hours I have each night, a lot of stuff is going to get dropped.

And this blog might have to be one.

We’ll see. But right now the odds are stacked against my continued involvement in social media and the blogosphere.

What are you dropping in 2012?

A warbly note

Look, blog, all I’m saying is that you’re pressure I don’t need.

I simply can’t be marginally interesting even half the time, let alone daily.

I’m busy with filling out papers and running all over town for physican’s reports and getting freaking painful PPD injections so I can hang at the preschool with my kid until he gets used to things; I have to polish a 25 page article then cut it to a 15-minute talk (good luck with that one, Captain Garrulous); I have to take a 32-page schlock-fest and make into a 40-page example of my best erudition and then into an awesome 25-page article; I have to plan holiday crapola and travel whosiewhatsis; and I have to figure out how to replace at least half of Peanut’s Halloween stash, because today it was simply magnetic, and the kid will notice. He pours out the whole stash on my bed every morning at dawn, with “mommy, you don’t have to get up, but can you help me pick my candy for today” because I stupidly put a two-piece a day limit and now he’s having this crappy candy for breakfast every day and will be until January. At least. Unless he notices the dearth of nougaty and caramely pieces (kind of sounds like an order of nuns) and calls me out, in which case there’s gonna be a serious meeting about how I’m the Mommy and if I’m gonna blog, I need to mainline sugar, else have nothing to say.

Or at least nothing to say so quickly. Or without proofreading.

Blog meme

Okay, Ink. This one’s for you…

Anyone who wants to play along, we welcome you. Give us a link in the comments and we’ll go read your less snarky replies.

  1. How did you come up with your blog title OR what does it mean?
    I began the blog on a dare from someone I adore, who told me that if i was so nervous my writing was crap, I should start a blog and see who came to read. I was trying to think up  a name when a squall erupted in the baby monitor. I realized I could only write at naptime, and that was part of the blog’s raison d’etre *and* neuroses.
  2. What are your general goals for blogging?
    Sanity. Connection with the other wackjobs who think the way I do. Exorcising demons about isolation and writerly worthlessness
  3. Do people “in your real life” know that you blog and do they comment on your blog OR is it largely anonymous?
    Everybody knows…I might need an anonymous shadow blog soon.
  4. How often do you post (x per week)?
    Usually 5x but I have no expectations for myself.  I just have an inability to shut up.
  5. How often do you read other blogs (x per week)?
    Once, maybe twice. Sorry blogobuds.
  6. How do you select blogs to read (do you prefer blogs that focus on certain topics or do you choose by tone or…?)
    I surf by tag and generally find favorites by pilfering blogrolls of my favorites.
  7. Do you have any plans to copy your blog entries in any other format, 0r do you think that one day, you’ll just delete it all?
    Copy into journal; steal some stuff for fiction writing
  8. What are the things you like best about blogging?
    Easier than bathroom walls; garners an audience, no matter how small, who likes to read my blatherings; makes me feel more sane because others share my insanity; makes me feel heard and for that reason unburdens Spouse; no editor, no deadline, no peer review, no mediation; found peeps I never would have otherwise, and really, genuinely appreciate what they’ve added to my life
  9. What are the things you don’t like about blogging?
    feels totally egomaniacal and vapid…don’t like to contribute to the noise because now I’m part of the problem.
  10. How do you handle comments?
    Accept all that aren’t offensive. Didn’t reply to comments in the beginning because it felt silly. Now use it as dialogue because commenters take the time so they deserve acknowledgment.  I rarely check back to the blogs on which I comment, though, because I am offering a thought that usually doesn’t need response.
  11. Optional: add your own topic here: any burning thoughts to share on blog etiquette? desired blog features? blog addiction?  blog vs. facebook?
    Are you kidding me? I have forty-two other things to be doing and you’re offering a fill-in-the-blank? To you I say bah. That’s right. BAH!

Rescue Remedy by the quart

I’m realizing just how many of my posts are angry, bitter rants. I’m trying not to feel guilty about that, because that’s the stuff I need to get out. I bottle it up all day because I don’t think it’s appropriate to be snippy in front of my son. And lucky for Spouse he’s 400 miles away or he’d take the brunt. So blogging has really helped get the vitriol flowing and out. I store up every ounce of courage I have and project peace and thoughtfulness and patience (mostly) during the day. But I’ve got to let the rants out. Leaving them inside blocks up all my mental pores and gives me angry, bitter, negative acne on my brain and in my heart.

So if you’re put off by my anger, please, scan down the archives. There are some lovely, life-affirming bits in here if you dig.

But I am trying to navigate the parenting roller coaster, and just haven’t find the right balance. When it’s good, it’s so eye-closingly, deep sigh infusingy, happy little sigh eruptingly, perma-smile grantingly good. When it’s hard, it’s so white-knuckle infuriatingly, self-esteem wrenchingly, bad-side revealingly, regret inspiringly, soul-leechingly hard that it takes my breath away. I really do, sometimes, wish I could find Rescue Remedy by the quart. The blister packs haven’t worked for me yet, and, in fact, make me a little less grounded because the solvent is alcohol and it just makes me want a pint of liquor.

Talking to working moms, stay-at-home-moms, stay-at-home-dads, and the childfree, I realize that the biggest issue for me about parenting is that the day’s rhythm is not my own. I don’t own one piece of the day, and I don’t control any of it rhythms. As an academic, I wrote when I percolated ideas, I read when I felt responsive to ideas, I rested when I needed rest, and I exercised when I needed a mental escape valve. As a professional, I went to meetings where everyone was ready to jump into one of a few appropriate energies to talk about a specific thing. When I worked independently I drifted into one of a few appropriate energies to think or write or create. When I needed to pee, I did. When I needed to eat, I usually did. Now the day’s schedules and energies and milestones and needs have nothing to do with what my mind or body needs, and it’s very destabilizing. Isolating. Frustrating. Sad.

Because with a child, my needs are subsumed by his. My rhythm is supplanted by his. When he needs to run around, we have to. Not because I feel children should be the center of the universe. I don’t. Because I live with this child and his needs are valid. I understand this child, and when he makes his physical or emotional needs known, I respect them (within reason). And if he is metaphorically swaddled when he needs to wiggle, or is forced to engage when he needs cuddling, all systems fail. He melts down (I still refuse to call this volitilty terrible twos. He’s not terrible. My life is not terrible. Our family is not terrible. He is struggling to control things and get some independence and he’s terrified and frustrated by his incompetence. But almost every vascillation is understandable, predictable, and reasonable. I wouldn’t do the things he does, but putting myself into his shoes and his experience, I know exactly why he does what he does. I sometimes marvel, sometimes balk, sometimes well up with anger, but I understand. And I can anticipate it when I’ve slept and eaten, both of which are rare, since, did I mention, my day is not my own, my timing is not the primary Blackberry by which we run our day, and my needs are secondary because I can meet them all by myself. He can’t, so his needs come first.)

I’m a tired, hungry, cranky parent. Hence, again, the need to spew nastiness into my blog. And I’m not sorry. I’m coping.

It’s a yucky, icky world out there

I don’t like the world, right at this particular minute. Everything that’s gross and violent and scary is getting worse, and everything that’s supposed to be safe isn’t. Aside from the whole “poisoning ourselves with every single thing in our over-produced and over-consuming country,” the lead stories today include a decapitation on a bus, a video-taped torture death, and a preacher killing his wife and freezing her body. (Sorry, no links. I can’t bear it–I didn’t read ant of those stories. The headlines were enough.) I was going to let all of that go, but, a blogger I found tag surfing at wordpress, whose kids have developmental differences, went to the library and burst into tears when storytime made her feel that she can’t even do normal things with her kids. Cried in the library.

Dude, that’s not okay. Some days, this is not a nice place to exist. Neither is the third world, I know. But I don’t live there and don’t have the energy to empathize that far today. I really don’t. I know that my absolute darkest moments are diamond-laden sunlight compared to the lives of 99% of the people in this world. I’m sorry if my kvetching dishonors those living in war-torn, impoverished countries. But seriously, a guy can’t sleep on a bus without being stabbed and decapitated? wtf?

People have been asking me, while Spouse is temporarily working in a galaxy far, far away, how I’m faring as a single parent. And without taking more than a nanosecond to wallow in missing him, I know that having a spouse be away is nothing at all like being a single parent. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to raise kids by myself with the added sorrow/fear/anger/joy of a relationship that ended, regardless of how amicably. (‘Cuz there are a lot of those around, right? Amicable divorces? Sure.) I can’t imagine how hard it would be to lose not only a co-parent, but a person with whom you once felt friendly/safe/loved. (I don’t want to be presumptuous about other people marrying someone who makes them feel warm and fuzzy, for one minute of work in domestic abuse organizations makes you rethink what marriage means. Can’t imagine that, either.) While we’re at it, I can’t imagine how hard it would be to raise children while working two or three jobs (thanks, ‘country that has nice ideas about democracy but totally sucks in its priorities,’ for completely abandoning the working poor, for letting the minimum wage drop to a relative fifty-year low, for being an international embarrassment on family leave, for letting our public schools undereducate our kids while a big chunk of the country teaches belief instead of science, and for proposing that a minority view trump women’s health). I can’t imagine how hard it would be to work three jobs and raise children by myself, with child care I could barely afford. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to do any of that with a child who doesn’t fit a typical developmental profile.

So, no. It’s not hard without Spouse here. It’s a little quieter and a little cleaner. And our phone bill is a lot higher. And I stay up too late blogging. But it’s nothing compared to what most people do everyday.

It’s still a yucky, yucky world. We’ve gotten a damned good deal so far, seeing as how I didn’t marry a preacher who killed and froze me, I didn’t sleep on the bus for part of the ride, and I didn’t die while being tortured. And I didn’t sink into lonely despair because a librarian snapped at my kids’ differences.

So, I guess…happy, happy day?