A Happy Anniversary

It wasn’t until  sat down to write this week’s post that I realized this month is my blog’s four-year anniversary.  (I’m embarrassed to admit that I actually thought it was my blog’s fifth anniversary until I did the math one more time.  Some of us just weren’t cut out for working with numbers….)  Anyway, I’m happy to say that the blog I started with much hope and trepidation four years ago is still going strong and that the experience has turned out to be a very good one.

It’s impossible to do something for four years straight and not learn a few things along the way.  Prior to starting my blog, I had harbored a deep distrust of the internet, and couldn’t even buy something on line without panicking at the thought of actually putting my credit card number out there in cyberspace.  The thought of putting my writing on the internet for all the world to see (and comment on) was the biggest hurdle I had to overcome before I could summon up the nerve to publish my first post.  One of the first things my blog taught me is that the using the internet isn’t quite as dangerous as I had believed.

Yes, there are hackers galore, and there are also lots of folks out there who spend their days making nasty online comments to perfect strangers just because they can.  But there are far more good people who are willing to offer encouragement, advice and kindness to the people they meet online.  One of the best things about writing a blog post is getting comments on it that expand and improve on the point I was trying to make, and that happens a lot.  I feel very lucky to have readers who are both smart and generous with their knowledge.

I’ve also learned that we humans have much more in common than I ever realized.  My intended audience was middle-aged women, mostly because that’s who I was (yes, I know at sixty I’m stretching the definition of middle age a bit) and I figured those were the people who would relate to what I had to say.  But I have regular readers who are male, and regular readers who are either younger or older than I am.  It turns out, most of the issues I struggle with aren’t restricted to middle-aged woman at all.  They’re human issues that most of us can relate to just fine, no matter what our age, sex, belief system, or nationality happens to be.  The blogging community can represent diversity at its best.

Finally, I’ve learned how important it is not to let my fears, both the reasonable and the not-so-reasonable ones, stop me from doing the things I really want to do.  I love writing and I love writing this blog, yet if I hadn’t managed to overcome my fears of “putting myself out there” on the internet, I would not have spent the past four years writing this particular blog.  And that would have been a real shame, because I would missed out on all the gifts this blog has given me:  the chance to grow as a writer, to connect with terrific people from all over the world, and the hope that (with a little luck and a lot of work) I may make it to my actual five year blogging anniversary.

The New Age

When I first started this blog, I planned to write about the challenges facing women “of a certain age.”  Specifically, I wanted to write about how to handle the time in our lives when we can no longer call ourselves young without everyone thinking we are either drunk or completely delusional, and yet are also not ready to embrace the title of senior citizen.  (Although we will happily accept the discounts, especially if no one is around to see it.)

You would think that after four years of writing this blog I would have run out of things to say on the subject, but so far that hasn’t happened.  And I think I know why.  I may not always write specifically about aging, but the fact that I am a sixty-year old woman really does impact how I see the world around me and how I interact with it.

If I were writing this blog when I was eighteen, you can bet that not a single post would mention wrinkles, menopause or nostalgia for a time when I woke up and some part of my body didn’t hurt.  Instead, I’d probably be writing about struggling with trying to pick a major in college that would lead to a rewarding career, wondering if I was ever going to find true love, and did I have enough money to buy myself a couple of beers on Friday night?

So one way or another, my age does determine my perspective, in both good and bad ways.  For example, I would have considered my recent oral surgery a bad thing, no matter what age I had to endure it.  But as a sixty-year old woman, I couldn’t help but notice that the slight swelling in my cheeks did a great (if temporary) job of eliminating the fine wrinkles around my mouth.   And when I was a young woman, a shopping trip meant searching for clothes that were both stylish and flattering.  Now I couldn’t possibly care less about what’s in style (I refuse to wear “peek-a-boo shoulder” blouses and my chubby little legs will never be stuffed into a pair of skinny jeans) and seek mainly comfort when I’m making my wardrobe selections.  If the outfit is also flattering, that’s a plus, but it’s not mandatory.  Thank goodness, because so few of them are.

IMG_3935The bottom line is that being sixty is a part of who I am now, just as being seventy will be a part of who I am in ten years.  Age affects all our lives.   I was reminded of this last week when I was watching my grandson, who is now eight-months old.  It wasn’t that long ago when he was still at the age where he stayed where I put him.  Now he not only crawls over to his toy box when I put him on the floor,  he reaches into it and personally selects the toys he’d like to play with.  Sometimes age has a very big impact indeed.

I suppose I will never reach the point where I have written all I can about coping with a particular phase of my life, because each phase simply flows into the next.  And each phase brings its own unique challenges and rewards.  All I can hope is that this adventure continues for many more years to come….

Walking the Walk

When I started this blog three years ago, I had two simple goals.  First, I wanted it to be  a creative writing outlet where I could write honestly and openly about the topics that interested me.  Secondly, I wanted to make sure my blog was a positive place where everyone (including my readers) could share their opinions and beliefs without being attacked by others.  I wanted my blog to be a “hate-free” zone where disagreement was welcomed as long as it was respectful and civilized.  And luckily, that’s exactly the way it turned out.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I was actually starting to feel a little bit smug about how little negativity my blog attracted, congratulating myself on keeping the nastiness away.  But have you ever had one of those “aha” moments, when you finally realize something so obvious that you can’t believe you didn’t see it before?  Because that’s exactly what happened to me yesterday.

I was driving down the street, actually thinking of how happy I was that I had managed to keep my blog so positive and hate free for three years when a driver suddenly pulled out in front of me.  I slammed on my brakes and missed him, but I was still incredibly angry.  And I didn’t hesitate to express that anger through a series of words that were both ugly and hateful.  The fact that I was alone in the car with the windows rolled up didn’t really matter.  Whether or not anyone could hear what I said wasn’t the point.  The point was that I finally realized that even though I had managed to create a hate-free blog, I most certainly wasn’t living a hate-free life.

I couldn’t help but wonder just exactly how different my life would be if I became just a bit more intentional about trying to keep hatred and anger out of my own heart.  I’m not naive enough to think that I will never get angry again, or that I won’t resent people I believe have done me wrong, or even that I can simply decide that I’ll never feel hateful again.  I’m sure I’ll do all those things, despite my best efforts.

But still, I know I can do better.  More importantly, I know that I want to do better.  I want to think twice before I open my mouth in anger.  When I feel slighted by someone, I want to try to look at things from their point of view rather than immediately feeling sorry for myself.  And when I feel hate stirring in my heart, I want to ask myself if I really want hateful feelings to be a permanent part of who I am.  Because hatred hurts the one who harbors it just as much as it hurts its target.

For the past three years, I’ve managed to keep hatred, pettiness, resentment, etc. out of my blog, and I’ve been very happy with the result.  So I think it’s time that I at least start trying to do the same thing with the rest of my life.

Open My Eyes

Last Monday, my post “A Blogger’s Voice” was featured on Word Press Discover page, which meant that my blog was suddenly getting a much bigger audience than usual.  For the most part, I was thrilled.  I think every writer wants their words to reach as many people as possible (if we didn’t, we would just write in a personal journal) and the thought of all those new readers was exciting.  I was also flattered that a Word Press editor thought my blog was worthy of being included in their Discover program.  I really didn’t think this would ever happen to my blog.

But a small part of me was also worried.  I knew that along with all that extra exposure came the very real risk of a whole lot of spam, criticism, and downright nasty comments.  When they let me know I was going to be included in Discover, Word Press even included advice on how to the handle negative comments that might be coming my way. Honestly, in the days between being notified that I was going to be “discovered” and before it actually happened, I even toyed with the idea of backing out of the whole thing.

But then I realized that none of this would have happened if my good blogging friend Barb Knowles hadn’t recommended me to a Word Press editor.  Barb writes a funny, poignant and insightful blog called Sane Teachers , and has been a wonderful source of inspiration and support.  I didn’t want to let her down or have her think I wasn’t grateful for her recommendation so I decided to just go for it.  I figured between my spam filter and my ability to moderate comments, I could handle whatever negativity came my way.

And you know what?  The nastiness, the criticism, and the spam never materialized.  In the past week, I’ve added about 500 new followers and the last time I looked, that post had about 1,700 views. My spam filter caught no more than the usual amount of spam, and I moved about eight comments into the trash only because they included what I thought might not be a legitimate Word Press link in them.  Even then, I may have been overly quick to hit the “trash” button, but I didn’t want to run the risk of any of my readers getting a virus from a link on my blog.

My point is not that all those people loved my blog.  I’m sure that most of them didn’t even read it, and simply hit the “follow” and “like” buttons in the hopes that I would do the same for their blog.  My point is that the onslaught of negativity that I had anticipated didn’t happen.  Instead, I received lots of positive and courteous comments from other bloggers.  Being “discovered” connected me to many people who also struggle with finding the courage to put their true thoughts and feelings into their posts and then send them out into cyberspace.  It let me communicate with people from all over the world, both getting and giving encouragement and good wishes.  It was an awesome experience.

I am very, very, grateful to Barb and to Word Press for the chance to be “discovered.”  I am grateful for the new views, follows and the comments on my post.  But what I most grateful for is the way that this whole experience reminded me that there is still so much good in the world, and so many good people in the world, if only I’m willing to open my eyes and see.

A Blogger’s Voice

DSC00181When I was young and naive enough to believe I had a good shot at making a living as a free-lance writer, I attended lots of writer’s workshops.  They were always interesting, and some of the tips helped me place articles with local magazines and neighborhood newspapers.  I never did make a lot of money as a writer…my largest claim to fame was a short article in Bride’s magazine and the publication of one (count it, one) children’s book.  Still, I learned a lot in those workshops about writing, and especially about the delicate balance between giving an editor whatever he or she wants and developing my own unique “voice.”

The voice of an author is what distinguishes one writer’s work from everyone else’s.  It is what comes out when a writer taps into his or her deepest beliefs, inner-most fears, cherished dreams, etc.  It communicates the unique perspective of the world that each of us have and that writers share through their written words.  And for me, finding that voice was always a struggle.  I could figure out what my editor wanted and deliver exactly that, no problem.  But writing from my heart was a whole other matter and I never really managed to do it.

Fast forward to almost three years ago, when I started writing this blog.  At first I was terrified of putting my writing on a public forum where everyone and anyone could both read and comment on it.  My inner critic went into overdrive, and I poured over my posts before actually publishing them, searching for flaws and carefully deleting anything that I thought could be offensive or misinterpreted.  Luckily, my readers were a small but polite group who mostly offered encouragement and the expected criticism and rejection never materialized.

I gained more confidence with each post, slowly but surely learning to ignore my inner critic and to put my true thoughts and feelings on my blog without quite so much worry and angst.  I began to write about whatever subject was near to my heart, and I learned that honesty (as long as it is not also hateful or hurtful) is perfectly okay.  It took me a while to recognize it, but I had finally found my writing “voice.”  My blog has brought me many gifts, but that is by far the one I appreciate the most.

Even better, I have discovered that finding my writing voice has actually given me more confidence to speak my mind in person.  I am no longer nearly so inclined to tell others only what I know they want to hear.  When asked for my opinion, it has become almost natural for me to share my true thoughts and feelings, even when I know that others around me will probably disagree with what I have to say.  My old fear of rejection is fading fast, and that’s a very good thing.

I know that not everyone is a writer, but I do believe that everyone has a voice and that  their voice, like mine, deserves to be heard.  And I hope that one way or another, we each find a way to make that happen.

A Delicate Balance

I’ve gained almost ten pounds in the past two years, and I’m blaming it on this blog.  It takes a lot of time to write my posts and answer the comments on them, and it takes even more time to read and comment on all the other blogs I follow.  And to make matters worse, once I’m sitting at my computer, I feel the need to read and answer my emails, and then to head on over to Facebook to see if anyone has posted anything more interesting than the latest political outrage or a photo of their lunch.  And all of this takes time, which means I’m spending more and more time sitting, which we all know is not exactly good for our bodies.  Hence the weight gain in the two years I’ve been writing this blog.

And honestly, it’s not just my body that suffering from all those hours spent sitting in front of my computer.  The internet is a wonderful thing, but it can also be incredibly depressing.  The non-stop bad news, the hateful comments and name-calling, and even the photos of lost pets can be overwhelming at times.  If I’m not careful, surfing the world-wide web can leave me thinking that this world is just plain mean and dangerous, and that basic human decency is nothing more than an illusion.

So what do I do?  Do I abandon my blog, deactivate my Facebook account, unplug my computer and live “off the grid” for the rest of my life?   Or do I just pretend that I’m not spending far too much time looking through pictures posted by people I barely know when I could be doing something far more productive?  (And by the way, it’s not “creeping” to look through people’s Facebook posts and photos.  If something is private, don’t put it on social media in the first place.)

I know many people who don’t do social media, and even some who rarely, if ever, utilize the internet.  They’re happy with their choice, and that’s great.  But it’s not the right choice for me.  I like the way I’ve connected with old friends, and keep in touch with far-away family and friends through Facebook, and I’ve become rather dependent on the ability to easily find so much useful information just by Googling it.  Even more, I love blogging because it has me writing regularly again and has connected me to terrific writers and readers from all over the world.  I honestly don’t want to give any of that up.

Which leaves me with only one obvious choice:  find a balance.  There is a huge middle ground between wasting hours every day sitting in front of my computer and abandoning it altogether.  I can write my blog, keep my Facebook account and otherwise use the internet while still making sure I get physical exercise every single day.   I can skim the news stories on the internet, reading only the ones I need to, and skip the comment section altogether.  I can enjoy seeing the photos of my friend’s new grandchildren on Facebook while blocking the posts that I know are going to ruin my mood for the rest of the day.

It’s just a matter of discipline and taking control of my life and making intentional choices about how I want to spend my time.  Of course it won’t be easy, but so many things that are worthwhile and necessary for living a meaningful life aren’t especially easy.  And it’s either that or go shopping for some bigger jeans….

Like Me

I am a woman of very few talents, but I have always been good at getting along with other people.  Not because I’m particularly charismatic–I’m not–but because I am good at figuring out what others want from me and then working hard to deliver just that.  When your goal is to have other people like you, you learn rather quickly that conforming to their beliefs and expectations is important, even if that means hiding the parts of yourself that you know won’t meet with approval.

It took me a long time before I figured out that being my real, whole, self was so much more important than pleasing others.  And it has taken me even longer to break the habit of caring so much about whether or not other people like me.  Honestly, I’m in my late middle age and it’s still something I struggle with.

It still hurts when I meet someone new, and after a few minutes of polite conversation they excuse themselves and hurry away in search of someone more interesting to talk to.  It still stings when I hear friends talking about a social gathering I didn’t know about because I wasn’t invited.  And I still feel a bit ashamed, like a child who has been scolded, when I voice an opinion and someone tells me in no uncertain terms that I’m dead wrong.

The downside of social media and blogging is how it can feed into those insecurities, what with those little “like” buttons that let me know immediately how many people approve of a particular post.  WordPress takes it a step further with its stats on how many views and visitors are generated each time I publish something.  It’s easy to believe that the value of a post is determined solely by the number of likes and views.

Last week, I published a post that had 1,225 views, followed closely by a post that had exactly 102 views.  I spent approximately the same amount of time and effort on each one, and felt that I had written both posts the best way I knew how.  It’s tempting for me to study the more popular post to see what made so many people like it, and there was a time in my life when I believe I would have done just that.  Thankfully, in many ways I’ve moved past that mindset and plan to move forward as I’ve always done, which is just writing about what interests me and working on each post until I’m satisfied with the result.

Blogging can be hard for someone who still struggles sometimes to find the courage to let her true voice be heard.  I have to remind myself now and then that all I really have to offer in this blog is my own perspective and my own thoughts.  Sometimes my words will strike a chord with lots of people and sometimes with just a few people, and it’s good either way.  The important thing is that my words are an expression of my true self, rather than something I filtered heavily in order to attract the maximum amount of approval.

In many ways, my blog has helped me finally find my own voice.  And if I am lucky enough that my words help someone else, that’s just icing on the cake.

A Blog’s Purpose

I’ve been struggling with my blog for the past few weeks.  I’ve been putting off writing posts, and when I finally did sit down to write something, I was struggling to clarify just exactly what it was that I wanted to say and then struggling some more to come up with just exactly the right words to say it.

At first, I put it down to the hectic schedule of Christmas, knowing that I was existing on too much rich food and drink, too little sleep, and a “to do” list that was growing longer by the day.  I figured that my tiny little brain just couldn’t keep up with it all, and that probably had something to do with it, but also I thought there was more going on that just holiday stress.  Then I began to worry that after two years of writing this blog, I was getting tired of it and ready to quit, but that didn’t feel quite right either.  I love writing, and at the moment, this blog is my only creative writing outlet.  And I knew I wasn’t really ready to quit writing.

And then I read the post  Finding My Purpose: Why I Blog  on my friend Jodi’s blog and  had what I believe is called an “ah ha!” moment.  I felt that Jodi had not only read my mind, but had also thoughtfully written a post that spelled things out for me, since I was having so much trouble figuring it out for myself.  (Friends, blogging or otherwise, can be very helpful that way, especially for those of us who can be a bit slow on the uptake.)

Like Jodi, I started my blog as a form of personal expression, and honestly, I only settled on the subject of middle age because I thought that was something about me that other people could easily relate to.  But once I got over the initial thrill that there were people out there who were actually willing to read my posts,  I found that it became very important to me to write posts that actually offered something to my readers.  More importantly, I wanted my blog to be positive.

I knew there is a lot in this world, and in each of our lives, that is scary and depressing, but I also knew that I didn’t want to dwell on that in my blog.  If people want bad news, they can simply turn on their TV or log onto the internet.  And we all have stuff in our past that isn’t pretty, and that can leave us angry and bitter.  But I can’t change the world, I can’t change the past, and I can’t truly fix anyone else’s life.  What I can do is exactly what Jodi describes: offer encouragement, remind people of the beauty that is still around us, share hopeful insights, and maybe give others a chance to laugh at, rather than rage against, the mundane challenges of our lives.  And I can do all that, in my own small way, through this blog.

I think in the back of my mind, I always wanted my blog to be a source of encouragement, entertainment and/or inspiration, but I just hadn’t found the courage to admit it until I read my friend’s post.  All I know is that now I see what the purpose of my blog has been all along, and I have a hunch that my struggles with writing it are over.

A Good Journey

It doesn’t seem possible, but according to my calendar, it has been exactly two years since I started this blog.  I can still remember how nervous I was about putting my writing on the internet where anyone and everyone could not only read it, but also comment on it.  I spent weeks writing and rewriting several short essays about being middle aged, just so I would have something to publish even when writer’s block struck.  I worried that no one would want to read my blog, and then I worried that lots of people would read it, but hate it.  And tell me exactly why in my comment section.  But eventually, with the constant encouragement (and occasional nagging) of a good friend, I sat down at the computer and wrote my first post.

Although I’ve been writing almost my entire life, I didn’t really understand what writing a blog entailed.  I knew that blogging meant I would have to find the motivation to write regular posts, to read and respond to any comments that were made, and that I’d probably have to deal with a fair amount of spam.  I knew I had to learn blogging terminology, such as widgets, tags, themes, etc.  It all sounded very confusing, but I believed I would figure it out eventually, and I was mostly right about that.  Above all, I knew that I was venturing into new territory and trying something that I had never done before.  There was a very real risk that it wouldn’t work out at all, and then I would just have to hope that no one ever asked me, “Whatever happened to that blog you started?”  I already had more than my share of failure in my writing career, and didn’t want to add to it.

But my blog didn’t fail.  I wrote my posts on a regular schedule; a small (but very much appreciated) group of people read them and often left encouraging comments, and with each passing month, my confidence grew.  I began adding photos to my posts and venturing out into other topics besides coping with middle age.  Slowly but surely, I found the courage to share my real opinions, thoughts and experiences, and discovered how liberating it is to be true to myself rather than writing only what I thought others wanted to read.  In many ways, that confidence has spilled over to other areas of my life as well.

Beyond that, the connections I’ve made through my blog have been a wonderful, if unexpected, gift.  My regular readers include friends from my past and family who live far away, and I love being in closer contact with them.  I’ve met terrific new people from all over the world, whose opinions I have come to value.  I may not have met any of them in person, but many feel like friends.

Of course there have been the tough times, when something technical isn’t working with my blog, or when I stare at my computer screen and think, “Well that’s it, you’ve finally run out of ideas!  Time to quit!”   But I don’t quit, because my blog has become too important to me to abandon.  I’m writing regularly and more confidently than I ever have before, and I’m interacting with many terrific people.  Honestly, I like where my blog has led me so far, and I plan to stick around to see where the journey leads next.

Losing Control

For the past few months, I’ve been careful to keep to my blogging schedule of posting twice a week.  I usually post on Sunday, and then again on Wednesday or Thursday, depending on how my week is going.  I’ve become almost obsessive about it, which should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me.  I tend to establish habits and then stick to them, come what may, even about things that don’t particularly matter.  It’s not one of my more endearing characteristics.

So yesterday, even though I had a bridal shower in the morning, an out-of-town nephew arriving for a visit in the afternoon, and a family dinner to host in the evening, I still believed that I should somehow find the time to write and publish a blog post.  I mean, yesterday was Sunday, so what choice did I have?   Surely, somewhere in that busy day, I would find the time to write a and publish a short blog post, accompanied by an appropriate photograph, once I came up with an idea to write about.  But as the day went by, it became obvious, even to me, that I wasn’t going to be doing a blog post.

I admit, I fretted about it at first.  But gradually I realized how absurd it was to be trying to rush through something as important as a bridal shower, visiting with a nephew we don’t get to see nearly as often as we would like, and a family dinner just for the chance to write (yet another) blog post.  And once I had let go of my original plan for the day and just went along with the flow of what was actually happening, I found myself having a grand old time.

Giving up control is a hard thing for me, as I believe it is for many people. We get an idea about how things are supposed to be, or a schedule we are supposed to follow, and it’s only natural to feel a bit anxious, or even annoyed, when things don’t go according to plan.  Sometimes we even want to control how others react to us, and feel put out when they aren’t appropriately impressed by our latest news, or one of our blog or Facebook posts doesn’t get enough “likes.”  We forget that other people are the ones who get to decide how they are going to react to what we write, say and do, and that we….don’t.

So I’m glad that I had a such a nice day yesterday, and that I had the chance to enjoy a very fun and creative bridal shower.  I’m glad that I got to spend time talking to my nephew, and realizing again just what a fine young man he has turned out to be.  I’m glad that I got to host a family dinner, and hear about my daughter and son-in-law’s recent trip to Colorado, and to continue the discussion about whether my son and I will or will not be doing a mother/son dance at his wedding.

But mostly, I’m glad that yesterday was so busy that I wasn’t able to follow my usual blog posting schedule.  It was a great reminder for me that sometimes in life, the best things happen when we allow ourselves to simply lose control, even for just a little while.  And who knows?  I might keep the excitement going by accompanying this post with a photo which has no relevance whatsoever…..img_1498