It occurs to me that after all we’ve been through last night’s goodbye was a bit on the perfunctory side. After all, we’ve been together for 14 years, or some of us have, so we deserve a better send-off. In due course I shall be reminiscing about some of my favourite posts as well as touching on some low points: I shall give a mention to some of my most loyal followers and highlight some of the best comments. There may also be photos…
I’ve enjoyed my blogging journey despite the frustrations of working with WordPress. I’ve enjoyed the interactions with readers and the connections with other blogs. I’ve relished the challenge of finding something to write about nearly every day. I’ve posted some stories and poems and for the first couple of years this blog was the only outlet for my work.
And I’ve learned loads: how to structure a good post, how to write interestingly (I hope) on a variety of topics, how to deal with trolls and spammers and of course how to navigate some of the many obstacles WordPress throws in our path. But when the best ideas you can come up with are repeats of something you’ve already done, it’s time to move on, even though I may not have anything to move on to. I shall miss you all and I hope you’ll miss me but as the song says, it’s better to burn out than to fade away. There will be no jumping of sharks on this blog.
Please keep sending in your comments as I value them all. And as the travellers say, I’ll see you down the road…
Beetleypete has an interesting post today where he’s interviewed by another blogger about his life on wordpress. Fair warning: I’ll be picking up this idea in the autumn and pouncing on my followers to interrogate them about their writing lives. In the meantime I’ll be asking myself some pretty searching questions:
How would I describe my blog? Hm, that’s a hard one. The go-to description is ‘a writer’s life’ and that’ll do for a start, but basically this blog goes in any direction it damn well pleases and I just tag along (pun intended, ho ho).
What is my writing process like and do I have any rituals? My process nowadays is that I just get to the computer and see what comes up. If nothing comes I’ll look at my diary, news headlines or Facebook for ideas and in the end something usually comes together. As for rituals, a cup of tea always helps.
What’s one of your blogging pet peeves? I guess it’s rudeness or trolling. Fortunately I haven’t had much of this in recent years but I’ve had a few in the past. They always get blocked – and interestingly when you look at their blogs they’ve produced little or no content. Actually that’s another pet peeve – people calling your writing ‘content’ (slaps wrist.)
What are some of your biggest aspirations? I’d like to have more followers and views than I do; then again if I did my whole life could be taken up with responding to comments. I guess as long as I’m enjoying it, that’s enough.
What are some of your biggest blogging mistakes? I’d have to say arguing with trolls. There are some people I should have blocked straight away.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of starting a blog? Do it. Write about what interests you, blog often and don’t go on too long. I aim for around 500 words, Beetleypete goes for 900 but more than a thousand is too much for most readers.
So that’s it. Pretty soon these and other questions will be dropping on your doormat. In the meantime, thanks to Beetleypete and to Confessions of a random blogger and I hope you don’t mind me swiping some of your ideas.
Beetleypete has a useful post today reminding new bloggers that content is king. He’s right; if you’re going to write a blog post you want other people to read, you have to make it worth their while. There’s so much stuff vying for our attention that if you’re going to invite readers to yet another blog it has to be interesting. And how do you know what people are going to be interested in?
A while ago on this blog I did an experiment; I asked people to tell me what they liked and didn’t like. I didn’t get that many replies but they virtually all said ‘Carry on as usual.’ That was quite gratifying in a way because I’ve never been able to make this blog stick to just one subject; though the main theme is ‘a writer’s life’ it can go in any direction – politics, sport, philosophy, travel, decorating, gardening and probably a whole range of other topics I haven’t even thought of yet. So I think the first rule of being interesting is to be interested; to be engaged in what you write about. Otherwise, if you’re not interested how can you expect anyone else to be? To be engaged is not to be obsessive (as OH’s blog sometimes is; I know OH won’t mind me saying this because often zerothly’s posts are a ‘brain dump’) – you can’t expect all but a handful of people to follow you through nineteen long paragraphs full of technical detail. So the second rule is to know your audience. This is of course impossible because unless they like or comment, how do you know who is reading? What I do is to have in mind a sort of mish-mash of all the readers I know about plus an idea of someone of reasonable intelligence who is interested in ideas. I also write for friends and family who very often keep up with what I’m doing via these posts.
So; be interested, don’t ramble on for nineteen paragraphs, and know your audience; those are my top tips for producing great content. Except that I don’t like calling it ‘content’ – it sounds like toothpaste in a tube – so let’s just call it writing. Which after all is the point…
Have a great Wednesday. I am now waiting for the doctor to call.
Update: doctor called as I was posting. I now have to call back to arrange more blood tests.
Yes, it’s too true, I’ve started to worry about being needed and feeded – or fed and ned – for today I am 64. Yes, that’s right – sixty-bloody-four. When the Beatles wrote that song it must have seemed unimaginable to be that age. 64! God, that’s so OLD! Sadly half of them didn’t get to experience what 64 is like, but I have, and that is something to be celebrated. I’m still here! There were times when, for one reason or another, it looked as if I wouldn’t be but here I am, still moving and breathing and metabolising and all, and with much to be thankful for. So today I’m going to pause and just think about all the good things in my life. I will not be complaining about politics, I will not be mentioning the many faults of our glorious leader, I will not be moaning about the weather or the telly or anything.
First I shall consider the presents. I’m obviously very happy with the bike and since that was my main present I wasn’t expecting much else. But this morning OH came bearing the teapot below (I’ve cut down drastically on caffeine and was after a smaller teapot so I can still brew leaf tea); we’re not keen on the inscription but it’s one of those pots which sits inside the cup, which is neat. Apart from that my mother in law has spent far too much money on a Google play voucher which I shall spend on getting some music for my phone. I’ve had a fair few cards too and lots of birthday wishes on Facebook, which is nice.
So what can I say that’s positive about my life so far? In general I’m in good health, which is not a small consideration. Tiredness and hypothyroidism apart, I don’t have many health problems, partly because I’m still doing my yoga every day. I did have trouble sleeping last night which I think was due to the imminent sixty-fourness of it all; there’s something about that age that feels like a landmark. Maybe it’s the Beatles’ song, maybe it’s because it’s a multiple of 12 – I don’t know, but it seems like a significant age. So if the Beatles are right I should be digging the garden, doing the weeds and renting a cottage in the Isle of Wight (if it’s not too dear.) Actually yesterday OH and I went to B&Q and as we perused the compost and garden gates and pushed our trolley between aisles of bedding plants I said, ‘don’t you just feel like the typical retired couple, going to the garden centre on a weekday?’
What other positives are there? I’m still writing and getting better and better at it. I’m still doing this blog after 13 years. I’m still a Quaker which is a valuable part of my life. I’ve read loads of books this last year and even more when we do the thing-that-isn’t-Sabbath and turn off all devices. I’ve started learning Ancient Greek, I’ve re-read Beowulf and dipped into Anglo-Saxon, I’ve made the outfit I’m wearing (blouse and flared trousers) and I’ve knitted no fewer than three jumpers. I’ve taken up the piano-keyboard again and I’ve decorated various parts of the house.
So that’s all good.
What about the kind of person I’ve become? I was saying to OH the other day that I’m not a selfless person * and I stand by that; on the other hand I’ve become stronger and more assertive, more willing to stand my ground, less concerned with what people think. So that’s all good.
*OH made the mistake of agreeing with me
What else is there to say? I don’t know, except thanks for reading, liking and commenting and please keep it up.
The majority of my readers are delightful people; they like and comment and follow and post interesting and insightful thoughts. If they disagree, they do so respectfully and politely. But every so often I get a troll. They often start off quite pleasantly, just making one or two points on which they differ from me, but as soon as I start engaging with them they become ruder and ruder until finally their posts consist of nothing but insults. The last one who did this was blocked, though not as soon as he ought to have been (so far I’m pretty sure they’ve all been male) though as I’ve just discovered in the trash folder, he carried on commenting and trying to get me to react for about a year.
Actually reading through all his comments I found myself in tears… of laughter. Like the death of Little Nell they were so ridiculous that I actually found them funny. I’m not going to repeat any of them but I think it’s real progress that they made me laugh instead of getting to me. Because that is the point: to get to you. It’s not about what the comments say, it’s about that person trying to get under your skin in any way they can; to undermine, to pour scorn and loathing and vitriol and keep pouring it until (they hope) you just give up.
It’s my theory (and OH’s) that trolls are generally people with impossibly high standards. I always check out my followers and invariably these trolls don’t have a blog or website of their own with any content on it at all, because they’re afraid to put themselves out there. And because they’re afraid they envy anyone who has the guts to do this; and because they envy us they try to bring us down.
In the early days of this blog I was terrified that as soon as I expressed an opinion I would get a load of criticism from all sides. But that never happened, and over time I’ve learned to handle people disagreeing (so long as they do so respectfully). What took me longer to learn was zero tolerance of rudeness; I put up with it for far too long. All of which links to…
Mental health. This was going to be my main topic but I went off on one. Thankfully it is much more acceptable to talk about mental health nowadays than it was in my youth; although when people say ‘I’ve got mental health’ I always have to stop myself from saying ‘congratulations’ and asking how they managed it. What they mean, of course, is ‘I’ve got mental health problems’ and that is an area I know something about. I know depression and I know psychosis, and right now – whether it’s the hot weather or just a burst of energy or something else – I can feel psychosis nudging at my elbow. What does it feel like? I’ve learned to recognise the signs now, so it doesn’t generally sweep over me. This can be terrifying. The best way I can explain it is like an old-fashioned swirly ‘dissolve’ on TV which they used to indicate a dream or the passing of time (I don’t know what it’s called so I can’t find any videos of it.) Anyway, it feels like that; you’re just walking along and suddenly everything goes swirly and you lose hold on reality. It’s very frightening. I think mental health is very relevant to trolls; I’m not saying they’re all mentally ill but a healthy person does not spend their time trying to bring others down. I’m tempted to write a poem now in the style of Browning’s My Last Duchess:
The weirdest thing happened with that last post; I wrote it yesterday as an afterthought and scheduled it for the afternoon. But before the scheduled hour I got a notification that someone had ‘liked’ it. That’s odd, I thought, perhaps I put the wrong time in. That’s easily done, what with wordpress being in a different time zone and galaxy. So I went to check – and it wasn’t there. Not only that, it failed to publish at the scheduled hour, as I realised this morning. OK, I thought, I’ll just publish it now. So I went to make some changes, clicked to publish but it only offered me ‘update’. Clearly wordpress thinks this post is up, I deduced. I checked again. No, not there. Where was my post???? It must be stuck in blogging limbo! So in the end I had to return to draft (‘are you sure you want to unpublish this post?’ wordpress said hectoringly. Yes, because IT HASN’T BEEN PUBLISHED!!!) Anyway, I unpublished and republished – or unrepublished – and here we are. But that was all very mysterious. And it’s not the first time either.
So the plan was to start gently and work up. The first day I only cycled about a mile and my legs felt stiff and unused. OK, I thought, I’ll do two miles tomorrow and four the next – except that when a friend called and said did I want to meet in Quorn, I thought I do! I do want to meet in Quorn! And what’s more, I want to cycle there! Quorn is actually not that far away; it was a seven mile round trip but what’s one small hop for a man was one giant leap for this person. Actually it wasn’t as hard as I’d feared – the cycle path network round here is pretty good and I was able to admire the hedgerows and enjoy the sun as I pootled down, which you definitely can’t do in a car. Coming back was harder, partly because it was uphill but mostly because it was raining and my waterproof trousers aren’t any more. In between we had a gentle walk in Quorn ending up at a pub where I saw a couple of people I’d not seen for ages. It was great to hang out, albeit outdoors, and see lots of people. It felt like being human again. So that was a real milestone in lots of ways.
It was a weekend for doing new things; on the Saturday I discovered that Leicester were in the FA cup final. I never normally watch football but I opened a bottle of beer and as I had nothing else to do sat down to give it a go. I was able to follow it reasonably well and it was clear Leicester were the underdogs; throughout the goalless first half they were outplayed by Chelsea right across the board, but I guess that’s why they say it’s a game of two halves because early in the second half Leicester scored. Massive jubilation from the blue-clad fans (it was a bit confusing because the fans were in blue but on the pitch Leicester were maroon and Chelsea blue), only to be dashed when Chelsea equalised. But that goal was disallowed after a video replay proved it to be fractionally off-side (I’m not even going to pretend I understand what that means) so everyone was on tenterhooks for the last 20 minutes or so. But that was it! Leicester won, and good luck to them. It really brings the city – and the county – together because as someone pointed out, Leicester has only one team which means that everyone gets behind them.
Never thought I’d find myself sitting in front of the TV, beer in hand, shouting ‘Come on City!’ Not that I did; being a tennis fan at heart I just clapped quietly and murmured ‘Jolly good show.’
And that was my weekend. So now we begin the fourteenth year of this blog…
I wonder what the Anglo-Saxon for shout-out might be? I guess I’ll find out as I plough through Sweet’s Anglo-Saxon Primer. I’m starting with the alphabet which is quite easy because most of it is like ours, although they have some different letters such as thorn and ‘eth’ (I think that’s what it’s called, though OH will correct me if not) both of which represent the voiced and unvoiced ‘th’ in English – ie ‘th’ in ‘thing’ and ‘th’ in ‘seethe’. Anglo-Saxon is a delight to listen to, such a mouthful of juicy consonants accompanied by goblets full of ringing vowels, you can practically taste the mead and feel the table under your hand. It’s interesting also to put this together with Sutton Hoo – though 500 years separate the dig from Beowulf – to create a picture in the imagination. Beowulf – I’ve read it now – is essentially a tale of shield-bashing men from the time when men were men, wrestling monsters from the deep (and their mothers) and fiery dragons. But what interests me is what it says about the society; the life of the barn where people sat in the mead-hall while wardens were placed outside; how status was dependent on prowess on the battle-field, and above all the importance of exchanging gifts. At the end of Beowulf the eponymous hero, having died destroying a dragon, is buried with much of the haul they recovered from the dragon’s den and placed inside a huge barrow on the cliff-top. Having finished the poem I have an enduring vision of ships crossing ‘whale-roads’, great halls, flowing mead and long speeches – one or two of which are given by women. Though undoubtedly second-class citizens and traded as freely as gold or silver, women are not as silent in Beowulf as I had expected and one, the wife of the lord, makes a lengthy speech of welcome to the Geats (people from southern Sweden) who have come to Denmark to free the people from the monster. It’s interesting to imagine the great mead-hall of Beowulf strewn with the found objects from Sutton Hoo; the shoulder-clasps of gold inlaid with garnet, the helmets laid aside while the heroes eat and the great cauldron hanging from the roof of the barn with perhaps a meaty stew inside. These were already sophisticated people with customs, trade, religion, seafaring routes and a social hierarchy. It’s just a pity that all they seemed to think about was war. Hey, ho – it’s tough studying Anglo-Saxon as a Quaker…
Gosh, there’s so many of you I’m going to have to do this in two parts. Rest assured, if you’ve joined me since January I will give you a mention – except, of course, for those of you who are – or appear to be – selling something. There’s a quite staggering number of you out there but please don’t bother following me because I’m really not interested in investments or bitcoin or doubling my money (though I could try doubling my debt…) so it really isn’t worth your while.
But to those of you who are genuine bloggers or just readers interested in blogs, I send a heartfelt thanks. Without you it’s just me burbling to myself in a corner of the house, so I really appreciate you being there. And thanks again to those of you who take the time to like and comment – it really makes a difference.
In other news, my Anglo Saxon Primer has arrived. So today I shall be mostly grappling with strange vowels and weird consonant clusters, in between writing ideas for a new radio play – of which more anon.
A chad in my day used to be an image like this one: a nose, two hands and two eyes peeping over a wall with the caption: ‘Wot no….?’
But a brief trawl of the internet has thrown up several new definitions, none of which is funny or cartoon-like; the most common being an alpha male as described by a self-styled ‘incel’. Nevertheless today’s cartoon chad, if I had the skill to produce it, would say Wot no post? because there is no blog post today. Well, apart from this one which I’ve posted to tell you there is no post. And why not? Because I have far too many and complicated thoughts which need to be spread out, viewed from afar and organised. They will probably end up forming posts for the rest of the week. So watch this space and in the meantime have a good Monday. It’s snowing here…