5 Blogging Insecurities or Will I Ever Be Freshly Pressed?

I started reading an Elizabeth Berg novel yesterday called Once Upon a Time, There Was You. I’m not sure I should have done it and I will now tell you why I say that.

Ms. Berg is one of the very best women’s fiction authors in the country, in the world, in the universe. That’s merely my opinion but I know a lot of people agree with that statement. I was immediately hooked. There was a prologue about a couple who’d planned to marry, from each of their POVs. They each had second thoughts about the other and misgivings, serious misgivings that they might be doing the wrong thing, but went through with the wedding anyway. They were both in their late thirties and felt it was “time to settle down”.

Fast forward twenty years. They have an eighteen-year-old daughter and guess what? They are now divorced. Not surprising, given their reluctance to go through with the marriage in the first place. A few chapters in and I am still hooked, and I really like the main characters. What a lovely book it’s going to be. And what I really want is to be reading it, instead of writing this blog or editing my own novel.

Reading a Berg novel, while it may not educate you in anything other than great food presentation, or perhaps serve as a tool to demonstrate what really good writing looks like, is vastly entertaining.

Uh. All the insecurities rear their ugly heads.

I won’t ever be as good, I can’t compete, I might as well devote my life to chasing after dust bunnies and finger prints. Is it too late to learn how to cook? Maybe bake a pie? Yeah, probably.

My day is divided into thirds while I babysit for my four-month-old grandson. He is remarkably predictable, and has periods of wake, sleep and eat. Three times during my day, he repeats this cycle and while he sleeps and sometimes while he is awake, I can do things other than tend to him. I promised myself, one period of Elizabeth Berg, one period of editing Perigee Moon and one period of blog writing.

This is period three, blog writing. Speaking of blogging, check out my stats from the beginning of time. Not sure I can keep it up but it sure looks good to see the lovely graph of hits go up and up each month.

And even though I see this steady increase, still my blogging insecurities are ever present.

Here are some of the things I worry about, blog-wise:

  1. Have I remembered to answer everyone’s comment? It is not polite to ignore comments and only if one goes viral is it acceptable to lump one response to several comments. A successful blogger should at least attempt to answer each one individually. I think I may have ignored a couple, but wait, crap. There’s one from last week I forgot about. Well, I’ll respond to that one right now.
  2. Does my latest blog post suck? Does it sound like I just wasn’t in the right mood but it was time so I wrote down just anything? Looking back at some of the earlier ones, I think some of them do, in fact, suck. Some more than others. Some are helpful to writers but boring to non-writers, some are superficially entertaining and have no redeeming value to writers but may appeal to non-writers. Some are vents and some are just whatever happened to inspire me that day, like political rallies or food labels or maligning the Kardashians. Do the writing posts suck, or the non-writing ones? Do they all suck?
  3. Why don’t many bloggers “like” my posts? This is a big deal. If I have more readers now, why doesn’t anyone “like” it? Do they hate it? If they do like it, why don’t they tell me, then I can get those cool emails from WordPress telling me Congratulations! Someone liked your post enough to click the Like button!
  4. Why don’t I get many comments? Is it because my posts aren’t interesting enough, or funny enough, or educational enough? Probably all of the above. I love getting comments! Whenever I see emails from comment-reply@wordpress.com I get euphoric with joy. The email has all the information, the name of the comment and the text. It’s so exciting to see these in my inbox!
  5. Will I ever be Freshly Pressed? This may not be familiar to some readers, but other WordPress bloggers know well what this status symbol does for the old stats. This is when the WordPress gurus themselves find a blog that they consider to be original and worthy of a place on the home page. I have started to follow many blogs based upon their Freshly Pressed status. My personal goal is to achieve this someday. What a feather in the old writing cap that would be. I’m not sure how the individual blogs are picked by the WordPress people, but somehow they find them.

So I wonder. I like to post once a week. Is it better to post a so-so article, or a rather dumb article, or a completely lame article, rather than post nothing at all?

I haven’t been feeling all that funny lately, so I hope the readers I have managed to accumulate stick with me.   

Perigee Moon – Beta Reader Results Are In

An abbreviated post this week. I had a wonderful response to Remembering the Pankcake Man. Thanks to all who read and commented. My father was remembered at his memorial service on April 20, 2012. Many people came to honor him, to tell us what he had meant to them, and there were quite a few tears and even some laughs as we remembered the good days. I will always be grateful for everyone who came and shared their memories.

My husband reminded me of something funny that my father had said to him. We asked him, will you be buried here, next to Mom? And he said yes, he would be. And he had purchased additional plots for my brother and me, to be buried there too, but he guessed that probably wouldn’t happen. Those plots wouldn’t be used, so he was considering “turning them into a family room”. That was so typical of his sense of humor.

At my father’s funeral, the pastor read two poems my father had written. I had no idea. He wrote one poem about golf and another about retiring. They were funny, and witty, and everyone enjoyed hearing them. I never knew he wrote poetry.

The reviews are in from my Beta Readers. I got lots of thumbs up of Perigee Moon (between one and twenty per person). Even though these are my good friends from high school, still they all said they thought Perigee Moon is my best work yet. Every single one of them said it, and it is very gratifying to hear it.

They asked me if these characters are based on anyone, and I had to say no, these characters are truly made up. Maybe some of the characters in my first two books were based (loosely) on people I had known. In this case, that isn’t true. I thought a lot about the characters and how they would interact and what they would think and say. They are fictional, yet I suppose there are people who are just like Luke. Kate and Abby.

I will be fixing up the remaing typos and releasing it for publication in early May.

Remembering the Pancake Man

Today I don’t feel funny and I don’t feel creative.

I lost someone Sunday, April 15, 2012. Someone really close to me, and I knew I would lose him soon but that doesn’t seem to make it any easier. I’d watched him deteriorate through the abyss of Alzheimer’s disease for years, and for the past year have seen his steady decline.

The man is my father, who lived an ordinary life, and the life he wanted to live. He was a better father to his children than his father was to him, which I found quite extraordinary. How can a man be better at fathering than what he had known? My father did it.

He had four brothers and one sister, and was known as the “nice one”. The others were apt to be a part of fights and various altercations in bars and roller skating rinks around town. My Dad was the one who calmed everyone down and got them to see the other side.

All he wanted was to have a family, and be moderately successful, and be able to eke out a living, since he was uneducated (having dropped out of high school at 16 to join the CCC in order to help out his family during the Great Depression).

He was the kind of guy that everyone liked, they knew he’d never cheat anyone, that being known for his honesty and integrity would always be more important than wealth. And he always said he’d been lucky in his life, and that seemed to be true. Whenever it looked like the end of the financial road, as he was starting up his business, something would happen to kick it down the road a little further.

Everyone loved his stories and while not always politically correct back then, he did tell one funny joke. I’ve seen him entertain groups of twenty people with his rendition of the “Dippy Dippy Blue Cheer” story.

I wrote an essay about him, to be entered in a contest sponsored by Real Simple magazine, which of course didn’t go anywhere. I’ve never won anything in my life, not raffles or lotteries or even football pools, let alone a contest where I’d be judged against my better peers. The essay was to be about the first time you knew what love was. Kind of a sappy topic, but I decided to try it.

Here it is, dedicated to my Dad.

 

Pancake Man

 

It was the 1950’s and give or take a year, I was seven years old when I was introduced to the joys of asthma. But this story isn’t about me, it’s about my father, and what happened as a result of my illness.

My dad grew up poor. His family was not wealthy, not well-to-do, not even middle class. They might qualify for food stamps today, but back then they muddled along and each day was a challenge.

He didn’t finish high school but went into the CCC to help the family, then to work in the oil fields, then into the army where he fought in World War II. Along the way, he met my mother and fell in love. After she came into his life he wanted different things. Marriage, family, respectability and hope for a better life.

And he got that better life. We struggled some, but not more than other families. He worked hard at his sales job during the day, and fixed up our rundown house at night, and still found the time to be a devoted father to my brother and me.

We didn’t eat meat every day, sometimes it was a pancake supper. Dad liked to pour the batter onto the hot griddle in shapes. Big pancake stomach, smaller pancake head, dribbled arms and legs. It’s Pancake Man! In his excitement, my brother banged on his highchair and spilled his milk. My mother complained. Oh, it’s just a little milk, Dad said. What can it hurt?

He was the calm one, the patient one, the one to be counted on. What’s a little milk on the floor? He asked. To be fair to my mother, she was the one on her hands and knees cleaning up the milk mess. She wanted everything just so.

My parents took my brother and me to a strawberry farm one afternoon, owned by friends of theirs, a couple who had two kids around our same ages. We, the kids, raked up a big pile of hay in the barn and jumped in it. I tried to ignore the sneezing, and the itchy eyes that came on, but at some point I became very uncomfortable and took refuge in my father’s familiar arms. I was scared and felt bad and was probably crying, which didn’t help the fact that my chest had tightened and I could hardly breathe. My parents were alarmed and we left for home.

I recovered from that bout, but once started, the episodes became more frequent, until I was a full-blown asthmatic. It seemed after that first time, I became short of breath while doing things I had previously done with no problem. I couldn’t run or ride a bike or jump in leaves.

They took me to many doctors, the family physician, the allergist, even a chiropractor at one point, although to this day I’m not sure why that would ever have worked. Someone probably suggested it, and my parents tried everything.

Eventually, a round of allergy shots was suggested. I had bad reactions to the injections and twice ended up in an ambulance on my way to the hospital for a dose of adrenaline. And while I was a bit of a drama queen and enjoyed the attention that being rushed to the hospital in an ambulance afforded me, it was stressful for my family.

What can we do? My parents asked. You might consider a different climate, warm, and dry, without the dampness and the pollen, the doctor said. Mom and Dad thought about it, and discussed it. They also talked to other people who knew this person and that person who had moved to Phoenix, Arizona and it was a miracle, the people said, because the asthma was gone once they got there.

My parents made their decision and sold the house and most of the furniture. Dad hitched up a U-Haul trailer to the old Mercury and we set out for Phoenix. It was exciting for my brother and me, an adventure. We’d never stayed in a motel before, we were moving to a big city, and we would be the “new kids”. We were thrilled, with the mystery of what would happen next.

What happened next wasn’t good. We rented an apartment in a complex of eight, four on each side, which looked like Army barracks, built with concrete blocks, with cement floors painted brown. There was an eat-in kitchen, a living room, two bedrooms and a basic bathroom. It was a dreary place and Mom felt we needed to have modern light-colored furniture now that we were living in the Southwest, so we bought tables and chairs in a color called “blonde”. It seemed ugly to me, uncomfortable and temporary.  

The living conditions were less than perfect, but worse than that, I was allergic to Bermuda grass which was grown in Phoenix because it could withstand the dry climate. I wheezed in Arizona as much as I had in Western New York. It became clear, it wasn’t going to work. We had sold our belongings and moved to a strange city where we didn’t know anyone only to find that I wouldn’t be any better there than I had been “back home”, as we now called it.

It will get better, Dad said. It will get better. 

The refrigerator had a short in it, and could give you an electric shock when you touched the metal handle. It was a random occurrence, but we were always afraid of it. One day my mother had her hands in dishwater and turned around and grabbed the handle and got a shock that literally froze her where she was, unable to move. I pushed her hand away to free her and got a shock too. It was just about the last, worst thing.

That day, the day my mother had nearly been electrocuted, my father cried. I will never forget that day. He came in from work, and she was in tears and I was sick with wheezing. He wept. I had never seen it before and realized he felt deep disappointment, and regret, and fear that there wouldn’t be anything that could help me. And utter sadness that it had been a mistake and it wasn’t going to “get better”.

That was the day I first knew about love. I looked at my father, my strong, invincible father, as he sobbed at the kitchen table, and I felt such an overwhelming love for him, my Daddy, that my throat tightened, and I couldn’t talk about it, and I couldn’t feel anything but that, and I knew I’d do anything to make his tears go away. If only I could not be sick anymore, that would make him feel better.

We went back home. We’d only lived in Phoenix one month. My parents looked at it as a learning experience. That if they hadn’t tried it, they would have never known for sure, and would have always wondered, what if? We muddled through those years when I was a wheezy kid, then adolescent, and I stayed away from dogs and cats, and dust and pollen, and hay and strawberry farms. Until, when I was a teenager, the asthma nearly disappeared. I was one of the lucky ones who “grew out of it”.

I never really appreciated my parents when I was young, as many children don’t. I didn’t know anything else. I didn’t know there were families who fought, who abused each other, who didn’t support one another. My father was always the strong one, the funny one, my tall, good looking Daddy. He became successful in his life, and he was always a faithful husband and the best father any child could ever hope to have. He was a perfect father. There was nothing he did wrong, not once. But I didn’t think about how much I loved him until that day, when he needed to be loved, when he couldn’t be strong for us any longer, and became vulnerable and defeated and lost.

He taught me to tie my shoes, and now I help him tie his. My father has Alzheimer’s, and is in the mid-stage now, that dreadful time between knowing and not knowing. He is afraid, and confused, and I would give anything if he did not have to go through this.

I think about that day, when he cried, nearly every day now. He’s probably forgotten it, but I never will. The day I learned what love was really all about. When someone else became more important than myself. When his needs trumped mine. When I thought, I really love this person, my father.

Every child should have such a father.

 

B. B. “Clink” Voorhees (May 31, 1922 – April 15, 2012)

 

 

 

 

The Flu Yields a Good Book Review

Last week I hinted at the end of my post that I felt like I was getting the flu. Well bring it on! Let’s get this flu thing going and over with, shall we? Not so fast, the evil germ-vermin said. We think we’ll hang around for awhile. And they did, those little buggers, free-loaded for six days before giving up.

Rarely does this happen, that I get anything that lasts more than a day. And some may find the following unbelievable but before I retired, I used to hope for just a teeny spot of flu, maybe enough that I could spend two days groaning and collecting sympathy, without (and this is the caveat) feeling guilty for calling off sick at work. Just a couple of days to watch On Demand movies, or read, while drinking tea.

This time though was a little more than I would have wanted, ever. I was feverish for days, and I’d doze and think I’d slept for hours yet only a few minutes had passed. I hurt and remember thinking how I was going to have to explain to someone (and I had no explanation) how it felt and make them understand the connection between the pain and the fever, and if I couldn’t explain it, then I was never going to get better. Weird fever dreams when you tend to overanalyze everything and focus inwardly to such an extent that the illness becomes your existence, it’s what you are, at least for awhile.

The best I can describe it anyway.

I’d previously downloaded an ebook called January Moon, by Maureen Gill, onto my Kindle, because of the title and a good recommendation, so I read it. I had considered titling my new novel February Moon because I didn’t think anyone would know what Perigee Moon meant, then I decided to go with Perigee. The closeness of the titles was compelling.

Check the cover.  I think it is kick-ass. After I read it, I thought the cover couldn’t have been more perfect.

I thought what a good time to read it but started the book thinking, there are a lot of clichés in this book, which is something to which I have a particular aversion. Some of the characters are clichéd too, the crusty old four-decade police force Lieutenant, ex-marine, chain-smoking, irreverent. Then there’s the handsome thirty-something cop, not someone any bad guy would want to an up-close encounter with, yet oh so sensitive, who is engaged to the beautiful professor who never wanted a relationship with a cop because (of course) her father is an ex-cop and wheelchair-bound after taking a bullet in the spine during an altercation with someone desiring to evade the law. Stuff like that.

But the story kept me interested. It was a page-turner, and I was hooked enough to keep going until I was so committed I could not wait to get back to the book. I found editing errors, and still didn’t care. Nothing could dissuade me from reading it, because it was a damn good story. The author knows so much about the FBI and the Illinois State Police and the Chicago City Police and the Medical Examiner’s Office, that every line about these agencies is credible.

I found there were a plethora of characters and I had just the smallest trouble keeping them straight but not enough that I got horribly confused.

There was action, something happening on every page. Rich surprising characters who do things you would never expect them to, believable dialogue. And an interesting thing about the dialogue, Ms. Gill made use of almost no attributions (he said, she said), which I found interesting. Very well done for the number of characters involved.

And the dog. What a lovely story about him, and he deserves his place on the cover photo.

This is a good example of a plot-driven novel. If you’ve got a great story and characters to care about, you’ve got a winner and that’s what this novel is. I guess we of the character-driven novel have one strike against us, in that if our characters suck, our novel sucks too.

I would recommend this book to anyone. You can find it on Amazon or Smashwords. It is immensely entertaining. I can just see this as a movie, and wouldn’t be surprised to hear it’s been picked up for the Big Screen. Let’s see, Clint for the older cop and maybe Ryan Gosling as the younger?

Kudos to Ms. Gill and this is her debut novel! I am truly impressed and will forgive clichés. Without so many of them though, and the editing errors, I would give this novel 5*****.

In other news, another turn at editing The Infamous Flyer (Savon Spa opening Spring 2012 in Chicago). I hope everything is satisfactory now because my frustration level is way high. Not only do I struggle with software I don’t quite grasp, but my laptop has memory issues, I keep getting a popup – “WARNING!! You are running low on memory! Quick! Save your work to prevent data loss!” (Perhaps not the exact verbiage.) I calmly close the popup but it is annoying. Plus it still has other issues, in that sometimes it can’t “see” my Verizon Hotspot router which sits a mere 24 inches away, or it can’t “see” any networks at all, or it suddenly disconnects for no reason. And it still has the jumping cursor problem too. AND, it has a VISTA operating system which is utter junk.

A new PC is a big investment in time, what with getting everything off the old and onto the new, or re-downloading and re-registering and re-learning and re-configuring.

I’m going to do it – getting a new Samsung. It has an I7 processor (whatever that is only it must be better than the I5) and 8 GB of memory and I forget how much disk space, but it’s enough disk space to, if not “choke a horse” at least cause him to sputter a little.

My new Samsung shall become a beloved member of my electronics family, pampered and lightly touched with my cyber-affection.

The GIMP, CreateSpace and a Great Basketball Euphemism

Yes, last week’s post is really not happening until this week. I could make excuses, and say, but wait, I heard that more people read blogs on Monday than any other day of the week although I’m told they share more on Friday. It makes sense. Monday is a reading day (quiet, introspective, Monday-blues and can’t quite get into the workweek yet), and Friday is happy time. Time to party! Time to be free and share!

Maybe that’s not it, just one mad women’s assessment. I use the word “mad” to mean both crazy AND angry.

Someone I am close to, well, okay it’s my daughter, is opening up a new salon in Chicago. It’s to be the Savon Spa and is on Halsted St. in the heart of beautiful Lakeview. They will offer a variety of services, (things I never do) like spray tans, and facials, and something called micro dermabrasion (doesn’t that sound painful?), nail care, massage, stuff like that.

At one point I must have had a weak moment, or a moment in time when I needed to inflict intentional pain on myself. I can help you! say I. I have some photo editing experience, I’ve designed book covers, and cards, and even tee-shirts. Maybe I can help with your computer-related needs. Okay, says she (and her partner guy). How about helping with business (appointment) cards and a flyer?

Sure, say I. I can do that.

What was needed was a full blown graphic artist (not me) so I quickly learned that my sophomoric little package wasn’t going to work. Not to worry, I’ve also got The GIMP.

GIMP is not for everyone, and probably not for amateurs like me, but it is open source and it does everything except bring your pipe and slippers (two items I do not need anyway). It’s a great package. Here I am again, plugging great software. I can’t believe that The GIMP is available for a free download, it does everything that other sophisticated graphic design tools can do.

What a learning curve. What frustration. What a drag. Here is a picture of the finished flyer.

I have been tweaking and YouTubing and reading documentation and trying things for several days now, so while I like to write funny posts, I don’t feel particularly funny.

More optimistically (see, I could have said “on a lighter note” and that would have been a cliché), I have five copies of Perigee Moon coming, and will mail these out to my Beta reader group. They will arrive in a day or two. I did the final formatting over the weekend, when I wasn’t working on the freaking flyer and trying to figure out why my image couldn’t be moved, or the clone tool wouldn’t work, and trying to understand layers, and alpha channels, and a myriad of other stuff.

This stuff is all in my brain now, but if I don’t use it, it will disappear, as I make room for more subjects that I am required to learn.

Back to the novel, when I did the final preparation of my internal file, I had to go back to a post I wrote, about how to use Word to do your formatting and then create a pdf file, which can be directly uploaded to CreateSpace. So simple, to do, these fine CreateSpace people have made it easy on us poor not-worthy-to-be-published-in-any-traditional-way authors. Yeh! Here’s to CreateSpace.

I couldn’t remember how to do it, and so it’s a good thing I wrote that post, so I could go look at it again. This is the second time I’ve done that, so it’s valuable to me, if to no one else.

So on to my third topic. I heard a great basketball euphemism I thought I’d share.

This was back a couple of weeks ago before we were at Final Four, it might have been Elite Eight, when the interview took place. OU (Ohio University) hadn’t gotten so far in many years, since back in the 70’s and here they were. Finally! We people in Ohio were happy that our Ohio teams had survived.

OU has the dubious distinction of being The Biggest Party School in the Country. If you want to major in binge drinking, go there. A basketball player was asked about a previous win and if he had celebrated and here’s what he said.

“I must apologize that i didn’t contribute more to the elimination of distractions.”

That’s a very nice way of saying he drank himself silly, I guess. Got wasted, gooned, toasted. I thought that was a very nice euphemism. He is certainly a very politically correct young man.

Yeah. I don’t feel funny. Instead I feel like I’m getting the flu.