In the Unlikely Event of My Happiness

canstockphoto21074062I’ve been freezing up at the keyboard. This last week freaked me out a bit. In the course of a week, my subscribed followers jumped by 1000+ readers, crossing over the 10,000 mark. The Likes on this Freshly Pressed post exceeded 1400. I answered 300+ comments.

I’d never experienced anything like this in the four years I’ve been blogging. I have to believe that it is because, for the first time ever on this blog, I used the word “clusterfuck”.

I’ve had the thought all week that okay, I’m done. Really, where do I go from here? Does this extra attention mean I need to change my blog theme, open a Twitter account, punch up my rhetoric, Instagram a boob selfie and find a picture from 20 years ago where I look less wrinkly and put it on the blog? What is expected of me now?

Panic. That’s what an introvert does when they get a little attention. The moment of glee morphed into dread over the week. Give me a moment of unmitigated joy and I’ll anxiously stomp on it before someone or something else does. Premeditated squashing.

This is how I move forward, never lingering too long, never resting on laurels, never asking for more. I think about happiness and what that might mean for me. I think about all the well-meaning advice of the attitude-of-gratitude-too-blessed-to-be-stressed crowd. I think, as I often have over the years, what is wrong with me?

canstockphoto15489769It’s easy to be a discontented, restless, and striving person in a world that feeds it. Consumerism is based on fomenting dissatisfaction, while memes of puppies, flowers and Buddhists exhort us to be happy in the moment. Meanwhile, Likes, Hits, Follows, Stars, Views, are all feeding the message that more is better. But more is just more.

When it comes to figuring out what makes a person happy, it gets weird. We are so often told what should/might/will likely make us happy that when it doesn’t, we’re left feeling that there is something wrong with us. I must remind myself what has, historically, been happy-making for me.

Solitude. I am often happiest as a party of one. It’s when I’m working in the garden, dirty from head to toe with sweat dripping into my eyes. Sitting back on my haunches, I notice the flurry of life around me, bees and butterflies and frantic squirrels – and I get to be right in the middle of it. Being part of something greater, I feel the privilege of being alive.

Love. Never one long for sentiment, I feel my attachments like ligaments to bone. A child who makes me see everything all over again. A man who baffles me with patience. Friends who have raucous laughs and who are, when I say “I need to be alone”, understanding, not bruised.

canstockphoto10265804A story. There’s that ending to a book, when I sit back and sigh. Marvelous. The writer was a magician performing sleight of hand. Who wouldn’t want that kind of skill – the ability to take a reader out of themselves?

Odd sources of happiness. I’m happiest when my desk is clean, when I’ve written something that makes me laugh, when I’m in the middle of a run, looking on the verge of a cardiac event, red-faced and dripping with sweat. There are extrinsic things that make me happy: coffee, when I make someone else laugh, live music, and being outdoors.

Like the ten pairs of glasses a middle-aged myopic owns, the things that make me happy have never been where I looked for them. It’s in the looking and striving that causes the disappointment and pain. In never expecting happiness as a given, I find myself constantly surprised.

I think of that unalienable right, in the U.S. Declaration of Independence, to the “pursuit of happiness”. Pursuit suggests a high speed chase, and less a saunter. If happiness requires a chase, it’s getting away. I stroll. I sit on park benches for long periods of time. And when a happy event runs me over, I have to sit with it for a long time to see that it’s a good thing.

In the end, I’ve realized that the things that make me happy will likely always make me happy, with an occasional addition, like my current addiction to burritos or meeting fellow writers.

When something happens, like a blog post exploding, I can marvel/freak out in the moment, but then it’s time to get back to being me, a bemused, caffeinated, and sardonic depressive who likes to write. Whee. Let the good times roll.

What makes you happy?

Thank You…Now It’s Time to Get to Work

canstockphoto7404562Thank you to the many bloggers, readers, and writers who stopped by my Freshly Pressed piece “Being Fiction, Instead of Writing It“. I have never experienced that kind of traffic and number of comments on a post before, so it really caught me off guard. I’ve done my best to respond to everyone, but I know sometimes I miss a comment or two.

I appreciated the conversation, the encouragement and the personal experiences that some of you shared. I learned that there are a lot of procrastinating writers out there and that we’ve all read way too much writing advice. This should be somewhat comforting to me, although I’m in a place where the less comfortable I am, the better.

canstockphoto16261737That being said, I’m going to keep this post brief and to the point. I have a novel 3rd draft to finish. I have a short fiction blog to work on and will continue to write weekly posts for The Green Study. When I wrote about my procrastination, it was a way of blowing out the pipes and addressing the situation. I have some writing talent, ambivalent ambition and a lot of excuses that I’ve used up avoiding the work. These things do not a novelist make.

Let’s take the bull by the horns. Today, I’m working on a synopsis and outline for my novel. It’s a little reverse engineering. I was a pantser on the initial novel draft, which has confounded and paralyzed me for the last couple of years. For me to move forward, I need to know where I really want to go. It’s the only way to end procrastination – doing something, anything, that is a step in the right direction. Today.

It might mean catching up on some rest, wrestling with five words, eating slightly better, taking a walk or it could be tackling the mess in the garage or closet. Dear fellow procrastinators, what are you doing today, to contribute to a personal goal, writing or otherwise?

Living “As If”

The Green Study will return to posting on March 8th, 2015.

Thank you to the new readers and commenters who arrived at The Green Study through the Freshly Pressed post Time Travel on Facebook. Sit back, lower your expectations and let’s get to know each other. Or not. I’m not good at small talk. Maybe I should just get back to writing. 

canstockphoto1697101It might have been the two rice and bean burritos that I ate for breakfast. Or the Netflix bender that lasted a couple of hours, watching “The IT Crowd” – a show I’ve been through at least twice already. Maybe it was the fact that I woke up thinking “I’ll never do anything exciting in my life again” or that I wondered if I was dying because everything ached.

Whatever it was, I was ready to throw in the towel yesterday, prepared to sink into a miserable pool of gluttony and self-pity. But I’ve been here before. I know the ending. I’d be filled with recrimination which would fuel several days of deprivation, punishing exercise and a regimented schedule that usually included some pious volunteering, structured writing times and no burritos.

Over thcanstockphoto10115026e weekend, I’d resolved to do some winnowing of my book collection, which was starting to overflow in unstable stacks about the study. I ran across Book in a Month by Victoria Lynn Schmidt. I’d purchased it in 2012 to get some support during National Novel Writing Month. It still had that new book smell. I flopped in my chair and started flipping through it. At the beginning, the author lists secrets to writing a book in a month.

The first secret was to Work “As If”. In summary, when writing, you should take notes of things that need to be changed, but write from that point forward as if those changes had already been done. This keeps you moving forward without getting hung up on the editing. If your character’s name was supposed to be Luigi and you called him Bob, you wrote him as Luigi from that point forward.

I’ll likely implement that idea while working on my book, but it occurred to me that this might be a technique that would work in other areas. What if I went about the rest of my day as if I were productive and energetic? What if I went about my day as if I’d eaten a nutritious breakfast, spent a couple of hours writing, doing yoga,  and getting things done. What if, from that point on, I functioned as if I hadn’t been a sloth?

So, I went to the gym, editing out the doomsayers of feeling good – guilt and self-loathing. I was a tad slothful, but moving. Then I came home, wrote for a couple of hours, cleaned the house, made dinner, did some reading. My deep and erudite thought was “Now THAT is how you pull your day out of the crapper.”

canstockphoto1323495Today I’m going to live as if I’m a writer who needs to get this novel done. That being said, I’m going to do what I often do after a post gets a lot of traffic and I’ve had loads of interaction with humans. I’m taking a break for the next couple of weeks from blogging. It’s an introvert thing. I’ll be back when US Daylight Savings Time screws us out of an hour in the midwest.

Thanks again to the generous readers and commenters. Welcome to the new subscribed readers. It’s lovely to meet you and I look forward to more conversation!

Until I return, I’ve put together a list of posts that I enjoyed writing and that will give you a pretty good idea if you want to keep following along or run away as fast as your fingers will type you:

The Green Study: Have We Met?

Will the Real Blogger Please Step Forward?

Love is Not Smothering…with a Pillow

Snipe Hunting for Writers

Boundaries and the Huggy Sunshine People

From Chicken to Merely Insufferable

She Knows Nothing…But She Should Know Something

Don’t Forget Me When I’m Gone

Being Just Right

Kicking Your Mom

Freshly Pressed…Shameless Vulgarity and Ingratitude

canstockphoto8758527Just a word of thanks to WordPress and readers/visitors for the recent Freshly Pressed attention for 50 Shades of Blue: The Use of Profanity at The Green Study. I think it bodes well for my writing career that my highlighted posts involve internal name calling, getting a tattoo and now this classic – a piece I ended with the sentence “I hear the writer is a complete asshole.” My family, if any of them knew how to use the internet thingy, would be so proud.

This has been an enjoyable experience and I am thankful for the new readers and commenters I’ve “met”. However, because I am a writer and feel uncomfortable with any vestige of self-esteem or self-confidence, I Googled “Freshly Pressed” to see what other bloggers thought about the experience. I’m going against etiquette and turning my thank you into a rant.

It is apparently de rigueur among a few bloggers, to talk about how shitty all the blog posts are that get tapped by WordPress for some attention. One writer said 98% of the posts don’t belong there. That’s rather precise. Maybe she knows something we don’t. Maybe she’s like an Olympic judge and knows about the drugs used to pump up writers’ performances. Maybe my blood test came back showing all the caffeine and Cherry Garcia I use to prop myself up during draft writing sessions.

Another said gleefully that he hoped it would never happen to his blog, because it would be an insult. I am going to disabuse him of that notion and say it actually feels the opposite of an insult. I feel less indignant for myself than I do for all the other posts that get selected, many of which I not only enjoyed reading, but found other blogs to read through the comment sections.

This is the thing about blogging – it’s not separate from who you are as a person. If you like to tear other people down, because you think your high art is more important or significant than that of someone else, I’m guessing you’re kind of a dick in person. If you think other blogs getting attention is a detriment to your blog, your focus is on the wrong prize.

Maybe I’m a mediocre, pedestrian writer. Maybe my viewpoints aren’t radical or extreme or highbrow enough to deserve notice. Maybe I’m pop music – vulgar, bland and auto-tuned. I don’t give a shit. Getting Pressed is fun and I wish it for every single one of you. Especially for the guy who would be insulted. That would just be funny.

In the spirit of being ungracious and because I had to drive the entire way yesterday morning to my daughter’s school (with said daughter) behind a truck that had “Ditch the Bitch: Let’s Go Hunting” on its bumper, I decided to toss rote gratitude out the window and post this little bit of bile.

While Freshly Pressed is a nice pat on the back, it is not the end all, be all. It is a little excitement, some work and some really enjoyable exchanges with people I’ve not run across before. After it’s over, it’s back to writing, because that’s my secret to being a happy blogger – most pleasure comes from the writing. The feedback is just an extra teaspoon of sugar in my already comforting cup of tea.

It goes without saying that blogging is a personal journey and what a person finds appealing will always be subjective. One blogger’s measure of success is not going to be the same as another’s. Intentions will not be the same, writing style will not be the same, subjects of interest will not be the same. Yet diligence and authenticity and passion will always be of interest to someone. And this is where my little diatribe turns the corner…

I “met” a lot of new bloggers in this last go round and I’m writing this mostly for their benefit. My intent for blogging has been to get in the practice of writing publicly, so if your intent is therapy or making money or starting an anarchist rebellion, the thoughts below may not be for you. Here are the lessons I’ve learned about blogging, mostly from my mistakes:

  • Define your purpose for blogging. Write it down somewhere – you’ll need the reminder when your stats stagnate or shoot up.  Why are you doing this?
  • Remember that no one really gives a shit if you don’t write a post for awhile. Post work that pleases you, when it pleases you. Schedules are often the breeding ground of dreck and filler.
  • If you don’t have the time or desire to respond to comments, turn off that capability on your blog post. No one wants to hear the echo of an empty room. Blogging, when those features are enabled, is interactive.  I remember one reader told me she had a friend who got mad every time someone commented on his blog. Apparently he likes living enraged.
  • Don’t get discouraged by the lack of traffic if you desire a growing readership (and return to that first point). It takes time and a willingness to read and comment on other blogs. It takes time to find writers you like to read who might make a connection with what you write.
  • If you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it. It’s supposed to be fun.
  • And please, don’t read blogging advice articles…

Hey…..where are you going?