Thursday, March 24, 2016

Me and My Blog

Hello, dear reader. Tea?

Actually, I prefer coffee, but my point is I invite you to approach my essays in a leisurely manner. I am again, after another six months, thinking about this blog, having again filled a blog administrator’s page of 25 weekly titles. It’s time again for a meta-blog. As you sip your steaming tea, I will cover: How have the last six months been, What do free blog statistics mean, Who reads, and Why would we read unhurried and relaxed... with tea?

If you’ve been on my site, you may be warmly curious about me, so I should cover my life first, before expanding on colder blog stats.

Since my last meta-blog, I’m still going to a club for public speaking, Toastmasters International, meeting at Unity Church, tacked on to Saint Marks Church. When our club first moved to Unity, the church member who showed us where everything went was a retired alderman, John Lord. I said, “John, you’re still doing service work.” He replied, “Isn’t that what life’s about?” As we worked he explained that down in the United States, Unity Church is good for politicians to belong to because it is so broadly non-denominational.

As for being of service, in my late middle age I heartily agree with John, dear reader, that life is not about receiving, but giving.

One of our club members, a former executive, became a school custodian, beloved by students and parents alike. He wrote out and presented to us a masterful speech on “Hugging,” better than I could ever write—and I know hugs—but he didn’t take me up on my offer to do a guest blog here. “I’d still like to post your speech” I said weeks later, but he was still too modest. I can relate. As for me knowing hugs, last week the chairman told everybody I was the best hugger in the club. Isn’t that nice?

On evenings when I have Toastmasters I will first go down the road to the Tim Hortons coffee shop, and spend time checking my blog. My blog site host, Blogger, offers free statistics. A fellow writer and very successful blogger, John Scalzi, notes from his blog stats that less than one half of one per cent of readers will comment. So I guess I’m beating the odds, because despite my usual low traffic during the last six months I’ve managed to get my usual few comments, often from right here in Calgary, and not only from people I’ve met. That’s nice.

I guess reader comments will (unfairly) influence the search engines, giving me more “hits.” (page views) If you’re curious, the two non commented-on essays with the most hits for this admin page have been Too Fast, Too Wrong, archived in October 2015 and Journalists and Bad Guys in December 2015. The most popular, posted during the federal election, was Citizens and Elections, archived October 2015.

The lowest visitor count? In October I reprinted an old essay of mine that my buddy Blair the lawyer liked; he hoped student newspapers would pick it up… but no. The post quickly achieved a hit count equal to the cumulative count from since I had first posted it, so that was nice… and then… no further hits. To my dismay it’s my “worst” piece, as measured by reader views, of this entire admin page. Too bad, for in that essay I had reasoned that a student’s productivity is hampered not by laziness or fear but by pressure. Like what happens with world-class athletes. I think students who assume they are too lazy or too fearful need to hear that.

Too bad I can’t be of service to such students.

My free blog site statistics are provided by mighty Google, the company that hosts Blogger. (blogspot) “Free” means I am provided with crude stats, giving only the “top ten” for three things: posts viewed, viewers by nation, and sources: meaning viewers by website page and URL. For these ten (only) listed sources I can click and track back. The sources part would also give me ten search terms—how delightful, to see what obscure terms had led someone to my site. But no longer: Google is now keeping that a secret, to thwart marketers. I don’t like this; I don’t like feeling that Google’s own bloggers, including me, are less important than marketers.

Blogger has a button, “next blog” where you can go to a random blog, of someone also on Blogger. Occasionally I feel adventurous: I press it. But I’m suspicious of how random it is, because now I keep landing on blogs of other writers. Normally I get families with their “home movies” and child photographs. In the last few weeks the list of ten “sources” stats have begun including a “next blog.”  But when I click, the result is always random, not back to the person who found me through “next blog.” So that Google stat is bogus. I feel somehow taken advantage of.

Detailed stats are available, provided I fork out cash to Google, but hey, do I really want to know how many seconds per page people are viewing? As a former student journalist I have seen how half-interested people will flip-flip through the pages of our campus newspaper. Now, because I’m pretending people will linger on my essays like they do the Sunday supplements, (features section) I really don’t want to read detailed stats that show the contrary.

How and when do most people read? According to research by Wordpress, a blog server in competition with Blogger, people mostly read during the week: So weekends is not the time for new posts, lest they be pushed down the search engine list and lost before the work week begins. Therefore, if I cared, I would probably be posting on Mondays, not Thursdays… but Thursday fits my weekly writing cycle. Besides, my best fan commented that she reads me over her Thursday morning coffee.  

“During the week” suggests that many people are surfing blogs at their place of employment. Do they hunch over, with the back of their neck tight? This might explain why many readers prefer links to click on links rather than consciously and deliberately typing in their own search words: Typing would mean more guilt, more facing up to the fact they are surfing on their boss’s dime. Easier to say, “The devil made me click.”

I truly don’t write for people who are guilty or rushing or skimming. I never read that way myself, not if I want to feel engaged.  I read like I write: slowly and deliberately. It’s more productive, and way more fun. And it goes with my tea.

I guess most people in this cyber age “touch type,” meaning they don’t have to look down at the keys: “All the better to type in search terms, my dear.” A colleague told me about how strange it was to take a class with young people in a room where everyone had desk computers. He acted out for me how the young people all kept looking over at each other and conversing as they typed, because they could type blind. I can do that too, but only because, back before computers, I took a night school class with secretaries in Beginning Typing. (Or, to use politically correct words: I took a class with student administrative assistants who hoped to one day apply for a job through Personnel, I mean Human Resources)

By the way, the keyboard you use is called a QWERTY, named after the keys across the top row. A few years ago, inspired by Stevey Yegge’s essays advocating continual self-improvement, (the upward curve) I memorized a totally different keyboard, called Dvorak. This was after I found a Beginning Typing in Dvorak course by a man who likes the TV series Babylon-5. Here’s the link. In Dvorak the vowels are all on the “home row” where you rest your fingers, a placement which will possibly make my typing faster, and will definitely make my old age easier when arthritis creeps in. (Full time fiction writer Holly Lisle had to switch to Dvorak to save her career, because she was having intense wrist pain—now the pain is all gone, and she’s added years to her typing life) I felt no need to re-label my keys to memorize Dvorak. No, I just kept looking up at my screen as I learned a new touch.

I can’t resist saying: When I take the initiative to learn something like Dvorak, or when I practice writing every day—not like how I wouldn’t practice piano as a boy—I feel delightfully like a grownup. Never mind whether my daily writing is any good: It’s being a grownup that delights.

As for typing, my mind is made up: If so many people can touch type, in their homes and coffee shops, then surely they can type in their own search terms. Hence, while writing for readers having a leisurely tea, I seldom make links. Am I being unfair? No. I explain this in my essay No Links is Good Links, archived July 2012. That essay remains one of my top ten posts of all time, even though I’ve had my blog site since 2009, with over 1,000 people curious enough to pass through into my profile page. … Yes, I do realize that by not linking I am lowering my search engine ranking, reducing my number of hits. That’s fine by me.

I’m fine with having a lower readership, too low for attracting any trolls or hate mail, because getting attention and being loved, while an unspoken major motivation for many—is it OK to say that? — is only a minor part of my own motivation. 

You can call me a nerd, or call me an artist, but truly I don’t crave the “status” of having a “popular” blog. I post because I need the practice of writing, the discipline of composing an essay every week, and the soapbox for my voice. They say poets are folks who were never listened to back when they were children: As the youngest of five boys (and then a sister) I can relate. So on I write.

After I press the “publish” button, I fully realize that just as no one will share my fingerprints, so too will no one agree with every single word of any given essay. For me it’s good enough if they mostly agree, or, if they mostly disagree, at least tell me they’re mostly glad to have read it. As the youngest of five boys, that’s all I will hope for.

So dear reader, I don’t care about status, yet I do care to be polite and camouflaged: around Victorians I dress Victorian, in public at the Empress Hotel I sip tea like everyone else: But it’s all an act, because I have never felt frightened into conforming. (Once I get home I grab my coffee) When I do seem eccentric it’s on purpose, with awareness, and not (usually) because I’m innocent. If I’m strange enough to read poetry in the evening it’s not because I’m too lazy to turn on the television set. Yes, I read poetry; sometimes I write it, too.

I might do well to write poetry more and blog less. It’s nice to see how the popularity of blogging has peaked and passed, so people aren’t so frantic about their stats. Ah, sweet sanity. I’ve written of this trend before. (See my label for blogs) Not only is the novelty of blogs wearing off, I think people have moved on to new improved social media. Call it progress: I’ve heard that facebook is now old news, something the children regard as being for the older generation. I bet you never saw that coming.

Something queer about every late August and early September: That is normally a yearly low on my stats graph. Maybe my audience is mostly young idealistic students, who in those weeks would be too busy for blogs, being busy with their last holiday and starting school. Queerly, from my last low in 2015, my trough of low stats continued for months, not just a couple weeks. I don’t know why. Call it evidence that blogging is losing popularity. An alternate theory is that blogs are ever increasing, multiplying as fast as plankton, and I am being lost in the sea. But no, I think blog surfing is decreasing.

So I’ve decided: Late August-early September would be a good place to slip in any embarrassing personal essays. By the way, that’s when my next 25-week meta-blog is due. For those curious for further self-disclosure, try my blog then.

Sean Crawford
~My last meta-blog was Behind the Blog, archived September 2015…. Since then, three of my posts on this page have been fiction, not essays, from my Friday Free Fall group.

~I forget (and seldom notice) how often I’ve been translated; the languages I recall are: French, Turkish, Moldavian (means Romanian) and Mexican. The latter was once for my piece on government money inflation, more recently for my October 2013 review of the movie Elysium. I’m still getting hits on the review from Mexico.


  1. (so much for sleep, 0107 here aw)

    "As a former student journalist I have seen how half-interested people will flip-flip through the pages of our campus newspaper. Now, because I’m pretending people will linger on my essays like they do the Sunday supplements, (features section) I really don’t want to read detailed stats that show the contrary."

    As the editor-in-chief of our paper, there's always that slight feeling of, I don't know how to describe it, that existential feeling I get whenever I work on our school paper. It's not as if plenty of students read our paper anyway. Not as if plenty of students will appreciate the carefully constructed editorial I've written, or the superbly interesting features my staffers have written, nor would they care about the news, even if it had their name in the article. I always have had that kind of feeling. Though perhaps, I take comfort in this:

    "When I take the initiative to learn something like Dvorak, or when I practice writing every day—not like how I wouldn’t practice piano as a boy—I feel delightfully like a grownup. Never mind whether my daily writing is any good: It’s being a grownup that delights."

    …the fact that when I write, I write for myself. I write for myself before anyone else. I write because it helps me figure things out (ever read Paul Graham's essay on essays?). I write because the first beneficiary is not anyone else, but myself.

    So yes. I do have a blog, but the posts are private, and for my eyes only – I believe it is better that way, for me, for now. My writing is for me, and my thoughts and opinions are better left for my own eyes, I guess.

  2. Hello Bgahh, we have things in common:

    I too was a student news writer, I too keep a blog-journal—actually, a moleskin journal, and I too don't put private stuff on my blog yet.
    Ah, "yet."

    I too have read Paul Graham, in fact I have his site bookmarked and usually on my Mac desktop. I notice Paul doesn't talk of his personal life unless appropriate to his essay, so I feel OK doing the same.

    At the same time, being middle aged:
    I probably don't need to be so reticent.

    And having finished a poetry manuscript, (and having a received a rejection letter for it, with more to come no doubt) I am ready to be more "artistic" which I note from other artists means being more "personal." (Yes, it feels weird for a former journalist to do poetry, but hey, no point in limiting myself)

    And I am now part way through an eight-week night course in "Personal Essays," as in, it's time I got more personal… The adventure continues.
    Thanks for writing.