A Trip to the Virtual Attic

When the world feels like it’s falling apart around you, it feels good to solve little problems that are completely under your control. And that’s what I’ve been doing this past week. I migrated ninazumel.com away from WordPress to a more appropriate host (Github Pages); I merged the old Win-Vector sites (there were two of them, self-hosted) into a single sleek new site — ironically, now WordPress hosted. And I reconstructed a very old and neglected site, mzlabs.com, and set it up here (The address mzlabs.com should still reach it).

All this virtual housekeeping turned up some old writing of mine, and of John’s, that I think is worth revisiting again. So here’s a little (non ghost-related) reading list for you, if you are in the mood:

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RSS: Sometimes Old School is Best

I went back to using RSS to follow blogs and other websites recently; I don’t know why I ever stopped. My email doesn’t get clogged by notifications anymore, and I don’t lose blog updates in the ever-flowing stream of Twitter or Facebook or the WordPress reader. I can follow any blog on any platform as long as they have an RSS feed, and I don’t need to have accounts on every possible platform, either, just Feedly (and not even that, if I didn’t want to sync between devices).

It also occurred to me that RSS is really the best medium for following small-scale amateur bloggers like me, especially ones who are social-network introverts. I don’t blog on an absolutely regular schedule, and my tweets and facebook updates tend to get lost amongst others who status-update or tweet (or in the case of WordPress reader, simply post) more frequently than I do.

So I’ve added a “Follow me on Feedly” button to the side of my blog; if you use another RSS reader, like Bloglovin or NetNewsWire, there is a generic RSS widget, as well. Even if you follow me other places – Twitter, WordPress, or Google+(*) — please do consider also following me (and other bloggers you love) via RSS, so you will be sure to never miss my blog updates. Thanks!


(*) I’m on Facebook, too, but it’s my personal account, not a Multo page. Strictly speaking, the Google+ account is also a personal account, but I only use it to announce blog posts.

A change of pace: Social networks and High School

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This is a post on my other blog, about the mechanics of popularity.

I remember setting up the Multo blog a few years ago: my first blog explicitly meant for public consumption. On the “Follow” widget — the button that allows readers to follow a blog via email notifications — there is an option to show the count of the blog’s followers.

My first reaction: why would I want to do that?

It’s an insecurity reflex, of course, one left over from high school. I was never one of the popular or cool kids, though I was lucky enough not to be one of the pariahs, either. Like most of us, I flitted on the edges of the cool circle — the very outer edges, in my case — once in a while being noticed, mostly not. As my life, so will be my blog, my mind said. Why would I want to advertise my obscurity to the world?

The thought process wasn’t admirable, but perhaps the instinct was correct. …

It’s based on an article I read recently, but it’s also a meditation on chasing your numbers. Sometimes it’s appropriate to do that, of course. And sometimes, it’s not.

Read the whole article here.

Enjoy.

Blog Posts: Write for Today, or for the Someday?

Do you blog for today, or for someday?

In other words, do you sit down and write about what inspires you in the moment, to an audience of right now? Do you imagine your readers reading the posts today or tomorrow, first thing in the morning? Do you care at all whether a surfer who trips on your site a year from now will connect or care in any way about the post, or do you write for a community of followers and commenters who will have a conversation, with you and each other, in something close to real time?

Or do you write carefully thought out pieces of prose that you just know are exactly the right answer to someone’s need, somewhere, somewhen — not necessarily now? Perhaps you imagine that your readers find you by searching on aswang, chupacabra, or whatever your subject is, and discovering your work; maybe this happens tomorrow, maybe next year. But whenever it happens, your readers think “Aha! This is exactly what I was looking for!” Or so you hope.

P1010345Photo: Nina Zumel

I started thinking about these questions today. My company’s professional blog (Win-Vector) has always been the second kind, and when I started Multo, I had the “second kind” of mindset as well. It’s funny, really — writing for the “someday”, as I mostly do, is an inherently optimistic mindset: I’m casting my posts out like messages in a bottle, and trusting that the ocean will float them to the right people, whether I ever find out about it or not — and I probably won’t. I’m not a terribly optimistic person, by nature. And yes, I know that the proper marketing to generate engagement with my blog would help tons; I don’t do a lot of that, by choice, but that decision is a topic for another post… .

You’ve probably read the Martha Graham quote (from a letter to Agnes DeMille):

There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable it is nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than others.

I’m no Martha Graham; I won’t even claim to be an artist. But I think I get what she means. Some things one does because one has to.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not implying blogging for Someday is either better or worse than blogging for Today. And most bloggers probably do a combination of both, anyway. I’m just observing that, for those of us who lean towards “Someday blogging,” the rewards are more abstract, and external rewards can be far less immediate. There’s a difference in the two mindsets that’s worth pointing out; I think so, at least.

And maybe other people do, too. Somewhere. Somewhen.

My Multiple Personalities

A shoutout to Susie Lindau for her hot-off-the-press post on the Typealyzer. A Swedish gentleman named Mattias Ostmar “imagined” (as he put it) a site that tries to figure out your Myers-Briggs type, based on the writing style of your blog. The analysis is based on a corpus of writings collected by Mr. Ostmar, and a text classifier written by his colleagues at uClassify. It’s all for fun, of course, as the site creators would be the first to admit.

Every time I take the Myers-Briggs, I get a different result. I also suspect that the way the test is given will reflect back more who you want to be (or how you want to think of yourself) than who you really are. But my blog reflects who I really am, doesn’t it? What does my blog say about me?

Let’s find out.

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On Book Reviews

From a course assignment cum letter from Kurt Vonnegut to students in his “Form of Fiction” course at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Proceed next to the hallucination that you are a minor but useful editor on a good literary magazine not connected with a university. Take three stories that please you most and three that please you least, six in all, and pretend that they have been offered for publication. Write a report on each to be submitted to a wise, respected, witty and world-weary superior.

Do not do so as an academic critic, nor as a person drunk on art, nor as a barbarian in the literary market place. Do so as a sensitive person who has a few practical hunches about how stories can succeed or fail. Praise or damn as you please, but do so rather flatly, pragmatically, with cunning attention to annoying or gratifying details. Be yourself. Be unique. Be a good editor. The Universe needs more good editors, God knows.

Good advice for writing book and story review blog posts, no?

You can read the entire letter at Slate, here.

Giving Thanks on my Blogiversary

A Belated Happy American Thanksgiving to everyone who celebrates it! I’m at my parents’ house, recovering from last night’s dinner and thinking about the past year that I’ve spent writing Multo.

Roses on the cake

First off, I have to admit I’ve been remiss of late, and for that I apologize. I apologize for not posting, of course; but more than that I apologize to everyone whose blogs I follow, because I haven’t been following lately. And in blogging (as in much of life, really), you only get back what you give out. So thank you to everyone who follows my blog, and who has taken the time to comment, and thank you to everyone who has responded to my comments on their blogs. It’s nice to feel those tendrils of connection all over the globe, and to know that there are people out there who read and enjoy what I write. I even met one of you in person, recently, and I truly enjoyed the face-to-face conversation. Hopefully, there will be more of that.

Thank you for enjoying the crazy stories that I get from my Mom and Dad, and the crazy anecdotes and “ghost encounters” from out of my own head. Thank you for sharing some of your crazy stories and ghost encounters with me. Thank you for being amused at my little essays about folklore in music, or my idiosyncratic decisions on what books or stories to review, or my amateur attempts at folklore study, or whatever random ramblings happen to come from my keyboard. Whatever brought you here and keeps you visiting at least occasionally — I’m grateful. In theory, a blog should be “stickier” if it keeps to a discernible theme, right? There is a theme for this blog, in my head, but I admit that it probably seems rather diffuse, to everyone else. And some of you are okay with that! It’s terrific.

This year has been full of learning, in so many ways. My writing has gotten tighter, I think — though some of those early meanderings are still quite dear to me. I’ve learned not to overthink the pieces I write, but rather to write and then let it go. Though sometimes I suspect I might let it go a bit too soon — oh, the typos, and the leftover puddles of murky writing that can get left behind! Definitely more room for improvement in the coming year… .

Last but not least, I’ve found some terrific blogs to read, because all of you have dropped by to read mine. I will pick up the blogging and the reading again — soon, I hope — so don’t be surprised if you see me liking and/or commenting on some of your dusty old posts! And your latest ones, too, of course.

Cheers! I’m looking forward to at least another year of this.

Putting up my Favorite Posts

Just a note to let you know there is a new page linked to at the top of my blog: My Favorite Posts.

For a small-scale blogger, when you post (and how you tag it) is just as important as what you post, in terms of readership. You toss your post, like a little wooden boat, into the swift-running stream that runs through the blogosphere. Sometimes, if the sun hits it just right, it sparkles. The readers on the shore spy it and admire it as it floats by, and point it out to their friends. Other times, the shore is gray and stormy, or someone else’s more stately post floats by at the same time. At those times, your post drifts quietly and unnoticed down the stream into the vast ocean of the internet, and disappears.

These are posts I’ve written that I really like. Sometimes they sparkled; mostly, they drifted. Either way, I wanted to pull them up to shore, where they can stay and be contemplated a little longer.

Hope you stop in when you have the time, and read through some posts you might not have seen the first time around. I’ll try to update the list periodically.

Enjoy.

The Book Review as Creative Prose

Back when I was in grad school, my beloved weekend ritual, especially on those sunny and temperate autumn days that are one of Pittsburgh’s best features, was to sit at a sidewalk table at my favorite Squirrel Hill coffeehouse with a big cup of French Roast and read the New York Times Book Review Sunday supplement cover to cover. I read about new novels and biographies, about books on economics and politics and social criticism and art, about Amelia Earhart’s last flight and about Ernest Shackleton’s travails. I learned a lot; enjoyed it all. And I never bought or borrowed a single book that I read about.

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