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On Further Reflection

November 30, 2018 25 comments

A reflection of the blogger?

Two years ago today I published a post called Reflections, in which I mused on why we blog, and what it means to us. Having been reminded of this post I re-read it and it seemed time to revisit and update it. For those who won’t have seen it before I’ll share it again now and then update at the end of this post. This is Reflections (Mark 1):

“It’s a funny old game, this blogging lark, isn’t itWe sit at home (other locations are available) in a kind of self-imposed solitude, thumping away at the keyboard while we spill out the contents of our mind. Then we hit that magic button marked ‘Publish’ and those thoughts can be seen by anyone in the world with access to the interweb. Doesn’t that strike you as a little strange? It does to me. Why do we do it? Are we all self-obsessed narcissists? Or exhibitionists?

It’s a given that we all had a reason for starting our blogs, and those can be many and varied. I won’t bore you by repeating yet again why I started – if you don’t know, but want to, just take a look at my ‘About Me’ page and all will be revealed (there’s a link to it in the top menu, just for you). Many of the blogs I follow have started for a similar reason to mine, but then again many haven’t. And therein lies the beauty and magic of it all, for me anyway: the sheer variety of the blogs I follow keeps me entertained, amused and in some cases instructed on a daily basis. I follow many of these because that blogger has also chosen to follow me and I deem it a courtesy to return that compliment – the likelihood is that we have interests in common and I will enjoy their blog too. There are two main reasons why I don’t follow back. The first of these is where I deem the following of my blog a blatant attempt – usually, but not always, by commercial concerns – to widen their own ‘fanbase’ by indiscriminate following of blogs they clearly have no interest in reading. Sorry guys, but you are very easy to spot! The second is…I’ll come back to that later (I’m such a tease!).

Something prompted me the other day to take a look at my blog’s statistics year by year since I first started this, back in late 2012. I was particularly taken by the stats for this year to date and how they differed from previous years. You’ll notice the link on the right to BlogSurfer – I added this not long after I started at the suggestion of the remarkable Cyd (see Thank You for more on her) and it resulted in some great stats in terms of page views up to 2015, when its influence waned dramatically. The total viewing figures for this year are only about a quarter of those for the peak years of 2013-4, but I don’t care in the slightest. Why? Because I can be pretty sure that the great majority of this year’s views have been from people who actually wanted to read my words, rather than by those who just dropped by in passing from another site. BlogSurfer has prompted just 18% of views this year – in 2013 it was over 90%. The other really revealing stats are that the total number of ‘likes’ this year is around 50% more than the combined total for all previous years, while the number of comments is 250% more!

Isn’t that why we do it? That apparently solo activity is actually helping us to communicate in a way that modern technology allows, and in a way that just hadn’t been imagined when I was younger. I don’t know about you, but I thrive on the interactions my blog generates, and these become a kind of addiction. The more I get, the more I crave. If you look at my blog posting habits, you’ll see that, apart from #NaBloPoMo in 2014 and 2015, my previous activity has been much less frequent than of late. This has also encouraged me to become much more active in commenting on others’ blogs – as some of you can attest! For me, 2016 has been the first year that blogging has really felt like being part of a community. I used to interact with some in the earlier days, but most of them no longer blog much, if at all. Several of you are now Facebook friends – people can deride that, but I see it as a mark of trust and friendship and I value it. If you look at my Facebook friends (my proper name is Clive Pilcher) you’ll see some familiar faces – including Cyd, whose daughter has left her page open for us to drop by and remember her. And if we aren’t already friends on Facebook, I’m open to offers….

I said I’d go back to the second reason why I wouldn’t follow a blog back. It’s a fairly simple one. I’m very fortunate to have English as my native tongue: it is probably the most widespread language worldwide, albeit with localised variations. I enjoyed learning languages at school and studied French and German to our A level standard. But that was more than 40 years ago and whilst I still recognise many of the words I can’t claim sufficient skills to read the languages now. I’m ashamed to admit it, but if your blog isn’t written in English I wouldn’t understand it. Until now, that is. WordPress has recently been promoting a widget for Google Translate, which is claimed to work in over 100 languages. I’ve added the widget – you can see it on the right. Isn’t this wonderful? If every blogger using WordPress added this to their site we could access so many more blogs than we can at present, and those of you that I haven’t followed back could open up your blogs to those, like me, who can only deal in English! Blogging is a global activity, so it seems a no-brainer to do this. My blog has been read by people in around 200 countries – I’d like to read yours too, then this community can truly become a global one! The support of the full worldwide blogging community can mean so much to so many, and I hope this little widget is widely adopted.

So, that’s why I do this and why it is a valuable part of my life. How is it for you? Do tell, I’d love the interaction ;-)”

Whilst revisiting that post I thought it only right that I should take a new look at my stats. Broadly speaking, 2016, 2017 and this year to date have been fairly similar in the numbers of total views, actual visitors, and likes. But there has been a fall in comments. Is that something others have experienced, or is it just me? Maybe it is because (like this post) I have reworked quite a few older pieces that current viewers won’t have seen, but there aren’t enough new viewers who are active commenters? Or, looking at the pattern of new followers, perhaps I’m attracting more of those who are looking for a follow back to boost their own numbers? With a few treasured exceptions, I can’t recall any comments from a fairly large percentage of those who have followed in the past year. But then again, I haven’t commented on many of theirs either: that works both ways, folks! Or, to take the obvious answer, maybe I’m not writing the sort of pieces that would encourage people to comment on as well as like a post. An interesting thought for discussion, perhaps? And it comes with an invitation to add your comment to the discussion: as I said in the previous post I, and I suspect most of us, thrive on the interaction with our readers.

I also mentioned in that previous post that I would welcome the addition of the Translate widget on blogs that don’t publish in English. I can understand your wish to use your native language but English (and the American version of it) is very much the universal blogging language and making the translation available would widen your readership. Many of the blogs I follow are posting in English even though it clearly isn’t their first language. I admire and applaud their efforts but there are still a few following me who don’t publish in English: they are better educated than I, sorry! Please, please add the Translate widget if you don’t publish in English: I’m sure it would be of benefit to others as well as me.

Another change from two years ago is that some who were regular bloggers back then seem to have dropped out. I know of some who have gone through some big life changes which have meant that blogging became far less important to them, and have every sympathy with them. But others just seem to have wandered off into the ether. I don’t know about you, but there is something comforting to me in seeing a new post from a favourite writer, and it’s always a little sad not to see them any more. But there is no shortage of new (or new to me, at least) blogs out there, and hopefully over time I’ll build the same relationship of mutual support with them that I had with those who have gone AWOL. That is, after all, the sustenance on which bloggers depend.

A new development for me is that I started a Facebook page as a companion to this blog: my reasons for doing it are explained here. This is quite possibly just a vanity project, and it currently only stands at 32 ‘likes’ anyway, but it gives me a space to post things that I wouldn’t otherwise write about. There’s a #SongOfTheDay, which from tomorrow will become a #ChristmasSongOfTheDay – I’ve done this for several years now on my Twitter account and on Facebook, and have written catch up posts here: but if you want to see the daily posts then the Facebook page is the place to go – just follow the link to the right. And I also do a kind of Advent Calendar – not the usual sort! – on my Instagram account. If I can, I link these to the Facebook page but the technology is a little erratic so do follow the link to the right for Instagram if you’d like to see my more irreverent (or just downright smutty) side.

Do you ever take time out to reflect on why you blog, on what it means for you and your readers? I can recommend it: it can be an enlightening experience. Then again, as a great philosopher (well, Johnny Nash, actually) once said: ‘There are more questions than answers,’ and it does feel a bit like that inside my head at the moment! What do you think?

 

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69 Months Later

July 3, 2018 36 comments

A couple of bloggy things have happened in the past week which have got me thinking about why I’m still doing this. The first was this:

Never in my wildest dreams did I envisage that as many as 70,000 page visits would be made to view my ramblings. Admittedly, in the peak years of 2013 and 2014 the success of BlogSurfer was significant in generating site views, and this has subsequently declined. But nowadays, I get more ‘likes’ and comments for my posts, and this more than compensates for not having the bigger numbers any longer. I’ve never considered myself to be a writer – just someone who dabbles and has taken advantage of the ease with which the interweb permits anyone to make their mark, albeit a very small one. And those interactions make it worthwhile: there is a sense of being part of a community, of belonging, and we all need that in our lives.

The second thing was the annual congratulatory message from WordPress on my ‘anniversary’ which, for some reason, they think falls in June. I know this to be impossible as the chronology just doesn’t work for me. But, as you do, I harboured a tiny doubt that they may be correct after all – I’m approaching 65, I have memory lapses more than I used to – so I thought it worth checking. I couldn’t find anything in my settings that would help, so I resorted to checking my previous posts. The first was made on 2 October 2012, and makes reference to my having set up the blog around six weeks earlier. Now this does indeed fit my memory, so maybe I’m not heading into my dotage just yet! Reading that post again was slightly surreal: I’ve never had an out of body experience but I imagine it may feel something like this. Was that really me? Did I really have the nerve to assume that anyone would want to read anything I wrote, that it would hold any interest for them?

I thought I’d share it again, as very few will ever have seen it. In its unedited glory, here it is:

“Hi!

I’ve had this blog set up for 6 weeks now and have somehow acquired 3 brave followers without having said anything, so I thought it was about time I introduced myself and told you what this is about (cue rapid exit of aforementioned followers!). So, I’m Clive (but you guessed that from the blog’s name, right?). I’m 59 (but only just!), divorced, living solo, and I have two beautiful grown up daughters who are the centre of my world. I work in the NHS, for a large Trust in London, and am planning to retire on my 60th birthday. I love books (on a Kindle), music (folk, rock, Americana, alt-country) both at home and live, I enjoy TV sports, especially football and cricket, and am a long-time supporter of Dover Athletic (home town team) and Spurs (someone has to!). All very ordinary then, so why am I telling you any of this?

Almost exactly a year ago, I was diagnosed with depression, along with a still unspecified sleep problem. This eventually kept me off work for nine months, and I went back in July, part-time working up to full-time after a month. As part of this process I was referred for counselling to help me adjust back into the real world, and I’m about two-thirds of the way through a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). This has involved a lot of thinking and writing, in ways I’ve never really done before, about me, my feelings, hopes, self view and the whole experience of the past year. And this will continue into the future – I’m still on a high level of medication, barred from drinking and advised to be careful when driving, either separately or together, and still have big problems sleeping. But my counsellor has said that he finds my writing ‘inspirational’ and has encouraged me to start this blog, both because it will be good therapy for me to open myself up like this, but more importantly because others suffering from the same debilitating illness may see something they recognise in this and will hopefully draw some comfort and encouragement from it.

A subject like this could well be, erm, depressing really. But that’s not my way. I intend to write this from my perspective, of course, and I can’t do that for long before throwing in elements that could generously be considered to be ‘humour.’ In no way would I belittle the subject, I’ve experienced too much for that, but there’s no point doing this if people find it depressing or boring to read. And I’ll go off at tangents along the way too – things which strike me as interesting, usually but not necessarily related to my current experience of being ‘in recovery’ from the illness, which I hope you’ll find interesting too.

Enough for now, I’ll start the real posting soon. In the meantime, the three of you, I’m relying on you to help me spread the word and get me millions of followers. No pressure then! See you again soon.“

That post received a princely 3 ‘likes’ and 4 comments – and 2 of those comments were my own in response to others’ kind words of encouragement! Viewing figures were a little higher than either you or I might have imagined, though:

In those days I was much more active on Twitter than I am now, and had a number of people with whom I had regular twitchats. I imagine that they were prompted by Twitter to read the post though, as I say in it, it was only a brief introduction to what I really regarded as the starting point for this blog: when I posted the three parts of ‘The Story of My Illness’ over consecutive evenings in early November 2012. I know that many of them were ‘eagerly’ awaiting these – impatience was growing among some of them! Viewing stats at the time specifically for each of those posts were 52, 40 and 45 – although, as WordPress users will know, most of our page views become part of the large amorphous mass known rather unhelpfully as ‘Home Page/Archives,’ which doesn’t really permit a true view of the ‘popularity’ of a post, does it? If you haven’t seen those posts before, or want another look, they can be found under ‘My Story’ in the menu at the top of the site. They give you a good idea of where I’m coming from.

To those of you with large, popular blogs, with thousands of regular followers who ‘like’ everything you post, those stats will probably seem pathetically low. But that’s not why I do this. I’m content for this to be a hobby and if people are kind enough to read, like and comment then I’m very grateful for that. It’s not as though I make any money from this, nor would I want to: I’ve had many offers of hosting guest posts from commercial organisations, or of reviewing products in return for freebies, but they were all politely rejected. For me, although it is probably being po-faced to say it, it comes down to a question of integrity. I wouldn’t sell my body for money or trinkets (assuming I could find someone sufficiently desperate to take up the offer) so I don’t see why my words should be any different!

Reading that initial post again has given me several ideas for future posts: some things in my life have changed, some need updating, and as what I’m really doing here is sharing me with you I think you deserve to know. Of course, you’ll have had many clues about what is going on with me from my posts, so you will know that I did indeed retire on my 60th birthday – my thoughts on that are in the menu item ‘Retirement’ and I rather belatedly covered the celebrations in this post – and that I still enjoy my music, for example. But you won’t know that one of the lasting legacies of my long spell of depression is that, while I can cope perfectly well with newspapers and magazines, I have read very few books in my retirement: the powers of concentration just aren’t there any more! Life changes, and we adjust!

You may also have noticed the reference to the blog’s name including my own: when I first started out, with absolutely no experience of the blogworld, I just called this ‘Clive’s Blog.’ It was me, and it seemed to fit! I renamed this after I retired, both to reflect my new status as a gentleman of leisure and also my love of music. In case you don’t recognise the title (how could you not?!) I covered this in the first of my occasional series of #SaturdaySongs.

The main reason for starting this blog was to be supportive of those suffering from mental health issues. Whilst I may have digressed (a lot) from this, it is still a regular underlying theme, and you will see more on it from me in the future. Speaking of which, this is my 298th post and I’ve been thinking of a suitable way to mark the 300 milestone. Keep watching – I hope you like what I’ll be doing for it! And maybe I’ll mark my actual 6th anniversary in some way, too, though I haven’t given that much thought yet: it’s three months away, anything could happen before then!

The underlying message behind this post – yes, there is one, and thank you for getting this far! – is that those two little triggers have got me thinking about why I started blogging and why I still do it. I’m not unique or special, and I suspect you all have a variety of reasons for your blogs. But it is worthwhile taking a step back every once in a while, both to reaffirm our intentions and to confirm that we want still to be doing this. I know about me: how is it for you?

Ch-ch-changes Revisited

February 19, 2018 18 comments

Amongst today’s emails – just the usual hundred or so – was the regular Monday one from Bernadette announcing this week’s Senior Salon. It was a little different from the norm, however: Bernadette was giving us the sad news that it was to be the last Senior Salon. Looking back, I would guess that at least half of the blogs I read most often and, in particular, comment on, are those to which I was introduced by Bernadette. I understand perfectly why she feels the need to call a halt, and wish that I had the time and commitment to take it on for her – but, as you will have long-since recognised, I’m not the most organised or regular of bloggers! But I will always cherish those bloggers who, through our Senior Salon introduction, I now regard as friends – some have even joined me on Facebook, which is great!

This got me thinking to a post I wrote a couple of years ago. I think I’ve since recycled it, but it seemed a fitting way to mark Bernadette’s final edition of the Salon by sharing it again: it does, after all, talk about how important blogging communities can be for us. So, Bernadette, thank you for all your hard work and commitment, and I’m glad that I’ll still be seeing all your new blog posts and what you share on Facebook (and thanks for the Instagram follow, too!).

For a final time, this is my post Ch-ch-changes:

Has it ever struck you how much we can become creatures of habit? Although we may live varied lives, and have many things to occupy our time, at the core of this is likely to be a foundation of what for each of us is our ‘norm.’ Wherever we may be, and whatever we may be doing on any given day, we will most likely be framing that activity in the context of a routine of some kind. At its simplest level, this can be something mundane, such as what time we get up in the morning, whether we have breakfast or not, and if so whether we have it before or after our morning ablutions, that kind of thing. However free-spirited we may believe ourselves to be, we all have our own behaviour patterns, whether or not we recognise them as such. Since I retired nearly three years ago my routine has changed – I don’t have to worry about being up and ready in time to catch the train to work, and I don’t have to compress the things I would rather be doing with my life into evenings, weekends or holiday time. But there is still a routine there, it has just adapted to the change in my circumstances.

So, what happens when something knocks that norm? How do we adjust to it? If something big happens to us – a major family event, perhaps – we tend to take it on, challenge it and manage the required change. Births, marriages, deaths and other events in the family have a massive impact, but we try our best to deal with them, to cope, and to move forward with our lives. I have recently had such a change with one of my children (who are both adults, but still children to me!), who has needed help and support, both in the practical sense and also in a more spiritual way. For me, the realisation that this has made a difference to my life has manifested in several ways, a very simple example being that I have seen and spoken to my ex-wife more often in the past few months than in the whole preceding eight years since we were divorced. I’m not presenting that as either a good or bad thing – our divorce was perfectly amicable and we are both content with our outcomes – but it brought home to me the sense of family changes and the impact they can have. But I don’t intend to say any more about that: it is too personal, particularly for my daughter, and isn’t for publication.

Let me instead give you a much less important example – less important in the great scheme of life, that is, but it has nevertheless made me think. I’ve mentioned before that I have been invited to become part of the Senior Salon, run by Bernadette of the Haddon Musings blog. Since Bernadette started this six months ago it has developed into a vibrant community of bloggers of a certain age, with a wide range of interests, and it has become a part of my routine to take part in it. I enjoy the range of interests that fellow bloggers share, and it has got me into the habit of posting at least once a week so that I have something new to offer. Yes, I still have my hiatuses but they are fewer. And if I want to think of myself as a blogger, regular posting is kind of important, right? The Salon starts each Wednesday, with an email notification that the new link up has gone live. This email usually arrives around 7am UK time and my Wednesday norm has become a morning trip to see my lovely nurses for my regular bandage change, followed by a return home, breakfast and my thoughts turning to converting the ideas that have been stumbling around in my brain into a post. Or, like today, I sit at the keyboard and pray for inspiration – you can tell, can’t you! Ah, but I can see you thinking, today isn’t Wednesday. Correct! Have a prize! I didn’t get the email yesterday, and so I spent the day watching the Euro 2016 football instead. Tough job, but someone has to do it. Nor did I get the notification today, and I began to wonder if perhaps Bernadette was ill, and unable to set up the Salon this week. But there it was on her blog, so all was clearly well with her. From our interactions on our respective posts I thought it highly unlikely that I had been banned, so I checked my WordPress settings for the blogs I follow. Have any of you ever seen this message:

“You have blocked all notifications for blogs that you follow”

I certainly hadn’t come across it before, as it seems to me to be a very strange thing to do. What is the point of following blogs if you don’t want to see what people are saying? To be honest, I didn’t even realise that the setting existed. Fortunately, WordPress also kindly told me how to change it, which required no more than one box to be unchecked, and normal service has been resumed. But it left me with a few thoughts. How could I have changed such a setting when I didn’t know it was there? Do I have a maleficent alter ego who creeps into my blog when I’m asleep and changes everything? Are WordPress operating some kind of practical joke to see how alert we are? (in my case, not very alert, apparently!). Why did this matter to me anyway?

There were two main reasons as to why it mattered. The first was that it made me realise how unobservant I am. I probably get around 30-40 emails each day announcing new blog posts, and I hadn’t realised that I saw none of these yesterday and, so far, today. I pride myself on being intelligent, aware and alert, but clearly I’m not as good as I thought! The second was the change in my routine. In six months my Wednesday has shaped up as I described it earlier, but yesterday was different. Every time I checked my emails I looked for the one telling me that this week’s Salon link was live, but to no avail. Yet still I didn’t spot that something was amiss. A change, albeit a small one, had taken place, and it was a little disconcerting. I had been taken out of my Wednesday routine and it just didn’t feel right. My regular habit had been broken. I’ve found both the problem and the solution, and will be enjoying my usual participation in the Salon, although I am coming ‘fashionably late’ to the party this week.

Am I being stupid to think this way about it? Am I building it up beyond its importance? You might think so, but I don’t. Our routines and habits are important to us, however trivial they may seem to others. The sum of all our little pleasures – like reading other people’s blogs – adds up to the whole of our enjoyment of life. Every little part has its place and its importance. A wise man once said:

So the days float through my eyes
But still the days seem the same

But in its own little way, yesterday didn’t feel the same. Strange thing isn’t it, this life and the way we live it.

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