Category Archives: Blogging

sunday salon/ currently: reading, writing, blogging … and possibly hiking (28/99)

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After a much busier-than-usual week (two work events, two get-togethers with friends), I’m feeling the need for some downtime.  Nothing is on the agenda today, my preferred way to spend a Sunday. I’d also prefer spending it on the deck, but since it’s a few degrees shy of 90 as I type this, indoors in the a/c seems to be the better option.  There’s the usual straightening up/cleaning to do around the house (which may or may not get done) and meal planning for the week.

Summer Reading … 
LaRoseShades of BlueFelicity

Since my last visit here in the Salon, I’ve finished three books: LaRose by Louise Erdrich, Shades of Blue: Writers on Depression, Suicide, and Feeling Blue, an anthology edited by the amazing Amy Ferris, and Felicity by Mary Oliver.

Of the three, Shades of Blue had the most impact on me and has earned a spot on my Best Of list for 2016. The honesty and courage of these writers as they share their personal experiences with mental health, addiction, depression, suicide, and grief is incredibly moving.  There’s something in every story that connects with you, which is the point.

Modern LoversI need to spend some time with Modern Lovers today. I’m reviewing this one for the Post-Gazette and that deadline is approaching quickly.  This is better than I expected; I judged it by the cover and immediately thought “fluffy beach read.”  It is a bit lighter than my usual fare, but sometimes you need that. And after this week (and this month’s depressing news cycle), I do.

So far I’m up to seven books for the library’s Summer Reading program.  (Magazines count for this; three of my “books” are actually periodicals.)  My goal is 20 and I’d like that to be heavier on the books than magazines.

Writing … 
The Girl starts a week-long Teen Fiction Writing camp tomorrow.  I would have loved this when I was her age. She did a similar program last year with this organization and really liked it.

Taking a Liking to Hiking …
The Boy is participating in a fabulous day camp program this summer for teens with Asperger’s. It emphasizes social skills and a lot of outdoor time.  They’ve been doing short hikes (approximately 4 miles, which certainly doesn’t sound that short to me). Surprisingly, he’s become very interested in hiking, trails and especially streams, and has expressed interest in continuing this when camp is finished in two weeks.

Fortunately, Pittsburgh is a great area for hiking so I’ve been looking into some possibilities for him and I to do some occasional short hikes together.  (If any local readers have suggestions, I need them as this is — quite literally — new territory for us.)

Blogging
#99DaysSummerBlogging is still going strong.  By the end of this week, we’ll be 1/3 of the way finished. (And so will summer!)  I’m slightly revising my approach to this project, though. One of my main motivations for doing this was to actually write every day. Admittedly, that’s been difficult as some posts need a few days to come together and I’m not a fan of posting something just for the hell of it.

I’ve realized that writing every day doesn’t mean the same as writing a brand new blog post and publishing it every day.  I’ve decided to give myself permission to write some posts in advance. That way, those can be pulled out of Drafts and published on days when I want to spend longer on other posts — or even other writing projects.

And speaking of which, a review is due soon, so back to my book I go.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #28 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project. 

 

 

one of those days (23/99)

99 Days of Summer Blogging

This is one of those days when I am questioning what the hell I was thinking with this 99 Days of Summer Blogging craziness. I got home later than usual, it’s almost 11 p.m. as I write this, and I just want to crawl into bed and read maybe a sentence or two in my current book (Modern Lovers by Emma Straub) before falling asleep.  If I wasn’t committed to this goofy idea, I would not have even turned the laptop on tonight.

A few participants in this project have dropped out, which I completely understand.  It’s hard, this blogging Every. Single. Day.  There’s days — like this one — when you’re too tired to formulate a coherent blog post or don’t feel like you have anything worthwhile to say. Coming up with content ideas isn’t easy. It’s time-consuming.  I get this — all of it.  I’ve been there.

So, why am I still here?  There’s the public accountability factor, of course: I told you I would do this thing, and because I did, I will damn well make sure that I do it.  I’m notorious for starting and abandoning projects when nobody is looking, but when people are, that’s different. We’re funny that way, us humans.  Who among us is OK with letting others know we’ve failed. We’re scared of what people will think of us if we quit ______. (Fill in the blank:  our job, a marriage, an expensive degree program.)

I’m also still hanging in with this because I think writing every day for 99 days is absolutely an achievable goal for me. As of this Thursday, I’ll be 25% finished — and 25% of the way to Labor Day.  I really, really need to get back in the swing of a regular writing routine and yes — this is helping.  After this project is over, I may not write every day but I think it will definitely become easier to stick to a schedule, of sorts, maybe a few designated times per week.  In the meantime,  I don’t care if these posts make sense or if they’re not the most compelling posts you read in any particular day. They are the equivalent to free writes for me. 

Another reason I’m still here is because of one of my original motivations, which might come as a bit of a surprise to some.  I want to spend less time on social media.  The hatriolic venom that is a constant presence is draining, along with everyone’s opinions. The news is depressing as hell and there’s no constructive dialogue to be had.  I don’t need that kind of negativity in my life and neither do you.  But I do like that this project has helped, at least a little bit, in refocusing my attention.

So, yeah, one of those days.  Here’s to another 76 of them.

 

 

Taking The Classics Club for Another Spin (8/99)

The Classics Club

As someone who considers herself an avid reader, I readily admit that my familiarity with classic literature is lacking. It just is.  There are classic novels that I feel I really should have read by now and authors who I haven’t read at all.

Mind you, I am firmly in the camp that life is too short and that reading should be enjoyable. If it feels like a chore or homework, I’m not about to waste my valuable reading time.

Still, the classics beckon.

Slightly over a year ago, I decided to jump into a popular online reading challenge called The Classics Club, created in March 2012 to “unite those of us who like to blog about classic literature, as well as to inspire people to make the classics an integral part of life.” The idea is to make a list of at least 50 classics you’d like to read and — within five years — read and blog about them.  My complete list can be found here.

Every so often, the organizers do a “spin” where you list on your blog 20 classics from your list that are still unread. The organizers select a random number; whatever book corresponds to that number is the book you need to read by a certain date.

I’ve participated in two previous spins (#9 and #11), but without much success.  (Actually, I haven’t had much success in the past year with this project; I’ve abandoned two classics and finished one.)

For Spin #13, I decided to choose books from my list that I actually own because the selection would also count for #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks:

  1. Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi: Half of a Yellow Sun
  2. Atwood, Margaret: The Blind Assassin
  3. Dickens, Charles: Tale of Two Cities
  4. Gilman, Charlotte Perkins: Herland
  5. Ibsen, Henrik: A Doll’s House
  6. Irving, Washington: The Complete Tales
  7. Jackson, Shirley: Just An Ordinary Day: The Uncollected Stories
  8. Kingsolver, Barbara: The Poisonwood Bible
  9. McCarthy, Cormac: The Road
  10. McCarthy, Mary: The Group
  11. McCullers, Carson: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
  12. Morrison, Toni: Paradise
  13. Henry, O. : Collected Stories
  14. O’Connor, Flannery: Wise Blood
  15. Plath, Sylvia: Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams: Short Stories, Prose and Diary Excerpts
  16. Robinson, Marilynne: Housekeeping
  17. Salinger, J.D.: Nine Stories
  18. Wharton, Edith: Summer
  19. Woolf, Virginia: Orlando
  20. Woolf, Virginia: Three Guineas

And the lucky number is … 15!

Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams

Of Sylvia Plath’s work, I’ve only read The Bell Jar. I’m intrigued with this collection of 13 short stories, essays, prose and excerpts of journal entries.

99 Days of Summer Blogging

This is Post #8 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging Project. 

kicking off 99 days of summer blogging (1/99)

99 Days of Summer Blogging

Time to get this party started!

Today’s the official start to 99 Days of Summer Blogging, a little impromptu project of mine where I plan to blog every day this summer. Yes, every single day. I’ve started an editorial calendar which is already helping.  I’m using Evernote to capture post ideas for those days when I got nothin’.

Best of all, a few of you are joining me in this crazy endeavor and a few are considering it.

More importantly, today is about much more than the beginning of summer. It’s about remembering those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms and never taking that for granted.

As if on cue, the live version of Frank Sinatra’s “The House I Live In” just came on The Husband’s Spotify.

Always a powerful song, but especially worth the listen today.

sunday salon/currently … memorial day weekend edition

Sunday Salon banner

It’s a steamy start to the summer. (And yes, while the calendar may not consider it to be summer until June 21, Memorial Day weekend is the start of summer in my book.) Yesterday my car’s thermometer said it was 95 degrees outside. I’m really not kidding when I say two weeks ago it was so chilly that I wore turtlenecks to work for three days.

I’m on our enclosed deck, enjoying being outside for as long as I can stand it. It’s humid enough to have the box fan going, which helps for now. We don’t have any grandiose plans this weekend. The usual appointments and errands. The Girl needs some summer clothes and that’s on the agenda for tomorrow.

99 Days of Summer Blogging!

99 Days of Summer Blogging

Tomorrow starts my attempt to blog for 99 consecutive days. I’m thrilled that a few of you are joining me in this little project.  (You can too. Participating is intentionally very low key. No real requirements. No linkys. If you like, feel free to use the button above for any #99DaysSummerBlogging posts.) The accountability factor makes this more daunting (can I really keep up this pace? what if I run out of things to write about? what happens on the days I have a migraine?) but also exciting.  I’m looking forward to getting back in the swing of writing every day and clearing out some of those half-baked posts in Drafts.

Big Book Reading Challenge

Big Book Summer Reading Challenge

Another summer project that I’m taking on is the Big Book Summer Reading Challenge hosted by my friend Sue of Book by Book.  I usually participate in this because it only involves reading one book that’s at least 400 pages between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Definitely doable. If you’re looking for inspiration, here’s a partial list of what I’ve read for this challenge in previous years (links go to my reviews):

America’s Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines by Gail Collins (572 pages)
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (415 pages)
With My Body by Nikki Gemmell (462 pages)
Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver (436 pages)
And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic by Randy Shilts (630 pages)
The Years by Virginia Woolf (435 pages)

Currently Reading …
LaRoseWith 372 pages, my current read — LaRose by Louise Erdrich — is just shy of qualifying for the Big Book Summer Reading Challenge. It’s a fascinating novel about family and culture.

Currently Listening To … 

Sin in the Second City

Still listening to Sin in the Second City by Karen Abbott.

I’ve been listening to a lot of music lately. Part of the reason is because I work in an semi-open office environment, which can be challenging when one needs to concentrate. I usually just hit Shuffle on my entire music collection and And every day, I hear at least one song that seems to describe the day — or our current situation, or something, or someone I’m thinking about, or a memory — absolutely perfectly.

These are the songs that resonated most this week:

Linking

A few weeks ago, I purchased The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson because it seems like a book I’m going to want to own. Although I haven’t started it yet, Hilton Als’ feature on Maggie Nelson in the April 18 issue of The New Yorker (“Immediate Family”) makes me want to read this very soon.

YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) has a great list of mental health resources for teens In addition to books (fiction and nonfiction), blogs, and websites, there are apps that link to immediate crisis intervention and online discussion groups.

Once in a Lifetime is a new blog to me, thanks to Keith’s and my connection through Pittsburgh Bloggers. Keith’s post “A Month of Mental Health, An Eternity of Suicide”  makes some great observations about the hypocrisy of the media’s relentless messages of perfection and its embrace of Mental Health Awareness Month.

I’m a big fan of the Netflix series “House of Cards.” In this article from The New York Times, Robin Wright may have more in common with Claire Underwood than we previously thought. #FUCU2016

Some thoughts on … well, the power of our thoughts.

What are you thinking about on this Memorial Day weekend?  

Make a Splash with 99 Days of Summer Blogging!

99 Days of Summer Blogging

Every year, the same thing.

“Summer went by too fast!”

“How can it be back-to-school time already?”

“It seems like summer just started!”

We make bucket lists, grand plans to make the most of these lazy, hazy, crazy days.  We vow to keep summer simple, to enjoy the moments that matter.

And then September arrives and those days become a blur.

Did you know there are exactly 99 days between Memorial Day and Labor Day?  A lot can happen in that time.

A lot that’s worth remembering and sharing with your words and photos.

Inspired by my friend Emily Levenson, who recently did a #100DaysBlogging project, I have decided to try something similar.

Introducing … 99 Days of Summer Blogging!  Starting this Monday, May 30 and continuing through September 5, 2016, I plan to blog every single day.

Yes.  Every. Single. Day.

For 99 days.

Why am I doing this?

  1. Because I need the discipline of writing every day. I do.  I need to practice Ass in Chair time when it comes to writing and actually GET THINGS WRITTEN.  I need to get better at writing first and editing later, instead of writing a sentence and immediately start futzing with word choices.
  2. Because at this moment, I have 206 blog posts in Drafts.  A very, very small percentage of those are actually completed. The rest are half-baked concoctions.  Some of those may become #99DaysSummerBlogging posts. If I’m doing any new writing on them (e.g., finishing a partially-written book review) then it counts.
  3. Because I need to spend a little less time on Facebook — and by spending time here instead of there, my writing will get stronger.
  4. Because I want to start thinking more strategically about planning potential posts (I need to do an editorial calendar) while at the same time tapping into my creativity and cultivating ideas for potential writing projects. I’m always thinking, “Oh, I could definitely do a post about that!” or “This is a perfect blog post.” And then the idea or the moment vanishes, lost forever.  I’m excited about seeing what those nuggets hold.
  5. Because writing and connecting is how I work through things that I’m dealing with and how I gain greater insights about what this life is trying to teach me (even though I may be a stubborn learner). At the same time, some of the issues our family is working through aren’t ones for the blog so there’s that. But maybe a photo or a quote will be.

Do these issues resonate for you, too? If so, jump right in … the water’s fine. These posts don’t have to be Pulitzer worthy. (Trust me, mine won’t be.) Perfection isn’t what this is about.  Rather, #99DaysSummerBlogging is about cultivating our craft, capturing ideas and thoughts, and carving out some time for reflection and stillness among our words.

99 Days of Summer Blogging starts Monday, May 30 — Memorial Day here in the United States. (And if it’s not summer where you are, no worries. You can still participate.)

I’m not doing a linky thing for this. Rather, if you’d like to participate, simply do a post on your blog and link back to melissafirman.com.  Feel free to grab the button, too.  (That’s an actual photo taken by me during a beach vacation — “downnashore” as we say where I’m from — two years ago.)

99 Days of Summer Blogging

 

Will you be taking the 99 Days of Summer Blogging plunge?

I Am Not a Writer

Pittsburgh Bloggers Guest Blogger Event 2016

Today’s post comes from my friend Sue Kerr of Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents, and is part of a special day of shenanigans from other Pittsburgh Bloggers.  For April Fools, local bloggers are having some fun by showing up on other blogs with guest posts. You can see my post over on my friend Emily Levenson’s new blog harvest + bloom, where I talk about how a potential freelancing opportunity allowed me to see the value of time in a new way. 

And now, without further ado, please welcome Sue Kerr!

I am not a writer. There’s no unfinished manuscript in my life, nor any lingering regret about not pursuing a career as a journalist. I don’t write poetry and I’ve never kept a journal in my entire life.

In 2005, I began blogging as a community organizing tool (I’m a social worker, not a writer.) I never expected to still be at it in the year 2016. Didn’t expect to write – WRITE – over 2,000 blog posts. Didn’t see it coming that my blog would be the longest running LGBTQ blog in Pennsylvania (yep, the whole darn Commonwealth) nor did I imagine being asked to write things for other people’s sites. Sometimes, they pay me. Who knew?

I should also tell you that I am not an artist. But somehow I find myself now managing a multi-year community art project on my blog. I’m a blogger artist attached to a gallery and funded by a major foundation. How did that happen?

Blogging. Blogging happened and now I am fortunate enough to be curating a project called AMPLIFY which explores the everyday ‘lived experiences’ of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) neighbors in Western Pennsylvania. I collect their stories using an online form and publish them in a Q&A format without editing or modifying their words.

Blogging allows for many things. It allows me to publish without concerns for grammar or spelling overruling someone’s authentic voice. It allows me to modify the questions as we move through the project. I have the flexibility to use pseudonyms to protect identities. And I have the privilege of using my own voice via my original content to continue drawing people’s attention to this curated archive of their neighbor’s experiences.

We started in January 2015 and now find ourselves with more than 125 contributions from people with ties to 18 of the 26 Western PA counties in our cachement area. They range from 18 – 71 and run the gamut of identity, gender, race, religion, family status and so forth. Their stories are profound and ordinary; I’m sure you would find at least one anecdote that rings true for you, no matter who you are.

There are three reasons why I am doing this. First, I believe that the power of sharing one’s story is a positive experience and want to create a safe space for my LGBTQ siblings and neighbors to be able to do that on their own terms. Second, there is also power in having access to an archive of people’s stories that mirror your own experiences. A blog archive can be accessed anywhere in the world where there is Internet access. It serves both as a unifying experience now for today’s neighbors and a permanent record of what life is like in the mid 2010’s for LGBTQ residents in Pennsylvania, a state with marriage equality but no statewide non-discrimination protections. And, finally, I know that the act of being more visible is a dynamic force that creates change.

AMPLIFY will continue throughout 2017 so we have the opportunity to reach out and connect with people in the outlying counties, to gain their trust and invite their participation. After that, who knows what is next? I am working with the Senator John Heinz History Center to ensure that AMPLIFY’s archive is accessible.

In the meantime, I am publishing an AMPLIFY zine series and working with a local playwright to create a staged version of the blog posts. I just submitted a forum piece to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. And there are three partially completed grant proposals in my inbox.

Clearly, this not a writer thing hasn’t worked out for me. And I couldn’t be happier.

Established in 2005, Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents is the longest running LGBTQ blog in Pennsylvania. Editor Sue Kerr is a social worker, social media consultant and avidly shares pet pics to her Instagram account. She is currently a Resident Artist with Most Wanted Fine Art Gallery where she created the #AMPLIFY project. You can find her on Twitter at @pghlesbian24 and Instagram @pghlesbian

Thanks, Sue!  For more April Fools fun, visit the other participating Pittsburgh Bloggers listed below.  

Harvest + Bloom // Yes, Wear That! // jelly jars // Glam and Graffiti // To The Streets // In Pursuit // Pittsburgh & Pearls // Beezus Kiddo // Goodness Madness // Last Minute Panic // Steel City Intrigue // Crank Crank Revolution // Amanda Narcisi // Pittsburgh is Beautiful // From Cats to Cooking // Yum Yum PGH // Breelicious Bites // Parmesan Princess // Coffee & A Blonde // The Steel Trap // Wavy Alabaster // everybody loves you… // Eat with Emily // Don’t Forget to Eat // Sloping in the Sky // From Farm to Turntable // Secrets in the Wall // Red Pen Mama // Feedback Soup // The AP Collection // Blog Or Die PGH // Pittsburgh Happy Hour // Friendly Fitness Foodie // Small Town Dad // Josh’s World // Geeky Sweetie // Sean’s Ramblings // Lunges, Long Runs and Lattes // Try it and You May! // lil Burghers // Orange Chair Blog // Ya Jagoff // Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents // Melissa Firman