It’s Time To Rename This Thing Called Blogging

I’m not much into branding, or rebranding, as this case may be, but I think it’s time that I abandon the generic term of “blogging” and get a little more specific about what I am actually doing here on the internet.

It doesn’t take a lot of research to realize that everybody has some kind of web presence now, and most people are on multiple social media platforms. In addition to a blog, they have Facebook profiles (yes, plural) and Instagram accounts (including the fake ones, or “finstas”); they also have accounts with Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat, Tumblr, and other places that allow various forms of self-expression.

It’s all a little too much, if you ask me.

I’ve deleted most of the apps from my phone and have abandoned the majority of my sites in the last few months. So much of my time was being consumed by emotional responses to original posts or comments that had been left. Each “session” of checking my feeds left me exhausted.

So when I visited my blog this morning to see how much my writing has changed in the last few years, I felt ashamed, and even a little disgusted, that I had somehow strayed from being so open, so raw in my writing, with no particular audience in mind. I got swept up in branding, gaining some kind of following, and culling the best and finest words for posts that I had hoped would go “viral.”

What a horrible term to use for something we yearn for.

That’s why I want to change the name of what I am doing here, and I think it’s important for me to shout that out to the world, explain what I’m doing, and why.

I thought about naming this as my online journal, but it carries a weight with it that is just a notch or two above the horrible connotations associated with the term, “diary.” I’m 54 years old. I don’t need to put that wonder in the minds of readers that I’m chronicling what I had for lunch on any given day (don’t think for a moment that the irony is lost on me here; some food diarists are making six figures or more for writing about food).

I decided to do a quick search on Thesaurus.com for synonyms for journal. Here’s what they listed:

I was immediately happy to see that “blog” is not even listed. When I did a search for “Blog,” a much shorter list popped up:

I’m not trying to be difficult about this, but none of these synonyms really work for what I will be doing here. I’m seeing this space more as my “Leaves of Grass” that Walt Whitman first published in 1855 and then refined up to nine times in the last 37 years of his life. What I want to do here seems fairly aligned with Whitman’s attempt to capture his authentic philosophy of life and humanity as it evolved in his later years.

I want this space to be my “song of myself” from this point onward until I can write no more.

I don’t want to worry about offending or pleasing; what I will spill here is my song. What you do with it is really up to you.

So that’s what I think I will call it, at least for now. This is not a blog, or a journal. This is My Song, celebrating life and humanity as I see it.

The goal is to publish more frequently, more authentically, with content that is important to me, but accessible by you. Over the next few months, I’ll begin to re-design this site to reflect it as more of a songbook. I’m excited to see where this might go.

When Fire Reigns: Season 1, Episode 1 Published

On January 1, I set out to develop and publish an 11-episode podcast called, “When Fire Reigns.” It’s about the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904 and the mayor who died just three months later, reportedly by his own doing. Today, I published the first episode, just one day before the 115-year anniversary of the great conflagration.

You can listen to it on Podomatic HERE. Or, you can check it out now on Spotify or (fingers crossed) on Apple’s Podcasts very soon.

It wasn’t easy to do this. Venturing into the world of podcasting is all very new to me, and I wanted to just throw in the towel more than a few times. I pushed on, though, thanks to my daughter’s pep talk and the support of my around-the-world friends.

Here’s what made it so challenging.

I’ve got all of the equipment (Blue Yeti mic, laptop), but I just don’t have the sound-proof space to do the actual recording. I ended up turning my car into a makeshift studio. It wasn’t an ideal situation, but it got the job done.

When I started editing, I wasn’t terribly happy with the quality of sound, but I decided to go forward with it anyway. I know I need to solve this little dilemma before I record next week’s episode. I’m committed to doing it, so I will find a place to record.

The other challenge was that I know how I want it to sound, much like a beginning guitarist knows how she wants a particular riff to sound, but just can’t seem to get there yet. That’s me. I could spend a full year trying to get each note just exactly perfect. But then I hold back a year’s worth of content that I could have shared with my community. What’s the sense in that? Get it out there, learn, and do it better the next time.

Anyway, enjoy. I plan on publishing an episode every week or two. I want to establish a routine and try to build up a little following. We’ll see. Right now, I’m just having a blast doing this.

So: Thanks for listening, if you get the chance. I do appreciate it.

It Comes Down To…. You

I’ve been reading a lot of Annie Dillard’s writing lately, and I stumbled upon a collection of essays she wrote about the writing life. It’s really unlike anything about writing that I’ve ever read. Dillard’s argument, to put it plainly, is that nobody really gives a darn about what you write. And if they do, it’s certainly nowhere near what you, as the writer, care about the work.

That’s some pretty dark, awakening news for us romantic hopefuls that our work is going to really make a difference. But she’s right; people who sell shoes have a far more important role in the lives of people who need to get from point A to point B, especially if they are walking the route.

In one paragraph, Dillon writes:

Putting a book together is interesting and exhilarating. It is sufficiently difficult and complex that it engages all your intelligence. It is life at its most free. Your freedom as a writer is not freedom of expression in the sense of wild blurting; you may not let rip. It is life at its most free, if you are fortunate enough to be able to try it, because you select your materials, invent your task, and pace yourself.

I could not agree more with Dillon’s sentiment. In writing Fossil Five, I have experienced that exhilaration and freedom.

But! In the very next paragraph, Dillon takes a needle the size of the Seattle landmark and obliterates whatever air we had left in our little ego:

The obverse of this freedom, of course, is that your work is so meaningless, so fully for yourself alone, and so worthless to the world, that no one except you cares whether you do it well, or ever.

!

I’d like to think she is a little wrong here, but I don’t think she is. When Fossil Five releases, the people who have invested in the story will enjoy the swirl around it, and those close to them will like the peripheral swirl that touches them like the outer bands of a tired hurricane. If I am lucky, the story will resonate on some level, however briefly, and will bring some oxygen to the dying flame of old love. But I’m no fool. As much as I want the world to embrace this book and the message it sends, its blip on the radar will be brief, and I will already be immersed in that next exhilarating project in a world of freedom and wonderment.

Why? Because that is what I do. It’s really all I can do: share with the world a small snapshot of what I believe to be right, to be just, to be necessary in a world that is transforming to the antithetical, transverse image of everything I grew up to believe just a few decades ago.

And make no mistake: I know I am in the minority here, and I know some old fool was probably writing some mindless book back in the 80s, as desperately as I have written mine, to save the world from wild teens like myself.

What it really comes down to, in the end, is you. I write to feel attached to a world I am trying feverishly to hold on to and share with the younger generations. I cannot stop it. Even if, in the end, my handful of readers pat me on the back and buy me a beer, asking me about what’s next instead of what is, I know I did it because I had to.

So do you because you have to. Even if no one really notices, or cares, or celebrates. Do you. Because in the end, it really does…. come down to you.

Building a Podcast: The Baltimore Fire of 1904

Now that Fossil Five is in the hands of my editors, I have decided to devote the month of January to building a podcast series on the Baltimore Fire of 1904. It was my thesis project in grad school, and after listening to a bunch of podcasts this past week, I think it is the perfect story to tell over 6-8 episodes.

The only challenge is that I’ve never done a podcast before. I had to dive in and decide what I wanted to do, and how to share it with the world.

The Plan

The first step, for me, was to figure out how many words each episode should be. I did a timed reading from the manuscript, and I read about 700 words every 5 minutes. I want my podcasts to be between 20 and 30 minutes each, so I subtract about 5 minutes for front and end chatter (ncluding intro and outro music), and I am left with anywhere between 2100 and 2800 words per episode.

A little more simple math: My script is already over 30,000 words. so 6-8 episodes is not going to cut it. I’m going to need about 10-12 episodes, even with a good edit of my script.

The Structure

Now that I know I’m going to be working with about a dozen episodes, I divide my manuscript into rough episodes. I look for the cliffhangers, the teasers, the time shifts — all the things essential to a complete episode. I decide that I’m going to have to trim it back an episode or two, and I see plenty of places where I can edit out some superfluous material. Not a big deal. I can add it in later if I need to.

The Music

One of the coolest discoveries I made last year while teaching speech was copyright-free music. I went to my favorite site, Epidemic Sound, and searched through their huge database to find the exact track I was looking for. You need to establish a free account, but it is simple and fast to download the audio track to use for your intro, interlude, and outro segments. And, because it is copyright-free, you have no worries at all about having your podcasts blocked for copyright infringement.

The Web Host

I did a quick search through the various podcast hosting sites, and I fell in love with Podomatic. They have several kinds of accounts (including a free one, which I opted for in the early stages of podcasting). Upgrading to their pro account seems seamless and simple, and you have the option to pay monthly or annually. These are the kinds of options I’m looking for as a novice. Your podcast gets pushed to all of the most popular sites, and you don’t have to spend a penny to get it up and running.

The Podcast

I am building my podcast episodes on GarageBand, another free software program with Apple. It’s intuitive, easy to use, and exports your file to an MP3 format. I’ve used GarageBand for other projects, and it’s never let me down. I use a Blue Yeti microphone to record the audio in any low-sound area I can find (no air conditioners or heating units, no refrigerators, no external announcements or interruptions). I break up the episode into 3-5-minute chunks and record each sub-segment, knowing that I will be placing short clips of interlude music between them. And, because I am not trying to record the whole episode in one block, I usually need just one or two recordings for each sub-segment. For a 30-minute episode, I’m usually done in under 90 minutes.

The Edits

Good audio recorded in one setting means clean editing. It’s really more of a splicing of music, introductions, and segues with the main story. It takes another 90 minutes to 2 hours to edit, and then I export the file and upload to the podcast server.

I plan on launching my first episode by January 15, and then release new episodes every week (this includes through the anniversary of the Great Fire in Baltimore that started on February 7, 1904).

Stay tuned! I’ll be announcing its launch soon.

In the meantime, don’t be intimidated by the how’s of podcasting. Just jump in and start recording. It’s the only way to push through the full process and create a publishable product!


The Evening Report: 13 December 2018

The Report

Earlier today, our school held its annual Poetry Out Loud Competition, where 11 students shared their personal recitations of two previously published poems. The rules regarding which poems you can use are simple: one poem must be 25 or fewer lines; the other must be written before the 20th century. The Poetry Out Loud website does a nice job of offering poems in each category.

All 11 students did a magnificent job of bringing their poems to life; some even brought me to tears as they captured the precise emotion in each line to evoke in us — the members of their audience — a strong memory and reaction, transcending us from a simple school auditorium to a rambling brook, an old house, a forgotten pasture.

As I sat there and listened to each student, I had to remind myself that they were merely 16 or so years old. They knew little, if anything at all, of the authors and their works; they knew even less about what it means to be an old woman looking back at the missed chances in her life.

And yet, they were able to tap into some aspect of the timeless poems to breathe new life in them, words that had been penned 50, 100, even 200 or more years ago. How was this possible? These students spend their hours studying, scrolling through newsfeeds, binge-watching their favorite shows, working overtime, and somehow finding the time to get caught up on the drama of high school.

How could students who spend so much of their time receiving endless streams of data at all hours of the day bring to life Wordsworth, Shelley, Dickinson, and others?

The Point

Simply put, these authors made a decision to capture the essence of humanity — of  a life however lived — in words, where metaphors, rhymes, and allegories swirl in a timeless tapestry, giving us the chance to know firsthand, as if the moment were happening right before us, what he or she experienced.

This is why we write. This is why we “love words, agonize over sentences, and pay attention to the world,” according to Susan Sontag. It is our attempt to make the fleeting moment timeless, so that others long after us can still smell the lingering smoke from last night’s fire, the paralyzing fear of opening a bedroom door, the hovering delight of the seconds following a first kiss. It is our timeless connection to the past, present, and future through words that capture the threads of that tapestry, woven timelessly as one.

Share your ideas, your thoughts, your words with the world. Let us know today that you have lived; allow others tomorrow to breathe new life in your words, as our 11 students did so eloquently today.

The Deeper Stories

GRETCHIE’S GIFTS:

Our gift drive for the children in Sinai Hospital is coming to a close, and we are in desperate need of some last-minute shoppers who want to make a real difference in these children’s lives.

If you are interested in donating a gift to the children who will be spending the holidays (and beyond) in the hospital, check out our 3rd Annual Gift Drive for the Sinai Hospital PICU. If you would prefer to make a donation, we will be shopping next week for the children and purchasing as much of the items as possible that are still on the list. You can PayPal your donation directly to us at Rusvw13@icloud.com.

As a small token of appreciation, I am making my anthology, Faith, Hope, and Legacy: A Christmas Collection, which features “Gretchie’s Gifts,” free to all who wish to download it. 
If you are interested in the story behind our gift drive and “Gretchie’s Gifts,” you can read it here.

The Future Story

FOSSIL FIVE and THE JAR COLLECTIVE:

My latest novel, Fossil Five, will be released internationally on June 21, 2019, under The Jar Collective, a collaborative publishing house for the creative works of Jodi Cleghorn, Adam Byatt, and myself. Look for more information in January 2019 about the Collective and Fossil Five‘s release. 
For now, you can follow the progress of publishing Fossil Five on these social media platforms, which will also be providing frequent updates on the upcoming book’s release:
Facebook: facebook.com/fossilfive
Twitter: @fossil_five
Instagram: instagram.com/fossilfivethebook
Web: fossilfivethebook.wordpress.com


The Evening Report with Rus VanWestervelt is a daily reflection that will be posted here at The Baltimore Writer between 8 and 11 p.m. each night. I encourage you to subscribe to my blog and be one of the first to read The Evening Report.  

The Evening Report: 12 December 2018

The Report

Last night, we visited an old friend that we had not seen for decades. Mads had completed a commission piece of artwork, and we wanted to hand-deliver it. Our friend looked wonderful, and I felt energized by reconnecting with him after so much time passing between us. To be fair, he is Amy’s friend, but social media has a way of bringing people of acquaintance together in a stronger way. I know you get this; we’ve all experienced it. 

As we were leaving and sharing a final chat about the old days, we stood outside his house as he stuffed fresh tobacco into an old pipe, lighting it frequently against the bitter temperatures and sometimes-swift breezes that would pass through us. On the table next to the storm door was an old green jar filled with tobacco,  surrounded by spilled shredded leaves, a dark-brown bed that looked more like earthen snow around an old wishing well. Its lid was askew, a cocky fedora complimenting its host as if he were leaning against the back entrance of a speakeasy, nodding to those who dared to enter.

The gathering has remained with me throughout the day, and I’m pretty sure it’s because every aspect of the visit was authentic: the aroma of a fresh-made meal (the anchovies make it, his housemate says), the heat of an old wood stove, and the scent of residual smoke from the smoldering pipe filled with last night’s leaves.

But in the end, what sticks with me most is that we got together at all, encouraged to meet over a work of art that warmed the hearts of so many.

The Point

I’m finding that, as we get older, these intentional meetings — even if they are but for a few minutes — matter. Maybe it’s because we’ve been through so much by this stage in our lives; maybe it has something to do with our generation still remembering what it means to be unplugged, and we can connect to those moments where personal relationships, even in those happenstance one-on-ones that turn out to be real life-changers, are still at the core of what it means to be neighbors, friends, members of the human race. 

And for those younger than we might be, you are still discovering the beauty of authentic conversation, moments spent away from the digital world, even in a touch, a lingering catch of each other’s eyes, a simple smile that tells us all we ever wanted to know: That we are loved, that we are appreciated, that we matter.

The Deeper Stories

GRETCHIE’S GIFTS:

Our gift drive for the children in Sinai Hospital is coming to a close, and we are in desperate need of some last-minute shoppers who want to make a real difference in these children’s lives.

If you are interested in donating a gift to the children who will be spending the holidays (and beyond) in the hospital, check out our 3rd Annual Gift Drive for the Sinai Hospital PICU. If you would prefer to make a donation, we will be shopping next week for the children and purchasing as much of the items as possible that are still on the list. You can PayPal your donation directly to us at Rusvw13@icloud.com.

As a small token of appreciation, I am making my anthology, Faith, Hope, and Legacy: A Christmas Collection, which features “Gretchie’s Gifts,” free to all who wish to download it. 
If you are interested in the story behind our gift drive and “Gretchie’s Gifts,” you can read it here.

The Future Story

FOSSIL FIVE and THE JAR COLLECTIVE:

My latest novel, Fossil Five, will be released internationally on June 21, 2019, under The Jar Collective, a collaborative publishing house for the creative works of Jodi Cleghorn, Adam Byatt, and myself. Look for more information in January 2019 about the Collective and Fossil Five‘s release. 
For now, you can follow the progress of publishing Fossil Five on these social media platforms, which will also be providing frequent updates on the upcoming book’s release:
Facebook: facebook.com/fossilfive
Twitter: @fossil_five
Instagram: instagram.com/fossilfivethebook
Web: fossilfivethebook.wordpress.com


The Evening Report with Rus VanWestervelt is a daily reflection that will be posted here at The Baltimore Writer between 8 and 11 p.m. each night. I encourage you to subscribe to my blog and be one of the first to read The Evening Report.  

Gretchie’s Gifts: Free December Download

For the month of December, I am offering Faith, Hope, and Legacy: a Collection of Christmas Reflections, which features “Gretchie’s Gifts,” at no cost to you.

“Gretchie’s Gifts” is the story that kicked off our annual gift drive for the children at Sinai Hospital’s PICU. The story behind the story is compelling, and it took me over a year to finally compose it and share it with all of you. When I released it two years ago, it became an Amazon bestseller almost immediately. Since then, I have shared the story with thousands of readers, and now I want to share it with you – for free.

Please enjoy your free download of Faith, Hope, and Legacy: A Collection of Christmas Reflections, and after you read “Gretchie’s Gifts,” please consider donating to our drive or purchasing a gift from the wish list.

May your holidays be filled with love and light,

Rus