Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Endearing Artifacts

Vestiges of our family-raising days are still around to remind us how reluctant we are to accept the empty nest left by our three sons years ago. We still find the golf clubs in the closet, the Ninja Turtles and Castle Grayskull in another bedroom, the cd's and records that got out of date and not taken in any moves, and the drawers full of old trumpet music and old class notes and texts. And in the garage we still shift around old fishing tackle boxes and piecemeal casting rods, an old skateboard or volleyball knee protectors, an old baseball and first baseman's mitt, an abandoned foot-operated air pump or bicycle tire repair kit.

In another bedroom remains a boombox that still works despite a broken plastic dial cover, and stuffed away in the closets are old band hats and trophies, certificates and yearbooks, loads of old toys and models, computer peripherals and disks, old electronics galore: cd players, walkmans, tape players, storage crates, and desktop miniatures. We still have Transformers and Super Heroes! I found Buzzoff! Remember him from the old Super Heroes action figures? Bet he'd be worth something on E-bay. Only last year did we finally get rid of the bowling ball and bag we kept kicking around in the garage, and the last of the kids' old bicycles finally got picked up by the curb a couple of years ago.

So why do we have these vestiges, these artifacts of our child-rearing days? When a son or daughter moves out, to go to college or try living in a different neighborhood or city, or heads off to military service or whatever makes them leave the homestead, they usually can't take everything they've collected or amassed, all their personal paraphrenalia and clothes, furniture, gifts, purchases, and effects of a lifetime with them to their new digs. There isn't room. And they're not usually prone to toss out or otherwise dispose of the things they probably will never touch again, just in order to clear out their former rooms and closets. They like to leave things they don't want to clutter their new place at home in their room. (They still consider the room they occupied in their parents' house as their room, more or less forever.) If they get married and raise a family of their own, it's still their old room to them. And they feel justified in leaving their stuff there forever as well. The parents didn't need the space when they lived there, so they surely son't need it now.

But it's not just our children that perpetuate these vestiges of former times. We, the parents, are just as reluctant to change a single thing, most of us. We say we'll make a son's or daughter's room a sewing room now, or a perfect den or workroom, or some such claim; but it seldom happens. More likely we try to keep it just as it was, right down to dresser-top items just so and the same pictures and posters on the walls. We'll need it, we say, when they come back to visit, and at holidays, for a guest room. The worst of us try to build a shrine out of the child's room and never move the least item from the way we remember it when the child occupied it. Maybe it's our way of coping with the empty nest, or keeping our children close to us psychologically, by keeping their possessions close to us. We couldn't wait till they grew up and moved out. But then we couldn't really let go of them, either. In keeping these vestiges, we keep them close to our hearts and don't really mind it, despite our churlish occasional complaining about them, because we need to. They're still our children, no matter how old they get, and always will be.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Summertime...And the Livin' Is Easy

It's summertime. In South Florida, that would seem to be anytime, but it's not. There's a different feeling in the air--more tropical. It's the same kind of air mass that breeds hurricanes, unfortunately, but it is mostly just very humid, usually sunny, tropical air, coming up often from the south.

It begins to settle over us about the first of June and lasts well into October, with showers and thunderstorms people can set their watches by, beginning about 3:00 p.m., usually firing up from the west, and ending by 3:30. The rain soaks into the sandy soil like a sponge, and things dry off quickly as the sunshines returns.

Visitors are often surprised to find how local and defined these downpours can be, literally raining hard on one side of a street and remaining dry and sunny on the other. Down here, one can actually see a curtain of a rain coming down the block, then get soaked a few minutes later as it reaches the observer.

As for discomfort in the South Florida heat, the objection one hears "It's not the heat, it's the humidity," is true. Having lived here since 1976, I am still amazed at how quickly the beads of sweat form when I'm outside doing the least little bit of work or activity. Even my morning walk of a few blocks leaves me soaked by the time I return home, and I have to change clothes.

But what can one expect, living on the tip of a peninsula that juts out six hundred miles into the Atlantic Ocean? We're going to get some rain, to put it mildly. The fact that we haven't had enough of it this whole year has left us in a severe drought that threatens our drinking supply and shuts down our lawn watering despite the fact that we're two weeks into our "rainy season," but I have no doubt that the wetness will return as we cycle through.

Despite the extremes of humidity and drought, heat and hurricanes, lightning (Florida is the lightning capital of the world most years) and other phenomena, however, I think our climate to be much easier to live in than many other parts of the country. I remember Indiana heat waves that had us melting and Chicago and New York heat waves that actually killed many of those unfortunate enough not to have air conditioning. And every summer, as high pressure domes of heat park over the midwest and cities from Dallas to Clevelend just broil in 100-plus degrees that lasts for days or weeks with no relief, I thank my lucky stars I'm in the mid-eighties and lower nineties here in South Florida in the summertime.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Post or Perish? It Depends

I'd like to post a few thoughts about the ups and downs of blogging, particularly to the new blogger. And I'm not exactly an old-timer at this subject, but I've posted a few hundred times on about two dozen blogs I've started and stopped, amassed a few thousand visits and some interesting comments from fellow bloggers over a three-year period since I began this one, and remain committed primarily to the power of words to entertain, inform, and stimulate the mind and heart every bit as much as the ubiquitous digital photo or video or sound clip does on so-called "blogs" elsewhere. I'm a word blogger. I like the challenge of trying to create pictures and sounds in the imagination, and I leave the digital pictures and sounds to others. I'm a Greek, not a Roman, and I seek thought, not spectacle.

Blogging, in its simplest form, is so easy that anyone can do it. But that's not to say that anyone can attract growing numbers of visitors. It's a maxim for new bloggers that the best way to attract attention is to post readable, topical entries and post them frequently, tagged with keywords on interesting subjects, then follow up by reading other's blogs and commenting on them when you have something to say and inviting those writers to visit your site at their convenience as well. Make links available to your blog and invite subscribers. Then contact the search engines and wait for their spiders to crawl your entries, usually within a few days or weeks.

But even if you do all these things faithfully and begin to build visitors of a few per day or week, then a few more, chances are that if you do not keep posting, your stats will quickly level out and stagnate until they get "fed" again with a new post or three from you. This is because the engines and watchers that are keeping an eye on you as well as nearly countless other new blogs hitting the internet every day are waiting to see how you do, waiting to see if your blog has the power to pull a visitor with increasing frequency, to draw a subscription link without resorting to buying one, in effect, from many sites who will gladly sell you their admiration and promise to splash your blog title all over Google's masthead as Number One in the Universe--for a fee of course.

And if you don't post for a few days or a few weeks, it tells the watchers that you may be among the unwashed multitudes who just like to set up a site then abandon it in a few days. These "been there, done that" bloggers are the curse of every host, wasting bandwidth and refusing to "improve the land" in any way, till they're finally cleaned out of the hosts' servers at no small bother.

So if you don't want the world to think you're another dilettante blogger just passing through the fickle attention span of cyberspace, post regularly. You don't have to post every day or every hour, but post at least every several days to a week, at least once. This applies especially to new blogs. If you do not, if you want to rest on your initial fit of inspiration that filled up a couple of pages, then sit back and see who visits, be prepared to see goose eggs on your statcounters after the initially curious pass by.

However, if you do post regularly, it will trigger the quicker visits of the search engine spiders, the links you need to build your rank, and within a few months you may reach a few hundered to a few thousand visits from all over the world, and that is very satisfying. Then, having reached a certain "critical mass," you may be surprised and gratified to find that you do not really have to post as often to keep growing, and your visitors will continue to increase without daily need for attention on your part.

I think the biggest problem for new bloggers is the unrealistic expectation that the whole world is waiting with bated breath to hear their immortal thoughts via a new blog, and when they don't see a thousand visits the first day, the next day they quit. It needs to be understood that just because the internet is free and open to all readers, and your blog can be read around the globe the instant you hit "publish," it doesn't mean that everyone on the internet knows or cares that your words are there at "," or would rush right over to read you even if they did.

Think of it as if there were a book, a hard copy, published tomorrow bearing your same immortal thoughts, and that one copy were sent, somehow, to every bookstore in the world at the same time. Now, who would happen upon it? And if a few did pick it up, who would read it? And if a few did read it, who would discuss it? Comment on it? To whom? Until someone reviewed your book, discussed your book, assigned your book or created some buzz somewhere about your book, chances are it's not bound for the New York Times Bestseller List, right?

The internet is no different when it comes to the need to market your product. But it's done electronically now, through search engines, keywords, comments, and the same hard scrabble work that print marketing requires. You have to be patient, and you have to pay your dues and build up a few readers who want to follow your ideas as you offer them, then if you're lucky, in time there will be some buzz generated, and voila! one day you get the shock of your life that 48 people read something you posted, all at once, and pretty soon you're hearing from the host of your blog nagging you to consider selling ad space and other corruptions so he can cash in on your emerging authorship fame as well!

That happened to me, once, so I know it can. (Didn't sell the adspace, though; I hate ads on blogs. It's so crass.)