Many of you who knew me before I started the blog weren’t even aware that I liked to write. Many of you who had pinned me down on that point had never seen any actual examples of my writing. People whom I consider to be close friends had read little, knew little about my ardent desire to be a writer. They didn’t know that since the age of ten, I defined myself to myself always first as a writer. That definition never truly left me, but it was modified: writer-in-training; then, later, writer-in-waiting. A theoretical writer.
What an extraordinary waste of time!
The only way to be a writer is to write. Duh, right? Write crap, and then write some more crap. Then learn from the crap you wrote, and write more crap, and more crap, and more crap until it stops being crap.
That’s what thunderstrokes is: the place where I go to write my crap.
That fact that some folks seem to be enjoying the crap I’m writing tells me that you people must be surrounded by such a high level of quality in your day-to-day lives that you like coming here because you miss the unique odor, or like to reminisce about your own days of crap, writing or otherwise.
In my more doubtful moments, this is the kind of thing I tell myself.
Considering where I came from, the fact that I still have doubts after 100 posts shouldn’t be too surprising. The good news (for me and my crap, at least) is that they are no longer crippling doubts.
Instead, they are doubts about whether I’m not being honest enough, or too honest. Whether I’m being funny enough, or too funny; or smart enough, or too smart; whether I’m simply stating things which are so obvious that nobody even thinks to bring them up, or writing things so far out there that no one will have a clue what I’m talking about. Whether I’m taking short cuts and being lazy, or boring the bejeezus out of my readers. Often, they are doubts about very mundane things; for instance, right now I’m having doubts about using the word ‘crap’ so many times, and doubting whether I should have even written that part. Who wants to hear someone talk so much crap?
After 100 posts, I’ve learned that doubts do not go away; they just change shape, and come at you from new angles. But even that is something I only could learn by writing.
So I’ve learned a lot after 100 posts. Here are some of the other things I’ve learned:
Writing begets writing. I am the most unambitious person I know. For years,
has bemoaned and bewailed (sometimes simultaneously, which is really something
to hear) my lack of ambition. Except, I
have discovered, when I write. For some
reason, when I sit down to write a simple post about my goldfish, for instance,
it evolves into this bizarre dissertation on the nature of life. Talk about ambitious. Trust me, I wasn’t aiming for that when I
started. Almost every post I’ve written
has turned into something more than what I initially thought it would be. Whether this reveals a lack of control, or a
willingness to pursue an idea wherever it may lead – in other words, whether it
is a bad thing or a good thing – is something I’m still working out for
myself. It has, however, earned
thunderstrokes a reputation for not being the kind of place you go for brief,
pithy posts. I prefer to think of it as
a place you go with your favorite beverage, some comfortable clothes, and a
good forty-five minutes to stretch out, relax, and ensconce yourself in a big,
warm cornucopia of lingual satisfaction. Ooh, that sounds kind of sexy…
Ideas beget ideas. I was initially terrified at the prospect of starting a blog, and that was totally aside from the fact that people would now be able to read what I was writing (gasp). What am I going to write about? Where am I going to get ideas? Sure, I had a few ideas to get me started, but then what? I was sure I would be scraping the bottom of the creative barrel within three weeks. I went back to my archives of previously-written work, desperately trying to figure out what I could use in the event of an emergency, how much revision it would take to make some of my older stuff presentable. I started in tentatively with the first few, and in the course of writing them, other ideas began suggesting themselves, and pretty soon ideas were coming at me from all over, and I had to start a document just to put them somewhere until I could get back to them, then a second, then a third. Creativity, when truly freed, is like a well that gets fuller the more you draw from it. Trust me, I’m not taking credit for anything and not bragging in any way; I believe it’s more like a law of the universe or something. Do you believe in the miracle of the loaves and fish? I do. I have to, because I’m currently sitting on a pile of fish and bread that could feed me for three years if it stopped right now. Of course, a little Taco Bell every now and then wouldn’t be so bad either.
Writers need readers. Anyone who says they’re a writer who writes strictly for themselves is either a liar or chickensh*t. I know, because I’ve been both. The willing act of writing, unless it’s a diary, is by nature about trying to communicate something that’s locked inside that person to the outside world. Who lives in the outside world, except for people? Readers are important to the writer, even if it’s only to give the writer a way to find out if his inner thoughts and feelings actually resonate with others, or if he really is as crazy and alone as he feels.
Of course, my readers know how important they are to me, because they have all read this. Right? You’ve read this? You’re sure? Last chance.
But enough about me, or is that you? Well, either way, in commemoration of the 100th post, I would like to take you on a tour of the facilities here at thunderstrokes. I’d like to open our vault for you, and invite you in for a look at some of the interesting information that Blogger supplies. These are the kinds of facts and figures that every blogger receives, tracks and, too frequently, obsesses over. So, join me, won’t you, as we take a quick, behind the scenes look at thunderstrokes at 100 posts.
So, the first thing that you’ll notice as you step into the vault – oh, watch your step there, ma’am – is that it’s not terribly big. Just enough room for the essentials. The ceilings are kind of low, which isn’t a problem for me, but those of you who are vertically enhanced – no, not that way, sir – may find you need to crouch down a little. I wish there were a little more space to store things in here, but then you can’t be too demanding. You did know this is a rent-free arrangement we’ve got here, didn’t you? That makes it difficult to protest the fact that they don’t store all the data you wished they did, especially if you’re a pack rat like me.
Now, the first area you’ll see when you enter the vault is called the Overview page. If you look to your left, there’s a chart which shows how many times the blog has been accessed each day for the last week.
To the right of that are some basic ongoing totals for the blog as a whole: the number of comments awaiting moderation (currently 0), the total number of published comments (207), today’s total pageviews (15), total number of posts (99 at the moment), and total number of followers (9).
Now is a good time to remind guests that the essential unit of measurement for blogs is the ‘pageview.’ A pageview, as I have explained before, is counted whenever a viewer clicks to the blog, or to a specific page of the blog. For instance, if you google thunderstrokes, and then click on the link to the blog, that counts as a pageview. Every time you click on a post or page inside the blog, it counts as a pageview. That’s why we bloggers make sure you always have to click “read more” after the first few paragraphs: so that we can see how many pageviews each post is getting. I know, sneaky, right? However, Blogger does not track how much time a person spends on a page, or whether they read it at all, so it’s really more of a click counter. It also doesn’t measure belly laughs, or even guffaws, or chortles, so clearly there is room for improvement.
Also on the Overview page is a section of information from Blogger to its users, providing news about the latest and greatest in Blogger gadgets, updates and new services. An interesting little feature of this page is Blogger’s Recent Blogs of Note. This is where some secret team at Blogger (well, I don’t know who’s on it) arbitrarily selects blogs to hold up as examples to the rest of us blogging slugs (or blugs); it’s kind of like winning an award, except there’s no actual award involved, just recognition. Well, you can get a little image to post on your blog announcing that yours is, in fact, a Recent Blog of Note, but I think that’s it. In a way, it’s kind of like the "Jannies" here at thunderstrokes, except you don’t have to be dead to win one (I’m not even sure if it’s supposed to help your chances). I’ve discovered some great blogs this way, and I will usually check them out just to see if they have any great design or gadget ideas I can steal.
Continuing on, next we come to the Post page. The Post page is exactly what it sounds like: a chronological listing of all the blog’s posts, including the post’s title, any labels you have attached (funny, essays, Pixar – stuff like that), author, number of comments, number of pageviews, and date of publication. It’s where we bloggers go if we want to edit or change a post, or delete a post, or, if you’re like me, go through all your posts and add up how many have 100 or more pageviews, 90 or more pageviews, 80 or more pageviews, etc., and then compare your new totals to the totals you took yesterday, so you can brag about how you now have 13 posts with 100 or more pageviews instead of 12. Yes, I really do that. Fortunately, no one I talk to really understands what the numbers mean, so they just assume they should be impressed, give me the verbal equivalent of a pat on the head by saying, “That’s great,” and then ask me why I don’t write more "Taughter Files."
Now if you’ll look behind you, you’ll see where the earnings information for the blog is tracked. Oh, you didn’t know the blog was a profit-making venture? That is one of our better kept secrets here at thunderstrokes. Several months ago, our visionary leader (me, but why be modest?) saw the potential windfall to be had by embedding ads on the blog using Blogger’s Adsense program. Potential
suckers customers, innocently
click the ad on the blog, and presto! Just like that, I make money! And let me tell you, it’s been well worth
selling out the blog as a corporate tool, too.
We here at thunderstrokes have been raking in the cash, to the mercenary
tune of exactly ….69 cents! Okay, so we
haven’t made enough to actually buy a rake, but when we do, I’ll really enjoy
raking up the rest of those pennies.
Huh, now that’s strange… I could have sworn our balance of was 73 cents the last time I checked… Is it possible we’re losing money on this deal? Did my readers figure out a way to negative click on an ad? What’s going on here? I need that money. I had plans for that money. I was going to convert it to pesos so it looked like I had more money…and now my plans are dashed. Is this a part of SB1070 nobody told me about?
Well, all I can say is they better not try to bill me. I know karate.
Let’s just move on, shall we? As we kind of skootch towards the far end of the vault here – try not to crowd, people – you’ll notice on either side areas reserved for blog layout, template and settings. It should be fairly evident from looking at thunderstrokes that I don’t know much about any of those things, and you can tell by the layer of dust that I try not to go over there. If you see anything on the blog that smacks of style, it’s safe to assume it’s an accident. Ah, here we are now, the nerve center of the Blogger-verse, the Stats page.
The Stats page is comprised of three separate areas: Posts, Traffic Sources, and Audience, plus its own Overview page. No, sir, it’s not the same as the Overview page we saw at the beginning. Okay, it’s clear that not all of you took the long bus to school as children, and at least one of you looks highly claustrophopic, so please try to stay focused here. Direct your attention if you will to the chart up there at the top left of the Stats>Overview page. Yes, that’s right; it’s the one that looks like a cross-section of a stalactite field. That was a very insightful observation. It’s clear you do well in cave-like situations; your parents must be very proud. At any rate, this chart provides a visual way of assessing how many pageviews the blog has generated by time of day. The default setting shows activity for the last seven days, but you can also zoom in to see activity patterns by ‘day,’ or even ‘now.’ You can also zoom out to see total activity plotted by month, or all time. These macro views give you a quick visual sense of whether your blog is growing at a respectable pace, stagnating, or whether your readers are abandoning your blog like jetpack-equipped rats from a stinking ship. Wait, that’s sinking ship. Rats wouldn’t be in a hurry to abandon a stinking ship, now would they?
To the right of the chart is a quick synopsis of the number of pageviews presented several different ways: today’s number (28), yesterday’s number (77), last month’s number (1,117), and the all time number (8,495).
The rest of the Stats>Overview page just contains condensed versions of the information from each of the other Stats pages, so we’ll skip that and go straight to the – okay, that woman in the back seriously looks like she may drop at any moment. Would someone please go stand behind her, so that if she does go down, she won’t hit any of the controls and mess them up? You, yes, you there in the baggy pants, you look something like a cushion, would you be a Rescue Ranger and just kind of line yourself up there… no, not there, more to the left, between the woman and the wall – yes, that’s better. Now if you would just stay there until I finish… Good. No, I don’t have any money. Weren’t you listening when I was talking about the ads? Now, where was I? Oh, yes, the Stats>Post page.
The Stats>Post page gives you the pageview tally for each of your ten most popular posts over the time period you select. So, for instance, over the last week, "Avengers Assemble!" leads the way with 56 pageviews, followed by "the secretlives of goldfish" with 41, all the way down to "Aiming with Accuracy" with 5. If we switch to ‘day,’ "Avengers Assemble!" is tied with "10 Great Disneyland Moments" with 5 pageviews each, and it goes down from there to "the secret lives of goldfish" with 1. Obviously, the purpose of the Stats>Post page is to allow us bloggers to keep tabs on the ebb and flow of our posts over time. Wow! That woman’s eyes have completely glazed over, and yet she is standing as straight as a tree! Way to demonstrate mastery over your involuntary reflexes! Brava, madam, brava!
The Stats>Traffic Sources page is next. It’s not one I pay a whole lot of attention to, to be perfectly honest. This is the page that tells us where the people who come to your blog are coming from, interenet-wise. In other words, let’s say you were on Facebook when you suddenly were seized with the inspiration to see what’s going on over at thunderstrokes. It would show up on our blog’s Stats>Traffic Sources page that one person came from Facebook. Now, the way I see it, wherever you were on the internet before you came to us is really none of our concern. If you want to look at a website about “20 ways to use peanut butter you never thought of,” or a website where small rodents are dressed up to look like celebrities and then forced to race each other in tiny mazes, that’s really your decision. Of course, Blogger doesn’t identify the person along with the referring source, so there’s nothing to fear in terms of invading your personal privacy. But let me just say that some of you have been very naughty. Pictures of scantily clad service animals? That’s just wrong.
Some bloggers use the Stats>Traffic Sources info to backtrack, and see if someone else has linked to their blog. This is considered desirable amongst bloggers, but that’s when you start getting into complicated SEO (search engine optimization) equations, which I’m working very hard to avoid understanding because it sounds too much like math. All I know is that I link to websites and blogs all the time in my posts, and no one’s come looking for me. Personally, I think it has to do with the whole ‘scantily clad service animal’ thing.
The most interesting part of Stats>Traffic Sources page is the section titled “Search Keywords.” This is where we can see what keywords were entered into a search engine whose results ultimately prompted the person to click on the blog. I like to play a game with these, and guess which post the person was directed to. Let me show you how it works:
pat tillman meditation on top of stadium – that’s an easy one. That goes to my Pat Tillman page, where I wrote this honkin’ long essay about Pat Tillman about his life and compared him to Theseus from Greek mythology. I love Greek mythology. My first novel is about Greek mythology. Blatant plug alert: you can read an excerpt from the rough draft here.
"i'm that guy" – I wrote a post called "I’m that guy." For some reason, it didn’t garner many pageviews when it was first published, but it’s always been one of my favorites. It’s funny how you can never really be sure which posts people are going to show an interest in…
crosswalk person image – that has to be "Full Body Scans Ending?" The post is primarily about the new scanners airports are using, but there’s also an impassioned defense of the rights of stick people.
pixar vs. disney – that’s easy. That’s "Woody’s Castle," which was also one of my favorite posts to write, and also one that people definitely responded to. It’s great when that happens.
Some search keywords aren’t as obvious:
one leg wheelchair – I decided this one must connect with "Aiming with Accuracy," the post about Jeff Fabry, the champion archer who lost one of his arms and a leg in a motorcycle accident at fifteen. But before I figured that out, I spent a few minutes picturing a one-legged wheelchair, which seemed unimaginably cruel, until I realized it had to mean the person in the wheelchair had only one leg. Sometimes a strong imagination can be a bad thing.
"she always has to have the last word" – This one must have linked to a two-part story I wrote early on called "The Open Door - Part 1" and "Part 2." In it, I talk about a fight Elizabeth and I had about my tendency to leave doors unlocked, and in that fight I reflect on how she has to get the last word in our arguments. But that was just one little sentence in a much longer story. It seems strange that Google would pick up on that. Or am I the only one who has that problem?
mexican butterfly hole – This one threw me because of the ‘mexican’ part, but it must have connected to a poem I wrote called "the butterfly hole." I just checked again to be sure, and there is no use of the word ‘mexican’ at all in that post. I’m sure this person was disappointed when he/she ended up on my blog. Incidentally, many of the butterflies referenced in the poem were in fact Mexican; but they were here illegally and I just didn’t want to get them in trouble with ICE, or Sheriff Joe.
uncut bears peeking out – “uncut bears peeking out” Really? Who is this person, and what are they talking about? I finally figured that Google must have referred them to the story of our "Uncle Day Weekend" trip, probably around part 6 or so (of 8), when we get to a place called Bearizona, and see some black bears that have been carved out of wood. But honestly, I don’t know what this person expected to find.
Some just make you feel bad. You know the person’s looking for real help and real answers, and instead they end up at your blog with all its nonsense:
what can be recycled – I’m pretty sure this person was looking for helpful information about recycling, and ended up instead at the post, "Are we supposed to recycle everything now?" which contains no helpful information about recycling at all. Sorry.
potty training for girls – I feel bad that people who were searching for real advice on how to potty train their children found themselves reading about our misadventures with Maria in the two-part series "Potty Training – Part 1," and "Potty Training – Part 2: Operation TakeNo Prisoners." I know how dark their plight can be. Good luck and Godspeed, potty trainers everywhere.
i feel like i am losing control of my bodily functions – Here’s one where I both feel terrible empathy for the poor person on the asking end and tremendous confusion as to why Google would direct them to anything on my blog. Seriously, when I did I ever write about losing bodily functions, unless we’re back to potty training? Google, why would you do this to somebody who is clearly in need of serious medical advice? That’s just mean.
Other examples of total confusion:
fake irish id – I have no idea why Google saw fit to reference thunderstrokes for the keyword search “fake irish id.” I know nothing about fake ID’s, and surprising little about the Irish. I am certain I’ve never written anything about either of them. Way to go, Google.
female bumblebee – Show me where, Google. That’s all I ask. Show me where.
my wife the slag – I swear, honey. I don’t know where Google got this. I’ve never referred to you that way on the blog, I promise. I have never even put that combination of words together in my life. Never even thought them. I don’t even know what it means. Back me up on this, Google…Google?... GGGOOOOOOOOOGGGGLLLEEE!!!
Well, let’s move along to the last part of the Blogger vault, which is the Stats>Audience page. This is a great little section that shows the geographic location of your visitors when they access the blog. It even has this little map of the world, and it shows you in various shades of green which countries people are visiting from. The greener it is, the more visitors from that country. This is the most gratifying part of the blog for me, being the shy, timid soul that I am. It’s hard to believe that people from all over the world have visited thunderstrokes. Sure, I understand that the vast majority of them got here by accident, and that the vast majority probably left just as quickly. But still, what else could I be doing right now and be able to say that today I had someone from
writing? That’s right, Oman . And not just one pageview, either. Anyone might be able to get an Omanian to click
once, but I got two pageviews. Sure,
this person may not read English, and may frequently make mistakes when using a
computer, but still, it’s Oman Oman,
man, ! OMAN
In fact, there have been visitors from every continent except
Antarctica. Apparently, penguins just don’t surf the
internet the way you’d think they would.
Check out this roster of countries:
Russia, Georgia, Turkey, Israel (64 pageviews, all of which occurred in a single night – very Mossad-like), Saudi Arabia, Yemen, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh (I love you, Bangladesh!), Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, China, Japan, and South Korea
What, are you kidding me? It’s like we got ourselves our own little Olympic village here!
Of course, I’m not implying that I have people visiting regularly from these countries, or even that most of these aren’t accidents. I’m just saying that my work has been seen in 66 countries. Not liked, not understood, not even read, but seen.
And I still don’t have an agent, can you believe that?
On the subject of international visitors, I’d just like to say a few words to the Ukrainians in the audience. Hey, Ukrainians, listen up. I know what you’re up to over there in the former Soviet republic. You think you’re being tricky, trying to turn this whole blogging phenomenon to your own advantage. I know your evil minions are latching on to a post like "Unscrewed t-shirts are here!" and pumping up the pageviews in an effort to get me to check my traffic sources and follow the link back to your black-market movie selling sites, or video game sites, or whatever other bogus enterprise you’re involved in. You might as well stop now, because I’m not falling for it. Thanks to you, my blog is showing that "Unscrewed t-shirts are here!" is thunderstrokes’ most popular post of all time. C’mon! It’s just not that good. I don’t want my numbers polluted by your hundreds of fake pageviews. Take your hack selves and go do something worthwhile, like underwater basket weaving or busting the kneecaps of low-level Ukrainian government officials. I don’t need your pitiful cries for attention on my blog; that’s my job.
Sorry the rest of you had to hear that, but I just didn’t know when I might get another opportunity to express myself on that score.
Well, ladies and gentlemen. That’s it for the Blogger vault tour of thunderstrokes. Hope you enjoyed the 100th post spectacular. I’m sure you can all find your way out. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m very busy. So much time, and so little to do. Wait, strike that. Reverse it.
And would somebody please see that the catatonic woman gets carted back to the entrance?