Are Memoirs Exploitative?

I’ve heard it said that memoirs can be exploitative. Someone is exploiting their father’s alcoholism, their mother’s mental illness, their friend’s cancer, their sister’s death.

And I suppose people can see it that way if they so choose. It is their prerogative.

And maybe, in some individuals’ minds the fact that in the past criminals have made financial gain on their stories has promoted this view. People are closely watching Casey Anthony right now to see if she will be able to exploit the death of her daughter for personal gain. It’s true. Some people do exploit the bad fortune of others. The dark side of human behavior continues to disappoint and distress me.

But I don’t see most memoirs as exploitative. Memoirs are a means by which authors can share their own personal journey for whatever reason. Oftentimes, I imagine, they hope that someone else can benefit from the sharing in some way. Here’s what the nay-sayers are missing: most memoir writers are not exploiting someone else, they are exposing their own pain. They are like a hermit crab without a shell, fully exposed to whatever reception their story receives.

I think memoir writers are courageous. I think Jeannette Walls’ story of her dysfunctional family and Ann Best’s story of her unfaithful, homosexual husband, took a lot of personal courage to write.

Since the beginnings of time people have wanted to share their stories. While earning my English degree several years ago, I took a class in which we studied some Holocaust literature. Holocaust stories just make me plain-out feel terrible. Horrendous treatment of people, horrible suffering, and not a thing in the world I can do about it. “What possible good can it do for me to read these stories?” I asked. “What can I do for the author who wrote the story?”

“You can read his story.” Was the answer. People want their story told.

Memoirs are a window into the human condition. Many times they are stories of human courage and resilience growing out of human frailty and suffering.

My own memoir, Dancing in Heaven, is a story of love, compassion, unwavering commitment, and the intrinsic value of human life in it’s most basic form. I know I open myself up to attack from or rejection by individuals who may want to read my story with a different agenda. It’s a risk all writers who speak their truth take.

I’m still going to tell my story. My sister Annie never worked, never got married, never had children. Her footprint on this earth was nearly invisible because, like the famous poem, she was carried the entire way.  Annie didn’t have very much to leave behind. But she did have her story. And I’m telling it.

If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland

For Mother’s Day  my son and daughter-in-law gave me two books on writing: If you Want to Write—A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit by Brenda Ueland, and Writing About Your Life — A Journey into the Past by William Zinsser.

I’ve started reading Ueland’s book a chapter at a time, and although I haven’t gotten very far into the book, I find it refreshing, uplifting and inspiring. This is particularly true because of  the negative environment I often encounter on the web in terms of the likelihood of getting an agent, the validity of self-publishing, and the general question of are you good enough?

Ueland writes:

“Now perhaps the thoughts, ‘There is no money in it,’ and ‘It may never be published,’ dry up all the springs of energy in you so that you can’t drag yourself to a piece of paper.

“I have experienced this often. I have cleared it up for myself in the following way:

“At the time of the Renaissance, all gentlemen wrote sonnets. They did not think of getting them published in the Woman’s Home Companion. Well, why write the sonnet at all?

“A Renaissance nobleman wrote a love sonnet for a number of reasons. [. . .] But the real reason was to tell the lady that he loved her.”

Ueland continues with an example of an artist:

“If you read the letters written by the painter van Gogh, you will see what his creative impulse was. He loved the sky, for example. He loved human beings. He wanted to show human beings how  beautiful the sky was so he painted it for them. And that was all there was to it,” (Ueland pp 20-21).

I find this very inspirational. When I began writing my memoir, I did not think of getting it published. I loved my sister Annie, and I loved human beings. I simply wanted to show human beings how beautiful Annie was, so I wrote it for them. And that is all there is to it.

In the late 50s when my sister Annie was born, sometimes families placed severely disabled children in homes where they could be cared for. When Annie was born with severe brain damage my parents’ family doctor told them, “You have two choices. You can keep her and take care of her, or put her in an institution.” My parents took care of Annie in their home for 51 years, until her death. The following is an excerpt from Dancing in Heaven—a sister’s memoir.

Dad said, “All I know is that very early on we were both quite young and had no idea what was down the line. We made a decision. She’s the way God gave her to us, and we agreed to take on that responsibility. There was no pressure from anybody else to do it or not do it. We chose to do it.” After a moment he added, “She’s been a major pleasure to me on a one-to-one basis.”

“And she has been a major pleasure to a lot of other people, some of whom do not even know her,” Mom said. “I think it’s because she just smiles. She has some kind of charisma there that doesn’t have to be spoken. She’ll look up at people and just smile. And they’ll melt right there.

“You can take her to the store; you can take her anywhere, and the way she’s sitting back, she can see people’s faces good. And she’ll just look up and smile, and you’ve got everybody in the place smiling at her. But I think any ordinary person could do that too, I just don’t think we do.”

Successful Self-Publishing: Assignment #4

The reading assignment for this week was on Branding your Business. It gets a little bit confusing, because technically, as a self-publisher, you have your “author” brand and your “imprint” brand. The imprint brand is the publishing name you have to come up with when you publish your book.

Writer’s Digest has an online community originated by Linton Robinson about self-publishing. Linton has provided clear and fairly comprehensive information in the discussions on this site. When you get ready to self-publish a book, he says, “Think HARD about the ‘publisher name’ because it might be something you stick with for a long time.””

The Indie Author Guide by April L. Hamilton has a whole chapter on branding, but deals primarily with author branding. In a separate chapter called Author Platform, Hamilton more or less defines branding when she writes, “it’s important to cultivate a signature look across all your promotional materials . . .using the same font(s), color scheme, and graphic elements . . . from your business cards to your website.” She advises letting your website, if you choose to have one, set the signature tone because graphic elements are more limited on the web.

For this assignment we were to write a description of our brand and possible alternatives. I chose to write about consideration of names  for both my imprint and author brands:

I’m intrigued by the prospect of producing books for others beside myself. In particular, I am thinking about the possibility of providing freelance work for my sons and daughter who are industrial and graphic designers.

For my youngest son’s senior-year theatre production, for which he was the crew head, we purchased a full-page ad in the program to honor him (and to donate money to the school’s theatre program). My industrial designer/illustrator son prepared a graphic image for us by combining two photographs we had. My daughter, who is a graphic designer, designed the layout, fonts, etc. I wrote and edited the text. It was a fun collaborative project.

I’d like to keep open the possibility of working with my children again at some point, so I want to keep the name of my business broad enough to go in the direction of illustrations and graphic design in addition to book publishing. I think a good name for this would be Grote Ink.

A backup option could be Grote Books, but that is narrower in scope.

I like the name Grote Ink, because it is a play on words, using ink instead of inc. I also like the nostalgia it could bring to the brand, especially if we use a small inkpot with a fountain pen as a logo. This could imply writing, or drawing.

I like the nostalgia connection because I am most interested in writing memoir or human-interest stories at this point. But I don’t think the nostalgia aspect is so blatant that it would be limiting, if I decided to write a sci-fi thriller.

I realize the ink reference might confuse some people who are looking to purchase ink, and not pages with ink on them bound into a book. I’m willing to live with that, I think.

I checked for “Grote Ink” online and didn’t find anything. I decided to take the advice of the textbook we’re reading and ordered the domain name.

While I was looking around on the web, I also checked out my author name for an author website. Originally I wanted to write under my maiden name and use the author name CM Smith. Unfortunately, there are a lot of CM Smith’s out there on the web and no way to really check on all of them. was not available.

I considered the possibility of using, which was available. I like this choice because I have used the name CMSmith as the author for my blog and as the user name for my gravatar. CMSmith57 is my Twitter name. So I have already started establishing an online presence with this name. I purchased this domain name to hold it, but after thinking it over I decided to abandon it and stick with my own real name.  There are just too many CM Smiths out there, and one of them is an author who I found at

I purchased the domain name for my author website.

Now I have two domain names, for two websites that I need to design, and quite a bit of work ahead of me. But then, you already knew that.

Read Assignment #5

Start at the beginning with Successful Self-Publishing Workshop

Clearing up Comma Confusion

As I continue to work on my manuscript and think about self-publishing it, one of the most challenging aspects for me is the editing. I already paid a professional to read and comment on the manuscript. Her input was extremely helpful. But I’m still left wondering if I’ve got all my i’s dotted and my t’s crosssed. In particular, have I got all my commas where they need to be? It made me remember a little essay I wrote while in college (for the second time) in 2006.

I used to blindly, while holding my breath, sprinkle commas randomly throughout a paper.  Well, maybe I wasn’t quite that bad, but a comma could be in and out of a position in a paper three or four times before I settled on the punctuation. I was using the “does it sound like it needs a comma?” approach.  Even after all this second-guessing, many times I still got it wrong.

It’s no wonder I have trouble with commas.  I’ve been reading the punctuation chapter of Diane Hacker’s A Writer’s Reference .  There are ten different rules for when to use a comma.  For perspective, the semi-colon and the colon have only three usage rules each.  The more I write and the more I try to help other people with their writing, the more I realize the need to clear up this comma confusion once and for all.

Let’s start with the easy rules: “Use a comma between all items in a series.”  I’m pretty clear on this one, although there is that prickling question of whether to include a comma before the word “and” and the last item in the list.  This is a matter of style, which is a whole other book, so I won’t get into it now.  Let’s just assume no comma is needed there.

This next rule is similar to the list rule, only the items that need to be separated by commas are coordinate adjectives, which are different from cumulative adjectives, but we probably all knew that.  “Adjectives are coordinate if they can be joined with and or if they can be scrambled.”  You’ll figure it out.

“Use commas with dates, addresses, titles, and numbers,” Hacker writes.  (Ooops.  Let’s assume we do need that last comma before the “and” in a series.)  This is a pretty easy rule to get right if we don’t get tripped up by the exceptions.  For example, a date should be set off by commas:  “On December 12, 1890, orders were sent . . .” but the “commas are not needed if the date is inverted or if only the month and year are given:  January 1994 was an extremely cold month.”  All the elements of an address except the zip code are followed by commas.  So we have another small exception.  Certainly I can remember that.

Seven more rules to go.  Here’s another easy one.  “Use commas with expressions such as he said to set off direct quotations.”  I almost never get that one wrong.

“Use a comma after an introductory word group.”  I generally get this one right too, as long as I correctly distinguish between a regular introductory word group and a short adverb clause or phrase for which there is the exception that the comma may be omitted.  I think I may have to rely on my sound test for this one.

“Use a comma before a coordinating conjunction joining independent clauses.”  I finally got this one figured out.  If you don’t have the conjunction between independent clauses, you have to have the semi-colon or a period.  Period.  No commas allowed.  There is a term for that, comma splicing.  Most people, whose papers I read, try to do it at one point or the other.  I’m not sure where they were or where I was the day we learned about this in grade school grammar, but I’ve got it now.

The explanation of this next rule is the longest one yet.   “Use commas to set off nonrestrictive elements.  Do not use commas to set off restrictive elements.”  This needs a lot of explanation because what the blazes are nonrestrictive elements?  I’m going to have to put a bookmark on this page.

Let’s move on.  “Use commas to set off transitional and parenthetical expressions, absolute phrases, and contrasted elements.”  This sounds like three or four rules to me.  I’m getting another bookmark.

“Use commas to set off nouns of direct address, the words yes and no, interrogative tags, and mild interjections.”  Again, the author has slipped four rules into one.  These aren’t too bad, until we get to the interrogative tags and mild interjections.  I wonder what I should do if it is a strong interjection.  Are there medium interjections?  I guess this is something that is at each individual writer’s discretion.  Let him or her worry about it.

Here’s my favorite, “Use a comma to prevent confusion.”  Somehow I don’t think a comma will fix all matters of confusion in some of the writing I’ve done and the writing I’ve seen, but it’s worth a shot.

Commas are pretty complicated.  Someone really ought to write a rule book.

Oh.  I see that they have.  Thank goodness.
Reprinted from the College of Mount St. Joseph’s  Lions-on-Line.

Tens of thousands of words

An excerpt from one of many writing journals begun . . .my on-going struggle with writing discipline:

January 18, 2007
8:40 a.m.  – 9:40 a.m.  (One hour.  It’s better than nothing.)

I read somewhere that I needed to set a goal to write two hours. Two hours seems like an eternity.  I can’t imagine I’m going to be able to sit here and write for two hours.  I just edited that sentence.  I also read somewhere that you should turn off the internal editor at this point in the creative process—one strike against me already.

Notes on “The Sea of Stories:  Where Stories Come From” by Rick DeMarinis.  All in all I thought it was an inspiring essay.  I would like to particularly note the following ideas:

“Great stories written by the masters . . . have shaped the way we perceive ourselves in this existence.”  Telling the story isn’t enough.  The storyteller has to make sense from the story.  “The fiction writer will cut into the surface of stories like these and come up with an understanding of their meaning that will illuminate. . .our human predicament.”

Is it a predicament? (A difficult, perplexing, or trying situation according to Websters).  Calling it a predicament immediately assumes a particular stance or viewpoint on the whole thing.  I don’t think all people look at life as a predicament.  I think some people look at life as a gift to be explored and experienced.   You make what you will of it.  Literature likes the dark side.

“You’ve got to sit down at a given time every day and make sentences.  Even if you don’t feel like it.”  How many times have I heard that?  Well, here I sit today.

“I’ve come to understand that a blank mind is sometimes an asset.”  Emphasis on this comment.  “I need characters, not ideas.  I need situations with good dramatic potential, not philosophy.  These things come from the replenishable aquifers of the psyche, below and beyond big ideas and philosophy.”

“The problem is that you’re thinking of writing as a purely intellectual process:  exceptional ideas captured in deathless prose. […] You’ve got to put your hands on the keyboard, you’ve got to punch the keys with your determined fingers until words begin to collect.”

Daily goal:  1000 words.

“You’ve got to write tens of thousands of words before you begin to see improvement.  (Note to self—dig out old manuscripts and add up number of words).  “Your first efforts are going to be flawed in one way or another.  You need to be able to live with this condition.  You need to have faith that your work will improve.”

Well, that was a nice little 10 minute diversion.  Only 1 hour and 50 minutes to go.  I’ll never make it.

Postscript — April 27, 2011

I’d give you more information on “The Sea of Stories:  Where Stories Come From” by Rick DeMarinis so you could read it if you so desired, but unfortunately at this point more than four years later, I have no idea where it came from.

If you ask me today, I do think that life is a predicament. There’s very seldom an easy way out. I suppose there are stages in life that are more challenging than others. And our life can be influenced by our outlook or attitude—but denial only gets you so far.

If a blank mind is an asset, I’m sorely short. My mind is packed full. I have to make lists to remove things from my mind. (I know someone is going to tell me to take deep breaths.)

I realized this morning that my memoir manuscript is about 50,000 words. Hooray! I’ve made it over the tens of thousands of words, but I still don’t sit down and write with consistency. Maybe I never will.

Now I’ve got to go deal with my predicament.

Where does all the time go?

Gravel warning.

I don’t usually do this, but I’m going to link you to someone else’s post today. I prefer to write my own posts and not re-post or direct readers to someone else’s words. Originality counts with me. Even if it’s gravel.

I’m at a tough time in my life right now here in the middle lane with aging parents to worry about and young adult children to worry about. There’s nothing new in that statement.

In the past I used to be able to grasp hold of time and spin through it to create something or be productive in some way. These days my time just seems to slip through my fingers and at the end of the day not one of the things on my mental, and now written, to-do list are finished.

Part of the problem is age and energy. When I was in my 20s I could shop for new shoes, go to the grocery, clean my entire apartment, prepare dinner for a friend and go out dancing all in a day. There were some days when I amazed myself at my productivity. Now I amaze myself at my lack of it.

Prioritization, structure and discipline, I thought. Of all the ways I could be spending my time and all the things I could be doing, which ones are the most important to me? How much time a day should I devote to them? Make it happen. So I thought, I’ll spend three-four hours on my writing activities which would include blogging, editing my manuscript, writing a book proposal, scanning photos for the book, researching agents and sending out query letters, and learning about self-publishing. That’s quite a lot for a three-hour time period, but I don’t have to accomplish everything in one day.

Then I could spend one hour on gardening, two hours on house work which would include any homemaking activities such as grocery-shopping, meal preparation, laundry, regular cleaning and spring cleaning. I like to do spring cleaning. It gives me a chance to re-order my life and I feel freer when the closets have been organized and the windows are sparkling.

That still leaves a large number of hours a day for personal hygiene, meals, phone calls to family members, general shopping, projects like photo albums, exercise (this one should be scheduled) and general loafing around.

It worked pretty well on Monday. I blogged, read blogs, finished incorporating the edits into my manuscript, gardened for about a half hour, and spent a couple of hours tackling the storage room in the basement that hasn’t recovered from our initial move here 18 months ago.

Tuesday was  a crash and burn. I blogged when I first got up, then I had a meeting in the morning at Panera that lasted about two hours. (I could count that as writing time.) Since I was already there and it was close to lunch time I called Mark who joined me there and we ate, that killed about another hour. I couldn’t garden because my back hurt from the previous day’s work and anyway it was cold outside. I continued to work in the basement for a short while. I didn’t work on my manuscript at all. I’m not really sure what happened with the rest of the day.

Today I was planning to visit my parents, so all bets are off, but Arthur spent the night coughing and gagging and is not eating well, so I may have to reschedule my parents for tomorrow and take Arthur to the vet today. Maybe I can try to get half the house-cleaning done instead. I used to have a cleaning service before we moved, but gave it up because they didn’t travel as far out as we moved. I’ve been dragging my feet because I don’t want to have to find someone new. Besides, I should be able to do it myself.

I have no control over my life.

If you know exactly what I mean, you can read some helpful ideas at a blog I follow by a clever and interesting woman from Holland: Figments of a Dutchess.

I hope you have a happy and productive day.

Writing through the hard place

Last November I signed up for a workshop through Writer’s Digest Online University. I had just finished drafting my memoir about my sister Annie when I read the e-mail and on a whim signed up for the workshop.

My sister Annie was born a year after me with severe brain damage, although she wasn’t diagnosed until she was over a year old and my parents didn’t fully realize the extent of her problems until even after that. On August 16, 2009, Annie died. My memoir is about love, devotion, fear, sorrow, and hope in an afterlife where Annie might be Dancing in Heaven.

Anyway, I was well-satisfied with the workshop. The teacher, Carolyn Walker, who worked with the five or six participants did an excellent job of pointing out all the things you hope someone reading your manuscript will point out. The workshop didn’t allow for a complete review of my entire manuscript, so I hired Carolyn as a consultant to finish the job. I received her comments late last week.

She was very supportive and complimentary, but the comment I most focused on was the one I copied below.

“There are places where I push you to write more about your emotions. I know that’s hard for you,” Carolyn wrote and she sent me a copy of an essay, a series of interviews with memoirists, she had written called, “Writing Through the Hard Place.”

To say it was not easy to write my memories initially is a monumental understatement. And now Carolyn wanted more.

Annie couldn’t walk or talk or do much of anything, really. She required the care of an infant. But at one point in my memoir I wanted to convey the loss I felt when I was younger of having a sister I could do things with. So I included a dream where Annie is walking and talking and I am fixing her hair like my older sisters sometimes did for me. Carolyn thought the dream was confusing and should go. I didn’t want to let it go. It was important. But maybe the dream wasn’t expressing what I had not necessarily wanted, but needed it to.

And that’s when these words popped into my mind, down through my fingers to the keyboard and appeared on the screen,

I felt cheated. If I’m being completely honest I can’t deny the fact that I felt cheated out of a younger sister who would look up to me. I looked up to Kathy and Carol. I watched what they did and tried to emulate them in many ways from how to wear my hair, to what to shoes to buy, pants to wear or music to listen to.

I didn’t have a younger sister I could teach how to do things. I didn’t have a younger sister whose hair I could fix or make-up I could put on like my sisters did for me. I had a younger sister, but I couldn’t do any of those things with her.

I know it sounds small, and very self-serving, but the truth is sometimes I just felt like I had been cheated.  I felt cheated for myself and I felt cheated for Annie. We both had been cheated. My mom and dad had been cheated. We all had been cheated out of knowing the person Annie might have been.

Sometimes I wondered if she would have been more quiet like me, or vivacious like Carol. Would she have been pragmatic like Kathy, or a hilarious story-teller like my brother Jerry? Would she have shared a love of reading with me or would she have been a gifted artist like Carol and Jerry? What things would we have talked about? My memories of my other siblings all contain conversation. I don’t have that for Annie. I have only my words to her and her smiling back.

No one ever talked about what we all lost. The closest anyone ever came was when I interviewed my parents and asked, “How do you think our lives would have been different as a family if Annie would not have been disabled?” And my dad said, “ Well, I’d have had one more bright daughter.”

He would have. That’s what we all were cheated out of.

I never heard my mom utter a word about what might have been. There was no useful point to considering it and Mom was far too practical to think about it. Or if she ever thought about it, she was too practical to speak of it. But once when I asked if she thought Annie knew she was different, or felt bad that she couldn’t do the things that we could do, Mom said, “Look how happy she is. This is the only life she’s ever known.” Another time Mom said, “In some ways, she’s the lucky one. She’s never known rejection, or failure, or reprimand. All she’s ever known is love.”

We loved Annie. She was very special to us. In many ways she was a very special gift to us. We didn’t want to deny her by wishing she were different. We didn’t talk about it.

Would we have magically transformed her into a fully functional human being? In a heartbeat. Not for us, but for her. We had all been cheated—and Annie, by far, had been the most cheated of all.

Copyright © 2011 by Christine M. Grote

Weekly photo challenge: Refuge

Seeking refuge

Faster, faster, the gray dove thinks as he beats his wings. The red-tailed hawk keeps easy pace slightly behind and above serving as a net to block off escape to the sky.

The large obstacle ahead gives the dove little choice. But wait, there’s a small opening to the woods beyond—an escape hatch. Seeking refuge, the dove aims for the opening full speed ahead..


“What was that?” I yell from the kitchen.

“A bird flew into the window,” Mark answers from the recliner in the great room where he is reading news on his laptop.

“That was a lot louder than usual,” I say as I carried my cup of tea down the long hall past the open dining room and into the great room where the opposite wall is dominated by a stone fireplace reaching to the peak of the cathedral ceiling. The stone is flanked all the way to the slanted ceiling on both sides by windows that bring the surrounding woods into the room.

“Did you see it? Was it a big bird?”

“A mourning dove. It’s dead.”

I cross the room and look outside. On the deck a large gray dove lies motionless, it’s neck turned to an awkward angle.

“It might have broken its neck.”

A little later Mark gets a shovel from the garage to dispose of the dead bird. When he comes back in he says, “The bird is gone.”

“Do you think the hawk that hangs around in the trees got it?” I ask.

“Maybe it wasn’t dead,” Mark says.

“The beauty of fiction,” Sherrie, my creative writing teacher said a few years back, “is you can make the story end however you want.”

The dove opens his eyes. “Wow. My head hurts,” he thinks. “I feel like a branch fell on me.” He gets to his feet and stumbles around the wooden floor. He stands still for a moment and ruffles his feathers, “— it must have been a big branch from the sycamore tree.”  He flaps his wings twice and hops onto the deck railing.  Then he glides off the deck and disappears into the woods below.
Copyright © 2011 by Christine M. Grote

Not a photo from Italy

Rant warning.

I feel like Rip frappin’ Van Winkle.

In 1979 I graduated with a Chemical Engineering degree and started my short-lived career at Procter and Gamble. Three years later Michael was born and I left work never to return.

One year turned to five, then 10. One child turned to four. Ten years turned to 15—our youngest son Joe was only 6 and Michael required a ride to his high school a distance from our house. Fifteen years turned to 20. I went back to school part time for an English degree. 20 years turned to nearly 30.

When I first started at P&G we didn’t have computers in our offices. My desk was well-stocked with yellow lined paper tablets and pens. My bi-weekly reports were hand written and typed up by a shared administrative assistant.

When I left P&G in 1982, four or five of us shared one desktop computer in our lab office. We used it mostly as a database for our experimental results. We didn’t have e-mail. We had inter-departmental mail delivered in large gold reusable envelopes. We had telephones. And we had our feet.

Fast forward 29 years. I wake up from my domestic dream-sleep and venture out into the world. I have a compelling story I want to tell. My sister with severe brain damage has died and I want to tell her story. I want to give her a legacy. Through wakeful nights and cases of tissues, I type her story.

I buy books on how to get published, “Get an agent,” “How to write a book proposal,” “Author 101.”

“You need a platform,” they all say.

What the heck is a platform?

I start a blog. I send out notifications to my friends and family in my e-mail address book. I post it on my Facebook page, largely populated by high school friends, that my friend Marty encouraged me to start a few years ago. (If we older folks don’t help each other and pull each other along we are all going to be left behind.)

My kids sometimes help me keep up-to-date—introducing me to Netflix, insisting on texting, suggesting Angry Birds and Plants vs. Zombies games.

I ask my mom if she’s been reading my blog. She hasn’t. “How can I expect other people to read my blog when my own mom won’t?” I say. This comment is far more effective at igniting her anger than inspiring her interest. “I don’t like the computer,” she says.

My mom is 77 years old. She has lived most of her life without the need of a computer. She doesn’t see the need for one now. And it confuses her to try to learn it. She can’t keep up. I understand how she feels. She is used to waiting for information. She has no need for minute-by-minute updates on what her favorite actor or politician is doing. She likes hearing people’s voices over the telephone.

I generate a shortcut for my blog page and leave it on her computer desktop. I know I still have two loyal readers in my husband Mark and sister Carol.

“You need to have over a thousand followers,” the books say.

I join several Writer’s Digest online communities about writing, publishing, blogging. “You need to follow twitter to find out what the publishers and agents are saying.”

I sign up for a Twitter account. I start following the big publishing houses: Random House, A. A. Knopf, Simon Schuster—like I have even the remotest of chances of ever doing business with one of them.

Many of the tweets contain symbols. I feel like I am reading shorthand. I have no idea what the symbols mean. I will google it later.

I am notified by e-mail that I now have six followers on Twitter. I panic.

All I want to do is tell my sister Annie’s story. I think it is a good story. I think it is an inspiring story. It is the only legacy she will have.

I’m willing to try to do what it takes. I’m willing to try to build a platform whatever that looks like. I am willing to do it for Annie.

I wonder how many 50, 60 even 70-year-olds are out there with really good stories that we’ll never read because they simply haven’t been able to keep up.

When I started this post-a-day-2011 challenge I told myself I would post whatever was in my head when I woke up in the morning. And if my head was empty, as is sometimes the undeniable case, I would simply slap up a photo from our trip to Italy.

I’ll bet you’re looking forward to seeing some of those photos.

Left brain blogging activities

I knew I wouldn’t be able to continue posting randomly random thoughts indefinitely. My left brain is screaming, “Cease and desist. Take a break. Get your act together.”

I love my left brain.

I’m giddy with the excitement of anticipation of organizing myself. What categories do I really want to have? Once I figure it out, then I’ll go back and file all the posts into categories. Doesn’t that sound like fun? Maybe not to you.

This blog evolution is starting to mirror my writing process. First I throw down random ideas. Then I look for themes and start to group ideas, notecards, photos, whatever I am working with into similar themes.

I’m thinking about settling into several themes. Maybe I’ll write on one theme a week. Or not.

Don’t forget to check out my categories from time to time to see how things shift.

Here are the categories I’m definitely going to keep:

Laws of nature—I am reclaiming my scientific background after years of neglect and disuse.

Postcards—This is the perfect place to show off my traveling photos. I already started with Kaua’i. It should give me an almost limitless source of posts from past trips on those days when my mind is blank. A brilliant idea.

Trade-offs—I’m keeping it. I think that one of the secrets of a happy life is realizing that everything has trade-offs. Shortly after I resigned from my career with Procter and Gamble to raise our first son full-time, my husband (who was still with P&G) and I went to a party. A young woman was there who I had become acquainted with before I left work. She had a young child and had returned to work. She inquired how I was doing and then proceeded to tell me, “I feel like I have it all,” career, child, life is grand. “I don’t,” I thought. I knew I didn’t have it all. I didn’t believe it was possible to have it all. I was painfully aware of the fact that I had given something up to stay home with Michael. The important question is, “Is it worth it?”

Another perspective—That’s good. It’s always good to try to have other perspectives. Mind expanding.

Nostalgia—I’ve got to keep nostalgia.

Things that grow—Iffy. I initially put it in because I love to garden and once spring rolls around I’m going to be very interested in things that grow. Also, the category has broad, possibly limitless possiblities: Plants, animals, people, problems, fears, love, roots. Lots of things grow.

Challenges—That’s good. Especially if we overcome them. Maybe I should rename it “Conquered challenges.” “Challenges met and conquered.” “Challenges I’ve had in my life and conquered.” “Challenges I’ve had in my life and wish I’d conquered.” I’ll think about it.

Arthur and other wild animals—should be moved to “Things that grow”

Books—I just love books. I would line every room in my entire house with bookshelves packed with books if I could. Probably should keep it even though this is a blog and not a book club.

By my side—It’s about significant people who have been, well, by my side throughout or at different stages in my life. It’s always good to give people who matter a little credit. Should I put it under “Things that grow”? Probably not. Maybe under “Nostalgia.”

Colors—I love colors. As designers, three of my four children use colors every day in their life’s work. Plus my garden is full of colors. I’m keeping it.

Gravel—Unfortunately, I suppose I need to keep this one. I may make it a subcategory under “Self-evaluations.” I mentioned that idea before and it has taken root. That way someone new to the blog can cut to the chase and just read the one or two posts that I deem are worth reading. I could have three categories: “Worth reading,” “Don’t bother,” and “Gravel.” (See explanation of term ‘gravel’ here.)

On writing—A good place to share successes, struggles, tips on blogging (as if I am in a position to give anyone a tip on blogging). Probably should keep it since I claim to be a writer.

Uncategorized—This one is forced on me. I hope to keep it empty.

Women—You aren’t really wondering why I would have a category called ‘women’ are you?

This is beginning to resemble spring cleaning of my clothes closet. Nothing gets thrown out, but more things get added. I might need a bigger closet.

Stay posted.