My childhood experiences that will sound strange to my kids

This post was supposed to go up on Friday but, ironically, the internet went down and stayed down for almost two days. Why ironic? Well …

The summer before we moved to Laos, Mike and I met both sets of our parents in Alaska and we all did the inner-passage cruise together. We learned something about our parents on that trip, something that shocked us.

Only one of the four of them had an indoor toilet in their house when they were born.

I know, sort of hard to imagine, right?

During that week we spent more than one dinner talking about childhoods. All four of them grew up on farms. Mike grew up on a farm. I, with my globally nomadic childhood, was the odd one out. But even my cross-continental urban mishmash provided a patchwork of experiences that I suspect will seem utterly foreign to my own children.

Here are some examples.

1.   The only show I can remember watching television before I was nine is the A-Team (Bangladesh). If there were other English language programs playing there, I don’t remember them. I’m sure I probably watched Playschool etc. in Australia earlier, but I don’t remember those either. Between the ages of 12 and 16 (Zimbabwe) we only had two channels on TV. English programming came on one at 3pm and the other at 5pm. My favorite shows were MacGyver and Mash. MacGyver was my first and most serious tele-crush.

2.   I spent hours in 7th-10th grade (Zimbabwe) taking dictation by hand in my classes at school and then memorizing those hand-written facts because we didn’t have textbooks.

3.   I researched many of my school assignments using the big set of encyclopedias my parents kept on our bookshelf.

4.   I first learned how to sew on a hand-crank sewing machine.

5.   I weighed out all my ingredients for cooking class on scales using little bronze counterweights.

6.   I had to do my 10th grade national physics exams using log tables instead of a calculator (that one was archaic even for Zimbabwe, I think).

7.   I was still buying tapes instead of CD’s when I was fifteen.

8.   I was in 11th grade (and back in the U.S.) before I turned in my first typed school assignment.

9.   The first two years I was at university (in Australia) while the rest of my family was in Washington DC, I used to write them letters once a week (yes, the type that require you to put pen to paper and use an envelope and a stamp). Also, we shared one phone between nine dorm rooms, and that phone could only accept incoming calls. I was lucky if I got to chat with my family for half an hour (usually Sunday morning) once a week.

10.   I was 21 years old when I got my first personal email address.

11.   I was 27 years old before I ever owned a cell phone.

Most of these experiences that will probably seem old-fashioned to Dominic (heck, they seem old-fashioned to me) have to do with how much information technology has changed during my lifetime.

I came of age right alongside the internet, and in many ways I think I’ve been very lucky in this. Yes, I didn’t have email or facebook during those early, hard days of separation from my family. But now I also don’t have much childish or teenaged awkwardness documented in Technicolor for all the world to view. You can find out a startling amount about me online now, but basically none of that has anything to do with my life before the age of 25, and that suits me just fine.

If and when he wants to play this game in twenty years, Dominic will be able to tell people that when he was born his parents didn’t own a car or a motorbike (we only own bicycles) and that we didn’t have hot running water on the ground floor of our house (the water in the showers is heated by wall-mounted units). He can thank Laos for that. He will also, however, be able to thank the internet and his mother for the fact that anyone who so desires will be able to find photographs of him the day that he was born and any number of baby anecdotes. Little D’s got the best of both worlds. Or perhaps, the worst?

What are some of your childhood experiences that will probably seem foreign to your own children? And what do you think about parents writing about their kids?

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Six tips for marketing self-published books

Last Wednesday I wrote about the challenge that marketing can be for self-publishing authors. I asked what you would do if you were in charge of marketing my memoir, Love At The Speed Of Email, and was flooded with responses.

Well, not exactly.

But that’s not surprising. It’s a hard question for me to answer, and I know the book better than anyone. It’s also hard to think of ways to get the word out there without being overly and annoyingly self-promoting.

The one person who tackled the question I asked last week suggested leaning toward authenticity whenever possible. I think that is excellent advice (not just for marketing, but for life). I also think that it applies not just to what you’re communicating, but how.

I know agents and editors who would argue with me over this one, but this is what I think it means … That if you hate blogging, don’t set yourself the goal of putting out three posts a week. If you hate twitter, don’t use it. If you don’t want to be on facebook, don’t. If you loathe public speaking, don’t try to break into the speaker circuit.

Life’s too short to spend too much time forcing yourself to try to connect with others in ways that don’t (mostly) come naturally to you. Plus, if you are using these forums for the sole purpose of flogging your books it’s unlikely to work anyway.

However … all this doesn’t excuse you from breaking out of your comfort zone now and again and trying something new, because if we never did that we’d never grow and learn. But on the whole you’re going to find it easier to connect with people if you feel you’re being yourself in the way that you’re communicating.

So all that said, what are some other basic marketing tips that make sense to me? Here are five more:

  1. Know your audience: What do they need and want?
  2. Know where they hang out: What do they read, watch and talk about, and where?
  3. Figure out how to go and stand in front of them: Where your audience is will help determine how best to do stand in front of them (public speaking, radio, guest post on personal blogs, magazines or newspapers, twitter, your own blog, discussion forums, etc).
  4. Offer them something that will help them
  5. Give something away

So how have I been applying these tips?

In terms of Love At The Speed Of Email, one group (audience) I think may be very interested in the story are people in long distance relationships.

I have a lot of experience (both good and bad) with long distance relationships, so I have some things I can usefully say on this topic. Given that, I asked myself what was something I’d wished I had when I was doing all that long distance dating? What was something that might have been helpful?

After some thinking, something came to me …

So one thing I’ve been doing this last couple of months alongside preparing the memoir for publication is writing 201 Great Discussion Questions For Couples in Long-Distance Relationships.

This free e-guide will be released in PDF form around the same time as the memoir. My hope is that some people who get their hands on the e-guide will be intrigued enough to visit my website and check out the story of Mike’s and my long distance relationship.

But even if this e-guide doesn’t help me sell a single book I won’t be sorry I’ve written it and given it away. I really won’t. Because I also very much hope that these questions find their way into the hands of people all over the world who are building love one long-distance conversation at a time. And I hope hope hope that these questions make them laugh and learn new things and bring them closer emotionally even while they are far apart geographically.

I still have some work to do figuring out how to get the e-guide into the hands of those who might find it useful, but this is one marketing puzzle – how to best give away a useful product – that I’m enjoying working on. It feels fun. It feels authentic.

Now, some questions for you:

Got any questions you think I should include in the e-book? And if you have any ideas for websites, people, or relationship forums that might be interested in the discussion questions e-book, let me know.

Also, if you know of other interesting case studies related to marketing self-published books leave the stories (or a link) below.

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House hunting and the powers that be

It is the season of busy (it is also the season of ash falling from the sky as they have started burning the rice field in preparation for planting, but does not make me more busy, that just makes life a bit more unpleasant).

No, the busy these last six weeks has coming from a whole bunch of different things: two sets of parents in town, little boys with big casts, two unplanned trips to Thailand, one to Vientiane, and someone who’s decided that he’s ready to eat solid food so now I have to start attending to things like breakfast, lunch, and dinner for him every day. I mean, seriously, every day, can you believe it?

And we’re moving house. The cumulative weight of child safety factors (our beautiful but dangerous spiral staircase and the unfenced pool out the front) and the ongoing noise issues with our woodworking neighbors finally pushed us over the edge. We’re moving house by April 1, then less than two weeks later we’re getting on a plane for the States to spend a month there on home leave.

Oh, and I’m publishing my book. For half a second I almost forgot the endless to-do list related to the new website (stay tuned, it’s coming soon), cover design, and launch planning. Release date still to be determined but either mid-April or June 1.

So, yeah, busy, and during the next six weeks I may occasionally re-run some old posts from the blog. This one, from last time we were house hunting here in Laos, seemed like a fitting choice for today.

House hunting and the powers that be (originally posted July 2010)

This may come as news to some of you – it did to me eight months ago – but Laos is one of the world’s few remaining communist states. The full name of the country is officially the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, and the only legal political party is the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party. The government publishes all newspapers, including two foreign language papers. Missionary work of any flavour is regulated. And when any staff of Mike’s organization visits the field projects they must be accompanied by a government official – an official who gets paid a per diem by the NGO for their time.

Here in Laos, I have been pondering how I may be able to periodically touch on the topics of God, the policies and practices of the organization Mike works for, or the government, without treading on any toes. I haven’t come up with anything brilliant yet. So, in the meantime, I’ve decided to try using the phrase “the powers that be” to refer to the three aforementioned entities and leave it to the reader to figure out which one I might be talking about.

I apologize in advance if this proves confusing. So, too, can life be here.

During the past two weeks we have continued the house hunting that Mike began while he was here without me in April and May. There are no classifieds we can read, or website we can search. If you need to find a house in Luang Prabang you have exactly two options. You can walk the streets looking for hand-painted “house for rent” signs attached to gates and then have a Lao-speaker call the contact phone number on the sign. Or, you can go through a local agent – someone who’s job it is to find out where all the houses for rent are hiding and to negotiate on your behalf with prospective landlords.

Phet is just such an agent, and the day after we arrived I took a deep breath, put on the helmet she had borrowed for me, and climbed onto the back of her motorcycle. We saw five houses that day, and I came back excited. Two, I thought, were good options. One of those options Mike hadn’t yet seen.

I tried to describe it to him over dinner that night.

“We went over the wooden pedestrian bridge across the Khan,” I said. “Then we turned left and went down a dirt road.”

“How far?” Mike asked.

“Oh, I don’t know. Not far. It was a really pretty road – all jungly and tropical. There were temples, and plants, and another wooden bridge. It was very atmospheric,” I said.

“Atmospheric,” Mike repeated, as if that may not be the most satisfactory of descriptors for an access road.

“What was the house like?” he asked.

“Oh, it was cool,” I said. “There was a big veranda on the top, and broken pool out the back, and two cute dogs. The dogs were very friendly, but they belong to the…”

“The house,” Mike reminded me.

“It had two big rooms up the top, and another room that was locked and they couldn’t find the key. So I didn’t see that one. But the stairs were good. And there were tiles on the floor. And lots of trees. And it was quiet. And I liked it.”

“What about water tanks?” Mike asked. “Was it on city water? Was there a big water heater? Was there glass on the windows, and screens? Fans? Did all the air conditioners work? Was there a phone line into the house?”

“I dunno,” I said, realizing for the first time that I may have neglected to pay attention to a couple of key attributes. “I’m pretty sure there was a phone line. I think there was glass on the windows.”

“You think,” Mike closed his eyes and took a deep breath. I hoped he was visualizing us sitting in hammocks on a tree-shaded veranda, debriefing our days over a cold drink. But I figured it was more likely that he was lodging a quick request with the powers that be for extra patience.

“OK,” he said after he opened his eyes again. “We’ll see if we can go see it together this weekend.”

We did take a truck to go see it that weekend, and by the time we’d found the vehicle bridge over the river Khan (a good deal further away from the house than the pedestrian bridge suitable for motorcycle traffic) and bumped our way down three torturously slow, bone jarring, head-banging, kilometers, I was deflated.

“Getting in and out of here on anything other than a motorcycle would be tough, wouldn’t it,” I said.

“Yeah,” Mike said gently. “It’d be tough. Especially when it rained. And you might end up feeling very isolated.”

My beautiful vision of us on the veranda dissolved and was replaced by a picture of motorcycling along a dirt road to do the grocery shopping during a monsoonal downpour. That was the end of our quest to acquire the jungle house – which was just as well, really, because Phet informed us later that day that the landlady had changed her mind about evicting the current tenants after all – and it was back to the drawing board.

But we’ve now seen 27 houses, and it’s beginning to get seriously demoralizing. Some houses have no air conditioners, or glass in the windows. Some have no phone lines installed (and, hence, no possibility of in-house internet). Most have no external hot water heaters. Some are nestled in between construction sites, of which there are many in Luang Prabang at present. Some are beautiful, but sit right on a main road and beside local restaurants. And where there is a local restaurant there is beerlao. And where there is beerlao there will likely be karaoke.

If you don’t count my short-lived infatuation with the jungle house, or the stunningly beautiful way-out-of-our-price-range house in the hills outside of town (a house of two pools, luscious gardens, hanging plants, shinning wooden balustrades, and an in-house bar), we’ve found exactly one house we really liked. Number 18. A wooden house perched on the banks of the Mekong.

But on Sunday afternoon (after three visits to this house, four long emails, and two extended meetings with Phet and the prospective landlord) the negotiations broke down. The landlord, you see, had suddenly decided to only offer us a contract for rent that went to the end of April 2011, and the powers that be require us to rent a house for an entire year at a time.

To complicate matters further, the powers that be require us to pay the entire years worth of rent in advance. This removes any economic incentive for landlords to make ongoing improvements to the property. This means that what we move into is probably what we will be stuck with.

To complicate matters even further, the powers that be have decreed that those on tourist visas must rent rooms in guesthouses, rather than renting houses privately. Just this week, the powers that be have been visiting houses inhabited by foreigners, checking up on them, and evicting any who hold tourist visas.

And, to complicate matters even further, the powers that be have not yet issued Mike’s work visa (although it has been in progress since February). Yet other powers that be are very eager to see us in a house, and are urging us to make a decision and just get on with it.

I am not eager to get on with it, as the leading option at the moment is the house on the main road beside the restaurant. I am also not eager to stay indefinitely in the guesthouse – that bastion of slamming doors, late-night voices, and neighborly circular saws. I am, in other words, a bit stuck.

So if any of you dear readers are in a position to have a quiet and respectful word on our behalf with the powers that be regarding these matters, please… go right ahead.

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Old-fashioned community doctoring … virtually

Anyone who has tracked our recent medical dramas knows that we live a two-hour flight away from the nearest good hospital.

This doesn’t mean we’re devoid of options when we run into medical trouble.

For starters, there’s always Dr. Google. This good doctor’s wealth of knowledge is seemingly inexhaustible. You can ask Dr G anything. Anything. You can, for example, type in: “I’m 22 weeks and 3 days pregnant and I’ve thrown up 4 times in the last 6 hours and 6 minutes. I think I got sick after eating spring rolls from a street vendor in northern Laos 10 hours and 17 minutes ago. Should I be worried? What should I do?”

And chances are someone else has asked this exact same question, and someone else has answered it.

Granted, sometimes those answers run along the lines of, “drink a liter of goats milk seasoned with the blood of a three-day-old chick and stand on your head for an hour with your eyes crossed and you’ll be fine.”

But, still. Dr Google is on call 24-hours a day and always willing and eager to provide you with a wealth of useful information.

Well, information, anyway.

Then we have Dr Souphan, just down the road. Under protest, I went to see Dr Souphan just last week. To be fair to Dr Souphan, the protest had less to do with her than with the great inertia that seizes me when I’m afflicted with maladies that are more uncomfortable than dire. I just prefer to wait these things out.

Mike, however, is more proactive I am in the face of such problems, especially problems that have been going on for four days. So when we walked past her little clinic and saw that it was open, he gently suggested (read: almost frog-marched) that we stop in.

Dr Souphan’s clinic is one big room on the first floor of her house. While you’re waiting, you sit on chairs in the front half of the room. When it’s your turn to see the doctor you step to the back of the room where there’s a desk, two chairs, and a camp bed. No office door, though. Not that it mattered this time, because everyone else waiting was far more preoccupied with clucking over the little foreign baby with the big cast on his leg than with listening to me try to describe my intestinal disorders.

So we’re not entirely devoid of medical resources here, but what have we done when confronted with problems more severe than spending four days running to the bathroom? We haven’t relied on Dr Google or Dr Souphan. We’ve relied on good doctor friends in Australia, the UK and the USA. Just in the last eighteen months, these doctor friends have:

  1. Looked at photographs of Mike’s staph-infected legs and provided advice on which antibiotics to try and whether or not to seek medical evacuation to Thailand.
  2. Advised me about what to do when, at 22 weeks pregnant, I came down with a severe case of food poisoning.
  3. Let us stay in their house and use their car for a week while they were out of town (nothing to do with medicine, but much appreciated nonetheless).
  4. Given Dominic his two-month immunizations for free.
  5. Written very specific instructions for us on how to seek appropriate immunizations over here (including brand names) and answered our detailed questions about whether and how we could adapt the immunization schedule according to our shifting travel dates.
  6. Given me an entire course of appropriate antibiotics to take in case I get mastitis.
  7. Advised me via skype on splinting Dominic’s leg, appropriate pain relief, and how to make Dominic most comfortable until we could reach the hospital in Thailand.
  8. Reviewed pictures of before and after X-rays and written detailed letters explaining why the doctors in Thailand probably made the decision they did about Dominic’s care, we might have received conflicting advice about Dominic’s prognosis, and the pros and cons of additional corrective action within the next two years.

Ironically, Mike and I have found ourselves the recipients of more good old-fashion communal medical care here in Laos than we would have ever received (or asked for) if we had been living in Melbourne, yet all of this communal care has been delivered virtually. It’s all come from a “community” living on the other side of the world.

In the olden days, these people might have received some chickens or maybe a sack of potatoes for their help. Now they get nothing but heartfelt thanks.

Doctor friends,

Thank you. And thank you again. We’re so grateful that so many of you are willing to share some time and expertise via facebook, email and skype. You have eased the stresses that come with living somewhere with limited medical facilities more than you may ever know. Should you ever want to come to Laos, our guest room is always open and we’ll be happy to get some of those chickens and potatoes for you, too. Heck, we’ll even throw in a needy dog.

Love Lisa, Mike & Dominic

How have your friends reached out and helped you virtually?

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Writing Wednesday: Marketing yourself and your work

When I signed the contract five years ago for My Hands Came Away Red I had ridiculously little idea about what went into getting a book out there. As far as I was concerned, I’d done my part by writing the thing and whatever happened next was up to the publishers – I was just along for the “fun and games” ride.

Against all odds, this actually worked out quite well for me. Moody Publishers got me reviewed, printed marketing materials, organized radio interviews, hosted me at trade shows and even got me on the cover of a magazine. I got into the spirit of things and organized a couple of readings, a lecture at my alma mater Notre Dame, and an appearance on a nationally-syndicated Canadian television program. Perhaps best of all, this all felt like fun and games rather than work or something that I was trying too hard at and taking too seriously.

I hate feeling like I’m trying too hard or jumping up and down saying: “Look at me! Look at me!” I do this sometimes, of course. I think most people do. But I do it a lot less than I used to and whenever I catch myself attention-seeking now – looking for others to reassure me that I’m cool, or admirable, or interesting or worthwhile – I cringe. And I try to stop.

Which is why I’ve struggled to think deeply about marketing in relation to my next book, Love At The Speed Of Email.

Because this time I am self-publishing, which means that there is no publishing company to organize interviews for me and tell everyone that the book is worth their time and money. And it’s a memoir. So, basically, I need to get out there and tell people some version of the following: “I wrote this book about myself and you should buy it and read it because it’s really good.”

I also, however, need to find ways to not let this book (or myself) become too big a deal in my own mind, because therein lies the road to desperate, self-promoting narcissism. And no one wants that, least of all me. (Well, actually, probably least of all Mike.)

This all seems like a bit of a Catch-22 to me. Even thinking about marketing the memoir makes my teeth feel furry. Yet I suspect the minute it starts to feel completely comfortable – the minute I stop second-guessing myself, and examining my motivations and methods  – I’ll have crossed the line and become overly self-absorbed.

Le sigh.

And while I hate the idea of getting out there and selling this book, I also do want people to read it. I’ve worked hard on it, I’m really proud of it, and I do think it’s good.

Le sigh, deux.

I’ll be back next Wednesday to write more about this topic and share a marketing strategy I’ve come up with that I am really excited about – one that I think will help word get out there without feeling like I’m jumping up and down saying “Look at me! Look at me!”

In the meantime, I have some links and a question for you.

First, the links: For those of you also thinking through this thorny tangle of marketing your art and yourself, you might find the following posts useful.

  1. Should I be investing in my own publicity? (Chip MacGregor): “YOU are in charge of marketing your book. You. Not the publisher, who will help you but may not do all that much unless you’re a proven bestseller. You. Nobody else knows your message as well; nobody else is as committed to your story as you are.”
  2. Know your audience (Chip MacGregor): “Don’t assume your book is for everyone, at all times. It’s not — no book is… If you know your audience, you can determine where they’ll be, so you can go stand in front of them. You’ll also be able to best determine how to approach them and what to say.”
  3. Monthly marketing to-do list for authors (Rob Eagar): “There are thousands of ways to promote your books. But, trying to do everything won’t necessarily make you successful. Usually, you’re better off sticking with a consistent plan that keeps you focused on a few main priorities.”
  4. A spreadsheet for the self-published (Jenny Blake): Jenny has provided a great resource – a multi-pages excel spreadsheet for those thinking strategically about marketing. Set aside some time, it’s not a quick read.

Now, the question: Here’s the current draft of the back cover text of my memoir. If you were in charge of my publicity, what might you recommend that I do?

Lisa looks as if she has it made. She has turned her nomadic childhood and forensic psychology training into a successful career as a stress management trainer for humanitarian aid workers. She lives in Los Angeles, travels the world, and her first novel has just been published to some acclaim. But as she turns 31, Lisa realizes that she is still single, constantly on airplanes, and increasingly wondering where home is and what it really means to commit to a person, place, or career. When an intriguing stranger living on the other side of the world emails her out of the blue, she must decide whether she will risk trying to answer those questions. Her decision will change her life.

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Sometimes you try

Saturday was a long day. There was a 5AM start, a flight to Thailand, four doctors appointments, three immunizations, two X-rays and a cast removal. We’d known it would be a hard day, so Mike and I had planned a special treat for after it was all over – we booked into a nice hotel with a pool and took Dominic for his first swim.

The result? Well, let’s just say the photos belong in Mike’s “Sometimes You Try” facebook album.

Me: “Dominic, guess what, we’re going swimming. Swimming is fun!”
Dominic: “You also said the needles would only hurt a little bit. I totally don’t trust you on this one.”

Family kodak moment fail. Here are a couple of other photos that belong in that “Sometimes You Try” album:

“Just for the record, totally not enjoying this sightseeing trip up Phousi Hill.”

“You want to know what my wish is for when we release the birds? I’ll give you one guess and a hint – it has to do with going home.”

“Are you two kissing me again? Do you have no concept of personal space at all?”

“Grandparents? Boring.”

“I love me some Zulu.”

“And Zulu loves himself some baby spew.”

Mike: “Dominic! Smile for the camera!”
Dominic: “I don’t know who these two are, never seen them before in my life.”

Finally, a bonus “sometimes you try” video: Dominic’s introduction to vegetables (and don’t worry, despite all appearances to the contrary at the end of this clip, Dominic was not seriously choking).

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What sells a blog post and drives traffic on your blog?

If you’ve clicked on over looking for a how-to post about styling yourself as a mega-blogger … sorry. This is not that. Too much talk about branding yourself and building a platform tends to make my eyes glaze over and my brain yawn, but for those of you looking for that sort of information I’ve included some relevant links at the end of this post.

No, this isn’t going to be a blog on the importance of compelling titles and posting consistently on topics closely linked to your niche and brand. Instead, I just wanted to share something I’ve been thinking about during the last month:

So here’s a screen shot of my recent blog traffic. The spikes on the far right shrink everything else down a bit, but there have actually been three unusual “spikey areas” in recent weeks.

The first came around the 14th of January, the day I put up this post in memory of my friend, Patrick, who passed away last month.

The second big jump began on January 24th, the day of Dominic’s accident, and continued all week as people tracked our stay in hospital and return to Laos.

The third, an unprecedented leap, came out of nowhere on February 7th when a whole bunch of people suddenly took it into their heads to share a post I’d written weeks earlier called 24 things that have surprised me about motherhood: I never thought I would… on facebook.

What to make of all of this?

I wanted to write a thoughtful commentary relating these blog stats to the flavor of what we consume as “news”, but the last three weeks has seen our little family blessed with two sets of parents in town, one broken leg, three days in hospital, two international flights, three head colds, two courses of antibiotics, and not nearly enough sleep. Also, we have given notice on our house and are starting to prepare to move in six weeks to another house in town that will hopefully be devoid of constant woodworking noise, dangerous spiral staircases, and unfenced pools.

Ergo, no bandwidth for thoughtful commentary.

Ergo, a list.

1. People pay attention to bad news and sad news.

Anyone who has driven past a car accident or watches the evening news shouldn’t be surprised by this – what we call news is a litany of all that’s going most wrong in the world (punctuated by the occasional celebrity death or sweet animal story).

It is still a little weird, however, to see the power of the bad&sad to draw attention play out on your own blog. And for the record, I am not advocating anyone adopt the bad&sad model to grow their blog audience. It’s so not worth it.

2. People pay attention to things that make them laugh

After all the stress of the last couple of weeks, it was actually really nice to see something get more attention than our medical dramas. It reminded me that in addition to being hardwired to pay attention to the bad&sad we also hunger to encounter things that make us laugh and warm our hearts, and that when we find those things we like to share them.

3. The power of social networks like facebook or twitter to promote something is awe-inspiring. It is also impossible to really predict or control.

Strangers sharing a single post on facebook were responsible for a banner day of blog traffic, but it was also not something I had much to do with. It wasn’t the post I would have predicted to go viral or the time (nearly three weeks after I first posted it) that I would have thought it might get picked up.

I probably helped the process along by putting the “share on facebook” button at the bottom of the post and participating in Sarah Bessey’s blog carnival last week (I suspect it was one of the visitors from her site that picked up the post that first time) but the whole experience simply reminded me that if I want to maximize the likelihood that people will share my posts on facebook, twitter, or their own blogs, I should just:

  1. Write good posts
  2. Make it easy for people to share them
  3. Engage with people on facebook, twitter and their own blogs (and when I say “engage” I mean “interact because I want to, with sincerity, not because I’m trying to build a brand or lure people into following my blog.”)

(“Congratulations,” Mike said when he read that third point. “You’ve managed to outline a strategy for making friends.” To which I said, “Perfect.”)

4.     Sex sells, too

No, I didn’t manage to extract this lesson from those blog stats – you can thank my father for that piece of unrelated wisdom. I was discussing this blog post with my parents and Mike over lunch. We were talking about how people are drawn to pay attention to the extremes – the sad, the bad, the funny, the touching.

“And sex,” my father said. “People pay attention to sex.”

“Oh yeah, I forgot all about that,” I said.

“Yeah,” Mike said mournfully. “Yeah.”

And on that awkward note, I promised links to posts that will actually furnish you with useful information on strategies to increase your blog traffic. Here are six of them:

  1. 7 Ways To Grow Your Blog Readership (Amanda Ludeke)
  2. 5 Audacious Goals Every Blogger Should Have For 2012 (Alexis Grant)
  3. What social media can do for your blog (Alexis Grant)
  4. 21 ways to increase blog traffic (over on SEOMOZ)
  5. What Not To Blog About (Rachelle Gardener)
  6. Platform and Social Media Must Not Be Your Center (Jane Friedman)

Bloggers, what lessons have you learned about what influences traffic on your own site? What resources have you found helpful in thinking about marketing and platform?

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Feeling weighed, measured, and found wanting

I did not stop to seriously consider the implications of my actions before stenciling a giant PATIENCE on Dominic’s cast.

Luang Prabang is a tourist town and it’s the tail end of the cool season here. There are thousands, literally thousands, of tourists in town. Not many of them, however, are walking around with babies, so our little trio already made an unlikely sight even before the accident. Now we’re a downright curiosity.

I watch people watching us when we’re out and about. First they see the stroller. They do a double take and search for the baby with a smile. Then they see the cast and their eyes go wide and a look of voyeuristic concern washes over their faces. Then they tilt their head sideways just a fraction as they take in the artwork adorning Dominic’s leg. Then their eyes jump up to my face.

The gaze seems confused and, sometimes, speculative.

But do you know, not a single person has asked me why on earth that word is on his leg? Plenty of people have asked me what happened to his leg, but no one has followed it up with, “so, uh, what’s the go with patience?”

I sometimes wonder if they know what I now know – that 70% of femur breaks in babies under 1 year old are the result of child abuse. I sometimes wonder if they suspect that the story about a fall down the stairs is just a convenient cover and that I needed a daily black and white reminder to reign in a vicious temper.

I would be willing to bet our first-born chi – OK, our dog – that the specter of feeling judged by strangers on these points has never entered Mike’s mind.

The difference between Mike and I in this regard was apparent long before Dominic’s accident.

Every time we go out walking with Dominic I need to build in several minutes to stop and exchange greetings with people who live on our street. There’s the friendly couple who own the small paper-supply shop and the unfriendly woman who blatantly rips us off at the fruit stand because we’re falang (foreigner) but who adores Dominic – he’s the only one of us she ever smiles at. There’s the disabled teenage boy who occasionally takes my hand when I walk past and gently kisses it. There’s the woman who sells donuts that ooze bright pink custard, and the one who sells organic vegetables from a blue tarp laid down on the sidewalk (sometimes she sells dead rats or cats, too, but let’s not go there). Then, of course, there’s anyone walking past who just wants to stop for a peek at the chubby white baby with coppery hair.

When I walk past with the stroller, none of these people hesitate to tell me when they think that Dominic is too hot or too cold, or that it might rain on us, or that he looks like he needs to sleep, or eat. When I was out with Mike one evening and the second person had stooped over my child, felt his fat little arm and then commented that it was cold and pulled up the wrap to cover him, Mike felt me tense.

“What’s the problem,” he asked as we continued on our way.

“Doesn’t it bother you?” I said. “All these people telling us that we’re getting it wrong? That we’re not taking good enough care of him?”

“What?” Mike said. “That’s not how I take it at all.”

“How do you take it then?” I said, wondering how else you could possibly take a phalanx of virtual strangers telling you that you haven’t dressed your child warmly enough.

“I take it as: ‘Wow, you have a beautiful little baby. We all love babies. Let’s find some common point of discussion whereby we can connect with you as parents and demonstrate that we’re paying attention to caring for the baby’s wellbeing,’” Mike said.

“That is a much nicer way to take it,” I said, not completely convinced.

“Do you really feel like people are telling you you’re not doing a good enough job as a mother?” Mike asked, amazed.

“Sometimes,” I admitted.

I wonder if this is only the beginning – whether I’m always going have to fight the instinct to take it personally whenever other people comment on what my child says and does. And I wonder where it comes from – what hidden deficit of self-esteem or deep-seated need for affirmation fuels this tendency to feel judged when others reach into the stroller and tug up my baby’s blanket.

I can tell you one thing though. If, heaven forbid, anything like this tumble down the stairs happens in the near future I won’t be adorning any casts with the words “gentleness” or “self-control”.

When have you felt judged as a parent? What helps you in those moments?

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Practices of Parenting

EmergingMummy.comA blogger I read regularly, Sarah Bessey, has been hosting a Practices of Parenting Carnival this week, where she invited readers to submit posts on their practices of parenting via a link-up. (You can find all of Sarah’s original practices of parenthood posts here.)

The response was extraordinary – 117 posts and counting! I linked up my Peace Like A River post, and over the last couple of days I’ve looked at all of the other posts that bloggers linked to on Sarah’s site.  They were heart-felt and moving and some were gorgeous. Here are seven that stood out to me.

Making Mama (and Papa) Art: This is a beautiful post, one after my own heart, about writing notes and letters to our children, “because the written-words seem to go beyond the everyday-words.”

In which I assign beauty: “The best way I can make the world a better place is by sending my little people out into it as the most compassionate they can be, and so I tattoo this message beneath their skins, in their hearts and in their sights and in their bloodstreams: this world is filled with beauty. That person is filled with beauty. You are filled with beauty.”

I love the message of this post – a message so closely tied to gratitude. There’s something in me that jumps up and down and says a big “Yes!! It makes the world and our hearts a better place when we notice and celebrate beauty”

The practice of a happy bedtime: “Our happy bedtimes benefit both my children and myself.  It is a chance for all of us to let go of the failures and frustrations of the day, as well as all of the worries of tomorrow, and just remember how much we love each other.”

I love bedtime. I the peaceful grounding provided by all the little bedtime rituals, and the big exhale that comes when I crawl into bed and know that the busyness and demands of the day are done. I liked this reminder about the important role parents play in kids bedtimes when they’re young.

Parenting in our little village: “This is what joyful parenting looks like to me. Not just staying at home with my kids, but taking them out into the wild and woolly world and engaging with it.”

This post challenged me. I want this sort of rich and multi-cultural parenting circle. But as crazy as it sounds, given where we live, this is something we do not have going for us here yet. Or maybe I should say, “this is not something we’ve worked hard to get going for us here.”

Speak out love: “The idea that somehow it can get a bit old, or tired, to hear “I love you” too much doesn’t stick either – I would much, much rather be told it too much, and say it too much, than to spend each day longing to hear those words, or not knowing how to get them out.”

I was raised in a loving home and I can still find it uncomfortable to say these words out loud. Why is that? Mike’s much better at giving these three words away than I am.

The practice of creativity: “There is something sacred about the act of creating together. I wrote about why I want to raise creative children, and I know that the best way for me to do this is to live creatively in front of them.”

This challenged the writer in me. Writing is a solitary creative pursuit and it was a good reminder to start thinking about how to involve kids in creative projects that we can do together.

Watering weeds into flowers: “That day I didn’t want to pay the price for future fond memories. Right then, that day, I didn’t want to be yelled at about tightening the straps of tiny shoes. I wanted to do my work, alone.”

I liked the way this was written – a good example of storytelling without hammering home the message too hard.

Do you have a Practices of Parenting you’d like to share? Leave a comment below, or a link to your own blog post. Then head on over to Sarah’s blog and link it up there.

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Heading back toward normal

This is my first Writing Wednesday post in quite a while. Sorry. It’s been a tough couple of weeks over here. Normal routine went right out the window with Dominic’s fall down the stairs and it hasn’t returned yet.

It’s not just that, though, my ability to focus and my desire to write seem to have been just as abruptly displaced and they haven’t really returned yet either. In particular, I have no desire to write in detail about the day of the accident – even thinking about that day still makes me feel sick.

But.

Many of you have written wanting to know how Dominic is, and a couple have even inquired after book baby. So as I’m inching back toward trying to write something more demanding, here is an update on both of the babies.

Baby in cast: Dominic seems to be doing better. He veers between ferociously grumpy and ferociously cheerful on a minute-by-minute basis, but he’s off pain medication and he’s moving that leg more – trying to hoist it up in the air, and sometimes succeeding. Of course, then it comes crashing down again and hits the floor. I’ve seen him do this more than once (it makes me wince every time) so either cause-and-effect hasn’t really kicked in yet or his leg is feeling much better.

Only twelve more days until we travel back to Bangkok to (hopefully) have the cast removed. My parents also arrive here for a visit on Thursday so I’ll have more grandparent hands on deck to help with baby entertainment soon.

Oh, and if you’re new to this blog and you’re wondering why on earth Dominic’s cast is decorated the way that it is, read this. T’is the month of patience.

Baby in press: Plans for Love At The Speed Of Email are moving forward. The manuscript is finished and I should even have a cover within a month, which is a very fun prospect!! I’ve received some overwhelmingly lovely endorsements about the book from other authors that I’m excited to share with you in time, my website and blog will be getting a total facelift, and I’m tentatively starting to plan for a release about mid-April.

And speaking of books: A great friend of mine, Nicole Baart, has her next book releasing today: Far From Here. She’s running a neat launch-day challenge (A Celebrate Books Party) and will be donating books to an orphanage in Liberia based on how high the Amazon ranking gets today. I bought my copy on kindle this morning (and here, please pause for a melodious ode to kindle and nook and all other e-readers that jump oceans and cross borders in the blink of an eye). I love Nicole’s writing. She’s a natural poet and a graceful novelist and I can’t wait to read Far From Here. Happy book launch day, Nicole!

And speaking of writing: A weird thing happened last night: I had a post go viral on facebook for the first time. Not viral as-in the Influenza pandemic of 1914-1918, more like viral as in the cold that swept through this house last week, but it was still a bizarre thing to come home from dinner and find that while I’d been out this post about things that had surprised me about motherhood had been shared dozens of times by complete strangers and scores of people were flooding to my blog. More on that topic soon.

So, I’m curious.

Do you all have any thoughts on reigniting that creative spark and getting back on track with your work after hitting a major speed-bump in life?

And how has writing (or other creative pursuits) helped you during times of great stress?

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