Category Archives: Blogging

Angela’s Greatest Hits


Taken the day of the concert, see Superstar post

Have you ever been suprised when an artist who has only been recording music for a short time decides to put out a “greatest hits” collection? When I hear about it, I invariably think, “Really? Isn’t 20 years old a little young for a retrospective?”

Of course, it really doesn’t matter what age they are, or how many hits they have. They must have had some inspiration to assess and re-assemble their short ouevre into a “best of” compilation. I respect that. In fact, despite my short “career” in the blogging world, I have decided to do likewise. I just need you to pretend not to notice that I only have 2 greatest hits in my blog collection.

Today’s peek at my stats page showed me something I had not seen before, which is the blog ranking. One of my 48 posts has been seen the most by a phenomenal margin over the others. Almost all of my posts have 1-168 views. (I know, I know, but I’m only 20 years old in blog-years!) My leading blog, however, has an impressive 1,871 views. That is amazing to me.

The winning blog in my short 3-year career is “The Former Clinique Consultant”, about how my time with that company impacted my life.  Turns out, someone who had just started a management job with Clinique found my little story, and made all of her consultants read it as a learning opportunity. She wanted them to take my first-person narrative to heart, and remember the customer’s perspective as they put on the lab coat each day. Short of getting a teacher to assign your blog to their class, or getting Oprah to talk about it, I’m not sure I could ask for much more to help get attention for a single article.

The next blog in line, although with much less fanfare, is my sentimental favorite. It is an incredible story of getting to meet my all-time favorite singer, Rick Springfield (who, by the way, is very justified in doing greatest hits collections, considering his multiple decades of creating music). Rick is not the star of the blog, however. That honor goes to my Kevin. It is a touching story of how much Kevin does to make my life extraordinary.

Shortly after I wrote the Superstar blog, a co-worker (who just so happens to be a tough, brawny technician) told me that he wished he hadn’t read it at work, because he had to pretend not to have tears in his eyes when people walked in his office. When you can make an ultramasculine Lexus technician start to cry, you may be onto something. I’ve had a few other people tell me of a similar emotional reaction to the blog. That’s powerful stuff, and means more to me than all the viewers and followers in the world. I’m also hoping it garners me a little forgiveness for putting out such a young Greatest Hits collection.

My First (sorta) Book Review

happiness project

I am blessed to belong to an awesome book club that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It may well be the best club ever: not too big or small, not too casual or cerebral. Everything about it is just right. I often steal the line, “a wine club that likes to read”, because we enjoy our libations and fellowship as much or more than our book discussions. There is just one teensy problem with me and my club-I don’t like reading.

Don’t get me wrong; I used to love reading. But something oddly snapped off in the past couple of years. First it was fiction; I didn’t have any interest in novels. One of my club members Diane would say, “You know Angela, she only wants to read if she learns something,” which was true. But I also didn’t have the energy to follow a story. The difficulty came when I started losing interest in non-fiction. It may have been around the time of my Leadership Augusta Board Chair gig; perhaps I was too stressed or something. I could only muster enough attention for a blog or magazine article.

I might be back on track, however, thanks to one book: The Happiness Project. While I am still not entertaining any fiction titles, I did read this entire book-something I haven’t done in a long time. Sadly, I was unable to attend the book club meeting about it, so I decided to share my assessment via blog as a quasi-book review. It may be my first official book review, but with the disclaimer that since I talk so much about myself, it really doesn’t count.

The book is by Gretchen Rubin, who spends an entire year dedicated to the pursuit of her own happiness. The goal is as lofty and esoteric as it sounds. After much research, she tackles the project in a complicated way, which is probably why I can relate to the book. Like me, Ms. Rubin makes things way more difficult than they have to be, which might seem counter-productive to her purpose, but somehow she manages to pull it off.

A warning: if your brain operates like mine, you will not be able to read this book without taking notes. After the author started rattling off multiple lists, I knew I would have to do something to keep them straight: I counted 12 Commandments of Happiness, 12 Resolutions, and 22 Secrets of Adulthood.

So let’s tackle the first list: the commandments. The word itself seems a bit strict for a book on happiness, but that is easily overlooked. More difficult to forgive is the lack of editing, because there should have been seven instead of twelve commandments. “Lighten Up”, “No calculation”, “Enjoy the Process” and “Let it Go” are really all the same message. Likewise “Do it now”, “Do what ought to be done” and “Identify the Problem”.  Of her 12 commandments, the only ones that truly resonate with me include “Be Yourself”, “Enjoy the Process” and “Be Polite and Fair”.

The “Secrets of Adulthood” seemed random and mostly inconsequential, with such tips as “Bring a sweater” and “OTC meds are very effective”. The one I pulled away from this much-longer list: “What you do every day matters more than what you do once in awhile.” So true! It reminds me of another non-fiction book, The Power of Habit. The absolute best “Secret” was #17: “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good”. I wish she would have written the entire book on that one secret. It evokes a Jane Fonda quote from an Oprah interview: “The quest for perfection is toxic.”  I am convinced Ms. Fonda and Ms. Rubin are onto something.

Finally, we have the 12 Resolutions, which are tackled one per month within the given year, in the same way that name-memory game works. The life-changes she makes in January, she has to continue to do when she adds February’s resolutions, both of which must be maintained when March’s objectives are added to the mix, and so on. It seems like a daunting expectation of oneself, and certainly not an easy path to happiness. At this point, I am thinking the book should have been called the “Success Project” or the “Overacheiver Project”. I begin to get tired just from reading about everything she is making herself do.

Somehow I hang in there with her, though, I think because the quest is something that has been on my own mind lately. I certainly would give it a different flavor, but wanting to take ownership of one’s life experience is laudable, no matter the strategy. The only time I find myself skimming the book is when she includes feedback from others who have commented on her blog. I found it difficult to read on my Kindle and determine where her voice stopped and a random blogger’s voice began. I read blogs all the time; I certainly don’t want them excerpted into my first real book in over a year.

I decide that I like the book at 71% (something we never used to say before Kindles). This is the point where Ms. Rubin talks about St. Therese of Lisieux, who wrote a book called “Story of a Soul”. It is an autobiographical work from a nun who died young. In it, she speaks of another nun in the convent who got on her nerves something fierce. Everything this nun did just grated her, and you can picture someone in your own life who bothers you more than you want to admit. St. Therese managed these vexations by “treating the nun as if I loved her best of all.” She showered her nemesis with so much affection, that when St. Therese died, that nun bragged about how much happiness she had brought to the young girl. She went on and on about how she was the favorite, until a priest finally got annoyed and told her the truth.

If there is any “secret to adulthood” or path to happiness, surely it is in the core of this story. Can we find those people and occasions in life that are the most exasperating, and learn to embrace them? Can we seek out the pure joy in everything, or at least take Ms. Rubin’s advice and pretend to? Commandment #3 is “Act the Way You Want to Feel”, because eventually your mind will fall into believing whatever you are telling it. It’s like faking confidence until you become sure of yourself. Ms. Rubin quotes Herman Hesse: “Happiness is a how, not a what”, and I couldn’t agree more.

I think Ms. Rubin was channeling St. Therese when she sends a note to one of her book critics, thanking him for his helpful comments. He replies, in turn, with an acknowledgement of how impressed he was to hear from her. Apparently not many people send positive letters to people who write negatively about their work, and he admired the sentiment behind her gesture. She tells us that her first reaction of his review was to be angry, but because she was at the apex of her happiness undertaking, she knew she had to approach it differently. In doing so, she converts a downer review into a respectful exchange among peers.

If I had been able to attend my book club meeting, I would have told them I liked the book. I would have said that despite some organizational issues and the inclusion of the blog comments, I walked away with nuggets I can use. That is all I ask of a book, anyway. Life is short and time is precious, so if I am going to read, I would like to be better for it. (Diane is right about me.) Beyond the useful nuggets, though, the best thing about the Happiness Project is personal- it got me reading again.  My book club will be pleased.

The Delusional Writer

I remember thinking I had writing talent when I was in Mrs. Alalof’s 9th grade English class. One day, while handing in one of my flowery essays, I felt a rush of confidence that my work would be one of the best of the stack. Sure enough, the graded paper was returned to me with praise of my vivid descriptions and creative vocabulary. At the time, my young distorted ego was quite impressed with itself, and I entered adulthood with fancies of my innate skills.

I realize today, however, that the praise had less to do with my talent, and more to do with the comparative apathy of my classmates, who churned out a bunch of words just to fill the page and be done with it. In my young writing days, I thought that details and big words could woo my reader beyond any concern for grammar or content. This is not unlike my step-son’s strategy of assuming that his charming talk can make up for a lack of effort at school. It’s the age-old style-over-substance trick, one that always catches up to you, sooner or later.

My epiphany came in my 30’s, when I asked a colleague to offer comments on an article I’d written. He was Mensa-level smart and severely critical of everything, so my young ego awaited the healthy boost it was going to receive when he offered rare accolades for my obvious ability. In truth, I was really only sharing it to impress him, since I had a little crush and was eager to show off. I didn’t really care about any suggestions for improvement, because the piece was not important and was clearly already amazing.

When the article was returned to me, however, I was devastated. It had been slashed with more red than a Halloween movie sequel. The Mensa-critic was kind enough to preface his comments with, “I’m only telling you this because you asked,” knowing enough to be embarrassed by the amount of errors in my work, but not enough about my motivation for letting him read it in the first place. If he shared my affections, he would have lied. It turned out to be fortuitous for my writing that he did not.

When I started reading the feedback, I realized his suggestions were quite legitimate and mortifyingly simple: I had made numerous sloppy mistakes. Had I proof-read the article even once, I would have caught most of them. Other comments were eye-opening to me, notes about efficiency in sentence construction that I had never before considered. If there is a way to say something that offers more clarity in less words, isn’t that a better approach? A whole new writing world was opened to me: the world of editing.

I began to spend time in this world, seeking to teach myself how to edit. I soon realized what Blaise Pascal meant when he said, “If I had more time, I’d write you a shorter letter.” (This quote is often attributed to Mark Twain, but part of editing turns out to be fact-checking, as well.) I have yet to master the art of the edit, as evidenced by the fact that it takes me a good 4 hours to finish a decent blog, wearing out the “preview” button as I hone it down to the clean essentials. I finally hit the “publish” button, not because the editing is complete, but because I am exhausted and on the edge of vomiting if I read the same words one more time.

So, with continued practice, there is hope for my writing on a technical level. On a content level, however, there might be a teensy problem that is a little more tricky to overcome: personality. It turns out that you have to have one to be an engaging writer. I know there is a slight deficiency here, from spending a lifetime of being called “overly serious”, so I find myself with a late start on two levels.

Sometimes when I read an essay that blows me away -like David Sedaris, for example- it makes me want to abandon all of my own vague writing ambitions. David Sedaris has spent his entire existence both being funny AND practicing in a journal everyday. What hope is there for the rest of us? I admit to some similar feelings of jealousy and surrender towards a few of the writers on the Jezebel blog, which has a staff of confident, witty and articulate columnists. Do aspiring golfers feel this way when they watch Tiger Woods? Shouldn’t we have role models who inspire us to greatness? My role models inspire me to expletives and defeat.

In the end, I always come back to the advice given by my favorite poet, Rilke. (Or, as Lou Andreas-Salome called him, “the only poet”.) In his “Letters to a Young Poet”, he advises his protege to only write if he feels so compelled that he might die if he could not. This is really an overly-dramatic way of stating something we should all heed: only write if you have something worthwhile to say. We have to live a full life and develop a full self in order to have the content worth sharing. All of the grand words and savvy editing will not save a lack of heart and imagination. So for now, I will focus more on the living than the writing, blinded by my ever-present delusions of talent.