How the hell did I end up here?

Today, I’ve been thinking about my career as a blogger, asking the question, “how the hell did I end up here?”

I never liked writing essays, stories, or pretty much anything on paper. My grades in English from high school through college were mediocre. Everything changed when I wrote that first blog.

You see I’m a talker, always have been since about age 5. I have this vivid memory of stuttering and being unable to speak my mind. Then my Dad was driving me somewhere, we passed the Delta Center (old name of the Salt Lake City Jazz NBA stadium), and my mind clicked. I was able to say whatever I wanted and instantly started gabbing.

I didn’t stop gabbing, and annoying everyone around me, until I found blogging. It was my perfect place to say whatever I wanted. I loved it.

Coincidentally, I don’t feel the need to talk anymore. It’s all left on the blog and my mind, and relationships, are free to be…well, normal.

At work, things progressed pretty smoothly. I was able to convince my bosses to let me start blogging. It was all about the mission and how to improve our work. They liked it, the community liked it, and I was on my way. The reputation I had built up carried me into my next few jobs where part of why they hired me was the blogging.

Then, finally, it was my job. I was hired to be a corporate blogger. It was a great gig and I was able to do what I loved and get paid for it. The next step occurred to me sometime during that job. Instead of blogging for somebody else, why not do it for myself?

A few months later, on July 1, 2011, I took the plunge. Full-time writing for my own site and my own business, and most especially with my own content.

Of course, this changed everything. I went from corporate sponsorship to advertising based. I had to learn how to write for the public at-large, instead of for a specific group of business people. The transition hasn’t been hard, but I can’t say I’ve found my groove. The main issue is determining how to stand out amongst the millions of websites out there.

Which is where I sit today, trying to find my voice and working on building some momentum for this blog. It feels weird to look-back on my progression like this. There is no way I would have imagined it ending up this way. I mean my job at the time I started blogging was a technical trainer for web 2.0. That’s a pretty solid 90-degree career turn.

I guess that means I don’t know how I got here. It just kinda happened. I’ve been following my obsession with blogging for seven years and have yet to stop. I wonder where it will take me next…



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Happy 10th Birthday to Daring Fireball – a role model for this blog

Happy 10th birthday, John Gruber, of the curation blog, Daring Fireball. A role model of mine in both style and eccentricity. I hope to one day achieve your level of excellence and also prove to the world that being a blogger can provide a happy life for me and my family.

A fellow writer, Robinson Meyer of The Atlantic, also pays tribute to Daring Fireball:

This, from a 2008 interview, is still a better articulation of the joy of reading great sequential writing than you’ll regularly find:

Gruber: I’ve always enjoyed the way that with good columnists, it’s not just that their individual articles stand on their own, but that there’s something greater than the sum of the parts when you follow them as a regular reader.

And he can still better articulate what’s fun and compelling about link-sharing (which he’s been doing since before we deemed it curation) than anyone. From the same interview:

Gruber: There’s a certain pace and rhythm to what I’m going for [when I share links], a mix of the technical, the artful, the thoughtful, and the absurd. In the same way that I strive to achieve a certain voice in my prose, as a writer, I strive for a certain voice with regard to what I link to. No single item I post to the Linked List is all that important. It’s the mix, the gestalt of an entire day’s worth taken together, that matters to me.


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John Hughes Never Stopped Writing Until His Heart Stopped Beating

John Hughes, one of my favorite, most beloved screenwriters and filmmakers, passed away three years ago, on August 6, 2009.

That his work has managed to stand the test of time, a feat so many writers fail to achieve, is a remarkable phenomenon in itself.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is now over twenty-five years old. But the line, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it,” is as relevant today, if not more so, as it was in the 80s.

Even more impressive than his writing, however, is how Hughes did it. Constantly. Fervently. With passion and vigor.  He was never without his moleskin (of which he left behind over 300) and he never ceased to observe, edit, and synthesize everything around him. For him, writing was not so much a profession as a condition of life. It was his ethos.

On the day of his death:

[His wife], Nancy awoke in her Manhattan hotel room to find her husband’s side of the bed empty, which was not unusual. It was Hughes’s custom to get up early and enjoy a morning constitutional when staying in New York. The routine provided him with an opportunity to get a head start on his relentless observing, sketching, and note-taking.

Hughes had collapsed on a sidewalk a few blocks from the hotel. He was rushed to Roosevelt Hospital, near Lincoln Center, and pronounced dead of a heart attack. (from Vanity Fair)

What’s truly inspiring is that when Hughes passed away, “…he was doing something he loved. He was out note-taking and observing.” This, I believe, was the key to his talent and his genius. He wrote, and wrote, every day, until his heart stopped beating.

I can’t imagine Hughes penning a more fitting ending to the story that was his life.

And so, to appreciate his death is to celebrate his life. Thanks for the movie memories, John.




Travel writing – visiting the tiny island of Giglio, a wrecked cruise ship in the harbor and old-time Tuscany in the villages

(Filippo Monteforte / AFP/Getty Images / June 8, 2012)


GIGLIO ISLAND, Italy — My ferry was full of school groups, delivery trucks and tourists when we left the Tuscan port of Santo Stefano and headed toward the island of Giglio, 12 miles away. I sat on deck with the other foreigners, enjoying the spring sunshine: It was too cold for the Italians, who huddled downstairs drinking espressos.

And then, Giglio’s white cliffs appeared in the distance and gradually grew closer.

Except that there are no white cliffs on this granite island. I was looking at the wreck of the Costa Concordia, which ran aground Jan. 13 just outside Giglio’s harbor.

As the ferry whipped past, my eyes were drawn to the great wreck, which lay on its side with a long, rusty gash in its hull. It name was inscribed on a white bow towering above the water. The ship was so close to the tiny harbor, massive and modern and incongruous.

Giglio is known around the world because of the Concordia, but I was hoping to see a Giglio that was not defined by the disaster in which 32 passengers and crew died. Thirty-five years ago, my husband, Mike, lived on Giglio for several months, shortly after its inhabitants gave up mining granite and pyrite and abandoned self-sufficient agriculture in favor of tourism. He remembers an unspoiled family vacation island, little known outside Italy, where affluent Romans (plus a handful of foreigners such as Los Angeles political power broker Stanley Sheinbaum) spent their summers in apartments or second homes.


Keep readingLife returning to normal on Giglio Island after Costa Concordia


Continue reading Travel writing – visiting the tiny island of Giglio, a wrecked cruise ship in the harbor and old-time Tuscany in the villages

Learn how to speak a new language in a few months – from Lifehacker

A condensed version of the article, if this interests you read the full article.

Lifehacker reader Gabriel Wyner was tasked with learning four languages in the past few years for his career as an opera singer, and in the process landed on “a pretty damn good method for language learning that you can do in limited amounts of spare time.” Here’s the four-step method that you can use.


Stage 1: Learn the correct pronunciation of the language.
Time: 1-2 weeks

Starting with pronunciation first does a few things—because I’m first and foremost learning how to hear that language’s sounds, my listening comprehension gets an immediate boost before I even start traditional language learning.


Stage 2: Vocabulary and grammar acquisition, no English allowed.
Time: About 3 months.

This stage takes advantage of a few valuable tricks: First, I’m using Anki, a wonderful, free flashcard program that runs on smartphones and every computer platform. Second, I use a modified version of Middlebury College’s famous language pledge—No English allowed! By skipping the English, I’m practicing thinking in the language directly, and not translating every time I try to think of a word. Third, I’m using frequency lists to guide my vocabulary acquisition. These lists show the most common words in a given language, and learning those words first will be the best use of your time—after 1000 words, you’ll know 70% of the words in any average text, and 2,000 words provides you with 80% text coverage.


Stage 3: Listening, writing and reading work.
Time: This stage overlaps quite a bit with stage 2 and 4. Once you’re comfortable reading or writing anything, usually a month or two into stage 2, you can start stage 3

Once I have a decent vocabulary and familiarity with grammar, I start writing essays, watching TV shows and reading books, and talking (at least to myself!) about the stuff I see and do.


Stage 4: Speech

At the point where I can more or less talk (haltingly, but without too many grammar or vocab holes) and write about most familiar things, I find some place to immerse in the language and speak all the time (literally).


// Photo – Spree2010

Thoughts on writing from John Steinbeck

“Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.”

“If there is a magic in story writing, and I am convinced there is, no one has ever been able to reduce it to a recipe that can be passed from one person to another. The formula seems to lie solely in the aching urge of the writer to convey something he feels important to the reader. If the writer has that urge, he may sometimes, but by no means always, find the way to do it. You must perceive the excellence that makes a good story good or the errors that makes a bad story. For a bad story is only an ineffective story.”

via Brain Pickings

How I spent my summer, by Steven Mandzik

Yesterday was the first day of Fall and Summer is officially over, which means it’s time to write my follow-up to Amy’s back to school letter…How I Spent My Summer.

An act in two parts.

Part I – The Taming of the Bear

[box type=”shadow”]Forward, I pray, since we have come so far,

And be it moon, or sun, or what you please. And if you please to call it a rush candle, Henceforth I vow it shall be so for me.

– The Taming of the Shrew, William Shakespeare[/box]

The quote is from the final moments where Petruchio finally tames Katharina. Which is what I spent greatest amount of effort on this summer. Except, instead of taming the Bear I set her free.

Perhaps, I should call it by its modern name, 10 Things I Hate About You. Where Heath Ledger prompts Julia Stiles to let go of her hurt and smile again.

This summer Amy started smiling again. She is surfing and writing and feeling proud. Ready to love me and move our relationship to the next level.

While details of this struggle are personal let’s just say I was nearly killed in the process.

Part II – The Blogger

I’ve never been a good writer. All through my high school and college years I rarely got higher than an B. In fact, those years were a slapstick comedy of errors, with everything from a state-wide English teacher strike to a series of corrupt substitute teachers.

After I left school is when I learned how to write. It turns out that part of the problem is my nonconformist streak. Even when the teachers taught me how to do it the right way, I would do the opposite. I simply refused to write a boring essay.

Then blogging came on the scene and being unique with poor grammar was/is all the rage. Ever since I have been writing and writing, often getting paid to do it by big corporations. You could say that I have been a corporate blogger for 5 years.

During those years I dreamed of leaving everything behind, moving to paradise, and trying my own hand at writing. That is done. Amy and I moved out of DC, into a tranquil Southern California life, and I’m blogging my heart out.

So far I have been able to post something new, and interesting, every day and our growth is good, from 300 to 40,000 views/month.

In many ways this lifestyle is ideal. We get to set our own schedule, avoid the working crowds, and even pick-up long-lost hobbies (surfing). In other ways it is the scariest thing we’ve ever done. I say ‘we’ because Amy is also taking up writing, as a screenwriter.

The thing about being a writer is that you’re nothing until you have a name. It takes forever to build up that audience and, in the meantime, makes you a “struggling writer”. Once you do build up the name you have to be a hit machine. There are no consistent paychecks only your own ability to write something that works and keep doing it.

This summer served as our starting point. The beginning of our path toward our dreams. It was not all peaches and cream, but what they say is true. When you do what you love, it’s not work.

photo by Rajeev Nair

Work, Love and Bi-Coastality

Next week, Steve and I will be packing up our place in DC, moving our furniture into storage and heading to Southern California to live for three months as part of a pact we made in December to split our time between DC (where I’m from) and California (where he’s from).

We have no grand strategy other than the fact that DC (weather-wise) is rather miserable in the summer and winter months, so we’re opting to enjoy SoCal during those seasons.

During our time in California (LA for July and August), we’ll still be working on projects and growing 1X57 (which is made possible by this little thing called the internet) but I’ll be taking an advanced screenwriting class at UCLA so I can refine my screenplay to the point I’m ready to pitch it and Steve will be reunited with his family, his friends and his “true love” – the Pacific Ocean – where he can surf his throbbing heart out. I’ll be hitting the waves, too. And we’ll be looking to become a part of a community in the same way we’ve done in DC, which we’ll be returning to in the fall.

While have some big things planned both work- and pleasure-wise (more and more they’re becoming the same) when we return to DC, we’re focusing on following our hearts and passions and riding whatever waves come our way.

POST SCRIPT: I almost forgot! We’ll be writing about and sharing some of our more fun adventures in California at Pamela’s Punch for The Pacific Punch.



Kanji and the art of calligraphy

The Japanese name for calligraphy is sho do, which most directly translates as “way of writing”.

I really want to go to Japan but not because I want to go on vacation. I want to go for the Imperial Gardens and the tasty noodles. You could say that I am utterly fascinated with this country and its culture.

Which is sad because it seems to be ultra trendy right now. As if Japan is so huge in America (not, I’m so huge in Japan). I guess this makes me a yuppster (hipster, yuppy) or just a really big dork.

Either way, I’m going full bore into the hole starting with learning the language. Having recently become bilingual (english/spanish) I’m feeling very haughty right now. It feels like any language no matter how complicated is within my grasp.

They key is knowing how to get into it. In high school they figured this was memorizing the alphabet and taking lots of vocab tests. Which failed even after  5+ years of Spanish classes. In the end what worked for me, believe it or not, was reading the newspaper out loud.

For about 6 months I read two newspapers from Spain that I subscribed to on my Kindle. In the beginning my comprehension was so limited that I barely knew the topic of each article. Then I started reading each one out loud and it clicked.

I suddenly began thinking in Spanish and my comprehension shot through the roof. In fact, it reached a tipping point where I just know Spanish and its not like how they say that if you don’t practice you lose it. Spanish is a part of me and I occaisonally do random things, like daydream in Spanish or randomly converse with people in Spanish.

This was pretty funny at first because I didn’t know I was doing it and I would get all embarrassed. Then I got into it and just went with it. It really is cool to have folks think you are a foreigner, or escape American drudgery by randomly talking with someone in Spanish.

The best book out there for Japanese calligraphy (click the picture to see it on Amazon)

With this newfound success I’m attacking Japanese and the key is calligraphy. The ancient art of writing things down. For some reason the Chinese and Japanese elevated writing to a high art form and they get all crazy about it. The book I ordered is teaching me about the “Four Treasures” and the cheap calligraphy set I ordered has meticulous detail on every piece.

In some ways it feels like painting, you know that feeling you get when focusing intently on making something beautiful envelops your mind pushing out all other distractions. But, there is no color and it’s all about technique. Hold the brush vertical, descend onto the paper at a 45 degree angle, slightly turn the brush, and lift off.

That makes a dot. A simple dot (called a ten). It’s the most basic of all moves and it requires four steps, a degree change, and a turn. Complicated but not hard. It’s more like an entry into a world of perfection where the goal is not to get it done but to marvel in the mastery of even the simplest move.

I have to say I love it. All throughout the book are the words: meditation, peace, zen, focus, perfection. I get to take a break from computers and websites by banishing all from my mind except the ten.

All the way I am learning Japanese. I have these dreams now of visiting Japan and being able to read street signs and store fronts. For some reason it awes me to simply be able to read Japanese street signs…so weird.

No matter though, I am learning a language through enjoyment and fun. I have found my key.

My Shumi Calligraphy Set (click the picture to see it on Amazon)

calligraphy papers (photo at top) by matsuyuki