Friday, February 27, 2009

February 2009: Fifth Anniversary Letter

Wow… it has been six years. I penned and sent out my first letter in February 2004. This is my 61st letter. Just today I added two people to my distribution list taking the number to 347. I think I sent my first letter to about 30-40 people.

Back then I was not sure if there would be a second letter let alone a 61st. I really was not sure I would be able to sustain it. But I have and it has been a rich and rewarding experience. It has kept me in touch with the people closest to me.

I know that everyone that gets this letter does not read it. There are probably folks that barely read any. But, I get 10-20 people commenting on each letter and it is not always the same bunch. Some challenge my views, most add their own perspective, and all are encouraging.

In these five years only two readers have written and asked to be taken off of distribution. I did not like that but I cannot be everyone’s cup of tea. One lady a professional writer begged off after just a few issues. The second was just a few months ago and someone from South America that I really admired. I was a bit worried because it would be just like him to have taken gravely ill and not communicate that.

My confidence in writing has grown with each letter. I really was not sure when I depressed the mouse key to send that first issue. I am still skeptical every time I send one. Did I get it right? Will people like it? Is the topic relevant? I worry much less now. Readers, basically friends and family, really like the letters in which I reflect on growing up and the introspective letters. I should probably shy away from those that are more like term papers though these are sometimes the topics that interest me.

I even am thinking about an evolving career as a writer. In my current job search, I am exploring some options in that direction. Keep your fingers crossed, because doing something different would be kind of cool.

If something is bothering me, I like to write about it. It forces me to read what others have said on the subject and in the process of the reading and writing, I solidify my own views. To use the sophomoric word, it is cathartic (which the thesaurus has reminded me means therapeutic, liberating, beneficial, healing, energizing, or invigorating). It is all of these things mixed together. It liberates me from worrying so about something if I capture the essence and my take of it in a letter. The process is therapeutic, invigorating, energizing, and beneficial as well. It is also healing. I think in another ten years of writing about the Armenian genocide I should be all healed up. No, it will definitely take more than ten years for that.

Launching a Blog for these Letters: A few folks have wondered why I send my letter out by e-mail. My off the cuff answer is that it certainly saves in printing costs, postage, and the man-hours that would be involved to snail mail the letter to almost 350 people. But I knew what they were about to get to. They wanted to know why I was not posting my letters on a blog.

Blogs were around when I began this letter. Truth be told, I should have began with a blog. It would have been the right and cutting edge thing to do. So, why didn’t I do that? The answer is both simple and kind of, what is the technical term… ah yes… stupid: I was unsure of my self, my writing skills, having a public forum where anyone could read what I wrote and comment on it.

It was a matter of control. I wanted to send my letters to who I wanted to get them. I wanted the only path of feedback to be directly and privately to me. Posting everything on-line exacerbated these foolish fears. As for the first, I have never turned down anyone’s request to be put on distribution. To the contrary, I am honored that anyone wants to read these musings and meanderings. With regard to being overly sensitive maybe even paranoid about the feedback in a public forum that is hogwash on two counts. First, people have been very civil and for the most part complimentary in any feedback they have given. Secondly, and this one deserve a big “duh”, most blogs give you the option of allowing comments or not. If you allow comments, they also provide the option of reviewing and approving them before they are posted.

From Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_blogging_timeline, I learned that one Jorn Barger (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jorn_Barger ) first used the term weblog on December 17, 1997. In the second quarter of 1999, Peter Merholz (http://www.peterme.com/) had some fun with the term weblog by breaking it into two word “we blog.” Voila, the word blog was born and it has obviously stuck.

In that same time frame, the earliest blog like sites were called Open Diary and LiveJournal. In August of 1999, Evan Williams and Meg Hourihan created a site called http://www.blogger.com/. It was such a success that Google purchased the site in February of 2003. So clearly, blogging was already a well established phenomena when I wrote and sent out my first letter in February of 2004!

There is at least one blog dedicated to blogging. It is http://www.blogheral.com/. On April 14, 2005, they reported that there were over 50 million blogs worldwide. On February 11, 2008, the site reported:

…over 112.8 million blogs, a number which obviously does not include all the 72.82 million Chinese blogs as counted by The China Internet Network Information Center. Blog statistics often concern the English language blogosphere but we should not forget about the millions of other blogs that are not always included in estimations.
In the past few months, both Deb Devedjian and Gary Rejebian innocently asked why I had not begun a blog for this monthly letter. It was a good, sincere, and honest question. I gave it some thought and figured with there probably being over 200 million blogs on-line, the technology was sufficiently mature enough for me to join the trend.

I went to blogger.com and nosed around. I cannot say how incredibly easy it was to get my site up and running. Over a few weeks in January, I posted all my old letters on the site. I posted the January 2009 letter kind of real time i.e. I posted it when I mailed out the letter. I will do the same with this letter and moving forward. The website is: http://thissideoffifty.blogspot.com/

I like the look of it and glad I have finally got around to doing this. Immediately, I got one follower a nice lady named Anita Boser who has two blogs of her own: http://www.blogger.com/profile/17628246135385560400. I was impressed to get one follower so quickly. But, I got no others. And guess what, no one has posted a comment of any kind. Whatever was I concerned about?

My good friend Raffi Bandazian looked over the blog and gave some positive comments. I asked why he did not sign up as a follower. He responded that he RSSed the site. RS-what? Oh no, something new to learn… ugh.

RSS stands for Rich Site Summary and is basically a mechanism for people to get updates when the content has changed or been updated on sites they normally follow. Applications like Google Reader are used to manage ones news and websites of interest through RSS feeds. Sounds like a very good and powerful idea. The technology might be too new and untested. I will have to wait until the user base hits a couple hundred million!

Daily Writing & Pens: As you may recall, I handwrite a page every day and over the course of the month, a theme and a letter emerges. This past year, I have been typing my letter directly on my laptop. I still handwrite 26-28 days per month, the others I type.

Having departed Sanford, I am less loyal to their brands. That is not to say that I do not continue to use Sharpie’s, Waterman’s, Parker’s, and Uniball’s. I like all of these pens. What I am saying is that I have dusted off my Caran D’Ache pens and enjoy them once again. I am curious to see if they will become my pen of choice again. So far all signs are in that direction with the Sanford Brand Waterman in second place.

For awhile this year I was using fountain pens. From working at Sanford, I have four stylish Parker and Waterman fountain pens. They are very nice and a delight to write with, but they just run out of ink too quickly for my taste. I am a dyed in the wool ball point pen fan.

In the February 2008 letter, I was extolling the virtues of the Uniball Jetstream. It is a very good pen. Honestly, if you said that is all I could ever write with, I would be happy. But since I left Sanford, I have gravitated back to fine writing ball points and rarely use any throw away pens.

Memorable Writer: In my February 2006 letter, I wrote about a memorable piece I had read in the August 2, 1999 New Yorker. It was an article John Updike had written on the passing of John F. Kennedy Jr. At the time I read it, I thought it was a perfect piece of writing. It captured the essence of the moment, the iconic position of the Kennedy Clan, and the tragedies that has been associated with the family.

I was saddened to learn that John Updike passed away on January 27th. He was 76 years old. His prose was wonderfully descriptive. Some critics called described it as more flowery than substantive. I disagree.

He was prolific. He loved to write and once said:

“I would write ads for deodorants or labels for catsup bottles, if I had to,” he told The Paris Review in 1967. “The miracle of turning inklings into thoughts and thoughts into words and words into metal and print and ink never palls for me.”
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/28/books/28updike.html?fta=y
Here is a short example of his elegant and descriptive style.

A barn, in a day, is a small night. The splinters of light between the dry shingles pierce the high roof like stars, and the rafters and crossbeams and built-in ladders seem, until your eyes adjust, as mysterious as the branches of a haunted forest. David entered silently, the gun in one hand.... The smell of old straw scratched his sinuses.... the mouths of empty bins gaped like caves. Rusty oddments of farming — coils of baling wire, some spare tines for a harrow, a handleless shovel — hung on nails driven here and there in the thick wood. He stood stock-still a minute; it took a while to separate the cooing of the pigeons from the rustling in his ears. When he had focused on the cooing, it flooded the vast interior with its throaty, bubbling outpour: there seemed no other sound. They were up behind the beams. What light there was leaked through the shingles and the dirty glass windows at the far end and the small round holes, about as big as basketballs, high on the opposite stone side walls, under the ridge of the roof.
From the story “Pigeon Feathers.”
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/28/books/28excerpts.html?_r=1&fta=y

Annual Thanks: As usual, at the end of each of the last four February letters, I like to thank two people instrumental to bringing this rewarding project to life. My morning train friend, singer, and marketing/proposal writing wizard, Marilyn Zavidow, helped me name this letter, The Other Side of Fifty: A Monthly Letter of Musings and Meanderings. We did this taking the 5:30 am train from Westport to Manhattan. She looked at my draft mock up and made some suggestions. She thought about it overnight and came back with a few suggestions. I picked the one that I thought would best capture the essence of what I thought I was about to do. We definitely came up with the right title. I have mused and meandered for five years with every intention of doing this for as long as I can. Thank you Marilyn.

Check out Marilyn’s website: http://www.zavidow.com/.

I had been writing a page every day from June 25, 2002. The idea for a monthly came in January 2004 when I learned of the passing of an American Armenian man, living in Paris: Aram Kevorkian. Aram was a well known and highly regarded lawyer. I had not even heard about him until after he had passed away on December 20, 2003 at the age of 74.

Aram began writing a monthly letter in 1978. The Kevorkian Newsletter started off as a legal letter to update his clients on the nuances of French Law and any changes in statutes. It became something more, something bigger, and something deeper. Besides the law, he explored social issues, observed and commented on notable figures, and did so in a way that earned the great appreciation of his readers. The letter was mailed to 3,000 or so readers in over 70 countries.
Upon reading two issues of The Kevorkian Newsletter, I knew what I wanted to do with my daily writing. This e-letter is the result and I like to think a most modest continuation of Aram Kevorkian’s creation.

Here is a link to the New York Times obituary of Aram Kevorkian. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9802E7D7113FF937A15751C1A9659C8B63

Thanks to all of you for your support and encouragement. Until next month.


3 comments:

  1. Five years. Impressive. Every time I (re)start my blog with the best of intentions, and get two to three posts in, before things grind to a halt. Either writers block gets in the way, or other things in life sidetrack me.

    Anyway, congrats!

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  2. Corinne KevorkianMarch 3, 2009 at 9:33 AM

    Congratulations, Mark, on the fifth anniversary of your Musings! My father would be immensely pleased to know of his influence on the genesis of your writing, and I am sure he continues to offer encouragement from above. Thank you for remembering him in this way.

    Like you I find myself "in transition" these past two months and am exploring career alternatives. Good for you that you are considering a full time writing career! Best of luck to you!

    Cheers!

    ReplyDelete