Wednesday, February 22, 2012

February 2012: Eighth Anniversary Letter

I like writing this letter the most of any of the monthly offerings.  It is a wonderful opportunity to reflect on how I came to write this letter.  I get to comment how it has evolved, expanded, and where it might be going.
While this is the 8th Anniversary of this letter that began in February 2004, June 24th will mark the 10th Anniversary of my writing 500 words or more per day.  It began as all handwriting and for two years, I did not share anything that I wrote.  I kept at because it helped me to think more clearly.  It helped me remember ideas, thoughts, and philosophical questions that had been idle and stale in the dark corners of my mind. 
I used to hate to write.  In high school and college, trying to piece together a 500 word essay was tortuous to say the least.  I was not good at it and the grades reflected it. Yet, for some reason, I envisioned myself as a writer.  It really did not make any sense but the vision never left me.  It just kept growing. 
It was not like I had a lot of encouragement either.  No teachers ever raved about my writing.  The few articles I published in the school and then Armenian papers were received somewhere between lukewarm and warm. 
Upon writing these lines, the name Dorothy Trosko, popped into my mind.  She taught English Composition in my senior year at Stevenson High School in Livonia, MI.  She had a tough reputation and I was apprehensive taking her class.  I do not believe I ever got more than a B in any of her assignments.  It was quite frustrating.  I tried harder to no avail.  I do believe she taught me how to write a paragraph.  No other English teacher stands out in my memory.  Perhaps, that is where the seed of all this was planted.
Over the years, I keep visioning and envisioning myself as a writer.  I simply did not write a lot or write regularly until 2002.  As mentioned above, when I did write, it was not the most pleasant of experiences.  It was tough grinding work.  Now, it is almost the exact opposite.
Handwriting versus typing:  When I began, I hand wrote every daily page.  I liked to use fine ball point pens.  In 2011, I do not think I hand wrote more than twenty days of my daily writing regimen.  This past half of the year, I probably did most of my daily writing on my iPad and the Zaag keyboard.  It is very convenient and has taken the place of the old fashioned notebook in which I used to take notes and handwrite my daily journal.  Since I bought the iPad in July, most every personal and business blog posting were drafted on my iPad in Apple’s word processing application:  Pages.  When I was thinking about publishing the postings, I would email them to myself from the iPad.  I would open the documents on my laptop and finish the final edits in MS Word for my monthly letter or Google Docs for just about every other blog post. 
I am amazed that I am still writing 500 words a day going on ten years.   I am even more amazed at how the mechanics of writing has evolved over the past three years with the rise of the good cloud based software like Google Docs and the simply wonderful iPad.   I am sure it will change more in the next two perhaps even more dramatically.
Where do you get the time?  I hear this question a fair amount of time.  Often it is from people that write and have a sense of the amount of effort that goes into penning such a letter.  My cousin Raffi Hovannisian recently asked me this question when he was in Chicago earlier this month.  It was a funny question coming from Raffi who amazes me with his busy schedule.  I wonder where he gets the time and energy running the Heritage Party in our Motherland of Armenia.
The answer to this question is pretty straight forward.  I spend anywhere from a half hour to an hour a day writing.  The blog postings and this letter are the fruits of that labor.  Depending on the topic and how, as they say, the juices are flowing, the daily writing could take 90 minutes.  It has taken as little as 15 minutes.  I wish I could get it all down to 15 minutes a day.  I would immediately begin writing 1,000 words a day if that were the case.
A new biography has come out about Charles Dickens by Claire Tomalin.  I did not buy the book but was amazed by a review I read in Time magazine.  By all accounts and measure, Dickens was prolific.  He wrote at least 35 major novels, 1 play, at least 4 non-fiction books, and many short stories.  What blew me away was that when he was into it, and he often was into it, he would write two novels at a time and drive himself to write 7,500 words a day.  He would handwrite 7,500 words a day!  He would handwrite 7,500 words a day using a pen he had to dip into an ink well!!  Amazing. 
He would start a new novel when he was half way through with another.  He was so driven that he would immerse his hands into a bucket of cold water to alleviate cramping and other pains that would naturally come from writing so much.  For example, he wrote The Pickwick Papers and Oliver Twist at the same time.  When he finished The Pickwick Papers, he began on Nicholas Nickleby.
At 1,000 words an hour, Dickens was writing for a full 8 hour day.  1,000 words an hour is an amazing clip.  If it took him an hour and a half, that would have made for a twelve hour day. 
Ladies and Gentleman, I am no Charles Dickens… neither in quality nor in output.  I would love to be.
Writing in the Internet Age:  I love this time.  I can sit at my desk, in a coffee shop, or in my easy chair.  I can be writing on either my laptop or iPad in any of these locations.  I can only imagine how productive Charles Dickens would be today with all the technology we have.  He would have definitely saved time on drafts and re-writes.
I really covered this in my November 2011 letter, The Internet Really Makes it all Easier.   I can be sitting and writing in any of aforementioned venues and if I need a quote or need to verify a fact I simply hit the internet.  A little Google search and, voila, the question is answered.  I do not have to get up and consult an encyclopedia or go to the library.  What can I say, I am made to write in these times. 
Case in point, I could not remember the author of the Dickens biography that was published in late in 2011.  A simple search of the internet and I had the name Clare Tomalin.  How can I not love this capability?
Who reads what:  In 2011, I wrote two blog pieces that attracted more attention than anything I had ever written.  Note that nothing I have written has remotely come anywhere near going viral. 
In May, I wrote a piece called The Rapture - May 21, 2011.  I posted the piece on May 20th.  I was surprised when I looked at the blog statistics on Sunday May 21, the day the world was supposed to end, that almost 200 people had read my little piece.  That was the greatest number of hits my blog ever got on one day.  I had been averaging 25-50 hits per day.  I did not think it was my greatest posting but it was certainly timely and for once I wrote it just before the event.  Usually I am writing about something that has already happened.  This was more upfront and proactive.  There is a lesson in here. 
In October, I wrote a piece The Detroit Lions.  It was basically my reaction to the professional football team of my home town.  They had been unbelievably dismal all of my life as a sports fan.  This past season they became less dismal.  I wrote it while watching Monday Night Football and seeing the Lions easily beat the Chicago Bears.  This single posting took off like a rocket.  It became the all time most read posting in October and continued on through today being the most read piece on a daily basis.  As of February 22 just before midnight, this page has had 4.525 hits.  I was amazed by the power of sports.  In May, I wrote about the The University of Michigan Hockey Team.  In September, I wrote about Michigan Football in when they beat Notre Dame for the second year in a row.  If I were interested in traffic, I might simply focus on sports.
The next closest piece was the Rapture posting but no more.  In May I wrote one on the assassination attempt on the famous singer Ibrahim Tatlises from Turkey.  This posting Sweet Voice Sweet Voice is currently in second place with  617 page views.
For these top two posts, The Detroit Lions and Sweet Voice, almost all of the traffic comes to my blog from image searches.  I have images of both the Detroit Lions logo and Ibrahim Tatlises from the 1980s in these postings.  People are searching for images and get directed to my blog pages.  Cool.  If I were interested in generating traffic, I might simply use photos of hot sports teams and celebrities.
I wrote other pieces I was quite proud of this past year.  Oddly, my liking something I wrote does not necessarily correlate to others liking it.  In January I wrote one called STFU!   It is basically a rant against anyone and everyone who feels the need to preach to me how I should think, what I ought to be doing, or who I should have voted for… or not voted for.  I felt great writing that piece.  It was a great catharsis.  It resonated with several of you.   Neither my wife nor mother appreciated the use of the “F” word.
I wrote a piece, Hokehankist, in July.  It was a reflection on the Repose of the Soul service in the Armenian Church.   It is the part of the Armenian Liturgy that impacts me the most.  A lot of people wrote personal notes telling me how much they related to that posting.
The bottom line is that I cannot predict what people will like.  Things I thought were sure fire hits were received lukewarmly.  Pieces I have that of as lukewarm, were very warmly received and resulting a surprising output of sentiment.  I am not trying to do this to gain readership or a following.  At this point, it is something I just do.  I do it every day.  To the statistician in me, it is curious to see what I like versus what resonates with people. 
I have read many times that writers have to write.  I have trained myself over these past ten years to do just that.  I have to write. The topics are varied and come from the news and ideas or notions that come from the recesses of my mind.  Many a night, I am writing just before I turn in.  I have to do it and will not go to bed before completing this daily regimen.  
Tom Vartabedian:  I have a friend, supporter, and mentor.  Tom Vartabedian is a wonderful man.  He is personable and easy going.  Tom truly sees the glass as half full.  His enthusiasm and energy is contagious.  From his last name, Tom is clearly Armenian and he takes his heritage seriously.  Tom by profession is a journalist and photographer.  Born and raised in Massachusetts, he spent 40 years with the Haverhill Gazette.  He is retired but as busy and prolific as any retired journalist could be.  If you meet him you might easily underestimate his age by a good fifteen years. 
I believe Tom held editorial positions at the Haverhill Gazette.  I cannot comment directly on his managerial and editorial skills, but I am sure he was very good at it.  I can almost say for certain, regarding his profession, Tom first love is to cover good stories and write about them.  This is how I know Tom.  He has a long standing relationship with The Armenian Weekly where he regularly pens a column called Poor Tom's Almanac and does feature stories.  I have been reading Tom's work for years and venture to say he has been a contributor to the Weekly for at least 40 years.  I am a long term reader of his and have become his friend in the past fifteen years.
In that time, perhaps longer, Tom has taken to covering the Armenian Youth Federation Annual Olympics Games.  These games that include swimming, track and field, and tennis take place every Labor Day weekend.  Tom has taken most of the photos and written most of the articles for The Armenian Weekly's Annual Olympics Special issue.  People cannot wait to get that issue and that is primarily because of Tom.  He is everywhere the whole weekend with his notepad, pen, and camera.  He is interviewing and taking pictures.  Then voila after a few weeks, the special issue comes out and it is always a masterpiece. 
This past year Tom was recuperating from heart bypass surgery.  Tom arranged for three of us to do what he used to do by himself.  We barely made got it done and the issue was two weeks late!  That is how organized and prolific Tom is.  Three of us could not replace him.
On January 12 of this year, The Armenian Weekly published a vintage Tom Vartabedian article on Cher.  Take a read of it and see why I love to read Tom's work:   The Armenian Side of Cher. 
  Thanks: I would like to thank everyone who has been so supportive of my writing over the past year.  The aforementioned, Tommy Vartabedian, a great newspaperman, is first and foremost on this list.  He is always encouraging and always complimentary. His support means a great deal to me.  
I thank my son, Aram, for his editorial contributions.  Judy for her general support.  I thank Mark Axelrod, Marty Shoushanian, Dale Dvorak, Ruth Swisher, Nadya Uygun, David Gavoor, and Greg Postian for commenting on and acknowledging many if not every letter I send out.
Thanks to Ara Topouzian for not writing and giving me grief for not mentioning or thanking him.  This reference should keep him quiet for another month.
Thanks to Raffi Bandazian and Ara Surenian for encouraging me to move things to a blog.  Special thanks to Marilyn Zavidow, my Westport, CT to Grand Central train buddy, who was a great collaborator in the planning of the letter and actually came up with the name This Side of Fifty.  
As I do every year, I like to remember the man I never met, Aram Kevorkian, whose own monthly letters inspired my to write this monthly letter to friends and family.  

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for penning your thoughts. Your writings have been amusing, silly, thought provoking, educational, loving ... I've enjoyed your writings.