Half a million


Yesterday morning, write meg! quietly hit a milestone: 500,000 page views.

Half a million views. Of my posts.

That’s not unique visitors, friends; WordPress doesn’t divulge that information to yours truly. But regardless, half a million views feels pretty . . . well, pretty huge to me.

My blog will turn five years old (!) in June, so I’ll save the sappy memories for then. In the meantime, thanks for coming by. As the years have progressed, write meg! morphed from a personal blog to a bookish one . . . and is now somewhere in the middle: a sweet literature-laced hybrid of the two. While I don’t have a real blogging “identity” or fit into a niche, as professionals decree, I know that I love this space and all its incarnations — and our community.


One Jane for each day

I’m back on my Jane Austen kick. And I partially blame “Downton Abbey.”

Okay, the pair aren’t obviously connected on the surface — but it’s hard to deny that “Downton”‘s British charm evokes the class differences, family dynamics and romantic entanglements of Austen’s work set 100 years earlier. Spence got me season one of the popular TV show for my birthday last week, and we’ve already plowed our way through half the discs. It’s like salty, delicious Pringles; since I popped, I can’t stop. (Y’all were totally right — it’s awesome.)

My sister got me the journal above — Jane-A-Day, a journal that asks diarists to reflect upon 365 different Austen quotes each day for a five-year stretch. The idea is to see how your thoughts and reflections change in that half-decade, which is pretty cool. I’ve stumbled across similar projects and, since I gave up journaling a few years back, this seems like a good alternative to the long, rambling and exhaustive posts I used to write before bed.

I don’t know why I stopped. I guess because I began dividing so much of my writing time between my column and this blog. After discussing life’s events in two other mediums, my enthusiasm — and desire — to recap some things for a third time in my personal journal just sort of evaporated. It started to feel like work. Plus, my journals saw me through some emotionally difficult times in my life — bad break-ups; growing pains. Once I was finally happy and in a good place, it wasn’t the catharsis it used to be. I guess I’d moved on.

Sometimes I miss it, though. My life can feel very interior. Despite the fact that I “put myself out there” in a variety of ways, mostly through a computer, I tend to keep many of my worries to myself. It doesn’t seem useful or productive to bother others with my nonsense. And in the old days, my journal — that dear, nonjudgmental friend — would have been my confidante. I’ve changed so much over the years.

Maybe my Jane-A-Day can be a good in-between.

Putting my cursive where my mouth is

I get downright excited when a More Love Letters request reaches my inbox.

And then I feel guilty for being “excited” — because there’s a reason people are requesting letters for a loved one. Someone is hurting. Or grieving. Or sick. And they need some encouragement.

July’s request came in for Jim, a father fighting cancer. Since little information is shared about letter recipients to help protect anonymity, we don’t know much beyond that — except for what the More Love Letters team and Jim’s daughter have shared:

“This month we hope to deliver a large bundle of letters filled with support, strength, and love to Jim’s mailbox. Jim’s daughter Samantha requested an outpouring of love in her dad’s honor. “He is the kind of person who makes people feel good about themselves . . . He never had great wealth, but he was always rich in friends, loved ones, and experiences.

“Jim was diagnosed with cancer last year, and has experienced drastic changes to the life he once led. ‘He had to stop working, grew tired too easily, and lost the laughter that we came to rely on.’ Samantha wants her father to be reminded by this Love Letter Bundle of how much he is loved and what a great man and father he is and always will be.”

Having just lost a beloved uncle to cancer in January, this request hit close to home — and having also helped a parent through a serious medical condition and recovery, it hit doubly close to home.

I was thinking about Jim and his family as I ran to Target on my lunch break Tuesday. While I finished a feature at work. As I answered emails and imported content for my next project. As I paged through a stack of blank cards in a desk drawer, looking for one he might like.

Though I don’t have a cure for cancer or too many insights to share, I do have a heart full of empathy, a pen and a love for the written word. So I continue to put my cursive where my mouth is and write notes for those who might benefit from a few words of encouragement. As everything is kept anonymous, no contact information is exchanged — so I won’t know if/when Jim will read my letter. But I don’t need to. I think it’s enough to believe he will see it and, if just for a moment, know someone out there is rooting for him.

In keeping up with my own resolutions to do more for others in my 27th year, I’m planning to continue writing for the More Love Letters project in the months to come. If you’re interested in writing to Jim or anyone else in need, check out the website and its mission.

P.S. Happy birthday to my own dad, the great and talented Rick! Hope you’re not too disappointed with your birthday present.

Let’s get blurb-ical

Once upon a time, I never noticed book blurbs — and to be honest, I’m not sure I could have told you what a blurb was. Every now and then I might take note of a famous fellow author’s words of praise on a dust jacket, but it wasn’t crucial for me to learn someone else thought a book was great.

As a reader, I was fanciful. I took chances.

My caution runs deeper these days. Wary of spending time and money on a book that might break me out in hives, I do plenty of research before crackin’ out my wallet — and if the overwhelming response from bloggers and reviewers on sites like Goodreads isn’t positive, I likely steer clear.

That’s not always true, of course. If I’m being honest (and you know I will), I sometimes grab a book because I fall a little in love with the cover . . . or because the premise, despite others’ warnings, still intrigues me. Sometimes I read a book knowing it might be horrendous because I want to see what all the fuss is about, or just because I like forming my own opinions. There are books I’ve loved that others have despised, and books I’ve despised that others have built shrines to honor.

Reading is an adventure. You never quite know where it will take you.

But back to blurbing. Defined by LibraryThing as “a super-short review, done before the book is published or reviewed professionally,” blurbs typically appear on a book’s cover. In Alyssa Shelasky’s Apron Anxiety, my current read, Gael Greene’s quote reads, “Hot sex, looking good, scoring journalistic triumphs
. . . nothing made Alyssa love herself enough until she learned to cook. There’s a racy plot and a surprising moral in this intimate and delicious book.”

So I’m halfway through Apron Anxiety — and you know what? Greene’s right. Pretty racy and fun and interesting. I have my beef with Shelasky’s depiction of Washington, D.C., mostly because it is my home, and no it’s not New York but for heaven’s sake NOWHERE is so get over it already or just do what makes you happy and stop feeling so sorry for yourself and oh my God.


I’ll save the rest of that for later.

Blurbers have a tough job. In addition to actually reading a book (hopefully? am I being laughably optimistic?), perhaps at the request of a writer friend or publisher, they’re given the task of writing a pithy summary and ringing endorsement to help sell another’s work. Does a book’s success hinge on a blurb? Probably not. But could a blurb from a well-known author help bolster a book’s credibility or sales? Perhaps — especially if one is a debut author.

But what if the book is terrible? Not every novel is earth-shatteringly good. Sometimes they’re mediocre at best, awful at worst. What happens if the book is legitimately awful, and you’re left with the thankless and painful task of putting your personal “stamp of approval” on something that sucks? Just as with reviewing, my approval of a book others believe to be bad makes me look foolish. Opinions will always differ, of course, but come on — we know when something is just bad.

And then my credibility? Not so credible. If I ran around slapping five-star ratings on everything and sprinkling you with magic fairy dust as soon as visited the site (not sure about the logistics of that, but let’s pretend it’s totally possible), I doubt you would take me very seriously.

So here’s my question: do you put any stock in book blurbs? Perusing the new releases at your local bookstore, would a blurb from your favorite author — in my case, say, Megan McCafferty — sway you to pick up a novel? Have you ever purchased a book based on those endorsements? And on the flip side, have you ever felt misled by a blurb?

I’ll go first: yes. To all of the above. I definitely take notice of book blurbs now in a way I never did before, and seeing an author I like touting another’s work piques my interest. Rarely would I buy a book solely based on a blurb, but it has been done. And will likely be done again. In our fast-paced world, a blurb is a quick way to get my attention and let me know what I can expect from a reader’s perspective . . . in an ideal world, anyway. Sometimes I finish a book, read the blurbs again and think those people are insane. But sometimes I finish a book, peek at the blurb and think, “Yep. So-and-so totally got it.”

It’s a tricky thing, blurbing. I’m not pretending to even know the half of what-all goes on behind the scenes. I don’t work in publishing, and I’m sure the process of finding and blurbing another’s book is far more complicated than emailing a buddy and saying, “Hey — want to say my book is awesome?” And that’s not all for me to know.

My curiosity is all about the reader’s perspective — and how blurbing impacts you. So let’s get blurb-ical. (Physical? That was an Olivia Newton-John song pun . . . I’m very, very sorry.)

‘Proud of you’

I got a note from my second grade teacher yesterday.

It’s funny how people emerge from the past like specters, and just a few sentences can transport you back to a different time. In my case, that would be 1992 — and I would be a boisterous 7-year-old with flowing curls just discovering books. I’d always loved being read to, and my parents’ penchant for storytime was a favorite pastime. Someone was always reading in my house.

Mrs. Brown was the first teacher to notice I loved to write — and to encourage that interest. I distinctly remember showing her a story I crafted about Carrot the bunny and his bunny family, and Mrs. Brown’s kind expression as she read my work and offered some helpful tips. “After someone is speaking, you don’t always have to say ‘he said,'” she explained, indicating a string of dialogue that probably went something like this:

“I’m going to the store,” Carrot said.
“Don’t go alone,” Mama said.
“I won’t — I’ll take Brother,” he said.
“Be back by dinner,” she said.

Pure poetry, I know. The greats reveal their genius early.

I have many memories from Mrs. Brown’s classroom, which was close to the “little kids'” recess spot on the far side of the school. That class of 25 or 30 kids was where I first met Daniel, the kid on whom I nursed a wicked crush and sent lovey-dovey Valentine cards. It was where I started to understand math and history, and when I realized I could write stories like the ones I found in books.

Mrs. Brown was the first teacher to encourage my writing, telling my parents that she thought I had talent. Twenty years after Carrot the bunny, she reads my biweekly columns in the local paper — and she wrote me a note to tell me so. The entire message is very sweet, but the best part comes at the end: “I am proud of you.”

How simple those words are.

How powerful those words are.

As a kid (and teen), I idolized my teachers. I can vividly recall every one of them, remembering their lessons and soothing voices and homework help. Each was special in their own way, and it’s so crazy to think of them now — these women (and a few men) I put on pedestals, more than mere mortals who could do no wrong through the bright lens of my childhood.

Knowing Mrs. Brown is reading the work of her former pupil — me — and remembering the kid I once was, the kid I still am inside, makes me extraordinarily happy. I’ve heard from my elementary school librarian (she was so awesome!), my first grade teacher, my beloved gym teacher. I smile uncontrollably every time, remembering the sunny days spent in their classrooms and on the playground. I had a really, really happy childhood — probably a better one than most. I was too young to realize that.

I’m glad I was too young to realize that.

Pride is such a powerful emotion. All I’ve ever wanted was to make my family proud, my teachers proud. My sister. My boyfriend. My friends. And someday, some shiny day, my children.

Hearing from Mrs. Brown gave me an opportunity to do what we rarely think to do: thank her. Remembering the pride I felt when she read my Carrot story aloud still fills me with warmth. She’s the first teacher to put books in my hand; she’s the one who encouraged me to write crazy stories, then rewarded that creativity with kindness instead of dismissal. I’ve never thought to reach out to her. But now I have.

It takes just a moment to say a kind word, to forge or reform a connection. The simplest word from you can change the trajectory of someone’s day, of someone’s week. Maybe someone’s life. If you have a moment, thank someone who has helped you along the way. I’ve never regretted it.

Random things that make me happy, pt. 3

1. Tea.

The quickest way to perk up my afternoon is to make myself a cup of hot tea. I have no less than six different kinds in my desk drawer — and I often find that the most exciting part of my work day is choosing a flavor. (It’s the little things . . .) When my boyfriend’s parents were in town at Christmas, I took his mom to an awesome local tea room. I just wanted to gobble up everything there!

2. Pretty postage.

I send lots of mail. Whether we’re talking postcards, love letters or old-fashioned mail to family, I better have a hefty stack of stamps at my disposal. I have the “Garden of Love” stamps now and use them to death.

3. Spencer’s wrinkle-nosed laugh.

Everyone has a Face. It’s the look you make when someone has really tickled your funny bone, you know what I’m sayin’? I’m not talking an obligatory chuckle here — I’m talking a big, from-the-gut, uncontrollable laugh that cannot be controlled. And when I say something that really makes Spencer double over or do something clumsy and hilarious, he wrinkles his nose and gives me a look of utter disbelief. That makes me laugh. And I love to laugh — especially with him.

4. Beautiful book cover art.

I totally judge books by their covers, and sometimes their covers are awesome. The books themselves? No clue. But at least they’re pretty.

5. Nail polish.

My obsession has reached a critical juncture. I joined the Julep Maven (affiliate link) program and am now treated to surprise nail shades and goodies coming to my mailbox every month, and let me tell you: this is bad. Well, I mean, it’s good; it’s awesome getting surprises in the mail. But it’s bad because I have to pay for it. And I have very little self-discipline when it comes to cosmetics.

It’s also bad because I’m the nut who now needs to change her polish constantly, and since I’m rarely sitting down long enough to do it . . . well, I’m typically up at 11 p.m. trying to keep my eyes long enough to give myself a manicure. Don’t stare too long at the smudges.

6. Post-Christmas clean-up.

I love holiday decorating as much as the next guy (or gal), but I’m very eager to pack up the inflatable snowmen and Christmas bulbs once the season has passed. We cleaned up our house last weekend and Spencer packed up his place this week, too. My desk is now free of miniature pink Christmas trees and my officemates have helped take down all the hanging icicle lights once strung along the ceiling of our office space.

The new year always feels like a clean slate, and I like having a (literal) clean space in which to embrace all that possibility. It feels good to have order restored, you know?

7. Instagram.

Yes, yes — after joining the iPhone world, I’ve become completely obsessed with the Instagram app for photos. You might have noticed my own recent shots look a tad bit different than the photos I normally share, and that’s because I can’t stop snapping shots with my phone.

While I once judged this and judged this harshly (I mean, what kind of quality are you getting with a phone?), I understand now. Instagram is awesome. And if you thought I took too many pictures of my food before, be afraid.

I’m also doing a 2012:366 project (leap year!) wherein I take one iPhone photo daily for 2012. I’ve seen lots of folks doing similar but always thought they were unrealistic for me. Since I’m not going anywhere without my phone, it’s easy to remember to document at least one small part of my day — and it gets my creative juices flowing on otherwise hum-drum occasions. And yes, there’s an app for that.

A love letter to yourself

When I was an awkward eighth grader preparing to leave middle school, our English teacher asked us to write letters to ourselves describing how we thought the coming year would go. “Think about the changes you’ll experience,” he said. “Write some advice you think your future self will need to hear.”

I was 13. Though ninth grade would definitely prove difficult, I wasn’t prepared for how the change of schools and loss of friends would manifest itself in the years to follow. I’m glad I didn’t know, of course; knowing something difficult is hovering just above you, ready to tear up your world, doesn’t make the transition easier.

The letters we wrote in eighth grade were mailed to us at the end of the following school year. I don’t remember what I said exactly. Ever the deep and melancholy teen, I’m sure it was something about how time marches forward and we must go with it. My mom had a favorite quote, even back then: “Give new situations a chance to turn out well.” I was nervous about high school, that’s for sure, but prepared to embrace the bonfire.

I just found a modern extension of that project — and it comes at the right time. I’m not one to really make New Year’s resolutions. Vowing to do something tends to have just the opposite result; the more I pledge to take some action, like writing more or going to the gym, the less I actually want to do it. And then the guilt follows, reducing me to an anxious mess.

So I’ve stopped making “pledges” — to myself or otherwise — and choose instead to be mindful of the things about myself I don’t like. Lack of patience, for one. Tendency to get overly emotional or dramatic. My desire to procrastinate at work and get in over my head on projects. All things I would like to change.

But there’s plenty I like about me, too, and that’s what I try to focus on. I put them all in a love letter . . . to myself. I found the World Needs More Love Letters project before Christmas and immediately jotted words of comfort to folks who could use them at the holidays. And now the site is asking for love letters as part of their time capsule project.

“Throughout the month of January, MoreLoveLetters.com is collecting love letters through the PO BOX for the first ever New Year’s Love Letter Capsule,” they write. “We are giving you the entire month to find that time to sit down with your best stationery (because you deserve it!) and script a love letter for yourself. What do you want to accomplish in 2012? What are your goals? Who do you want to treat better? Write a love letter that will last longer than the typical New Year’s resolution.”

I want to be mindful of change, I thought. Of how I know life will morph and shape into something new this year, and everything might not feel good. There will be challenges. Plans might change. My ability to be happy will depend on whether I can roll with these things and embrace them, even when they’re hard.

Write a love letter to yourself, too. Visit the site for their address. Like my eighth grade teacher, the More Love Letters team will mail your note back to you next year. You can be serious or silly, pensive or funny — it’s all up to you. Just include your address and a stamp so you can recognize your own handwriting next January.

Embrace the bonfire, I wrote again. Embrace it. Step forward and embrace it.