To curate and style or not to curate and style?

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June 30, 2016

pink flower on black_small I have been spending more time on Instagram in the past few months than on any other social media. I enjoy the visual impact and the brevity it entails. I also enjoy the debate it often generates. I enjoy following those people who react against the trends, who speak up against the pretty but unrealistic styling, against “personal branding,” against curating our lives to death, etc. These people think beyond what’s being served to them, beyond the rules that we’re told work, and they care more about their own personal stance and view of the world than about making it big by following in the footsteps of those who already did.

That being said, I can’t really do what they do. I can’t really speak with the same conviction because although I see the fault of trends, I also see their allure, and although I understand how they suck you in and make you “inauthentic,” I also value the aesthetic they often bring along.

I got sucked into minimalism. I like flat lays and tidy object arrangement photography. I like black and white. Uniforms. I don’t mind a good photo of coffee. Next to a book. Next to a pair of glasses, that obviously should rest on the photographer’s nose, not on the table. I admire clear, well-defined, well-constructed, honest (when I can tell) personal brands. I like a good photo of any kind. If it tells me a story.

It’s not all bad, is it? Obvious, painstakingly styled images are aplently, sure, but that’s the risk. I can recognize from afar a formulaic Web presence. Even then I sometimes cannot stay away, if it’s well done, with just a small dose of individuality, effort and intelligence.

There are always many followers of anything that has worked for someone at some time. Not everyone does it well. Not everyone succeeds all the time. And when we’re online, none of us is authentic. We’re someone we want to be. A construct.  We’re always selling something online, in exchange for money or something else (I prefer the money, much more straightforward). We always have a purpose online. And I think it’s wonderful, especially since so many of us lack purpose in real life. But that makes us deceitful at times. At least by omission. And that is fine too, I think.

Curate and style all you want, I say, as long as you have a reason for it and that reason is apparent, so that I can make up my mind quickly if I’m interested. As long as I can tell that you strongly believe in what you’re selling. I don’t need much more than that.

I don’t have many pet peeves. Maybe none. But I know many people who do. They are opinionated, wonderful people, probably with tons more personality than I can handle. I find myself more often than not understanding all sides of a debate. Well, sure I do have my limitations there too, but they are pretty basic and common. I am not one to raise my voice on one side or another of a debate, usually, because most times both sides make sense to me. Sometimes it takes some work to reach there, but I strive for it. However, I am quite taken with people who can take unfaltering stands and defend their position as the only one of merit while deriding all others. How sparkly and fascinating they are! A bit judgemental, sure, and can put me off sometimes, but then, they can’t be perfect, or I’d probably hate them.

P.S. I am not making an argument here against taking stands. That is always a good thing and we should all do it. I just don’t know how necessary it is to try to prove that I can be right only when others are wrong. My voice might not be as thunderous when I don’t disparage others, and I might not get as many applauds from the crowds hungry for an adversary, but I hope I might stay closer to the truth and more humanistic, which is always my aim.

Old vs. new: website logo

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February 18, 2016

logooldandnewI realize that the idea of a logo is to create brand identity and brand recognition, and that is why it needs to be a constant element that doesn’t change much throughout time. However, since I am not a real brand but mostly just playing with the concept, I can do whatever I like, right?

Well, I am sure those followers who keep checking this space obsessively every day (right?) have noticed the change already: I have a new logo up on the blog! It’s been long in the making.

The blue flower has always been part of my “branding.” My original design looked something like this:original LTP logo

I always loved that blue flower for its symbolism: the pursuit of artistic perfection, as the romantics envisioned it. Later I came up with the more stylized circle logo that included the blue flower but added the symbolism of the pentagram and the number seven (petals) with all their mystical connotations. Even today I find it hard to leave behind that beautiful design. I think it’s strong and sharp in its symmetry and yet the shape of the flowers lend it a soft and delicate feel at the same time.

Now, the new logo is quite a departure. The blue flower is still there, but plays a minor role. The main element this time is the Cucuteni goddess figure (you might remember that I wrote about it here). I created the design a long time ago on paper, but never managed to work on the digital version until last week. I also changed the color scheme of the logo and the whole website to include pink (instead of teal), as yet another element that speaks to me as a feminist (I’ll write more about that in another post).

I’m not sure if I like this new logo better. I think the older design was stronger aesthetically, but the new one carries more symbolism that is very close to my heart. I wanted a more woman-centric logo. Women’s issues are so important to me and the current political debate surrounding the Democratic presidential candidates show me that these issues are still very much misunderstood (especially when I see what I perceive as possibly covert or suppressed sexism in the attacks against the woman who is running on a very solid platform, with immense authority and experience in the areas that matter to a president’s actual influence, and who’s only fault is that she has been forced to “lean in” to get where she got, and now because of that she’s seen as too “establishment”).

Anyway, I like the resulting logo well enough. I’ll give it a chance to grow on me. And in the meantime, I might refine it further a little bit. But for now, this is it. The change happened. Let’s embrace the feminine perspective, people.

Trying to blog better: categories and tags

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April 2, 2015

daffodilsYou all know about my regular struggles with blogging and being on the Web. I’ve made so many mistakes that although I’ve had this online space since 2008, I haven’t gotten anywhere with it and my audience has in time diminished rather than grown. I think that speaks a lot of my slight OCD (I keep making changes that triggers other changes, that in turn . . .), my lack of social skills (even online), my resistance to self-promotion (visceral), the ambiguity I feel about sharing personal information online, but also my slow learning . .  . Right, there are too many and this is turning too negative. Let’s move away from that.

My latest efforts have been to organize my tags and categories, and mainly to understand what they are. The best analogy I found, one that makes these concepts more comprehensible, is that categories are the table of contents of your blog, they organize the information into smaller bits that have a common core, and the tags are your index, a collection of topics that your blog discusses.

An important thing to know is that changing your categories will mess up the organization of your blog, so you should take your time from the beginning to settle on a number of categories that will represent your site well. You can change your tags as you like, however, without many repercussions. (I, of course, as I was writing this post itself, decided to change some of my categories because I didn’t like the sound of them; and this is how my great journey toward the beginning continues!)

daffodils5From that it was clear to me that I should not aim at too many categories–just a handful of topics that I approach most often. This helps with my writer’s block too: when I don’t know what to write, I take a look at all my the categories and suddenly I feel like there is a multitude of subjects that I could focus on.

With the tags the situation didn’t become much clearer. I got it that I can have more tags than categories, because indexes are much larger. I also understood that the tags should refer to ideas and key words contained in each category. While in deciding categories I only considered my material and what sort of structure would serve it better, when deciding on the tags I considered the user’s needs: what words, concepts would someone interested in my categories be looking for in particular.

An important part of all this is to know how categories and tags are used by readers and search engines. Readers use them to find the information they are interested in, and search engines can discover the content of your website based on the categories and tags that you are promoting.

I’m sorry if this post is boring for you. All these details of blogging mechanics are irresistibly interesting to me, I can’t help it. This renewed interest is fueled by the fact that I am now taking a course on information design, which I love. I am learning, for example, that center alignment is a darling of beginner designers and it is rarely the best choice. I am also talking an online documentation course at the same time, so it’s going to be a busy two months or so. But hopefully spring won’t tease us anymore and soon we’ll be able to go out to the parks and hang in the front yard in the sun, so that we replenish our endorphins and regain energy and optimism that have slowly all but disappeared during this long and unbearable winter.

What makes an artist (writer) in the age of the Internet?

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March 20, 2015

I the artistThe Internet and in particular the overwhelming success achieved on the Internet by people who create/make things is changing violently, and uncomfortably for some, the paradigm of art and the artist. What makes an artist? Everybody who creates something in any medium, from painting to crocheting, calls themselves if not “artist,” at least “maker,” “creator,” or “crafter.” The problem is that there is a wide array of skill, technique, knowledge, years of study, work, etc. involved in this small space defined as art and craft, and some resent it to find themselves in the same category as people that they see as less achieved in some of these areas.

I think this is an amazingly interesting discussion. What makes an artist and what differentiate one from any other “creator”? Is the artist becoming yet again an artisan, a maker, rather than an inspired, venerated, prophetic “cultural aristocrat”? This is the question discussed by William Deresiewicz in The Death of the Artist—and the Birth of the Creative Entrepreneur published in The Atlantic, and followed up by Robinson Meyer in The Artist Endures. I recommend that you read these articles to get a feeling of the whole range of this discussion. I, as always, try to figure out how these concepts apply to the world of literature.

I like William Deresiewicz’s description of the artist as a prophet and a “cultural aristocrat.” I think that is the image that I grew up with. That was who all the great writers I admired represented in my small world view: titans of beauty and of the spirit.

However, when it comes to what makes an artist and who can call themselves an artist, the issue is very thorny. There will be those who will argue that one needs to follow an art education or years of training and dedication to the craft  in order to call themselves artists. That’s the school of thought I tend to to subscribe to: you have to learn and know the techniques and methods of every great artist before you, in order to reach a point where you can modify and customize those techniques to fit your own style. I believed strongly (still do, I guess) that you cannot break the writing rules until you know said rules to perfection, until you have studied how all the other writers before you have innovated and have made their books into works of art.

Writers also feel resentful when everyone who can put words down on paper calls themselves a “writer.” Now when anyone can publish a book, the backlash from writers who have chosen the traditional route is merciless. And I understand: after years of following the traditional paths they see themselves being passed over by people who decided they were writers overnight, and self-published books that found their audience and turned into a great success stories.

Another important aspect of these waves of change is that art critics see their opinion having less and less weight, because now it is directly the public who has a say about who will be a success and who will fail. Exactly the same thing is happening with writing and publishing. If you self-publish you circumvent that edifice of agent-publisher-literary critic that has been raising itself up for several decades, and instead you let your readers say if you’re good enough or not by choosing to buy or not to buy your book.

The art world (literature included) is a subjective place. There is little objective differentiation and the real question now is: who do we allow now to make these subjective decision of who is a good/great artist and who is just a dabbler, a crafter, whatever you want to call it. The need of professional art/book critics has been sustained by the idea that the public will buy commercial art/literature, but high art/literature won’t be appreciated as it should, because the public wants easy stuff and is not able to make an informed decision, or doesn’t have enough taste. So these arbiters of taste and value with a very sophisticated knowledge of the field are needed to tell us what what’s worthy of our attention and money, and what we should despise or consume only as a “guilty pleasure.”

My own feelings on the matter go back and forth all the time. I self-published my first book, so obviously I believed at some point that real value (yes, whatever, I imagine sometimes that my work has real value, so shoot me for lack of modesty; I’m not ashamed) is visible to anyone, and people don’t need any authority figure to tell them what to like. I still don’t think this is a completely wrong way to look at things, but I have less confidence in it now.

So, I am going to submit my second book to agents this time and see if there is any interest from the traditional publishing world. I am now seeing that there is so much being published these days that without a few “arbiters” telling us what’s what, it is hard to sift to the gravel to find gold.

There is another aspect of this whole story, about how personal websites, blogs and social media help the self-made artists/writers who have self-branding and self-promoting aptitudes. Maybe I will write a different post about that soon. For now, all I can say is that both the traditional routes toward success in the arts and the new ones facilitated by the Internet seem perfectly valid and work for different people in different ways. I hope you find your way and I hope I can find mine.

How “real” do we want our blogs?

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June 13, 2014

messy-house-behind-babyThere has been a lot of talk in the blogosphere about how unrealistic are the images of ourselves we present on the Internet. The same discussion take place around Facebook, about how much happier other people seem on social media and how much misery upon self-reflection and comparison that creates in their “friends”. Facebook is another can of ridiculous worms altogether though. Blogs are windows into the lives of people we don’t know but who are in some way or another interesting to us. At least this is the surface of things.

Blogs could never be entirely real. Nobody is really real (we all wear several masks in our daily interactions and project images that are constructed and edited over time) except maybe in our own heads (and even there many of us prefer delusion rather than reality–and nothing is easier than fooling your own stupid self).

So blogs could never be real in the first place. But even if they could, even if it could all be just raw, unaltered life whose photos we see and stories we read on blogs, would we still be interested in that? Would we want to see real life? Don’t we have to deal with real life every day? Don’t we look maybe for a break from it? Maybe it’s like books. I prefer those that offer some escapism into a different time, place, or lifestyle. I want beautiful images and beautiful words. I’m looking for beauty.

Maybe if it was clear that the beauty was found amid disastrous everyday mess, it would make it even more precious because it would be attainable, it would become replicable. Maybe we need more honesty and insight into how that beauty was created, instead of being left to believe that life just comes all pretty and all made-up like that to certain, chosen people. Because it never does. (Right? Please, tell me it never does!)

I know I will never be entirely who I am on the Internet. Of course, I never set up to have an actual “personal” blog in the first place. This was always intended as a journal of my Writer self. But I love discovering blogs that show  more of the blogger’s life, that manage to achieve a greater sense of intimacy. And I stay with those who find and revel in the bright side of things. It’s dark enough over here in my sleep-deprived days. Although darkness, even my own, is not as much black as it is grey, and sometimes, when I’m lucky, graduates to intensities of brightness that almost seem unreal.

The traps of multiple online personas

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May 1, 2014

spring flowers in the cityApparently, it is a new trend in the blogging world to have fewer comments, because people who used to comment on blogs are now busy managing their own online presence on Facebook, Twitter, etc. I have been commenting much less for a while too. One of my reasons is that I don’t know anymore how to control what becomes known about me on the Internet.

All the social media websites, like Google+, Facebook and Twitter these days try to connect with each other creating a wide web of personal information that floats freely on the Internet many times without our own knowledge and very little of our control. You can stay away from it and not sign up for online socializing, but then if you are someone like me, someone who’s trying to promote their products or services online, it is almost impossible to avoid social media. You will remain invisible if you try. For example,  I use my Gmail account for most of my personal communications and I have been trying to use my hosted website email address (at loritironpandit dot com) for my professional communication and most of my online presence (I do not do much of personal communication online–my personal Facebook page is rarely opened). For commenting on blogs, for example, out of all the choices I am often given to sign in and “comment as” I used to always choose Name/website url, not the Google profile, not the WordPress.com page, etc. But I have recently noticed that my comments don’t make it on the pages where they belong because they are sorted as spam and the blog administrators don’t get to see my comments and approve them. I am suspecting this is happening because of my personal e-mail address.

spring flowers in the city 2One problem I have in signing in with these social media usernames is that they all request both first name and last name. I find that irritating. I do not want someone to search Google for my first and last name, and stumble upon a clutter of unrelated comments I have left here and there online. I want them to find my professional website and related work. Also, I do not want people interested in my work to come upon lists of my personal friends or photos of personal nature that I basically intended only for friends and family. I could of course create a completely fictitious profile on Google for example, but that does not look professional, does it?

I don’t even know who I am anymore. Does this happen to you? If you have found a way to deal with this, please let me know.

In very much related news, I don’t know if you noticed another small change over here: I created the most adorable social media buttons for my website (see, there in the sidebar?). I am also trying to be more active on Twitter and Facebook, because I guess I feel I have to, if I want anyone to ever know that I write some books and yes, I would like one or two people to read them, if  it’s not too much of a bother, pretty please and forever grateful.

Completely unrelated to the topic of this post are the images of beautiful spring flowers that illustrate it. I hope you don’t mind them too much. We have been going out to the city whenever the weather has been good during this so-called spring, so not that often, but it happened, and it was very pleasant when it did. It’s been raining for a few days now and the cold has been really upsetting, I mean, come on, spring, over here! (Unconvincingly flailing tired arms in the air.) Looking at these flowers makes me feel better, though. Hope they do something for you too.

Blogging mistakes

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April 10, 2014

laptop-with-design-booksIt is probably visible to only very few (or maybe just myself) that I make changes and tweak this site at least once a month, but usually more often. In the past few weeks I changed the favicon image to a flower that is not completely round and full, but halved, to an imperfect shape, because it matched better my new header flower design. I changed the categories in my navigation list and moved the whole thing to the side, instead of the center. I changed the font of my titles and a little bit of the text from my welcome message. It’s a never-ending project, this website, and I’m not too sad about that. I love to design and redesign this place, as soon as I think that it doesn’t represent me well-enough anymore. Just like I enjoy designing my book covers and would never outsource that job (well, maybe someday, when I’m too busy or too important to make my own covers anymore).

I have been thinking about my website/blog/platform a lot lately, because as I have decided to put some more work into it again, I realized there are many mistakes I have done since creating this site for the first time. And many of those mistakes have cost me a lot and are very hard to reverse.

Today I logged into my WordPress admin interface to start writing this post, and then I only actually started writing three hours later because I was busy deleting a few thousand spam comments still lingering as pending. Because blogging is hard. How many times have I said this?  I do so admire those very successful bloggers who seem to do everything right from the beginning and in just a year or two have thousands of readers, advertising deals and all that jazz. They are clearly much smarter than this blogger here. Not that advertising deals have ever been my goal. But I did do everything wrong with this blog. And I am suffering for it, because I’ve lost so many readers. Even blocking spam comments took me many months to figure out on WordPress, giving the spammers time to have a party over here. Because I was used to Blogger, which seems to be much better at blocking all the spam without any effort on the part of the blog’s owner.

So this is a post about what not to do if you are wishing any kind of blogging success.

My first mistake was to create my website on iWeb. It was a really beautiful website (because they offered great templates) but I couldn’t get comments working for the blog part, because that required that I publish on some web platform that also belonged to Apple, and I didn’t want to do that (I already had a hosting service). When I realized that my website had virtually zero visibility, I moved the blog part to Blogger. It was great for a while. I was inspired to write often and I managed to keep the pace with a vibrant online community. However, after a while I realized that I wanted to change the address of my blog. So I did start another blog in Blogger, and deleted the first one. Huge mistake! Someone picked up my old url and is now posting in a fury not quite tasteful content in that place. I guess they were after my followers, who were regaled with unexpected indecent content from my blog, which must have caused them to believe that I must have had a breakdown and lost my marbles. So the lesson here? Never delete a blog entirely. Keep it. Make it private, redirect the url, whatever. Never let someone else grab your url if you care about it.

My journey with Blogger ended when I wanted to drop iWeb altogether and create a WordPress website through my hosted account. I think it was at the time when I had given up on Apple products entirely and was hoping to stick to PCs and Windows and Android (it did not last).

The thing about WordPress is that it’s a good platform, but your website is more visible if you create it on WordPress.com (the free service, which now also offers some paid upgrades that give you your own url). The WordPress.org (self hosted) websites don’t get as much visibility or the advantages of the blogging community on WordPress.com.

So, I guess I should never have put all the effort into a self-hosted site. That was the main mistake. The one that started it all. I’ve always thought it looked more professional to have your own url. That was what I was going for: professional. But invisible was not on my list of goals for my online presence. Well, boohoo. Here I am now. And my journey online is not over yet. I am bound to make even more ridiculous mistakes in the future, so stay tuned. You will be entertained. (And hopefully you’ll learn and know better.)

Blogging is hard work

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November 22, 2013

 

IMG_6013You know how I whine all the time that nobody reads my blog? I try to sound like I’m joking, but the truth is that it’s not that great as it might seem at first sight. It doesn’t really motivate me to keep doing this, does it? I mean, there are more rewarding ways to fill my fifteen minutes of baby-free time that I get every two-three hours each day. Like reading, for example, or drawing, or even sewing little things (bibs, lots of bibs!) (yes, and tiny sweaters cut out from old sweaters. Lots of those too!).

I do enjoy writing blog posts and I used to put a lot of time and effort into them, but honestly I don’t know if it’s worth it for me. Sure, I am trying to get my writing career off the ground again, and blogs are supposed to help with that. It’s not like I’m going to stop blogging now, but I have to confess to a disabling lack of motivation. It takes a lot of work to achieve even a small degree of success in the blogging world. And it’s not only work, but it helps if you are a certain type of personality, you know what I mean, very open, unafraid, effusive, engaging … I don’t know … I think I am maybe just a little too … boring? Let’s just say that. I am trying to pretend to be more interesting, hoping that maybe it sticks, but it’s not working very well, is it?

I do want to keep writing the blog for the person who reads my book (hopefully soon to be plural. The books, not the persons–I am fairly sure more than one poor soul attempted to read the thing and even finished it) and is intrigued to know more about the writer behind the work. I know I often go that route when I read something I like. I research the author to death and gaze at millions of photographs on google images. I imagine there are others like me out there. And I hope that one day there will be one or two curious about this writer. So I guess it is for that distant dream that I will keep doing this blogging thing. Because dreaming has always come easy to me.

Back to blogging

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September 19, 2013

back-to-bloggingI have big plans to revive this website and start spending more of my time to update it. I know it is what I should do. I mean, it’s about the only thing that I could relatively easily do to keep my name (my books) alive out here on the Internets. For a self-published writer, I am really pathetic at marketing my books. Maybe that’s why I’m such a failure. But, look, I have decided to try harder with the website, at least.

Although, you know, I do have a long and sad history of not keeping my promises here on the blog (never ever did I post those “more vacation photos” from India or showed you more of my seasonal uniforms, as I had vowed to my faithful(?) readers(?). So, I don’t know if your should get your hopes up. Not that anyone would actually hope for anything regarding my website — I’m not delusional, don’t worry.

I do have conflicted feelings about blogging, that’s for sure. First, after long absences it’s hard to find my voice again, and that makes me write the dullest and shortest posts in the history of the world wide web, when I do try to write something. Then, I know that blogging success is a lot about networking, and my talents in that direction are nonexistent. Then, blogging often involves a lot of work and I ask myself often how much of it is worth all that.Then there is the eternal question of how much is too much to reveal on the Internet. I don’t know how to find that acceptable, safe balance.

Anyway, let’s hope it works for me this time, right? Blogging is also fun and inspiring and a good way to interact with people who are alike (although, often way more creative, wiser, and more interesting than I could ever be). So, small steps. One post every week. See how it goes. Wish me luck.

A writerly use for Pinterest

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October 31, 2012

Pinterest-boards-2I don’t remember whom I should give credit for making me aware of how authors can use Pinterest for inspiration or to promote their books. There are many articles online to this effect. I have been a member of Pinterest for a while, because I have some interest in personal style and natural-fiber clothing, and I could create beautiful boards around these interests. But now I have a new board up: Spell of Blindness. If you check it out, it will take you inside the world of Ana Dor, the main character of my book, on the streets and parks of Bucharest, and into the Romanian village landscape. It is a visual journey inside the book, which I hope will be enjoyable for readers.

As I am working on my second book, I am planning to start a board for that. And this new board will be more for my benefit than the readers’ because it will serve as inspiration for my writing, I hope, helping me get into the mood of the novel and into the atmosphere surrounding my characters. Maybe I’ll even attempt a cover.

See you on Pinterest!