Guest Post: Searching

by Ben Jackson

As most of us who blog discover from our analytics, people put some strange search phrases together to find things on the internet. Aside from the stomach-churning searches for nocturnal activities (of which there are many), I also often find queries for advice on dadding (“single dad blog. too busy to eat breakfast”), searches for quotes and things to say on fatherhood (“dad eulogy” often appears), and queries for which I simply can’t understand how my blog could possibly be relevant (“waiter with dreadlocks” and “she said prison barber hair shorn”).

And then there are the searches for “teratoma,” and variants thereof.  It’s these people, anonymous through the internet, I want to find, and hug and do whatever else I can to offer some small measure of comfort.

My daughter Emma was born in 2001 with a cervical teratoma – a tumor on her neck which was larger than her head.  It protruded from her mouth, it extended down into her chest and attached from her heart, and it sat like a grapefruit underneath her chin.  It nearly killed her, and she spent almost her entire first year hospitalized as a result.

These search queries in my stats page are small digital prayers.  They represent some terrified stranger, who has just received news that is far beyond their comprehension, and they are pleading into the information ether for salvation or information. They are suffering in a way I can understand more deeply than almost anyone else on the planet, and most of the time I feel powerless to do anything to help.  I hope my writing provides some factual information and a lot of hope, but because of the anonymity of the internet, these deeply personal cries for help are beyond my reach to personally answer.

Last week, I received an email from a mother of a girl who also has a tumor similar to the one Emma had. She talked about being isolated, and was largely reaching out for a connection from a very lonely and scary place—and it knocked me for a loop for a bit.  It reminded me that what we write is read by actual people; that those search phrases bandied about have an individual behind a screen, looking for something to connect with.  That, beyond the creeps searching for their jollies, there are stories, and there is pain, and hope, and love and loneliness yearning for something that maybe we can touch.

It reminded me that we who write have a responsibility to those people behind the queries, that our words matter to someone, and that we had damn well better get what we’re trying to say right—and it reminded me that from my readers I can gain the connection that I seek as a writer, and as a dad.

Here’s hoping that your queries find you the connections you seek in 2014!

Ben Jackson is a father, blogger, publishing professional, creative writing student, and majestically bearded. From time to time, he has conned otherwise sensible editors into publishing his short fiction and essays. As an avid martial artist, one can often find Ben writing through bruises, slings and casts. You can read more of his writing at www.benfjackson.com or www.dadofthedecade.com

ben xmas sweater

Guest Post: On The Bright Side … of Depression?

by Spencer Bruford

I’m @AdadcalledSpen. Not a journalist or a writer, just a dad to 2 amazing children. I was a SAHD for 3 years and now I’m not. I’m divorced, love cheese and got the moves like Jagger. I blog at http://adadcalledspen.wordpress.com/, have had written stuff published in books, and recently won an award for blogging.

I’m honoured to be asked to write a guest post for Samantha’s blog.

Well, I kinda volunteered myself but let’s gloss over that. The point is I’m writing for this blog, and I’ve been asked to write something about the brighter side of Life.

And so I’m going to write about depression.

No. Don’t run away. I’m going to attempt to write a positive and uplifting post about depression. About this thing that can cripple and debilitate people, and bring them to their lowest points. I’m no expert on the subject. I’m no guru or plastic philosopher, sending out inspirational tweets or posting inspirational quotes on my FB feed, I can only speak from my experience, and so it is from this standpoint that I’m writing this post.

First positive thing.

You see, I’m writing this post.

Me.

I’m writing it.

This means something.

It means I’ve suffered from depression, and may well have a moment or two in the future where something knocks me for six, but the thing is I am writing it.

I’m not dead. I’m here.

Hello. *Waves*

My gran always said, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. She also said never eat anything bigger than your own head, so she wasn’t always Yoda. But she was right. Man alive I’ve felt ABJECT in the past. Low, suicidal, and I’ve attempted that twice, but I AM here. I’m alive.

Guess what? It didn’t kill me. I sought the help I needed, got the counselling I had to have, took the meds for a bit, changed my way of thinking and, while that Black Dog does lurk round the corner sometimes I now feel able to look it straight in the eyes and tell it, BAD DOG. Go away.

Some recent counselling has taken me out of a funk I was in due to circumstances beyond my control. Did I do my best? Yes. Was I honest? Yes. Did it work out how I wanted it to?

Sometimes things DON’T work out but I did my damned best and really, that’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s something to be proud of so, why feel down?

Good point. But by feeling down I got the help I needed. The weapons in my armoury to be able to deal with this and any future disappointments in a positive way. This is good. This is positive.

Positive thing number two.

I’ve written a lot about my depression, and I know others have too. Encouraging people to talk about this subject is a good thing. Many feel ashamed to do so or maybe feel that, if they do, others will see them as wallowing. Ach, we all have a wallow from time to time but we’re allowed to.

For me, writing is a release. I was recently talking to someone who went through an episode of self-harming, wishing to cut out and let out the physical PAIN the depression was causing them. Very brave of them to tell me that and, while some may frown upon this, the fact that they were talking about it, and we were conversing in this way, and the fact that they said they got help and won’t feel like that ever again is a GOOD and positive thing. I have so much respect for this person it’s untrue, for their bravery, honesty and strength.

So, by talking about it, communicating about depression we can see a side to people we never saw before, and people can get to understand us, and perhaps take the stigma away from this bastard of a disease so perhaps WE win the battle. We know more, and we can be there for them in the future when times get rough.

This is good, right? This is positive thing number three?

And back to me writing about it. Guess what? Depression makes me very creative. I blog sometimes to get it out of me. Put the feelings into words and then… wow. People respond. And always in a supportive and caring way. This I never expected. This I never thought would happen but it does because SO many people know what you’re talking about, have been through similar, know people who’ve been through similar and are willing to hold out a hand of friendship and say ‘It’ll be okay. We’re here for you.’

So this is good too. This is positive thing number four. These are the bright sides of depression.

I can never, and would never say that depression is a good thing. Whatever causes it, be it bad times or something more physical and long lasting, it ain’t good. It kills people and can affect people around you. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. On them I’d wish trenchfoot, Tropical Monkey Ooga Booga virus and a plague of inspirational tweets and pictures on the Twitter and FB timelines.

But being depressed can make you makes those changes in your life, reach out for friends, allow you to see it in others and be there for THEM,

And so, really, through the dark clouds, and although it may not feel like it at the time, there can be a glimpse of the brighter side.

Go forth, be strong my friends. Much love.

And thanks for reading.

adadcalledspen

When Sleeping & Working Get in the Way of Blogging

When I started this blog back in December 2011, I promised myself that to make it entertaining, shareable and fulfilling, I would write a new blog post at least once a week, if not more.

And for the most part, I’ve been able to do that. It’s never been a chore; at any given moment, I usually have a gazillion ideas for posts swimming in my head. I can usually find a quiet 15-20 mins over the weekend to write. Fortunately, I write fast, the words tumbling out of my head and onto the page.

But it’s been over a week since my last post and I started kicking myself about this. I have decent excuses – several nights of insomnia sucking the creativity out of me, house guests for the weekend, and work is crazy busy. But when I thought about it, I realized that there’s plenty of stuff I already do that sustains interest in and traffic to my blog, even when I’m not writing new posts. Namely:

  • I pre-schedule tweets about popular, already published posts 
  • I frequently comment on other blogs and articles, especially where the topic is complementary to one of my posts and I can link back to it.
  • I maintain a pipeline of potential guest bloggers who can provide good content that syncs well with my stuff
  • I retweet and share other bloggers’ posts – spreading the blog love around

Most of all, I’m not going to sweat it. I’m a working Mom and having it all is unrealistic. So if y’all have to wait another week or so for an awesomely witty or pithy or entertaining or educational or controversial post from me, then so be it!

A Letter to Dr Seuss

Dear Dr Seuss,

Allow me to introduce myself: I am Sam. Yes, Sam I Am. For the last eight years, I’ve spent LOTS of time with your books and I’ve some things I need to get off my chest.

I have to confess that the first four years were torturous, truth be told. You see, my little ones were at that stage when they wanted to be read the same book over and over. And over and over. And over. I became sick and tired of Green Eggs & Ham, the Cat in the Hat, There’s a Wocket in my Pocket and others. I mean there’s only so many times you can read, and re-read and then read again, those rhythmic lines and words without wanting to tear your hair out or bang you head against something hard. Fortunately, these were also the years when my kids couldn’t yet read and were blithely oblivious to my skipping lines and even pages, which I would do a LOT just to expedite matters.

Then my kids become early readers. And I gradually realized the genius of your books, especially ones like Go Dog Go and Hop on Pop. Words cleverly assembled, rhymed, reversed and scrambled, forcing their developing brains to focus, sound out words, take their time. As my kids started to be able to read these books for themselves, I could see their pride forming and reading confidence grow.

Naturally, they started bringing home more of your books every week from the school library. Books they wanted me to read to them because they were complex, long, filled with ridiculously non-sensical words, creatures and situations. Find me a parent who, weary at the end of the day, really wants to put themselves through such tongue calisthenics? Don’t get me wrong, I’m a HUGE fan of silliness, creativity and all that is good and goofy but really, these book were too much for this tired, working mama.

And then we watched the movie, The Lorax. And a light bulb went off and my whole relationship with you changed! I saw your genius. More than just a wrangler of words, I realized you’re a philosopher, a commentator on society and, most importantly, a voice of inspiration. Your simple phrases make profound statements—better-sounding to me, quite frankly, than any catechism or sermon I’ve ever heard. (Here’s 30 of your finest quotes.) Your books are life lessons to the young and old, inspiring us to be who we are, think for ourselves, take chances (try new foods!), read, boldly forge our way in the world—and to care for others, no matter how small.

So, dear Dr Seuss, on this day, March 2, 2013, your birthday, I say thank you, thank you, thank you!

Love,

Sam I Am

How I Blog

Quickly

In the moment

Authentically

Passionately

Interactively

Respectfully

Entertainingly

Colorfully

Economically

Relevantly

A Month of Gratitude: Part Two

Last week, I started the process of taking stock of everything for which I am grateful. It’s an important exercise, stepping back from the daily grind and considering all that is good in your life. We should all do this much more often. It’s both sobering and uplifting.

Where did the last week go? Somehow, among the hustle and bustle, I was able to stop each day, if only for a few minutes, and mentally note the moment or moments that resounded in my heart and head. During the last seven days, these were the things for which I am truly grateful:

  • The teachers who taught my son to read. We spent five hours this weekend at Boston’s Museum of Science and my son’s new-found skill opened the experience up to him like I’d never imagined. It was fantastic to watch.
  • My husband. Because he’s away on business and of course, it’s when he’s gone, I truly appreciate all that he does for me. Warms my cold feet in bed. Brings me coffee in the morning. Puts the trash out. Cooks dinner. Makes me laugh. Most of all, I love to step back and watch him interact with our kids in his unique, special way and miss that most when he’s away.
  • My Mom friends. Thank heavens for other Moms. They just get it. Once a month, I get to hang out with a bunch of them and it’s like the best medicine for the soul.
  • Humor: I was sent this video this week and it actually made me cry with laughter. Everyone needs a tear-inducing laugh every so often. Watch this and you’ll get yours for the week.
  • Charity: This week I read about all the good works being done by so many to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy. When the rest of the world and news media had moved on, these people were still knee-deep in the collections and clean-ups. We should all be grateful for the work they are doing and the compassion in their hearts.
  • Words and writing: this blog started out as an experiment, a fancy and has turned into a much more powerful vehicle for me. Somewhere I can write for me (as opposed to my writing for clients) and share my thoughts and words with you. This week I published my 100th blog post and crossed the threshold of 11,000 views, just shy of my one year blogging anniversary. Wow! Thank you all for indulging me.

Five Genius Inventions That Could Save The World

My brain is a crazy place filled, at any given moment, with hundreds of swirling thoughts competing for the shrinking available capacity within my cranial region. I read somewhere that if you think too hard, your brain juice will come out of your ears. (Note to self: buy ear plugs to ensure that my precious brain juice remains within. Or maybe I should let it out, bottle it and sell it for some outrageous price. Any takers? Sam’s Special Brain Juice.) But I digress ….

Anyway, what I was wanting to write about here was some of the brilliant ideas I’ve had of late. Why no-one has already conceived these innovations and made millions amazes me. These are simple yet genius inventions that could improve our very existence, save the icebergs, bring about peace for all mankind, and so on.

My first amazing invention is all about solar energy. Enough with fixed solar panels. Surely it would make more sense if the roof of every car was made of collectors which gather up rays, whether the car is stationary in the drive or out and about? If there was a way to immediately funnel those rays directly into the engine, the car could even be self-propelling, using solar energy in real-time.Brilliant, no? I must tell Google and quick! Not only would they have self-driving cars but also self-energizing cars.

Second, also renewable energy-themed. It’s the fart detector/recycler. After all, everyone emits methane (some more than others, naturally.) To make this feasible, first we’d need to be able to see these smelly wafts (which could be extremely useful for identifying whodunnit scenarios.) So we’d need some natural chemical that, when encountering methane vapors, turned them brown. Or maybe neon pink just for fun. Then we need some kind of device for sucking all that neon pink gas out of the atmosphere and into some lab environment which would then process the methane into something way more useful and sweet-smelling.

Next up for the Samantha treatment: feet. In case you weren’t aware of my feelings, I profoundly believe that feet are overrated and, in fact, utterly useless. I think it would make so much more sense – in addition to reducing ugliness, stinkiness, bunions, scratchy toenails and blisters – if we didn’t have feet at all! Instead, we should all be able to buy a variety of filled, weighted shoes that would simply slot onto our ankles. Admittedly, this would put pedicurists and podiatrists out of business but I do think the world would be a far better place without feet. Just sayin’

I was delighted when I found Aqua Notes - waterproof post-it notes – because I do all my best thinking and writing in the shower. But you can bet your bottom dollar that the second I step out, they evaporate, never to be recaptured. At least now I can write them down but wouldn’t it be even “awesomer ” (to quote my son), if it were possible to digitally transfer those scribbles directly to my email, to list, calendar – or to WordPress (I come up with a lot of my blog content in the shower) or into Word (for press releases.) Now that would be incredibly productive. I could even start billing clients for time spent in the shower.

Lastly, I think you’ll all agree that our brains need some kind of USB port. That way, not only could we plug ourselves in for some much-needed recharging but we could also capture short-term content and transfer it to a far more stable environment for storage and access on-demand.

If any of you feel inspired and entrepreneurial enough to run with my ideas and generate billions, let it be known that now that they are out of my head and into my blog, their source is now documented, on this day Sunday September 30, 2012. I’m too busy being a working Mom to do anything other than dream up such geniosity.

I know that is not a real word but it really feels like it should be.

You’re welcome.

The Ultimate Guide to Finding Your Mojo

My mojo seems to have left town (along with my abs, but that’s another topic.) If you’ve been following along the last few weeks of our staycation and then my poor hubby’s sickness, this present state of affairs won’t be much of a surprise. I’ve been dragging my lazy ass around for a few days now. I sat at my office desk for 2.5 days last week and achieved nothing and contributed nothing. I’ve been feeling tired and bla every day, going to bed early and waking up exhausted.

I understand this is a temporary lull; usually my mojo is quite active and pumped up, ready for silliness, primed for a giggle. So I need to get it back – stat. I started the quest to unearth my mojo from wherever it is hiding yesterday. It felt good but we’re definitely not there yet.

So I asked some friends to let me know what they do to re-find their mojo. I’ve meshed their suggestions with several of my own re-mojo-activating tactics to create what could possibly be The Ultimate Guide to Finding Your Mojo. Here’s hoping that by Monday morning, I’ll spring out of bed, rested, with my mojo fully restored, ready for action.

The Ultimate Guide to Finding Your Mojo

  • Lie on the couch and watch re-runs of Friends, Ally McBeal or whatever show or movie takes you to your happy place. Do not watch any weepies.
  • Play music that makes you happy. Or in my case, music that makes you groove. In fact, I think I’m going to create a Mojo Playlist. Today, I’ve been shaking my booty to some newly discovered tracks including Calvin Harris “The Rain,” and Fun “We Are Young.” My other mood-and-groove-enhancing favourites include Abba “Dancing Queen,” Bee Gees “Night Fever,” Stevie Wonder “Living for the City,” Katy Perry “Firework,” Jackson 5 “I Want You Back” and The Pretenders “Brass in Pocket.”
  • Read (I often return to Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist to set me back on the right track. Or anything by Bill Bryson for his laugh-out-loud travel experiences and wry observances of human nature.)
  • A good chat with a good friend; try picking up the phone and calling someone you’ve not spoken with in a while (Annemarie, you’ve been warned.)
  • Work up a good sweat (pick your poison: dancing, exercise, sex, weeding, pillow fight ….)
  • Get a mani/pedi – or some other indulgent spa treatment. (I am sporting some freshly polished, vibrant purple toe and finger nails!)
  • Write (a letter, a blog, a to-do list, some goals – by the way, this would be a good time to plug my pal Matty P’s great new book Goals Gone Wild.)
  • Clean/organize something you’ve been putting off – might sound weird but it feels really good to finally get to it.)
  • Sit on the deck and listen to the soundtrack of nature.
  • Imbibe – whether it’s coffee to give your system a jolt, or a large glass of wine or sangria ( my latest addiction)
  • Shoe shopping.
  • Do something nice for someone else. It feels good to be both the giver and the receiver, believe me.

So there it is, the formula I’ve already started using to hunt down and rekindle my joie de vivre. What do you do to find you’re mojo when it’s left town? What would be on your Mojo Playlist?

(P.S. If you happen to find my abs, could you kindly return them – much appreciated.)

(P.P.S Here are some links to some other good mojo-finding blogs and resources:

Have You Lost Your Mojo?

How to Give Your Mojo a Boost

Finding My Mojo

10 Ways to Get Your Groove Back )

Confused? 10 British/American Words That Are Spelled the Same But Pronounced Differently

As my readers know, I’ve been living in the US for 12 years now and love observing the differences between British English and American English (see posts 10 Silly American Words and  10 British Expressions that Americans Find Amusing.) While there are many words and expressions that differ between our two lovely languages, what actually confuses me the most are the words that are spelled the same but pronounced differently. Here are my top ten:

  • Vitamin – I have to admit that I no longer know which pronunciation is the “correct” one; a long ‘i’ or a short one? Which usually means I’ll say it wrong.
  • Privacy – Ditto. No clue.
  • Garage – I’m sticking to my guns on this one. Emphasis is on the first, short “a” – not a long, drawn-out “age.”
  • Water – People of the US, that’s a “t” not a “d” in the middle!
  • Herb – Yup, pretty sure the first letter here is an “h” so that’s how I pronounce it.
  • Oregano – While we’re on the topic, I say it the Brit way, with a long “ano.”
  • Peugeot – I know there aren’t many, if any, of these lovely French cars here in the US but I’d like to advise you that there is no “poo” in its pronunciation.
  • Woburn – I have learnt this well; when in Massachusetts, say “Wooburn” (when in England, it’s W-oh-burn.)
  • Tomato – You say “tom-ay-to” – “I say tom-ah-to.” Not budging on this one, folks.
  • Colin – If this is your name, you should know that in the UK, we don’t pronounce it C-oh-lin.

So now that I’ve thoroughly confused you, happy travels. Good luck with “the look!”

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