Sondra Harris, author of the blog Golfwidow’s Ministry of Silly Walks, has just recently made the jump from blogger to published author with her book Getting My Think On. Her writing is witty, wry, and sometimes snark-heavy, but always fun to read. In this interview, she tells us a little about the evolution of her blog, and some of the best (and worst) parts of putting her thoughts and observations on life out on the internet for public consumption.
When did you start writing “Golfwidow’s Ministry of Silly Walks“?
I started writing my online “diary”, which was neither a “blog” nor had anything to do with “silly walking” at the time, in November of 2001. So I guess I’ve got an anniversary coming up. I wonder if I should start hinting for presents now so people have time to shop.
Why did you start your blog originally? Has your reason for keeping it up changed since you started it?
I opened an account in Diaryland because any time I clicked on any links in my friends’ Diaryland diaries, it kept throwing me back to a log-in page (which was poor programming, but I didn’t yet know that). It was just easier for me to create a profile and log in once than to keep trying to trace where I was trying to go to begin with. Once I was already going in there, it was a small step to saying, “Well, hell, I can do this,” and from there to declaring a mission statement (much like the space program, only not as noble). My declared intent was to create some sort of discipline in myself to inspire me to write at least a little bit every day … and if I came up with anything worth publishing in the process, so much the better. While I have new inspirations for writing now, such as trying to amuse myself and others, and trying to share the absurdities of the world with my fellow planet dwellers, my original mission statement is still my primary reason for blogging. And although my life is often too hectic to allow me to post something online on a daily basis, I still post at least once or twice a week and, more importantly, I write something every day even if I don’t post it for public consumption.
Think back to when you first started your blog. Who was your target audience? Has your target audience changed drastically since then?
Originally, I insisted that I didn’t have a “target audience,” and I thought I genuinely believed that. Later, I realized that Diaryland was a popularity contest, one I couldn’t win by being the prettiest or the nicest, so the challenge became trying to see if I could win it by being the most clever. For a while, my blog was wildly popular, but I was astonished at the demographics … I had a huge amount of readers who, had they met me in real life, would have had nothing to do with me … and I didn’t always like them, either. Since I am an intolerant bitchy sort of person, it was absolutely crucial that I revisit my goals – it could no longer be about being most popular; it had to go back to being about the writing or I was missing the point and not giving MYSELF what I needed from the project. I didn’t altogether stop trying to attract new readership (I don’t believe anyone who writes online is ONLY doing it for themselves – there’s always the Pay Attention to Me factor involved); I just made it clear that I was not going to do anything beyond being completely myself when writing, so that people who had no interest in me would stop reading, and I then could connect more closely to the sort of people whose personalities were more of the sort toward which I gravitate naturally anyway. (I’m NOT saying that I gravitate toward intolerant bitchy people – I’m saying that I prefer the company of people who don’t mind the fact that I’M intolerant and bitchy.)
Approximately how many page hits does “Golfwidow’s Ministry of Silly Walks” get on average per day?
Oh, my lowered, I have a stats checker, but I haven’t logged into it in ages. Hold on. (Do I remember my password? … Yeah, that worked. Okay.) Even posting maybe once or twice a week, tops, Retrostats.com calculates that I average about 123 original visitors per day. That’s kind of nice to know. I’m nobody’s superstar, but people care enough to see what I have to say. That appeals to my sense of “Pay Attention to Me” in a big way.
What does the title of your blog (“Golfwidow’s Ministry of Silly Walks”) mean to you?
I kept trying to incorporate my love of all things Monty Python onto my blog design as a tribute to them and to let people know that, while I am in no sense affiliated with the troupe, I adore them. “Silly Walks” is not my favorite sketch, but once it was on my page, I realized that’s sort of what happens with what I’m doing: you come in, I’m already walking a little strangely, so you can watch and either laugh at my antics, back away slowly, or raise a quizzical eyebrow and say, “Huh.”
Who did the page design for your blog?
My friend Bren, who runs http://www.diarytown.com, did the design as a surprise for me, which explains how a sketch that isn’t my favorite (that would, actually, be a tie between the Penguin on the Telly and the Dead Parrot sketches) wound up being the centerpiece of my design. It makes more sense in the long run, when I think about it, because Silly Walks is far more visually-driven than Penguin or Dead Parrot. The humor in both of those is wholly dependent on someone else’s verbal skills, whereas Silly Walks creates the initial humor based on the visual, and any other verbal cleverness must therefore be provided by me. Which is as it should be, since my writing is meant to be the reason for the blog’s existence anyway. (And there is the odd penguin or two on my page design, which is kind of a bonus.)
What made you decide to move your blog from an online journaling site (Diaryland) to your own domain?
Diaryland had a lot of good qualities when I first started there; namely, that it was free and that it was a good way to get started for anyone who didn’t want the hassle of writing code and buying server space in order to create a personal website. As Diaryland grew, it became more difficult and expensive for its hosts to maintain, and although you could still have a free diary, their paying “gold” and “supergold” members received preferential treatment, more uptime, and, when the servers were slow (frequently), paid members could update but free members could not. I did pay for a membership for most of my years on Diaryland, but either found myself not needing any of the extras I was paying for, or still receiving poor service despite having paid extra. For the same money (in my case, it actually comes out to far less, because I have more image storage space, higher bandwidth, and my annual fees are lower total than a Diaryland supergold membership), I could have more control over how my page appeared and be able to update with fewer problems, plus the bonus of no longer having to compete with other Diaryland members – not only to fight for which one of us would get to update first if the servers were slow, but in the constant race for king or queen of Diaryland. I don’t really want to rule the world – I just want to be in charge of my own space.
What is your favorite part of keeping a blog?
I love writing something that just strikes me as funny or well written, but I could do that on a scrap of paper. By blogging it, I have something that strikes me as funny or well written, but now it’s out there for others to see. When someone comments that it struck them as funny or well written, too, now we’ve made the connection. That connection; the fact that we now have something in common … THAT’S my favorite part of keeping a blog.
What is your least favorite part of keeping a blog?
I don’t like conflict. I avoid it whenever possible. I’m not talking about, “I hate what you wrote,” if I don’t like what I write, that’s one thing; if YOU don’t, you’re free to leave. I’m talking about online fights, flame wars, people being deliberately cruel and hurtful to others or belittling their beliefs. I don’t like when blog drama makes me feel stressed in everyday life. I can’t live comfortably if what I do for relaxation isn’t relaxing to me. I also don’t like reading blogs with a lot of venom in them. Ranting can be entertaining, but some writers go past complaining into downright viciousness, and if I’m reading for amusement, I don’t want to feel like I’m watching a personal attack, or worse, on the defensive myself.
In addition to blogging, you also produce podcasts. Which format do you prefer and why?
I’m definitely a better writer than I am a performer. I decided I wanted to try a podcast because I didn’t want to get stuck in a rut of thinking “my way is the only way.” I began by reading out certain of my written pieces as audio blogs, and they were stilted and uncomfortable. Gradually I moved forward into making lists of what I wanted to talk about during the week and just talking for ten or fifteen minutes, but what was happening was that it was very “newslike” and I really felt that, if I was going to put a podcast out there, I was going to need something with a little more originality. Again, something I do far better with writing than with performing. Recently, I reformatted my podcast to include what was originally going to be a sidekick but is actually more of a partner-in-crime, comedian Andy Martello. He seems to be sort of taking over in the sense that he’s a lot funnier than I am, far more fearless, and absolutely a superior performer, but he gives me a better opportunity to shine than I was giving myself. I like the podcast more now that Andy’s involved with it. The entertainment value has increased in proportion with the decrease in the maturity level.
You’ve recently completed a book Getting my Think On, published through LuLu. Is the book a “Best of” of your blog or is there more to it than that?
Remember when I said my blogging goal was to write something worth publishing? This is that. Yes, they’re pieces originally posted online, in most cases, but it’s not really a “best of” in the sense that these are the most popular posts or whatever. These are the pieces I’ve written where, in going back and rereading them, I felt this huge sense of self-pride; they each did what I love: hit me with that “wow, this is good” feeling that’s so great when it’s someone else’s writing and even better when it’s your own. Getting My Think On is just another means of trying to convey that; to make that connection that we talked about before, only this time, to see if it’s possible to make that connection well after the fact, with people who are more closely drawn to printed pages than to computer screens. There’s also the vanity factor. I am completely willing to admit that, now that I am a “published author,” I have bragging rights and I know how to use them. See, if you paint, and you call yourself an artist, people’s first words are not, “Oh, have you sold any paintings?” or “When’s your next gallery show?” – they just go, “Ooh, an artist, that’s awesome.” When you call yourself a writer, people’s first words are, “Have you published anything?” I get great satisfaction out of saying, “Why, yes, I have, and let me buy you a shut-up on the rocks.” (Okay, I’ve never said that, but I do think it, when I see the wind swoosh right out of the sails of the Sloop So Smug.) Also, I also don’t mind admitting that, when the first copy of the printed book arrived at my house, looking and smelling and feeling like all the other books I’ve ever bought, the only difference being that I WROTE THIS ONE, I wept copious tears of joy. So there.
I know this sounds dramatic, but has blogging changed your life in any way?
Journaling, in general, changes one’s life, I think, whether publicly or privately. I don’t think it’s possible to examine yourself on a regular basis and not see things that you want to or need to change. And you can’t go back to the resulting tangible record and not see either new choices that you have to make or how the past has affected the present. That having been said, the fact that I keep a journal has changed my life, and the fact that it’s a public one has changed it even more, because I have that introspection, but I also have the additional sense of communion with others, friendships that might never have occurred otherwise – that whole commonality of, maybe we’re nothing alike at all except in our desire to put something of ourselves out there for others to look at … but we are, indeed, alike in that. And I was not like that in October of 2001, so, yes, it’s absolutely a fact that blogging has, for all (overly dramatic) intents and purposes, changed my life.
This is where you get to plug your favorite bloggers. Which blogs do you think everyone should read?
Most of what I read on a daily basis are personal blogs belonging to my friends, and they’re all wonderful in their own ways. Many of these people BECAME my friends because we connected through our writing. I don’t have time to read all blogs every day, so I keep a feedreader at http://www.bloglines.com to catch myself up when I have time. The blogs I read there are on http://www.golfwidow.net/blogroll.html, which I keep pretty up-to-date, so anyone who’s on there has either had something interesting to say recently or I’m waiting eagerly for them to say something interesting again soon. As far as the blogs (other than my friends’ blogs) that I look at every day, no matter what, Cuteoverload.com is the best thing to happen to my morning since I started drinking coffee. It can be cloying, I grant you, but really, how do you look at a large cat trying to squish itself into a small basket and NOT say, “I’m going to have a good day today”? Gofugyourself.com is ranting done right: sour, not bitter. No real poison in its delivery, and so well written it’s a pleasure to read even when they’re slamming an outfit and/or a celebrity I like. If you’re a Smallville fan, http://www.off-screenville.com/lanarama/ is a great comic blog, and if even if you don’t watch Smallville or know any of its characters (which, actually, I don’t), it’s still funny because it deals with getting caught up in a show’s plot, obsessing over it, getting mad about reruns – it’s kind of universal. My best friend is too busy in her real life to update her blog, or I’d send everyone there – she’s another one who knows how to hand a rant down with style. However, I do believe everyone in the world should go out right away and read my partner-in-crime’s blog, which is at http://andymartello.blogspot.com. He did not make me say that. Really, he didn’t.