In July 21, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first person to step on the moon. On July 21, 1974, the U.S. House Judiciary approved two articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon. On July 21, 1979, the National Women’s Hall of Fame was dedicated in New York. Ernest Hemingway, Garry Trudeau, Robin Williams, and Cat Stevens were all born on July 21.
And although not as momentous as any of the events or birthdays mentioned above, my first blog post was issued on July 21. This may not seem to be a big deal, but it means a lot to me!
How did I become a blogger? Well, my therapist suggested that I write a blog. At first, I thought she must be joking. I remember she told me about a movie that was popular 8 years or so ago called “Julie and Julia”. The movie was about a young woman named Julie who decided to cook all 524 recipes in Julia Child’s first cookbook in 365 days, and to blog about the experience. The film also contrasted Julie’s life and cooking experiences as she took on this challenge with Julia Child’s life before she became an icon.
Julie Powell called her blog, "The Julie/Julia Project," and she subsequently adapted the blog into a memoir. It appears that the blog and the memoir launched Ms. Powell’s writing career. Since I had been expressing a desire to do more creative writing, my therapist thought blogging would also be a good avenue to start living my dream. Plus, it was a good way to continue my healing process.
But being a methodical and cautious person, I had questions: (1) How does one start a blog? (2) What could I possibly write about in the posts? (3) How would I keep the blog posts coming over the long term? (4) Why would anyone even care to read about heart failure? (5) Assuming that I did get any people following my blog, what if they thought I was just whining without good reason? (6) What if they left unkind comments on the blog site?
Despite the questions, I had to admit that the prospect of getting my views on heart failure out there was intriguing. But I didn’t know much about blogs and the technology needed to create one. It would take some research to answer question 1.
The second and third questions were things that I could control by taking some time to brainstorm ideas and to have the discipline (which we all know I have) to keep to a publication schedule. One thing I knew for sure: I have an active, perhaps inventive mind, and a wicked sense of humor. Even as I was mulling over whether I wanted to tackle doing a blog, ideas for posts just kept popping into my head.
The fourth question was something that made me hesitate. The Julie/Julia project was one that probably pulled in aspiring cooks and gourmets. They may even have joined along and experimented with some of the recipes along with Julie Powell. But I doubt that there would be anyone out there who would want to experiment with having heart failure along with me. But if I could write it so that it was both interesting and even humorous, maybe there would be healthy people who would get an insight into what some of their friends with chronic conditions were experiencing.
If I made the posts as truthful but as upbeat as possible, maybe there would be people with chronic conditions who would start to read the blog because it touched exactly where they lived. I could let them know that as bad as the symptoms can be, one can still be light in spirit, liberal with humor and productive despite their serious diagnoses.
The fifth and sixth questions were all out of my control because there is no way to predict how people will react to anything. But I realized I needed to stop obsessing on what other people thought, and to realize that my thoughts and ideas have value regardless of what others might believe.
So I decided to tackle the first question and started to research how to write a blog. I found that there are companies who host blog sites. They all provide instructions for how to create a site, how to create and publish posts, and any number of technical issues that a new blogger might encounter. Of course, there were fees involved, but they seemed reasonable.
I think I looked at the variety of platforms for blog sites: WordPress, Tumblr, Wix, Medium and Weebly among others. They all looked really good and had their pluses and minuses depending on a blogger’s priorities. The problem I had was trying to calculate in my mind how valuable various features might be to me, and how easy it might be (or not be) for a novice to use their services. So I went to a friend who had been an IT executive for the Federal government, and asked for his advice.
He answered all my questions about what some of the terminology meant, and translated the impact some of the features might have on a blog. After thinking through what he said, I talked to someone who had used one of the vendors, Weebly, to create her own website. Like me, this person is not a tech expert, but she found Weebly’s process was easy to follow.
I looked at some websites that compared the various platforms. When I looked at the Weebly comparison, I found that the list of pros was something that attracted me: the drag and drop blog site builder was easy to follow, and no technical skills were required. Since Weebly would host the website, the setup would be quick and easy. I also found that the cons were things that I didn’t find important: You can’t add new features. Trust me, it was enough for me to figure out and work with the features that were there. I didn’t need any new features to complicate things. All I wanted was to capture my story and my reflections on a blog site.
The other cons were that there was limited integration with other third party platforms, and it would be difficult to export the site to another platform. These were not relevant concerns to me since I wasn’t planning on interacting with, or exporting my site to, other platforms.
So I decided to try Weebly. I figured if the process to initiate a website was straightforward, then the process to initiate a blog site should also be straightforward.
I let my IT friend know of my decision. He agreed that my focus on the content over the format or the sophistication would be the right approach. It would save me from distraction and keep me focused on the important thing – getting my story out there.
I will admit that there were some times when I wanted to pull my hair out. Incorporating some of the pre-set designs into my web pages proved a little harder than I expected. The sizing would not be right, or trying to group the pictures could be challenging. I also had a number of “oops” moments, like when I published a blog when all I meant to do was edit it. I would panic – “Oh My God, this wasn’t ready for prime time. Danger Will Robinson - Abort, Abort!!!" But I found that I needed to just take a deep breath, and look at the tutorials that Weebly provides. I would eventually figure out how to delete premature posts. I would even feel good for having accomplished this on my own.
I had the site up and running for a while before I made it public. Why? Well I was getting ready to go on a cruise and I didn’t want to have to keep up with the new site while I was out of the country. In the interim, what I did was to make sure I had a number of posts ready to go. The week after I returned home I put the site up and issued the first post. I sent out e-mails to people I thought might be interested in taking a look at the website. And then I just sat back and waited to see what happened. Notice I didn’t use the word patiently, as patience is not in my DNA. So I checked frequently to see how many people had logged in.
Over time, I have built a small but dependable audience of readers. My blog isn’t going to set the world on fire but maybe that is a good thing. We have a lot of stuff going on in the blogosphere which seems to stoke the anxiety and anger of people. I don’t want to be controversial or incite riots. I just want to be not realistic and relevant, and also provide a small and steady beacon of hope.
My biggest wish is that I could find a way to get it out to others who are afflicted with heart failure. I have not found that mechanism yet, but I have not given up. As my therapist tells me, it takes time to build a following for a business, a blog or any endeavor where you require clients, customers, or an audience.
Does this blog help me? Well I think it is doing me a world of good. I don’t worry about my heart health as I am working on a post. In fact, I feel productive, which gives me and my health and my self-confidence a great boost. As I research topics, I not only obtain a better understanding of the condition I now must live with, but I find hope. Maybe it is in the fact that there are lots of people who are trying to help those of us who have this incurable (at least for now) condition. Or maybe it is because as I learn more about heart failure, it is still serious, but it is also less intimidating and more manageable. Or maybe it is because I realize that given the seriousness of the condition, I’m holding my own.
Maybe on my next blog birthday, we can cook a Julia Child recipe. Coq Au Vin anyone?
Melanie discovered that she had heart failure in 2013. Since that time, she has been learning how to live with the condition, and how to achieve balance and personal growth.