Changing My Focus

Remember this?

J.L. Givens, writer

This was my original website header back when I began in 2013, thanks to my friend Anne McKinsey. I still love those colors, though I’ve since learned the difference between calling myself a writer and calling myself an author. 

For nearly seven years, my focus here has been differences, cultural differences in particular.

In those early years, I often used the deleted scenes from my Peace Corps memoir, At Home on the Kazakh Steppe, to drive home the message that cultural differences are not only interesting,  educational, and exciting (and exhausting), they help us know ourselves better.

Once through with the stories from Kazakhstan that I wanted to share, I looked at cultural differences in our own backyard.  Breastfeeding six year olds comes most readily to mind, as does the post on illegal clotheslines.  Were they popular!

Somewhere along the way I added curiosity, compassion, and courage as values I wanted to emphasize. 

Keep an open mind, I said. Find your curiosity in what you do not yet understand.
Do
so with compassion. And, above all, have courage.

I might have added, maintain your sense of humor too. 

 

Could I have chosen a worse time to start a blog with that particular niche?  

Difference is more often feared than embraced these days. Hatred and anger infect us daily spewing from TV news. White supremacy has achieved an overt, public status it’s not had since Jim Crow ruled the south. 

Two years ago, my posts turned political, as that felt most important to me. And my numbers — measured in those mysterious “clicks” and “opens” — declined. Subscribers who actually open a post, for example, declined by nearly 50% in the last year I was blogging regularly. 

How important is that? I asked myself. Do I follow the numbers or do I speak from my heart? Do I continue to claim the cultural differences niche I’ve claimed, or do I move away from it, toward something the world has more interest in? Kittens and cats are always popular. 

 

I had to remind myself why I blog. Here’s what I came up with:

I blog because I have something to say.

I blog because it is how I make sense of the world around me.

I blog because I am curious about how my readers will react to something I write.

I blog because it is the fastest way to get read. 

I keep blogging because of the connections I’ve made with others, most of whom I’ve never met and probably never will, but with whom I feel a sense of kinship, a shared world outlook.

Isn’t that what we all want, in the end? To feel connected to others, to know where we belong and what is expected of us?

To know that if we let go, there’ll be someone there to break our fall. 

 

 

I wonder if all the upheaval around the globe has made it only clearer that we all want to feel grounded, anchored, and safe. We yearn for connection.

Here is where I come to write, to find my ground, to clear my head, and to share my thoughts, my emotions, and my beliefs. Not in the expectation that you will always agree with me, but in the hope that you will share yours too. And in that sharing, we come to know each other, and we connect.

Eventually, we learn to accept each other as we are. 

My very first graduate school paper was entitled “Sociology and the Public’s Right to Know.” Believe it or not, it came from an article in my Sunday Magazine by the comedian Dave Barry. This must have been early 1980s, if anyone is interested. Off I went. There was much great stuff coming out of sociology and social psych research in those days but none of it was getting to the public because it was mired down in “SocSpeak” — jargon. 

Here on And So It Goes, I have a platform. Perhaps this is my time to cut through some of that socspeak and rework it for us all to understand, me included. 

Together we’ve explored the fascinating work out of neuroscience (do amygdala, oxytocin, and the prefrontal cortex come to mind?). I’ve done it a bit with some of the political machinations going on in DC.  I’m ready to do it again.

Monthly?  What would you like to understand better?  Boredom comes to mind, for some reason, immediately. Surely someone out there has been studying boredom. I’m going to find out.  

How about you? What else would you like to explore, together?  

 

26 Responses

  1. Clive Pilcher
    | Reply

    Your posts are always interesting, and are among those I will open to read in full. You speak from the heart, which for me is an important factor in whether a blog will pique my interest and hold my attention. Whatever frequency suits you is fine by me – we shouldn’t feel obliged to post for the sake of it if we don’t have something to say!
    Clive Pilcher recently posted…1953 And All ThatMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Clive, that is the best compliment anyone could give me; thank you. And thanks for starting us off today.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Changing My FocusMy Profile

  2. Merril D Smith
    | Reply

    Good morning, Janet!
    If you want to continue to write a blog, then write about what interests you. We write so differently that I can’t imagine suggesting a topic. 🙂
    Merril D Smith recently posted…Something Happened HereMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      I’m interested in learning what YOU’RE interested in. That’s the gist of my query. That’s all; nothing more. I love following your Philly photos — they bring me back to a past era of my life. And I enjoy your poetry, when I get the time to read it. You should know you are the ONLY daily blogger I read (when I do). I usually limit myself to weekly or less often. Just too much. FYI.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Changing My FocusMy Profile

  3. Susan Jackson
    | Reply

    No suggestions from me I just enjoy reading what you write and responding if I have something to say. Very interesting that 2 yrs ago you went political and lost readership–I am so sick of it that I change the channel if he comes on–now England is getting a taste of what we have been going thru.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Oh yes; I used to enjoy TV news. I knew all the anchors since Walter Cronkite days. But for a few years now, perhaps since Kazakhstan, I’ve found TV news quite disturbing — not the content as much as the commentators. The anchors all seem poorly educated and the commentators they have on wind up usually yelling over each other. I think they think it’s entertaining; and, I guess for some, it is. Not for me. I stick with print news, thank you. Thanks for joining us today, Susan.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Changing My FocusMy Profile

  4. Ally Bean
    | Reply

    You lost readership when you wrote about politics? That surprises me. I’d think you’d gain followers because you write clearly and have a good take on the insanity around us. Interesting.

    I agree with you that being “grounded, anchored, and safe” is what many of us long for. I think blogging can fill that need while at the same time allowing you the opportunity to learn a thing or two, have some fun.

    And on that note please tell us more about boredom…
    Ally Bean recently posted…One-Liner Wednesday: He Might Not Be A Bird’s Best FriendMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Yes; it surprised me too. And I still have “learn Google analytics” on my ToDo list.

      I’m quite curious about boredom; fingers crossed that someone has been looking into it. Time will tell. I also wanted to write about Ragweed and how it’s given goldenrod a very bad time — guilt by association I suppose. Or write about how easy it is to latch onto a theory because it’s convenient, when we really don’t know what we’re talking about; thinking about the anti-vaccinators here. So many good topics out there. Once my sprained wrist heals, I’ll get on them.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Changing My FocusMy Profile

  5. Marian Beaman
    | Reply

    This stands out: I’ve since learned the difference between calling oneself a writer and calling oneself an author.” I’m experiencing that now. Writers operate in solitude and authors “press the flesh.” I enjoy both, but I wish for a little respite, which will come in time.

    I remember you said once that when the book is launched and the hubbub has died down, I’d miss it – ha! I’m not there yet, but I wonder . . . .

    Like Merril said, write what interests you. I enjoy neuroscience, but that may not be everyone’s cup ‘o tea. My readers always like when I interject the personal with the more serious topic.

    Thanks for your help in this long journey. Your final “reading” prompted me to delete some more repetition. Judging from the reviews, it was worth the effort to polish. Also, I used your bookmark design to craft my own. 🙂
    Marian Beaman recently posted…Mennonite Daughter Visits Linda Marie with a GiveawayMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      You got it Marian — writers write; authors publish. So, once my book launched, I could officially change my identity. Some days I’d rather go back to “just” being a writer. The neuroscience stuff is budding out all over the place; so much they are learning; it’s impacted how we look at Free Will! Now there’s a biggy I’d love to explore.

      Keep enjoying the process. You are providing so many a really good example of how this self-publishing business works. Actually, even traditionally published authors must now do much of what you are also doing — marketing. I hope you feel proud.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Changing My FocusMy Profile

  6. Nurken Aubakir
    | Reply

    Janet,
    Have you read Abai’s “Words of wisdom”? Can that book be food for thought? What if you come up with something of that caliber?

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      That’s a good idea, Nurken. I could only find references to Abai’s “Book of Words” though. I’m assuming that’s what you meant? I’m curious which one you’d have me start with. And, which translation you’d recommend. One problem I tend to have with all Kazakh translated works is that they tend to be quite wordy. So, it takes a bit of extra energy to wade through to get the kernel of what’s meant. Maybe I’ll tackle that issue while I’m at it. Thanks for the suggestion.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Changing My FocusMy Profile

      • Nurken
        | Reply

        Hi, Janet. I believe we are indeed talking about the same book; they name it differently each time. I am not sure I can suggest any “better” translations, any would do since they are not so long actually. There are 45 of these so called ” Words”. Each is somewhere like half a page read. So it can be a fun reading challenge, reading one each day. You may even finish in a month by reading 2 some days. It tells a lot about Kazakhs and how they (we) should learn from others.

  7. Betty Sue
    | Reply

    My mother never let us kids get away with saying we were bored. She used to say things like: there is no reason to ever be bored – there is always something to observe around you, something to listen to, something to think about.
    On long trips she would get us to watch for specific things (such as guessing how many green cars would pass in the next 5 minutes), or she would start a discussion about something she had been reading (and because we 4 kids were all opinionated we would soon have a kind of debate stirring on the topic). Interestingly, when she was 95, for the first time ever she asked me what I thought she could do to pass the time – she was then nearly deaf, nearly blind, and she told me that she could no longer carry on a series of coherent thoughts because she kept losing her train of thought. (She passed away peacefully shortly after that.)

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      You’ve convinced me, Bette Sue. Boredom it is. Sometime in October.

      Sounds like you and your siblings were lucky and had some very enjoyable outings. And, a very engaged and enlightened mother. What a sweet memory you shared, that she would ask you how she might pass the time. I sing with a hospice choir and am constantly struck by how differently families approach this inevitable moment. I hope when I am near that point, I’ll have family close enough to ask how I might pass the time.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Changing My FocusMy Profile

  8. Bette Stevens
    | Reply

    Exploring cultural and societal differences, while recognizing our similarities as global citizens–it’s all about connecting. These are things I find interesting, informative and help us better understand and appreciate the diversity around us. Simply follow your passions, Janet!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Yes indeed. I love how you’ve connected both these passions of mine: finding paths of human connection and celebrating human differences. Thanks for that, Bette
      Janet Givens recently posted…Changing My FocusMy Profile

  9. Joan
    | Reply

    Just keep on writing about what interests you and keep writing from the heart as you always have!!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      “Writing from the heart.” I’ve heard that here a few times today and it warms my heart to hear it. Thank you, Joan.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Changing My FocusMy Profile

  10. Carol
    | Reply

    I’ll echo that statement about writing from the heart…I think that is the only way or else it doesn’t ring true talking about a subject because it is in vogue or not but just because… if there is no heart to it …a reader can tell. Ahhhh boredom we were never allowed to use that word or didn’t as we would be given something to do…Idle hands were mentioned by my father a few times…Your posts are always interesting Janet 🙂
    Carol recently posted…Smorgasbord Blogger Daily – Friday 20th September 2019 – Brigid P. Gallagher, John Rieber and Carol TaylorMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Thank you so much, Carol. With your cross cultural connections, I enjoy your posts as well
      Janet Givens recently posted…Changing My FocusMy Profile

  11. Tim Fearnside
    | Reply

    Janet, it’s good to see your blog up and running again. I’m sorry I’ve been slow to climb back on the train, but I will do better. As you know, I rather enjoyed your more political content, and thought you did a good job talking about those issues in a way that was measured and respectful. It’s hard for me to imagine anyone being turned off by them, but I suppose it’s a reflection of our highly partisan and divisive times. Like others, I’m struggling to tell you what I’d like to see you write about. I suppose, if anything, I would love to hear more of your personal, first hand stories, what you learned from them, and how they relate to your current life and our modern times. I imagine many came to you through your book, where you share your first hand accounts of living in a different culture. Living vicariously through your experiences was part of what was so enjoyable, and you are a natural storyteller. I know you may have a “prequel” in the works, which I very much look forward to seeing in print someday.

  12. Janet Givens
    | Reply

    Hey Tim. And welcome back to you as well. Thanks so much for those kind words. To hear someone say I’m a “natural storyteller” is quite something for me, someone who struggled to get her words out for so many years. I wonder if that is why I took to writing at such an early age. I don’t wonder; I know it is. 🙂

    Glad to hear the prequel is of interest to you. I too look forward to seeing it in print someday. What’s right in front of me now is the “final” copy of the LEAPFROG book, ready to launch. I’m just waiting to get permission to use a cartoon, which I’ll have to ditch if I don’t get it. Getting no response from the cartoonist. But double checking all the resources I’ve included, one last time, while I wait.
    Janet Givens recently posted…Changing My FocusMy Profile

  13. Crystal
    | Reply

    Hi, interesting blog. Come to you through Esme’s Senior Salon.
    Crystal recently posted…GUEST POST: Mari’s Story – A Tail of a Bulgarian Cat RescueMy Profile

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