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Thursday
May072015

It’s a Wrap! My 2015 Blogging from A to Z Challenge Reflections

“Would I even tell me story, would I even sang my song, if nobody sang along? Would I take the time to write it, would I say what’s on my mind, if nobody sang along?” – Chrisette Michele from the album Let Freedom Reign

Singer Chrisette Michele. Photo: Zandoka Photography.Some of the lyrics in R&B singer Chrisette Michele’s song “If Nobody Sang Along” strike a chord with my discerning whether blogging is a waste of time, especially where the A-Z Challenge is concerned. Among the factors leading to my “Mixed Bag of Tricks” theme for 2015 was my refusal to write a blog post for April that involved any more extraordinary work than necessary for me.

I made this decision in an attempt to cut back on the amount of effort, time and energy involved in writing A-to-Z Challenge posts on this blog. After receiving little response from the A-Z community overall last year and again this time around, on many of the posts that I worked hard on (spending hours and sometimes days even, writing and assembling them), I believe it would behoove me to continue blogging in the best interest of my readers and myself.

Who’s All this for? 

I started doing the A-Z challenge because it seemed like a fun way to add some structure and consistence to my blogging activities while building a more disciplined writing practice. Aside from also being a requirement for Co-Hosts, I continued doing the challenge because it has always motivated me to blog more often throughout the rest of the year. I gladly credit the A-Z challenge as one of the influences behind my decision to make editorial calendars – sometimes I follow these blogging plans, and sometimes I don’t but it’s still nice to have ideas floating around for those times when you experience a case of writer’s block.

Ever since being invited to Co-Host the A-Z Challenge by its founder, Arlee Bird at Tossing It Out, I’ve been Co-Hosting because I view it as a great way to support the man behind the annual event that brings people from all over the world together. Co-Hosting has also served as an effective way to give back to the blogathon that helped me find some direction as a blogger.

Doing the challenge this year put many blogs on my radar, as they featured interesting topics including Manzanita’s post on Aging at Wanna Buy a Duck, Lisa’s recount of her days aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln while working as a postal clerk for the U.S. Navy at Tales from the Love Shaque and Notes Along the Way – Mary Montague Sikes, who made 19 paintings during her journey through the alphabet! It was refreshing to see an artist participating in the A-Z Challenge this year since the blog hop is usually dominated with themes involving books, poetry, short stories, writing tips, publishing tips and related areas of the literary field.

The Tim Burton movie ALICE IN WONDERLAND was included in Jeremy's Disney theme at his blog titled Hollywood Nuts during the A-Z Challenge.David Powers King at The Cosmic Laire of Science Fiction and Fantasy collaborated with Al Diaz at Dragon on a Mission for a nice tribute to Tina Downey in his A-Z Challenge theme presenting character portraits from on his novel Woven.

My fellow Co-Host Lauren Hennessy's "Movie Smackdown" was one of my most favorite of all A-Z themes; I always looked forward to reading her posts, had fun voting for the flicks I thought should win the battle and enjoyed learning about what other participants thought about the competing films. During one of the A-Z Twitter chats, Co-Host Csenge pointed out Hannah Givens’ cool A-Z theme on LGBT Comics Characters at Things Matter. It was nice to learn some things about Batwoman including some DC Comics staff quitting when the company took marriage off the table for this superheroine.

Another fellow Co-Host, Susan Gourley introduced me to a good quote by Marilyn Von Savant in her A-Z blog posts...

"Being defeated is often a temporary condition. Giving up is what makes it permanent." - Marilyn Von Savant

Thanks to Adriana Gabrielle at The Librarian Files, I learned about a movie called The Maze Runner that I’ll now probably watch. Luther M. Siler’s music theme for the A-Z Challenge at Infinite Free Time rocks and took me back to the 90s when women, particularly female rappers like Queen Latifah and MC Lyte, had something to say and weren't afraid to say it. After meeting Debra McKellan during one of the A-Z Twitter chats, I enjoyed her theme of “colors for descriptive purposes in writing,” the hospitable nature of her posts and her very brief and concise posting style. I also enjoyed learning about what it's like to live overseas in A Beginner's Survival Guide to Living in Maui.

Ellen with her wife Portia de Rossi. It was great to see themes revolving around the LGBT community, while visiting blogs during the 2015 Blogging from A-Z Challenge.Although London-based Julie Fisher ran out of steam soon after reaching the A-Z Challenge midway mark at From Julie with Mixed Feelings, I like her April theme on Lesbian Culture and its portrayal in media. Julie’s blog post highlighting Ellen Degeneres and the comedian’s career as an openly lesbian actress, talk show host and author, is one that I especially enjoyed reading – partly because I’ve always loved Ellen’s style and hair and partly because Julie’s use of "celesbrians," when referring to her favorite lesbian celebrities, is cute and made me laugh.

Although Sridevi Datta at The Write Journey is among the many who didn’t complete the challenge, the blog posts she did put up were interesting to read and I think she had something good with her theme on "tracing the inner journey of being a woman.” I also have a lot of respect for travel blogger Michelle Tran at Michelle Tran Writes, who did what she could and then bowed out of the A-Z challenge gracefully while honoring the give-and-take nature of participating that’s meant to benefit everyone involved in this April blogathon.

Unfortunately, my participation in the A-Z challenge left much to be desired in terms of traffic, comments and/or subscribers. More people visited my blog during summer 2014 and in December 2014 than they did last month. I wish I could say I’m surprised but given the dismal results from my month of Why We Make Movies, this drop in traffic appears to be a trend during spring. The lack of visits in April concerns me, considering that there were nearly two thousand blogs on the 2015 A-Z Challenge list. That’s a LOT of people, many of whom obviously didn’t make their way over to my blog within the last thirty days.

Is it my song or yours?

While visiting A-Z Challenge participating blogs, I noticed many with little to no comments. There were times when I was the first or third person to comment on posts written by people who were actively blogging every day in April. That makes so sense given that there were a lot of other blogs with at least 40 comments on their posts, if not more. Due to these experiences, I think there may be a significant amount of A-Z participants who are doing the challenge but are not visiting other blogs on the list.

While I understand that being located near the top of the signup list may have affected the amount of comments, visits, etc. I received, other blogs near the middle or bottom of the list had similar experiences.

Based on these findings, my guess is the visiting activities weren't spread as evenly as us organizers hoped, even after we urged participants to visit five-blogs-a-day starting with the blogs near their position on the list. Co-Hosting  brings with it the responsibility of making the challenge a fun experience for all participants involved, which meant I’ve spent a lot of time in April 2015 fielding questions and troubleshooting issues on the backend while also promoting the challenge, despite not really benefitting -- in the ways I thought would -- from this very same event that I was telling other people to join. As a result, it felt like I was in a position where I had to make everyone else’s experience a pleasant one despite mine being pretty lackluster in comparison.

Am I the Superstar, or are You?

I Blog for myself and for my readers -- to provide them with entertainment, inspiration and knowledge. Thus, I must make sure that my blogging activities are in line with what best serves this purpose. Trying to engage A -Z Bloggers in profound conversations or even getting people to visit has come at a great loss of some of the joys I find in blogging. I prefer to not sacrifice the solace that this space provides me nor the type of content provided to my readers, just to participate in a month-long sprint that causes frustration. I get enough of that dealing with the madness of independent filmmaking.

Going forward, my plans are to focus on the activities and people who are paying attention, so I don't know what's in store for me in terms of whether I'll do the A-Z Challenge again or not. We’ll just cross that bridge when 2016 gets here, as it will be determined in part by (regular) readers of The Madlab Post and whether participating fits with any April blogging plans that I may already have for 2016. New visitors are icing on the cake but the people who return on a regular day prior to, and after, April are the ones for whom I continue to update this blog with new content. Much like Chrisette Michele, I’ll continue to tell my story and keep singing my song. This time around, however, I will be doing it for (and with) the people who actually sing along.

Thank you to all who have visited my blog during the 2015 A-Z Challenge including Co-Hosts such as C. Lee McKenzie at The Write Game, Jeremy at Hollywood Nuts, Pam at An Unconventional Librarian, Matthew MacNish at The QQQE, AJ Lauer and John Holton as well as those of you who came by for the first time. Also thanks to my Mighty Minion Bureau assets Sydney Aaliyah Michelle, Vidya Sury and Melanie Shulz for helping me monitor the list and offer words of encouragement to participating bloggers.

Monday
May042015

Monday Movie Meme – A Wakeup Call

Remember that early morning scene in the musical drama School Daze when Laurence Fishburne is screaming “WAAAKE UUUPP” on a college campus? Well, the Monday Movie Meme is back with a theme about flicks that motivated you to pay closer attention to one issue or another: Wakeup Call.

Share on your blogs or in the comments section, movies that provided some type of kick in the rear when it comes to you being more mindful of certain matters regarding everyday life. Maybe it was a film that actually caused you to change the way you do something. Maybe there is a movie that gave you a new perspective on a particular subject. Or, maybe it was a flick that heightened your awareness about an issue or motivate you to take action on an area of life. Whatever the case may be, list it! Here are my selections for this week’s “Wakeup Call” theme.

Million Dollar Baby

This sports drama is about a poverty-stricken waitress named Maggie who chases her dreams of becoming a professional boxer, under the guidance of a reluctant and grumpy veteran fighter. I still remember the day I went to watch this movie at the Ritz theater in Philly. It was a wakeup call to the fact that tomorrow is not promised, so there’s no better time like the present to make life worthwhile. The movie was also an example of how we are only limited by our beliefs, so the first step to preventing yourself from being full of regrets when on your deathbed is getting out of your own way.

Booker’s Place: A Mississippi Story

This documentary recounts the controversy surrounding a Mississippi waiter named Booker Wright who worked in a whites-only restaurant, where he maintained a positive attitude despite enduring racist treatment from some of the patrons. He also managed his own restaurant named “Booker’s Place” and later purchased a school bus to help children in his community get access to an education.

Yet Wright’s appearance in an NBC television segment about racism in the American South resulted in him being pistol-whipped by a police officer, losing his job following customer outrage and losing Booker’s Place to a firebomb attack. There is a more to this documentary, so I would recommend watching this film but it was a wakeup call on many fronts; such as the fact that so many minorities who blame opposing sectors of society for keeping us down don’t seem to realize that we’re already doing their jobs for them when we fight each other.

As if that wasn’t sad enough, chances are that some battles within our communities have been orchestrated by third-parties, to turn one person against the next. The political landscape, as well as our country’s legal systems, are no stranger to such practices. We must do better and not squander the opportunities that people like Booker Wright have strived for and died to protect. Booker’s Place: A Mississippi Story is also a wakeup call in the sense that you must always strive to do your best and find a way to maintain your own dignity, even when surrounded by people who see you only as a thing, rather than the man or woman you really are.

I’m Fine, Thanks

This documentary follows the journey of businessman named Grant Peelle who chucks a successful real estate career to pursue his childhood dream of making movies. Similar stories of women and men who made drastic career or lifestyle changes are weaved through his narrative, including a nomadic family, a former lawyer who now teaches Yoga, and a woman who lives on a boat. The points made in Peelle’s documentary are a big a wakeup call to figure out what The American Dream means to you. I’m finding that asking ourselves whether we really want something or is it what society or our families or friends tells us we should want or should have, has a profound effect on the level of statisfaction we have with our lives. 

I’m Fine, Thanks reminds me that life is like a movie in the sense that we can either be authors of our own screenplay – determining what happens in the next scene(s) – or we can merely play the starring role in one that someone else wrote. One way gives us a lot of choices while the other doesn’t really provide much room to change course when we come across a path that doesn’t suit our interests, skills or capabilities.

Speaking of writing your own script…

Mona Lisa Smile

This movie is about an art history professor named Katherine Watson who risks her job to help students at a prestigious, and conservative, all-girls school realize their full potential. I loved watching Mona Lisa Smile because it teaches an important lesson about daring to be different. The main character in this film went out of her way to show young women that they are capable of more than what is generally expected from them. What transpired in the story is a wakeup call in the sense that we play a vital part in shaping the future, based on the type of role models we are for younger generations who will determine how the world turns when that future arrives.

Katherine Watson defied societal norms while using her power and influence to show other women that they mattered, they had a voice and they could change the world. Mona Lisa Smile is the epitome of something comedian and actress Mo’Nique said in her speech when she won an Oscar for Best Performance in a Supporting Role, in the drama Precious – “sometimes you have to forego what’s popular to do what’s right.”

Pariah

This drama, about a Brooklyn teenager named Alike who endures an identity crisis while coming to terms with her sexuality, was a wakeup call on many fronts. Watching this movie had me thinking about how organized religion is a bitch at the root of a lot of society’s problems and the ways in which acceptance, being judgmental and having someone in your corner – or not – can affect a person’s overall well-being and the choices they make. Pariah was also a wakeup call in the sense of realizing how important it is to be true to yourself and stand up for what you believe in, even if that means you stand alone. The alternative is not worthwhile because trying to be something that you’re not is exhausting, stressful and lonely.

What are some movies that gave YOU a wakeup call?

Related posts: Monday Movie Meme: The Big Impact

* ANNOUNCEMENT*

The A-to-Z Reflections Open today!

The A-to-Z Reflections Post has been a tradition since the first Blogging from A to Z Challenge in 2010.  We’re requesting all participants to tell us about your A to Z experience this year, by putting together your thoughts in a “Reflections” blog post starting anytime between now and Friday May 8th. There are no rules on the content -- it can be as short or as long as you like and it can be composed in any way that you wish. Once your Reflections piece has been written, add the 2015 "Reflections" badge to your composition. When you have your Reflections ready to go, then post it on your own blog site.
          On Monday May 4th (TODAY), the Reflections Linky List will appear on The Blogging from A to Z Challenge Blog at http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com. Add the link of the Reflections post that you have already posted on your site. ***NOTE:  Add the link that directs to your Reflections Post and NOT your general blog URL***Please don't do this wrong and expect us to have to go back to fix it!

Do not take this invitation as a license to just get on the list with some random post that has nothing to do with A to Z.   These Non-Challenge related post links will be removed from the list.  

For full details about this please read Wait! A to Z Is Not Over! Not Quite. This post should tell you just about everything you need to know about the Reflections Post and if you still have questions, just ask.

Friday
May012015

Zero to Done: An Off-the-Wall Roundup of Blogging Techniques, Motion Pictures and Philosophies that Got Me Through April

Comedian Lilly Singh aka Superwoman inspired my A-to-Z Challenge Letter B post titled "How to Bounce Back Like a Boss." / Photo: The FotographerzToday marks my fifth consecutive year completing 26 days of blogging as a participant in the annual A-to-Z Challenge. This time around, I had zero interest in writing blog posts revolving around one central topic – hence my Mixed Bag of Tricks theme for 2015. Still, getting through the entire alphabet would have been impossible without a little bit of structure, which I attribute to dozens of April blog prompts that Sara Lancaster at No. 2 Pen suggests for companies seeking tips on writing daily content. Although I did not utilize all of her 30 blog ideas, here is a summary of the roles they played in my editorial calendar.

Sara believes you know what to do on April Fool’s Day (Prompt #1), so I took this opportunity to highlight Foolish Acts People Pull at Movie Theaters Across America for Letter A. By combining her suggestion to write ten actionable tips that help your readers do something better (Prompt #4) with the push to talk about a website you really like (Prompt #27) – what makes it cool, different and worth a visit -- I put a spotlight on depression for Letter B by showing readers three ways to Bounce Back in Life Like a Boss, based on the practices of an actress and Youtube comedian I think is one of many women who rock.

Upon her recommendation of doing a blog post on topics that are recognized in April including National Autism Awareness Month, National Poetry Writing Month, National Arab American Heritage Month and National Child Abuse Prevention Month (Prompt #3), my Letter C poem asking Who Cries for the Little Children? merged two of these subjects while highlighting movies starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Denzel Washington.

The A-to-Z Challenge blog post I wrote for Letter D lists rude behaviors at the movie theater that make you want to scream.The post I wrote for Letter D was under the same direction of helpful tips for readers (Prompt #4), providing three ways to Dodge Those Douchebags at Movie Theaters. It could also be could be considered a sequel to the April 1st discussion about people behaving foolishly at the multiplex.

One of Sara’s other suggestions include asking your readers to send in questions (Prompt #6) and then turning them into Q&A style blog posts. Since I have dozens of Co-Host introduction questions leftover from the ladies and gents who were a part of my Mighty Minion Bureau, I just answered them in video and then posted some in a playlist titled “A-Z Extras!” for Letter E.

While mentioning infographics (Prompt #2) Sara recommends doing a blog post summarizing how you created and promoted your infographic. Luckily, I was already working on one to send to the folks involved in a disaster relief initiative I conducted. So for Letter F, I just posted an abridged version of that infographic showing an overview of my American Red Cross Fundraiser from Start to Finish.

The topic for Letter G had to be switched at the last minute due to technical difficulties, a lack of research materials and my own sudden bout of stubbornness. While I must say that Netflix was a life saver, I skipped the prompts for that day’s blog post and decided to just wing it. This led to a discussion on Getting in the Game, where DVDs are concerned. Back on schedule, providing tips for readers on doing something better (Prompt #4) seemed to be one of my go-to recommendations from Sara. However, rather than making a list style post for Letter H, I decided to teach readers How to Have a Heart, using a movie with Ben Affleck and Samuel L. Jackson to illustrate some points in paragraph form.

The companion books to Spike Lee Joints such as Do the Right Thing are featured in my A to Z Challenge post for Letter X.In another recommendation, Sara says to write a post demystifying any misconceptions people have about your business (Prompt #9) and she has another tip of posting a roundup of links to interesting articles you’ve read (Prompt #19). By now, it had become hard to write and schedule my posts in advance so making a link roundup of sorts highlighting 15 Insane Misconceptions about Indie Films that were already addressed by industry experts, saved me a lot of time on Letter I.

Writing about being a Jack of all Trades, for Letter J, was another one of those random blog posts I just whipped up at the last minute without utilizing any of Sara’s prompts. When Letter K rolled around it was time for my (bi)weekly Monday Movie Meme, so the focus was on Random Acts of Kindness, which had been loosely inspired by one of my Mighty Minion Bureau assets Vidya Sury.

Whatever topic you blogged about two years ago, Sara wants it to be revisited with a twist (Prompt #28), so I based my Letter L post about Leaning on the Film Festival Circuit was influenced by a post I wrote in 2014, asking readers to X out of the Cineplex for once. Sara also recommends reminding your readers about tax day or sharing your views about it (Prompt #15). Since I doubt anyone in America wants to be reminded about taxes, my Letter M post discussed concerns about choosing between Making a Living vs. Making a Difference.

Among Sara’s many suggestions for April, the one where she says to visit Psychology Today and find a piece of research that you can relate to your business or clients (Prompt #29), had piqued my interest for Letter N. Using that particular prompt, I wrote some Notes on Psychological Nuances that might help me make a TV show I’m working on -- about emergency preparedness -- more interesting because the subject matter isn’t exactly sexy.

The Bourne film series is highlighted in my A-to-Z Challenge post for Letter O.Sara also recommends joining a leads group and writing about every person and business in your group (Prompt #11). Since I’m not a member of many business related organizations, I used her tip to feature the ladies in my Mighty Minion Bureau in my Letter O post while also describing why the Jason Bourne movies led to me classifying them as “Operatives.” 

Sara suggests that businesses look up the lyrics of a popular song on the radio and then blog about how it inspires them (Prompt #13). I frequently listen to J. Cole’s music, so my blog post for Letter P uses his song “Love Yourz” as the basis for some Perspectives on Switching Career Paths.

Writing the blog post for Letter Q was less about going along with any prompts and more about supporting adequate representation of the LGBT and Queer communities on the silver screen. Letter R was all about those actionable tips for readers again (Prompt #4) and this time I listed six alternative Running Routes Aside from the Rocky Balboa Steps in Philly.

Since April 22nd is Earth Day, Sara asks how you’re doing your part (Prompt #22). So for Letter S, I took this opportunity to put a spotlight on the fact that we are all filthy creatures, which is the kind of Shit I Don’t Like about Society. In another tip, Sara suggests to write what you learned about a business mistake you’ve made (Prompt #23), my Letter T post includes some lessons on The Time I Played at an Empty Movie Theater.

The vampire fantasy film series Underworld was the subject of my A-to-Z Challenge posts for Letters U and V.One of Sara’s most interesting tips include identifying the top keywords for your website and playing around with headlines for them (Prompt #12). My analytics reports some crazy keywords that are searched by people who land on my blog including phrases like “Ving Rhames in the Shower,” “Why Denzel Did Not Become a Doctor,” and “Rihanna You Can See My Heart.”

Thankfully, there were some keywords I could work with such as “Underworld Father,” which I used for Letter U to provide some Unorthodox Parenting Advice from the Father in Underworld. Playing around with Sara’s recommendation to make a list of 100 things that are relevant to your business or blog (Prompt #24) was also fun. Using this prompt, my Letter V post was an exercise in putting together a piece comprised of 100 words or less. The result is a spotlight on actor Bill Nighy’s statements about what the makeup department did to turn him into Viktor the Vampire for those Underworld movies. This may very well be one my shortest A-to-Z Challenge posts ever!

For Letter W, I was inspired by something I heard comedian Corey Holcomb say, to illustrate my points in When Your Way Ain’t Working. Returning to Sara, I used her tips on making a list of books you want to read and why (Prompt #30) to highlight why companion books to Spike Lee Joints are the Xanax of My TBR Pile, for Letter X. Sara’s recommendation on writing about song lyrics that inspire you (Prompt #13) was, yet again, the basis for my Letter Y blog post about reminding people that YES, You Can Do Anything!

Z is for ZeroAs you can see, I didn’t follow Sara’s prompts to the tee but rather used them to generate ideas that would fit my blogging needs when necessary. The ideas behind some of the pieces I wrote were either inspired by other sources or based on whatever approach I thought would be best to take at the time, including this post for Letter Z.

Writing and/or arranging 26 blog posts that vary in topic and each coincide a different letter of the alphabet is hard enough. The real challenge (within a challenge…go figure!) lies in keeping these posts interesting on a daily basis. Yet, I somehow managed to get it done. I won’t try to speak for anyone else but I’d say that’s not too shabby for someone who blogged without a theme this year.

Congratulations to every blogger who made it from Letters A through Z during April!

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