Monday, 25 October 2010

Happy Birthday, Blog-father

October 25th is Kim Ayres' birthday. In case you don't know who Kim is, he writes the excellent blog Ramblings of the Bearded One.

Kim has a special place in my heart for many reasons, not the least of which being that he lives within visiting distance so we are actual flesh-and-blood friends who have eaten each other's food and know each other's family members. In addition to being a writer, Kim is a photographer and I can vouch for his skill -- and great patience. The next time he comes to visit, he has offered to take my author photograph for the umpteenth time. This time I won't be planning an international move and I will not lose the CD he gives me.

But what I really owe Kim for is showing me how to start a blog and encouraging me to keep at it. And since the way we met was highly serendipitous, I thought I would use the occasion of his birthday to write about it.

Back in 2006, I entered a few flash fiction pieces in a local writing competition. When I read the other selections, one piece, about a crazy man convinced that he kept the universe in order by believing in it, stood out as obviously the best. We were allowed to vote for our favorite stories, but I couldn't figure out how to do this, so I gave up. The writer was a woman, though -- that much I knew. Her name was Kim.

None of my stories won even third prize. To my surprise, Kim's story didn't win any prizes either. But to my immense delight, I saw that she had voted for my story. I was thrilled and enormously grateful. If I hadn't already read Kim's story, I would have just been mildly pleased, but to have the one person whose work I deemed the best pick my story was almost like winning myself. I wanted to thank Kim, so I googled her name -- something I had only just learned how to do. I pictured a quirky, savvy woman -- Scottish, of course, given that she lived in Scotland and had a name like Ayres. That is how I found Kim's blog.

Imagine my surprise when I saw that Kim was actually a bearded Englishman who was born and raised in Wales.

One of my daughters showed me how to write a comment on Kim's blog, so with great trepidation, I left an anonymous comment. I wrote Kim an email too, thanking him for voting for my story and telling him that I had liked his story more than any of the others and would have voted for it if I'd only figured out how to do this. I knew I sounded sycophantic, but I also knew that I was telling the truth.

Kim wrote back to me, then I wrote back to him. We struck up a correspondence. I learned that Kim had been a web designer and that he was a photographer. I told him that I had written a story for kids which I was hoping to get published, and that I was writing a memoir about learning Japanese and teaching English. "Have you ever considered writing a blog?" he asked me.

It pains me to remember how utterly clueless I was, but the fact is, I had only just found out what a blog was. I imagined that writing a blog must be very mysterious and difficult and, worst of all, expensive. I knew zip-all about the internet, my husband and I were jobless and money was tight; how could I possibly start my own blog? Kim never once laughed at me. He navigated me through the murky waters of blogging and showed me how to start my own blog, step by step. I called my blog ResidentAlien, and wrote my first post in January, 2007. Kim was my very first commenter. A few months later, he dropped by and showed me how to set up a site meter.

Almost four years later, I can hardly remember what it was like not to have a blog.

Through blogging, I have been able to do so much. When I was teaching, I could vent about my students: in the middle of the longest, most awful classes, I gritted my teeth and thought to myself Hey, I can blog about this later! I can vent about my kids: whenever they do or say something outlandish, with a blog, it's grist for my mill. But above all, through my blog I can connect with other writers. I had no idea how much I needed this. Thanks to keeping a blog, I have found a great writing group and an excellent critique partner and any number of beta readers who have given me invaluable help with my various manuscripts.

I owe so much to all the people I have met through my blog. And I never would have started it if it hadn't been for my blog-father Kim Ayres, whose story really was the best. So thank you, Kim -- come around when you can; the French roast is ready and waiting. And HAPPY BIRTHDAY!


Kit said...

I'm so glad you started blogging too. It's always great to have a good story to read and a fresh perspective on the world, and a dose of humour.

Eryl said...

This is a great tribute, Mary, and it's nice to have the gaps filled in in the story of how you met Kim. I knew it due to a flash fiction competition but didn't know you'd been so impressed with his story you googled him, or that you thought he was a woman!

Kim Ayres said...

What a lovely post and such a heartwarming idea. I feel touched and honoured by this, Mary. Thank you so much :D

debra said...

A lovely post and a great story, Mary. I am so glad to have Kim and you and so many others in my world. And we managed to coordinate the time differences, too.

savannah said...

what a lovely story! i can't believe this is the first time i've visited. i look forward to reading more, sugar! xoxo

Charles Gramlich said...

The net really has been a boon to many of us in discovering folks, sometimes right in our backyard, who are sympatico

Bish Denham said...

Wonderful! I LOVE your blogs Mary. (I wish I had someone to help me put in a site meter...)

And happy birthday Kim. May there be many more.

Miss Footloose said...

It's so satisfying to be able to use your writing to honor a person important to you, as you did so well. It's also empowering to be able to express yourself and vent, as you mentioned. I started writing as a kid and can't imagine not doing it.

Now that you have written your blog for several years, you also have a great collection of your thoughts and experiences, that otherwise would have been lost in the mists of times!

Mary Witzl said...

Kit -- Getting a fresh perspective is exactly what I like about blogging. It's incredible to be able to find out what people half the way around the world are thinking and feeling. I doubt this will ever grow old for me.

Eryl -- When I read Kim's story, I felt a stab of envy: it was well written and so obviously (to me) winning material. When I saw that his story hadn't won a prize, I knew that whatever the judges were after, it couldn't have been quality or they'd have picked Kim's piece.

The reason the gender thing confused me was that I've had several friends named Kim and not one of them was a guy. So my image of him was entirely off. But a rose is still a rose and his story was still the best.

Kim -- It was Debra who thought of it! I've had your birthday marked on my calendar (I'm all too good at forgetting). I planned to fete you well and truly on Facebook this year, but I think a blog tribute like this was a lot better.

Debra -- I got weak in the knees when I got your email about timing my post for a certain number of hours ahead of the U.S. -- I've NEVER managed to get that timing trick to work. But it all came out okay, didn't it? Good for you for thinking of this.

Savannah -- Thank you for visiting and commenting! I liked your tribute too -- and I aim to learn how to post photos.

Charles -- It's incredible, isn't it? For all those years, this amazing resource was out there -- and I barely knew about it. I figure I'm making up for lost time now.

Bish -- Thank you for saying that. I've been so busy writing lately that I've let my blog slip, but I still love being able to come here and hang out with other writers. Apart from all the support and advice they've given me, it's so nice to have a place where I know I won't get asked why my book hasn't been published yet.

Miss Footloose -- I started writing when I was nine, but when I look back on those first efforts, I see that I've come a long way. From time to time, I go off writing, but I always come back to it -- I can't imagine not writing. I do feel a little guilty for not writing the War & Peace-length letters to friends and family that I used to send on an almost weekly basis, but I believe that blogging helps me keep my writing tighter -- the whole world can see it -- and it gives me the discipline I need. And I can meet other writers like you!

Se2 said...

I too am a fan of kim....Which I never hesitate to announce publicly...
It's an awesome way of thanking Kim for all that he has done...
I personally want to thank Kim, for teaching me so many stuff through his writing....
Happy bday kim...:)
(once again...!)

Falak said...

A beautiful story and birthday gift. Mary and Kim, please keep blogging because your writings make my day :)
Once again A Very Happy Birthday Kim!

Vijaya said...

It is always a good thing to remember our teachers and mentors. Happy Birthday Kim and I did always wonder why such a lovely name had a bearded man associated with it? Now I know! Happy Birthday.

I never thought I'd blog either, but I love it as a way to stay connected with my family and friends, both writerly and non- across the globe.

Pat said...

Nice one Mary;)

angryparsnip said...

I always enjoy reading your blog.
Wonderful post today !

After reading how Kim affected all your lives, what a wonderful friendship you all have...

I am late to the blog world and I am not a writer ( couldn't tell could you ? ) but I get to enjoy everyone's stories
What could be better !

cheers, parsnip

Mary Witzl said...

Se2 -- We're lucky to have Kim to teach us, aren't we? Some of the other comments people have made here show me that I'm not the only one!

Falak -- Thank you for saying that. I feel bad because I so seldom get over to YOUR blog, but I'm hoping I'll have more chances when I'm finished rewriting my current WiP.

Vijaya -- By now, I have so many mentors who have helped me, offered constructive criticism, and badgered me to keep writing when it was the last thing in the world I wanted to do, that when I do eventually publish, I'll have to write another book just to thank them all. I can't get over how much writers need other writers. The only way I can pay those people back is to do the same for other writers some day.

Pat -- Thank you -- I enjoyed reading your Kim Ayres Day post too.

This was fun, wasn't it?

AP -- Thank you for those kind words. Even if you aren't a writer, you are something every writer desperately needs: a reader. It's wonderful having people who say they like to read what you write!

e said...

What a wonderful blog post, Mary!
Happy Birthday, Kim, may you live long and prosper.

Robin said...

That's a lovely story. I would have assumed Kim was a woman, too! I also would have imagined her characteristics!

Well, Happy Birthday, Kim. Thank you for being Mary's Blogfather.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Wow, four years. I would feel fortunate if I had that much content worth reading rolling around in my brain.

Dale said...

Those first online connections seemed so miraculous. And still seem so. I'm terribly grateful for my own mentors & first readers. It's hard to imagine life without them, now.

Anonymous said...

Let me add my thanks, Kim, for introducing Mary to the blogging world!

Falak said...

Mary please! You don'thave to feel bad about it at all. Fact is I seldom get time to visit my own blog and put up posts. I am sure my Blog thinks that I too am a visitor and not the author :P

Falak said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mary Witzl said...

e -- Thank you!

Robin -- Now, every time I see names like Leslie, Kim, Terry, and Billy, I tell myself they could go either way. I quite like unisex names, but I'll bet Kim's had his share of 'Dear Mrs Ayres' letters.

Robert -- Everything you write about is carefully chosen and well written. Most of the stuff I write isn't of any great significance, but I inflate it to the maximum and write it anyway. It's like cooking dinner with stale lunch meat and leftover mashed potatoes, but I really enjoy trying to make the most of it.

Dale -- You're right. I feel a little sorry for my kids, who have had the internet almost all their lives. They don't know how miraculous emails are when they haven't had to ferret out paper, pen, envelope, and stamp, then write a letter in cursive and mail it. They've never had to wait a couple of days for the letter to get to its destination, then another couple for the sender to write back. For me, it's still magic, for my kids it's just old hat. I think I win.

Anne -- :) If Kim hadn't pushed to start a blog, it would probably have taken me years! Sometimes I wish he'd never put in the site meter, though.

Falak -- I try to visit everybody's blog, but I've been so busy lately, I haven't had time to visit my own. Here's hoping we both get the time to visit our blogs and everyone else's too!

Murr Brewster said...

I also foot-shuffled my way into blogging, not at all certain it was valuable, and pretty darn certain I wouldn't have anything to say after the first few posts. Wrong on all counts, and you're right: one of the perks is the network of new friends we pick up. Some of them become friends in the flesh, and some of them I have to remind myself that we've never actually met.

I love BOTH of your blogs. Glad to get the backstory.

Anonymous said...

I think I have to thank Kim Ayres for now I know he is the reason I can 'follow' my dear friend Mary's life from thousands of miles away. Thank you Kim, and Happy Birthday!

Blythe Woolston said...

This is a wonderful story of community. As always, I end up thinking "that's the way life works" --and feeling good about it.

You are so consistent with responding to comments I think I should tell you that Disqus makes it really easy to have threaded comments to facilitate more back and forth and conversations among the visitors. I did seem to lose the comments on my older posts, but I think that's probably because I did something silly during the install. There are other threaded comment options, but Disqus didn't require any monkeying around inside the HTML.

Anonymous said...

Happy birthday, Kim.

I've received advice and encouragement from other bloggers. They've been invaluable to my growth as a blogger.

Carole said...

Very cool story. I knew he helped you start the blog from other posts you have written, but didn't know the whole story. Very cool.