Welcome to the Blogosphere: How has blogging changed my life?

A couple of months ago, I had been asked by my friend Alison (of Despatches from Timbuktu) to give a presentation on the marvelous World of Blogging to the writers’ club to which she belongs: the West Coast Writers’ Circle. I had previously given a presentation to them three years ago, when I spoke about the book I had written and self-published the year before, under the title Gold Mines, Elephants and Foefie Slides: An adventurous weekend on the Garden Route.

Since then, I hadn’t done any public speaking, though, and I became increasingly nervous as the Big Day approached at the end of May 2012. Fortunately, blogging was a subject with which I was very familiar, and once I got started with my talk, the quivering knees and anxious nerves were swept away by my enthusiasm for my subject. Much to my amazement, I was actually able to talk – fairly coherently, I think? – for almost 30 minutes. Looking back, I am glad I pushed myself out of my comfort zone.

Ironically, it turned into a bit of a low-tech presentation on the actually quite high-tech topic of blogging, as I only had a laptop – no projector or large screen, and no wifi access to the internet to show my listeners examples of sites. In the end, I used the laptop primarily as my notes (only the people sitting near the front could see the information on it). I also handed out printouts with the relevant information to those who were interested, and followed up by email too. Thus one makes a plan!

Overview of my presentation to the West Coast Writers’ Circle

Preparing my presentation got me thinking about the impact that blogging has had on my own life. And I thought I’d share my reflections with you in this rather lengthy post.

Gathering around the fireplace

Will you join me at this warm and cosy fireplace?

My blog is my own personal fireplace in the online community – a place for my friends and kindred spirits to gather. We share our creative projects, get feedback and inspiration, and often gain support in difficult times. Blogging improves our writing skills, our communication skills, our photography skills – practice makes perfect, after all. Sometimes we set challenges for ourselves, like blogging regularly, whether once a day, once a week, or once a month, or we set out to achieve milestones (counting down to an important anniversary, training for a race, preparing for a wedding, traveling around a city, a country, a continent, the world…).

Above all, I have enjoyed connecting with like-minded individuals, but also with people who hold other views, or who are interested in other fields. I think being open to new possibilities and new directions is good for us: it expands our worldview, encourages us to overcome our fears and preconceptions, and nudges us to peek out through the door into another way of seeing and understanding the world.

Making Connections

Whenever hubby and I (and some friends) went for walks and hikes in some of the extraordinary nature reserves that Cape Town is blessed with, I used the opportunity to take lots of photos, playing around with different settings to see the effects, and then blogging about our hikes afterwards. It made it all much more fun to share these experiences online!

Ever so often, when I had taken a photograph of a place, or an animal, or a plant, that I couldn’t identify, someone in the blogosphere would leave a comment, identifying what it was, and sometimes giving me background information on places I had seen. This way of networking and establishing connections has made it even more rewarding.

For instance, when I published some images of the strange spider that weaves a nightly web near our washing line, fellow-blogger Lisa suggested it might be the garden orb spider, another South African blogger Slowvelder pointed me in the direction of the SA Spider Club, and Carli thought that our nocturnal web-weaver might be similar to the extraordinary Darwin’s Bark Spider. I love this kind of stuff!

The mysterious spider who weaves a nightly web near our washing line

Another wonderful example:

I had written about our hike along the Thomas T Tucker Shipwreck Trail in the Cape Point Nature Reserve (here), and mentioned a graveyard that we had come across, with a couple of damaged graves and grave markers. I had been rather intrigued by this.

Much to my amazement, a Capetonian took the trouble to email me a few weeks ago with some fascinating background information on this graveyard. It turned out that his family had a strong historical connection to this place! I am planning to follow up on this as soon as I have time, and will let you all know what I discover!

The rusting remains of the Thomas T Tucker

I also found other bloggers with a similar interest in the beautiful world of nature – and who knows, perhaps I will meet them face-to-face one day? One lives in Cape Town, and two happen to live along the Garden Route, which is one of my favourite parts of the Cape, so I definitely want to plan a trip up there to meet them, hopefully still this year!

In fact, during our little American roadtrip in the USA in Feb/March this year, I met not only my penpal of close on 25 years, but also the daughter of a fellow blogger whose blog I had been following for several years. Both of those were absolutely unforgettable experiences, and I hope that I will meet more of my blogfriends in the future.

Writing and self-publishing my book

The front cover of my book

Blogging motivated me to write and self-publish a book, which had been one of those dreams I’d had since childhood (remember, Mom? those endless stories I used to make up? sometimes with little illustrative drawings?). Although it was seriously hard work and more difficult than I had anticipated in some respects, and even though it wasn’t a commercial success by any standards, I loved it.

I learned so much about myself and my own abilities and strengths – and hang-ups and weaknesses, yes, okay, those too…

In the end, it doesn’t matter that I still have a cardboard box sitting on my shelf, with copies that haven’t found a loving home yet.That breath-taking, heart-stopping moment, when I held the first copy of my book in my hand, with that distinctive fresh-ink smell of brand-new books, is indelibly etched into my memory. Without the encouragement of my blog-friends and real-life friends, I wouldn’t have made this happen.

Learning about photography

Through blogging, and reading other people’s inspirational blogs, I developed my love of photography. Eager to improve my skills, and wanting to take better photos, I signed up for a couple of photography courses – thank you, Ian, Shélagh, André, and all the friendly people I met on those courses!

Residential photo course in Simon’s Town with African Light Photography

Behind the scenes at the 2010 Tattoo

It was because I had blogged about Cape Town Military Tattoos at the Castle in 2008 and 2009, that I was approached by one of the organisers of the 2010 Tattoo and given an incredible opportunity to go behind-the-scenes with my camera and notebook in hand. It was exciting, exhausting and exhilarating. I took hundreds of photos, made friends with some very talented photographers, and had a wonderful time getting to know some of the countless people, both civilian and military, who worked selflessly,  tirelessly and professionally in the background to ensure the success of this event.

I go behind the scenes at the Cape Town Military Tattoo held at the Castle of Good Hope in November 2010

Writing about the Defence Reserves

The tattoo, as suggested by its name, the Cape Town Military Tattoo, is organised by the South African National Defence Force, and more specifically by the Defence Reserves. In the months leading up to the tattoo and for some time after, I wrote a whole series of articles for the Reserves on various events, parades, military functions, and training exercises. Some of these were even published on the Reserve Force Division website, as well as in the Reserve Force Volunteer Magazine, which was wonderful! There’s few things more exciting than seeing your name in print! 🙂

The events that stand out most for me were the following:

  • My first visit to Fort iKapa: I had often passed this mysterious place just south of the N1 highway, but had no idea what it really was, until Lt Col Conradie gave me a guided tour of this large military base that is home to numerous Defence Reserve regiments.
  • The visit to Vaatjie Moravian Primary School, when the young school children sang the National Anthem for us, as the South African National Flag was raised – a goosebump moment indeed!
  • Our trip north to Potchefstroom for Artillery Open Day 2010: I hadn’t blogged about that at the time, but perhaps still will. A group from the Reserves and a couple of high school pupils from several schools in the Western Cape drove up to Potchefstroom for an absolutely thrilling – and deafening! – live fire demonstration at 4 Artillery Regiment. On the way back to Cape Town, we stopped for a tour at the famous Big Hole in Kimberley, which I had never visited before either.

Attending Artillery Open Day 2010 in Potchefstroom with a group of youngsters from the Western Cape (that’s me in the purple shirt)

  • The Africa Aerospace and Defence 2010: This exciting biennial event was held at Ysterplaat Air Force Base (this year, 2012, it has moved to Waterkloof Air Force Base near Pretoria, so 2010 was the last time we would be able to see it in Cape Town). The airshow on the last two days always draws massive crowds and photographers with huge lenses; many spectators are up at the crack of dawn to bag the best places, as close as possible to the various air displays. I’d always wanted to go, and finally did, in 2010.
  • The Women’s Day Event 2010: The aim of this programme of interactive demonstrations and presentations by five Reserve units based at Fort iKapa was to create awareness of the Defence Reserves, as many people do not know much about them or their role. We got a chance to ride on the powerful Rooikat Armoured Vehicle of the Regiment Oranje Rivier – another unforgettable experience!

In celebration of Women’s Day 2010, we are treated to a thrilling ride on the formidable Rooikat armoured vehicle at Fort iKapa (photo by Lorraine)

  • Young Lions Youth Development Programme: At the end of 2010, I visited the Touwsrivier Training Area, where a group of ‘Young Lions’ were on a week-long camp. These are youngsters from various previously-disadvantaged schools in the Western Cape who have a sense of adventure and who are curious about the South African Army environment. The focus is on developing leadership and acquiring useful practical skills – first aid, fire fighting, physical fitness, community service, field craft, etc. The emphasis is on instilling a sense of self-discipline, encouraging team work, and developing a positive attitude towards life.
  • FIBUA Training: In 2011 and again in 2012, the Cape Town Rifles (Dukes) regiment  permitted me to take photographs of their very intensive Fighting In Built-Up Areas training, and helped me to put together an article about it. Although this was probably one of the most challenging things I have done so far, I feel honoured to have been allowed access to this environment; witnessing these soldiers’ intense and demanding training first-hand made a huge impression on me. And I was delighted when a local community newspaper published one of the photos I had taken during the FIBUA training!

The photo of the FIBUA training that appeared in the local community newspaper – Major Francois Marais and Sergeant-Major Pedro Dias Lobo getting ready to ‘clear and enter’ a building

Writing about KAT-7 and MeerKAT radio astronomy telescopes

As a result of my husband’s involvement with the radio telescope currently being built in the Karoo, some 90km outside the small town of Carnarvon in the Northern Cape, I was able to join a large group from his office for a site visit. The MeerKAT telescope array is a world-class scientific instrument that is envisaged as the precursor or pathfinder to the Square Kilometre Array telescope, which will be the most sensitive earth-based radio telescope in the world when it has been completed (round-about 2024). At the time of our visit in June 2009 (which I blogged about here), the 7-dish Karoo Array Telescope (or KAT-7) was still under construction.

It was because I wrote about KAT-7 on my blog, that I was given the opportunity to write a couple of articles for the SKA Newsletter. This too has been an amazing experience, which exposed me to some of the interesting and dedicated people who are working for the MeerKAT and SKA projects, as well as introducing me to some of the more technical aspects of the telescope. I love that!

Sunset at the KAT-7 site

Appearing in the Pinelands Muse

We live near the Oude Molen Eco-Village, just on the outskirts of Pinelands, and often went to the Millstone Farm Stall in the village; as a result, I often wrote about it on my blog. Sometime in October 2010, a glossy community magazine, titled the Pinelands Museappeared in our postbox for the first time. That very first edition contained an article on the eco-village and on the surrounding Two Rivers Urban Park. In February 2011, I was contacted by Glynnis, who writes most of the articles for the magazine. She had come across my blog about the Millstone and Oude Molen, and asked whether she could interview me, as they were planning to focus on two local Pinelands bloggers! After humming and hawing for a bit (primarily because I was nervous of losing my online anonymity, which – I admit – does sound rather odd!), I said yes!

My blog is featured in the Pinelands Muse

The interview took place at the Millstone Farm Stall, and at the end of February 2011, Glynnis’ write-up of the interview appeared in the March edition of the Muse (you can read the PDF here and my blogpost about the whole experience here). It was thrilling!

Then, in January this year, Glynnis sent me some information about two intrepid adventurers who were due to arrive in Cape Town, having ridden more than 2200km from KwaZulu Natal and through the Wild Coast (which is called that for a jolly good reason) down along the southern coast to Cape Town. I wrote about their arrival in Pinelands here – and wrote a short piece for the Muse (see the February 2012 edition).

In addition, they also published an article I had written about a visit to the Chart Farm in Wynberg (my blog post) in the same edition. I can tell you that I was over the moon!

I have also written an article about our trip to the USA, and that incredible meeting with my dearest penfriend Bobz and his family – and this is due to appear in the upcoming July 2012 edition of the Muse! How exciting is that?!

Teaching about Blogging

In April this year, Glynnis inquired whether I would be willing to give her, and a friend of hers, an introductory lesson in blogging on the WordPress.com platform. Although I have been a blogger for a number of years, I hadn’t been asked to teach anyone else how to blog before. But this was a challenge I was definitely keen to face! Our lesson went very well, I think, and resulted in the birth of two new baby blogs! (See post here). And in case anyone ever again asks me for an introductory lesson in blogging on WordPress.com, I shall be prepared!

Learning about Feature Writing

Even more recently, all the writing I have been doing in the last two years or so motivated me to enrol in a 10-week online feature writing course with a Cape Town based organisation, GetSmarter. I felt that it would help me to improve my writing, if I gained some insight into how feature articles and news reports are/should be written, by learning this in a slightly more formalised setting.

As part of our course requirements, we had to choose a topic that we would research, investigate and write about – and I decided to write about the Cart Horse Protection Association of Cape Town, because I knew that this would challenge me and encourage me to grow. And, as you can see from the most recent series of posts, my research is indeed nudging me to venture outside my comfort zone and meet some extraordinary people.

So, looking back on the last couple of years, I know that blogging has definitely had a very positive impact on my life, stretching me and challenging me to grow in ways I could not have anticipated at the time. It has been hugely rewarding.

What impact has blogging had on your life? How has it changed you? How has it stretched you and challenged you? In what ways have you grown?

25 thoughts on “Welcome to the Blogosphere: How has blogging changed my life?

  1. Really enjoyed this post, and it made me think about what blogging has meant to me. Though my journey is very much a beginning and circuitous at best, since the farm takes so much of my time. Wonderful post.

  2. To answer your question — I have been amazed at how many people — my friends and relatives actually read my blog. Unlike your blog almost everyone who reads my blog are people I know. When I realized I just cannot write for the world right now, because of the time we need to spend developing the farm right now, I realized that i needed to post photos and shorter updates, and, that , really I was writing to my friends (you included) and family – instead of being pressed to write 4 star essays for the public at large. This realization has helped me be more relaxed about blogging, which is what I need this next year as we build the house. I still keep a daily detailed journal though, which one day may become a series or serious essays creating a book length project. The reason I know folks read is because when i see them they continually refer to photos and stories in the blog about the farm. Neat.

    And as a treat – I had a woman I did not know who owns a farm in Montana visit last month with gal I did know just because she had been reading the blog, and she wanted to see our land restoration projects to compare with what she is doing. So, without the blog I would have never met Cindy. Agreed blogging does connect people.

    • You are very lucky that your friends and relatives read your blog; I think hardly *any* of mine do – even though I include my blog address in my email signature. I think most of my subscribers are ‘strangers’ or ‘blogfriends I haven’t met in person yet’. You write very well, Sher, and I love your humorous tales of life on the farm. Good luck with building your house!

  3. Marvellous post, Reggie. Blogging certainly has expanded your life, your world, and everybody else’s who has come across your Grains of Sand. I’ve been blogging for just over a year, and have enjoyed the experience, its been very good writing practice for me. I haven’t made overseas friends through blogging the way you have, but its early days yet.

    • P.S. Alison- I did not realize you and Reggie live so close to each other… That is nice you have met. I would have liked to have seen Reggie when she was in the states, but they did not make it out West. 🙂

      • Hi Mule Springs – Gosh, yes, you were faaaaaar in the northwest of the country! I too would’ve loved to meet you and your gorgeous donkeys, but who knows, perhaps the future will create an opportunity?

    • Thank you, Alison. It is indeed good writing practice. And it does need some time and effort to ‘attract followers’ and build up a community, by reading other people’s blogs and leaving comments.

  4. You have really taken blogging to the next level. Great that you have branched out to other interests that enhance your blogging experience. Personally I am a little disappointed, I started blogging in the hopes that I would attract other SA gardeners that were passionate about preserving and planting our indigenous flora. Either there are not many people out there interested in this or I am not doing things well enough to attract them!

    • Thank you, GardenGirl. I found that it takes time and effort to ‘grow’ a community – it helps if you read lots of other people’s blogs about topics that interest you or that you write about too. Do you mention your blog address in your email signature? I find that helps too – although, if you are writing formal business emails, it is probably best not to mention your personal blog! 🙂 And if you are on Facebook or LinkedIn, you can also include links to recent blog posts in your status updates there. Just persevere, don’t give up yet. 🙂

  5. It’s a great energy and enthusiasm you invest in working with your fantastic blog here. I am impressed by your posts and how much knowledge there is to find there. This entry is an overwhelming example! And how nice it is to read, how you like working with the blog, the sections entitled “Gathering around the fireplace” and “Making connections” was a pleasure to read – hopefully many – like me – recognize themselves reading this 🙂

    • Thanks, Truels! Yes, I also really liked the fireplace analogy, because that is how I feel about blogging: when I write, I often imagine telling the story to a friend, someone I know and care about, and then I find I naturally want to share my own excitement about the story with them. Glad you feel similarly. And I hope that we will one day sit around an actual fireplace – whether here or in Denmark – sharing stories with each other! Now that would be amazing!

  6. Blogging has certainly enriched my life. I’ve made so many “friends” and learned so much from them, but blogging is also very time consuming. I never manage to get on top of the endless writing-reading-commenting demanded of a blogger which means my spouse has to spend most evenings without my company.

    • I know what you mean, Rosie. Blogging is indeed quite time-consuming. Nice to hear you have made new friends that way too!

      It’s not just a matter of it needing time, energy, focus, inspiration, etc. to write something, but I find that there’s usually quite a bit of research involved too, which also takes time. And when you subscribe to so many different and interesting blogs, it can be quite demanding to read everything and leave proper, thoughtful comments. Sometimes, I just do not have the time for it, because of urgent deadlines or a whole host of other commitments.

      Sometimes, unfortunately, all I manage to do when reading something, even if it is well-written and thought-provoking and actually deserving of more, is to click the ‘like’ button – I don’t particularly ‘like’ doing it, because it seems like an unsatisfactory acknowledgement of someone else’s hard work, but there are only so many hours in the day and so many conflicting demands to juggle, so it’s a bit of a compromise.

      You sound like you have a very understanding spouse, by the way! 🙂

  7. Blogging forced me to learn how to take photographs, something I’d always found too technical for my liking. Also, the more I looked into nature, the more I wanted to learn about it. The act of photographing and discovering more about the natural world has made it all the more up close and personal to me.

    Reggie, if you ever want to ease the anxiety of public speaking, Toastmasters provides excellent guidance at minimal cost. I checked and there are 18 different groups that meet in Capetown so you would have many to choose from. As a former Toastmaster, I know that becoming a confident public speaker can change your life in as many ways as blogging.

    • Hello Amy – thank you for sharing a bit of how blogging has changed things in your life. I love hearing about other people’s experiences.

      Yes, you are right, we do have Toastmasters down here! As many as 18 different groups? Impressive. So you are a former Toastmaster?! I had intermittently played with going to a meeting, “just to see what it’s like, dip my toes in the water, etc.”, but I haven’t had the courage. If I do, I shall let you know though!

      • Reggie, each group is different and you can attend as a guest at any group a few times before committing to join. The most un-intimidating thing about Toastmasters is that every single member joined originally in an effort to get over their fear of public speaking, so they are all extremely understanding of how you will feel when you first walk into a meeting. Each new member is assigned an experienced mentor which also helps ease you into the world of public speaking.

        I was a Toastmaster for many years and loved it immensely. I met some of my closest there. You’ll love it.

      • Ahh, now that makes me feel much better, Amy. I had always feared that it would be an intimidating environment, where we’d all be *forced* to face our fears of speaking in front of large groups. You make it sound much gentler and more pleasant. Thanks!

  8. I think this is a great tribute to blogging. It’s quite amazing all that blogging has lead to for you, and believe for most bloggers who find their personal vocation in their blogs. Seems like you have been able to both enjoy and grown through the contact with the blog sphere. Quite fantastic. For me, so far at least, the best part has been to get in touch with so many devoted people all over the world – like you – and of course to have a forum where I can write about issues that I am excited about. By the way, I hope you are doing fine – since you have been quiet lately on the blog?

    • Thank you for those kind words, Otto. You write very well, and usually quite thought-provoking and discussion-initiating posts, judging from the number of comments you always receive.

      And yes, I am okay – just trying to cope with a heavy workload at the moment, so blogging has had to take a back seat again, unfortunately.

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