OH, WOW! (Icing on the Cake)
Here in this humble blog space, the furry kitchen helpers and I have cause to celebrate.
Alphabet Soup is now officially TEN years old!
To think that when I first started blogging — pre-Facebook, pre-Twitter, pre-diverse books movement — I could barely insert an image into a post, and pretty much knew next to nothing about how the internet worked. I did know from day one that my focus would be food and books, but I had yet to read a single food blog.
I think this was a good thing, because it would have been way too intimidating to see all those fancy, artfully designed sites with magazine quality photos — blogs written by people decades younger than I was with ten times the energy, ambition, and technical smarts.
Unlike some others, my primary motivation was not to promote my books or profit from sidebar ads or sponsored posts. I wanted to join the online conversation about children’s books, practice a different form of writing, and build self-confidence. I wanted to “take readers by the hand and show them what I loved.”
Though I had published three picture books in the mid-90’s (when there was a blip of interest in “multicultural books”), by 2007, after years of rejection and the crushing realization that books by and about POC were relegated to a kind of ‘afterthought’ sub-category, I had stopped writing altogether, except for personal letters and journals.
If you hear “NO” often and long enough, pretty soon you tell yourself that no one is interested in what you have to say. ‘Don’t go where you aren’t wanted’ is advice I often heard growing up. Life is short — was this a good, healthy way to live — feeling like a failure every single day? Obviously I wasn’t good enough, or maybe “white” enough or young enough or smart enough or perky enough or lucky enough.
But a writer has to write. There is that innate desire for creative expression. As there didn’t seem to be a place for me in the traditional children’s publishing landscape, what about this blog thing? The only person who had to say “YES” to it was me.
And it was scary. What could I write about, and who would ever care? I was not a multi-talented artist who lived in a beautiful home on Martha’s Vineyard, nor had I married a handsome cowboy who had whisked me off to his Oklahoma ranch. I was not a professional chef or even an exceptional home cook, just a technophobe with nascent photography skills.
I’d been a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) since the mid 80’s (now I’m really dating myself!), and thought I had done all the “right things” (conferences, workshops, market and agent research, persist persist persist), but I continued to feel like an outsider, a marginalized misfit looking for a home.
In early 2007, I discovered and began to comment on several children’s book blogs (Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, Cynsations, Miss Rumphius Effect, A Year of Reading, Blue Rose Girls) as well as many LiveJournal writers’ blogs. Folks were welcoming, generous, and supportive. The conversations were stimulating and got me thinking about children’s literature in new and delicious ways. 🙂
A small crumb of an idea raised my hopes. Maybe I could have my books and eat them too. Instead of dwelling on past disappointments, maybe I could create posts to feed mind, body, and spirit. Maybe Alphabet Soup could be a place where all were welcome to drop in for a quick bite, or leisurely peruse recipes, reviews, interviews, visual art. They might appreciate a quiet moment of reflection or be inspired by a good poem. Maybe Alphabet Soup could be a soft place to fall, a comfortable spot on the web where I could serve up a little joy.
Now, 1800+ posts and 20,000+ images later, I marvel that I haven’t yet run out of things to say. I’ve read and reviewed hundreds of tasty books, collected oodles of recipes from authors, illustrators and poets, shared too many poems to count, and featured the work of amazing indie artists. I’ve had the chance to “meet” and learn from many brilliant writers, illustrators, educators, and librarians. And I’ve enthusiastically explored the ultimate sweet spot where food, memory, history, culture, and artistry converge.
And I’m still hungry for more.
But a blog is nothing without its readers. All along, I’ve been blessed with loyal, whip-smart followers. You have kept me going year after year. Thank you for reassuring me that maybe I have something worthwhile to say after all.
Alphabet Soup started out as a creative outlet, a playful diversion, a search for community. But now, after ten years, I see it’s actually been a journey of healing. Words have immeasurable power.
I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word. Sometimes I write one, and I look at it, until it begins to shine.” ~ Emily Dickinson
A once broken writer has found her voice.
OH NO! (That’s the Way the Cookie Crumbles)
While I am happy to celebrate ten years of Alphabet Soup, I am sorry to report that a blogger’s worst nightmare has come true.
By the end of 2018 (if not sooner), I stand to lose most of the aforementioned 20,000 images posted at this blog (*weeps*). Reason: Photobucket, which hosts 90% of my images, changed their Terms of Service as of June 20, 2017, to allow third party hosting only for those subscribers willing to pay an exorbitant $400/year.
Since Photobucket’s inception in 2003, third party hosting (the ability to share images on social media and forums, or embed them in blogs or external websites) was a given, either for free or paid accounts. I’ve been a paid subscriber ($30/year) since 2007, and currently have 19,000 images stored at Photobucket, most of them linked to my blog. (My WordPress blog itself offers limited storage, hence the need for an additional storage option.)
Sure, companies change their policies and raise their prices all the time, but the way Photobucket implemented this change was egregiously unfair, destructive, and downright criminal.
Without advance warning or prior feedback from its millions of users, one day they simply blocked thousands of linked images on the web, replacing them with ugly placecards. Users either had to pay the $400 “ransom” or have their image links permanently broken. This is blackmail, pure and simple, and it unjustly penalizes longtime users like me, who potentially have the most to lose, maybe not in terms of money, but in terms of thousands of broken links and hours and hours and years and years of work devoted to building an archive of blog posts.
Whether you are a casual user with 10 images, or a commercial website with 10,000+ images stored at Photobucket, if you want to share a single one of them, you MUST pay their ransom. Since PB currently hosts billions of images scattered all over the web, this sly, nasty move has adversely affected thousands of small business owners who post product images on sites such as Amazon, Etsy, and Ebay, and just as many personal bloggers and hobbyist/forum posters, many of whom share photos for educational/non-profit purposes (and cannot afford to pay the yearly fee). PB knew they would have customers over a barrel, left with no choice but to pony up or risk losing even more revenue. Despicable.
The new Terms of Service is especially cruel because it is retroactive. With standard business practice, changes usually apply from the new policy’s start date going forward. In this case, the third party hosting rule affects all images shared on the web dating back to 2003. The images I stored on PB the last ten years were uploaded to their site in good faith, based on their existing Terms of Service, which always allowed third party hosting.
Like many other users, I would be willing to pay a reasonable fee (perhaps $100/year), if it meant keeping my existing links intact. But the increase from $30/year to $400/year, without tiered options based on user needs is ridiculous and greedy.
But it gets worse.
Naturally, the majority of users are rightfully outraged and the backlash has been fierce and unrelenting. Many have deleted their accounts and many more are trying to remove their images from the site. Just so happens PB has disabled their “download albums” function. Right now, if you want to get your pictures back, you have to “save” one image at a time to your computer. And Customer Support is currently NOT responding to inquiries. Is this a form of content theft, or what? 😦
And even worse.
There are people who have actually paid the $400, but claim their images remain blocked. This whole thing smells of a desperate money grab to pay off debts before the company goes bankrupt. They have destroyed the trust of current members, scared away new subscribers, and done irreparable damage to their reputation. Incredibly stupid business move, or blatant attempt to extort money? I smell a HUGE rat. It is only a matter of time before PB completely folds.
Though I am furious over this debacle, I am mostly sad. I really want to save my archives. They are a visible record of all the heart, time, and effort I’ve invested in Alphabet Soup for a decade. Many of my old posts still receive reasonable traffic, and I sometimes reread archived posts for reference. And what about all those fond memories? You can’t put a price on that.
Yes, I have copies of all the photos I’ve taken saved on my computer, but it’s the image links I don’t want to lose. Even if I decide to pay the new fee, I sense the company won’t survive much longer because of this screw-up.
The lucky thing is that my current subscription doesn’t expire until November 30, so none of my images have been blocked . . . yet. I supposedly have until December 2018 to upgrade to the new plan, but I do not want to pay a single penny more to these crooks — especially because there’s no guarantee my links would remain active anyway. Who can trust them after all the damage they’ve done? They have already ruined so many blogs!
So, since August, I’ve been quietly and steadily copying images from the posts I most want to save, re-uploading them directly to WP, and then re-inserting them into their respective posts. Pretty tedious work and especially hairy re-writing all the captions, and linking back to the sources of other people’s photos. I take pride in my ongoing commitment to practice good blog etiquette by giving credit where credit is due.
Even if I recover several posts per day for the next year (if I even have that long), I’ll be saving barely one half of my total content. Believe me, I’d much rather be devoting that time to creating new posts.
Pictures have always been an integral part of this blog (some of my posts average 30+ images each). I don’t want to think about hundreds of posts full of those ugly PB placecards greeting readers who might click on a google link. (Since the PB placecards aren’t the same size as the images they replace, in some cases they even obliterate the post’s text.) All I can do now is save as many posts as I can, not really knowing exactly how much time I have left.
Part of me hopes for a miracle. Will a clever tech person write a plug-in that can make local copies of Photobucket-linked images on a WordPress blog, adding them to the blog’s media library, and then attaching them to their respective posts? The other option is to move all my images to a private server, with script that rewrites all the image URLS. But first you must download these images en masse — and PB has conveniently prevented people from doing that. Can you believe the gall?
I confess that on more than one occasion, I thought to myself that if Photobucket ever went under, that would mean the end of Alphabet Soup. But it was a widely used and lauded site in its heyday, launched just one year before flickr. I couldn’t really imagine either going out of business, certainly not before I stopped blogging. Chalk it up to naiveté and lack of technical savvy. Lesson learned the hard way.
Meanwhile, it’s one image at a time, one post at a time, tiny step by tiny step. Which of your possessions do you grab first when your house is on fire?
Maira, Beatrix Potter, Paddington Bear, Downton Abbey, Eloise, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Secret Garden, Susan Branch . . .
Three hundred fifty-six down, only 18,704 to go.
OH, WELL . . . (A Piece of the Pie)
It’s just a blog.
Nothing earth shattering about it. There are far more important things in life to worry about. And yet . . .
Whatever it is you write — a blog, a journal, an essay, a book — you care more about it than anyone else. Only you were there from the very beginning, as you shakily held self-doubt and the relentless internal editor at bay just long enough to take the plunge.
I’m so glad I did.
Ironic, but I’ve worked harder on this blog than I did for all of my picture books combined. Pictures or no pictures, the real gold of blogging is in the experience — of loving a book and being able to share with others why, of researching a fascinating subject and discovering juicy tidbits around every corner, of idolizing certain writers and discovering they’re good people and more “normal” than you’d imagined, of finding just the right way to craft a post to get your message across.
Then of course there’s making, eating and writing about new recipes and finding ways to demonstrate how they enhance appreciation of a story or poem (licks chops). 🙂 And as with any form of writing, there’s the privilege of using the beautiful and complex English language to discover what you’re truly made of.
I have enjoyed learning how to make public writing feel intimate and personal. There’s been a rewarding sense of liberation writing for an audience who lets you be yourself.
My secret husband Colin Firth once said, “If you don’t mind haunting the margins, I think there is more freedom there.” Blogging has shown me the advantages of being the unnoticed observer on the sidelines, who, without self-consciousness or undue pressure to perform, can internalize details and emotional nuances others miss.
From this unique vantage point, where I am not a writer in the maelstrom jockeying for good reviews, better sales, more exposure, I’ve been able to see a different side of the publishing dynamic and have a better understanding of why I was shut out of the game before. I find I am less hard on myself when it comes to things beyond my control, even as my own failings come into sharper focus.
You don’t have to take center stage all the time and shout everything from the rooftops.
You only have to find the courage to embrace who you are and tell it true in your own words. You only have to have the desire to communicate, to gently tap someone on the shoulder and whisper, “Hey, look at this . . .”
So this seemingly inconsequential personal blog, in this microscopic spot on the web, was there for me when I needed it most. It got me writing again, and it pulls me out of darkness almost every day, asking only that I focus on shining a light on good stories, good food, good art. It asks me to choose beauty and to remind others to do the same while all else seems to be crumbling around us.
Flavored with your attention, friendship, and encouragement, my modest piece of the pie has nourished me beyond measure. Shall we have more?
Copyright © 2017 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.