Why Blogging Matters

Nearly 6 months ago, I wrote about my beloved dog Jessie, about how she chose to be part of my family and how eventually we had to choose to let her leave this life. Last night, a man named Greg found that now long-ago post. “I’m scanning and commenting on posts made by fellow dog lovers because it must be therapeutic in some way,” he wrote.  He recently lost his 6-year old Irish Terrier and was “reaching out to others who understand.”

Greg’s comment got me thinking. Isn’t that what blogging is really all about — reaching out to others who understand? I went back and looked in my leather-bound journal. I never wrote about Jessie there. I guess when she passed, I needed to share my loss with something less solitary than a diary.

Why do we blog? Because sometimes we need to share something personal with something less solitary than a journal.

A year ago, a young man I knew died by suicide. As a way to both cope with her grief and to provide a support network for others touched by suicide, his mother launched a blog called “Forever Invictus.” One day, she posted a proposal to hold a suicide prevention/wellness  fair in New York City’s Washington Square Park. Readers from around the country rallied together to help her realize this vision. On September 17, 2010, the first “Get Your Wellness On!” event welcomed over 1,000 participants and saved a life. The event was organized and executed by a group of people who met for the first time the morning of the fair, but had already known each other only through Esmeralda’s blog.

Tim is an Olympic Silver Medalist in fencing. He has a blog too. So does Maria, a literature teacher in Italy. They don’t talk about death. Tim talks about fencing, about traveling around the world as he prepares for London 2012, about chilling with Apolo Anton Ohno. Tim’s blog has become an online venue where the American fencing community, a diverse and dispersed group of people who share a sport, can congregate and get caught up on the latest news or pick up some training tips. Maria’s blog “Fly High” is an online book & movie club for Jane Austen and Richard Armitage fans around the world. We hang out on Fly High and gush about our love for 19th century British literature and its 21st century screen adaptations.

When I started blogging, I was really only in it for myself. I wanted to write about me. I wanted people to read my writing. I wanted someone to love my writing enough to offer me a book deal. My alter-ego blog, “They Told Me to Find a Rich Husband,” has been more successful in this endeavor. It’s where I write about the way we love and are expected to love now. Thousands of WordPress readers responded to my post “You Borrowed My Dylan CD and Stole My Heart, I’d Like them Back Now Please” — a little piece about reclaiming the intangibles when a relationship ends. It seems every past relationship leaves a trail of damaged songs in its wake.

Reading Greg’s comment put Esmeralda’s and Tim’s blogs and the outpouring of response to “They Told Me to Find a Rich Husband” in perspective. Turns out, when I write about myself, I’m writing about you, and him, and her too. While blogs may be the vanguard of political analysis or the source for the latest entertainment news, at the end of the day, blogging is about community — at the end of the day, we want to read about things we can relate to. Bloggers and their posts remind us all that, no matter how unique each of our lives are, living is a common experience. In this digital community of words and comments, there’s always someone we can reach out to who understands.

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Rumble in the City: Taking the Sport of Fencing to the Streets of NYC

I remember the first time the elevator doors opened onto the New York Fencers Club. I could hear the fencing before I could see it. The clangs and clacks of the blades, the thuds of people lunging, the John Cage-esque random boooop of the scoring machines — you could feel it; it was electric.

This past June, while the FIFA World Cup was raging in South Africa, another World Cup was underway here in New York. Olympic medalists. National Champions. Champions in the making. Yes, the best and brightest fencers in the world converged on the Brooklyn Marriott, only a short subway hop away from downtown Manhattan, and you missed it. An opportunity to see Olympians in action and fulfill your inner-child’s Star Wars/Robin Hood/Three Musketeers fantasies, and you missed it.

Fencing Masters NYC comes to the Hammerstein Ballroom Stage on Nov. 17

But have no fear, fencing is back for the New York public in a BIG way. The Olympians are coming, and  they’re doing it up for you in style.

On November 17, 2010, the Hammerstein Ballroom will be home to a landmark fencing event. Featuring the living-legends of the sport, Fencing Masters NYC is a celebration of fencing’s history, honor, and athleticism. Olympic champions from around the world will square off against members of Team USA in a quest for the title of Fencing Masters Champion. The event will include dinner, cocktails, an interactive expo, and special performances. The producers of Fencing Masters NYC have pulled out all the stops to make this an elegant, high-quality, memorable event. It will be a night of top-caliber fencing, special tributes, and above all, fun and excitement!

Spearheaded by members of the fencing community, Fencing Masters NYC is an important and much needed event for the sport. For too long, fencing has stood on the margins of professional-caliber athletics. Those who have taken up an epee, foil, or sabre already know what a dynamic and engaging sport fencing is, and the aim of Fencing Masters NYC is to broadcast these qualities to the public on a national scale. Indeed, Fencing Masters NYC has single-handedly changed the way the media looks at the sport! For the first time since 1980, fencing will be televised outside the Olympics. The event will be syndicated to 14.5 million homes in the tri-state area thanks to a partnership with SNY, television home of the NY Mets.

Fencing Masters NYC is first and foremost a vehicle for garnering financial and moral support for 2012 Olympic hopefuls. Fencing, while amateur in the United States, is a professional sport. American athletes striving for London 2012 pursue full-time training schedules and drop thousands of dollars annually on travel and related expenses. Despite historic medal wins in 2004 and 2008, fencers still lack major corporate sponsorship to support their Olympic dreams.  As a not-for-profit organization, proceeds from the Fencing Masters NYC Hammerstein event will go to sponsored fencers on Team USA.

Interested in joining us? You should! Check out the Fencing Masters NYC website for a complete roster of competitors and ticket information.

Click here: Fencing Masters NYC

Ben Franklin Lied to Me

What IS the big idea Ben Franklin?

This has nothing to do with the early worm.

Ben Franklin lied to me when he told me “In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.” He conveniently failed to mention “writing job application cover letters” and “health insurance screw-ups.”

Taxes are somewhat avoidable if I’m incomeless (thank you, refunds!).  But since I do want to have some Ben Franklins to pay taxes on (read: to buy shoes with) then I need a job, which means I need to write catchy yet professional cover letters. I have a natural aptitude for self-deprecation, but apparently, when you apply for a job, self-promotion is a more useful skill.

“To Whom It May Concern:

There isn’t a photocopier I can’t conquer, a triple-half-caf-soy-latte I can’t perfect, or a database I can’t manage… I also know lots about John Singer Sargent…etc.”

With each completed cover letter and packaged resume comes a mini-celebration and the glint of hope. I do a little shimmy, walk away from my computer with a self-satisfied smirk, and imagine the possibilities. Maybe this week I’ll get to put on my “interview outfit.’ Maybe next week there will be a contract and the promise of a paycheck. Maybe before the month is out, there will be a new kayak and an apartment upgrade… Yes, with each application the possibility of a new future…and the promise of free health insurance.

Death is more certain than taxes, but since I want to stave off this certainty for as long as possible, I need health insurance. It may not be a catch-22, but it’s a catch-of-some-number.

In 24 hours, I will be officially uninsured again. My university extension plan ends and there will be a month gap before my new coverage kicks in. As an accident-prone athlete with a predisposition for sinus infections, health insurance is a necessity. In theory, under the new health care laws, as a 25 year old in flux, I’m eligible to become a dependent on my parents’ insurance plan. But for a number of ridiculous reasons, that can’t happen for me until April — my 26th birthday is in July, leaving me with 4 months of coverage. Atena Fail. So in an attempt to find an affordable alternative, I’ve put upwards of 20 hours into health insurance related inquiries. Now, I have applications to complete and processing time to wait out.

In the meantime, I’m going to move into a bubble. I’ll have my cellphone with me, you know, just in case Sotheby’s wants to talk to me about that CEO position I applied for…

In Memoriam

It was the night of Santa Con and Greenwich Village was ablaze with red faux velvet, an undulating lopsided ocean of woolly-white artificial beards. The chill in the air was bone-cracking, the wind unforgiving, and it was unlikely that my parents and I had braved the narrow streets of Manhattan’s lower westside to participate in this costumed pub-crawl. Our mission was more deliberate and more solemn. We were bound for the famed Bitter End, in part to do what all Bitter Enders do, to listen to a band play a set, but mostly we were there to say good-bye to a young man lost too early.

On November 3, 2009, Andrew Williamson-Noble, a 20-year old Junior at NYU, committed suicide by jumping from the 10th floor of his university’s Bobst Library. He was lonely, reports said. You might have read about it; you might have noticed the name; you might have seen his picture in the paper; but you probably forgot about Andrew and grouped him in with that flulrry of NYU jumpers that had been lost before — tragic, you probably said and left it at that. We refuse to leave it at that.

My parents and I met Andrew when he was high school student at Irvington. He had been instrumental in getting a fencing team started there and my mother had been its first coach. At the time, she and I were also coaching at Ardsley, and how she managed to survive the two-practice nights I still wonder. I know Andrew’s support made it easier. He had that take-charge attitude that made him a reliable leader, a wicked sense of humour that made him fun to be around, and a passion to win that made him a dangerous competitor. Of the many kids that have come through the fencing teams, Andrew remains one of our favorites.

That night at the Bitter End, as we listened to Ippazzi sing for Andrew, my mother and I , in a teary moment of inspiration, decided to establish an award in his memory — an award that would remind kids that as long as they’re a fencer, as long as they’re an athlete, they’re never alone. For the last few weeks we’ve been immersed in organizing the Andrew Williamson-Noble Spirit Award for Leadership and Sportsmanship — a scholarship that will be bestowed on 2 students from each of the 5 high school teams that make up the New York State Section I Varsity Fencing League. Tomorrow (Sat. Jan 30), at the League championship tournament, we’ll present a total of approximately $3,000 to 11 very deserving athletes.

In the letter to the recipients we say: “The Award remembers his spirit and leadership and recognizes those fencers who, like Andrew, contribute to the sense of community and camaraderie on their team. The best leaders don’t just contribute wins – they are team players who promote unity and inspire excellence…Fencing is a community, a place to belong regardless of background, age, ability, or aspirations.” And it’s true.

I remember walking onto the Columbia campus as a freshman and being terrified about, well, everything. Would my public school education match up to that of my peers? Would I make any friends? These are fears we all have when we start college, but there was one advantage I had most freshman don’t: when I walked through the gates at 116th, I already had 20 friends in my teammates —  I’d known most of them since I started fencing as a high schooler. Sure the sport has been the cause of some strife in my life — I can’t say I’ve smiled the whole way through the “athletic journey.” But it always provided me with a safety net to fall back on. It was always a stabilizing force that kept me focused, taught me to recover and to move forward. It taught me how to be the “master of my fate,” “the captain of my soul.”

After high school, Andrew moved onto Drexel before transferring to NYU. In that time, he moved away from fencing — an activity, his mother said, that always brought him joy. We can’t look back on the last few years and say, well if Andrew had been fencing… “What ifs” are entirely inappropriate. We can only look forward with the hope that tomorrow’s award presentation and Andrew’s story touches those it needs to, so that The Andrew Williamson-Noble Spirit Award will remain the only of its kind.

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