Sunday, June 28, 2020

Not Even Not Zen 209: Return of the Ambitious One

adapted from Wikimedia Commons
Return of the Ambitious One

It's a moment like a few others,
with an arm around an old girlfriend,
naked next to each other after an evening
of laughter, debate, and wine,
auburn hair against my cheek,
breasts against my sternum;
and in that moment, she shivers, sighs.

She doesn't believe in love -
so she's said many times - and though we
had sex the night before
she doesn't want it now, I can tell.

She crouches into me,
careful where she puts her legs,
determined to stay celibate for the night
but ashamed, a little guilt-ridden.
So she pretends to be more tired than she is.

It's a moment of reflection.
I feel the breath of her sigh on my throat,
think about how she hurt me before,
how terrible and wonderful she was,
how she 'wants to be friends.'
And I realize she will run away,
just like last time,
now that we've had sex.
The only difference is, this time she feels guilty
and she doesn't wear her makeup to bed
and, just maybe, she's not so afraid
to show me herself.
And I think, 'Well, it's silly, but
I guess I do love her.'

I can't help chuckling.
She has already told me tonight
she does not love me.

"Okay, what is it?" she says.

"Oh," and I pause to feel certain,
discover that there is not even a thought needed.
“I’m seeing dream images, I guess.
Maybe I’m tired.”

“Can we just rest?” she suggests.


Her body curves in tighter to mine.
But she is not really tired,
not either of us, really,
so I listen to her breathing for half an hour
before it relaxes
and she begins to sleep in my arms.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Not Even Not Zen 208: Note on a Napkin

Mailbox in Flowers, Kasharp, Wikimedia
Note on a Napkin

I said, "My love is like a
'68 station wagon, inefficient and invulnerable,
a plower of mailboxes, a pet-killer,
There’s poodle-fur in my tires
So come, drive with me."

You said, "Love is not funny.
And you drive too fast,"
as we cruised to your house,
as I opened the passenger door,
as we walked you to the gate.

I pleaded for you to travel, to take any risk.
“Put dents in everything!
Your car, my car, any person, any object!
Travel the reaches of the globe
and know that I will be there for you.”

You should have run off with my heart.
Oh, I would have tended your goldfish
as a sign of my love for you;
I would have worn your cat on my shoulder,
cherished lost strands of your hair,
never vacuumed your couch,
if only you had let me get broken-hearted.

You could have left your tire tracks all over my life
but you never took the wheel,
not for me, not for anybody,
not even yourself.

I turned the corner a little slower tonight
as I drove past your house.
There, I saw your Volvo in the driveway,
wondered if you ever leave the garage.
It was a late night, full of bleary-eyed
self-pity, and I raged at
the rust in my body, the oil like curdled milk,
all the missed chances of my life.
And now I must apologize.

Please understand, it was with love
and also with slight near-sightedness
that I ran over your mailbox.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Aesop's Progress - Almost a Collection

Woodcutter and the Trees, Arthur Rackham (Wikimedia Commons)

There's only one thing worse than writing about writing.  That's blogging about blogging.

The title of this series of essays about the blog comes from a book of stories that I never finished compiling.  It was a book intended for my parents.  Since I'd read the Aesop collection in our house at least a dozen times, maybe more than twenty, really, before I was ten years old, I think they would have understood the title.

Ultimately, I created several different collections and considered a variety of names for them.  With family and friends, I collected photographs to serve for the artwork.  The collection never made it as far as becoming a book, though.

Aesop's Progress


  • Aesop's Progress - Almost
  • Aesop's Progress - The Blog Begins
  • Aesop's Progress - It's Small
  • Aesop's Progress - It's Growing
  • Aesop's Progress - Rise of the Influencers
  • Aesop's Progress - The Mystery of the Ukraine
  • Aesop's Progress - The Israeli Influencer
  • Aesop's Progress - NotZen Continues

  • Sunday, June 7, 2020

    Not Even Not Zen 208.7: Aesop's Progress - NotZen Continues


    Part 7: NotZen Continues

    The NotZen site lives on. With no art, the lowest ad settings, and no connections to other blogs, it pretty much does everything wrong. I’m writing more slowly. Instead of producing a story every week or two, I’m coming out with less than one per month.

    I’m taking time to write other things. Even so, the NotZen story ideas sometimes seem urgent or at least important. As I write, I have four finished and waiting plus I've jotted notes on others. There are times like that. Usually nowadays, the need feels less dramatic with the kids out of the house and very few folks around who want to talk about secular Buddhism. I’m trying my hand at more humorous stuff on the theory that the world could use more smiles.

    In December 2015, the U.S. readership fell to fourth for the month. I thought the U.S. would continue to decline in readers but it has climbed back up to second, generally, behind either Israel or Hong Kong.

    Israel, Ukraine, Russia, France, and Hong Kong have all passed China for foreign readership. Germany, United Arab Emirates, and Turkey are not far behind. Then come various European countries. In 2016, the site got roughly two to four thousand readers per story. In 2017 and 2018, the count continued to rise. In 2019, it fell, but even so there are a steady stream of readers coming in to read old stories even when a new NotZen story has not been posted.

    Sunday, May 31, 2020

    Not Even Not Zen 208.6: Aesop's Progress - The Israeli Influencer


    Part 6: The Israeli Influencer

    In March 2014, Israel read a story. By that I mean, it felt like everyone there read it. The home page at the time was showing Job Well Done. This log graphic seems to show a healthy mix of viewers. There were none of the weird, esoteric browsers in the records on the day this happened. The most popular browsers and all of the big OSes were represented. It appears that a thousand individuals in a tiny country, all with fairly standard computers, not phones, were online at NotZen.

    Someone in Israel, it seemed, could recommend a story and generate a thousand readers. And for Israel, that turned out to be only the beginning.

    But first, AdSense and AdWords would produce another change in the attention of aggregation sites.

    In May 2014, the site received Google approval to use AdSense. Going through the process felt weird. Google makes almost all of its money from ads. You’d think the company would be eager to have sites sign up.

    On the surface, that’s the case. But underneath the campaign for ads, there is a bot that automatically approves sites. Until I applied, that bot hadn’t looked at the NotZen site. When, on my request, it did scroll through the homepage, it decided that NotZen was not a real site. The articles didn’t have enough text structured in the right form.

    I had to appeal to a human. When I got through to one, fortunately, the human agreed that the bot wasn’t able to make sense of stories with dialogue. The Google employee allowed AdSense on NotZen. It changed the site.

    Some of the change was for the worse – product ads, awkwardly placed for viewing by non-materialistic people. But along with the ads came the presence of different referring engines. One of those engines resided in Turkey.

    When Turkey started sending readers to NotZen, the site got a spike in AdSense earnings. Whatever Google was doing there, it was working. The Turkish readers were clicking on ads alongside the stories. That seemed so unlikely that I blamed it on smartphones. I figured the Turks were accidentally clicking ads.

    Later, my wife thought of another possible reason: readers in Turkey saw different ads than readers in the U.S. Maybe they were relevant. Maybe they even got referred to NotZen stories in a way that made sense.

    In May 2014, Turkey readership actually passed the U.S. for the month. Also, I saw that someone there was still using a Nokia phone.

    The trend continued in June. The log summaries made it appear that Turkish citizens owned plenty of Android phones and Windows computers but not a whole lot of Apple products. It seemed believable.

    Also in June, the Dalvik browser made an appearance but that’s just another way of saying it was Firefox starting up within Android, probably. (Dalvik was an old Android virtual machine. A web browser running in it gave two identification strings and Blogspot didn’t understand that yet.)

    Likewise, the GSA browser appeared in the logs because someone visited the site with a Google Search Appliance. In a way, I’m surprised there aren’t more entries for like these.

    By the end of June 2014, Israel rose to third place in the overall readership. About eighty percent of their readers total, though, probably only read a single story. The Ukrainians had visited more steadily. Sometimes they’d browsed as few hundred people basically at the same time, sometimes as just a few dozen.

    Although the Ukrainians, Russians, Chinese, and Americans seemed to be attracted to stories about love and peace, the Turkish readers, in contrast, seemed interested in stories about transcendence. That seems like a good thing to me, personally.

    In September, Israeli readers noticed a second story. This one was Thoughtless Competition. As before, the Israelis browsed to the main page of the blog, not to the dedicated story link.

    It seemed to be an emerging pattern. Someone decided they liked the current entry on NotZen, recommended it, and sent the homepage link to others, who actually read it.

    Whoever that person was, they had been influential again. This time, they’d brought in over fifteen hundred readers at once. There was no spike in referring sites. The lack of an obvious source made it look personal, maybe a method as simple as a link sent out in an email newsletter.

    In September of 2014, the NotZen site saw over 3,800 readers in a month for the first time. The surge came thanks in part to Israel, again, although it also came from the U.S., Ukraine, Russia, and China.

    Eight of the top nine NotZen audiences turned out not to be from English speaking countries. Their citizens might read English some and they might use translation services. Mostly, I think those eight countries all have traditions of education and of reading for pleasure. It seems to be the most likely source of the readership differences.

    In February of 2015, readers in Israel discovered Immunity. It’s a parable that deals, in part, with deliberate ignorance and its consequences.

    It’s true that some folks love to argue for the sake of appearing smart. Behaviors like that, coupled with lack of attention to practical details (for instance, not understanding that an ice maker needs a water line), lead to a sort of popular disdain for intellectuals.

    The consequences of deliberate ignorance as an emotional response, though, are pretty severe. The failure to understand the science behind our homes, our tools, and our medicines affects anti-intellectuals and their families, friends, and neighbors. There’s a social aspect of deliberate ignorance that can make it irresponsible to let it resolve itself.

    At the time I wrote Immunity, there had been a few outbreaks of old, nearly-forgotten diseases in the U.S. It seemed clear to me that, if the American anti-vaccination trend continued, more outbreaks would come. I picked an eradicated disease and decided to use it for my explanation.

    Thiomersal, the other main technical key to the story, has been removed from U.S. vaccines. That probably wasn’t a good move or at least not a necessary one. It doesn’t seem to break down in the human body; there’s no sign that it does harm except to molds and bacteria; and its replacements are also preservatives and have similar but less studied properties.

    If preservatives do damage, it’s likely to be because they are weakly antibiotic. They influence our personal biomes. If preservative compounds are causing harm, they’re doing it in a widespread fashion – in our foods, cosmetics, paints, and wooden furniture. Vaccines might be the least likely way to encounter a preservative.

    I’d gotten used to the graph growing in a regular fashion. In the spring of 2015, though, I could see that Israel had skewed the readership trends again.

    This is what happened when Israel liked Immunity. Previously, the Israelis had only browsed to the main page. This time, some of them went to the dedicated story link. Some may have even looked at other stories.

    This bump in the chart appears to be a reaction to Always Land in July 2015. The Peace Process story might have had some appeal, too. By this time, the influencer in Israel, whoever or whatever that is, could apparently bring over two thousand six hundred folks to the site in just one day. This is for a small and until that day, unknown story, after all.

    Next: NotZen Continues

    Sunday, May 24, 2020

    Not Even Not Zen 208.5: Aesop's Progress - The Mystery of the Ukraine


    Part 5: The Mystery of the Ukraine 

    The first week of January 2014 was the one in which the Ukraine passed the U.S. in readership.

    Normally, Firefox and Chrome are the browsers on top, week to week. That week, Internet Explorer rose to the top. The change implied that the readers in the Ukraine had a lot of Internet Explorer browsers on their desktops.

    You might have expected a stronger Firefox and Chrome presence in the Ukraine. I’d have figured on seeing more Linux. Apparently, that wasn’t the way.

    By the end of January 2014, the site hit a new high in monthly readers logged. There were more than 1,300 for the month. Of course, as an acquaintance pointed out, I had no assurance that this was the number of people actually reading all the way through a story.

    The number of real people seeing each tale could have been greater, due to aggregator sites skimming off the text and re-publishing it as their own. It could have been less, too, because the same sort of web robots could generate hits in the logs while doing nothing else.

    Since there’s not much I could do to get a more accurate sense of readership, I decided I had to accept the log numbers. The bot hits appeared to be a small fraction of the total. Plus, if each aggregator hit led to one extra, real person reading a story off-site, then the Blogspot totals would be accurate.

    At this point, in a very short period of time, the Ukraine had risen from a tiny presence to third place in all time readers.

    My sense of the Ukrainian readers was that, however they found out about NotZen stories, they were most attracted to those about love, peace, and friendship.

    I remember noticing the pattern and discussing it with a friend, Sharon. For reasons that could be seen as Buddhist, I didn’t like it. Stories that are emotionally difficult are often more worthwhile than those with a happy resolution. The pattern of bumps in readership was apparent, though, and I flirted with the idea of playing to it.

    At the core, that’s not what the stories are for, so the concept was impossible to execute. As you have probably seen, not all of these stories are friendly ones. They’re what they needed to be at the time.

    The story that appeared just before June 30 was Tribes. I can see how that one might have appealed in the Ukraine at the time.

    Next: The Israeli Influencer

    Sunday, May 17, 2020

    Not Even Not Zen 208.4: Aesop's Progress - Rise of the Influencers


    Part 4: Rise of the Influencers

    In first week of January 2014, the story called 'Parroting the Instructor' surged in readership. It was a bump that started when I recommended the link to a project management instructor. He was more than a fun teacher; he was also the author of project management books. I’m pretty sure that he was - and still is - a strong, positive persuader of others. Maybe he recommended the story to other teachers or to his students in classes. I'm just guessing. But it's an educated guess. And I still haven't thought of any other good reason for the bump in readers.

    The effect in the logs reminded me of the other people who had recommended NotZen stories. Some of those people and their websites had been influential. Among them:

    • One of my brothers
    • A Buddhist clown (yes, really) who I’d met via Diaspora
    • A True Land group leader on Google Plus

    These people determined for themselves whether a story was worthwhile. And then they spread the news. The True Land monk, Denis Wallez, was perhaps the most influential, not only because of his online presence but because his own, careful writing. His explanation of critical points of Buddhist philosophy affected me personally and inspired some of my later stories. His work appeared in Plus groups and on his own website.

    When people like these recommended a story, dozens or hundreds of people browsed to it.

    When Denis Wallez recommended the story Best after it was posted in January 2015, folks in the Buddhism interest group started giving it +1. Readership went up. The same thing happened earlier when he praised and reposted Bridge of Promise to the Buddhist and Taoist communities.

    Meanwhile, slightly removed from the individual recommendations, the aggregation sites with an interest in NotZen also made their impacts. There must have been people behind the sites, of course. I still don’t know who they are. They left some clues for me, though. For one thing, they came from these three countries:

    • Russia
    • Ukraine
    • Israel

    Early in 2014, these aggregators started looming over everything else.

    Next: The Mystery of the Ukraine

    Sunday, May 10, 2020

    Not Even Not Zen 208.3: Aesop's Progress - It's Growing


    Part 3: It's Growing

    Although the blog site never had links to Chinese social media (because I would have had to know the language to do that), somehow Chinese readers found the stories. After eight months, China had become the number two country in NotZen readership.

    Naturally, at this point it was a distant second. The surprise was that China appeared at all.

    Around the same time, two stories, Mercy and Focus, seemed to be drawing more attention than the others. As I looked through the logs, I saw that a third story, The Heavy Staff, had been translated into French.

    I traced down the French version after getting curious about a referring site. The referring site ended up being another blog - in French. That writer, who lived in Quebec, had translated the story and had also politely linked back to the original. Most other folks aren’t so polite. If the same thing has been done at other times, I’ll never know.

    By April of 2013, China overtook the United States on a weekly readership basis. I think that I saved this screen due to a ‘China again, WTF?’ reaction. The site also started averaging a couple hundred readers per week. A significant portion of them came from out of the country.

    The Chinese web browsers seemed not to identify themselves in ways that Blogspot could parse. That’s why the browser named “;” makes an appearance. There’s more of that than anything else.

    Later, the “;” entries disappeared. I think that Blogspot learned to translate the Chinese.

    Individual stories started making comebacks in readership. I wasn’t always clear on why. It might have come from someone liking it, posting a link to it, and finally the link getting noticed. Whatever the process was, it took time to happen.

    In this log entry, the older stories getting readers were Parroting the Instructor and Self-Discipline. I thought I had a clue about the first one. It was due to a particularly influential person.

    Regardless of the trending stories and referring sites, readership from mainland China faded. I was never sure of the reasons. The United States finished on top in the logs again, week after week, even though the landscape of countries and technology kept shifting underneath.

    Although readership in China seemed to fade - due to lack of interest or to the Great Firewall or to a search engine grabbing the page contents and re-packaging them in Chinese - other countries outside of the U.S. started to climb. Israel made an appearance. Russia and the Ukraine showed up.

    In November 2013, despite a lack of Chinese browsers, NotZen got more hits than ever from Baidu, the main Chinese search engine.

    I’m not precisely sure if the Baidu search engine rose up to fill a need. If the site got blocked by the Great Firewall of China how did Baidu get through? If the site wasn’t blocked, why did the Chinese browsers disappear? One logical answer would be that the few readers there ever were in China stopped browsing to but that doesn’t match with the Baidu searches of the site trending upward.

    I don’t have the answers and, possibly, I don't even have the right questions.

    Sunday, May 3, 2020

    Not Even Not Zen 208.2: Aesop's Progress - It's Small


    Part 2: It's Small

    Early on, hardly anyone clicked on the link to any story. Most of the readers came from a small, kind, and rather literature-oriented subset of my friends. After them came folks who I was meeting in social media platforms. Diaspora had good interest groups for philosophy and Buddhism. The best platform early on was Google Plus.

    If you’ve relied on Facebook for all your social connections, this part is hard to describe. In Google Plus, there were interest groups that shared articles and held discussions about them. On Diaspora and Friendica, the articles were even more interesting (although lack of vetting was a problem). The interest groups in those services and a few others seemed to be the equivalent of college classrooms.

    Everyone in the groups joined in a discussion on Buddhism, for instance, because they genuinely wanted to trade ideas about it. That’s different from the Facebook neighborhood of relatives, friends, and acquaintances. Your uncle may not want to hear about your hobby. In an interest group, they do.

    As you can see in the traffic sources chart, there are signs that the social media sites were, somehow, linking more distant readers to the stories. The (France) site appears. So does, an aggregator service that tries to be international. A reference also appears. That one belongs to a service owned by Twitter.

    I think that it was through these channels that readers in European countries started to triangulate on the site.

    By late December 2012, a Russian site made its appearance as a referrer (troll-face-ru). I read about how it was a blog aggregator. According to online author complaints, the site was grabbing material from all over the world and re-packaging it for a Russian audience. Some writers were mad because they were losing advertising money. At the time, I had no ads.

    And anyway, the site was tiny, tiny, tiny.

    Sunday, April 26, 2020

    Not Even Not Zen 208.1: Aesop's Progress - The Blog Begins


    Part 1: The Blog Begins

    In May 2012 I started posting entries in Not Zen, which led me to discover the logging features in Blogspot. I didn’t think to save the information; the weekly logs came only in picture form and I didn’t realize that the pictures would disappear in a rolling, always-updating fashion. Even when I figured out that the daily and weekly readership snapshots were ephemeral, there didn’t seem to be much reason to try to preserve them. That was partly because I kept looking for real logs, the kinds I know from running Apache and IIS websites. Among the things missing from the Blogspot graphics were details about specific browser sessions and ways to archive the logs.

    Despite the crude state of the blogging records, there were a few lessons that I learned early on.

    1. The world has more browsers than Internet Explorer. Not everyone is a U.S. government employee using a mandated application. I’d lost track of what the world-wide web public looked like. 
    2. Technologies logged by the NotZen site ranged from generations-old OS/2 and Netscape to the newest variants of Linux systems with obscure Chinese-language tools.
    3. Social media sites, as the Blogspot logs showed, do matter. The blog posts that I shared on Facebook, Google Plus, Friendica, and Diaspora generated readers.
    4. Few readers, though, ever commented on a story. I’d started out thinking that folks might write responses. Nope.
    5. The folks who did send comments posted them via Google Plus, Diaspora, or personal email. They didn’t use Blogspot.
    6. Some people didn’t read the social media side of it at all. They only looked at emailed stories.
    7. Others hated getting email. They unsubscribed from the Not Zen mailing list.
    8. And of course, some friends and relatives never use the Internet. For them, stories not in print don’t really exist.

    By October 2012, I was starting to find the logs interesting. I got the idea to capture the log files as the images they were. It was the only way I saw to preserve them. I’d noticed changes like the sudden presence of Chinese browsers. Those changes started to give me a sense of the site history.

    In this log graphic above from 2012, you can see that for the first six months of Not Zen, most of the readers came from the United States. I’d grown accustomed to seeing that, week after week. Then came a sudden appearance of Chinese readers. Where would Chinese citizens have come across Not Zen? How did their technology operate? Was it Internet Explorer on a desktop? Or was it Opera, SeaMonkey, or Instapaper on a phone? Of course, the Chinese citizens could have been like everyone else and appeared in the logs as just more of everything.

    I started asking global Internet questions. At the same time, I was still trying to solve very basic problems.

    I had trouble with the mechanics of blog posts. My understanding of social media was limited. Everything I tried, I seemed to do badly. My first few links went up on Facebook and G+ but I mis-typed them or included badly rendered graphics. I reactivated my MySpace account because I got the bright idea of using MySpace to test my blog posts. The tests kept me from posting more embarrassing, non-working links in other social media venues.

    That’s why MySpace appears in the logs. Google is at the top if you add up the variants of the referring Google sites. Facebook is next. But MySpace looks respectable, early on, because it’s a site that automatically links back to the source.

    Referrers and search terms provided more revelations. Every now and then, I could see that folks were searching for my stories in Google. It was gratifying but it felt mystifying, too. My friends and my social media sites had links. Who could be looking for “notzen 6 non-action?” That’s a very specific search.

    All in all, I didn’t know what I was doing. That much, I knew. So did anyone reading the social media links, I guess.

    Next: It's Small