Lies, Darn Lies, & Statistics – Esse Diem in 2011

“The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 23,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 9 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.”  — WordPress

I’ve developed an annual tradition of mentioning a “Top 10” list of Esse Diem posts at the end of the year.  I started with the most viewed, but quickly learned that post views provide limited information about how good anything actually is, and almost no information about how a piece of writing influenced anyone’s thinking.

SO….here is my new annual evaluation.  It starts with the 5 most-viewed posts according to WordPress:

These are the posts that got the most views in 2011.

Saving Everyone’s Baby was the runaway hit as far as national attention, conversation, and comments.  As pleased as I am that the post got so much play, it was far from my favorite piece of writing in 2011, and it led to some real disappointment for me when all of the talk about follow-up guest posts went exactly nowhere, despite my best efforts to encourage contributing writers.

Blogging is a fascinating lens into human behavior and motivations, but I’ll save my musings about that for another day.

This year, I want to mirror the WordPress stats with my own evaluation of the real “Top 5.”  The real Top 5 posts made the cut each for its own reasons.  I figure a giant computer program with WordPress only knows numbers, whereas I know the nuances of my own blog better than anyone else.

  • And I Thought Heresy Was So Last Century — I like this post because it was such a relief to express my feelings about the issue, and also because it drew me much closer to a long-term reader who told me what he was going through after being accused of heresy himself.  After reading the post, he wrote to me and we discussed online some layers of life-changing experience he had when he was “discovered” as someone who does not believe in hell.
  • The Simons House by Margaret Ward McClain — Each of this year’s Essays on Childhood was outstanding in its own way.  McClain’s 3-part essay was technically brilliant, beautifully written, and the one essay that after 20 readings still makes me cry.
  • This Ain’t No Foolin’ Around — This post didn’t sweep the nation, but it did have an exciting life in West Virginia.  It was retweeted, reposted, and used in talking points to young professionals.  It was one of those truth-to-power pieces of writing that makes me nervous to post, but that was well worth the risk.
  • “Divorce,” and Other Words I Wasn’t Allowed to Say by Jennifer Kayrouz — Another piece of writing for the Essays on Childhood project, this essay’s final public status hides a long road to completion.  Kayrouz and I emailed, met in person, and emailed some more.  She had a serious story to tell, not just for the world but for herself and her family, but the classic writer’s fears of “going there” were holding her back.  I will forever be moved by and proud of her courage in writing the truth of this essay.
  • Check Your Bags. And I Love You. — This one was just a pure personal joy to write, and it resonated with many readers. A friend from college asked if he could use it in preparation for his 25th high school reunion in another state.  Friends from my own school sent me messages and commented online about how much it meant to them, and how well they thought it summarizes a complex emotional and psychological experience.  WordPress stats monkeys have no way of knowing all of the non-WordPress ways I know this was a great post this year.

Happy New Year, dear readers!  Thanks for all of your inspiration, challenge, and sharing in 2011. I hope to hear a lot from you in 2012.

The Best of the Blog 2010: What Lit Fires and Stirred the Pot

Last year I ranked the “Top 10” Esse Diem posts by the number of comments.  I was still new to blogging and had did not have access to statistics that would allow any other evaluation.  This year, it’s different.  And more interesting.

WordPress provides statistics on the number of visits to the blog each day, and breaks it down by post and page read.  I’ve also started tracking how posts are shared on Facebook and Twitter, as well as keeping mental note of private email messages about posts that people do not necessarily want to comment on in public.  (Those stats are some of the most interesting, to be sure.)

Because there are so many different ways to evaluate a “Best of” list, this summary represents a combination of factors, from raw numbers to shares to gut instinct.  Different groups of people read different things, but the pattern that emerges is one of solidarity around an interest in people just being better to one another.  I could not ask for a more rewarding realization as a writer.

2011 will bring a new award recognition for West Virginians making a difference; another essay series; and a little more about sexuality issues, especially where they intersect with spirituality issues.

In no particular order, here they are.  Thank you for reading Esse Diem, and enjoy the 2010 flashback!

The Top 10 of 2010

What’s Mine is (not) Yours

WordPress has a daily feature called Freshly Pressed.  They term it “the best of bloggers, posts, comments, and words” and I wanted to be that.  After reading the qualities of blogs selected for this coveted status, I determined the one thing I wasn’t doing that I needed to change was to start using more original images and to make sure all other images were credited to their source.  This post kicked off a week of original drawings by my husband for the blog.  It was immediately selected for Freshly Pressed, and garnered 3,000 blog hits.  It also changed how I select and credit images on the blog.

Children of a Lesser god

I wrote this post after a student at Rutgers University killed himself when his roommate and one of the roommate’s friends broadcast the student’s private sexual encounter with another man online.  The suicide and what precipitated it were chilling, but the responses to the events were even more so.  One of the most disturbing pieces of fallout from this post was a lengthy Facebook thread that followed its reposting by an Esse Diem reader who tried to use it to launch a discussion about compassion, especially in his faith community. It was shocking to see the number of “Christian” voices who blamed the victim, and who attributed his death to a failure to exhibit confidence in (a particular interpretation of) God.  I was strongly reminded of Kiefer Sutherland’s character in A Few Good Men:  “Private Santiago is dead, and that is a shame, but he is dead because he had no honor.  He had no code, and God was watching.”  While I didn’t love what I discovered, I think it was important.


I can handle disagreement; in fact, without healthy debate I start to worry if anyone is paying attention to anything.  What I don’t tolerate is reactionary disrespect.  Twitter has many positive uses, but it can still be used similarly to anonymous online comments by people who see “tweets” and hiding places for their attacks on other people.  This post was my response to one such incident, and it received a large number of shares and hits.  Apparently many people concur:  Twitter should be open for debate, but not for bashing.  The post made the rounds in the Philipines and beyond.  I now have regular polite exchanges with the individual involved in this incident, even though we still don’t tend to agree on much!

The Victory of Every Woman

The popularity of this post surprised me, but it probably shouldn’t have.  The title alone suggests a wide range of relevance.  Women with cancer, strained marriages, and parenting struggles connected and shared their thoughts and emotions about Elizabeth Edwards.  One of the most important honors I’ve ever had is to have this post featured on the home page of a married woman and mother who is fighting cancer with every fiber of her being.

C’mon.  Don’t Be a Hater

This was a popular post, but I chose it for this list because it was the real beginning of something I’d wanted to do for a long time, and that is say, “Enough already with the cowardly crap.”  Cowardly crap is my kindest and best term for when people refuse to identify themselves online but feel free in their anonymity or disconnection from others to attack people.  It goes on all over the world, and is especially rampant on news sites.  I got some pushback from some — surprise, anonymous — bloggers who disagree.  That’s fine.  What I also got was change in online policy comments in my local paper.  The timing was no doubt coincidental, but it was satisfying.  The whole series of events helped me upgrade my own online transparency; it is true that owning our words makes a person more conservative but also discerning in his or her expressions and choices.

Essays on a West Virginia Childhood

This was by far the most fun project on the blog this year.  I learned a lot working with people who spent all or some portion of their childhoods in West Virginia, and I am so grateful to John Warren, Amy Weintraub, and Lisa Minney for sharing their thoughts and memories.  We decided to break up John’s essay into a week-long series, which worked well for a piece that was both serious and complex.  My hope is that this project convinces others that writing need not be long or published traditionally to be shared and valuable.

We still have a few more writers in the queue, so stay tuned!

The Short Ladders

One of my personal favorites, this post is about the perils and pitfalls of extreme opportunity in my home state; I was suprised that the only comments it received on the blog itself were from out-of-state.  I did receive some interesting private correspondence, which I appreciated.  Apparently it struck a chord, just one upon which no one really wants to elaborate publicly.  We might work on that in 2011!

I Want to Be a Shepherd

Regular readers of Esse Diem know I try to work in Good Will Hunting whenever I can.  This post was originally just a quirky musing on an event a friend had with her child.  It turned into one of the most shared and read posts of the year.  The response to the idea that we can do more than be victims or predators in this world, that we can choose to take care of one another, was very special for me.

I think this blog has the coolest readers around.  Thank you again for being part of this work!  See you after the ball drops!

Image credit: Painting in Thailand