An ode to my top commenter

For a while, when I was pregnant and blogs were still new, I was the top commenter on my blog. And of course, every post I write is sort of an ode to me, or at least an ode to the current diatribe-colored glasses I’m wearing. So there was no need for a shout-out.

Then I wrote a lot on mainstream media sites, and I didn’t need to write an ode to my top commenters because my bosses did. When they fired me. I got fired from Yahoo because a big advertiser commented one too many times that I was terrible for women. I got fired from a newspaper because a guy set up spam bot, or whatever it’s called, to comment that I’m an idiot for saying job hopping is good.

Usually my editor, who is now Melissa, would take out the part where I misuse the word spam bot. She works hard to make sure I don’t look old and outdated. She tells me I should not use Snapchat like it’s email, and then she edits one of my best snaps for the blog to celebrate my coolness. So I’m writing a note here to the editor: don’t delete the part where I misuse spam bot. If I did misuse it. I’m ready to risk sounding old and technically incompetent on my blog. There’s a reason old people sound technically incompetent: They don’t fucking care.

Speaking of Melissa, she used to be my top commenter. But probably it doesn’t count. Because she’s always been the top commenter on blog posts my last editor, Jay, said I shouldn’t post. Melissa’s comments were something like, “Jay is right. It’s stupid. No one cares.” And anyway, I’ve written 500 odes to Melissa. She doesn’t need anymore.

Oh. Wait. She’ll be upset if she reads that. Because unlike everyone else I write about, she never gets sick of popping up in blog posts. So here’s a tidbit. Melissa sent me an article about how Gen Y is Gen Y is obsessed with plants. I didn’t tell her that I think a Gen Y-er wrote that to feel important.

Really, I think that data is related to the data I read in The Economist about how Gen Y women make sex too easy for Gen Y men so the men never want to get married. And even though Melissa’s boyfriend is Gen X, and I really really like him, I think she should tell him she doesn’t have time for sex because she’s taking care of her huge collection of plants. I bet he’d get much faster with a ring.

Mark is the top commenter. If you read the comments you know him. I think he’s been reading my blog since before I was even writing it because sometimes it seems like he knows what’s in my brain before it’s even on the page.

In a comment on my last post he said he gave up trying to win the game of life. Of course I get it. I strive to be less game-playing and more in-the-moment-living. But since I fail at that let me say that I wish the game of life were to send me the most great links and post the most comments on my blog. Mark would win. (Well, spammers would win, but they are in a different category.)

And Mark’s emails to me are so heartfelt that I always think they are squandered in my in box and should be comments so everyone can see. And he manages to express so much in an email without ever using an emoji, which I have started noticing because I read that we perceive people who use emojis in emails as less intelligent.

I wonder if the person who authored that study is really old (which I guess is probably my contemporary, now that I’m 50.) I remember when “polls” showed Gen X has no ambition and “studies” show Gen Y are narcissists. And it all seems to point to universal truth that people old enough to fund research are disconnected from the realities of people too young to fund research.

Generations always feel disconnected from each other. It’s just that when you are young and disconnected we call it forward thinking. Now I look for new badges of honor. I think somewhere in the pile of badges unformed is a badge of honor for being connected. Maintaining a relationship over a long period of time becomes a badge when you have lived a long time.

So life is a game, even if Mark and I are trying to make it something else, and Mark is a winner, and so am I. And the link Melissa sent me about Gen Y taking care of plants is really about their attempts at connection.

I went to visit Melissa and her engagement-delinquent boyfriend in LA, because Melissa, like everyone else in the world, can identify good advice (if you’re 30 don’t relocate without a ring) but she doesn’t follow it. And I went to a garden place which had amazing, museum-quality bonsai and starter vegetable packs. And she bought plants to replace the ones that died on her watch. I gently steered her to sturdy succulents but did not tell her they’re harder to kill.

She lined up her succulents in neat rows all over her apartment like I used to line my apartments with books.

The she called me a week after my visit.

“Remember the tall plant in the corner? The one I’ve kept alive for two years and watered so carefully? I just realized it’s actually fake.”

It’s scary to commit to anything long-term. It might be a deep connection. It might be plastic. You have to take a leap of faith, with every comment, every email, every visit, that the time investment is good. Connection is difficult and fragile that is why it’s a badge for winners.

54 replies
  1. Sarah Mckinney
    Sarah Mckinney says:

    You are awesome, Penelope! Thank you for the last paragraph. It doesn’t solve any problems, but it does help explain why a situation is hard. Knowledge is power, in some cases. Keep on writing for us!

  2. Michael Edits
    Michael Edits says:

    Fifty isn’t old, unless you’re playing football. Then it’s ancient.

    When I wrote my first football novel, I was 48, and the idea of a 48-year-old quarterback didn’t seem crazy to me. The rest of the team wasn’t 48, of course. That would be beyond crazy.

    When I wrote the sequel, I was 52, and the idea of a 52-year-old quarterback felt absurd. But in the story my guy was still 48, turning 49, so it worked.

    Now I’m 54. Just the idea of writing about football feels absurd, never mind playing the game. I’d rather play piano now.

    But not at Juilliard. I keep skipping ahead to a new song before I’ve finished butchering the old song, and the instructors frown on that. As they would my lack of coordination and my tin ear.

    But between my old piano and my new guitar, the song hasn’t been written that I can’t torture.

    Hey, when you pass 54, you work with whatever’s left.

    And Melissa, don’t forget to bring in your plants before the weather turns cold. My cat loves the indoor jungle. Unlike the little boy I used to have, she doesn’t eat them. She’s a lady.

    And congratulations Mark!

  3. me
    me says:

    “Connection is difficult and fragile that is why it’s a badge for winners.” – This is so damn true.

    I’m 52: I left my high stress career last year and retired early. Trying to make new connections outside of work has been a tough slog. Online dating is tedious & not much fun. Chatting with retirees at the gym is fine, but it’s just superficial.

    I’d sell my soul for a real friend.

    Maybe I should look at getting some plants ….

    • carmen
      carmen says:

      Regarding your plight in trying to find a friend… maybe you already do this but it helps to change your focus from outward search to inward. Connecting with yourself and things you enjoy doing on your own usually leads you to connecting with people of the same interests.

      Whenever I’m between freelance gigs (or between jobs) instead of the typical networking I would dive into things I love doing. I inevitably always meet people or have an acquaintance, i.e. potential friend, who’s interested and wants to join me. Or vice versa, if I start asking people what they’re into doing, out of politeness or courtesy, they’ll invite me.

      Start a project. I’m currently working on something that is requiring me to interview family, friends, acquaintances. It’ll bring you out of any self-imposed shell that you might be inadvertently creating.

      This isn’t advice. Maybe you’ll get an idea. Common interests is what brought me to this blog, in fact. I always come back when I’m in between gigs too.

    • Jana
      Jana says:

      Try yoga. I have met some really nice people at a restorative yoga class. If you go in the morning, you’ll meet people who don’t work ;)

    • Sandra
      Sandra says:

      I’m 52 and ESFP. I have a lot of friends, but manage to make more every year. Here are some ways/places you can make a real friend:
      – Volunteer work. Find a cause you feel good about and research how you can volunteer to help do things like shelve books at the library, clean a church, read to kids at a hospital or school, help plan a fundraiser for a nonprofit, plant flowers along roadways, deliver food to the elderly or shut-in, etc.
      – Join a club or social group. Take up a hobby (quilting, knitting, book club, etc.) and join up with other people who love doing the same.
      – Join a travel group. If you have the means, there are travel groups that go on cruises, trips abroad, etc.
      – Go to art shows, craft fairs, flea markets, fresh produce markets, pet shows, or other indoor or outdoor venues where you can meet people who have similar interests in art, crafts, pets, gardening, cooking, collecting, etc.
      – Go to nonprofit fundraisers like galas and similar fundraising events if you can afford to do so. You could meet people who have big hearts and who love to support their cause.
      – Go to wine and food festivals. Eating and drinking with other people is a great way to make friends.
      – Go to sporting events. I met my current husband at an NFL game in 2004. :)
      You can find out more information about any of these events in your area online. It may be harder in a rural area, but there are usually garden clubs, church activities and book clubs even in rural areas. Good luck!

  4. Jenn
    Jenn says:

    You’re right. Connection is tough but it’s worth it. I was reminded of this when I sold a chaise lounge on fb marketplace. I had 180 msg asking about it everything from the exact color to can I deliver it. I made sure I answered every inquiry within the hour and kept everyone up to date on it’s sale pending status. At the end i told everyone thank u for their interest. Most people thanked me for keeping them up to date.

    Good post, keep ’em coming..

  5. Jim Grey
    Jim Grey says:

    It’s funny, isn’t it how you build relationships of sorts with your frequent commenters. I say that because I experience it on my own blog. My first frequent commenter, who I felt like I came to know personally, hasn’t come around in about two years and I hope he’s OK.

    It feels really good to see the name of a frequent commenter appear on one of my posts. Like an old friend stopped by for a quick visit.

    Have you ever written a blog post at least in part because you know one or more specific commenters will have something to say about it? I have.

  6. Missy
    Missy says:

    Of all the takeaways here, the point about using emojis in email stood out to me. I purposefully use emojis in email to my
    Colleagues to appear super friendly and less intimidating. Scrapping that from now on, Choosing intelligence over accommodating.

    • Alana
      Alana says:

      I add emojis to emails to not sound bitchy. My husband told me that I sounded bitchy before. I was just direct. But now I’m direct with a smiley and it makes me friendly.

  7. Missy
    Missy says:

    Come on! Melissa didn’t know the plant was fake for 2 years! I don’t buy that. To the other poster trying to make connections, try to find a Meetup group you are interested in.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Funny that you say that. Because I was not particularly surprised that she’d water a fake plant for two years. But I was incredulous that she could keep an alive plant alive for two years.


      • May
        May says:

        I am not even good at taking care of fake plants because I get too lazy to dust them.
        But I do really like plants so I feel like maybe I should try to get succulents like Melissa is trying on too.

  8. dw
    dw says:

    I work with a senior administrator who insists on consistently using emojis, even when communicating about topics that are grim. It’s tiring – and gives the impression that he is in denial about the effects of poor management decision-making.

    • Elizabeth
      Elizabeth says:

      My boyfriend’s GenX and uses emojis often in Facebook messages. I find it charming because he’s a writer, a publisher, and very well-spoken. He’s confident enough to use emojis in the way some straight men wear pink or purple: because they’re secure enough to not care what others think.

      • Kitty Kilian
        Kitty Kilian says:

        Emoji’s are pretty clever, I think. They add body language to spoken text and they often tip the balance – they help avoid misinterpretation in short texts. They only get annoying when overused. But I would draw the line at serious texts like blogs. They’re OK in email and on social media.

  9. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    Thank you, Penelope. Your writing is a gift and I always look forward to reading it. And commenting on it. This post is a gift I will always treasure. It says a lot about you, me, and Melissa. I never felt I was in a contest with Melissa as the top commenter. No, rather it was a contest who could send you the best links! That’s a fun contest. Your posts always give me something to think about – about yourself and ultimately about myself – which is the same line of reasoning I and other readers in this community come back to read your writing. There’s value available and to be gained by the reader. This post makes me think of badges of honor and connectedness over some period of time. A nice badge to earn in today’s culture of instant gratification and short attention span. You are a winner Penelope. No question. I’ve learned much from you and your community. I’ll finish here by saying I’m glad to see you writing (blogging) again. And, in the process, you managed to find somebody else to write about. That’s genius.

    • Mark W.
      Mark W. says:

      Thank you, Missy and Lynn. There are some things which I didn’t think to write in my original comment so I will include them here. I have a badge of honor for Penelope. Actually, it’s a combination badge. A badge of courage and kindness. Courage to try new things and kindness to share her experiences.
      There are many examples. The one that comes to mind is her startup of Brazen Careerist (BC). which is now named Brazen. It looked to me to be a lot of work and sacrifice. It’s what I learned from her experience to be entrepreneurshit. I was a member of the BC community in its early stages composed for the most part Gen Y. And that’s where I witnessed a lot of kindness from Penelope. She wrote about and shared her knowledge of the workplace and from what I could tell there were many appreciative people – especially Gen Y. And there were the detractors. And that’s where her courage was very evident. Penelope has and will always challenge herself. It’s where she learns best. Which can be said for most everyone.
      I use emojis sparingly. I would use them more often if I knew how to use them well. It would also depend on who I was sending them. There have been a few instances where I’ve sent emojis and then later thought that wasn’t the right emoji. So, for the most part, I just don’t bother sending them. I think the most intelligent thing to do with emojis is to know how well you’re able to use them to communicate.

      • Kitty Kilian
        Kitty Kilian says:

        I believe you. I followed a few of P’s webinars and they were very helpful and interesting. Good insights on blogging and online marketing. Ans a joy to witness.

        In P’s case, it’s all about style, wit and being a contrarian – if that’s proper English.

  10. Erin Wetzel
    Erin Wetzel says:

    Re: emojis

    People who feel like they have nothing to prove re: intelligence use emojis whenever the fuck they want to. ;)

    Also… singles who use emojis might have more sex:

    Not using emojis: appear more intelligent.
    Using emojis: appear to value communication more.

    So I guess it comes down to: where are you at in life, what do you value & what are your goals in a certain relationship?

  11. Denise Katterhagen
    Denise Katterhagen says:

    Beautiful! What a great post to wake up to on a Saturday morning. Thank you. Miss you when you are taking a break from writing.

    • Tom
      Tom says:

      Heck, I remember when I would roll my eyes at having to type “http://” in front of everything.

      (I later read that Tim Berners-Lee has always kicked himself for requiring the two back-slashes.)

  12. Michael
    Michael says:

    I never comment because I already feel I’m a winner in life. But when your ego is completely comfortable, you miss the chance to connect. I am jealous of my son and his social media keeping him in touch with all of his friends from every school or outing. But that is just an excuse. I probably still wouldn’t reach out. I’m commenting, now, to hold my place in the winner’s circle.

  13. pat sommer
    pat sommer says:

    Ahhh, this Boomer is enjoying watching the next generations age: once you hit 60 nobody cares what ‘generation’ you are; all are just plain old.

    Then we can be connected in our not giving a fuck.

  14. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Succulent that have spines — cacti — are usually bad feng shui.

    Succulents are in fact easy to kill. Overwater them. Dead pretty soon. Personal experience.

  15. Zellie
    Zellie says:

    I am so happy to see this post. It is very sweet that you have recognized Mark. I’ve been watching the connection between you two in the comments for years.

  16. cindy
    cindy says:

    Seriously, I don’t care if I sound my age (56). I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I don’t really care what Gen Y’s think is cool, important or hip. They think they are the only relevant age group. The older ones are starting to feel the age pinch. Watch out, Y’s, you are getting up there……

    ” The Economist about how Gen Y women make sex too easy for Gen Y men so the men never want to get married. ” I hate generalizations, so I’ll just say…..the female Gen Y’ers I’m thinking of not only make sex too easy, they don’t care at all if they have any feelings for the person they are having sex with. However, they care a LOT if said guy treats them like a receptacle. What do you expect? Shoot, showing my age here……

    I believe in being selective about sexual partners – less is more. Love is good. Old fashioned values are kind of awesome and classy……as is chivalry, manners and character. Do the right thing even when nobody is looking. Don’t work so hard to project a social media acceptable image because……us oldsters may have bad eyes, but we can see through it.

  17. Poppy
    Poppy says:

    Last night I was looking at my bed with critical eyes. Nice beds with matching, plump cushions and pillows are, to me, a sign of adulthood. I have old sheets with holes that my cats made and my pillows don’t fit inside the pillowcases. I started feeling deeply inadequate and thinking about how I’m stuck in my college years in some way and how I did everything wrong, etc. etc. I felt like a loser in the game of life. Your post gave me hope that it’s not pillowcases I should be worrying for, but connections. At least it feels like a more honorable goal, even though I’m not there yet either.
    I love that you are writing more often. I feel connected with you in a meaningful way, for what is worth.

  18. harris497
    harris497 says:

    Happy Belated Birthday Penny. Keep on keeping on… at this age we realize its all about leaving a legacy – whomever or whatever that might be.
    P.S. I’m so jealous of Mark :( How stupid of me:)


  19. Amy Park
    Amy Park says:

    I like the lighthearted feel of this post. I’ve always appreciated the courage and therapeutic purge of the darker themes, and there are plenty of those, but this latest post is reassuring to those who were worried about your losing your way in the tunnel. The themes of resilience and external validation and loneliness in your last posts are universally relevant to all people at all times, and the fact that you wrote about those themes proved that you weren’t so immersed in the tunnel that you couldn’t detach from the purely personal. And now here’s this latest post that is almost entirely non introspective and non confessional. Of course, it’s not nearly as gripping or provocative as the more personal stuff, which just goes to show that suffering can lead to great things when properly understood and shaped. But honestly, the cessation of suffering is far more important and worthy of celebration than the most artful rendition of suffering. Hope you continue to feel better!

  20. natasha
    natasha says:

    Life is a Game, their are really no winners or losers, it a battle of the fittest , everyone is in tittled to his or her opinion.
    Just do or say what you need to be happy!

  21. Thank you quotes
    Thank you quotes says:

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  22. kmadhav
    kmadhav says:

    Hi PenelopeTrunk,

    I understand to managing and holding your thoughts to express in writing when you are working in a big media house. I also worked in a very big media house in India, and I was bound to don’t share anything which my management doesn’t like it or against of their ideology. You are very brave women Penelope.

    All the best for your future

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