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Headlines FTW

September 21, 2019

Find three examples of weak digital headlines and provide a new headline and a push notification for each. You may have up to 65 characters per headline and 50 characters per push notification. Be sure to include the source for each weak headline, including URL.

Headline/push notification: What’s going on with Trump and Biden and Ukraine
“UPDATE: What we know about the whistleblower” (push) or “Whistleblower in Washington: What we know so far” (headline)

Headline/push notification: A Crackdown on Islam Is Spreading Across China
Solutions: “Chinese government destroying mosques” (push) or “Chinese government restricts Islamic traditions, closes mosques” (headline)

Headline/push notification: Flooded again: Climate change is making flooding more frequent in Southeast Texas
Solutions: “Texas flooding indicative of climate change” (push) or “Climate change causing increased flooding in Southeast Texas” (headline)

Wherein I Blame My Ex for a Good Thing – Web version

September 15, 2019

I blame my ex-husband for a lot of things in my life, like my severe aversion to the smell of appletinis and my heart palpitations when I see an errant pair of socks on the floor. In a way, though, he’s also responsible for one of the best things that’s happened in my life.

Here’s where you expect me to say, “my children,” but we never had kids. I’m thinking of my erstwhile humor blog, Pintester.

A Short History of Blogging

Sonja Likness, wearing a blue dress and holding flowers
Me, circa 2000, being weird

I’ve blogged since blogging was a new, shiny word. No one had cell phones back then. We were all still messaging each other with AIM and ICQ on our desktop computers. “Social media” wasn’t a term yet. A window into someone else’s life seemed novel and exciting.

In 1999, I started my very own Xanga blog. I remember hitting publish on my first post, which was more or less a diary entry, and feeling the thrill that a perfect stranger could now read what I’d written.

This sort of thing was reserved for the stars, in my mind: Authors and newspaper columnists and screenwriters—not freshman-in-college women with a flair for the weird. Yet now I could “publish” my work.

I tried different tones and voices on my blogs, which morphed from Xanga to Livejournal to Blogger to WordPress as the years went on. I wrote about my passions, like romance novels—reading them and writing them. I wrote about school and friends and family members. I wrote silly poems. I posted papers I’d written for my classes. I wrote a lot of college-era mushy posts about boyfriends.

After college, I got married, and the life I’d written about in blogs those years became entwined with another human’s life—my husband’s. So, I wrote about him, too.

Writing About My Ex

At first, I don’t think he minded. I mostly wrote about his good looks and his charm and our great life together. But, as anyone who’s been married knows, life wasn’t always funny and perfect and sweet. Sometimes it was messy. Sometimes it was sad. The weight of marriage and life and adulthood bore down on me, and I did the thing I’d always done. I wrote about it.

In my mind, of course, I wrote only the fair and balanced. I didn’t generally air grievances, and mostly my husband came out looking like the straight man against my weird neuroses in the stories I would tell. But he knew the back-story to everything I wrote. He knew what I had left out. He could read between the lines because he lived between the lines with me. And he didn’t appreciate it.

Sonja poses with a fancy dinner
Me, young and newly married

For a while, we navigated my addiction to writing about my life publicly with an agreement that he would read everything I’d written about him before I posted it. It chafed against my sense of editorial integrity, but I loved him, and I went with it. I would stand over his shoulder as he read, twirling a strand of hair and biting my lip as I waited for his proclamation.

Most of the time, he’d shrug and give me the go-ahead, but sometimes the color of his ears would darken just a shade and I would know he was about to tell me that there was no way in hell I could publish what I’d written. Occasionally a strategic word change or leaving out a sentence could fix the problem, but more often it sparked a fight about our differing perspectives, and who was the Wrong and Right between the two of us.

After one such discussion, I did a thing that I hope every married person has done at one point or another. I decided to make a proposal so ridiculous that I knew he’d apologize and let me do what I wanted. I said (probably louder than necessary), “Fine! Maybe I’ll just never write about you again!”

To me, it seemed like the worst possible insult to a person you loved. How could you live with someone and love someone and not write about them in your blog? I expected him to sigh and maybe hug me and say something like, “No, that’s not what I want at all,” and then realize that of course he wanted me to write about him because who wouldn’t want to be a star on the Internet?

Instead, he said, “Good. Please don’t write about me ever again.”

A New Blog is Born

I lived somewhere between crushed and infuriated for a day or two. How could this person whose life belonged to me almost as much as my life belonged to me refuse to let me write about him? How could he not see that if I couldn’t write about him, he would exist a little bit less in my world? It was insult heaped upon bruising insult.

When the hurt began to wear off, I wondered how I’d continue blogging. His life intermingled with mine such that a daily diary couldn’t work anymore. I couldn’t write about my life without his life. Would I stop writing? I considered the option, but not for long. No, writers could no sooner stop writing than stop breathing. That’s what all my writer friends said, anyway. With that option squashed, I began to think about what I could write that wouldn’t be a diary of my life.

That watershed “Fine!” blogging moment happened in December 2011. It had been the year of Nyan Cat, the poptart-shaped, rainbow-farting cat flying across the screen to an inane soundtrack. It had been the year of the honey badger declaring, “Honey badger don’t care!” It had been the year of Google+ (RIP).

2011 was also the year that some genius Internet hot-shot boy-child developer launched Pinterest into public beta. I regularly spent hours a day on Pinterest, virtually pinning recipes and crafts to my boards to try, and even actually trying some of them.

They were aspirational projects created by shiny, happy bloggers who stayed at home with their children and crafted skirts for their daughters and entry-way cubbies for their kids’ backpacks and cooked easy crockpot meals sure to please the whole family. I was a neurotic, stressed, fairly unhappily married person with no kids and no crafting skills who thought this shit couldn’t possibly be that hard. I was wrong. I failed regularly to create a craft or foodstuff that even slightly resembled the original shiny, happy blog post.

Thus, was born. The original tagline read, “Fucking up Pinterest pins so you don’t have to.” It was a blog for all the neurotic, stressed, perhaps unhappily married people out there who couldn’t quite get their lives to look like their Pinterest boards. It was anti-aspirational. And it had a lot of swear words in it.

It also had nothing to do with my husband.

Pintester, My Love

Sonja posing with an internet arrow
Me, in my advertising agency days

I started Pintester while I had a job at an advertising agency and worked on it in my spare time. For a couple of months, my family members and a few friends at work read it.

I used all of my marketing and advertising tricks. I right-sized the images for Pinterest and my target audience there. I worked on my tone consistency (which, for Pintester, was mostly just including as many f-bombs as possible). I took classes on photography and videography. I bought a camera. I put ads in the sidebar.

Eventually, in the perfect storm of blogging, Internet advertising and Pinterest that happened in the early months of 2012, Pintester caught on. When my job at the advertising agency ceased to exist, I replaced my income and then some with the advertising revenue from Pintester. I was a real-live writer, albeit one who used a lot of swears.

So much of blogging for my living was glorious. I stayed at home and worked in my pajamas most days. “Working” involved making myself laugh and trying stupid things that I sort of wanted to try anyway, like waxing my legs with a homemade microwaved sugar scrub and filming silly videos with my friends.

Blogging also became an escape from my real life. As Pintester got more popular and I got better at my craft (if not my crafts), my marriage crumbled. We drifted in and out of couples’ therapy. We had fights too heinous for me to relate to even my closest friends. We drank too much and yelled too much and resentment filtered through the smell of my latest burned Pinterest project.

The End

Eventually, the ad revenue slowed to a trickle and I went back to working a 9-to-5 job and writing Pintester on the side. I liked my job and I liked not paying quarterly taxes anymore and I liked having my own healthcare plan. I’d forgotten about the little freedoms in a 40-hour work week.

In my personal life, I gained little bits of freedom, too. I made more friends, joined clubs and organizations, learned new hobbies, all in a bid to find fulfillment outside of my marriage and my blog. It made me happier, but it didn’t make my husband happier. Our marriage suffered for it. More often than not, we were in crisis mode, just trying to make it to the next vacation or the next holiday or the next weekend.

Eventually, after months of discussions and arguments and fights about how or if we could fix things, my ex-husband and I split for good.

I stopped blogging.

Truthfully, I stopped writing. (And eating. And enjoying things that once gave me pleasure. Diagnose me.)

But I got better. I got stronger. I healed. I learned to accept some of the mistakes we’d both made in our marriage.

I moved on.

I told a friend once that I might never be able to forgive my ex-husband for what happened between us, and I imagine he feels the same. But I’ll also never forget that he was the reason Pintester ever existed. Pintester is not my child, and it won’t bring me everlasting joy, but it was my joy and my love for the years that I did it.

If I can’t thank my ex-husband for many things, I can at least thank him for that.

Critique for Laura Oleniacz

September 4, 2019

My writing partner is Laura Oleniacz and I’m doing a critique of her piece, “One night with unbearable guests: An adventure in the Shining Rock Wilderness.”

First of all, Laura, I’ll say I enjoyed reading this crazy story! You and Dan are braver than I’ll ever be. I often tell people, “I don’t camp without a toilet that flushes.” So there ya go. I’m maybe not your target audience– ha. With that said, here’s some of my advice!


I looked up the contributor guidelines for Our State magazine. From their site:

Our average feature article length is about 1,200 words. Departments run 500 to 800 words.

I did a rough count of your article in Microsoft Word and it comes in at about 2120 words, so I think if you were submitting to Our State, it would probably have to get cut some. I’d actually cut the section where you talk about bear facts and about how they’re losing the wilderness. I don’t think it fits as well with the narrative of the rest of your story.

That would probably mean that you’d need to re-work the conclusion a little bit and maybe pepper in some other in-the-moment feelings throughout the essay about how you feel about bears. Are you scared but also impressed with their ingenuity? Are you feeling threatened but then realize that the bears are also threatened in a way and this is how they survive? It feels a bit abrupt to talk about your feelings about the bears’ habitats way at the end without a set-up for it.


I think a quick read-through to change up a couple of words and sentences will really improve the flow of this piece. For example, you use the phrase “laughed off” twice in fairly rapid succession near the beginning of the essay, and then the word “beautiful” twice in one paragraph.

You also have a lot of sentences with the same basic structure. These all appear next to each other in the essay:

But the rock fell, missing the branch.

“Let me try,” I said, taking the rock and moving farther back for a throw.

“One, two, three, ‘Steph Curry!” I said, trying to borrow some of the recent success of the Golden State Warriors, which had recently beaten LeBron’s team in the finals.


Passive voice is one of those ones I have to work really hard to get out of my writing, and it usually happens on the 2nd or 3rd readthrough. My most helpful hint is to go back and find any “to be” verbs and see if you can make them more active. For example,

The rolling gray-blue mountains were visible in the distance.

could be rewritten:

We could see the rolling gray-blue mountains in the distance.

Sometimes you can also just take them out completely. Your sentence,

My dog was visibly excited.

isn’t actually necessary because you describe in the very next sentence the actions that show your dog is excited, rather than telling that your dog is excited. Your reader will still get that the dog is excited if you drop the first sentence of the paragraph.


You’ve got a word missing in this sentence:

My boyfriend tied a rock to [the] end of our rope.

Also, poor Dan doesn’t get a name until 2/3 of the way through the essay! I’d refer to him as your boyfriend Dan the first time and then switch to just Dan. That’s personal preference a bit, but I think it’s easier to read that way.

Again, I really enjoyed reading your piece and I’m so impressed with your adventurous spirit! Those doggies are some lucky fellas to be able to go adventuring with you.