Are You Searching for Beauty in the NOW?


Beauty in the NOW

Beauty in the NOW

I’ve had a sad few days.

After this post, you know some of the reasons why. There are others, but they don’t matter.

We all get a little blue from time to time, so we all know what it is about, don’t we?

But over the past years of occasional bouts of feeling blue, I’ve realized one thing. It is never a loss or a problem that causes my sadness.

It is my attitude towards it.

If I look at my sadness, accept it, watch it, it reduces. I see that I can either do something about the problem, or accept that I can only do something about my attitude towards the problem.

As I watch the sad part of me, I also see that the happy part of me, the calm blue lake within, hasn’t gone anywhere.

It is up to me, to choose to be in the NOW, be mindful of what blessings I have at present, and focus on those.

I took the photographs of these orchids two weeks ago, and saw them on my phone just now– and they made me smile.

In this moment, now, watching the orchids as I type, the sad part of me has receded.

It is in this spirit that I also write about the Sunflowers for Tina Blogfest , which we at the A to Z Challenge have organized.

Sunflowers for Tina

Sunflowers for TinaSunflowers for Tina Blogfest we at the A to Z Challenge have organized.

This 8th of September we hope to cover as big a part of the internet as possible with Sunflowers, the favorite flower of our dear Tina who we lost all too soon.

As we mourn her loss, we also celebrate who she was: a bright, compassionate, large-hearted personality.

If you knew Tina through her blog, I encourage you to take part, by signing up here.

If you didn’t know Tina– celebrate this Blogfest as a day of choosing to be joyful– a choice Tina Downey made, despite all her suffering, every day of her life.

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Would you join us in celebrating Tina with the Sunflowers Blogfest? In your life, are you searching for beauty in the NOW?

 

 

What’s Your Story? #socialmedia


Fishy thoughts

My thoughts on Social Media

Today, I had a minor setback. My first instinct– to go and share it on Facebook.

I don’t share much of my private life on my blog, nor on my Facebook or Twitter. But recently, I’ve noticed a tendency– or maybe a temptation– because I don’t give in to it, of sharing about my life on social media.

I recently read this article in the New Yorker by author Dani Shapiro, about exactly how damaging giving in to this temptation can be for writers:

I worry that we’re confusing the small, sorry details—the ones that we post and read every day—for the work of memoir itself. I can’t tell you how many times people have thanked me for “sharing my story,” as if the books I’ve written are not chiseled and honed out of the hard and unforgiving material of a life but, rather, have been dashed off, as if a status update, a response to the question at the top of every Facebook feed: “What’s on your mind?” I haven’t shared my story, I want to tell them. I haven’t unburdened myself, or softly and earnestly confessed. Quite the opposite.

In order to write a memoir, I’ve sat still inside the swirling vortex of my own complicated history like a piece of old driftwood, battered by the sea. I’ve waited—sometimes patiently, sometimes in despair—for the story under pressure of concealment to reveal itself to me. I’ve been doing this work long enough to know that our feelings—that vast range of fear, joy, grief, sorrow, rage, you name it—are incoherent in the immediacy of the moment. It is only with distance that we are able to turn our powers of observation on ourselves, thus fashioning stories in which we are characters.

There is no immediate gratification in this. No great digital crowd is “liking” what we do. We don’t experience the Pavlovian, addictive click and response of posting something that momentarily relieves the pressure inside of us, then being showered with emoticons. The gratification we memoirists do experience is infinitely deeper and more bittersweet. It is the complicated, abiding pleasure, to paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson, of finding the universal thread that connects us to the rest of humanity, and, by doing so, turns our small, personal sorrows and individual tragedies into art.

I am given to Facebook updates and blog posts about the small things in life. Now I’ve begun to wonder whether that’s affecting my storytelling. Maybe I’m not building up enough steam over the years, by letting it out through my social media updates. Maybe the fact that I talk about small, impersonal-sounding details on my blog is affecting my storytelling abilities.

What’s your take on this? How much of your inner life/ rants/ life news do you share on Facebook and other social media? If you’re a writer, do you think sharing life experiences on social media detracts from an author’s ability to tell a story?

Do you have to be intelligent to be evil?


A question like “do you have to be intelligent to be evil” can seem philosophical and vague, but it becomes less theoretical when you apply it to a death penalty court case like the one that has played out in Georgia. Must there be a conniving, Machiavellian mind behind evil, or is it something inherent in anyone — or everyone?

…..At the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s department of cognitive science, a research team explored the logic of evil by programming a computer character named “E” that “acted on” or was motivated by a definition of evil. The Rensselaer crew defined an evil person as one who decided to commit an immoral act without prompting and carry out the plan with the expectation of considerable harm. When reflecting on those deeds, the person would either find incoherent reasons for his or her actions or think the damage caused was good.

….Trying to get an objective answer about evil or intelligence is never going to work. We all have too many inherent prejudices and biases to ever get a response that satisfies us. But looking at something like Dr. Welner’s Depravity Scale does lead me to believe that critical thinking about intelligence and evil does have a purpose in our society: if we’re ever asked to use our own definitions of what is evil and intelligent to judge someone’s actions, we better have a compelling reason to believe our own opinions.

Hakone Open Air Museum

Intelligence and Evil

 

That was an excerpt from an article I read the other day, and though it goes on to talk about insanity pleas and so on, it reminded me of what weighs on all our minds.

Like a lot of us, I’ve been watching Gaza, and also the Malaysian plane shot down in Ukraine.

Since I can’t do anything else to help this world gone mad, where children are murdered (while they play on a beach or fly 33,000 ft above the earth towards a vacation or their homes), I try to gather positive energies. If the world goes negative, the only thing in my small, insignificant hands is to be positive. I can only add myself to the sum total of positive energies in this world, and thus stand against the negatives.

But somehow, I wonder whether the intelligence that has given us humans such an advantage in evolution would one day be our undoing. (Even in the animal world, it is the dolphins who rape, the chimpanzees who murder– is evil a function of intelligence quotient, after all?)

What do you think? Is what’s happening in the war-torn areas of the world a result of intelligence gone mad? Other than ranting and fighting virtual wars on Facebook, how can we as human beings help undo this horrific situation?

Have questions for an established #author and #Creative #Writing Lecturer at Birkbeck?


As part of my ongoing series with experts from the publishing industry,  last week I hosted Jayapriya Vasudevan, Founder of the Jacaranda Literary Agency. Today, I bring you Julia Bell, Senior Lecturer, teaching the MA in Creative Writing at the prestigious Birkbeck College, UK. I’ve had the good fortune of having her as my mentor under the Writing the City Programme, and I have to declare that she’s the best thing that can happen to you if you’re a noob like me attempting a novel.

Today I ask her a few questions, and encourage you to add yours in the comments– I hope to get you your answers. So without further ado, here goes:

1. Hanif Kureshi recently said that Creative Writing Courses are a waste of time. As a Senior Lecturer of Creative Writing at one of the most prestigious creative writing programs in the UK, what is your comment on that? What do you look for in a potential candidate for your program?

Julia Bell: Creative Writing Coursebook

Julia Bell: Creative Writing Coursebook

Hanif Kureshi sounds like part of an older generation of writers who preserve their position through adopting an attitude of superiority. Creative Writing programmes have created a new democracy in literature where anyone with a story can learn how to tell it and I think it’s evident now that Creative Writing can be taught. This is an interesting article from Publishers Weekly explaining exactly how and why MFA programmes are a necessary part of the Literary Culture in the US.

I would say that CW MA/MFA Courses are a vital part of finding and developing new voices in literature. I can’t teach boring people to be interesting, but I can help interesting people to write better, to develop their work into a voice. I’m looking for openness to feedback, a sense of the experiential nature of storytelling and a felicity for language. Raw talent can always be shaped through editorial feedback and there is nothing more exciting than watching someone finding their real voice, their point of view on the world.

2. How does your experience as an author feed into your teaching? What do you like best about teaching creative writing and what puts you off? (The lecture she links to is fab– give it a listen if you’re an aspiring author)

I would teach by example – I write every day and I try to encourage students to do the same. Being a ‘daily artist’ is what it takes to sustain a career as a writer. There is quite a bit of my teaching available for free on the Birkbeck website Writers Hub – here is a link to a lecture I gave on a writer’s territory.

3. If you had to give just three pointers on ‘writing technique’ to aspiring authors, something general creative writing books don’t tell them, what would they be? (Here are a few she’s already spoken about)

It’s hard work. It demands your full and complete attention. And sometimes you write crap but there is always something good even if it’s only a sentence in a bad day’s work.

4. If you had to choose three of your favorite authors and their best works, which would they be? Why did you choose these in particular?

I don’t know if these are ‘best’ works but these books have hugely influenced my thinking about writing and my life itself:

George Orwell The Clergyman’s Daughter His prose is so clear and clean I would aspire to the same clarity of vision, but the story of a vicar’s daughter who is oppressed by the faith of her father was both a warning and a portrait of what I didn’t want for myself.

Jeanette Winterson – Oranges are Not the Only Fruit – I was jealous when I read this it seemed to articulate something about my own life, and I wondered what I could add to the story. It’s interesting how she returned to the subject in a memoir 25 years later – Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal – the two are companion pieces to my mind and make up her best and most interesting work.

Virginia Woolf – Mrs Dalloway – Oh I how I love her – what a writer – she understood that good prose also contains good poetry. Her essays are also a delight in the fluency of articulation and the way she approaches her subjects. Clarity and rhythm are for me what I want out of good writing. Something that sings in my head.

5. For those new to your work, which of your novels would you recommend they start with? 

Massive, by  Julia Bell

Massive, by Julia Bell

I write novels which are the equivalent of British Indie films. I want them to have a realism like Orwell and a voice that has the a poetic flourish – but these effects must be earned – too much poetry and the prose becomes dense, not enough and it’s too plain, too staccato. I’m very proud of my first novel, Massive which is to be republished next year in a revised edition with the cultural references updated from 2002 to 2015. It’s a real privilege to get to do this – there will then be two slightly different editions of this book out in the world which I think is a delight for a writer. You can find out a bit more on my website.

6. Tell us about your forthcoming novel.

My new novel is called The Dark Light and is the story of a girl who has grown up in a strange religious cult. It’s a bit like a reworking of the Wicker Man with a bit of Lord of the Flies thrown in. It comes out in May 2015 from Macmillan. Follow me on Twitter @juliabell for updates as the process moves towards publication – first I’ve got to do some editing . . .

7. What was the spark of the story, and what was the writing process like? Who is your target audience?

I think it’s a story about my childhood, but also it’s been inspired by an increasing sense of religious fundamentalism in the world. I’m interested in how rigid religious thought can become like a trap even as it purports to set people free. Ironically my upbringing fostered a sense of fairness which rails against religious fundamentalism where women are seen as subordinate to men and sexuality is seen as something to be feared rather than enjoyed.  I’ve also been writing a memoir in verse which I see very much as a companion piece to the novel. You can see me reading some of it here.

Julai Bell, author

Julia Bell

Julia Bell is a writer and Senior Lecturer at Birkbeck College, London where she teaches on the Creative Writing MA and is Project Director of the Writers Hub website. She is the author of three novels, most recently The Dark Light to be published in May 2014, the co editor of the Creative Writing Coursebook as well as three volumes of short stories most recently The Sea In Birmingham. She also takes photographs, writes poetry, short stories, occasional essays and journalism, and is the co-curator of spoken word night In Yer Ear.

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Do you have questions for Julia Bell? Have you come across the Creative Writing Coursebook? Read Massive? Have you done an MFA/ MA in creative writing, or taken any other creative writing course? Would you recommend it?

Does Encouragement equal Support for #IndiePub Authors?


I recently read post by fellow blogger Andrew Leon, Encouragement Does not Equal Support. He is talking about providing encouragement/ support to Indie authors:

“Encouragement is nothing more than patting someone on the back and saying “good luck.” It really doesn’t take anything to do. There’s no real effort involved. Now, don’t get me wrong; encouragement can be nice: It feels good, but, really, it’s completely insubstantial. It doesn’t do anything real.

Support requires an effort. To put it in another context, support is more than just wishing fellow authors “best of luck” with their releases. Support is more than just cover reveals and blog hops. Support is more than just adding someone’s book to your “to read” list on Goodreads….Actual support is buying the books of your author friends…..Actual support is reading the books that you’ve picked up from your friends…Actual support is, after having read someone’s indie release, leaving a review. A real review.”

Authors review authors on Amazon

Authors Reviewing Authors?

I agree with the post, and I think if you’re a reader or a writer (a majority of this blog’s audience) you ought to go read it.

I try, whenever I can, to feature authors on my blog, interview them, and of course, do cover reveals and such. But as Andrew rightly points out, this is hardly enough.

I do buy books by fellow authors, read them too.

I share their books on social media and feature both the authors and their books on my blogs. But I’ve stopped short of doing a review. I’m terrified of reviewing author friends– I could write a balanced review and probably not offend any of my excellent blog friends. But then, I could. So I do everything I possibly can, other than write a review. I know some of them left me a review on the ebook I published in 2011, and I sometimes feel guilty for not leaving a review in return. I do whatever else I can, by sharing them on social media and buying/ gifting their books.

I don’t know whether I fall short of support, but to me, blogging and my online life is a pleasure, and I wouldn’t want to do anything that jeopardizes my online friendships. I’ve read other authors who agree with my POV. For the foreseeable future, this will be my (guilt-ridden, but firm) stance. Let me know yours in the comments– as always your comments teach me new perspectives, and I look forward to learning from you.

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As part of my pledge in my A to Z Reflections post, I’ll feature three bloggers on each post, Bloggers I Recommend Visiting:

Anna Tan: A dear Malaysian blog friend, and editor of the bestselling Love in Penang. Check out her post promoting another fellow author, the excellent Mimi Barbour.

Jemima Pett: A cherished blog-friend, and author of Bravo Victor, and many other excellent books. Check out her post with her giveaway, and supporting other authors.

Lisa Buie-Collard: A consistent blogger, amazing blog-friend, and charming author. Check out her post on Why Indie Authors Need Editors.

(If you visit these bloggers and leave a comment, I’ll automatically include you in a list of bloggers slated for this feature, or for your posts to be linked, tweeted, promoted on my social media profiles.)

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Do you read books by Indie Authors? An Indie author yourself? What is your view of Indie authors reviewing other Indie authors? Do you agree with the article above on ways to Encourage and Support authors? As a reader, how much attention do you pay to a reader review?

#AtoZchallenge #flashfiction: Z for Zebra crossings must’ve been designed by a psychopath


The A to Z Challenge is now coming to an end. Through the month of April I posted a story a day based on photographs by Joseph W. Richardson and prompts given to me by blog-friends.
Today I bring you the last of the 26 stories, and I thank each and every one of you who’s commented on the 25 stories so far. I came to know some of you during the challenge, and some of my much loved readers are from before. I hope to visit your blogs often in the coming months. I’m not a demonstrative person, be it online life or offline, but I do hope to return the support you’ve given me in what has been a difficult month!
Writing prompt: Zebra crossings must’ve been designed by a psychopath

Provided by: Guilie Castillo Oriard friend, fellow writer,  and one of the magnificent Seven of #TeamDamyanti

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#atozchallenge : Z is for Zebra crossings must've been designed by a psycopath

#atozchallenge : Z is for Zebra crossings must’ve been designed by a psychopath

          I dream in black and white, and that’s how I see life. What’s the point of color, anyway?

           Color’s like laughter, completely useless. Both make you look silly, is all. When you’re stabbing someone, all that red is a bit overly done, if you know what I mean. Black, now, black is soothing. It’s a color too, the only one I like, and wear, really.

           Black is the color of shadows, and I like shadows, love living in them, even on this hundred-year-old boat lit up like a Christmas tree on all days of the year. She’s a relic, she is, the Belle of Louisville. Long ways she’s come, from carrying braying mules and bleating lambs to ferrying touristy types from all over the world, who get sneetered with all this history and fork out a good sum to breathe the dank evening air from its decks.

            I arsle about on its decks in the evenings, wiping the glass windows here and there, looking for a likely one. Most evenings I draw empty. They mostly come in groups, the ones I like, the sweet-smiling curly blondes. Uncles, aunties, parents, friends— polecats all of them, setting off such a stink if their darling is missing for more than a few minutes.

            So I’ve got to wait for weeks, months, before I get the right one. Lonely, smiles right back when I smile at her. Traveling alone, finding herself. A divorcee, usually, or someone in her family just died, and she’s on a break, to get away from it all. I tell her I know how she feels, and her eyes widen. I don’t know, not really, not how any of this ‘feeling’ shit works, but I can fake it with the best of them. I’m not as much of a fool as the captain makes me out to be.

              In the end she gets to go away from it all, very far away indeed on the Missisipi, and I get to scratch my itch, know what I’m sayin’?

              I read up on folks like me, folks who don’t feel much, who don’t get stuff like ‘irony’, us folks who dream in black and white. I don’t see what’s wrong with me or black and white. I like zebra crossings, they call them crosswalks around these parts. Zebra crossings must’ve been designed by a psychopath, too. They say folks like me can’t be cured, but it’s good for us to talk it out, once they have us in the hospitals. I’m not going to no hospital, so here I am getting a crick in my neck, writing in this here, my notebook.

             Time for me to wrap up though, because I spot a blonde one boarding, right across. I just might get lucky tonight.

~~~~~

Are you taking part in the A to Z challenge? Do you read or write fiction? Ever write based on a prompt? Been aboard the Belle of Louisville?

(An added Disclaimer: This is absolutely a figment of my imagination, and any resemblances of my character with anyone you know is purely coincidental!)

#AtoZchallenge #flashfiction: Y is for Yes is such an easy word to say when


As part of the A to Z Challenge,  through the month of April I’ll be posting a story a day based on photographs by Joseph W. Richardson and prompts given to me by blog-friends.
Writing prompt: Yes is such an easy word to say when

Provided by:  Csenge Virág Zalka, friend, fellow writer, storyteller, and one of the magnificent Seven of #TeamDamyanti

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#atozchallenge: Yes is such an easy word to say when

#atozchallenge: Yes is such an easy word to say when

        Yes is such an easy word to say when you’re tired.

         Tired of walking the whole day around the island, yes, but tired also of being told what to do, and what to stay away from.    

          Do not heed the siren calls they said, keep your eye on the road, do not eat or rest till we tell you to. You’re a babe in the woods, your sixteen years no match for the forest and its spells.   

           They never tired and strode on, hacking through the undergrowth, scaring away rabbits and snakes and other crawling things.  But he’d had enough of the empty stomach, of never sleeping longer than a few minutes on hard ground, of being terrified of shadows. It exhausted him.

         So, when she asked him to come rest next to her, he said yes.

          She looked shimmery in the twilight, her eyes swimming with unshed tears, as if it was him she’d been waiting for, for years, millennia. The air around them smelled of orchards, of over-ripe fruit, and the call of a lone nightjar cut through the distant murmur of the sea.

         He sat down and moved closer, into her arms. The arms closed around him, the stone of her body warmed in the sunlight, and turned to flesh. He smiled. No one would find him here. He could sleep.

In the morning they found him, a stone lover in a stone woman’s arms. Her cold unmoving eyes looked upon his closed eyelids, a veiled smile upon her white marble lips.

~~~~~

Are you taking part in the A to Z challenge? Do you read or write fiction? Ever write based on a prompt?