Writing

Work Write Balance: Writing with a Heavy Workload

Sorry about the title, I couldn’t decide between that and “the write balance…” they both seems equally good-in-a-bad-way to me.

Having recently taken on a second job at a small Parisian startup, I find that I have increasingly little time for myself and my writing/reading. The natural solution would be to not have two jobs – I only need one so why should I torture myself? Well I happen to like them both and, thank God, both involve writing. One job is all writing and the other is around 1/3rd writing. But it I’m not always writing about things that I want to write about (however, I have discussed how this kind of writing is good for you anyway).

Regardless, this work now takes up the vast majority of my time. And that means all my studying, reading, exercising and writing are now crunched into a much smaller amount of time. Add to that that I am exhausted during this time off and you can see how my writing might drop off in both quality and quantity. The only way around this is extremely effective time management. I am blessed insofar as part of my job involves writing – this is not the case for every aspiring writer. However despite this cushioning, I have found myself cutting things out of my life that I used to think were necessary. Things like reddit and other social news platforms. Platforms that can draw one into endless and wearisome debates about Trump and Clinton (the irony being the interlocutor often ends up not even being American!).

It’s not just about giving up time wasting activities; if careful, one can continue to add activities so long as he holds to a routine. My workouts  just had to move forward and had to be much more anal about punctuality. I’ve had to be more anal about everything, really. And this is the key. Having a big anchor like a job compress the rest of your time can, in my opinion, cause you to get more done in the other spheres of your life. Now that   structure is required, you structure everything.

So if you start to structure your life this way, writing won’t be a problem. You have to make time for it by cutting out the things that you know you don’t need to be doing (and oftentimes they are things that you don’t want to be doing, you are just doing them out of habit and that is all). Do you really want to be on pinterest? Or do you want to be writing? Would you rather be a great pinterester or a great writer?

Another thing that I have been doing is being harder on myself insofar as producing results. Work is a results driven environment, I have to turn in to turn in results at specific times and the results have to be good.

And that is the theme here, the more of your life that you treat as work, the more you will get done outside of work.

Standard
Writing

The Many, Many, Many Benefits of Journaling

For the sake of journalistic (or blogger, whatever) integrity I have to be honest: I am horrible at keeping journals. It is a next to impossible task for me to keep writing in one for more than a month. I get sick or go on vacation and habit dies a quick death. But when I do keep journals I feel like I realize the value as I am writing it. I get to run through my day, critique my actions, and practice my writing. And, of course, a lot of things that seem like a big deal when they are happening seem pathetically unimportant seven hours later when I am writing them down.

But what is  truly wonderful is the fact that you get to watch your writing style develop over the days, months, and years (you also get to see your handwriting get progressively better until high school and then fall off, at least in my case). You can see where you started and just how far you have come, which is wonderful when you are having doubts about your ability as a writer or whether or not you have improved. Doubts that everyone has in the path to becoming a writer… Actually, I’d say that no matter what art you choose, the further you get the slower you advance. And considering the difference between good and great is, in many cases, quite thin – you have to just keep working at it!

But if you don’t see your improvement it is too easy to get frustrated and fall into a rut. Once there you’ll have to climb out. And the easiest way to do this is to see just how far you have come.

But this is only one benefit the journaling has to the aspiring author – there are two others that I want to cover. The first is that it is a bottomless source of inspiration, especially if you develop some kind of tagging system (either on the computer or marking the top of the journal page). A short sentence at the top to give a sneak peek of the contents when browsing. You life is full of the stuff about which whole novels are written; the difference between you and a great writer is practice. A practiced eye insofar as finding the stories in the mundane, and a practiced style. Without both your writing can only be so good.

Lastly, it is a wonderful drug. Diving into your childhood, seeing how you felt and remembering things long forgotten, this is all priceless. And nostalgia is a feeling that sharpens others – a childhood memory is usually a thing of extremes extreme happiness, contentment, pain, wonder – and it is these kind of sharpened emotions that make the best materials for writing.

So start journaling, your future self will thank you.

Standard
English, France, Literature, Writing

I Believe in Fairies

Well I just returned from an excellent meal on Montmartre (de Leopold if anyone is interested) this evening, and I consider myself to be at the perfect level of contentment to write this article. How’s that for a title, eh?

I’ve long had a semblance of an idea in the back of my head that, to me, seems relatively novel. And like all ideas that seem novel to the individual, it is likely an idea that someone has articulated far better than I ever could (and is quite famous to boot). Regardless of the fact that it is likely not novel in the slightest, it certainly seems uncommon. That is, I rank my beliefs by how much I believe in them. It doesn’t seem that strange at first but think about it. If someone said ‘I believe in God but not as much as I believe in gravity’ it seems odd. Or at least it ought to. If you believe in God at all, that is, the omnipotent God. Then by saying that you believe in God less than you believe in gravity, then you are more or less denying the existence of God.

To say I believe in Hell but less than this apple is to damn yourself. Frankly it is ridiculous, if a single shred of you believes in an eternal pit of fire (eternal – try to imagine an eternity), then you damn well better believe in it more than the apple you hold in your hand – or at least hold it equal, as most people have a binary view of existence (real or not). This is a concept with which I have always struggled – if one is truly Christian and believe that there is the possibility of eternal torture because of things that you have done on earth – then the only logical thing to do is become a monk and devote yourself wholly to being holy. In comparison with eternity, the human lifespan is non-existant. With such a brief trial and such a long, long, long reward, why would ANY believer be anything but a devout hermit praying every waking hour?

This is kind of a demonstration of the ‘levels of belief,’ sure one many believe in God, but manifestly not so much as he believes in what is in his hand or right before him.

This is something that my mind ran with as a child. I stratified my beliefs – and by doing so I was able to believe in things that many people found ridiculous without putting them on par with my core or observable beliefs. In some cases it runs along the lines of provability or how ridiculous I would sound if i shared it with someone (although ever since one of my English professors at University told me that he believed wholeheartedly in fairies, I have had a much easier time with this belief).

So here is how this works for me – at the highest strata I have things that are core to my existence or directly observable. Here you find the belief in God (more on this in a minute), gravity, evolution, apples, etc. In the next level you have things that seem likely to exist or possible but we haven’t confirmed it yet – things like aliens and other civilizations falls under this category (I mean there are trillions of galaxies, we can’t be that special). Just below this is the eponymous level: here I have fairies, dryads, fauns, elves, etc. Then there is the level of larger things, things that I can’t tell myself ‘oh they’re hiding from us’ and that would be larger things like dragons, griffins, etc. Then there is non-belief.

If you were to ask me: ABlaine, so do you believe in God? I’d say yes, then if you asked me if I believe in fairies, the answer would be the same. I believe they both exist. It is the fact that I believe in the former that that I can believe in the latter. And as someone raised Catholic, it is very hard to just become wholesale atheist. As I said earlier, if a single fiber still believes, you may as well go for it all the way. In a way this is something like Pascal’s wager. And if an omnipotent god exists and he made us, why couldn’t these other things exist?

An it makes life so much more interesting to read Arthurian legends or Ovid’s Metamorphoses as though they actually happened (although Ovid was quite clear that he did not believe in the things about which he wrote). And there is a strong western bias here, for example I don’t believe in voodoo and the like. I am a product of Western culture, what can I say? When I go to Brittany to visit Merlin’s Tomb, the Mirror of Fairies, or Morgan Le Fay’s home – it is inexplicably more exciting for me than others.

And this is an excitement that can be found in gardens, forests, plains, mountains, the sea, anywhere really. I don’t expect to see any of these things in my life (much like the lost devout Christian would go to their shrink if they heard God speaking directly to them). But such beliefs color life in an extremely interesting way – and they give you insight into how our ancestors lived for millennia.

Standard
Writing

Always be writing

One thing that I have come to realize over the last few years of trying to be a writer is that you must always be writing. Always. I don’t want to sound like one of the those fifteen million blog articles on the internet that target authors who prefer to introduce themselves as an author rather than actually write… But this is one thing that you simply must do. you could use your laptop, tablet, etc. but the simplest tool is also the best: get a notebook.

Ideally you should already be journaling every night but this is another habit that you ought to pick up. Your ideas could come from anywhere and at anytime and, as I am sure you must know by now, they don’t always stick around. They may be killed off by a distraction or task at  hand. An ideal has lifespan and unless you write it down it is likely to die without any real development!

Save those ideas! I look over them at the end of the day and choose the ones that I think are worth keeping. Then I write them up on the computer – along with a little information about the circumstances that led to the idea. Return to this sheet once in a while and work out a new article, poem, or story from the best of these ideas.

Beyond just writing ideas, sometimes I’ll be sitting in the bus or the metro and just crank out a short story or poem in its entirety. These sometimes these are nice in and of themselves and sometimes serve as a nice sortie into uncharted territory. If you like the first report back, perhaps it is worth your time to expand the idea into a more detailed story.

There really is no excuse, if you want to be a writer you need to write. If you want to be one of those artists that does nothing but introduce themselves as such at dinner parties, then disregard all the above.

Standard
music

Music Notes: Tchaikovsky’s Marche Slave

Music Notes is an idea I’ve had for a while where I will take a relatively famous classical music piece and quickly run through the history of it. These articles should be short and to the point so, I hope, you will be able to get through them quickly. And, perhaps, discover something new!

One of the first ones that I have been meaning to do is Tchaikovsky’s Marche Slave.

The Marche Slave (B-flat minor, op. 31) is a symphonic poem written in 1876. A symphonic poem is a short, one movement orchestral piece that is written to evoke the feeling of, well, a poem. Just using music instead of words. A common accessory to Tchikovsky’s 1812 Overture, Marche Slave is something many people could recognize but few could name upon hearing.

The piece was written just at the beginning of the Serbo-Turkish War. The Russians, as was their habit, supported the Serbians in their cause (due to shared ethnic background an religion). The Russian populace was so supportive of the Serbian cause that many Russians ran to go join the war to aid the Serbs. As an aside, this phenomenon is mentioned in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina when several characters go off to join the war.

The concert was actually commissioned for the war itself (well, the Red Cross Society), it was not written out of a fit of patriotic glee; glee such as that which drew Russia’s young men into a foreign war.

The piece itself draws heavily from Serbian folk songs and the Russian national anthem of the time (God Save the Tsar). Giving it strong patriotic and nationalist tones that would have been instantly recognizable to Russians and Serbians of the time.

The piece opened in Moscow in 1876 and was conducted by Nikolai Rubinstein.

Standard
English, Literature

Middle English- A Fading Tradition

Less than 40 years ago Chaucer was still a critical part of the progression of an English student. At the very least there would be the expectation of having studied ‘The Canterbury Tales’ if you went to a relatively good school in the UK or a private academy in the US. If you studied English in University you could expect to also read ‘The Parliment of Fowls’ and ‘Troilus and Criseyde’ of Chaucer, ‘Piers Plowman’ by William Langland, and ‘Gawain and the Green Knight’ by an unknown poet today called ‘The Gawain Poet’ or ‘The Pearl Poet.’ These are magnificent and hugely influential writings that have been slowly forgotten by modern English speakers. And, although they are seldom read outside of academic settings, their influence is still felt in the literature. Old poetry like this doesn’t die, the tales and themes live on in the works of men who had read them.

This is one of the greatest arguments for studying Middle English (beyond the fact that it is really easy to pick up), you will begin to see the influence that ME works had and still have on English today! It is almost as eye opening as when one reads the bible for the first time and starts to see biblical themes everywhere in literature. The influence of poets like Chaucer is difficult to shake!

In the old way, my school still required public recitation in class. And one of the things that we had to memorize was the first lines of the Prologue of ‘The Canterbury Tales.’ These are lines that have been studied for over 700 years and used to be common knowledge among all educated adults. Please listen to them read aloud, the are really quite beautiful:

It sounds foreign and difficult to understand but read read the beginning here:

1: Whan that aprill with his shoures soote
2: The droghte of march hath perced to the roote,
3: And bathed every veyne in swich licour
4: Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
5: Whan zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
6: Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
7: Tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
8: Hath in the ram his halve cours yronne,
9: And smale foweles maken melodye,
10: That slepen al the nyght with open ye
11: (so priketh hem nature in hir corages);
12: Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
13: And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes,
14: To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
15: And specially from every shires ende
16: Of engelond to caunterbury they wende,

It really isn’t the difficult to understand, and with a well annotated reader, one could be reading it as easily as Modern English by the end of ‘The Canterbury Tales.’ People who haven’t read ‘The Canterbury Tales’ tend to think that they are rather short, but these are not tales in the vein of Grimm rather these are short stories – some 40 pages long. Unfortunately fewer and fewer people are reading these wonderful stories. And the few that do read them on translation! A real shame because ME is so easy to pick up with a little effort.

If you are at all on the fence about learning this wonderful poetic and literary tradition (a tradition you are a part of as an English speaker), please read the Miller’s Tale. It is as funny as South Park, but you’ll also be able to brag about it.

 

Standard
Paris

Heritage and Height Limits: A Parisian Problem

A city of tradition, revolution, and reaction, Paris has managed to be both charmingly old world while simultaneously extremely progressive and forward thinking. Paris proper, the twenty arrondissements encircled by the périphérique hasn’t undergone a major change since Hausmann and Napolean III set to work making the city what it is today. They widened boulevards and streets and redid architecture down to minute details like the newstands. Since then the city has been loathe to change.

When the era of skyscrapers can and massively changed cities like New York City and London, Paris relegated them to a suburb, La Défense. The business district of Paris actually exists outside the city itself. The center retained extremely strict height limits and historically important buildings were more or mess untouchable. The Eiffel Tower being a very rare exception that was built to celebrate 200 years of revolution. However, several buildings and structures have gotten through these limits. And they are almost amways greeted with hatred.

uglyassbuilding

Tour Montparnasse

The most notable is the uniformly detested Tour Montparnasse. Easily the second most prominent building in the skyline of Paris (after the Eiffel Tower). This uninspired black mark on the city inspired even stricter restrictions after it’s construction. Other monstrosities have made it through, with slightly less opprobrium than Tour Montparnasse: Centre Pompidou and the Louvre Pyramid.

After Tour Montparnasse the city had a kind of ‘never again’ moment and imposed even stricter height limits on the city. However, this is changing again under mayor Anne Hidalgo. Since views of the city are so expensive and sought after (the city alone contains 30% of the real estate value in France), developers really want to build things that are over the old height restrictions so that owners can have beautiful views of the city (before it fills with other buildings full of people seeking similar views… then suddenly the city is as ugly as London). Mayor Hidalgo recently got the City Council to lift height limits to over 500 feet and to approve a building called Tour Triangle. Described as ‘having a dialog with the city,’ a polite way of saying ‘it is glaring different and will not fit in at all.’

Paris is not the most visited city in the world because people want to see garish modern architecture. They could see that in any major city. People come to Paris to see what major cities of Europe used to be like before the World Wars destroyed most of them (Paris was spared by being declared an open city).

There has been quite an outcry against this move and the building has yet to be built. But does the city really need another Tour Montparnasse to know that it should be more careful and selective?

Standard