Tag Archives: writing

DENTAL FLOSS FOR THE MIND

Small wonder that it looks muddy green in the daylight..

There are books I keep in the bathroom, not for the purpose you are all thinking of, but to read while I brush my teeth. Since electric toothbrushes became the norm, with their mandated two minutes of brushing, multi-taskers like me needed to fill that empty space. Two minutes are a very long time to stand by the sink, contemplating one’s wrinkles, or to sit on the toilet at one with one’s toothbrush

The books of choice for this task are small volumes, mostly poetry, that can be opened at random, or short essays that can be digested in a few dental sessions. The current one, that prompted me to sit down and share my thoughts with you, was bought years ago but, strangely, never opened. It’s Joseph Brodsky’s “Watermark” and I say “strangely” because his meditation on Venice and its effects on humankind and himself in particular travelled  with me at least twice, during my pilgrimages to Venice.

My love affair with Venice, the city on water and not its Californian counterpart, started a long time ago and it is by no means over. That I opened this book only now, when Venice’s weather is turning cooler and the city is preparing for another grey, humid and foggy winter while I am still enjoying balmy days in Los Angeles, has turned out to be a gift in disguise.

Short on physical descriptions and depictions and long on literary meditations, personal adventures in the city and metaphysical thoughts on Venice and its place in the collective imagination, every time a particular shade of light, a fondamenta or a feeling are mentioned, images of this wondrous place come alive.

Check out his description of the water:

“[..] For water, too, is choral, in more ways than one. It is the same water that carried the Crusaders, the merchants, St. Mark’s relics, Turks, every kind of cargo, military, or pleasure vessel; above all, it reflected everybody who ever lived, everybody who ever strolled or waded its streets in the way you do now. Small wonder that it looks muddy green in the daytime and pitch black at night, rivaling the firmament. A miracle that, rubbed the right and the wrong way for over a millennium, it doesn’t have holes in it, that is still H2O, though you would never drink it; that it still rises. It really does look like musical sheets, frayed at the edges, constantly played, coming to you in tidal scores, in bars of canals with innumerable obbligati of bridges, mullioned windows, or curved crownings of Coducci cathedrals, not to mention the violin necks of gondolas. In fact, the whole city, especially at night, resembles a gigantic orchestra, with dimly lit music stands of palazzi, with a restless chorus of waves, with the falsetto of a star in the winter sky. The music is, of course, greater than the band, and no hand can turn the pages.”

It is such clarity and poetry that make me run into a hole and never want to write another word and, conversely, push me to express things as my truth makes me see them.

If you have never travelled to Venice in winter, Brodsky will make you pine for a void in your life you didn’t even know was there. If, like me, you are thinking of Venice as a future place of residence, the book will remind you of all the reasons, good and bad, why such a move would be difficult and transforming. It takes a tortured soul and a literary genius to set aside clichés when it comes to describe a city that has become a cliché in itself.

And, as I unwittingly discovered, there are books that are better read two minutes at a time.

 

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FRESHLY PRESSED? IT FEELS NICE

Freshly unemployed (ok, by choice so no pity here), I was lying on the couch for a post lunch nap. The dogs made me do it. Sitting at my desk, gathering jumbled thoughts on what to write, their snoring inspired me to get up and take a breather. Sliding into this unusual siesta, I was pondering whether writing about home-made lemonade and pasta would help me ease into this long week-end, purportedly the last week-end of Summer, the one that will turn LA beaches into ant hills, clog all freeways and that will give me even more ammo than needed to veg between the couch and the patio.

My eyes already closed, gentle snoring lulling me into sleep, the beeping sound of e-mails emanating from my iPhone started to jar with my impending dreams. Wait. That is too many e-mails. I am not that popular, not even with telemarketers. Certainly not at 2 in the afternoon.

Because I am a curious monkey and because I felt slightly guilty about the whole napping novelty, I reached for my phone and saw a long sequence of WordPress e-mails. The first comment was from Simply Om, congratulating me on being freshly pressed! WHAT?

The now welcome sound of more e-mails coming in completely jolted me awake. The dogs were duly informed but were not duly impressed. As soon as I started coming down from this very nice high which happened at a time when I am giving my life a makeover, I started thinking about the day I felt the need to publish blog, over two years ago.

The freshly pressed post on my mother’s voice was my 700th and one of the hardest to write. It all began because I wanted to see if I could develop the discipline of writing between 500 and 700 words five days a week, how hard it would be to make some of my thoughts public and to take criticisms. Working full-time, I had little time to publicize what I did, I don’t even have a Facebook page and I never gave much thought to what a blogging community was.  What I most vividly remember of my first post is how long I hesitated to press that “Publish” button, as if nuclear destruction was at my fingertips.

Yet, what started as a selfish endeavour turned out to be an eye opener on the generosity of other writers, an exercise in supporting each other, in making new friends, virtual and otherwise. In unexpected ways, it has even shaped some of the decisions involving my future working life. There have been some nasty comments along the way, a couple of threatening crazies who were quickly confined to the permanent junk, and even those taught me some welcome lessons.

Well, but enough gloating and pondering on the meaning of blogging. Tomorrow it’s back to the drawing board. Thank you WordPress editors and happy labour day week-end everyone.

Back on Tuesday

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FEAR OF WRITING


Gabriel Garcia Marquez I will never be. Nor will I ever have the inventiveness of David Mitchell, the turn of prose of Edward St. Aubyn or Nabokov’s metaphors. The witticism of Evelyn Waugh will evermore escape me. Chances are I won’t even be able to come up with sex scenes  a la Jackie Collins (or those of “Shades of Grey” and if you don’t know what I am talking about it, get Google moving).

Like most “professional” readers with writing aspirations, I often fall into the trap of comparing myself to other and better, much better, writers. As if. I have always been in love with words – I pay attention to how words are strung together in a sentence, I admire the elegance of certain sequencing, I re-read passages just to absorb the smoothness of a metaphor or the ease of conveyance. Then I turn around and say, often aloud, I could never do this. Maybe, maybe not. It took me a long time to realize this is just another excuse, another wall to keep the fear at bay, another reason to justify not writing.

I never set out to become Jimmy Iovine when I started working in the music business or Alain Ducasse when I pursued professional cooking – neither titan of their profession stopped me from doing my best and having tons of fun in the process, thus creating a wealth of memories and expertise. So why would it be different with writing? Is it because of the enormous odds stacked against a writer, any writer? Is it because what I have to say might not be important enough? Ms. Collins certainly never cared. Or is it for fear that, with some detachment, I would never actually read, much less pay for, what I write?

English not being my first language plays a large part in my insecurities – Conrad I will not be either (also, my seafaring experience is fairly limited). It was Emma’s post of today that made me put black on white the fears I am reluctant to share with the world at large. Emma spent a good chunk of her time comparing herself to other bloggers: better, bigger, funnier.(To read Emma’s post, click here) Or are they? And even if they are, why voluntarily build another roadblock?

Whether we dwell on it or not, living a conscious life is what most people aspire to, once basic needs are met. If writing becomes a need, we should be grateful that satisfying it is just as easy as grabbing  pen and paper. It should be done for its sake and the rest will take care of itself. And even if it doesn’t, tell me, dear writer, is there a better feeling than hitting “save” at the end of a particularly good page?

 

 

 

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MOOCHING AROUND THE WEB – Blogs I like

It’s easy to lose oneself in the worldwide web and I am not immune to wandering from one page to the next, lost in a bottomless hole, until my “other” life feels the need to put healthy brakes when I have slid too far.

I started blogging as a personal and selfish endeavour of sort, a way of connecting with people I know without having to resort to the silliness and too much information of Facebook and to see if I could develop the habit of writing between 500 and 700 words a day. Blogging has also been therapeutic at times – while managing a full-time job and a typical North American life with multiple calendars and household chores, even on those nights when the bed is even more appealing than a cup of tea or a cuddle with Ottie, I always look forward to sitting at my laptop and let the thoughts (or the indecipherable topics list on my desk) take me where they may.

From a personal experiment, blogging has morphed into feeling part of a community of people who write for a myriad of reasons, the main, I suspect, being a need to achieve a feeling of connectedness. It has also become a forum where people exchange information and opinions and I value every single person who subscribes, follows, likes or just stumbles upon these pages while looking for information on Italian women (still the most read blogs of all – go figure).

Instead of watching tv, I often scour WordPress for other blogs or explore the ones that have taken the time to visit me, and I have come across all sorts of offerings from all over the world, some in halting English, some uproariously funny, some that left me scratching my head. But I withhold judgment most of the time or as in so far as I am able to. I have my favourite list of blogs I follow, a few on my blogroll, but I thought I would share three with you that give me a lot of pleasure. I didn’t set out to find a thread among them but, when I stopped to think about it, they are all funny in their own way. I am drawn to funny, the more caustic and acerbic it is, the more I am drawn to it.

Here we go:

www.fastapproaching50.blogspot.com Disclaimer – my best friend writes this so, yes, I am biassed. She also happens to be one of the smartest and funniest women I know and it’s a pity she doesn’t blog more often. Whatever gets her going, she will rage on and she will be very funny doing it. The blog started as an exploration of the process of turning 50 – now that the milestone has been reached (and life has gone on) the blog continues as an experiment in gratitude and venting.

theuglymoose.wordpress.com Gotta love the title. This man (I believe British but transplanted in the US) writes modern-day fables with irritating endings, some double entendres, a huge amount of caustic and acerbic humor (he is a Brit after all) that get me laughing each time. I also admire his restraint – some of the material would lend itself to much coarser (and thus not as funny) humour.

emmabauer.wordpress.com I just got to this one. Emma visited my blog, left a comment and, when I reciprocated, I discovered a 60ish year old woman with an elegant blog, filled with her thoughts, her very funny musings and, above all, a leading  example of how graceful and fun and full life can be past the dreaded middle age.

Happy reading…

 

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POETRY FRIDAY

Thought I would end the week with a poem by Adrienne Rich, the beloved feminist poet who recently passed away. I picked a somewhat recent poem, not one of those who made her famous in the late ‘60s and ‘70s. I was drawn by the intimate tone in the first half and the angular language of the second half.

Tonight No Poetry Will Serve

Saw you walking barefoot
taking a long look
at the new moon’s eyelid

later spread
sleep-fallen, naked in your dark hair
asleep but not oblivious
of the unslept unsleeping
elsewhere

Tonight I think
no poetry
will serve

Syntax of rendition:

verb pilots the plane
adverb modifies action

verb force-feeds noun
submerges the subject
noun is choking
verb disgraced goes on doing

there are adjectives up for sale

now diagram the sentence

 

2008

 

 

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RANDOM THINGS I LEARNT BLOGGING

There are days I question why on earth I am still blogging, five days a week, with an unprecedented and uncharectiristic zeal. Some days  I struggle to come up with a topic, any topic, that will fill my quota, little notebook notwithstanding, the ones where ideas are scribbled when they strike. I always blabber about how life is too interesting to run out of things to write about  but, as curious as I am, my life can be dull or, worse, my ideas sometimes feel too derivative.

It all started as an exercise in proving to myself that I could write around 500 words a day and, surprisingly, it turned out much easier than expected. Christopher Hitchens says that if you can talk you can write – that might be the case but most of us don’t have his eloquence or his command of the English language, spoken or written.

Still, as soon as I sit in front of my trusted Mac, even on days when my head is empty and I have just a flicker of a thought, the fingers start tapping with surprising ease, giving life to whatever muck has lodged in my brain. It goes to prove that discipline does count for something.

The second part of the exercise was overcoming the fear of having my muck read by others, be they my well meaning friends or strangers who happened upon my words  looking for something specific or while killing otherwise invaluable time. Those who linger, click on the “like” button or take the time to leave a comment, are my personal encouraging elves who prod me along, oftentimes on  days when my mind goes blank, or I feel too tired or too busy to cram 500 extra words into my day.

Learning to take criticism has also been a lot easier than I thought, partly because I am my harshest critic – half a life devoted  to reading other people’s words makes me painfully aware of what is passable, forgettable or downright terrible. On occasion, I surprise myself by re-reading bits and pieces that could even be, dare I say it, good.

The hardest part was learning to stay true to myself. Every time I am skirting a subject or a comment or a thought for fear of offending somebody, known or unknown, I rein myself in, thinking I have to own what I put out there, at least within the parameters I set for this blog. I will not discuss people who do not wish to be discussed nor would I let every aspect of my private life fly out in the ether, as if anybody cared anyway.

When I look at the search terms random people typed an got to my blog, I am left to wonder if they found anything I wrote remotely useful or if they quickly moved on. But I don’t wonder for long. These two years have been sometimes fun, sometimes therapeutic, sometimes satisfying. Above all, they have been filled with writing. My writing.

 

 

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A SMILE TOO MANY

At the risk of sounding likean old crank, which I am, will you let me rant about the need of perfectly capable, smart and educated human beings to add smiley faces to their text messages and e-mails? Don’t they trust the power of their words enough to convey their happiness/unhappiness/anger and whatever gamut of emotions they are writing about? Is it supposed to be endearing, encouraging or is it aimed at taming or underlining a message?

Emoticons are bad enough – smiley faces drive me to the brink of annoyance(in case you forgot the difference, emoticons are faces created with punctuation while “smiley” is our yellow friend).

I am not exactly longing for the times when running to the mailbox could yield the welcome surprise of a letter written in long hand; I am perfectly happy to hear from all and sundries by e-mail or text, just not accessorized with “smiley”. We are all too old for that level of cute.

If you feel the need to punish me with a deluge of smiley messages, I will understand. But I do know you are smarter than entrusting your feelings to somebody else’s drawing. Unless you are plain lazy – but as we are already in the danger zone of words losing their meanings, can my generation, at least, get back on track?

 

 

 

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