Wired Love

I’ve been reading Tom Standage’s The Victorian Internet, a book about the invention of the telegraph and in one of the chapters, he details how the telegraph revolutionized the communication of romance, which blossomed over the telegraph much as in the same way it can today with texting and other forms of online communication, and sometimes culminated in marriage.* Long distance relationships and romances had existed before, with loved ones writing letters to each other but, of course, this process was slow and letters could take weeks to arrive, as well as carrying the potential risk of discovery if correspondence was forbidden or, especially in a lady’s case, without permission.

People getting to know and falling in love with each other, without ever having met face to face, seems commonplace now and it has provided material for love stories, perhaps the best known being Nora Ephron’s You’ve Got Mail but there is an even older story, written during the days of the telegraph, and mentioned in The Victorian Internet, called Wired Love: A Romance, or Dots and Dashes by Ella Cheever Thayer.

Intrigued by the title alone, I decided to look it up and according to Wikipedia, the author was once a telegraph operator and used her experiences in the writing of this novel, about two telegraph operators who engage in an “online” or virtual courtship over the wire. There is an excellent post about it and that made me want to read it even more on Clive Thompson’s blog here. (He’s written the book Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better; I’ve put a hold on it at my library.)

Through Mr. Thompson’s blog, I found out that Wired Love also inspired this art installation called “Sounder and Relay” by Silvia Ruzanka and uses excerpts of dialogue from Wired Love.

*Marriages were also officiated by telegraph and were legally binding.

 

Spontaneous Writing.dpm

This post was inspired by a chat I had with a friend recently. We were talking about writing (he is in the process of finishing his first ebook) and I said to him, “Sometimes when I’m working out an idea, I’ll just start writing it out – even if I’m not sure where to begin – and sometimes, as I’m writing, I’ll see a different direction or a different angle and I’ll go with it, even if that means interrupting the initial idea I had going. It’s kind of like those giant leaps of logic you have when you’re a kid and you’re playing or making up stories.”
I actually experienced that recently with a story I’m working on right now. The whole writing process was like that as I really didn’t know what happens beyond the seed of the idea, so I’m figuring it out as I go along. In some ways, this process is kind of like of a choose-your-own-adventure story.

A few days after this conversation, I came across an interview from last year with Alan Bradley, the author of the Flavia de Luce series, in which he was asked to describe his writing style and he said that it was “spontaneous”. When I read that, it was as if a little spark of recognition started – realizing that my writing is spontaneous, too.

To me, spontaneous writing doesn’t mean waiting for inspiration to strike. In fact, the word “spontaneous” comes from the Latin word spontaneus, meaning “willing, of one’s free will” (Online Etymology Dictionary), whereas the etymological definition of inspiration is “immediate influence of God or a god” (OED) or “divine guidance”. As it is commonly understood, inspiration comes from external causes while spontaneity comes from within.

When I’m writing, if I get a different idea – that different direction or angle – and I decide to go with it, rather than putting it aside and carrying on, I am writing spontaneously. I once compared it to improv and I suppose it’s also like when some writers talk about how their characters start talking to them, or do something completely different that they weren’t expecting. For a long time, I thought the notion was rather twee and I tolerated it, though only now – only now – do I think I’m starting to understand.

I view this act of writing spontaneously as different from rewriting or editing while you write: editing requires already existing work, whereas spontaneous writing is going with the flow, even if that means you could take a slightly different route to get to where you were headed or you may end up with something else completely different from what you might have had in mind.

This post was written and published with Desk PM.

Three things to read, watch, and use

I guest posted today on the website 27 Good Things, where I share three things good to read, watch, and use. It was tough to narrow down since there are so many things that I like and love, but I think I managed. The books I listed are very much reflective of my recent reading material.

I’ve already reblogged it on trend & chic, and am posting it here and on Z’s Cup of Tea as well. I wish I could just reblog it again, but it seems you’re only allowed to reblog once under the same account on WordPress.com.

I was asked if I was interested in being a guest after I tweeted about one of the books I list, “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield and thanked John Saddington (@saddington) for recommending it. (He didn’t directly recommend it to me, but he did mention it as a book he tells everyone to read in a link that he had tweeted before.) Next thing I knew, I was tweeted by Mike, who runs 27 Good Things, and after a few more tweets, he asked me if I would like to do a guest post and here we are!

I first came across 27 Good Things when I read a post with John sharing his good things, which was when I learned about Daniel Pink’s “Drive” and shortly afterward borrowed it from the library. In that vein, I’m glad to have shared these three things to read, watch, and use and it is my hope that readers will find them useful, inspiring, informative, and entertaining, while maybe also discovering something new to them.

You can read my guest post here.

An Hour of Code

I first learned HTML in high school when I took IT as an elective. I learned the basics of HTML and it was thrilling as I learned how to build a basic website. It was with this rudimentary knowledge that I knew how to fix small formatting issues in my posts when I was blogging when WordPress.com wasn’t otherwise cooperating. I desired to learn more HTML and, eventually, CSS but it wasn’t until this year that I finally did so. At the same time, back then – perhaps ironically – I either didn’t believe or see how I’d be using those skills again.

Well, here we are. Ta-da!

I had long been aware of Codecademy, discovering it when I was looking for ways to learn HTML and CSS online. (Books weren’t that helpful, or rather they didn’t suit my learning style for learning code. Learning code is very much an interactive, hands-on experience; it isn’t static, which is how it seemed when I tried learning from books.) Fast forward to February 2014, when I saw Codecademy’s free app on Apple’s App Store homepage. I downloaded it and it was a breeze to do. Within an hour, I had completed it and I entered my email address. Unwittingly, I had signed up for Codecademy, as I soon learned when I received an email from them.

I took it in stride: perceiving it as a serendipitious accident, as I signed into the Codecademy website and started the HTML/CSS course, completing it within two days. On the same day I started learning JavaScript. (It should be noted at the time of publishing this post, I’ve fallen off the bandwagon for some time now with JavaScript. Need to get on it again.)

Perhaps because I already had something of a foundation to work on, HTML was fairly straightforward. CSS was easier than I had anticipated. There was a kind of, almost, addictive quality to learning HTML and CSS; I had to force myself to take breaks. And this is when something weird happens when one is learning something and doing it with ease – there must be something wrong. As I progressed through the lessons and exercises I kept looking over my shoulder, to see if anyone would catch me but no one did.

We’ve been trained and conditioned that struggle is part of the learning process, or part of most things worthwhile – and sometimes, it is – but that doesn’t mean it must be so, for when struggle ceases understanding begins. So often, in learning, struggle occurs because one isn’t understanding what one is trying to learn or isn’t being taught to them in a way that makes them understand or resonates with some part of them. Thus, when we’re learning something new with such ease and joy, we have been conditioned to think – to believe – that there must be something wrong because it can’t be this easy.

Or maybe it was easier than I had anticipated, because I had been overthinking it until I just jumped. It was easier than I had thought. Reading about HTML and CSS gives a stunning impression of complexity to the beginner, when the opposite is just as true. Since I started, coding1 is a source of joy. It’s fun, as well as infuriating at times (JavaScript particularly) but at the end of the day, that’s what makes it a joy. It’s inspiring and, while I’m not an expert and am still learning, I look at websites with fresh eyes, possessing a better knowing of how they work (and sometimes why they don’t) underneath all the window dressing. I think of how I would customize the theme for one of my blogs. Once, I thought of an idea for a website and just by imagining it, I knew how I’d code it, which is something I expressed on Twitter. I knew the feeling of it. (I’m currently flexing my new skills with a few fun and exciting challenges, and my experience level has yet to meet that feeling place but I’m getting there.)

Code is technical, and it can also be creative and be used creatively. It’s a wonderful experience to be creating something and in a way that’s also new to me; different from creating something from my imagination with words or by drawing, or mixing ingredients together to cook a meal or bake a cake. It may be a different process but at its heart is still creating. (See this post on the Touch Press – one of my favourite app makers – blog: Yes, Apps Can Be Art!)

1 Since learning, I’ve come across posts and forums arguing that HTML/CSS is not coding as they are markdown languages. All the same, I regard both as important languages to learn and as good introductions to web development.

P.S. This is my second post to be written and published with Desk PM! :D

Everything Is Awesome

Last weekend I saw The Lego Movie with my family and I was blown away. It’s an entertaining movie that can be appreciated at face value, which might be that it’s a commercial for Lego just over an hour (and that’s what many people are calling it) and yet, I also found, there is a profound, powerful message promoting individuality and creativity and imagination.

This was something that occurred to me while watching it, and something that I reflected upon later as well as talked about with my family. It took a few days to write this post, as I’ve assimilated my thoughts as well as questioned them, wondering if perhaps I’ve read way too much or too deeply into a kids/family movie (because kids/family movies are supposed to be pretty lightweight, right?). At the same time, however, I realize that, rather than be passive and let it solely entertain me, I engaged with the movie and that these thoughts are my dialogue with it. The best art, or anything for that matter, is art that engages, that impacts and affects you, and, long after you’ve exited the movie theatre or turned the last page of a book, stays with you. Such is the case with The Lego Movie.

While I have written only about the themes of the movie’s message, there are occasionally a few plot details that may or may not be constituted as spoilers. In fact, this whole post may be a spoiler as I went to see The Lego Movie with only the knowledge of the basic plot and what I’d seen in the various clips – none of which explicitly revealed the movie’s message and that subsequently moved me so deeply. Thus, you have been warned. Continue reading at your own discretion or come back to this post later, after you’ve watched the movie, and read it then.

The protagonist, named Emmet, is just your ordinary, regular construction worker who learns that he is “The Special”: “the most important, most interesting, greatest person of all time” and will save the world. Qualities that Emmet effusively denies until he eventually rises to the occasion, while learning to think for himself after following instructions for every aspect of his life and realizing the power of imagination as well as creativity and innovation.

“Follow the instructions” is a mantra throughout The Lego Movie, as President/Lord Business decrees that everyone must follow the instructions: a vain attempt to make everything perfect and to never change anything. (There’s a twist to President Business that adds to this, although I’ll keep that a surprise.) As it is explained later, however, the reason why people don’t leave things exactly as they are is because someone else’s (President Business) creativity inspires them to create something of their own, or to riff on it; “stealing like an artist“.

In an otherwise upbeat and positive movie promoting individuality and creativity, there is a darker note, albeit as briefly as it is noticed by Emmet before he forgets, in a scene early on in the movie in which President Business addresses the populace with a reminder about following the instructions or they’ll be put to sleep, then swiftly moves on to announce Taco Tuesday while Emmet is watching his morning TV. Within the same breath, he also announces that he’ll be destroying the world as we know it in two days’ time and there is a moment of shock from Emmet – “Wait! What did he just say?!” – and is barely able to process it before the next program, “Where’s My Pants?” comes on a split second later and Emmet promptly forgets.

While watching, this scene struck me. Within the space of less than two minutes, the writers had managed to make a succinct, yet subversive, statement about today’s media reminiscent of Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death and  Russell Brand’s speech on Newsnight about how entertainment is used to distract us from important issues. Hardly has the worry of the world’s destruction entered Emmet’s head than sooner it is gone, distracted by a show in which the guy’s only line seems to be “Honey, where’s my pants?” and the same scenario repeats and repeats ad ifinitum.

The theme song, “Everything Is Awesome!!!” (yes, officially with three exclamation points) is in itself deceptive. With a catchy beat and infectious lyrics, one might miss the lines “We’re the same, I’m like you, you’re like me, working in harmony”; reminding me of the “like and equal” argument that Meg Murray had with IT, the massive disembodied brain, in Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time. In an interview with the writers and co-director Chris McKay, Chris Miller states about the song that, “People can’t quite tell that it’s supposed to be both sarcastic and sincere at the same time.”

In contrast is Wyldstyle: a character who is independent and doesn’t follow the instructions. While Emmet is the universal “nobody” who becomes a “somebody”, Wyldstyle is somebody who is a shining example of individuality over the course of the movie. As a character, and more specifically, as a female character, she has received some criticism for what some have interpreted as falling into the tired stereotype for female characters, that of being someone’s girlfriend and playing second fiddle to the male characters or scolding them, after appearing to be a strong female character but what actually makes her strong is what she isn’t. While she may not follow the instructions for building, she conforms to the expectations of someone else: her boyfriend, Batman, by trying to be something she’s not – tough and mean – but Emmet sees through this and calls her out on it. Wyldstyle isn’t even her real name (“Are you a DJ?” she’s asked by Emmet when she first tells him her name; this is repeated again by Vitruvius in the Wild West) – instead, we learn she’s actually called Lucy when she finally tells Emmet. (“Lucy? What kind of name is that? It sounds like the name of a bank teller,” says Batman soon afterward.)

Conformity in order to meet someone else’s, or society’s, expectations is something explored with another female character, Samantha “Sam” Sparks, in Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, which Phil Lord and Chris Miller also wrote and directed. Sam is incredibly intelligent, but in order to be accepted she often tries to pretend to be less smart than she actually is as she would be made fun of due to her intelligence.

While “strong female characters” in fiction and TV/film are de rigour and are supposed to be kick-ass; conversely, a female character can also be strong without being aggressive: she can possess a quiet courage, such as holding her own in a time of turmoil or sometimes even if it means having to follow the rules to survive – I nearly always get exasperated when a woman in a movie or TV episode puts herself into the line of danger after being explicitly told to stay safe (usually by a man – which I suppose constitutes in itself a reason to not listen, since we’re supposed to be shown by this example that she’s strong and independent, not a damsel in distress. In the immortal words of Grumpy Cat, “No.”). A female character can still be feminine, she can fall in love without it being obligatory and is still strong, not despite that but because that’s part of who she is. A strong female character is strong not because she’s tough or isn’t a love interest, but because she is true to herself.

I believe that Wyldstyle/Lucy is a strong female character because what Phil Lord and Chris Miller have done, with her character, is telling girls (and boys) that we don’t need to conform to be someone other than our true selves to be liked by someone or accepted, whether by a person or by society.

The Lego Movie is a great movie for kids and adults alike with many jokes and one-liners, while also managing to be cleverly subversive and promoting a powerful, positive message at the same time and it is done masterfully. Five stars!

National Theatre Live: Coriolanus

Zoe:

My review of “Coriolanus”.

Originally posted on trend & chic:

Last month I saw National Theatre Live’s broadcast of Coriolanus with Tom Hiddleston and Mark Gatiss. Firstly, it was an amazing play and brilliant production; I am all the more glad for having seen it. Broadcast live from London, it was a different experience to watch a play in a movie theatre and one that is unique: using six different cameras to film the play, there were close-ups of the actors in various scenes and other angles that would be impossible to witness in a regular theatre attendance, in which one’s vantage point would be determined where one sat, etc., as well as two interval features: one before the start of the play, explaining the play and its context, and the second an interview with the play’s director, Josie Rourke. Both of these featurettes I enjoyed.1

I became interested in seeing Coriolanus as I learned more about it and was…

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2013: Books That Changed My Life

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There are books that, once in a while, come along and change one’s life in a significant way. 2013 was a largely transformative year of reading for me, as I discovered new interests or have expanded my already existing interests into new avenues, and reawakened old ones. Some of these have influenced my current projects.

In the following list below, these are the books that had the most profound effect on me and why. (While writing this post, I listed a couple of books that I thought I’d read last year but in actuality had read – now – two years ago and that have been a slow burn. I’ll probably write more about those books in the future.)

From the Mouth of the Whale by Sjón: I shared some of my thoughts about this novel in a post on Z’s Cup of Tea, and I’ll elaborate a little more here. Set in fifteenth century Iceland, this was a slightly challenging read, though I found that once one found the rhythm that it became easier as one read. I became fascinated by the character of Jónas “the Learned” Palmason and the real life person he was based on,  Jon Gudmundsson and I think that my fascination was intensified as fiction and fact became blurred. (Harder still to distinguish fact from fiction since there is very little information to be found about Jon Gudmundsson, or at least online.) Part of my fascination involved Internet research of the period of history that the novel was set in (which resulted in a folder being created with the Icelandic title, Rökkursbýsnir) and making a mind map as I was reading the novel. (I would include a scan of my mind map, but seem to have misplaced it at the current moment.) Translated by Victoria Cribb.

The Black Count by Tom Reiss: When I think of The Black Count, it still captures my imagination and I rank it highly as one of the best books I’ve read. This is a book for anyone who has read Alexandre Dumas’ classics such as The Three Muskateers and The Count of Monte Cristo and wants to know more about the inspirations behind M. Dumas’ stories. The Black Count is a biography of Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, M. Dumas’ father, who was an impressive general and served under Napoleon, although through circumstance of history, has largely been forgotten (he even had a statue, until the Nazis melted it down during World War II and it has not been replaced yet to this day – although there was a petition to amend this) but I think that Tom Reiss’ biography might change that and especially with the recent exposure of winning the Pulitzer Prize and PEN Award earlier last year. Although I still haven’t read The Last Cavalier (here I stated that I felt compelled to try reading it again), I became inspired to read The Count of Monte Cristo again and am currently reading that. (I’m reading the Penguin Classics edition, translated by Robin Buss. It is my desire to one day read it in the original French, so if you know a good, unabridged edition let me know in the comments below.)

The Sunne In Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman: If I were to pinpoint a book that singlehandedly began my interest in medieval history and making sense of English royal dynasties, it would be Sharon Kay Penman’s book about the maligned Richard III. Soon after reading The Sunne In Splendour, I read the rest of her books about the Plantagenets in quick succession (finished Lionheart today, and eagerly awaiting the sequel The King’s Ransom that will be published in March 2014). I wrote a review earlier this year on trend & chic, which you can read here. As well as making me interested in medieval history, it also inspired me to research Shakespeare’s English history plays further (and in light of the BBC production The Hollow Crown), which I wrote about in some detail here.

When Christ and His Saints Slept by Sharon Kay Penman: (Reviewed here) If The Sunne In Splendour kickstarted my interest in medieval history, then When Christ and His Saints Slept was the gateway to my understanding of – and tracing back – the Plantagenets and their ancestral origins. (Also reviewed: Time and Chance, and Devil’s Brood.)

Joan of Arc or Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc by The Sieur Louis de Conte (Her Page and Secretary) by Mark Twain: I, like everyone else, knows who Joan of Arc is; we recognize her name and know, generally, what she did. While a fictional biography, it was through reading Mark Twain’s book that I found a new appreciation for Joan of Arc and her story and realized the sheer injustice that she was subjected to, leading to researching more about her (I have a list of books to read). Learning about her story also opened my eyes to the French side of that time in history, whereas before I’d mostly understood it from the English point of view (Agincourt) and, looking back now, would begin my current attempt to cultivate an informed, worldly viewpoint and perspective of that time of conflict in the Hundred Years War as I’m voluntarily studying it.

Rework and Remote by Jason Fried and David Heinemer Hansson: A little different from my usual reading material, I read these two books with the rest of the Pressgram team and I was blown away. I bought Remote and borrowed Rework from the library, and ended up buying the latter, too! Written for small businesses and remote work environments (not in the office), both books offer sound advice that, when combined, build upon each other inspires and makes one think differently.

The Element and Finding Your Element by Sir Ken Robinson: The Element is an astounding book and one that made me think differently about one’s passion, or their Element, as it’s called by Sir Ken. The Element is filled with stories from people, famous and everyday folks, who realized their passion (or more than one) and not always, rarely in fact, in a conventional manner, such as the choreographer Gillian Lynne who couldn’t sit still in class and learned that she needed to move in order to think, when she danced to the radio as a little girl. The stories are so inspiring and moved so many people upon The Element‘s publication, many wrote to Sir Ken asking how they could find their Element and he wrote a sequel called Finding Your Element which includes exercises, chapter by chapter, about how one may find their Element and interspersed throughout are more stories about people who found theirs and how.

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What transformative books did you read in 2013? Fiction or non-fiction, I’d love to hear them!

On Revising

“You know what I love? I love revising. Getting the first stuff done is always hard but once it’s done and you can see what’s wrong with it, you can see that one page that ought to have been five pages earlier and that sort of thing.” – P.G. Wodehouse

As a child, I was firmly attached to my stories as they were, and consequently I was appalled by the idea of rewriting as well as editing. I used to think that editing was just cutting down on something that was already good – that didn’t need changing – and, sometimes, this is true. During the time when I was of this particular mindset, I read Eragon, the first book in Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance trilogy (when it was still being written) and afterward, on his website I saw an example of how one passage had originally been written before it was edited, and as it appears in the book, and I only perceived how it was different and the bits that had been either omitted completely or altered; it didn’t matter if the writing was good or not, that was all that I could see.

This was largely the same point I had, and from the same attachment, about rewriting, or rather the pointlessness of rewriting: if one had already written it, why did it need to be rewritten? My thoughts on this matter changed, however, when I watched the BBC documentary Wogan on Wodehouse. There was a brief clip from an old interview with P.G. Wodehouse, describing how he wrote, quoted at the start of this post (the documentary, which used to be available on YouTube, was taken down but you can watch the clips of his interviews included in the documentary in the above video).

What he said about rewriting was particularly illuminating to me and I felt a shift in my consciousness about the whole rewriting process – when you’re writing from scratch, it can be hard but once you’ve got it down, then the real fun begins as you rewrite it because you have the whole picture in front of you. (A small note: sometimes when one finds himself in a state of flow, the writing can just pour out effortlessly.)

Depending on how one rewrites depends on as much as the writer as the technology being used to write. When I’m on a computer and revising anything I’ve written, whether it’s a post or essay, etc., after I’ve written it I’ll sometimes move around the paragraphs and change their order –  as P.G. Wodehouse said, “one can see that page one ought to have been five pages earlier”. Using paper and pen (my preferred way), I will cross things out and make changes in the margins or a post-it note (or a scrap of paper stapled to the page), drawing arrows to and from paragraphs to rearrange. Sometimes I’ll tear out a page and rewrite the whole thing in the moment, until I have a couple drafts of the same scene. In some ways, there’s a greater feeling of productivity when doing it on paper because one can see all the changes made and also because it’s tangible. There’s a sense of value that can’t be felt in the same way as when one hits the delete key; a feeling of finality of words that are gone forever.

One of the First Steps

Already, I’m planning my next visit to the library! Some more for research purposes, though still falling into the category of “personal interest”.

One of my New Year’s goals is to write more and get my ideas out of my head and on to paper. Some of these ideas require further research for me to write about them, so this list is one of the first steps.

Published via Pressgram