Category Archives: Randoms & My Life

Worldview and Writing

I thought I left off my last post on a rather hopeful note. Turns out people start worrying the minute you acknowledge the world is not a bed of roses, even though we all agreed on that point millennia ago.

I think it’s just facing the fact that life is just a precarious teeter on the edge of misery, that’s so nerve-wracking for people to hear. Most of the time we are thankfully and blissfully comforted by being blinded to this. Most of the time, we don’t have to think about this. And if you straight out say life is a vale of tears, you could very well be dealing with depression.

Or you could be a somewhat mentally normal (at this moment in time) person attempting to come to grips with the nature of reality.

Because I do believe this world is broken. I believe it’s miserable and full of evil and sorrow. I’ve always believed that, since I was a kid, so it’s not like anyone should be surprised I’m repeating this again. But of course it’s different to believe that in theory, and to see evidence of that reality up close.

You start to realize you only believed this philosophy of reality with your head. Otherwise you went on as if happy endings really did exist. As if bad stuff only happened to ‘other people.’ As if all obstacles that you might classify as misery would only turn out to plot points in the novel of your life – crises that you’d overcome to reach your resolution.

But life doesn’t resolve. So what do you do when there’s no point, only futility? Especially when you already thought you’d always believed in the futility of life anyway?

Yeah, experience and head knowledge are two very different things, even when they both lead to the same conclusion.

(If I were to keep this blog writing-focused, I’d point out here that your philosophy of reality is going to affect the basis of your work, so it’s worth it to tease out exactly what that philosophy is. Do you believe good always triumphs over evil – or, at least, that’s it’s a writers job to maintain that it does in order to comfort people? Then that’s going to bleed through onto your words.)

(You may also ask what brought me to muse on the nature of reality anyway, but most of the story is not mine to share. I’ll just mention death, vicious genetic diseases, and relationship disintegration have dogged the steps of me and those I love.)

Anyway, what’s the way to deal with reality, the way to cope? I can cope with utter terribleness because it’s an expected result in this reality, not a shocking one. I find hope in the fact that this world may be broken, but it was whole once, and will be again someday. (Yes, I mean a God who’s rescued us from this depravity.). I go on by putting one foot in front of the other.

That’s all we’re ever doing, is just taking the next step, the next step, the next step. Sometimes it feels like we’re floating, and the sun shines down, and our hearts feel like they’ll explode with the inability to contain the wonder of being alive. Other times it’s all were can do to move one limb, or we feel like we can’t at all. That’s ok.

Sadness is a natural reaction to badness. Grieving happens. Let it happen when it belongs.

And as for me right now? I’m walking. I’m not floating or dragging. Once foot keeps going in front of each other, and I feel moments of wonder and contentment tinged with the horror that other people in that moment AREN’T feeling this. But I don’t feel this is an abnormal reaction to what’s happened.

 

So life goes on, and we do too.

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Writing the Tragedy – As Hard as Living It

The place my writing comes from inside me is dead right now. Probably not permanently, but dead for now.

I’ve always thought of writing – and reading – as a kind of escape from reality. I’ve blogged about this more than once. There’s a contrary theory of literature that says the good stuff comes from the bad experiences – the emotional turmoil – the realization that reality actually is incredibly ugly.

This theory may be right, but I don’t have enough distance from the ugliness to put it in words yet. Maybe I never will. And I know the joy in the escape from reality will come again – I still feel it pulse inside me – but I can’t create any escapes on my own at the moment.

Time will show how life experiences has changed me, and, in turn, how it has changed my writing. But for now – this is the reason my blog is neglected. This is the reason I haven’t posted for months.

I look forward to the day I rejoin the writing world.

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Writing Reality – Or Escaping It

A quick thought for today:

Writers write what’s real. They try to connect with some reality in the readers’ experience, and inspire emotions that complement the work they write. They try to represent the world as it truly is. That is one theory of writing’s purpose, anyway.

The problem is, reality really bites.

I wanted to improve as a writer this year. I gritted my teeth and tried to dredge up something of reality – bad experiences as well as good (though I’d be the first to admit my own real problems may barely phase anyone else.) I wrote down some stuff that for me was ‘dark.’

Then a lot of awful stuff happened in the world (some of which is obviously in the news, and some of which is just learning things about people you never wanted to know.) Then my ability to capture the true darkness in words falls so far short.

Because it’s so hard for me to face the depths of darkness. And I don’t want to do it.

Some writers can – dive into the depths of evil and show it for what it is to the world. And this is important. But is it what I – who shrinks from true evil and know its true strength is far beyond my own- am meant to do?

Then I escaped into the movie Casablanca – a fictional world which pretends to represent reality but in actuality stereotypes and simplifies it – and was drawn in. The story took me away. It ended on hope.

And now I believe there can be two types of creators/writers – those who don’t flinch from portraying problems and showing the ugliness of reality. And those writers who help escape from reality, and use fiction to remind us what it’s like to hope.

In real life, Harry Potter may’ve never escaped his cupboard. He may’ve been abused his whole young life, or been so psychologically scarred he could never function in any world. Frodo might’ve never gotten out of Mordor. Elizabeth Bennet would’ve end up penniless and husbandless, dependent on the mercy of Mr. Collins in her old age.

But, instead, these stories provide hope and escape, and show me a way to touch on reality without giving into the full terribleness of it.

 

What do you think?

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Must-Reads at Stories and Stuff in 2014

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By Ken Whytock, licensed under CC-BY-NC 2.0

I started this blog in 2009–wow, that’s a lot of blogging! This year was definitely less active for me in the posting department, as I’ve had a lot going on (see Paris, and my Job and Apartment update). However, I refuse to neglect this blog! I love to debate the joy of stories with you all–as both a writer and a reader. Stories need to be not just heard, but chewed over and hashed out between us all before they solidly enter the age-long human conversation. Let’s soldier on with this! So this blog will not die any time soon, though I think the upcoming year will be a good time to branch out and try new things.

However, if you’ve enjoyed stopping by here this year, or even if this is one of your first visits, check out what was big at Stories and Stuff this year in the list below. Then check out the rest of my work by visiting my Stories tab up at the top.

Anyway, the Top Five Posts:

1.) J.K. Rowling is Not Dead – But Why Does She Want You to Know What Harry’s Up To?

This post was a response to J.K. Rowling’s update on her Harry Potter world–in other words, the explosive revelation that Ron and Hermione’s marriage might have been a ‘mistake.’ Obviously this was going to be a top post! In it, I dissect the dilemma of how much control an author should have over characters once they finish a work. Do they still get the last word on what’s going on in the characters’ lives? Or can we declared ‘death of the author’ and continue the characters’ lives in whatever vein we, the fans, please?

2.) Rant on Ruining the English Language

Here I take a go at people who get snobbish about the English language, at the expense of allowing English to change. One of the wonderful things about English is its flexibility and ability to change as people use it.

3.) Observations on Being Single, Revisited

Ah, of course everyone longs for my insights into single-ness.

4.) Independent Bookstores Have NOT Disappeared – They’re Doing Fine, Actually

My happy update explaining why ebooks has not killed the printed book – or bookstores–and that hopefully the two will comfortably coexist.

5.) Why ‘Write What You Love’ Means all Fiction is Fanfiction

Secondly, I love to see several of my older posts are still popular! Number one among them is ‘Tolkien’s ‘Take That!’ to Shakespeare.’ I guess The Hobbit has kept Tolkien pretty relevant in 2014, and I am always happy when Tolkien is popular.

My top piece of fiction hosted here is ‘Thoughts of Mr. Knightley,’ a Jane Austen-inspired vignette I posted a few years ago. I do plan to sharpen my writing skills by trying out a few more of these in the upcoming year, so stay tuned for that!

When it comes to my ebooks, Prince Charming is by and away the favourite – but I also repackaged Why Polly? into a nicer ebook format, which has been successful. (Some of you may remember this one being serialized right here on this blog!) Thanks to all of you who supported these ventures by buying, reviewing and sharing these stories. More ebooks to come in 2015, as always!

And tell me in the comments below how your holidays have been! Any big goals for 2015 for all of you?

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Update! And Quotes!

Whoa, haven’t blogged for a while! What’s been going on? Well, for one thing – I moved. A huge undertaking, as it turns also. Secondly – I got a new job. I now work in, wait for it… a library! How appropriate!

(Where did I work before? Well, actually I sold computers for Microsoft. Turns out having a history degree is surprisingly flexible, and not just for honing your writing skills 🙂 )

Anyway, while I was moving I came across this, which I decided to share with you all.

WP_20141205_16_53_26_ProIt’s my old high school binder! I (or some of my friends) lovingly inscribed quotes from books and other things all over the front of it, and it’s a great trip down memory lane to see what I thought was important enough to decorate my binder with back then. I don’t remember where they are all from though, so if you do know, let me know! Here they are, in no particular order:

– Don’t Panic (the source for this one is rather obvious)

– “Alas, earwax!” (also, rather obvious)

– “Me, sir? Pool, sir? But I don’t know how to swim!” (the excellent ending lines to Go Jump in the Pool! – otherwise known as the first Bruno & Boots book I ever read (and loved))

– “If you were waiting for the opportune moment – that was it.” (Pirates was a bit of an obsession in my school)

– Deep Magic from Before the Dawn of Time (I wanted a Chronicles of Narnia reference on there. Now I feel like I should’ve put the one about ‘not a tame lion.’)

– “All that is gold does not glitter.” (I personally had a bit of an obsession with Lord of the Rings.)

– “…in a circle and suppose, but the answer sits in the middle and knows.” (Someone else inscribed this quote and it sounds kind of cool, but I have no idea where it’s from, and the first words of it are rubbed away…)

– “Bad smell plus good smell does not equal no smell.” (From The Twinkie Squad, another enjoyable story by Gordon Korman)

– “If I got mine and you got yours, then we got ours. So what are we waiting for?” (Another friend’s contribution. It sounds like a song lyric to me?)

– Correlation does not imply Causation. (Wow. Good thing I inscribed that on my memory).

– “I must be the only person in the world ever to be punished for breaking my neck!” (At first I couldn’t remember this quote either, but the only book it makes sense to come from is The Lives of Christopher Chant. Or possibility Charmed Life. Both are wonderful.)

What works were you a fan of in high school?

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Tell Me About Your Favourite Bookstore

Last Friday The Guardian published a wonderful list of bookstores worldwide – including one from Canada, woohoo! Any book-lover knows there is no shortage of lovable bookstores out there, so which is your favourite? I’d have to say, from The Guardian‘s list, I want to visit the bookstore-in-a-van that sells Portuguese books translated into English. Leakey’s, in Scotland, looks worth visiting too.

Shakespeare & Company, in Paris, is not included in this list – I have a feeling it might’ve been too cliche to include such a famous landmark. But in case you’ve forgotten, here’s my picture of the place from when I visited it last April!

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What’s my favourite library? I blogged about it once before. Share yours below!

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Useful Words English Doesn’t Have

Anyone who’s ever started learning another language has come across words that just don’t translate into English. My favorites are ‘saudades,’ from Portuguese (meaning a feeling of longing, melancholy or nostalgia), and ‘gezellig,’ from Dutch (meaning a nice atmosphere, but also belonging and time spent with loved ones). Today, Slate published an excerpt from Lost in Translation that lists many more.

My favorite is ‘tretar,’ which apparently means a third refill of coffee in Swedish. This sounds like a very useful word! Go check out the original article to find some more useful words we don’t have in English. The accompanying artistic diagrams are very sweet too.

What’s your favorite word that doesn’t translate? Are there any words from English that don’t translate well to other languages?

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I Handwrite My Fiction, But I’m Not Stuck in the Dark Ages – I’ll Prove It

writingRemember back in November I said I managed to spew out 50,000 words in a month in order to participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)? Well, I may not have mentioned those were handwritten words, so really my total of 50,000 was a guesstimate. I have recently been occupied in typing these words up. And the result… well, do you think I over- or under-estimated?

Over. Definitely over. I’ve hit 46,000 words and I still have a third of the manuscript to go. Which leads to the question – why on earth would I use such an inefficient method of writing? I mean, handwriting? Hasn’t that gone out with the dark ages? They don’t even teach that to some school kids anymore!

Well, let’s bring in the authority of the New York Times on this issue, through their article “What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades.” I’ve written before about how I feel less creative typing, and how handwriting helps me to actually connect to my subject. Turns out there’s actually some scientific indications that this is not just a weird anomaly that occurs only in me.

According to the study quoted in the article, children who wrote text by hand not only produced more words (hello to me overachieving on my NaNoWriMo word count!), but also expressed more ideas (hello to the fact I feel more creative handwriting!). The article ends by quoting psychologist Paul Bloom as saying, “With handwriting, the very act of putting it down forces you to focus on what’s important. Maybe it helps you think better.”

As I said in my previous post, “My theory is that typing and handwriting use different parts of the brain, and in me only one of them is linked to creativity.” Wouldn’t it be neat if I wasn’t completely off-base? But then – what does this mean for technology? Are our computers soul-sucking beasts that are slowly draining away all of our society’s creativity?

I think not – to some extent the dulling effects of technology can be overcome. I can write far better by typing than I used to, though my fiction still comes out sounding wooden. More practiced authors, especially those raised on computers, will strengthen the brain’s creativity-into-typed-words pathway even more than I have. But hey, maybe someday someone will do a survey of all this century’s ‘greatest’ literature and find none of them have been typed – who knows? Get a scientist to research that.

So if you ever find yourself faced with a blinking screen and a bad case of writer’s block, why not try writing something the old-fashioned way? You might surprise yourself.

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Paris is Always a Good Idea

“Paris is always a good idea.”

– the internet would like to believe this quote is by Audrey Hepburn*

It’s been a while since I updated, hasn’t it? And definitely for some of those weeks I didn’t have a good excuse, but I’d like to believe a spontaneous trip to Paris is a good enough excuse for a least a couple of them, isn’t it?

How cliché! A spontaneous trip to Paris to “find myself” – well, not really find myself, but at least learn new things about myself. Specifically, how brave I am to travel alone. And what it feels like to be in the French culture for two weeks.

I discovered:

1.) Despite the romantic idea of writing in little French cafés, I can’t actually sit still for very long when I’m in Paris. There’s so much to see! Writing had to wait till I got home.

2.) I am perfectly capable of travelling independently. But sometimes it was more nerve-wracking than I thought it would be. Also, I learned a lot about what it means to feel “alone,” and how to manage this very human feeling. A worthwhile experience, don’t you think?

And now… some pictures! Just a few to give you an idea:

First, a very famous place for us bookish folks – The Shakespeare & Company Bookstore: Shakespeare & Co. Then the house of Victor Hugo: House of Victor HugoAnd finally, a pic of me taking refuge from the spring rain in a random art gallery in Montmartre!

art gallery, Montmartre

That’s it for now! Hope you all had a nice spring. 🙂

 

*note: I can’t really find a good source proving this quote is actually originally by Audrey Hepburn, but if anyone can point me the way to one, I’d love it. It does sound like the sort of thing she’d say, doesn’t it?

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How the Sochi Olympics Illustrate the Value of Books

The big news when this set of Olympics started in Sochi was how much the whole thing cost – fifty billion dollars! – and cue predictions of how these fancy Olympics venues would all fall apart in a decade or so from lack of use. Okay, okay, I can definitely get in line with the thought that, however good for the ‘human spirit’ athletic competitions are, Olympics costs are ballooning to an unreasonable amount. I mean, couldn’t humanity find something better to do with fifty billions dollars than build some amazing venues that might be only fully used for a month?

But… humanity spends an insane amount of money on a lot of ‘useless’ things. The Olympics, at its heart, is entertainment for the masses. And don’t other forms of entertainment – movies, music, video games – need a gigantic amount of time and money to make too?

Watch a couple of those YouTube videos on the making of The Hobbit movie… there’s practically a city’s worth of people, making practically a city’s worth of sets and costumes, to create a world that doesn’t actually exist and doesn’t benefit anyone except those who got a few hours of entertainment out of it. I can think back to the days of old Hollywood, when they built an actual Roman racetrack for Ben Hur, and put an actual chariot race in it to film. And then I compare it to today, where they don’t need to actually build every little thing they film. The special effects far surpass what was possible in Ben Hur, but everything else about movies have ballooned as well – actors’ salaries, production budget, number of people involved…

On one hand, previous generations of humanity would probably look at us like we were touched in the head to spend such enormous amounts of time and money on such fleeting experiences. Fifty billion to host the Olympic Games. Six hundred million to make The Hobbit. We can pour time and money and immense amounts of effort into fleeting experiences. Have you ever thought about how much actually went into your two hours of enjoyment in the theatre? How many thousands of people were involved in getting the product to you?

I’m not going to start ranting about how we should stop this and start using all these billions of dollars, and billions of hours of manpower, to go out and solve world poverty or something. Of course it’s more complicated than that. Of course all this money and effort drives the economy. Maybe it’s just our modern world is more complicated, and more interconnected, and everything we do tends to be on a massive and complicated scale (think the Internet… or the cellphone network… or global corporations…)

I’m just going to say – all of this makes me appreciate the simplicity of a novel all the more. At its heart, a novel is just one writer with a vision he scribbles on paper. Once the printing press was invented, and books were able to be mass-produced, the writer’s message could reach more people. But there’s something to be said for one person’s ability to create a whole new world inside the pages of a book, without hiring an orchestra to play the soundtrack, and without actually constructing something pretty to look at in the background of the action scenes.

Someone will come at me next and protest there’s editors, and copyeditors, and cover designers, and marketers, and distributors involved in book-making too. And there is, of course. But you can cut back the book industry to a writer, and maybe a printing press. The simplest form of a movie is still far more complicated.

Or think about it this way. If our modern world disappeared tomorrow, would you rather have a book with you, or a copy of your favourite DVD?

And the nice thing about our modern world still existing is that we DO have choice… we do have the amazing ability to entertain ourselves with expensive-to-make movies, or expensive-to-host Olympic Games. But I’d like to call for a moment to appreciate the simpler things in life – and appreciate them for being simple.

Simplicity is something our world lacks. It’s something overlooked and taken for granted. But it will never lose its value.

And, therefore, neither will the writers among us, who create these magical things known as ‘books.’

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