29 Mar 2011

A Writer in Spring.

My life's busy and buzzing at the moment. Tomorrow, I'm teaching a workshop on storytelling, and I have a few other deadlines coming up, in my job as well as my writing. I'm also taking part in the April A to Z blogging challenge, which should be interesting.

Fortunately the sun is out and the days are getting warmer. I have so much energy this time of year. And it's not just me. All around, the world is waking up after a long, grey winter. The fruit trees in our garden are about to bloom, and our patio veggies are growing well. In a few weeks, we'll harvest our first greens.

In between the bustle, I've even found time to read. After Rosy Thornton's A Tapestry of Love (review inc. in a few days), I'm alternating Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird with a re-read of George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones.

Online, I follow quite a few blogs, and that will only increase during April's blogging challenge. Much of my online reading has to do with writing, language or the writing life. Navel-gazing is one of my many virtues.

One of the topics that keeps coming up on writers' blogs is criticism. By putting ourselves out there and publishing our work, we expose ourselves to being reviewed. In theory a review talks about our product, our creation, but in the reality of the internet, it often becomes personal, whether it was intended to be or not. Writing might not be that different from being a chef, restaurant owner or actor, in that respect.

Readers - and customers in general - have many tools at their disposal to express their joy and enthusiasm when they love what you do, but also to cut down your work when they feel they didn't get their money's worth. When you sign up for one, you sign up for the other.

Robin Black of 'Beyond the Margins' wrote an interesting article about bad reviews, from a writer's perspective: Shhh; When A Reaction To Your Work Really Means: Shut Up!

She raises a few interesting points. I'll have to think them over, after next week, when I have my deadlines behind me.
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26 Mar 2011

How to Start a Movement.

Yesterday, after my lecture on social psychology for game designers, one of my students pointed out this TED talk.

It's a short video (3 minutes) and I found it interesting, inspirational and entertaining. All good reasons to share it here.

The speaker is musician and entrepreneur Derek Sivers.

Enjoy. :-)

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23 Mar 2011

Health: My Precious.

As you know, health is an important topic to me. Six years ago, when I hit 30, I decided to stop taking it for granted and turned my life around.

Since then, I've managed to live a good and healthy life, enjoying what is most important to me, while cutting out what doesn't matter.

I would never give up chocolate, or good wine, but I can't remember the last time I had a soft drink or a crappy candy bar.

I eat cake at parties, but wouldn't buy it for myself unless I had a very good reason. I don't keep sweets in the house either - with the exception of gorgeous, bitter, dark Belgian chocolate. I cook from fresh as much as possible and buy my yoghurt unsweetened.

I'm by no means a well-organised, disciplined or exceptionally consistent person, but I am stubborn and I recognise quality of life when I have it.

Never will I go back to the way I used to lead my life. My body is not going to last forever, but as long as I'm alive, I will treat it with love, care and respect.

About half a year ago, a friend pointed me to a video about the effect of sugar on our health. It confirmed a lot of what I had observed and experienced during those 6 years. It motivated me to reduce my sugar intake even further, as close to zero as I could, without feeling I was missing out.

It's been easier than I'd expected. The less sugar I eat, the less I crave it. I still eat cake at parties, and have my daily piece(s) of dark chocolate, but that's about it.

When I really want a sweet drink, I make my own lemonade with fresh lemon or lime, sparkling water and drops of stevia.

Today, at the start of spring and in the spirit of good intentions and fresh beginnings, I want to share that video with you.

Regardless of what you do, it can never hurt to be informed.

Just remember, health is not about guilt, discipline and 'have to's'. It's about finding a balance in life that works for you and adds to your overall happiness.

Here's the video. The speaker is Robert H. Lustig, Professor of Clinical Pediatrics and a specialist on childhood obesity.

If you want to exchange ideas, inspiration or recipes, drop me a line!
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20 Mar 2011

1 Equinox. 4 Spring Skies. 7 Questions.

In a few hours, at 23:21 GMT, the centre of the sun will cross the equator and move further north (at least for us in the northern hemisphere). Night and day are now of equal length. Starting tomorrow, the days will triumph.

The vernal equinox heralds spring, and while all around us nature comes to life, we get a perfect opportunity to do the same.

It's time to dust off ideas and plans that were stowed away for the winter. Time to shake off the remnants of hibernation and start dreaming about the months to come.

Go out, plant a garden - or a flower pot, reinvent yourself, start a book club, make time for that hobby you always think or talk about, work more, work less, plan a trip, call a friend, ... not because you have to but because you can!

Here are a few questions that could spark more ideas ...

  1. What was the most important thing you learnt last year?
  2. Which of the things you learnt last year - and processed during the winter - can you start putting to good use?
  3. If you had some energy to spare, who or what would you spend it on?
  4. What can you do to feel (even) better about yourself?
  5. Which side of yourself would you like to develop further?
  6. Which mistakes will you allow yourself to make while doing so? (Note: if you reply 'none', keep repeating the question until you come up with another answer.)
  7. What can you do for the people around you that would make them very happy?
... and 2 more spring evening skies to gaze at while you're thinking.

I wish you a great springtime, in which you feel alive, loved & in love and more true to yourself than ever.

Images taken by K.C. Woolf on March 20th, 2011.
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17 Mar 2011

Innovating to Zero.

© 2009, Andrea Kirkby
With the recent earthquake in Japan and the subsequent problems in their nuclear power plants, nuclear energy and its alternatives - or lack thereof - are all over the news.

Our energy consumption is a complicated issue, one that provokes discussion, well-meaning but often badly informed opinions, hope and despair.

Many of us feel like we have lost control of our energy production. The feeling is justified. After all, we are no longer dealing with human energy, with our own ability to act, live and produce. A long time ago, we have chosen to use other, more concentrated fuel sources, in order to achieve more, faster and bigger results.

That decision has its advantages: look at how far we've come, look at our lifestyles and the possibilities we have to travel and look beyond our local communities, be it for food, news or entertainment.

But there are downsides too: we have to go through extreme measures to find or extract that energy, many of which might end up killing us. And as the population continues to grow, our energy demands might soon exceed the supply.

Related to this topic, I wanted to share a TED talk with you, given by Bill Gates in February 2010, in which he deals with energy, CO2, responsibility, a global vision on energy, and possible solutions for the future.

In this 28 minute video, 'Innovating to Zero', Bill Gates sketches a clear and orderly overview of our current energy situation, with its problems and possibilities. He doesn't paint a rosy picture, but shows there is hope. A lot of smart people are investing in and looking for alternative energy sources and solutions to existing problems.

Still, let us not forget it's not just their responsibility. It's ours too. The least we can do is be informed; that's where ideas and possible solutions can be born from.

Photo 'Nuclear' by Andrea Kirkby, available under a creative commons license. © 2009, Andrea Kirkby. 
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14 Mar 2011

Poetic Pause: 'The Cloud' by P.B. Shelley.

If I would ever make a list of my favourite poems, Percy Bysshe Shelley's 'The Cloud' would certainly be on it.

Few poets have managed to evoke and animate nature like he did, with power, passion and imagination, presented in beautiful, rhythmic language and backed up by (early 19th century) scientific fact.

'The Cloud' is quite a long poem, so for this poetic pause I have chosen just the last stanza. I find it the most powerful - and empowering - part.

I am the daughter of Earth and Water,
And the nursling of the Sky:
I pass through the pores of the ocean and shores;
I change, but I cannot die.
For after the rain, when with never a stain
The pavilion of heaven is bare,
And the winds and sunbeams with their convex gleams
Build up the blue dome of air,
I silently laugh at my own cenotaph, --
And out of the caverns of rain,
Like a child from the womb, like a ghost from the tomb,
I arise, and unbuild it again.
-- P.B. Shelley

You can read and listen to the entire poem on YouTube.


Photo: landscape in the Czech Republic, 2005 by K.C. Woolf.
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11 Mar 2011

Lucky 13: Women Writers about Women.

March 8th was International Women's Day, but as one of my gorgeous friends declared, 'Surely, one day is not enough.' Hear, hear!

Therefore, without further ado, here are 13 of my favourite quotes about women, by women writers:

"When a woman tells the truth she is creating the possibility for more truth around her."
-- Adrienne Rich

"There are women who make things better... simply by showing up. There are women who make things happen. There are women who make their way. There are women who make a difference. And women who make us smile. There are women of wit and wisdom who- through strength and courage- make it through. There are women who change the world everyday... Women like you."
-- Ashley Rice

"How can you be so many women to so many strange people, oh you strange girl?"
-- Sylvia Plath

"It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman

-- Maya Angelou (Phenomenal Woman: Four Poems Celebrating Women)

"Yet if a woman never lets herself go, how will she ever know how far she might have got? If she never takes off her high-heeled shoes, how will she ever know how far she could walk or how fast she could run?"
-- Germaine Greer

"I, with a deeper instinct, choose a man who compels my strength, who makes enormous demands on me, who does not doubt my courage or my toughness, who does not believe me naïve or innocent, who has the courage to treat me like a woman."
-- Anaïs Nin

"We still think of a powerful man as a born leader and a powerful woman as an anomaly."
-- Margaret Atwood

"Even for women without children, trading hours that produce income for hours that produce “only” art seems like a foolish decision. What a loss for the world, though, to have women's voices silenced because art is our last priority."
-- Holly Robinson

"My gran had always told me that a woman--any woman worth her salt--could do whatever she had to."
-- Charlaine Harris (Dead to the World)

"I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures. None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives."
-- Jane Austen

"a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is going to write..."
-- Virginia Woolf

"Have you seen this woman?
I am considered harmless.
Armed and dangerous.
But only to me."

-- Sandra Cisneros

"Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the 'Titanic' who waved off the dessert cart."
-- Erma Bombeck

Which one do you like best?

Photo 'Look into My Eye' by Poe Tatum, available under a creative commons license. © 2008, Poe Tatum.
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9 Mar 2011

Roses, Thorns & International Women's Day.

Yesterday, March 8th, was International Women's Day.

It was also a busy day at work, so even though I'd thought of ways to celebrate me, myself and all other women, by the time I got home there wasn't much time and energy left to do anything besides cooking pasta (with sun-dried tomatoes and goat's cheese, in case you were wondering), pour a glass of the beautiful organic cava we've recently discovered, and toast with my lover, husband and best friend (all in one person) to the good things in life.

Earlier, over a quick laptop lunch, I'd decided to do something small and mildly meaningful in honour of Women's Day: supporting a female author by buying one of her books. What can I say, I love a win-win scenario!

After careful deliberation, I picked The Tapestry of Love by fellow Litopian Rosy Thornton.

I'd read the sample last week and liked it a lot. So far, its atmosphere reminds me of Peter Mayle's Provence novels and Frances Mayes' Tuscan Sun, but set in the Cévennes and with a more personal story woven in.

The Tapestry of Love is the kind of book that deserves to be read outside on a summer's day, when you're curled up in a hammock with a glass of wine by your side. However, in the absence of summer, curled up indoors in front of the fire will have to do. And yes, there will be wine.

How was your (International Women's) day?
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6 Mar 2011

From Basil to Bottle Bondage.

With spring so close, it's time to start thinking about the garden. I'm a city dweller, but we're lucky to have a patch of land to grow things.

Most of it is taken up by a herb garden. I love cooking as well as pottering around, which makes growing herbs and using them for food, drinks, cosmetics and medicinal concoctions the perfect hobby for me. I trained as a herbalist many years ago, and even though I've never practised it professionally, I still like to put those skills to good use.

Recently, inspired by sites like Urban Gardens and You Grow Girl, I've started thinking about time- and space-efficient ways of growing our own food, even - or especially - when living in a city.

Yesterday, I've worked on an urban gardening experiment of my own: trying to grow basil upside down.

I've killed a lot of basil plants in the past. They don't like to grow in open ground here, and on top of that, as soon as I plant them out, the local slugs gather en masse, conquer any defences I've provided and raze my brave little basil babies to the ground.

Well, not this time. They can besiege all they want, seize they will not.

Hopefully the basil will live happily ever after, at least until I appear with eager scissors. Snip snip!

Any gardening tips and tricks? Share them in the comments!

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4 Mar 2011

Ghent, City of Lights.

'Ghent' by Fobach (cc 2.0)

My home town Ghent made it into the top 10 of Lonely Planet's hottest cities for 2011. It's being described as one of Europe's best-kept secrets, often overlooked in favour of Brussels, Bruges and Antwerp:
'Most Belgium-bound visitors rushing between these see nothing more than the stately fortifications of Ghent’s St Pieter’s Station. Those who do hop off the train and stroll along the Leie River to the historic centre will have their eyes out on stalks. Here hides one of Europe’s finest panoramas of water, spires and centuries-old grand houses.' lp
I might not be entirely objective, but I agree with all my heart. Ghent is an amazing city to visit and to live in. It feels authentic and alive, with a rich history, great pubs and restaurants, an imposing castle in the middle of the historic city centre and lots of festivals, museums and cultural events.

The locals are known for being open-minded and strong-willed, and - like in most places in Flanders - most people speak several languages (usually Flemish/Dutch, English, French and some German) and will go out of their way to show you the best of what their city has to offer.

Belgians are proud of their Burgundian lifestyle, and it shows. All over the city you will find bakeries, tea rooms and chocolate shops, inviting you in with displays of delicious sweets and treats. Many of the pubs offer over 100 different beers to choose from.

When night falls, Ghent becomes even more beautiful. Thanks to the award-winning and well-crafted lighting plan, the city turns into a fairy-tale setting, with different quarters and atmospheres to cater to every mood, from romantic to vibrant, from relaxed to haunting.

To add images to words, here's a video that gives a good impression of the city:

Have you ever been to Ghent? Which are your favourite sights?
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2 Mar 2011

From Words to Brain.

I recently read brain scientist Livia Blackburne's essay 'From Words to Brain', which looks at how our brain deals with reading and writing.

In the essay, Livia, a graduate student at MIT, fellow blogger and fantasy writer, takes us on a fascinating journey to discover how we process language, stories, characters and emotions.

I loved the essay. It's well written, insightful and flows like a good story.

You can tell Livia is fascinated by people, the way we think and react, use language, read and write. That passion, backed up with solid scientific research, makes this highly recommended reading!

Check out her website for more information, a free excerpt of 'From Words to Brain' and an abundance of interesting articles about writing, psychology and neuroscience.
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