23 Sep 2011

Celebrate good times ...

I've been quiet on the blog this week, but I had a good reason. About a month ago, I applied for a new job, which I hadn't done in a long time.

After a strenuous bilingual interview yesterday, I got the call earlier today: I've got the job and I'm starting next week.

The new job is at the university where I've been working for the past fourteen years, but it's still a big change. I'll have a lot more responsibility, it involves more travelling and international networking (yay!) and - the biggest change of all: I will no longer be teaching.

Over the summer I had considered all the pros and cons. In the end I decided to just follow my instincts. This is something I am cut out to do, and something I really want - a job that will push me out of my comfort zone and provide the challenges I need to grow as a person, a job where I'll need to take more (calculated) risks and deal with the consequences of my decisions, a job where real-world results will determine whether or not I've been successful.

The decision will affect my writing. This autumn I will not be able to take a sabbatical to write full-time, like I've done the past two years. I'll have fewer holidays and will be away more often.

Yet I'm more excited than worried. I tend to be more productive when I have a lot going on, and this will give me the opportunity to see more of the world and meet more people, which inspires my writing. My novel is also at a stage where I can afford to do this, and the future lies wide open.

On another note, this is also the first anniversary of my blog - yet another reason to celebrate. So get yourself a glass of your favourite celebratory drink and join me in the happy dance!

Image: 'Champagne' by iko. Available under a creative commons license. © 2004, iko.
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16 Sep 2011

Cat Tales.

We have cats, or - more correctly - cats have us.

Our Feline Overlords are called Cleo and Pixie and we've chosen to keep them outdoors. They have our garden to play in and plenty of (other) unkempt urban wilderness nearby. I often envy them.

Cleo is the Queen. She rules the garden with well-timed and unexpected attacks on anything with the audacity to move or breathe in her queendom. This includes her brother Pixie. (See picture above. If you look closely you can also see our Naughty Tree.)

In the absence of toes to chew on,
Pixie will settle for fingers.
Pixie is a beautiful cat but an unbelievable coward. I suppose it's partly my fault because I had him turned into an ex-tomcat several years ago. (Sorry, guys).

The removal of his Dignity and Pride has no doubt made him the laughing stock of his champagne-cork-soccer buddies and he's developed a toe fetish since. I suspect it's a coping mechanism.

About two years ago, our neighbours got a new cat. A domesticated one. You know the type: sociable, people-loving and utterly naive. Cleo hated her from day one. Pixie pretends he does too, but you can tell he's actually scared of her.

More than a year of hissing, growling and pitiful meowing later, the neighbours' cat got pregnant. When her Humans moved, she got left behind, so she's been eating Cleo's and Pixie's food since, which hasn't improved their opinion of her.

In turn, Mum abandoned her remaining kitten and I had to adopt it. I tried not to, but have you ever said no to a kitten?

The first weeks, this was the side
of Guest Kitten we saw most.
Guest Kitten is one of the cutest specimen I've ever seen and she believes our cats are her family. When she started to follow them around, it worried me at first. I expected to find pieces of Guest Kitten impaled on herb stalks to mark the borders of Cleo's territory.

It hasn't happened. Cleo is apprehensive but seems to tolerate Guest Kitten, while Pixie is - you've guessed it - afraid of her.

Guest Kitten at play.

In the beginning, Guest Kitten wasn't too crazy about Humans, but after weeks of 'apprivoiser', as Antoine de Saint-Exupéry called it, she's warming up to me.

So far I've been able to pet her, pick her up and determine she's a 'she'. She's also beginning to rub against my legs. I guess I'm hers now. I don't mind. Did I mention how adorable she is?

Now, Guest Kitten needs a name, and this is where you come in. I'd love to name her after a female character of a novel, be it from a published one or a WIP. Yours or someone else's, I don't mind, as long as it fits. Please post your suggestions in the comments and I promise I'll consider each and every one.

To help you choose, here's Guest Kitten in action, exploring a box:

However, in the end, the box was claimed by the Queen herself ...

... while Pixie watched from a safe distance, ready to escape at the first hint of danger:

Afterwards they met up for family dinner. There was much rejoicing.

The End.
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13 Sep 2011

Lucky 13: Women Writers about Courage.

"It takes a lot of courage to show your dreams to someone else."
- Erma Bombeck

"I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what."
- Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird)

"Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I'll try again tomorrow."
- Mary Anne Radmacher

"One isn't necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We cannot be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest."
- Maya Angelou

"Everyone has talent. What's rare is the courage to follow it to the dark places where it leads."
- Erica Jong

"One is not in bondage to the past, which has shaped our feelings, to race, inheritance, background. All this can be altered if we have the courage to examine how it formed us. We can alter the chemistry provided we have the courage to dissect the elements."
- Anaïs Nin

"Why do they always teach us that it's easy and evil to do what we want and that we need discipline to restrain ourselves? It's the hardest thing in the world--to do what we want. And it takes the greatest kind of courage. I mean, what we really want."
- Ayn Rand

"There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me."
- Jane Austen (Pride and Prejudice)

"[Responsibility to yourself] means, therefore, the courage to be "different"...The difference between a life lived actively, and a life of passive drifting and dispersal of energies, is an immense difference. Once we begin to feel committed to our lives, responsible to ourselves, we can never again be satisfied with the old, passive way."
- Adrienne Rich

"With enough courage, you can do without a reputation."
- Margaret Mitchell (Gone with the Wind)

"There must be courage; there must be no awe. There must be criticism, for humor, to my mind, is encapsulated in criticism. There must be a disciplined eye and a wild mind...There must be a magnificent disregard of your reader, for if he cannot follow you, there is nothing you can do about it."
- Dorothy Parker

"HELPED are those who find the courage to do at least one small thing each day to help the existence of another--plant, animal, river, or human being. They shall be joined by a multitude of the timid."
- Alice Walker

"I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn."
- Anne Frank

Photo 'Jumping in the waves' by TheGiantVermin, available under a creative commons license. © 2004, TheGiantVermin.
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8 Sep 2011

The Magic of Truth, Lies and Technology.

I sometimes hear people express the fear that technology will make us less creative, or that technological evolutions might destroy art.

I don't agree. I believe technology is just a tool, whereas creativity is an attitude, a talent and a honed skill.

The following five-minute video is a great example of how technology can give rise to new forms of art.

At TEDGlobal 2011, the Swiss magician and illusionist Marco Tempest created an aesthetic, touching and thought-provoking reflection on truth, lies and the power of art:
"Art is a deception that creates real emotion
A lie that creates a truth
And when you give yourself over to that deception
It becomes magic."
 Marco Tempest, TEDGlobal 2011

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4 Sep 2011

A Trip Down Memory Lane.

It's been almost a year since I started 'The Woman Condition'. In that time I've written nearly 200 posts and the blog has hit 20,000 pageviews. This seemed like a good occasion to take a trip down blog-memory lane and write a post in which I would dust off a few of my favourite and most popular oldies.

As if the universe knew I could do with a push, one of my favourite fellow bloggers, L.G. Smith of Bards & Prophets, passed on the 7x7 Link Award to me, which asks to do exactly that: highlight older posts in the following categories:

  • Most Beautiful
  • Most Helpful
  • Most Popular
  • Most Controversial
  • Most Surprisingly Successful
  • Most Underrated
  • Most Prideworthy

Most Beautiful
This was easy. In May I wrote a post about beauty and being beautiful, with lots of pictures of beautiful women:

They Are Beautiful and So Are You.

Most Helpful
I think the posts with most potential to be helpful are the ones in my 'So Your Partner's a Rational Creature' series. I wrote them in my first 2 weeks of blogging, so I doubt they've been read by anybody besides my family and Facebook friends, but they got a great response there and seemed to provoke both reflection and discussion.

It was interesting to read these posts again, because I can tell my style of writing has changed. Anybody who sometimes fears blogging might be a waste of time: it isn't. We practise and hone our skills, even if we're not aware of it.

So Your Partner's a Rational Creature.

Most Popular
By far the most visited posts are the 'Manage Your Body Weight - the Green Way' lot. It helped a lot that Mistress Krista of the hugely popular website Stumptuous.com gave me a shout-out, which I was very happy about, even more so because she's an absolute goddess when it comes to women's fitness and health.

Manage Your Body Weight - the Green Way.

Most Controversial
This one's more difficult. I tend to steer away from controversial posts. It's the good girl / bad girl thing, I suspect. I did plead a case for using the word 'vagina' more frequently. Where I live, that's by no means controversial, but it seems to be in other parts of the world.

Warning: Contains the Word 'Vagina'.

Most Surprisingly Successful
When I wrote my post on the art of landscape artist Andy Goldsworthy, I had never expected it to become my most visited post. It's had over 800 hits so far (most of them via Google images, I suspect). I love his work, and I suspect you might too!

Natural Beauty: the Art of Andy Goldsworthy.

Most Underrated
For reasons that are hard to define, one of my favourite posts still is 'What's Your Story?' I wrote it in January of 2011, which feels much longer ago than it is. The story (and by association the post) still moves me.

What's Your Story?

Most Prideworthy
This would have to be my very first post, because it represents a decision that took me a lot of courage: to put myself, my thoughts and my writing out there and risk the confrontation with reality - and other people.

In the beginning there was ... Eve.

Now, to pass the 7x7 Link Award on to 7 deserving friends. Like L.G., I've chosen people whose blogs have been going on for a while, but whom I've come across later. I thought this would be a great way to get to know them better as well as discover their older, legendary posts:

Image: 'Forest path' by Angel Jimenez, available under a creative commons license© 2005, Angel Jimenez.
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1 Sep 2011

A Kinder Philosophy of Success.

Dreams of success and the fear of failure seem inevitable components of the writing life - or life in general.

Because it is something so many of us are dealing with, I wanted to share a video of a talk by the famous writer and philosopher Alain de Botton.

At TED Global in 2009, he examined how modern society thinks about success and failure and asked interesting and thought-provoking questions about what drives us in our everyday lives.

To quote but a few of my favourite passages:
'I don't think we are particularly materialistic. I think we live in a society which has simply pegged certain emotional rewards to the acquisition of material goods. It's not the material goods we want. It's the rewards we want.'
'Here's an insight that I've had about success. You can't be successful at everything. We hear a lot of talk about work-life balance. Nonsense. You can't have it all. You can't. So any vision of success has to admit what it's losing out on, where the element of loss is.'
'So what I want to argue for, is not that we should give up on our ideas of success. But we should make sure that they are our own. We should focus in on our ideas. And make sure that we own themthat we are truly the authors of our own ambitions. Because it's bad enough, not getting what you want. But it's even worse to have an idea of what it is you want, and find out at the end of a journey, that it isn't, in fact, what you wanted all along.'
'But at the end of the day we should always remember that whoever is facing us, whatever has happened in their lives, there will be a strong element of the haphazard.'
 - Alain de Botton, TEDGlobal 2009 

Here's the complete 17-minute talk:

or watch the video (with interactive transcript) at TED.com.

What's your definition of success?

Photo 'Zarko Drincic - Master Key' by Zarko Drincic, available under a creative commons license© 2005, Zarko Drincic.
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