28 Oct 2011

The Better Story Wins.

In writing, for us mere mortals, the quality of our stories and characters is key.

The following TED video made me wonder for how many other aspects of life this might be true.

In his 2009 talk, novelist and politician Shashi Tharoor (himself a fascinating character) looks at India's success and emerging popularity from a cultural point of view. He discusses the 'soft power' with which Indian culture, food, technology and music influences people's hearts and minds.

There's a lot of food for thought in this video. It made me wonder about the notion of world leadership, about the effect technological revolutions can have on people in different kinds and layers of society, and once again about the power of stories in our lives.

A few of my favourite passages:

'But, with this increasing awareness of India, with you and with I, and so on, with tales like Afghanistan, comes something vital in the information era, the sense that in today's world it's not the side of the bigger army that wins, it's the country that tells a better story that prevails.'
'Governments aren't very good at telling stories. But, people see a society for what it is, and that, it seems to me, is what ultimately will make a difference in today's information era'
'But, the whole point is that India is the nationalism of an idea. It's the idea of an ever-ever-land, emerging from an ancient civilization, united by a shared history, but sustained, above all, by pluralist democracy. That is a 21st-century story as well as an ancient one. And it's the nationalism of an idea that essentially says you can endure differences of caste, creed, color, culture, cuisine, custom and costume, consonant, for that matter,and still rally around a consensus. And the consensus is of a very simple principle, that in a diverse plural democracy like India you don't really have to agree on everything all the time, so long as you agree on the ground rules of how you will disagree.'
 - Shashi Tharoor, TEDIndia, Nov 2009
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23 Oct 2011


I've been a bad blogger this month, but I have an excuse:  I have been (trying to be) good somethingelses, mainly at work and at home.

A few weeks ago, I started my new job. It's stimulating and demanding and I love it.

It's causing big changes in my life, though. So far none I hadn't anticipated - an advantage of taking the whole summer to weigh pros and cons - but it's still interesting to observe and experience the effects.

Changing your surroundings, circumstances or lifestyle has a way of confronting you with where you're at in life. As you develop new routines and grow into them, it's easier to see how far you've come and what you need to focus on for the future.

The most mundane but possibly most significant change for me is that I have a lot less 'free' time. That doesn't sound like a good thing, yet I feel more relaxed, in control and mentally free than I have in years. It was clearly time to stop fretting, hoping and assuming, go out on the fields and bring in the harvest.

What has changed?

I always thought I was unable to simplify my life. I'm the kind of person who's potentially interested in anything and everything. That is still the case - and I'm happy because it's a good skill for a writer - but I seem to have learnt to prioritise along the way. Who'd have thought?

Most importantly: giving up a number of things (or making them less prominent) doesn't make me feel like I'm missing out. To the contrary. I am less worried and more productive. I know that what's important will still stand out, possibly more so than before.

As a result, I have set myself a deadline for my novel. I have a (small) list with the final changes I want to make, and then I'm going to unleash my baby.

Whatever happens next, I'll live and learn - and change again.

Image: 'Harvest time' by Steve Schnabel. Available under a creative commons license. © 2009, Steve Schnabel.
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13 Oct 2011

Lucky 13: Women Writers about Wine.

"Wine is the refined jewel that only a grown woman will prefer to the sparkling trinkets adored by little girls."
- Muriel Barbery (Gourmet Rhapsody)

"Only a fool tries to reconstruct a bunch of grapes from a bottle of wine."
- Jeanette Winterson (Art & Lies)

"Wine talks; ask anyone. The oracle at the street corner; the uninvited guest at the wedding feast; the holy fool. It ventriloquizes. It has a million voices. It unleashes the tongue, teasing out secrets you never meant to tell, secrets you never even knew. It shouts, rants, whispers. It speaks of great plans, tragic loves, and terrible betrayals. It screams with laughter. It chuckles softly to itself. It weeps in front of its own reflection. It revives summers long past and memories best forgotten. Every bottle a whiff of other times, other places, everyone...a humble miracle"
- Joanne Harris

“There are days when solitude is a heady wine that intoxicates you with freedom, others when it is a bitter tonic, and still others when it is a poison that makes you beat your head against the wall.”
- Colette

"What I do, and what I dream include thee, as the wine must taste of its own grapes."
- Elizabeth Barrett Browning (Sonnets from the Portuguese and Other Poems)

"...and I get refill number three or four and the wine is making my bones loose and it's giving my hair a red sheen and my breasts are blooming and my eyes feel sultry and wise and the dress is water."
- Aimee Bender (Willful Creatures: Stories)

"All Creatures know that some must die
That all the rest may take and eat;
Sooner or later, all transform
Their blood to wine, their flesh to meat."
- Margaret Atwood

"I am a connoisseur of fine irony. 'Tis a bit like fine wine, but it has a better bite."
- Lynn Kurland (Princess of the Sword (Nine Kingdoms, #3))

"Language is wine upon the lips."
- Virginia Woolf

My writing is an overflow of the wine glass of my life, not a basin in which I wash out my ideals and expectations."
- C. JoyBell C

"Your divine should not have used water. It just doesn't hold the attention properly. Wine. Or blood, in a pinch. Some liquid that matters."
- Lois McMaster Bujold

"You are trying to lure us into revealing information you're not entitled to? With chocolate and wine? Are you amateurs?"
- Moira J. Moore (Heroes at Odds)

"I have dreamt in my life, dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas; they have gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the color of my mind."
- Emily Brontë (Wuthering Heights)

Image: 'A Glass in The Hand...' by clappstar. Available under a creative commons license. © 2010, clappstar.
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3 Oct 2011

Le Nouvel Automne Est Arrivé.

Autumn is here. Or is it? We've had clear blue skies and temperatures around 25°C for over a week, which is more summer than we've enjoyed all through August.

Yet the mornings have a chilly bite to them and our trees have transformed into multi-coloured marvels with crispy leaves that rustle and crackle on their way to the ground. Clusters of mushrooms have sprung up to confuse the cats on their daily trot to the food trays - yes, autumn is here all right.

While nature is shedding its fruits and preparing to go underground for the winter, I spent some time in my hammock today, basking in the afternoon sun and thinking about my own harvest: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.

It struck me how much my life has changed these past few years. If I had to label the difference, I think 'ownership' would be a good word. I feel like I've finally taken the reins of my life, not in a strained and no-room-for-improvisation kind of way, but definitely more focused than I've ever been.

The interesting thing is that I still don't know where I'm going. My focus doesn't seem to be a goal or a point in the future. Instead it's coming from within, born from a better insight in what I can do, what I like to do and what I want to contribute to the world.

Writing has been an important factor and a catalyst in this process. By looking for the right words, I'm discovering what it is I want to say. By looking for ways to get my message across, I'm finding out why it's so important to me.

This is going to be an interesting season; I wonder what else it's got in store ....

What are you harvesting this year?

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