Friday, September 30, 2005

... or reign in Hell?

So often these days, I read something and just sit back and wonder. At the writer's erudition, assimilation, imagery, precision, quality. Blogging has given me access to a quite surprising array of fine writing. I am humbled. And far too often, very envious. I hate feeling inferior.

And then one comes across blogs that try so hard but ....
Do you feel the same embarrassment? Do you wince as you think, "There but for the grace of God ... "
Do you wonder what you would do if s/he asked your opinion of something s/he'd written?

So which is more difficult?

See, blogs are like a community. All of us have chosen to put a little (or a lot) of ourselves out on the line, we're here by choice, we've given each other the right to pass judgement upon the aspect of ourselves that's put on view.
It's not the same as reading something in a book or magazine, where the writer is paid for bringing words into the world, where we can dismiss the work as tripe and pass on to the next article, essay, review, book, whatever. Because the reader is not so important there, just part of the inchoate, anonymous market that can't talk back. This is the forum. Here, anybody can leave a comment trashing your work. If not on your blog, then on her own.

So here, on this screen, where we hang out our frailties for applause, we come across great writing that reminds us of how far we still have to go.
And we come across losers. Trite, hackneyed, lacking words and rhythm, yet so earnest that we wince in empathy.
So which is more welcome? Or more unpleasant?

Furthermore, there's always something to learn from someone who's superior. (Humility, for starters?) What do you learn from someone whose work you can't respect?

Tell me.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Just a song at twilight shimmers ...

Her name is Giuditta Scorcelletti. Her singing voice, even in an alien tongue, was as serene as smooth old hands that stroked my head when I was sleepy, as sweet as memories of conch-shells and woodsmoke at twilight.

I came upon her just before twilight, walking over cobblestones into the setting sun as it mellowed in the horizon's haze. In an alleyway that led from one church to another, in a strange beautiful dreaming town atop a hill in Tuscany, I heard music. Like "cathedral bells / tripping down the alley-ways / as I walked on".

Was somebody playing a recording in the church, at evensong?

I peeped into first one doorway, then another and another.

Till there she was, sitting by the wall with her guitar and her music, "strumming my pain with her fingers", but I did not know the lives she sang with her song.
I stepped through the arched doorway, from the pouring gold of the sunset into the quiet shades of an art gallery.

I stood there, unsure of myself, embarrassed that I may be gawking, yet loth to leave that cave of music within a larger beauty. She sang on, unperturbed, until she sensed my awkwardness. And nodded gravely to set me at my ease, with a smile that lay more in her guile-less open face than any perceptible change in expression.

I leaned against the wall and looked around. In a corner lay a basket with a few CDs and some paper money. I wandered over and realised it was her recording. As I knelt down to pick up a CD, I looked back at her and caught a flicker of a smile and a little shrug, as if she spoke to me. Of our need for money to live and to sing, of a search for dignity that led to recorded CDs rather than a hatful of coins, of a love for the songs of childhood, of joy in finding a voice to sing with.

That was a year ago, when she had just recorded her first collection of Tuscan folk songs (playing here even as I type this). What prompted me to pull up her picture again today, after so many months? Strange, because apparently she will play in Vallombrosa tomorrow. I hope the learned members of the Browning Society will hearken to her music, the songs of a Tuscan girl, rather than the research material of “an anthropologist and folklorist” (which she is).

And I hope her music will bring to them the shades of twilight in San Gimignano, a town of sun-gilded stone upon a hilltop in Tuscany with van Gogh vineyards clustered in the plains below.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Good news

First, that the Gamesmaster has emerged from the clutches of sexually voracious older (presumably) women and set up shop at a new site. His harrowing experiences have also led him to muse upon the nature of sexual relations in general.

Welcome back, Ani.

Secondly, that according to Ian McEwan (as linked by Uma), novels have a predominantly female readership. In other words, we men can go back to making Messrs. Guccione and Heffner even richer, without any lingering guilt pangs. How nice.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Is this a dagger ...

Wikipedia entry is too good to be true. Callooh! Callay!

Bored? Board.

A meeting of the bored looms large. Desultory musing is therefore limited to coffee breaks. And at home, there's this ...

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

That which we call a rose

sum up the importance of the current India - Zimbabwe series with the headline "Pathan leaves Bangladesh in tatters".

Yeah right. And between overs, he's thought up a plan for peace in the Middle East.
(Think Babel without the fish ... Ei pola da kee koitasey ga Musharraf Miyan?)

On a different note, are Bangladesh deemed such pushovers that they get ripped apart even when some other team is batting? I seem to recall a Bud Spencer gag on these lines. Trinity Bowls Again?

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

That's an 'A', not an 'E', Mr. President ...

– Yes, we all know about William Jefferson Clinton and his technology innovations, but apparently a sax is also a small axe for cutting roof slates, with a point for making nail holes. From the Olde English seax, ‘knife’, of Germanic origin.

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“Change and decay in all around I see ..” Even the OED fails me sometimes. It’s all very well to know that SAYE is an acronym for “Save As You Earn”, but why the cryptic entry that SBS is “Sick Building Syndrome”?
Buildings can fall sick? If so, who treats them, doctors or architects? Is a sick building wheeled into some kind of vast amphitheatre, where a tall man in green overalls and mask pokes into its innards, all the while bullying a team of plumbers and masons and electricians into passing him the “No. 10 pliers, please” or “3/8 inch left threaded sprocket for outbound drain”?

Or does SBS refer to people getting sick of buildings? If so, there is only one place on earth the term could have originated – Chapin Apartments in the State University of New York at Stony Brook, known on campus (for obvious reasons) as the Peoples’ Republic of Chapin . Units in this lovely complex of semi-detached (you can’t always hear the couple in the next apartment fighting over birth control) town houses (grad students’ version, glorified slum) each with a view (see below!), are available at very reasonable rents ($650 for a shared apartment, out of a stipend of $1050 which is about $900 after taxes, how do we pay for the trips to the micro-brew?!).

The view, ah the view! Out of the window of my room, I had this scenic panorama. Of an overflowing garbage vat. Right outside our front door. Wunnerful!

And when we stepped out in the morning, we had this glorious view of the second ugliest building in the entire Northern Hemisphere (referred on appeal for the top ranking, the jury’s still out on that one), the Stony Brook University Hospital. Which started out as a standard ’60s style government building eyesore, till somewhere down the road the Flash Gordon crew butted in with a request for a “really really shit ugly space-port”. And THEN they had a ‘moment’ that may have inspired George Lucas for the Darth Vader look. And after that they chose the most treeless spot in 1800 acres to put it up.

Campus legend has it that when it was completed, the guy who was supposed to formally inaugurate it didn’t get a good look until he stepped outside for a photo-op. Whereupon he started saying something about “This truly modern facility tha …. aaaAWWWKKk!!!” And had a spectacular fit and became the first emergency patient in the UMC. Patients are blindfolded when they enter and leave the building …

Oh, check it out for yourselves.

NB: The cafeteria was kind of OK, though.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Mistah Kurtz - he dead

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper

This is not the way it was supposed to be.

The ballad built up to Ragnarok, to a mountain-breaking sky-shattering finale screaming with the thrusts of straining heroes. The earth lay dark, the air thrummed. A twilight of the gods?

No. A frickin' weather bulletin.

Thank you very much, Mr. Warne, but we fear the weather does not permit the staging of the final production. So nice of you to have dropped by, Mr. McGrath, such a pity we couldn’t do it today.

Damn it all, even Matt Hayden, that caricature of a troll on steroids, deserved better than this. These men have been heroes. Champions. Show-stoppers. They don’t deserve a hurried exit down dank corridors and out the back door; they deserve a dying scene before the aiudience with the full Mazoomba and a 100-piece orchestra. They should get to spill their guts on stage. They should have the chance to go back “with their shields or on them”.

Granted that Braveheart Freddie and his mates had seized the standard along with the first-innings lead. Granted that the afternoon belonged to that outrageously gifted boy (but how did he spill Chlorox on his hair?). The last evening of this English summer should still have been Kipling rather than Kingsley Amis. We should have “seen the knights in armour come / singin’ something about a Queen ..” Instead of which, we have Messrs. Koertzen and Bowden, all stuffed shirt-front and crooked finger, coming out to remove the bails. A bloody stock-exchange ticker instead of the last hurrah from tattered banners.

Perhaps that self-important old cloud of flatus, Sir Vidia See-the-sun’s-in-my-bunghole Naipaul, was right when he bollocked the Brits for losing their culture. No sense of drama at all, at all.

Blame it on the weather, then. They’ve been doing it for at least 939 years now.

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Sunday, September 11, 2005

Unnatural abode

He moved in with her six months ago. Then, when she changed her room, he moved with her.

Seems a fairly non-interfering roomie, except for obsessively changing TV channels. And she says he’s gay, so no man-woman complications, but he craves attention.

She’s never seen him. How can she know so much about a ghost?

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Disclaimer - this didn't start out as micro-fiction. The lady in question lives in a hostel in central London and told me about her invisible room-mate in very matter-of-fact fashion. Perhaps she was having me on.

And perhaps she wasn't.

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Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Ain't no justice.

At least, none for THIS minority.

I learnt pretty fast that in the Blog-world, Bridget Jones becomes Belle du Jour (back to blogging after a book-writing break). The assumption was that blogs mirror, reveal, analyse, ridicule "real life" (and with luck, translate into mega-bucks book / column deals. Why else would I keep posting?!)

Now (actually last year) the Blonde Librarian's blog spills over into real life.
Tsk. Is nothing sacred? Candace Bushnell should sue for copyright violation.

Corollary (and I'm sorry if this sounds sexist) - the odds for a book deal are totally stacked in favour of angsty clever chick-lit. Especially if the writer is also photogenic.
The other (male) route is to be learned, incisive and impressive. 'Interesting' is often an optional extra. Hmmm. Too much like hard work, that.

So which should I buy first, a padded corset or a lovely soft blonde wig?

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Update: Nosing around for reviews of Belle's book on Amazon, I found that ..

"Customers who bought books by Anonymous also bought books by ...
Devereaux! My literary idol back in Cls. VIII (and before you ask, children, NO you were prolly not born then!) when the hormones were just a-prancin' and a-pourin'.

I'd read a chapter a day (usually hiding under the bed) then recount it in the school bus on the way back home, This of course soon won me minor- idol-status among my peers, or at least those on the same bus.

Ummm ... Statutory Warning. We didn't revel in his work for the prose style. Perhaps our more literary friends might try a review?

Right, two coffee breaks in one morning is a bit much, back to work. But thanks for the memories, Charles.

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Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Why're you looking at me like that?

Plumpernickel (presumably blogging away furiously from the office) wonders why she is always in a minority.
Hey - so I'm not the only one? How reassuring.

(I'm not paranoid, it's just that everybody's out to get me ...)

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Monday, September 05, 2005

Stories at 55

Sibyl started this. Short stories in 55 words or less.

My attempts are on my other blog.
Critiques solicited. (You know who you are, I'm looking at you.)

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Update: It's a good idea to tag Phantasm, the Akhond of Swat, Rajesh Advani, Indian Writing and eleKtriKbLues on this.

And oh, Putu the Cat has finally reached escape velocity. The Kid is awesome!

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Sunday, September 04, 2005


A Sunday last September ...

On grass, eh?
Il Castello - Postern of Fate?

Castello Fountain
Love in the distance

"A rococo hedgehog"?

Il Duomo - the nave
The old and the beautiful

Still love all ...
Tram in the distance (sorry, Paul!)

Dancing folk

From my window

... and THIS Sunday ....

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Saturday, September 03, 2005

Static ..

.. the kind one gets on the radio.
Background noise that hisses and spits and just screws up normal communication.

Until it turns out that the static IS the communication.

New Orleans.
I had this grudging respect for the USA. They may have an unnaturally large percentage of morons, but they also have an unusually large percentage of sharp people and a respect for the system.
Now it turns out the morons have taken over.