I’ve decided to split this blog into a cultural blog, which will stay here, and a new technical blog. You can find my technical stuff at The Macintosh Guy. I’m keeping a few of the more recent tech posts here as well for the convenience of those who come looking via Google.
Today’s Daily Prompt asks “When you started your blog, did you set any goals? Have you achieved them? Have they changed at all?”
What a question? I’ve had a blog for many years.
If you go back to my first blog then it was really just a pace on the ‘net I could call my own. It had some non-fiction, some fiction and a couple of tech articles.
My second blog was built when I bought my domain name, honestpuck.com, which I decided I needed since the name Tony Williams is far too common and I needed an alias less common. It was both a place for me to collect all my book reviews, and back then I was writing a lot of reviews of technical books, and a place for me to play with blogging software.
After several different blogging systems I spent a lot of time hacking on blosxom as at that time I was really enjoying Perl but at about the same time the rate at which I was writing book reviews was slipping I was becoming tired of Perl and switched to a self-hosted WordPress blog.
After that the aim of my blog was to develop an audience for some more technical posts and it wasn’t really successful. Developing an audience for a tech blog is hard and slow. That incarnation of my blog slowly died through inattention and a lack of an audience.
About two years ago my anxiety and depression started to develop some strength. I’ve suffered from both to some degree for many years and back then they started gaining strength again. My work and my relationship suffered. Then a little over a year ago my relationship collapsed and I went through some extremely hard times with my ex-partner. Severe major depression was one result.
This post was prompted by today’s Daily Prompt, “Tell us about the most surprising helping hand you’ve ever received.” Mine is not quite a traditional helping hand but one that has stayed with me for many years, nonetheless.
There I was in that small church in Stratford-on-Avon sitting in the front pew looking at a stone set into the floor with tears flooding my cheeks.
My first trip to Europe was only a little over ten years ago and I was over 40 after a lifetime of reading English literature and seeing English drama (I went to rehearsals of the Scottish play when I was three).
My trip started in Rome where I was overcome by the age of everything that surrounded me and finally I found myself in St Peter’s standing in front of the Pieta and was so overcome by the beauty of mother and child that I wept.
Florence was another revelation. The art was breathtaking and a trip through the Uffizi will live in my memory forever.
The ultimate however was England. I had spent virtually my entire life reading books set in this foreign land thousands of miles from my home. I had seen the movies and watched the television.
Walking out of the terminal at Heathrow started the experience. Right there in front of me was a London cab to take my mother, brother and I to our hotel. As we got close there was a double decker London bus, a red pillar box and a Bobby in his hat. The England of my imagination, of my reading, the country of my dreams was right there in front of me.
The next day we went to the British Museum and my brain was almost exploding when we saw the Elgin marbles and the Rosetta stone when I walked into the Reading Room.
As I looked around me the emotion started. Right there in a case was T.S. Eliot’s reader’s card. Over there were the favourite seats of Lenin and Conan-Doyle. Once again the tears started flowing, this was my world, the echoes of my teachers, my friends surrounding me.
After a week in London of museums, tourist spots and theatre (oh, what theatre — plays at the Old Vic, the Globe and the National’s opening season of Stoppard’s ‘The Coast of Utopia’ at the Barbican!) we went to Stratford for the weekend.
We spent the early part of the day looking at various bits of the town before finding ourselves late in the afternoon at Holy Trinity Church. After paying a small fee we walked into the Chancel of the Church and that small room has a number of pews before in the front, set into the floor, is Shakespeare’s grave.
I sat down in the front pew to the left of the aisle and right in front of me, on the other side if a short red rope between the two front pews was that most famous of playwrights. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t say a word. I sat there with tears streaming constantly down my face, my shoulders shaking as I sobbed.
I could barely see as the old man sat down beside me but after a moment I noticed him there and wiped my eyes. He must have been at least in his sixties if not seventies.
“Have you travelled far?” he asked.
“Australia, Sydney, Australia.”
“An actor?” was the next quiet question.
“No. Just the audience. A long time watching.”
“Just a moment,” he replied, “there’s something I do for the real friends when it’s quiet.”
He got up from the pew beside me and lifted up the red rope. “I’m a Sexton, it’s OK but don’t walk on the stone.”
He was a Sexton of the Church. A man who spent his days maintaining the Church and grounds watching thousands of tourists every year and for some, the lucky few who in his eyes were more than tourists, he extended a special treat.
I walked through between the pews and stood for a moment before kneeling beside the grave stone. I reached out a hand and before putting it down I looked into the gentle face of the old man and as he nodded I touched that stone and looked down for a moment to watch the tears hit the simple surface.
Today’s Daily Prompt was “Interview your favorite(sic) fictional character.”
There are so many characters starting with Hamlet and going all the way through to Ender or Valentine Smith that picking a favourite is almost impossible. When I thought of a great interview subject then just one guy sprung to mind.
So Ford Prefect, given the mistake you made with the name and the problem you had leaving last time what brings you back to Earth?
Well, the beers good, the parties are excellent and the women have the right number of appendages. What’s not to like? I mean, OK, there’s that whole problem with the planet being destroyed but since Zaphod scored the Heart of Gold we just had to pick a time and space before that or where it didn’t happen, preferably one where/when they know how to party. And since this is Zaphod we’re talking about getting him to stick around for a while and party is not what you’d call difficult. I just make sure I know where my towel is and let the rest look after itself.
How about Arthur Dent? Isn’t Arthur dead and doesn’t that ruin the mood.
Didn’t I mention the time travel thing? You remember; Zaphod, Heart of Gold, time and space? So Trillian went back to before Arthur went to the nightclub and convinced him that he didn’t want to go to that party but another totally different party. Slartibartfast gave them the Bistromath which annoyed Zaphod no end and last I heard he was trying hard to adjust to a life where an attractive woman wanted to hang around with him and seriously entertain the idea of jointly propagating the species. I figure Trillian is propagating the hell out of him and he is doing his usual — walking around in his bathrobe with a dazed and confused look on his face while the universe tries hard to keep him from ever understanding. The man never knows how to either relax or drink sufficient quantities that he doesn’t care that the cosmos is probably out to get him and I have to say think it is. Out to get him that is. Given the nature of probability and existence I suspect they’ll turn up here any moment.
Today Lorelle (if you blog you should be reading ‘Lorelle on WordPress’) had a post giving excellent advice on paragraph length.
To distill the post to it’s essence:
Most people find the shorter length paragraphs easier to read on the web.
In traditional writing, paragraphs could go on for pages without breaking, as could run-on sentences, taking the reader on a journey across many words and pages, turning the page as the eye scans the story, gobbling up every word.
Few writers on the web can get away with that form on their sites.
In Colorado, I found a newspaper with an editorial policy that every sentence must be a paragraph.
All the news was reported in one sentence per paragraph.
Not a single paragraph featured more than one sentence.
It was painful to read.
I felt choppy, distracting, and quite uncomfortable.
You are probably feeling that way after reading the above example sentences, one per paragraph.
While I agree with the conclusion that we should write short paragraphs I disagree that traditional writing tends to have longer sentences and paragraphs.
While this may be true of most fiction good non-fiction should subscribe to the same theory of shorter is better. For many years I edited and wrote for ‘Australian Macworld’ and my boss and copy-editors were always breaking up paragraphs and shortening my sentences until I learnt the lesson.
I also discovered that the same was true when writing for University. You might not think it would make a difference but let me assure you that when a tutor or lecturer is marking that stack something that’s easy to read is likely to get a few extra marks just because of that.
I’ve found the same in work proposals and memos, job applications and even technical documentation. Allow the reader a break for their eyes and mind. While a paragraph per sentence is almost certainly too short two or three is probably the sweet spot. Have a look at most of my previous posts and you will find most of my paragraphs are that length with rare examples out to five.
Read Lorelle’s post and then have a look at the excellent posts she points too for further advice and wherever you write keep those sentences and paragraphs short.
Today’s Daily Prompt takes me towards a subject I find hard to write about. It asks “tell us about the most unconventional love in your life.”
So this word ‘love.’ Hard to know what it means, let alone ‘unconventional love’.
I’ve been told that I display some of the symptoms of Asperger’s. I’m not sure that it’s entirely true but I seem to have trouble understanding emotions and I’m not sure I feel the same way as others.
When I say “I love you” what does that actually mean? Does it mean the same as when you say it? Does it mean the same as when that person over there says it? Does it mean the same when I say it to a friend and when I say it to my daughter Jessica?
It’s certainly an overused word. We say we love objects, love pets, love friends, love children, love parents and love lovers. I’ve always thought only the last three really count, though some close friends would have to be included.
So where to start explaining what I mean when I say “I love you” to a child or a lover? Talking about emotions is hard. We both understand that the sky is a colour we agree is “blue” and that the body of the Australian flag is also “blue” even though a slightly different colour. When it comes to agreeing about what exactly the difference might be between ‘cross’ and ‘angry’ or ‘like’ and ‘love’ we will have a harder time.
So when I say ‘I love you’ to a lover, close friend or Jessica what is it I’m feeling? What am I saying?
Today’s Daily Prompt is “Is the glass half-full, or half-empty?”
This always seems to be a question of optimism against pessimism. A question of seeing what you have against what you don’t have.
If I sum it up that way then I am a half-empty sort of person.
I suffer from depression, bad chronic depression, and one of the symptoms is an ingrained pessimism. I can’t see anything positive in the future and I can’t see the pain going away. At the same time I am beset with a sense of failure in that, according to my inner thoughts, there is little positive in my life situation.
That’s really where depression gets you. Some seem to think that depression is just an extreme form of feeling sad but that’s not where it hits you. Sure, you feel sad, you feel really sad. I can cope with sad, I’m really good at coping with sad. The hard part is to try and be at least a little positive and get things done when there’s a part of you that sees yourself as an unappealing failure incapable of achievement. When the black dog is barking in your ear it’s hard to hear anything else.
In the face of that I’ve become a glass half-empty guy. I try very hard to think it’s half full and at times in my life I’ve been there but it never sticks.
Today’s Daily Prompt was “Turn to your co-workers, kids, Facebook friends, family — whoever — and ask them to suggest an article, an adjective, and a verb. There’s your post title! Now write.”
So I turned to my daughter on the couch next to me and asked the question. Fortunately she’s studying linguistics so she knew what an article was. After a couple of false tries, she kept on choosing a noun instead of a verb (you can’t blame her, the brain tries to make a phrase), she gave me “the cuddly sleeping”. So here goes.
I have some strange habits, a few that are almost lifelong. In a previous post, My Baby Pillow And Meditation, I talked about my baby pillow without confessing that I slept with it every night until I was fairly old, about ten, when it was replaced by a brown corduroy pig.
The corduroy pig was left behind on a trip to Canberra when I was thirteen. I remember two things from that trip to Canberra. First, how disappointed I was to see the college, Bruce Hall, where my brother had lived. I expected something like the colleges of Oxford or Cambridge I had read about and seen in movies. Second, I remember Jane Simpson reading me an Asterix book that was in French. Jane went on to do a Doctorate at MIT, taught Linguistics at Sydney Uni for many years and is now a Professor back at ANU.
The habit continued, I needed something cuddly to clutch to my chest while sleeping. There was a bear, perhaps two, before someone gave me a cuddly Snoopy doll and for twenty years there was a succession of them. Each replaced once it got too old, dirty and worn. The last Snoopy currently has a proud place on the chest of drawers in my bedroom, he was replaced by a bear given to me by a girlfriend about twelve years ago.
There has been a period of a few years when I lived with Sonia where I didn’t need that worn, old bear but after she left me the need was back.
For my fiftieth birthday Sonia gave me a bear that wears a woollen jumper embroidered “Happy 50th Birthday Tony”. She may have left me but her gift is now the cuddly sleeping partner.