Thoughts on comparison

Eight Thirty

Coffee does indeed fix most things (or just a chat with Mon, who took the photo). But in times of doubt it’s important to remember that “Comparing yourself to others makes you vulnerable to shame”.
For me, this sentiment gets filed under writing:

We have nobody’s life to live but our own. From any larger perspective, be it evolutionary, religious or spiritual, we are all here for a very short time, less than an eyeblink in the broad scheme of things, whether we die at age one or one hundred. We are all beautiful and essentially flawed human beings. In the words of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross put it, “I’m not okay, you’re not okay and that’s okay.”

From I’m Not Okay, You’re Not Okay, and That’s Okay! by Harriet Lerner, Ph.D.

Taste: Making Creative Work As Good As Your Ambitions

This is Ira Glass. You probably know him from NPR’s This American Life.

Ira Glass on creativity

This is what he said about creativity, production, and good work:

What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me . . . is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not.

But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story.

It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

This is the video the quote comes from, it’s loosely about film production, but really about anything CREATIVE:

(Ira Glass on Storytelling: parts onetwo, and four.)

Currently Reading (And Listening To)

I  am on a real foodie kick at the moment! I just – belatedly – finished the last few pages of Gabrielle Hamilton’s Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef (which was very good, my tardiness wasn’t a reflection of the book’s quality at all), and have spent many happy hours leafing through the The Flavour Thesaurus for cooking inspiration. And now Kitchen Confidential, by Anthony Bourdain.

Anthony Bourdain

I’ve been hearing for years that Anthony Bourdain is a bit of a badass, and then a copy of Kitchen Confidential showed up in my Christmas stocking. Funnily enough the parts I’m enjoying thus far, are those moments from a softer time:

My brother and I were reasonably happy here. The beaches were warm, there were lizards to hunt down and exterminate with readily available pétards, firecrackers, which one could buy legally (!) over-the-counter. There was a forest within walking distance where an actual hermit lived, and my brother and I spent hours there, spying on him from the underbrush. By now I could read comic books in French and, of course, I was eating – really eating. Murky brown soupe de poisson, tomato salad, moules marinières, poulet basquaise (we were only a few miles from the Basque country). We made day trips to Cap Ferret, a wild, deserted and breathtakingly magnificent Atlantic beach with big rolling waves, taking along baguettes and saucissons and wheels of cheese, wine and Evian (bottled water was at that time unheard of back home).

A few miles west was Lac Cazeaux, a fresh-water lake where my brother and I could rent pédalo watercraft. We ate gaufres, delicious hot waffles, covered in whipped cream and powdered sugar. The two hot songs of that summer on the Cazeaux jukebox were Whiter Shade Of Pale by Procol Harum and These Boots Were Made For Walkin’ by Nancy Sinatra. The French played those two songs over and over again, the music punctuated by the sonic booms from French air force jets that would swoop over the lake on their way to a nearby bombing range.

There’s something about food & music isn’t there? The two seem inexplicably linked. Laura Vincent of Hungry & Frozen always lovingly lists her current sounds, and Turntable Kitchen matches recipes with records. How does Tame Impala with creamy couscous sound? I think they’ll even post you out a pack of ingredients with a song to match.

Music while dining matters too. I read an interesting article on the sometimes inspired, sometimes insipid music choices of restaurants and pubs and how they shape the experience.

Likewise, last night’s Mexican feast at Thor and Liv’s place probably would have had an entirely different atmosphere if we weren’t stuffing our faces to the sweet tunes of Mariachi El Bronx. (By the way, thinly sliced green apple, dressed with fresh lime and Swedish black salt is incredible. Think of that if you listen to the Mariachi song.)

What do you like to listen to when you’re eating, cooking, or dreaming of food?

Currently reading

Story by Robert McKee

“The most powerful, eloquent moments on screen require no verbal description to create them, no dialogue to act them. They are image, pure and silent.” – Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee.

It may sound odd coming from a book teaching you to write but it’s true. Show not tell. The Piano comes to mind.

Currently Reading: The Night Circus

The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern

There has been a lot of hoopla around Erin Morgenstern’s début novel – The Night Circus. After seeing many glowing reviews I was keen to read it myself, and even more so after hearing the book started life as a National Novel Writing Month manuscript. NaNoWriMo, as it is lovingly called, and is an annual challenge to write a 50,000 word first draft in the month of November (it’s a fun experiment and as my friend Rebekah said – it’s excellent for turning off the inner critic).

Last night I finished reading The Night Circus, and to my surprise felt very conflicted. I adore the premise – immersive experiences really float my boat. And the book is stuffed with gorgeous imagery – think ice gardens, a living carousel, paper birds and other transcendent illusions. I have no doubt that this story will be translated for the screen.

But when it comes to mechanic like character and plot, it is a rather clunky story. This thorough Amazon review cites a lot of grammatical errors that will make you frown, and the use of first person present tense makes you feel like you’re leafing through a child’s choose-your-own-adventure. While Harry Potter is technically for younger readers, as a 25-year-old I can still read the series and feel satisfied. Likewise with Meg Rosoff’s fantastic How I Live Now. I don’t feel this with The Night Circus.

The plot staggers around the world like a drunk, flipping from dull character to character. And like some drunks, it’s got a bit of a paunch. It just didn’t feel fully polished and the middle of the books sags. Writers, if you’re concerned about your weight, Kat Asharya has written an excellent piece on fictional Flabby Middles and How To Tone Them.

Once you’ve spewed your dreams on paper and have that shitty first draft down, it’s time to re-vision the work.  It’s important to edit, edit, edit and when you’ think you’re done, put it away for a month before editing some more. Various writing tutors I’ve met over the years always say hard work is where the magic lies. I really wanted to love The Night Circus. To echo countless parents around the globe – I’m not angry, just disappointed.

October Reading List

I went on a book buying binge yesterday afternoon from the comfort of my kitchen table. Here are the books I now have lined up on my Kindle to read. It’s an odd mix… a little bit like October.

Life by Keith Richards

Life by Keith Richards

Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford

Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford

London Fields by Martin Amis

London Fields by Martin Amis

Made To Stick - Chip Heath, Dan Heath

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath & Dan Heath

Jacob's Room - Virginia Woolf

Jacob’s Room by Virginia Woolf (it’s free for Kindle!)

Sputnik Sweetheart - Haruki Murakami

When we left the restaurant, the sky was a brilliant splash of colours. The kind of air that felt like if you breathed it in, your lungs would be dyed the same shade of blue. Tiny stars began to twinkle. Barely able to wait for the long summer day to be over, the locals were out for an after-dinner stroll around the harbour. Families, couples, groups of friends. The gentle scent of the tide at the end of the day enveloped the streets.

Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami (rereading this – one of my favourites)


Do You Ever Get Talker’s Block?

No one ever gets talker’s block. No one wakes up in the morning, discovers he has nothing to say and sits quietly, for days or weeks, until the muse hits, until the moment is right, until all the craziness in his life has died down.

Why then, is writer’s block endemic?

The reason we don’t get talker’s block is that we’re in the habit of talking without a lot of concern for whether or not our inane blather will come back to haunt us. Talk is cheap. Talk is ephemeral. Talk can be easily denied.

We talk poorly and then, eventually (or sometimes), we talk smart. We get better at talking precisely because we talk. We see what works and what doesn’t, and if we’re insightful, do more of what works. How can one get talker’s block after all this practice?

Writer’s block isn’t hard to cure.

Just write poorly. Continue to write poorly, in public, until you can write better.

– the marvelous Seth Godin, writing about the myth of writer’s block .

Career advice

Work You Do While You Procrastinate

Thoughtful career advice from designer Jessica Hische, illustrated smartly by Chris Piascik. Isn’t it lovely?

My procrastination techniques include – making coffee, organising my room, planning exotic holidays, writing fiction, watching Come Dine With Me while writing up notes… It’s all an endlessly inspiring loop though. Writing is my passion, and whether that manifests as writing perfume reviews (check!), crafting websites at a digital agency (check!), or noodling away at a cookbook (one day!) – it’s all good. Knowing what I really love to do is a real blessing. How do you guys while the hours away?

{via Fancy! NZ Design Blog}

September dreams

September: poem

[via Louniverse]


I am really looking forward to my first autumnal September. I remember visiting New York in October, and suddenly Halloween made sense; the end of harvest and darkening of days, not strawberries and 8pm sunsets. I’ve spent a long time in topsy-turvy land… It’s now time for scarves, crisp mornings and falling leaves.