An Alphabet of Websites

ISO 9995-8 telephone keypad diagram.

In my browser, the address bar is so set up that I often have to only type the first couple of letters of the site I want to visit. My most frequently visited sites pop up automatically – it’s like predictive text for web addresses. This makes it quite easy to figure out my most used sites for each letter of the alphabet so … here goes …

A – Art of Narrative

This is a beautiful growing archive of book illustrations with lots of fairytale pictures. Lovely to disappear into for a while and indulge the imagination.

B – Blogger

The Google based and integrated blogging platform that I have used for many years and which hosts, most notably, my Stories from the Borders of Sleep. I guess this one is at the top of the pile because I check my stats far too often.

C – The Chiff and Fipple

A recent obsession with woodwind and especially flutes and whistles puts this at the top. This is THE go-to site for all things relating to the tin whistle/penny whistle. If it’s not covered here or in their forum, it’s not relevant.

D – Download Magnatune

Actually you need a password to access this part of the Magnatune site but this can be obtained for a nominal monthly subscription that gives generous access to all the material in their catalogue. In fact most of what I listen to these days comes from this site because they have a fantastic selection of Jazz, Folk, Ambient, New Age and Baroque music from international artists. For the monthly subscription you get a license to download as much as you want in various formats and permission to distribute up to three copies to friends. Win-win-win!

E – English Forums

It seems that I use this site more than I realise as, during the course of my editing work, I am constantly referring to the current debates in the world of grammar, style and usage.

F – Flickr

No surprises here. This is still THE social network for photography and visual stuff. On my photostream, there is a lot of analogue photography from my extensive collection of pre-digital cameras; although, since the cost of developing curbed my six-films-a-month habit, I have been putting my doodles up here.

G – Gutenberg

A huge collection of literary material in the public domain from the classics to obscure victorian histories. Most of the stuff I consider to be worth reading was written over a hundred years ago so this is where I go to get it for free.

H – Helpguide

Not sure why this comes up; I’ve only used it a couple of times. It is essentially an ad-free resource about all things health related. Articles are contributed by experts in their fields and cover Mental Health, Childhood, Aging and Diseases – anything to do with health.

I – iJourney

Again I’m not sure why this makes it right to the top as I’m not a frequent user of this site, but it is a tremendous source for mindfulness and spirituality, nonviolence and healing related articles, poetry and art. Sweet … need to check it out more often.

J – Jack Hatfield

Jack Hatfield is a mainstay of the international banjo playing fraternity, an educator and contributor to the Banjo Newsletter. Frankly, us banjo players need all the help we can get with our musical affliction.

K – Kayak

Cheap flights finder. I don’t think I’ve actually used them to buy a flight, yet, but I’ve obviously stumbled over there while daydreaming of travelling to faraway places.

L – Last FM

The streaming service and music-based social network that I couldn’t do without. Ad-free listening based on what you have listened to in the past and liked. Last FM streams music to you after figuring out what your taste is. It does not offer you much control over exactly what you listen to (unlike Spotify) but it still suits me a lot better than Spotify. I like a radio station that is tailored to my taste, that helps me to discover new artists and that doesn’t charge for ads-free listening.

M – Musescore

I have tried a lot of different musical notation software over the years and Musescore wins out for intuitive, speedy and flexible interfaces. The site also has a nice social networking element with people sharing music scores, original compositions and arrangements.

N – Noisetrade

Offering a massive catalogue of mainly Christian and indie artists on a free or pay-what-you-want sort of basis. I’ve downloaded a couple of nice things from this site and am particularly fond of the Nashville Film Composers album which totally rocks.

O – Oneworld Publications

As it’s name suggests, this publisher has an inclination towards books with a social consciousness and a current global perspective – philosophy, biography, investigative journalism, that sort of thing. There is a handful from their catalogue on my “to read” list.

P – Pinterest

Yes … well … obviously. Another social network keyed to sharing visual material. Although many people use it as a sort of “wish list” of things they want, it is also a great source of inspirational artwork and photography. I spend a lot of my coffee breaks here and my “pin” boards are at http://pinterest.com/seeingmore/

Q – Quick and Dirty Tips

The home of Mignon Fogarty’s “Grammar Girl” podcast – I don’t know how I’d get by without it. In fact this site is one of the most phenomenal resources of useful and educational material on the web in the form of numerous podcasts and articles.

R – Ron Block

An inspirational banjo player with Alison Krauss and Union Station, but also a deep-souled man of faith, Ron Block is one of my heroes. He is also a fellow George MacDonaldist. Sweet!

S – Seymour Writes

If you are reading this, you are probably on this website right now. This is my main personal blog that also serves as a shop window for my writing and editorial services.

T – The Session

Visited several times a week, this is a huge user-contributed collection of traditional tunes, jigs, reels, polkas, hornpipes, airs from the celtic tradition. I play in a ceilidh band and am somewhat obsessed with traditional music so this website is a lifeline.

U – Using English

I do a little bit of teaching English as a foreign language. I rely on this site a lot for lesson ideas and resources and the occasional grammar related query.

V – V&A Museum

The website for the Victoria and Albert Museum. Actually a really nicely put together and informative website detailing the current and up-coming exhibitions with plenty of little video clips and informative documentary material.

W – Wooden Flute Girls Blog

Not surprisingly, another woodwind resource makes it to the top of the “W”s. This is Christel Rice’s personal blog where she posts, among other things, lots of delicious tin whistle tunes. I have started visiting this site to train myself to learn new tunes by ear rather than from sheet music. She teaches at the New York Irish Center in Queens, NYC. Lots of great stuff for people who are geeky about simple blown instruments.

X – X Files

Iconic, cult viewing from the 90s – Mulder and Scully  … what’s not to love about it. Actually I used to be too scared to watch it and have only got into the series later in life when I am old enough not to be disturbed by the compelling mix of supernatural speculation and conspiracy that underpins it. I think the series treats some pretty profound themes, not least about doubt and faith, that make it well worth re-watching.

Y – YouTube

We unplugged our TV and didn’t bother renewing our licence about a year ago. If I need to collapse in front of a screen nowadays, it is to explore the weird and wonderful world of YouTube. The anarchic geekery is an endless source of fascination, but I don’t only watch people blowing up batteries and putting marshmallows in vaccums. I find it an invaluable source of music and making tutorials as well as news and views. Lately I have been rounding off the day by catching up on news according to Russia Today (quite the most satisfying world reportage available) and blowing my mind with TED talks.

Z – Zahndrew’s Blog  (Creatives)

Andrew Zahn is not an infrequent reader and commenter on this blog but I’m not sure I will ever be able to compete with his energetic and creative blogging habit which has resulted in his site becoming something of a hub for discussion on all things relating to creativity. He’s not just here because of the rarity of the first letter of his surname but because I do actually read most of what he posts and it never fails to inspire without overloading the mind.

Advertisements

Linguistic Peeves: “A Big Thank You”

A female African Bush Elephant raises her trun...

I like well modulated grammar. I appreciate the clarity and accuracy that comes from applying the rules. I also enjoy seeing those rules creatively and consciously broken. Language lives; usage comes and goes and I embrace innovation. But (and, yes, these days it is fine to start a sentence with “but”), there are some things up with which I will not put:

A BIG THANK YOU

A big thank you” what? It hangs there like “a wrinkly elephant”.

Okay so, “A big thank you to all our supporters …” from whom? What are people trying to do with this phrase? It is so passive that the wonderful verb of thanking someone has become a wrinkly elephant of a noun that nobody will claim to own.

Fine, then, “We would like to say a big thank you to all our supporters.” Better, but that’s still a bit like saying, “we’d like to say a wrinkly elephant to all our supporters.” And why the conditional? Is there a problem?

“We would like to say a big thank you to all our supporters, but it sounds silly.” I agree with that.

Maybe if the big thank you is what you want to say then it should be in quotation marks? “We would like to say a big thank you to all our supporters.” That doesn’t make sense either, it just adds a dollop of sarcasm.

I’m reminded of the parson in church, “Lord, we pray for all the people in the world and we especially pray for the widows and orphans.” That’s not praying, that’s just telling God that you are praying – WHAT do you pray for the orphans?

Maybe expressing the wish to issue “a big thank you” is a way of avoiding actually thanking anyone in the same way that the parson who prays for widows and orphans never actually prays for them.

Well, I just want to say “a big wrinkly elephant” to all who read this blog.

Thank you for reading it, thank you for commenting and interacting with me. I’m grateful to you all and I just wanted to express that somehow.

Lucky Seven Meme: I got tagged …

manuscript
Photo credit: El Chupacabrito

So I got tagged by Gillian of skybluepinkish …

She’s posted 7 sentences from her current manuscript, “The Dorothy Summer” (check it out), and now it’s my turn:

  • Go to page 7 or 77 in your current manuscript
  • Go to line 7
  • Post on your blog the next 7 lines, or sentences, as they are – no cheating!
  • Tag 7 other authors to do the same

Most of my stuff is less than seven pages (I put up a fresh short story nearly every week at “Stories from the Borders of Sleep“). However, with minimal preamble, here are the seven sentences beginning from the seventh line from the seventh page of my most advanced work-in-progress, a phantasy novelette entitled, “The Coat and Ring”.

Like a man who has been in the sun all day and who through the night gives off the radiance of what he has absorbed, I felt a strong glow from him. It was impossible to tell his age for his skin was well weathered by the elements rather than age, and he gave off an air of rude health. As he looked at me, I also had the impression that he was about to pounce on me and overpower me in a playful attack, like a young cub intent on tussling one of his brothers into submission.

I introduced myself and asked how he came to be there at Terence’s table on this particular night. I wished to discover if Terence had a continuous traffic of guests to whom the same attentive hospitality was shown or if I had stumbled into some sort of occasional celebration.

Selwyn looked at me with slight amusement under his moustache once again and took a few moments to answer me, as if he was weighing whether to play a joke on me or not.

Delightfully random …

So I’m handing the baton on to a few of my favourite writer bloggers (who may or may not appreciate being tagged), but I recommend you check them out anyway:

Valerie Storey at http://valeriestorey.blogspot.co.uk

James Tallet at http://thefourpartland.com

Rolando Garcia at http://phantomimic.weebly.com

Mandy Eve Barnett at http://mandyevebarnett.wordpress.com

Curtiss Ann Matlock at http://curtissannmatlock.com

Marly Youmans at http://thepalaceat2.blogspot.co.uk

Lisa Wright at http://wrightales.com

Amberr Meadows at http://www.amberrisme.com

The Wisdom of Things Found 1: The Pageless Book

May 2010, Alnmouth beach, UK

The Word Is ... Flat
The word is ...

The emptied cover of a book has been brought in on the tide and left on the beach. This is all that is left after the ocean has digested it, page by page.

As I look at this, I realise that there is really only one right way to read a book and that is to devour it as thoroughly as the sea has done this one – to assimilate the ink and paper into the salt of experience and the spume of memory … until I own its words, dispersed in every corner of myself, and it is no longer possible to say, “this is ‘I’ and that is ‘Book'”.

If only we could take each book we read, and leave it like this when we are done with it, then we’d be wiser than the magi. What if we were to tear out each page as we read, confident that the words on it had done all they needed to do and had become part of us? There would be no need to hoard it on the shelf. I don’t say we have to agree with everything we read or to adopt it as truth; but every line can be digested, questioned, and allowed to work. It is too easy to hold ideas in the abstract, to “like” the thoughts of an author without being changed by them. Books on shelves are like un-lived ideas. Empty covers on a beach are the dried pod of a seed that has been planted inside the reader.

It also has not escaped me that this looks suspiciously like the cover of a Gideon’s edition of The New Testament and Psalms, very much like the one I was given at school when I was 11 years old. On the first page, it said something like “this is yours to keep, we only ask that you read a portion of it every day”. Well … I did, and I have done (nearly) every day for the last 24 years; but that’s another story …

The Wisdom of Things Found

Jetsam - Terschelling Beach.
Jetsam

Blame three things for this post and all that follow it in a similar vein.

Firstly, I have been following a series of posts on this | liminality where Barbara has been meditating on 26 seashells given to her by a friend and posting on each of them in turn; weaving something of her present state of mind and sense of place with the thoughts suggested to her by each seashell. The idea behind this project has not only intrigued but haunted me in an unexpected way. The sense that objects can prompt insights and fire the imagination resonates with my own quest to find the supernatural dimension in the everyday and commonplace.

The ability to anchor our inner self to the outer world through the power of symbolism is a huge part of what it means to be human.

Secondly, several months ago I went to a local bead shop to purchase an array of beads for our youth group to use in making their own “prayer bracelets”. I wanted them to explore the things they had learned on a weekend away, to find beads to symbolise those things and literally bind them on their wrists. When I told the sales-person of this she became very interested and very helpful in choosing beads. But, she also showed me a bracelet that she was wearing that was made purely from items that she had found. It is amazing what gets left lying around. Every component of the bracelet, therefore, had a mysterious history and was also associated with a time and a place and a moment in her life.

It was not long after this that I developed my own string of beads as a visual reminder of my values and priorities.

Thirdly and finally, David from “My Seed of Truth” contacted me recently about writing a piece of short fiction to string together some of the themes from his life that have lead to the “My Seed of Truth” project. It was while turning over a few ideas for a story last night that I hit upon an idea for another sequence of blog posts … the wisdom of Things Found.

I’m not alone in being a hoarder of Objets Trouves, from curiously shaped or coloured pebbles and bits of glass to twigs and pine cones and broken jewelry. My plan is to bring some of these found things to light and to see what they might have to say. Sometimes God speaks unexpectedly through the things we see, sometimes they prove to be the key that unlocks an insight that has waited for the right moment … who knows what might be discovered through the Wisdom of Things Found?

Links:

Verbatim – a blog of found poetry

this | liminality – Seashells, poetry and other good stuff

My Seed of Truth

Thoughts on Creativity: Lessons from the Journey

Reflecting on the last year of creativity after having quit my full time job in order to pursue some creative stuff that had become too lively to be confined to evenings and weekends, I have learned a few lessons:

1. It Takes Longer Than You Think

Waiting
Wait for it!

Firstly, until I tried to give myself over to creative paths on more than just an “ad-hoc” basis, I never realised what a long time the act of creating actually takes. Previously, I had worked when compelled and inspired and with not much expectation that what I was doing needed to be really all that amazing. As a result, things got done easily and quickly and there was not even an expectation that I needed to finish anything if I lost the muse during the process. Now it is different, I need to write when I feel less like it, when the words come slowly, or when my imagination takes a vacation.

However, this has not been the most time consuming thing.The real time-sink has been the slow process of facing down the chatter of the demons we encounter on the creative path:

  • Motivation – Why am I doing this? Am I just being selfish? Is this really contributing to society? Does it matter what other people think? Who am I doing this for? These kind of questions can put a dampner or things for weeks. And just because we have answered them once, it doesn’t mean we won’t have to answer them every day.
  • Vulnerability – Putting creative work out there, sharing it, publishing it, is all very exposing.We make a deep personal investment in our work and then others get to see into us through it in ways that we might not be ready for. Am I ready to go public with this?Am I ready for criticism, or indifference, or misinterpretation?
  • Doubts – Does anyone really care about what I create? Does that matter? Am I good enough? Look at what other people are doing, they have been doing it for years and they are brilliant. I’m not a natural like them. I should get a proper job. I’ll never be world class. Should I care if I’m not?
  • Discipline – I’m so badly disciplined. I’m supposed to love what I do and it’s a privilege but I can’t settle to it sometimes. Most people who have jobs with bosses breathing down their necks and set work hours have that extra incentive to stay on task. I have none of that. It is hard, every day I have to start by re-discovering my reasons for doing this.

2. Persistence

From my observations and from the received wisdom of others, the difference between great writers and the rest of us is not necessarily innate gifting but pure graft. This goes for all the arts. Some talent helps but there are more talented people out there who have fallen on the first hurdle of of applying themselves to their craft. Working on your creativity daily brings two rewards:

  • Upping the Average – If 2% of what you write is pure gold then you just have to write enough for that 2% to be significant.The analogy is often cited of a photographer. Again, the difference between a pro photographer and the rest of us is that while I take hundreds of pictures, they take thousands. Even if one in every thousand pictures is an iconic masterpiece, you have more chance of hitting it if you take more pictures.
  • Practice – Honing and improving your work comes through practice, repetition, iteration. The more you create the more practice you get creating. I once spoke to a silversmith who had his own business and he told me how when he first came out of art college and went for his first job, he was walking around the workshops and the boss picked up a ring off a workbench. “How long would it take you to polish this?” he asked. “About an hour, maybe two,” he replied. “That’s a four minute job,” said the boss. Sure enough, after several months at the workshops, doing not much more than polishing,this guy could do a two hour job in four minutes. Practice!

The basic skills of our work need to become second nature whether that is mixing oils, playing scales, or writing dialogue, so that we are not hindered by technique.

3. Finding the Right Motivation

Whatever our initial reasons are for embarking on a creative career, sooner or later it has to become about more than wanting to be noticed.

Creativity
"Creativity"

Most people I know, who are trying to get traction or considering putting significantly more energy into their creativity, are actually not after fame or recognition. In fact it is slowly dawning on them that what they have been doing as a hobby might be something that others will enjoy, and it is time to “come out”.

I think a lot of writers, however, have a desperation to see “their name in print” as if there is something magical about that. We have to find better motivation than that, otherwise (among other things) we will be in danger of feeling bitter about the “success” of others who get there before we do with what is often quite lousy manuscript.

We have to joy over the intrinsic rewards of our process and product, and hold the adoration of fans lightly. I’ll admit that on weeks when my Borders of Sleep podcast is getting 50-100 downloads a day, I feel great. The problem is that when it drops to 20, that affects my mood, too. I forget that I’m not doing this for the hits but because I love creating stories.

Do what you do, well and lovingly, and if it turns out that you are the prophet of the zeitgeist then let that be what it is.

4. Community

In spite of the “cult of the artist” and this idea that the creative’s lot is to slave away in a windy garret, that’s all bunkum. Yes it is lonely at times, but that is why we need others. Really one of the most enjoyable aspects of pursuing creativity, for me, has been the community that forms around it. I think the community gives us two things:

  • Accountability – I know that if I talk to people about my plans and dreams, they are more likely to happen. As long as they stay in my head as a vague nice idea, they are safe; and if I never tell anyone then I’ll never need to try them and risk failure. Even better, I know that if I can rope people in collaboratively then a project is even more likely to fly. I cannot overemphasise the value of this. For example, with my podcast, if it was not for the producer (Tim) and illustrator (Robyn), I doubt if it would have been sustainable. Having other people involved and interacting with ideas keeps me working on it week after week.
  • Synergy – Actually working with others often means that, together you are more than the sum of your parts. That extra element of “synergy” comes into play. It is great to have friends who say, “that sounds like a great idea, why don’t you go ahead” but it is even better to have allies who say, “that sounds like a great idea, let’s do it together.” In order to open yourself up to synergy, you have to let go a little of the control but I think it is a small price to pay for having a creative ally.

So …

What are the core lessons you learned along the way that it would have been helpful to have known before you got started?

Are You Creative? Send Me Your Card!

I’m a sucker for business cards. Collecting them is like playing a grown-up game of swapsies. Even though we live in a digital age of networking, there’s still nothing quite like taking home a pretty little piece of card with someone’s details on it.

So here’s a thing I’m going to do: If you are a person who works broadly in the area of creativity, art, writing, music, performing arts or that sort of thing, send me your card (either a scan or a “hard copy” – email seymour@seymourjacklin.co.uk for my snail address) and I’ll feature it on this blog and link it to your website … simples!

I have started with a few that were already in my wallet: