Friday, November 30, 2018

A comprehensive catalogue

When I first started writing, I was advised by my course tutor to focus on writing articles rather than fiction, since articles actually paid good money. I took this advice, and the articles did pay; not heaps, necessarily, but a reasonable amount.

One of the books I read during this time was Writing Articles that Sell by G J Matson. The book was one of five smallish books that came as part of the writing course. It was a book I read and re-read, and it proved its worth.

I've just come across an extract from it that I copied back in 1993 in which he discusses the need to keep cuttings or clippings of articles and newspaper notes. These clippings were useful not just for article ideas, but as backup material for when you did write articles. Evernote serves the same purpose for me now, though I don't write much in the way of articles anymore. And of course it's vastly more easy to catalogue and search. I do write blog posts, of course, and the 'clippings' are useful for that too.

Anyway here is Matson talking about his cataloguing system:

This [initial] classifying was a crude arrangement, and the titles of the various folders, as near as I can remember them now, were Anniversaries, Natural History, Stage and Cinema, Religion, Celebrities, Unusual Experiences, History, Geography, Science, Art, Literature, Domestic Law, Handicrafts, Customs, Political and Miscellaneous. As soon as a folder became uncomfortably full, I divided the cuttings again, this time into foolscap envelopes. Thus Natural History was divided into Ants, Dogs, Elephants, Grouse, Mice, Rabbits and so on. 

A few of the subjects, selected from my collection at random, may be of interest: Air Mails, Antipathies, Basket Making, Bibles, Careers for Boys, Chiropody, Corks, Dew Ponds, Duels, Entertaining with Table Napkins, Foolhardy Feats, Giants and Dwarfs, Handwriting, Horse Brasses, Icebergs, Jest-books, Keeping Cool, Lighting, London Oddities, Marbles, Miniatures, Newspapers, Noses, Olive Harvests, Pacifism, Peat, Queen Elizabeth I, Refrigerators, Rings, Safe Deposits, Seaweed, Teasels, Unclaimed Fortunes, Valentine Day, Wassailing, Yom Kippur and Zebras. It will be seen from these examples that the range of subjects covered is a very wide one. It is because I collect cuttings on every subject I possibly can. It pays me to do it – and it will pay you.

What a marvellously diverse list! I had both folders and foolscap envelopes in my much less organised system at one point, so I must have paid some attention to Mr Matson, though I can't say I ever went quite so wide in my choice of subjects. I think his point was that you can write about anything if you have the background information to get you started. 

These days, we'd probably categorize Foolhardy Feats under The Darwin Awards. And if you don't know what a Teasel is, it's apparently a tall prickly Eurasian plant with spiny purple flower heads. It seems a slightly curious subject to write about, but perhaps they were more common in gardens back when Matson's book was written. 

Friday, November 23, 2018

The need for exercise...or not

This may be a revised version of one of my Column 8 pieces, though it seems mostly to be as originally written. 

Practice makes perfect. If you don't use it, you'll lose it. So they say.
Some time ago a member of our family purchased a set of exercise DVDs with the aim of building up her/his muscles. I'm not allowed to be more specific about which family member it was, but the DVDs gave a real boost in the physical department.
She/he disciplined him/herself, getting up at the crack of dawn every morning to chug through those demanding exercises - while the demonstrator chauntered through a flow of esteem-building speeches.
Various other members of the family gave the exercises a go - with varying degrees of success. Still, I don't think any set of DVDs has ever had more use in our house. Certainly the original purchaser got value for money.
While everyone else tackled the exercises, I didn't. I was still walking to work every morning: a sufficient, demanding-enough exercise, and pleasant. A good way to allow the early-morning-family-arousing-stresses to flit off like startled sparrows. I use to run most of the way, but my legs had begun to find pounding down the hills jarred the hips and knees.
Still, the walk was enough to keep me fit, I said.
If so, why did I find my knees creaked more when I knelt - and it was more difficult hoisting myself up again? (If I could rouse the body to such a level of enthusiasm as to want to get up again.)
Why did the floor seem further away when I bent to pick up bits of paper or safety pins? And why did it take three attempts to grasp them?
Why did I have to sit a little further back from the steering wheel than before, and find the pedals further away? Why did the plate on the meal table seem not quite where it used to be? (‘There's many a slip twixt cup and lip’ was finally starting to make sense.)
Why did I feel like a formerly deft and agile adolescent struggling with clumsy-making growth spurts?
Lack of exercise.
My family has been nagging - sorry, encouraging - me, for some time, to do some exercise. (There's particular concern that they can't see the telly if I'm standing just to one side of it.) So the other night I began the exercises, in company with a couple of other family members who'd done them before, and wanted to get back into them again.
I enjoyed the exercises which required me to lie on the floor, because at least I didn't have to keep my body vertical at the same time, but I wasn't too fussed about the exercises that seemed akin to some of the spine-dislocating, hip-unhinging and bone-crackling one of my children does in modern dancing.
I know these exercises will do me good.  (I used to have a best friend who was always telling me things he suggested would do me good.)  I know that if I play difficult music on the piano, and work at it, even if I can't play it up to speed, I'll have fingers that move when I want them to, instead of fingers that ice-skate across the keys because they can't be bothered to dig their nails in.
I know if I'd kept at that memory course that now sits gathering dust on the shelf, I'd be remembering all the names of the people I want to remember - including the name of my grandson which had gone completely from my mind when I woke last Saturday.
And I know if I write a blog post a day, (inspired or not), I'll produce new ones with half the sweat and strain they usually require.
I think.
But I don't like doing these exercises. They make me feel a hundred and fifty, they make me feel as though I'm no longer capable of any physical effort - and I am! I really am!! - they make me feel that if I have to hear that trainer's voice one more time burbling visualisation babble I'll smash his fancy face in.
Apparently Henry Ford didn't say history is bunk, he claimed exercise was. "If you're healthy," he said, "you don't need it. If you're sick, you shouldn't take it."
How (ouch! oooof!) true.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Hug a musician...

Courtesy Pixabay
I've been re-typing my old journals so that I have a digital copy on the Cloud. In one entry dating from January 1993, I mention that we'd cleared out some clutter from our bedroom. We decided to get rid of a poster we'd had for some time because it was fading badly and become hard to read. 

I'd copied the words into the journal entry, but couldn't read the author's name, at the time. The words are probably reasonably well-known, though I'm not sure that the author, Kenneth Gisoms is. The only thing that seems to come up in relation to his name are the words that appeared on the poster, which all relate to music, and which are both humorous and wise. It's possible that the order of the statements I have here isn't as in the original. 

Furthermore, the statements may have been collected together by Gisoms: the first one appears to be by Aldous Huxley.

  • After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.
  • Music is indivisible. The dualism of feeling and thinking must be resolved to a state of unity in which one thinks with the heart and feels with the brain.
  • Music is a means of giving form to our inner feelings without attaching them to events or objects in the world.
  • The entire pleasure of music consists in creating illusions, and commonsense is the greatest enemy of musical appreciation.
  • What gives music its universal appeal is the very fact that it is at the same time the most subtle and intangible and the most primitive of all arts…it can make a dog howl and silence a crying baby.
  • The trouble with music appreciation in general is that people are taught to have too much respect for music. They should be taught to love it instead.
  • Too many people are trying to justify the precision with which organised musical sound is produced rather than the energy with which it is manipulated. By concentrating on precision, one arrives at technique; but by concentrating on technique, one does not arrive at precision. Melody is the gold thread running through the maze of tones by which the ear is guided and the heart reached.
  • People compose for many reasons: to become immortal; because the piano happens to be open; because they want to become millionaires; because of the praise of friends; because they have looked into a pair of beautiful eyes; for no reason whatsoever.
  • Every composer knows the anguish and despair occasioned by forgetting ideas one has no time to write down.
  • The public today must pay its debt to the great composers of the past by supporting the living creators of the present.
  • All human activity must pass through its periods of rise, ripeness and decline; and music has been to a certain extent the fortunate in that it is the last of the great arts to suffer this general expense.
  • You cannot have critics with standards; you can only have music with standards which critics may observe.
  • Time is to the musician what space is to the painter.
  • Psychologists have found that music does things whether you like it or not. Fast tempos invariably race your pulse, respiration and blood pressure. Slow music lowers them.
  • Music hath charms to sooth the savage breast, soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.
  • Good musicians execute their music, but bad ones murder it.
  • Some musicians take pains with music, others give them.
  • We can look away from pictures, but we cannot listen away from sounds.
  • It is not necessary to understand music, it is only necessary to enjoy it.
  • Of all the arts, music is practiced most.
  • Music is a kind of counting, performed by the mind, without knowing that it is counting.
  • The hardest thing in the world is to start an orchestra, and the next hardest to stop it.
  • There should be music in every house, except the one next door.
  • The more you love music, the more music you love.
  • Hug a musician, they never get to dance.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

No substitute for hard work

This is one of a series of posts on memorization of text; in particular in relation to trying out a new technique. 

Getting the first part of Ephesians chapter 3 under my belt took longer than I expected. When I came to join it to the rest of the chapter - which I’d learned some years ago - it was initially a bit messy getting back into it. However, after a couple of run-throughs, and checking the original text to see how my memory of it compared, it came back to mind without much difficulty.

This is pretty normal when I haven’t thought about a particular text for some time. I’ve now moved on to complete the rest of chapter 4. Again I’d learned the first half some years ago, and never completed the rest.

I’m using the newish method I’ve described in previous blogs. First, I do a read-through of the passage several times. Then I write out the initial letters, and aim to remember what I’ve just read through using only those letters. This comes reasonably easily, but I have to be aware that this is just being stored in the short term memory; it’s not yet at the point where it will stay if I leave it alone for a day.

Next day I’ll reinforce what I’ve learned, still keeping the initial letters as a check. What I find about using this as part of the system, is that it ensures that the words I remember are accurate, and that I don’t forget small words - or substitute other small words for them - or swap phrases around. That’s always been an issue in the past that’s taken some overcoming.  So the initial letters aspect is an improvement on what I’ve done previously.

But on its own, it’s not enough. The hard work of actually learning the material still has to be done, and this will take work over several days until it’s starting to hold. And then of course, I’ll need to keep coming back to – while lying in bed for instance, or at another part of the day.

In other words, there’s no easy method for long-term memorization.

I mentioned substitution above. What always intrigues me is the way the brain readily substitutes other words for the original ones. It’s often only when you check against the written text that you realise this is the case.

The brain has a remarkable capacity for doing this. I first noticed it, I think, with songs. When a word would go missing at the vital moment the brain would comfortably substitute a word that fitted neatly - often with the right number of syllables - and made good sense. The new word would be similar in meaning to the original.

This is a quite extraordinary feat on the part of the already extraordinary brain. Knowing that it’s not going to find the correct word in time, it brings up a synonym. Without missing a beat. How amazing is that?