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Books Business development Life

Proust on Procrastination

Proust, portait by Jacques Emile Blanche

In this wonderful passage Proust nails procrastination and all the evasive and equivocal excuses we give ourselves for putting off until tomorrow what we should be doing today. Incisive, but also very funny. We may deceive others, or even ourselves, temporarily, but deep down we know:

Had I been less firmly resolved upon settling down definitively to work, I should perhaps have made an effort to begin at once. But since my resolution was explicit, since within twenty-four hours, in the empty frame of the following day where everything was so well arranged because I myself was not yet in it, my good intentions would be realised without difficulty, it was better not to start on an evening when I felt ill-prepared. The following days were not, alas, to prove more propitious.

[ … ]

Confident that by the day after tomorrow I should have written several pages, I said not a word more to my parents of my decision; I preferred to remain patient for a few hours and then to bring to a convinced and comforted grandmother a sample of work that was already under way. Unfortunately the next day was not that vast, extraneous expanse of time to which I had feverishly looked forward. When it drew to a close, my laziness and my painful struggle to overcome certain internal obstacles had simply lasted twenty-four hours longer.

[ … ]

To my parents it seemed almost as though, idle as I was, I was leading, since it was spent in the same salon as a great writer, the life most favourable to the growth of talent. And yet the assumption that anyone can be dispensed from having to create that talent for himself, from within himself, and can acquire it from someone else, is as erroneous as to suppose that a man can keep himself in good health (in spite of neglecting all the rules of hygiene and of indulging in the worst excesses) merely by dining out often in the company of a physician.

[From In Search of Lost Time Vol.II]

He goes on (of course!), but it really is time I got some work done …

How to do what you need to do to achieve what you want to achieve? It’s summed up perfectly in this morning’s daily truthbomb (#193) from Danielle LaPorte:

Love the necessary hard work.

 

Categories
Life Work life

Rituals to Reach Your Potential Every Day

Though we start off with the best of intentions, especially at this time of the year, all too soon – and all too often – things can unravel.

I came across these six rituals in a fast company article early in December and am finding they actually work – and are fairly easy to keep to on a daily basis. They are simple, but powerful:

1. Drink a glass of water when you wake up

This helps to rehydrate your body after a night’s sleep and prepare you for the fresh day ahead

2. Define your top 3

Prioritise, prioritise, prioritise! Decide the three most important things you need to get done each day, and don’t finish for the day until you’ve got them done!

3. The 50/10 rule

Taking a short break every hour helps keep your mind fresh and gives you the space to re-frame and re-focus your thinking about a project

4. Move and sweat daily

Exercise relives stress and helps keep you alert and healthy.

5. Express gratitude

First thing you do every morning, write out in a journal at least five things you’re grateful for. Helps to balance the mind for the day ahead.

If you use a Mac and/or iPhone I can recommend Day One, a brilliant little app which makes journaling very quick and easy.

6. Reflect daily

Last thing – reflect on what went well during the day and what can you do better

Read more here in Amber Rae’s article on Mike Del Ponte’s top tips for keeping yourself in shape and ready for anything. And let me know how you get on.

To your success in 2013!

 

Categories
Books Life Personal development

Starting Over

The ability to start over, forgive (oneself and/or others) and move on: isn’t this at the heart of personal success, as well as the ongoing success/prosperity of nations?

An aside in Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel, which I’ve just begun and is every bit as engrossing and electrifyingly well written as its predecessor, Wolf Hall, suddenly brought this to my mind. Cromwell, he, reflecting:

 A generation on, lapses must be forgiven, reputations remade, otherwise England cannot go forward, she will keep spiralling backwards into the dirty past.

Forget the past and you cannot learn from it, live in the past and you stagnate. Or, in terms of nationhood, the murderous stupidity of Pol Pot’s year zero or the disastrous consequences of the Kanun, the Law of Lek (Book 10, ch. 3) and the blood feud that can engulf families (even blight whole districts) for generations. This is the subject of Ismail Kadare’s excellent novel Broken Spring.

He not busy being born is busy dyin’ as Bob Dylan once wrote: well, it’s alright Ma, (I’m only bleeding). By coincidence, while writing this, the latest email from Chris Guillebeau (The Art of Non-Conformity) just dropped into my inbox, on ‘Destiny, Influence, and the Impossibility of Being Self-Taught, which ends:

The point is that we all learn from one another every day. You can learn to improve yourself, or to advance in a discipline. You can also pass on your knowledge and influence to others…

Things that seem small at first will come along and affect the remainder of our lives. Is it due to fate, chance, or destiny?

Sometimes it’s hard to say for sure. And does it really matter? Either way, lives are changed, and the next step is up to you.

Categories
Design Life Uncategorized

London 2012

London 2012 stamps by @westrowc
London 2012 stamps, a photo by @westrowc on Flickr.

I think (hope!) Games time is going to be great, even if I’m still trying to love the logo. Maybe I’ll finally get there in time for the opening ceremony. In any case, the logo works well on these stamps, so to celebrate the day the Olympic flame arrives in the UK, post of the more traditional kind.

Categories
Books Design Landscape Life

Edward Lear in Albania

Happy Birthday Edward Lear. Google’s reminder that today is Edward Lear’s 200th birthday is a good prompt to get Edward Lear in Albania down off the shelves, a book I had the opportunity to produce for IB Tauris and The Centre for Albanian Studies. It’s one of the book designs I am most pleased with, and still the only one that has inspired a reader to enquire (via the publisher) what font is used: Goudy Old Style.

The book essentially covers the Albanian part of Lear’s Journals of a Landscape Painter in the Balkans, documenting the 15 months in 1848-9 this intrepid traveler spent exploring the countries around the Mediterranean.

In the journals and drawings he vividly describes the remote landscapes in which he traveled and the people he met along the way, and the pleasures – and many inconveniences – of journeying in such rugged and often perilous countryside.

Describing Albania, he writes

Luxury and inconvenience on the one hand, liberty, hard living and filth on the other.

Yenidje and Vodhena, drawn at the scene in pencil, later in the studio ‘penned out’ in sepia ink then coloured using watercolor washes, based on notes he had made at the scene:

Here, in the entry for October 4th, he describes the landscape around Skodra:

Perhaps the grandest of all the views of Skodra was from the rock eastward of the bazaars; the castle, the mountains above – the ruined town below – the river winding beneath its bridges into far distance, form one of the finest pictures. As the sun was sinking low, its rays, clouded through the day, lit up the northern side of the landscape brilliantly, and from the steep castle hill – my last halt – nothing could have been more splendid than the rich foliage and glittering dwellings on the one side and the dark ranges of deep blue and violet hills against the bright sky.

Edward Lear in Albania: Journals of a Landscape Painter in the Balkans

Categories
Books Life Poetry

Wislawa Szymborska

I was sad to learn that Wislawa Szymborska, one of my favourite poets, died yesterday in Krakow, aged 88.

Her total output was small – when she was awarded the Nobel prize she had published barely 200 poems, and in her lifetime published something less than 400 poems – but, like their author, the poems have a quiet authority and always brought a new way of seeing.

Take Cat in an Empty Apartment for example, a wonderful poem about the death of a friend – from the point of view of the cat:

Die — You can’t do that to a cat.

Since what can a cat do

in an empty apartment?

Climb the walls?

Rub up against the furniture?

Nothing seems different here,

but nothing is the same.

Nothing has been moved,

but there’s more space.

And at nighttime no lamps are lit.

Footsteps on the staircase,

but they’re new ones.

The hand that puts fish on the saucer

has changed, too.

Something doesn’t start

at its usual time.

Something doesn’t happen

as it should.

Someone was always, always here,

then suddenly disappeared

and stubbornly stays disappeared.

Every closet has been examined.

Every shelf has been explored.

Excavations under the carpet turned up nothing.

A commandment was even broken,

papers scattered everywhere.

What remains to be done.

Just sleep and wait.

Just wait till he turns up,

just let hims show his face.

Will he ever get a lesson

on what not to do to a cat.

Sidle towards him

as if unwilling

and ever so slow

on visibly offended paws,

and no leaps or squeals at least to start.

[Translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh]

Posted also in memoriam of Barney, faithful family dog who you can see at the coast at Kimmeridge in the masthead above, and who in his own way was quite fond of cats, who also died yesterday.

Categories
Design Landscape Life Philosophy

Walking in the new year

Muddy this year, unlike the snow of last. Walking, thinking, and enjoying the smell of the wet wood and the suck and ooze of the mud; and then the shafts of sunlight glowing through the bare trees.

When I get back, interrogating the experience, playing with the memory with camera+:

 

 

Categories
Books Life

Can you live without French fries?

I had never heard of Nora Roberts, massively bestselling writer of romance fiction, before last week, but from the article and interview with her in The Observer 20.11.11 there are two things I liked about her right away:

– That she wrote one of her books, ‘Remember When,’ with J D Robb – who is also her.

– And this response to a reader who had asked her for her views on French fries:

Barb, how can one live without French fries? Not well, I say. In fact, I’ve been known to say a day without French fries is like a day without an orgasm.

As she says later on (and memo to self) –  there’s nothing wrong with being happy.

Categories
Language Life Philosophy

Just Do It

Loved this from Matthew Kimberley’s Get A Grip:

action is the difference between ‘screw it, let’s do it’ and ‘fuck it, let’s have a kebab.’

Also loved this from Jeanette Winterson’s latest, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal:

Manchester spun riches beyond anybody’s wildest dreams, and wove despair and degradation into the human fabric

A great sentence on the mix and contrariness of Manchester, the world’s first industrial city and the city where she was born.

Categories
Life Philosophy

A game of two halves

Bright sunshine outside, menthol lemsip inside. No fun. But time to reflect, to plan, and see if this wordpress app works.

Categories
Language Life Poetry

The intricate web of love

I’ve been reading the Diaries of Sylvia Townsend Warner, a Virago paperback I picked up in the Oxfam bookshop a while back. On the strength of her writing here, she is much underrated and deserves a wider readership.

For example, this wonderful entry for 16 Feb 1950  on the cremation of her mother:

… Nora’s small purple coffin coming out of the hearse; the one bunch of brilliant spring flowers on it. Out of such bare material, out of mere birth and death, we spin the intricate web of love, we distil it from these poor bones and ashes, and with it conceive the tale that is told and ended when we die.

Followed the next day with:

It is a curious sensation to get one’s mother by post; and rather hastily I took her upstairs and unpacked a small violet cloth-covered casket, with a shiny name-plate (good lettering). After breakfast Evans & I buried it with some moss and snowdrops under the cherry tree …

Writing with a rare lightness of touch that captures the spiritual and often disconcertingly practical dimensions of the death of a loved one.

Running through the diaries is her account of the intricate, and tangled, web  of her love affair with Valentine Ackland, with whom she lived in Dorset.

It’s odd reading a published diary that unfolds in a landscape and towns and villages that you know well. It adds an extra poignancy when you know the hotel at Yeovil Pen Mill station to which Sylvia retreated, heartbroken, when another lover of Valentine’s came to stay at their house. I will have to call in and see if they are aware this fine writer was a guest at the hotel in the late ‘40s.

My room looks out on the main road, with buses – behind is the station. I have a view of the laundry, some public trees, and a poor, almost real wood. I have a choice of a bentwood chair, an easy one that is not easy, and the window sill, which is best.

 

Categories
Books Language Life

Jeff in Venice

Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi is not Geoff Dyer on best form, but just when you think you can’t take any more of Junket Jeff downing Bellinis in Venice or drifting in Varanasi, he comes out with a passage like this, and suddenly there isn’t a book you’d rather be reading:

Her voice promised absolute devotion; but then the note was stretched further still, beyond this, until you wondered what you would have to do to be worthy of such devotion, such love. You would have to be that note, not the object of devotion but the devotee. Her voice slid and swooped. It was like those perfect moments in life, moments when what you hope for most is fulfilled and, by being fulfilled, changed – changed, in this instance, into sound: when, in a public place, you glimpse the person you most want to see and there is nothing surprising about it; the pattern in the random, when accident slides into destiny. A note was stretched out as long as possible and then a little longer; it continued, somewhere, long after it was capable of being heard. It is still there, even now.

For Geoff Dyer at his best (IMHO) read Out of Sheer Rage. This is one of my favourite books and it’s every bit as wild and wonderful as its progenitor, Lawrence’s Studies in Classic American Literature .

Categories
Books Life Philosophy

The fire from a little spark

‘Everyone knows that the fire from a little spark will increase and blaze ever higher as long as it finds wood to burn; yet without being quenched by water, but merely by finding no more fuel to feed on, it consumes itself, dies down, and is no longer a flame. Similarly, the more tyrants pillage, the more they crave, the more they ruin and destroy; the more one yields to them, and obeys them, by that much do they become mightier and more formidable, the readier to annihilate and destroy…’

Am reading the section on Etienne de La Boetie in Sarah Bakewell’s excellent book on Montaigne, ‘How To Live: A Life of Montaigne in one question and twenty attempts at an answer’ (which I’ve just heard has won the 2010 Duff Cooper award – congratulations to her) and was struck by the extraordinary prescience of his essay ‘ Discourse on Voluntary Servitude, or the Anti-Dictator (Discours de la servitude volontaire ou le Contr’un).

His essay, written over 450 years ago in 1552 or ‘53, seems to describe just what is happening in the Arab world today – the people awaking for an almost hypnotically induced slumber, of consent to be ruled by ‘the one person whose qualities they cannot admire because of his inhumanity and brutality toward them.’

In the essay La Boetie questions why people agree to be oppressed by government overlords and concludes that it is not just fear, for our consent is required. And that consent can be non-violently withdrawn:

… But if not one thing is yielded to them, if, without any violence they are simply not obeyed, they become naked and undone and as nothing, just as, when the root receives no nourishment, the branch withers and dies. I do not ask that you place hands upon the tyrant to topple him over, but simply that you support him no longer; then you will behold him, like a great Colossus whose pedestal has been pulled away, fall of his own weight and break into pieces. 

In this, he became one of the earliest advocates of civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance, and (can we hope?) explains why Gaddafi and similar rulers cannot, in the end, prevail.

Consider the justly famous battles of Miltiades,4 Leonidas,5 Themistocles,6 still fresh today in recorded history and in the minds of men as if they had occurred but yesterday, battles fought in Greece for the welfare of the Greeks and as an example to the world. What power do you think gave to such a mere handful of men not the strength but the courage to withstand the attack of a fleet so vast that even the seas were burdened, and to defeat the armies of so many nations, armies so immense that their officers alone outnumbered the entire Greek force? What was it but the fact that in those glorious days this struggle represented not so much a fight of Greeks against Persians as a victory of liberty over domination, of freedom over greed?

see full essay at http://www.constitution.org/la_boetie/serv_vol.htm

Categories
Books Life Philosophy Poetry

New Directions

The new year is an invitation to assess what’s working, and what’s not. But for every new direction you commit to, there’s the road not taken – and the thorny problem of being happy with the choice you make.

Robert Frost’s famous poem on this theme (‘The Road Not Taken‘) dramatises this moment of choice and, according to comments made by the author at the Bread Loaf Writers Conference in 1953, was inspired by

“a friend who had gone off to war, a person who, whichever road he went, would be sorry he didn’t go the other. He was hard on himself that way.”

The Road Not Taken‘ was first published in Frost’s collection Mountain Interval in 1916, almost perfectly midway between publication of ‘Swann’s Way’ (Du côté de chez Swann, 1913) and the first part of ‘The Guermantes Way ‘ (La côté de Guermantes’, 1920), of Proust’s ‘A La Recherche du Temps Perdu’:

For there were, in the environs of Combray, two “ways” which we used to take for our walks, and they were so diametrically opposed that we would actually leave the house by a different door according to the way we had chosen…

(Scott Moncrieff, Terence Kilmartin translation)

The great reading journey, in search of lost time, that I plan to take again in 2011.

Categories
Books Language Life

The Corrections

A week in bed ill at least provided an opportunity to finish Jonathan Franzen’s breakthrough book. I know, only a decade behind the curve and I should be reading Freedom, ideally the uncorrected version.

The quality of his writing is exceptional, but I found the book easier to respect than to love. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t have wanted to miss this wonderful line, on Denise (for me the most vivid and exciting character):

Her heart was full and her senses were sharp, but her head felt liable to burst in the vacuum of her solitude.

 

Categories
Books Life Poetry

These Poems, She Said

I had known of Robert Bringhurst only as a typographer and author of the excellent ‘Elements of Typographic Style.’ But he is also a wonderful poet, as the sharp, witty and penetrating  These Poems, She Said demonstrates.

Love means love

of the thing sung, not of the song or the singing.

Read the poem here. It is from Selected Poems by Robert Bringhurst.

Categories
Life Philosophy

Leap into the Void

 

Helen caught the Yves Klein exhibition at the Hirshhorn when she was in DC earlier in the week. I have always enjoyed his iconoclasm, of which a good example is this photograph, taken by Harry Shunk, of Klein leaping off a building, to the indifference of a passing bicyclist. Well, obviously not quite so straightforward:

In October 1960, the American photographer Harry Shunk made a series of pictures re-creating a jump from a second-floor window that the artist claimed to have executed earlier in the year; the figure and the surrounding scene were then collaged together and rephotographed to create its “documentary” appearance.

[Source: Yves Klein, Harry Shunk, Janos Kender: Leap into the Void (1992.5112) | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art

OK, so far so good. But how did they re-create the jump?

The site where the event took place, in Fontenay-des-Roses, was chosen because it was next-door to a judo club, many of the members of which were known to Klein.

Twelve of these judokas were persuaded to hold a tarpaulin beneath him and to catch his body as he leapt into space a number of times, to ensure that the camera caught him in the position that he wished to record. Once the picture had been taken, the judokas were removed in the darkroom and replaced with the neutral image of the street with solitary cyclist.

[Source: http://www.andrewgrahamdixon.com/archive/readArticle/188]

The original inspiration for the image was a jump Klein claimed to have made at his apartment in which he believed he had truly levitated. The plan had been for his friend, the critic Pierre Restany, to witness the event, but he was delayed and arrived too late:

“When I got there,” Restany later recalled, “Yves was in a kind of mystical ecstasy. He truly seemed to have accomplished some prodigious physical feat. He said to me, ‘You have just missed one of the most important events of your life’.

However, Restany also recalled:

He was limping slightly from a twisted ankle.

Oh.

To his annoyance, Klein failed to convince any of his friends regarding his original ‘leap’, and one or two later attempts he made in public only served to encourage further scepticism; leaping down a stairwell at the Rive Droite Gallery he succeeded only in damaging his shoulder.

But, I think, the power and élan of the image remains intact.

Sadly, less than two years after the photograph, on 6 June 1962, he died of a massive heart attack, aged just thirty-four.