Catching the Light Again

“…it wastes my time like an old friend.”

A beautiful turn of phrase, I think.

Thanks to Edmark at Learn Fun Facts, a blog I follow, for posting a letter from William Dean Howells to his friend, Mark Twain, in 1875, concerning difficulties he had trying out a new type-writer.

Click on the link above for the full transcript and more goodies.

image from

And here’s my earlier post mentioning Catching the Light.


Better Places to Read & Write

I want to record this fact, that I’m writing this after reading through the latest posts from my followed blogs, sitting in The Cricklade Club. They are promoting Veganuary but I chose from the menu a chilli bean doodah which came with a soft poached egg.

I am also sinking deep into a wonderfully distressed, tan leather armchair, part of a suite corralled about a low, broad table. I sip an IPA called Pioneer which isn’t over bitter and has distinct floral-fruity notes. The place is buzzing but oddly not distracting, and it is this which makes me think I should read, and perhaps write, more in places like this.

After we move house, I must try to look for a pub with wi-fi and a comfortable corner, and bring along my iPad (the phone I’m using here is a bit too small for typing). Perhaps, amongst noise and strangers, I will be plagued by far fewer interruptions and distractions.

image: on the wall by the comfy corner, a stranger in contemplation.

Views on Writing: Catching the Light

Clive James wrote of writing that it was turning a phrase until it catches the light.

When I read – and when I write, though this is a late experience and I’m still on the nursery slopes – too often I’m not noticing the glint of light. This is made more obvious when I consider those times when the light appears brilliantly, and it’s as if something magical is happening. It’s quite often an opening paragraph or an introduction to something, and it’s usually quite simple, precise, colourful and concise.

Following a path towards an understanding of Reena’s Exploration Challenge this week, I googled the name Kosho Uchiyama Rōshi. He was a Zen Buddhist monk in 20th century Japan, a master of origami, and an exponent of zazen, literally “sitting”, a method of meditation devised by the Zen master, Eihei Dōgen.

I follow his name in turn and find this passage on zazen attributed to him,

“I have not visited many Zen monasteries. I simply, with my master Tendo, quietly verified that the eyes are horizontal and the nose is vertical. I cannot be misled by anyone anymore. I have returned home empty-handed.

I quietly verified that the eyes are horizontal and the nose is vertical. This is a phrase that catches the light.

Worms and Casts

“A moth ate words

the pilfering visitor was not one wit the wiser

because he had gulped in those words.”

I had a thick head waking up this morning, the result of neglecting exercise, too much rich food, half a bottle of red before bedtime and mostly down to a cold I’ve been trying to ignore since Christmas Eve.

My eyes can’t stand to read or write, and my brain can’t bear to compute, but I need some distraction to relax and shift the ache. So I look at the Swiss Army Knife of a tablet by my side and wonder what else it can offer.

Podcasts! There’s an app for these which came pre-installed and at some point I must have selected some preferences as it’s lined up a series called The Essays, short audio pieces on Anglo-Saxon history. This is perfect because the gentle tone of an intelligent human voice can be soporific and the subject isn’t at this moment a matter of importance; I can tune in and out as desired, sipping occasionally from a tall glass of ginger and lemongrass cordial, mindful to keep my hydration up.

Actually, the podcasts proved to be very interesting and I love all those “Dark Ages” names; Bede, Egbert, Eadfrith, Ethelred, Athelstan. Why on Earth aren’t they more popular nowadays? Bladud?

The lines at the top are quoted from a podcast on Eadfrith, the Scribe. It takes the form of a riddle and inscribed on manuscripts as a warning against careless reading, the answer to the riddle being a bookworm.

As we close 2018, the Goodreads app tells me I’ve read nine books this year. Usually I average around twelve. In 2015, I entered a personal challenge to read twenty, which I achieved by the skin of my teeth but I didn’t look back on that as a good reading year. Occasionally I wonder with books whether less is more and even choosing one or two favourites to reread, again and again, would be better.

In the new year, we hope to be moving home and, as a designer, I’ve already begun sketching out plans including space required for our books. I’m looking at hacking some of those inexpensive IKEA Billy bookcases for the job.

The design involves comparing the available shelf space with what we have now, but I couldn’t help notice that though we’ve culled our library many times and kept only those books we loved, most of those have sat on the shelf, unread, for many years. Having a Kindle account means I don’t buy many hard or paperbacks now anyway, and a few of my favourites I’ve since picked up cheaply on Kindle.

Is displaying your books a bit of intellectual signalling, a boast, a pretentiousness?

I think it’s good to show that you’re a reader, to have a collection of books which you can identify with, much the same as having pieces of art around the place. But I should really try to read the ones I’ve shelved otherwise what’s the point?

The Essay Podcast: Eadfrith, the Scribe.

To borrow or steal

I met a working artist who trained in England at a time when the prevailing painterly style was Abstract. As a consequence, that’s mostly all his generation of artists were comfortable painting.

When opening his gallery, he found customers preferred landscapes. Apparently there is a yawning chasm between what the art schools teach and what the public wants. To survive, he turned to copying the work of other artists, ones who painted landscapes, until his skill and confidence grew, and now he is a successful landscape painter.

This in part reflects a sentiment attributed to Pablo Picasso,

Good artists borrow, great artists steal.

As I’m reading over my little stories here prior to clicking the publish button, I’m partly aware that I’ve copied a style of a professional author I’ve read, and probably admired, recently. It’s probably automatic and possibly subconscious. It certainly must be easier than inventing your own unique “voice”, if this is at all possible to do.

When I read other people’s, I wonder if it too is an unconscious borrowing of whatever it is they like to read.

Romance, thriller, historical, classic, kitchen sink working class realism. Is there a regular prompt out there which involves writing in a particular style?

Bookworms vs. Pirañas

I’ve never considered reading as a competitive pastime but maybe I should; it would seem I need to pick up the pace considerably, according to an article in Goodreads.

An ex of mine would devour any book in a single sitting. I lent her a book I enjoyed and a few days later asked her how she was finding it. It was okay, she said. Was? She’d read it in a day and it was three books ago. This was quite amazing to me but when I tried to talk about the book it wasn’t easy; it was difficult for her to remember exactly how she felt about it at the time; she’d moved on.

So, what’s my performance like? I get through a modest 10 – 12 books in a year, usually around 350 pages each. I’ve been reading ebooks for some years so I know my reading speed is around 6 hours from the app’s stats.

I joined Goodreads a while back, a social site for bookworms though I joined really to give some extra meaning to my reading, mostly putting into a few words what I made of a book I’d just finished. In this month’s Goodreads newsletter is an article on “Pro” tips to increase your reading rate. Many of these “Pros” read well in excess of 100 books a year. Let’s say two books each week, or one every three days.

Let me do the sums,

three days = 72 hours

healthy sleeping time = 24 hours (8 per day)

eating time = 3 hours

chores = 3 hours

work = 24 hours (8 per day)

time left = 18 hours

time to read one book = 6 hours

So, it seems as if I should be spending at least one third of all my spare time reading books. What about art, music, movies, exercise, just getting out and about, socialising (in all its forms), all other beneficial interests – and even time for a bit of mindless telly?!

I guess if you’re a Pro, that’s your job and you’re making money off of it, but an amateur is literary a person in love with it. I think I’m okay the way I am.

Hot Reading Challenge Tips from Pros Who Read More Than 100 Books a Year (Goodreads)

Three poems by Robert Okaji

This is the first time I have reblogged a post so, with a little trepidation, I’m venturing into unknown waters.

Poetry is an art form which I’ve often felt I should try, not as a writer – not at first, anyway – but as a student. However, like my attempts at guitar, I never quite managed it. I have several books on the subject, unread.

I think, for me, it’s a problem of wheat and chaff. There’s a lot of poetry out there but a lot of inaccessible ones fog my way. I know these ought to be disregarded, as I would with music or art, permitting me to consider only those ones which resonate immediately.

Robert Okaji’s poetry resonates, in particular the poem, Morning Suizen (it is the last of the three published below so you’ll need to expand the reblogged post, I think). Helpfully, he explains Suizen is a way of playing the traditional bamboo flute of Japan. I believe I know this from listening to One Way, by Yamash’ta (reviewed on my other blog some time ago). Of course, I could be wrong about this fact, but not about the feeling. Nevertheless, the final line of the poem has me. I can’t say what the intention was with this but Days framed in darkness and birdsong is pretty evocative. It’s my twilight times, which I’ve written about, and I remember the birdsong of common suburban birds in my youth, both at dawn and dusk, in a perfect day.

Robert Okaji can be followed at his blog, O at the Edges

Nine Muses Poetry is a UK webzine, I believe. I hope you like their post,



What if you close your eyes
and your throat relinquishes

the morning’s bright
fingers, freed from bruises.

Suppose that particular night
never happened, the way

a wave crashing ashore
empties itself and trickles

back in separate communities,
mingling yet aloof, a

diminishing cortege. What
is the question? Take this

spoon. Fill it with saltwater.
Upend it into the pail. Observe.

Blowing on the Bamboo Flute, My Mind Wanders

Naming a life does not change its substance.

Today’s ‘D’ follows yesterday’s, but tickles the ears
with softer lips.

Surely what you are not signifies who you are.

The flute or the player, the breath
or the opening?

If I die today, at least I have tasted good air
and poured my love a cup of fresh coffee.

Sequence also reveals truths.

From mouth to sound, the separation
clear but controlled and of one whole,

no matter its name, no matter…

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In Pursuit of Good Reading

A few Summers ago, whilst out dog walking, I came across a young woman sitting in the middle edge of a farmer’s field, studying books. She was possibly a student preparing for an exam. As she looked up, I felt sorry for disturbing her. The scene reminded me of myself, many Summers past, sitting on the baked turf of our small back garden, supposedly revising for my O-Levels but discovering instead why I should start reading novels.

My grades were mediocre but a love of literature flourished. I suppose you might call it a Life Changing moment of a sort; I don’t have many of those. All this comes to mind now as I feel the pleasure of reading has not been in a sweet spot for a long while.

Reading – and also listening to music for that matter – require a set-aside time and space, a “me time”, if you like, in order to immerse and engage fully and enjoyably. It seems Life abhors tranquility and peace as much as nature abhors a vacuum, and the trouble with both reading and listening to music is that, to the outside world, you have all the appearance of someone looking lost for something to do. Intruders invade; “L’enfer, c’est les autres“, as Sartre put it.

Maybe I should take a leaf from the young woman’s book and go and find a quiet field to sit in and read. Not everyday but now and again; weather permitting. Maybe a coffee shop in its early hours of opening, perhaps? This is why I hanker after a “shed”. In such a shed, I could secrete myself away for an hour to read and listen to music! Either way for now, I must change my life long habit and pick up my book in the quieter mornings, and leave the nighttime for sleep.

A Diet of Words

“You might not be able to prevent a bird from landing on your head but you can stop it building a nest in your hair.”

I found this funny kind of proverb in my reading over this weekend but my reading has been fairly diverse and now I can’t remember where it’s from or the context in which is was used.

Such phrases often conjure up surreal and absurd images, but what does it really mean?

Resorting to Google, as usual, it appears it belongs to the 16th century German protestant, Martin Luther, though in a slightly different form. From him it’s “You can’t keep the birds from flying over your head, but you can sure keep them from building a nest in your hair!”

A trivial difference but I don’t think birds (plural) flying over, rather than landing on, a head is as comical an image as the one given at the top.

Martin Luther’s strange incidental and unintended connection with the casual imagery of birds goes further with his involvement in The Diet Of Worms. Now, I know if you don’t know about the life and times of Martin Luther, or the history of the church, you are, like me, conjuring up a picture of birds feasting said worms to their gaping young ones on the nest, quite probably the one in that unfortunate person’s hair.

How strange and deceiving language can be. Worms, of course, is a place in Germany, and Diet is from the Latin, dieta, meaning an assembly, normally for political purposes. In brief, the Holy Roman Empire’s officials assembled at Words to question Luther. If he didn’t renounce his rebellious, reformation ideas, he would be excommunicated and punished. This he didn’t do and so his hair remained forever birdless, as it ought to.

Now come to think of it, that first quote was a caution against filling your noggin with the sort of rubbish you see flying about you, on the media no less, but other places too. Things like Brexit, May and Corbyn, Donald Trump, Fads, Pseudoscience, Celebrity gossip, so on and so forth. It’s saying, stop listening to all that transient piffle; put on some music instead; read a good book; get out in the fresh air. We’ll tell you when they announce the world’s ending, there’s no need to worry.