Love… as Dostoevsky saw it.

Love. Is it a gift given to us from above, or a skill which can be developed by learning? I have been trying to figure this out, and of course, I am not the first one to ask this question. A great thinker of the 19-th century, Fyodor Dostoevsky, kept trying to answer this question during his whole life. Some of his thoughts on the topic can be found in his immortal novels. I spent this morning turning pages of my Soviet-time edition of Dostoevsky, published in 1958.

D001Let me start with a line from The Brothers Karamazov, one of the most acclaimed of Dostoevsky’s novels: 

“What is hell? I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov (1880)

Wow. Scary, isn’t it?

In the 19-th century the phrase ‘being unable to love’ sounded even worse than it sounds now: it meant that Creator himself had decided to deprive some particular people of the gift, and thus, they were in some way inferior, or sinful, or just ‘spotted’ and destinied to suffer endlessly.

Today, it is still common to hear that love is a gift given to us from above, but we tend to take it lightly, because — well — science tells us not to worry. “Love is a result of chemical reactions,” it says, “if your body has hormones — and, of course, every body has some,” it says, “then you have nothing to worry about: relax, you are capable of feeling love.”

Modern science looks at it with pragmatism, typical of the 21-st century. The notion ‘gift’ is defined by modern dictionaries as a natural ability or talent, and so, some people feel gifted for love, while others claim that love is a skill (interpreted by dictionaries as ‘the ability to do something well; expertise’), which can be acquired by training. Very convenient, don’t you think? 😉

When 150 years ago Dostoevsky wrote that–

“To love someone means to see them as God intended them.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky

every reader would nod his head in agreement on reading this, a contemporary reader might shrug doubdfully or even express disagreement. Unlike our great-great-grandparents, we, modern people, prefer to believe that being in love is an exciting adventure, which may (and should) happen to anybody, it may involve lots of emotional experience, and– well, there is no need to worry: nobody dies of love anymore. Love is fun! Why even try to understand how God intended your partner, when you

In his latest stories, ever-gloomy Dostoevsky writes–

“To love is to suffer and there can be no love otherwise.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground

Love IS a skill, agrees the great genius, because it can be developed. Moreover, it develops with suffering, it takes you time and suffering to learn the skill of love. In Dostoevsky’s latest story, The Dream of a Ridiculous Man, his character says:

“I want to suffer so that I may love.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Dream of a Ridiculous Man

If Dostoevsky’s characters finally managed to master the skill of love, they would realize the change that happened to them:

“They were renewed by love; the heart of each held infinite sources of life for the heart of the other.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky

but still, there was lots of suffering:

“But to fall in love does not mean to love. One can fall in love and still hate.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

and more suffering:

“Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

What a gloomy, dark, sad, derogatory approach! After this, I am not surprised that our high-school students are reluctant to read Dostoevsky.

Still, a genius is always a genuis. Even hundreds years later, his words remain meaningful. Moreover, they sound like a call for action, and no one of us could put it together as precisely as Dostoevsky did:

“Love a man, even in his sin, for that love is a likeness of the divine love, and is the summit of love on earth.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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P.S. This is a photo of a page from Dostoevsky’s book of notes. One of these days, I am going to put together a little post about his drawings and calligraphy practice. It seems he loved drawing while planning his scenes.

A Jonah of Portugal: A Few Lines About Camoens

Jonah (in the Bible) is a Hebrew minor prophet. He was called by God to preach in Nineveh, but disobeyed and attempted to escape by sea; in a storm he was thrown overboard as a bringer of bad luck and swallowed by a great fish, only to be saved and finally succeed in his mission

Luís Vaz de Camões (or de Camoens) (c. 1524 – June 10 1580) is the greatest national poet of Portugal. He is best remembered for his epic work Os Lusíadas (The Lusiads), the influence of which is so profound that even today, Portuguese is often called the “language of Camões”. He is also well known as the man whose life was marked with numerous troubles, which seemed to accompany him like seagulls that follow a boat.

camoesMany details concerning the life of the poet remain unknown. The historians learned many facts about his young life from his poems: Camoens was lucky to obtain a good education by having access to exclusive literature of that time, including classical Greek, Roman and Latin works. He used to read a lot in Latin and Italian, and wrote poetry in Spanish.

Now, comes the interesting part: having studied a massive amount of books, Camoens — an incurable romantic and idealist — fell in love with Catherine of Ataíde, lady-in-waiting to the Queen, and also Princess Maria, sister of John III of Portugal. Like many other immature and brave romantics-in-love, the young man had a sharp tongue and, as a sequence, could not find common language with authorities, which resulted in his exile from Lisbon in 1548. Camoens traveled to Ribatejo where he stayed in the company of friends who sheltered and fed him for about six months.

In the fall of 1549, he enlisted in the overseas militia and traveled to Ceuta. During a battle with the Moors, he lost the sight in his right eye. In 1551, a changed man, Camoens eventually returned to Lisbon, living a bohemian lifestyle.

Not for long, though. In 1552, during the religious festival of Corpus Christi, in the Largo do Rossio, he injured a member of the Royal Stables and was imprisoned. His mother pleaded for his release, visiting royal ministers and the Borges family for a pardon. Released, Camoens was ordered to pay 4,000 réis and serve three years in the militia in the Orient.

He departed in 1553 for Goa on board the São Bento, the ship arrived to Goa six months later, and Camoens was immediately imprisoned for debt. He used to call Goa “a stepmother to all honest men”.

At that point in his life, Camoens was made to believe that adventure is the real man’s second name. During his first obligatory service, he took part in a battle along the Malabar Coast. The battle was followed by skirmishes along the trading routes between Egypt and India. The fleet eventually returned to Goa by November 1554. During his time ashore, he continued his writing publicly, as well as writing correspondence for the uneducated men of the fleet.

Camoens

Luís de Camões

Foge-me pouco a pouco a curta vida
(se por caso é verdade que inda vivo);
vai-se-me o breve tempo d’ante os olhos;
choro pelo passado e quando falo,
se me passam os dias passo e passo,
vai-se-me, enfim, a idade e fica a pena.

Little by little it ebbs, this life,
if by any chance I am still alive;
my brief time passes before my eyes.
I mourn the past in whatever I say;
as each day passes, step by step
my youth deserts me—what persists is pain.

At the end of his obligatory service, he was given the position of chief warrant officer in Macau. He was charged with managing the properties of missing and deceased soldiers in the Orient. During this time he worked on his epic poem Os Lusíadas (“The Lusiads”) in a grotto.

CamoensGrotto

Camoens Grotto, Macao

Uh-huh. Once a Jonah always a Jonah! Camoens was accused of misappropriations and had to travel to Goa and respond to the accusations of the tribunal. During his return journey, near the Mekong River along the Cambodian coast, he was shipwrecked, saving his manuscript but losing his Chinese lover, Dinamene. His shipwreck survival in the Mekong Delta was enhanced by the legendary detail that he succeeded in swimming ashore while holding aloft the manuscript of his still-unfinished epic.

In 1570 Camoens finally made it back to Lisbon, where two years later he published Os Lusíadas, for which he was considered one of the most prominent Iberian poets at the time. In recompense for this poem or perhaps for services in the Far East, he was granted a small royal pension (15000 réis) by the young and ill-fated King Sebastian (ruled 1557–1578).

In 1578 he heard of the appalling defeat of the Battle of Alcácer Quibir, where King Sebastian was killed and the Portuguese army destroyed. The Castilian troops were approaching Lisbon when Camoens wrote to the Captain General of Lamego:

“All will see that so dear to me was my country that I was content to die not only in it but with it”.

Camões died in Lisbon in 1580, at the age of 56. The day of his death, 10 June OS, is Portugal’s national day. He is buried near Vasco da Gama in the Jerónimos Monastery in the parish of Belém in Lisbon.

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Mick Jagger and a Russian Book

mick-Woland

I just learned that when Mick Jagger (of The Rolling Stones) was writing his song “Sympathy for the Devil”, he was inspired by the book which I love more than many other books taken together and find one of the best books ever written in Russian. In one of his 2012 interviews, Jagger stated that his influence for the song came from reading Baudelaire, and even more from the Russian author Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel The Master and Margarita. Jagger got the book as a present from his girlfriend Marianne Faithfull. Back in 2005, Marianne herself confirmed this during an interview for Mojo magazine: «I got Mick to read ‘The Master and Margarita’ and out of that, after discussing it at length with me, he wrote that song».

Master and Margarita, written in the 1930-es, became available to the English-speaking readers only in 1967. The translators, of course, did their best. Still. the book is so thought-provoking and the story world (Moscow of the 1930-ies, the peak of Stalin’s power) is so unique that majority of the readers prefer to return to it again and again to understand and sense it better.

As a Russian speaker by birth, I have the pleasure of enjoying the masterpieces of Russian literature and poetry in originals. Every couple of months, Bulgakov’s books turn up on my table and I never put them back to the shelf until I read everything through to the very end. I am not surprised at all that Mick Jagger was inspired by the book to write a new song. If you have not read The Master and Margarita yet, do so. You will feel like having opened a new door which you used to pass by for years, and now you finally pushed it open.

P.S. Finally, another cute trivia: Ray Manzarek of the legendary band The Doors had for a long time hoped to make a movie picture based on The Master and Margarita, he believed that Mick Jagger would be the best candidate to play Professor Woland in the movie. As far as I know, the movie was never made.

Based on Wikipedia and www.masterandmargarita.eu

Sympathy for the Devil

The Rolling Stones

Please allow me to introduce myself
I’m a man of wealth and taste
I’ve been around for a long, long year
Stole many a man’s soul to waste

And I was ’round when Jesus Christ
Had his moment of doubt and pain
Made damn sure that Pilate
Washed his hands and sealed his fate

Pleased to meet you
Hope you guess my name
But what’s puzzling you
Is the nature of my game

I stuck around St. Petersburg
When I saw it was a time for a change
Killed the czar and his ministers
Anastasia screamed in vain

I rode a tank
Held a general’s rank
When the blitzkrieg raged
And the bodies stank

Pleased to meet you
Hope you guess my name, oh yeah
Ah, what’s puzzling you
Is the nature of my game, oh yeah
(Woo woo, woo woo)

I watched with glee
While your kings and queens
Fought for ten decades
For the gods they made
(Woo woo, woo woo)

I shouted out,
“Who killed the Kennedys?”
When after all
It was you and me
(Who who, who who)

Let me please introduce myself
I’m a man of wealth and taste
And I laid traps for troubadours
Who get killed before they reached Bombay
(Woo woo, who who)

Pleased to meet you
Hope you guessed my name, oh yeah
(Who who)
But what’s puzzling you
Is the nature of my game, oh yeah, get down, baby
(Who who, who who)

Pleased to meet you
Hope you guessed my name, oh yeah
But what’s confusing you
Is just the nature of my game
(Woo woo, who who)

Just as every cop is a criminal
And all the sinners saints
As heads is tails
Just call me Lucifer
‘Cause I’m in need of some restraint
(Who who, who who)

So if you meet me
Have some courtesy
Have some sympathy, and some taste
(Woo woo)
Use all your well-learned politesse
Or I’ll lay your soul to waste, mm yeah
(Woo woo, woo woo)

Pleased to meet you
Hope you guessed my name, mm yeah
(Who who)
But what’s puzzling you
Is the nature of my game, mm mean it, get down
(Woo woo, woo woo)

Woo, who
Oh yeah, get on down
Oh yeah
Oh yeah!
(Woo woo)

Tell me baby, what’s my name
Tell me honey, can ya guess my name
Tell me baby, what’s my name
I tell you one time, you’re to blame

Oh, who
Woo, woo
Woo, who
Woo, woo
Woo, who, who
Woo, who, who
Oh, yeah

What’s my name
Tell me, baby, what’s my name
Tell me, sweetie, what’s my name…

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Albert Einstein: My Credo

What follows is a repost of Albert Einstein’s speech written in 1932. Wonderful words. Amazing work of thought. A message of a genius to all of us.

Albert-Einstein

The most beautiful and deepest experience a man can have is the sense of the mysterious.

Albert Einstein. My Credo

[Part I]
“It is a special blessing to belong among those who can and may devote their best energies to the contemplation and exploration of objective and timeless things. How happy and grateful I am for having been granted this blessing, which bestows upon one a large measure of independence from one’s personal fate and from the attitude of one’s contemporaries. Yet this independence must not inure us to the awareness of the duties that constantly bind us to the past, present and future of humankind at large.

Our situation on this earth seems strange. Every one of us appears here, involuntarily and uninvited, for a short stay, without knowing the why and the wherefore. In our daily lives we feel only that man is here for the sake of others, for those whom we love and for many other beings whose fate is connected with our own.

I am often troubled by the thought that my life is based to such a large extent on the work of my fellow human beings, and I am aware of my great indebtedness to them.

I do not believe in free will. Schopenhauer’s words: ‘Man can do what he wants, but he cannot will what he wills,’ accompany me in all situations throughout my life and reconcile me with the actions of others, even if they are rather painful to me. This awareness of the lack of free will keeps me from taking myself and my fellow men too seriously as acting and deciding individuals, and from losing my temper.

I have never coveted affluence and luxury and even despise them a good deal. My passion for social justice has often brought me into conflict with people, as has my aversion to any obligation and dependence I did not regard as absolutely necessary.

[Part 2]
I have a high regard for the individual and an insuperable distaste for violence and fanaticism. All these motives have made me a passionate pacifist and antimilitarist. I am against any chauvinism, even in the guise of mere patriotism.

Privileges based on position and property have always seemed to me unjust and pernicious, as does any exaggerated personality cult. I am an adherent of the ideal of democracy, although I know well the weaknesses of the democratic form of government. Social equality and economic protection of the individual have always seemed to me the important communal aims of the state.

Although I am a typical loner in daily life, my consciousness of belonging to the invisible community of those who strive for truth, beauty, and justice keeps me from feeling isolated.

The most beautiful and deepest experience a man can have is the sense of the mysterious. It is the underlying principle of religion as well as of all serious endeavour in art and science. He who never had this experience seems to me, if not dead, then at least blind. To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is a something that our minds cannot grasp, whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly: this is religiousness. In this sense I am religious. To me it suffices to wonder at these secrets and to attempt humbly to grasp with my mind a mere image of the lofty structure of all there is.”

Einstein signature, 1932

Courtesy of the Albert Einstein Archives, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel.

________________________________________

Picture credits:
Courtesy of the Albert Einstein-Archives, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel, Call Nr 28-218.00: 1
Hans-Josef Küpper, Cologne: 2, 3

A Horror Book for a Vanilla Reader…

art-book

The popular saying, “Tell me who your friends are and I will tell you who you are” is attributed to a stunning variety of people – Assyrians, Mexicans, the Italian mafia bosses, and even to Vladimir Lenin. I guess the ongoing popularity of the saying proves that it is correct. Well, if so, why not try and apply the same yardstick to particular groups of people, for example, to those who tend to read a lot? Let us rephrase the proverb:

“Tell me what you read and I will tell you who you are.”

art-book2

Now, think of it this way: you are an admirer of sweet, vanilla romance stories and you just met a new friend. At the very first date, he confesses to you that he never goes to bed without reading a horror book… What would your secret thoughts be like?

Okay, let us fantacize more. Suppose, you decided to read your friend’s favorite horror story — just to get to understand his taste in reading a little better — and somewhere in the middle of the book you begin to clearly realize that one of the book’s characters behaves, speaks, and even thinks exactly like your friend! Again: any secret thoughts?

art-book3

Alright, let us go a little further. The horror book scares you — not only because it is an unusual piece of reading for you, but because it reveals your friend’s personality in a new, unexpected way. At the same time, the more you read, the more excited you are by the book, so you decide to read it to the end. A plausible explanation for this decision is already buzzing in your mind: first, you want to learn as much as possible from the book; second, you want to be well prepared for the next meeting with him

And there it comes: the realization that, before you opened the book for the first time, this guy was only a friend, a nice person to be with, but now, when you learned so much about him from the book, he somehow means a lot more to you…

Well, this is the moment when I need to I put on my psychologist hat and ask for a pause, because you have just crossed your so-called point of no return: the reading has affected your opinion about your friend; now, your impression of him is a bit less candid than it was in the very beginning.

But why? What has happened?

art-book4

Well, scientists call this ‘experience-taking’, where people actually “change their own behaviors and thoughts to match those of a fictional character that they can identify with.” Today, it is a scientifically proven fact that “while reading a book or story, people are prone to subconsciously adopt their behavior, thoughts, beliefs and internal responses to that of fictional characters as if they were their own.” But if so, then reading books is contagious, and reading the favorite books of our friends can lead to double effect: you’ll develop a biased opinion about your friend, plus the book might change your own behavior, too.

The tricky thing is that ‘experience-taking’ is an unconscious process, it can be very powerful because people don’t even realize it is happening to them. It begins naturally under the right circumstances. For the process to happen, you have to be able to take yourself out of the picture, and really lose yourself in the book in order to have this authentic experience of taking on a character’s identity. In other words, “the more you are reminded of your own personal identity, the less likely you’ll be able to take on a character’s identity,” scientists say.

So far so good. At least, there is a way to avoid being ‘sucked’ into the ‘experience-taking’: you simply need to remain completely conscious (a bit skeptical, for example, or simply to do your reading when surrounded with other people who won’t let you focus on reading completely), then the book will not be able to ‘cast its spell’ on you.

art-book-pot

If you are an addicted reader since very young age, you will probably remember how you were ‘addicted’ to some book heroes and how they influenced you in childhood. Many parents today have to go through a worrying time of Harry-Potter-mania with their kids. Well, the influence of books is strong, and they don’t only ‘work’ in the immature minds of children. Researchers confirm that ‘experience-taking’ may lead every grown-up reader to temporary real world changes, as well.

art-book5-danielle-gerharts

Having studied all this information, I have been wondering: do authors of fiction realize the real power they have in their hands when they write?

It seems that modern people, especially the new generation, are becoming more vulnerable to the effect of books. The crazy rhythm of life, the informational technologies, and the unbearable amount of information which continuously floods into our minds make us wish to hide away for a while, and the best asylum is a good book to read in the quietness of your room.

All in all, there is some charm in the contagious process of experience-taking, don’t you think? In the end, this is the reason why we read fiction: we need to be charmed by a hero (or heroine), we want to repeat their behavior, and if a book can help us learn about our real life friends by analyzing what habits they have picked up from a book, mm– why not? This is all individual. You like it? So be it.

art-book5

The Visual Component of Reading

book-story-imagine-narrative-lr

Studying the changes in the books industry has never been more captivating than now. With the soaring amount of published production and the mindblowing number of genres and styles offered by millions of authors, the readers’ tastes and preferences are also changing. This process is developing deep in our minds, behind the veil of impetuous real life changes, so we seldom give it the deserved attention. Still, the fact is obvious: our reading habits are changing.

First of all, our ‘skill’ of reading today is certainly different from that of our parents and grandparents. Take the latest 30 years: with all informational technologies which have come to our lives, we all read a lot every day. Even those who never pick up a book, cannot completely ignore reading: they simply have to read every sign, ad, or warning that dashes into their eyes; because of the changing lifestyle, every person must be a fast reader today.

Being able to read very fast has become an inevitable, life-protecting skill.

book-image

Secondly, it is the quality of perception of the information which comes to our minds through reading. It is changing rapidly, too. Some people describe their own reading process like “reading with inner eye” that “copies the words from the book and makes them understandable” for them; some say that they “read by pronouncing words in their mind” and “listen to the sound of words, then understand them”; while others say that they “visualize what they read”, so the images — not the written words — give them the feeling of what they have read. It is interesting to watch how the number of people in the second group is growing, and in the third group is soaring, while the number of “verbal” readers is decreasing.

Isn’t it a red light for authors to revise their writing and make it as ‘visual’ as it can be?

book-baby

We have a habit of offering a lot of illustrated books for children. The grown-ups, however, believe that they are mature enough not to have to attract themselves to reading by looking at illustrations. In my opinion, this approach needs to be revised. It is not the question of maturity; today, it is the question of our survival. Our minds have to process incredible amounts of information every minute, and I am sure that our minds, without letting us know (so far), are already trying to adapt to this change.

Our minds process tons of informational packages which flow into it through our eyes, ears, noses and all other perceptive organs. The visual information comes in a ‘condensed’ way and is easier and faster to process. This is why our brain “likes it more” when it is visual, don’t you think?

I think this provides another red light for authors to revise their textual production and make it more “visual”. Because, unless we think about it, our readers will: they will simply stop reading anything that is not “visual” or “imaginative”.

Finally, here is a scheme I ran across in an article describing the essential components of reading . The article focuses on a different study, but what I found interesting here is the authors’ focus on studying the dynamics of their students’ spelling ability. Here is what it says:
reading-components+spelling“A group of researchers found that, although students’ growth in passage comprehension remained close to average from first through fourth grade, their spelling scores dropped dramatically by third grade and continued to decline in fourth grade (Mehta et al., 2005).  Progress in reading does not necessarily result in progress in spelling.  Spelling instruction is needed to develop students’ spelling skills.”

In this particular case, the researchers’ task was to solve the problem of the kids’ inattention to spelling as they read and write. In my opinion, this whole situation could be anticipated (and is going to develop even more in the future): the younger generation no longer “reads with their eyes”; I mean, they no longer tend to “photocopy” the written words and paste them into their memory: they prefer to use a more convenient and direct way of acquiring knowledge: their imagination. The ability to visualize everything you read right away, as soon as you see it written, and to create a dynamic mind picture (practically creating video in our minds) is quickly replacing all other methods of information preception.

Visualizing text is convenient; moreofer, it is becoming a necessary part of our lives, unless you want to fall behind the others at scool and gain a reputation of a “slow guy”.

Don’t you think that behind this process lies an answer to the question: “Which genres and styles of writing are going to become more popular in the nearest future?” To me, this is an important question which is going to show me the direction to go in my future work.

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Verbal Art Made Visible

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I’d like to begin this one with a quote:

“Conflict generates energy and that energy, at its best, reveals a universal truth. In almost every iconic masterpiece you will see this equation at work. Writers would be well served to seek out some of these iconic visual works and examine them closely.” Annie Weatherwax

These words belong to an artist, who found her way to writing fiction by studying masterpieces of visual art- a necessary component of education for every creative person, which so many representatives of the verbal arts world ignore today.

Conflict is a critical condition for plot development in fiction writing. Tension, its inevitable product, helps keep the story dynamics and thus, ensures its ripeness and thoroughness. As Annie Waterwax notes,

“Tension is a primary component in all forms of art, achieved by the conflict between opposing elements. It’s the tension that holds our interest. In a masterpiece, the energy created by that tension reveals a universal truth. And a masterful artist does this without the viewer knowing it. She slips the message into our collective subconscious unnoticed.”

This peculiar talent of knowing how to send ‘the message into our collective subconscious’ is often overlooked by writers as something irrelevant, and the reason why they cannot do it is lack of general aesthetic education. Sadly, fiction writing is rarely mentioned as an art form today (in my opinion, it still is); the widely accepted ‘standards’ of fiction writing focus mainly on genre, plot and structure requirements, while the artistic beauty of writing is just a nice additional bonus, welcomed mainly by publishers, because majority of readers are rather attracted by fast-pace plot development and intrigue than by the way it works to enrich our aesthetic personality. Overwhelming majority of people today prefer visual arts and music to reading, while appreciation for the beauty of writing style and its harmony with genre and structure of the story is regarded as an extravagant whim of the few.

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Still, knowing a lot about art in general helps every writer, because it broadens their imagination and develops their artistic taste. I am glad to see that the most appreciated fiction writers today (irrespectively of the genre they write in) are always people of good aesthetic taste (quite often, they are passionate art lovers). 

Putting it simply, developing a good aesthetic taste is a way to see more beauty around you, and- yes, one needs to learn to see beauty! And beauty is exactly that energy, mentioned above, which reveals universal truths to a person. Without learning about it, an author lacks necessary means of high-quality writing.

Our imagination is born deep inside our mind, in the storage of memory, knowledge and life experiences which we have accumulated during our lives. If we have a good deal of beautiful images, associations and emotional memories stored there, the final products of our imagination have more potential to be beautiful, too. Only an author who has a good taste for visual (musical and other) arts can create really beautiful verbal pictures and deliver them to other people’s minds. I think we should always remember this when we sit down to create our masterpieces in writing.

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I, a Passer, Close to Everyone, Alien to All 

I, a Passer, Close to Everyone, Alien to All. (“Я – прохожий, близкий всем, всему чужой.”) M.Voloshin

These beautiful lines belong to Maximilian Voloshin,  a Russian poet of Ukrainian-German origin, commonly known as Max Voloshin (1877 – 1932). I just finished re-reading Voloshin’s Faces of Creation (“Лики творчества”), a profound and masterful study of evolution of some art movements, a book which I had admired as a student, and now re-discovered again, nearly 30 years later.

Voloshin_06

“Art is intimate. Art is the artist’s appeal to another
man. The secret of artistic pleasure is always committed
only between two people.” M.Voloshin

Voloshin_01 Max Voloshin was one of the significant representatives of the Symbolist movement in Russian culture and literature. He became famous as a poet and a critic of literature and the arts.

Voloshin_03

His poetry is as symbolistic as his paintings, yet it is so besutiful that I keep rolling his words over in my mind again and again. Here are a few lines I particularly like; I tried to interpret them into English for you:

Так странно, свободно и просто      So oddly, so freely, so just

Мне выявлен смысл бытия,              I can grasp secret meanings of things:

И скрытое в семени “я”,                      The semen, revealing my kinks,

И тайна цветенья и роста.                The magic of rising and rust.

В растенье и в камне – везде,           In every creation or being

В горах, в облаках, над горами       In the clouds, beyond, and above

И в звере, и в синей звезде,             I can hear the song of agreeing

Я слышу поющее пламя.                  with the rapturous fire of life.

Voloshin_04

Voloshin was known for his brilliant translations of a number of French poetic and prose works into Russian, but amazingly, the Wikipedia article about him hardly even mentions the fact that Voloshin – a critic, a poet, and a philosopher – was also a great artist himself. As a tribute to his artistic talent, here are a few images of his works.

Voloshin_02 “The unconscious is, perhaps, the only reality,” Voloshin used to say. (“Бессознательное – это, может, единственная реальность.”) He believed that when a person’s conscious skills grow, the subconscious “burning” inside her dies out. (Сознательное мастерство растет, подсознательное горение идет на убыль. ) He himself, however, was the master of both, and his beautiful art is a prfect confirmation to this.
Voloshin_05

 

 

 

 

 

Reading Like a Scientist

This morning, I came across an excellent article by K.M. Weiland 7 Steps to Creating a Flexible Outline for Any Story . While I was studying it, I kept catching myself on switching to my “scientist reading mode”, which has developed through years of my academic career and seems so natural to me that I read nearly everything – even fiction – this way now. I must mention to K.M.Weiland’s favor that her writing is always very logical, well-structured and brilliantly worded.

scientist

“In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual.”― Galileo Galilei

Having spent decades of my life doing academic research, supervising post-graduate students and writing university coursebooks, I always tend to look for structure in every piece of text that comes into the range of my vision. First of all, I mark out the keywords  in the title, then my eyes stubbornly try to find these keywodrds throughout the whole text. I admire well-structured texts, and always, no matter what I am reading, I make lots of notes while reading.

The article about creating an outline of a story seemed not only well-structured, but also very informative to me as a beginner in fiction writing (a rare pleasure to come across in the world of creative bloggers and fiction writers), so I could not help but making lots of notes as I read it through. This is what I got in the end, and these colored notes – no doubt – will now help me a lot to learn K.Weilland’s method in detail. I have pasted the article with the notes below, to demonstrate how its brilliant structure becomes a roadmap for every working author to use when creating outlines of their stories. If you only pick out the colored notes, you will get the full skeleton of K.M.Weiland’s methodology. If you pick out both, the colored notes and the underlined phrases throughout the text, you will get a great set of tips to keep in mind when writing your own story outline. Enjoy!

Once again, many thanks to the author for her elaborate work and very useful advice!

scientist2

“Everything must be taken into account. If the fact will not fit the theory—let the theory go.” 
― Agatha Christie

7 Steps to Creating a Flexible Outline for Any Story, by K.M.Weiland

(Keywords: outline / story outline (story outlines are the object of research) ; creating / steps to creating)

(Science name for the article would be: Creating a Story Outline)

“Mention the word outline in a room full of writers, and you’re sure to ignite a firestorm of passionate debate. Writers either love outlines, or they hate them. We either find them liberating, or we can’t stand how confining they are. (Problem identified)

My experience has been that more often than not, those who swear they dislike outlines are thinking of them in the wrong ways. (Common practice that brings up the problem)

Outlines are not meant to trap you into preset ideas or sap your creativity before you start the first draft. Outlines are also definitely not meant to be lifeless Roman-numeral lists. (main qualities of outlines discussed)

To imbue your writing with the full power of outlining, (the task of the research is set) you need to approach the process from a mindset of flexibility and discovery.(method outlined) When you do this, you’ll end up with a road map to storytelling success. (anticipated result identified)

Road maps are there to show you the fastest and surest way to reach your destination, but they certainly don’t prevent you from finding exciting off-road adventures and scenic drives along the way. (relevance explained)

At their best, outlines can help you (a) flesh out your most promising story ideas, (b) avoid dead-end plot twists and (c) pursue proper structure. And the greatest part? They (d) save you time and (e) prevent frustration. (the object of research and its main characteristics outlined)

Sketching out your plot and characters in your first draft can take months of trial and error. Figuring out those same elements in an outline requires a fraction of the time—and then allows you to let loose and have fun in your first draft. (difference between drafting a plot and writing an outline is shown)

Let’s take a look at how to get the most out of the outlining process, beginning with the shaping of your premise and working all the way through to a complete list of scenes. (the goal of the article is set) (Note: Although this outlining method is one I use myself and highly recommend, keep in mind that there is no right or wrong way to outline a story. The only requirement is that you find the groove that works for you. If you start outlining and begin to feel the technique isn’t working for you, rather than denouncing outlines entirely, consider how you might adjust the process to better suit your personality and creative style.) (special conditions outlined)

scientist3

“If you’ve got the truth you can demonstrate it. Talking doesn’t prove it.” 
― Robert A. Heinlein

(The steps of research are outlined below)

1. Craft your premise. (write a one paragraph summary of the work)

Your premise is the basic idea for your story. But it’s not enough to just have an idea. “Guy saves girl in an intergalactic setting” is a premise, but it’s also far too vague to offer much solid story guidance.

This is why your outline needs to begin with a tightly crafted premise sentence that can answer the following questions:

• Who is the protagonist? (identify protagonist)

• What is the situation? What is the hero’s personal condition at the beginning? How will that condition be changed, for better or worse, by the hero himself or by the antagonistic force? (outline situation)

• What is the protagonist’s objective? At the beginning, what does the hero want? What moral (or immoral) choices will she have to make in her attempt to gain that objective? (set the objective).

• Who is the opponent? Who or what stands in the way of the hero achieving his objective? (describe antagonist)

• What will be the disaster? What misfortune will befall the hero as the result of her attempts to achieve her objective? (outline the problem and goal)

• What’s the conflict? What conflict will result from the hero’s reaction to the disaster? And what is the logical flow of cause and effect that will allow this conflict to continue throughout the story? (conflict/contradiction)

Once you’ve answered these questions, combine them into one or two sentences: (another step of research suggested)

Restless farm boy (situation) Luke Skywalker (protagonist) wants nothing more than to leave home and become a starfighter pilot, so he can live up to his mysterious father (objective). But when his aunt and uncle are murdered (disaster) after purchasing renegade droids, Luke must free the droids’ beautiful owner and discover a way to stop (conflict) the evil Empire (opponent) and its apocalyptic Death Star.

2. Roughly sketch scene ideas. (drafting the big picture)

Armed with a solid premise, you can now begin sketching your ideas for this story. Write a list of everything you already know about your story. You’ll probably come to this step with a handful of scenes already in mind. Even if you have no idea how these scenes will play out in the story, go ahead and add them to the list. At this point, your primary goal is to remember and record every idea you’ve had in relation to this story.

Once you’ve finished, take a moment to review your list. Whenever you encounter an idea that raises questions, highlight it. If you don’t know why your character is fighting a duel in one scene, highlight it. If you don’t know how two scenes will connect, highlight them. If you can’t picture the setting for one of the scenes, highlight that, too. By pausing to identify possible plot holes now, you’ll be able to save yourself a ton of rewriting later on.

Your next step is to address each of the highlighted portions, one by one. Write out your ideas and let your thoughts flow without censoring yourself. Because this is the most unstructured step of your outline, this will be your best opportunity to unleash your creativity and plumb the depths of your story’s potential. Ask yourself questions on the page. Talk to yourself without worrying about punctuation or spelling.

Every time you think you’ve come up with a good idea, take a moment to ask yourself, “Will the reader expect this?” If the answer is yes, write a list of alternatives your readers won’t expect. (a sequence of steps suggested in order to achieve the goal)

3. Interview your characters. (take only the main characters now)

In order to craft a cast of characters that can help your plot reach its utmost potential, you’ll need to discover crucial details about them, not necessarily at the beginning of their lives but at the beginning of the story. (do interview the characters!)

To do this for your protagonist, work backward from the moment in which he will become engaged in your plot (the “disaster” in your premise sentence). What events in your protagonist’s life have led him to this moment? Did something in his past cause the disaster? What events have shaped him to make him respond to the disaster in the way he does? What unresolved issues from his past can further complicate the plot’s spiral of events? (work backward method – try it!)

(useful tips here)

Once you have a basic idea of how your character will be invested in the main story, you can start unearthing the nitty-gritty details of his life with a character interview. You may choose to follow a preset list of questions (you can find a list of more than 100 such questions in my book Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success), or you may have better luck with a “freehand interview” in which you ask your protagonist a series of questions and allow him to answer in his own words. (try to do both and see what works better)

4. Explore your settings. (list the main settings)

Whether your setting is your childhood neighborhood or the seventh moon of Barsoom, you’ll want to enter your first draft with a firm idea of where your prominent scenes will be taking place. (think over locations of scenes)

Don’t choose a setting just because it sounds cool or because you’re familiar with it. Look for settings that will be inherent to your plot. Can you change your story’s primary locale without any significant alterations to the plot? If so, dig a little deeper to find a setting better suited to your plot, theme and characters.

Based on the scenes you’re already aware of, list the settings you think you’ll need. Can you reduce this list by combining or eliminating settings? Nothing wrong with a sprawling story locale, but extraneous settings should be eliminated just as assiduously as unnecessary characters.
5. Write your complete outline. (write an extended outline)

You’re finally ready to outline your story in full. This is where you will begin plotting in earnest. In Step 2, you solidified the big picture of your story by identifying the scenes you were already aware of and figuring out how they might fit together. Now, you will work through your story linearly, scene by scene, numbering each one as you go. Unlike the “sketches” in Step 2, in which your primary focus was on brainstorming and exploring possibilities, you will now be concentrating on molding your existing ideas into a solid structure. (outlining the first rough draft)

How comprehensive you want to be is up to you. You may choose to write a single sentence for each scene (“Dana meets Joe at the café to discuss their impending nuptials”), or you may choose to flesh out more details (“Joe is sitting by himself in a booth when Dana arrives; Dana orders coffee and a muffin; they fight about the invitation list”). (sub-methods listed)

Either way, focus on identifying and strengthening the key components of each scene’s structure. Who will be your narrating character? What is his goal? What obstacle will arise to obstruct that goal and create conflict? What will be the outcome, and how will your character react to the resulting dilemma? What decision will he reach that will fuel the next scene’s goal? (outline the key components of scenes in connection with the goal)

Work to create a linear, well-structured plot with no gaps in the story (see the checklist on the opposite page). If you can get this foundation right in your outline, you’ll later be free to apply all your focus and imagination to the first draft and bring your story to life.

As you mentally work through each scene, watch for possible lapses of logic or blank areas in how one event builds to another. Take the time to think through these potential problems so they won’t trip you up later. If you get stuck, try jumping ahead to the next scene (good sub-method) you know, and then working backward. For instance, if you know where you want your characters to end up, but not how they’ll get there, start at the ending point and then see if you can figure out what has to happen in the preceding events to make it plausible.

6. Condense your outline. (write an abbreviated version)

Once you’ve finished your extended outline, you may want to condense the most pertinent points into an abbreviated version. Doing so allows you to weed out extraneous thoughts and summarize the entire outline into a scannable list for easier reference. Because your full outline may contain a fair amount of rambling and thinking out loud on the page, you’re likely to end up with a lot of notes to review (I often have nearly three notebooks of material). Rather than having to wade through the bulk of your notes every time you sit down to work on your first draft, you can save yourself time in the long run by doing a little organizing now.

You may choose to create your abbreviated outline in a Word document, write out your scenes on index cards, or use a software program such as the free Scrivener alternative yWriter.

7. Put your outline into action. (useful tips here)

By now, you’ll be feeling prepared and eager to get going on your first draft. Each time you sit down to work on your manuscript, begin by reviewing your outline. Read the notes for your current scene and the scene to follow. Before you start writing, work through any remaining potential problems in your head or on paper. If the time comes (and it will come) when you’re struck with a better idea than what you had planned in your outline, don’t hesitate to go off-road. These ventures into unknown territory can result in some of the most surprising and intriguing parts of your story.

An outline will offer you invaluable structure and guidance as you write your first draft, but never be afraid to explore new ideas as they occur. Remember, your outline is a map showing you the route to your destination, but that doesn’t mean it is the only route. (outline is a kind of a road map for the story)

scientist4

“Science, my boy, is made up of mistakes, but they are mistakes which it is useful to make, because they lead little by little to the truth.” 
― Jules Verne

Feeling Time

“The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.” Leo Tolstoy

eggLike in many other cases, one can begin to understand these words only after having a massive experience of conscious expectation for something significant to happen, and then living through the event as it happens. Only having waited for years to meet the one you really love, you can say that you know the science of being patient and the burden of “feeling” time.

Feeling time is a burden, because it is a torrent that flows through and beyond us; it carries us forward – always in the same direction – and we can do absolutely nothing about it. Time has its powerful plan for every one us, but no one of us has the power to alter anything in the plan.

Doesn’t this make Time the greatest antagonist of all? Mmm, I really need to think about it…

time

 

A.M.Bradley

One Writer's Journey

Writings from the Couch

Processes of Discovery in the Mind