Friday, January 21, 2011

How to Disarm an Enemy--Invite Him In!

Intriguing article on Michel de Montaigne and his intuition that our inbuilt capacity for sympathy depends on physical proximity.

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

"In past times, there were certain fabrics, embellishments and enrichments reserved for women, but now men take everything for themselves if they number among those who profess to accouter themselves properly, charmingly, genteelly, gallantly, prettily, vainly, cutely, daintily, showily."

Henri Estienne (1528-1598), French printer and classical scholar
Les deux Dialogues du nouveau langage françois italienizé et autement desguizé, principalement entre les courtisans de ce temps (1578)

Friday, January 14, 2011

A Dickens of a Time Finding a Quote

Louise Labé and Charles Dickens? I'd never before heard the names of the sixteenth century French poetess and the nineteenth century novelist linked in any way. However, while searching for a translation of some of Louise's poetry to post today for the Quote of the Week, I came across a translation of her 14th sonnet in Household Words, the English magazine published weekly from 1850-1859 by Dickens. In this magazine, which offered readers a mix of fiction and nonfiction articles, Dickens serialized his own Hard Times, as well as works by other contemporary authors like Elizabeth Gaskell. The unsigned nonfiction articles he included discuss social issues, as well as topics of literary history and criticism.

The April 30, 1853 issue features an engaging article, "The Ropemaker's Wife," about the Lyonnaise poetess. Although the account of her life includes some rather fanciful embellishments, the article expresses a sincere respect for her work. Although Dickens probably did not write the article or translate the cited poems himself, he did choose to include it in the journal. I find it curious to imagine him contemplating her work, although I'm not sure why. Mostly I'm surprised that he'd ever even heard of her, much less featured her in his magazine.

I'll leave you with the article's translation of Louise's sonnet "Tant que mes yeux pourront larmes espandre." Remarkably, the translation removes any trace of the original poem's "you," the man whom Louise addresses in her complaint. Instead of a passionate avowal of her obsession with this man, the translation becomes a rather tame lament over the passing of a love her "spirit" once knew. Evidence of Victorian mores at play?

For those of you who want to compare the translation to the original French, here is the poem taken from the 1986 edition by François Rigolot:

Tant que mes yeux pourront larmes espandre,
A l'heur passé avec toy regretter:
Et qu'aus sanglots et souspirs resister
Pourra ma voix, et un peu faire entendre:

Tant que ma main pourra les cordes tendre
Du mignart Lut, pour tes graces chanter:
Tant que l'esprit se voudra contenter
De ne vouloir rien fors que toy comprendre:

Je ne souhaitte encore point mourir.
Mais quand mes yeus je sentiray tarir,
Ma voix cassee, et ma main impuissante,

Et mon esprit en ce mortel sejour
Ne pouvant plus montrer signe d'amante:
Prirey la Mort noircir mon plus cler jour.

Intriguing thoughts for a Friday afternoon!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Links to Historical Fiction Interviews

Here are links to two interviews with writers of historical fiction: Vanora Bennett, author of Portrait of an Unknown Woman and Figures in Silk, and Susan Vreeland, author of The Passion of Artemisia and the recently-released Clara and Mr. Tiffany.

It's always interesting to hear other writers talk about their lives, inspiration and works. I especially appreciate Ms. Vreeland's comments on the link between imaginative fiction and compassion:

"Each time we enter imaginatively into the life of another, it is a small step upwards in the elevation of mankind. When there is no imagination of others' lives, there is no human connection. Where there is no human connection, there is no compassion. Without compassion, then community, commitment, loving-kindness, human understanding, and peace all shrivel. Individuals become isolated, the isolated turn cruel, and the tragic hovers in the forms of domestic and civil violence. Art and literature are antidotes to that."

I'm very much looking forward to hearing Ms. Vreeland speak as a special guest at the Historical Novel Society Conference in San Diego this June.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

"[W]ritings have the greatest and most enduring effect where the fame and resonance of a name is concerned. For books pass from hand to hand and win credence everywhere, provided that they are truthful and not mendacious."

Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574), Italian artist and biographer
Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects (1550)

Saturday, January 1, 2011

It's Not Rocket Science ;)

Don't you hate it when your husband is right?

I've watched my husband many months now implementing a work plan that makes sense and has led to great results. Here is what he does:

Husband is a research scientist, so his future and funding depends on dreaming up new ideas and realizing them. His creative work is the science he does for the sake of the intellectual challenge and the thrill of discovery. However, his position in his work setting requires him to attend meetings, grind out reviews, budgets, and performance appraisals, and deal with an infinite number of other mind-numbing and time-consuming management details. Conscientious as he is, he would strive to finish all the necessary administrative tasks for the day, clear the table, so to speak, and before applying himself to the fun stuff, the science.

Problem: found he was never getting to the fun stuff. Attending to his administrative duties, which usually carry strict deadlines and serious consequences, easily ballooned to fill every moment of his workday. He was growing frustrated and not making the strides he needed to advance his standing as a happenin' scientist.

The solution? A simple no-brainer. Switch the order of his day and do the creative work BEFORE tackling everything else.

Now, every morning, the first thing he does is spend one hour on his scientific projects before turning to the necessary but uninspiring stuff. Only ONE HOUR and the results have been amazing! He has accomplished more, creatively, in the few months he has been doing this than in the entire year that preceded it. He's excited about his work, making a name for himself among his collaborators, and churning out ideas.

Are there deadlines that sometimes slip by or reports that are a day or two late? Yes. Tasks that might be ignored indefinitely? Yes. But it's worth it. At the end of the day, he's accomplished what is most important. The quality of his work is high because he's worked on the theoretical stuff when his mind was fresh and undistracted. Even if the rest of the day turns out to be awful, he's advanced his projects and engaged in the work that brought him into the field in the first place.

Watching me fritter away my days carting kids around, folding laundry, grocery shopping, and proofreading college essays, he's been encouraging--no, let's be real, nagging!--me for months to adopt his method. As any mother knows, the duties of a conscientious mom, just like those of any administrator, can easily fill an entire day. I used to try to write at night, when my eyes were so heavy I could barely keep them open and my inspiration had long since retired to the heights of Parnassus. Since my littlest is now in full-day kindergarten, I have the time to write during the day, but I still find myself putting other tasks first, waiting for the perfect time to get started. It's so easy to convince myself that the world might end if I don't fill out that school survey or have the necessary ingredients on hand to prepare nutritious meals that everyone will eat.

I need to stop fooling myself. There will always be other things, necessary things, that need to be accomplished. But unless I make the dedicated effort to put my creative work first, to spend the best hours of the day solely on my WRITING (not blogging, not networking, not even reading or researching), this book I'm working on will never bask in the fluorescent glow on the Barnes and Noble "New Arrivals" table.

So here I am on January 1, swallowing my pride and admitting my husband might just be right. I've decided to stop resisting and adopt his plan. I've seen the results he's achieved and want similar ones for myself. Once I return from dropping the kids off at school, I'm going to sit down and do NOTHING else but write each morning until noon. I have the luxury of being able to spend much more than one hour a day on my creative work and I'm squandering it. It's shameful.

The first step will involve disabling the Internet for the morning hours. No more checking email or surfing websites before settling down. Instead, I can use those activities as a reward after a hard morning of writing.

2011 is going to be MY year. I've put everyone else first for almost a quarter of a century now. The first few weeks on the new plan might be a bit rough, but if I hang in there I know I'll be able to change my habits. Who knows? I might find myself writing for the entire day instead of just three hours!

And no surprises here--the dedication page of my novel will have my husband's name written all over it!

Has anyone else made writing goals or resolutions for 2011? Have any productive strategies to share? I hope 2011 turns out to be a wonderful year for us all!