Fresh Start, Fresh Perspective

Fresh Start, Fresh Perspective

It began with a change of venue, from HostGator to PeoplesHost. After nearly a decade, it was time for a fresh start. Rather than blow away the old blog, I decided to start with a new one. This gave me the opportunity to experiment with a fresh look, fresh content, fresh thoughts, and a fresh perspective. It tickled my funnybone to carry on the accidental tradition of naming it for the year of its birth. It’s All a Matter of Perspective began its life at, but that was meant to be a temporary home. It turned out to be harder to rename an established blog than I thought it would be. In a mash-up of laziness and exhaustion, I left it alone and the name stuck. This time, is a deliberate homage to its predecessor, and we’ll just let newcomers wonder, in six months, where the other three years are hiding.

I hope you’ll subscribe to the blog, so that you’ll get new posts in email. Look to the right sidebar, near the top: enter your email address, click Subscribe, then check your email and confirm that you meant to do that. It’s the best way I know of to get notified when there’s new stuff, so you don’t have to check back every day and be disappointed if nothing’s changed. Don’t leave it at that, though! This blog is not a magazine, and the real beauty of a blog is when it turns into a conversation in the comments section. Don’t wait for an engraved invitation – comment!

What’s in a Name?

In A Puppy, Not a Guppy, I explored the consequences, both positive and negative, of the names and labels we put on others. Parents rightfully spend a lot of time considering baby names; children learn the pain and joy of nicknames endowed upon them by bullies and friends, relatives and teachers. The names we give are a reflection of our own attitudes – our own perspective on the people and things we name. A blog is no different.

I’ve never understood why there are so many blogs named with some variant of “Random Thoughts.” A quick Google search:

random thoughts blog

yields a mind-numbing 8,810,000 results. Some of them live down to their name: random thoughts, blurted out to a blasé Internet with another 67 billion things vying for their attention. The only reason anyone wants to read a blogger’s “random thoughts” is because they love that blogger and haven’t the heart not to. It takes a strong opening sentence to capture and hold a reader’s attention with a blog name like “Random Thoughts,” but I know some of these bloggers – a number of them are neither random nor dull. They just need a fresh start and a catchier blog name.

Fresh Perspective

I liked “It’s All a Matter of Perspective,” but since I’ve chosen not to demolish it and salvage its parts, I can’t have it for the title of this blog. A fresh start with “A Fresh Perspective” is what I’m working towards, in more ways than one. Committing to the name, I hope to commit to the goal of focusing on the people that merit attention, and on the things that are within my sphere of control and influence, like creative originality, a positive attitude, and general well-being.

I need to print the Slow Blogging Manifesto and keep it close when I turn on the PC, to reinforce my resolve. Facebooking is the antithesis of slow-blogging. The blog is home. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – they’re like the corner bar, the coffee shop, the bakery. But the blog is home, for a writer.

I’m keeping the tagline: “99.3% truth, .7% blatant lies. In between lies my perspective on life.” I like to set expectations – to play fair. William Faulkner wrote:

“The poets are wrong of course […] But then poets are almost always wrong about facts. That’s because they are not really interested in facts: only in truth: which is why the truth they speak is so true that even those who hate poets by simple and natural instinct are exalted and terrified by it.” (The Town, 1957)

Lord, let me be a poet. Even when I’m just being a blogger.

Fresh Start, Fresh Perspective

If We Were Having Coffee, I’d Tell You to #WriteBravely…

…but not foolishly. And kick you playfully in the shins, under the table, and wink. You’d say, “#WTFOW!” and I’d laugh.

I’d say something about being a day late and a dollar short, but it doesn’t matter because this is my back patio and not Starbucks.

“Awake now, are you?” I’d swallow another hot sip of coffee – Sumatra, or Texas Pecan, strong and black. More cream and sugar for you, if you want it. And there’s chocolate. In the Imaginarium Cafe, there is always chocolate. Today’s selections include dark chocolate coated coffee beans and bits of real honeycomb dipped in rich, velvety dark chocolate.

You might ask me to tell you how to write a book, or how to format it; you might ask me how to find an agent or get published. I’d refill your coffee and share the advice Tom Clancy shared with me, 25 years or so ago: “Just write the damned book.”

Make a product before you try to sell one.

You might ask me how to self-publish, and how to use Createspace or Lulu, and I’d ask you to help me dig a hole and plant a tree. Do you want to do the work, or do you just long for fame and fortune? And then, when we were both hot and sweaty and rethinking the planting of whole forests to replenish the stock of paper on which books are printed, I’d wipe a smudge of dirt from your nose with my thumb and say, “Sure, but you could have Googled it or tried it out – it’s not as if pressing the big red button is going to blow anything up…”

My voice trails off at the sobering thought of big red buttons.

Let’s write a book before the world ends, shall we? #WriteBravely

Fresh Start, Fresh Perspective

A Taste of Home for the Next Generation (Interview with Sapna Anu George)

My guest, today, is Sapna Anu George. We met through Write Tribe, but really discovered our common interests once we started talking about freelance writing, family, and cookbooks.

How did you first become a journalist and freelance writer?

Sapna Anu George was exposed to language and words from a young age. Her grandfather worked for a leading newspaper in Kerala, and he kept important clips of news and events in his home. For Sapna, reading and writing were as natural as breathing. “A bunch of uncles who discussed and shared the books they read was an added incentive and helped preserve the habit of reading. I often heard them mention an aunt who had passed away in the late 1950s – a writer who dedicated her life to language and writing. I managed to find her novel, Nadinte Makkal, in Kerala Sahithaya Academy (Kerala Literary Society). It was published in 1950.”

Sapna’s voracious reading habits were encouraged by her father. “My dad discussed with me the books he read, and suggested good authors to me. I did my Masters in English Literature. This was a wider door to poetry, literature, and variations of language. Since then, I would scribble poetry inspired by my moods, about love, about friends, about the things that interested me. Through poetry, I expressed my thoughts and feelings well, but these remained hidden between the leaves of my notepads in college. I never lost them, and about 25 years later, in 2009 I first published my collection of poetry in Malayalam called “Swapnangal” which means dreams. Later, in 2012, I published my second book, a collection of poetry in English called, Songs of the Soul. And the latest book was in 2013, a collection of my articles in all regional newspapers and online portals in Malayalam called “Swapnarekhakal”. At present my cookbook in about to be launched by a leading publisher in India.

“My life after marriage took quite a turn; we moved across the sea to Qatar. Journalism, here, was a controlled and underdeveloped area, yet I was asked to write for the supplements that are brought out by Indian newspapers for special occasions like Christmas and Onam. The Indian newspapers needed a local who understood society and current trends. Later, I was asked to do a column in a local language, Malayalam, for one of the leading newspapers in Kerala. That was later syndicated to many other newspapers and magazines. But the added advantage was my comfort with both English and Malayalam. I write in both languages.” We are based in Muscat, the Gulf of Oman and here I still continue to freelance and write for Indian newspapers, as well.

How did you balance family and career?

“I never mixed the two. I could manage a balance, although there must be support from the family and I was blessed to have that. My kids’ awareness of my writing grew, as they did, so I am sure they have had their proud moments.”

As a journalist, what sort of stories interest you most? Are there any topics you’ve specialized in over the past 15 years, or will you tackle just about any assignment that comes your way?

“I mostly wrote about home and social issues, and about friends who excelled at something. For Home, I covered subjects like, ‘what are the hazards and advantages of being a housewife?’ and I wrote about women who have been successful in creating a home-based business. Social issues like bar dancers in the Gulf region, growing your own vegetables, and making fertilizers and pesticides with ingredients found in your kitchen. I like to write about any subjects that are socially important, including those things we easily avoid and think that are not important. In a Bahrain newspaper, I write a weekly column only on “women” called “swpnadanam”. Subjects are women at any phase of life, from housemaids to writers to dancers—to anyone who provides valuable resources to society or to their own families.

“Yes, there are advantages to being a freelancer, to choosing your own subjects and setting your own timeframes. I would also accept work that’s related to language: translations! But my work and concentration always been on being freelancer, and journalism is an honest effort to bring people and society face to face with unique subjects they otherwise not notice. Right now, I write three newspaper columns for Indian and US newspapers and two food columns on weekly basis.”

You mentioned that you are also in the midst of a shift from journalism to writing short stories and poetry. What’s prompted this change – what is it about fiction and poetry that makes you want to write it?

“Jotting down poetry was my first experience with expressing emotions through my writing. I was not sure how and where to share these expressions until I came across blogging. I have since published two books of poetry, one in Malayalam, swapnangal, and one in English, Songs of the Soul.

“I have been experimenting with short stories. I write one if I come across a picture that inspires me with incidents or milestones in life, like meeting a classmate, or first rain for the season or an alumni meeting of preschoolers! Anything and everything can inspire me to write a short story. Keeping a diary was a habit my daddy has inspired in me from a very early age. I saved many incidents from my life in those diary pages, which someday I hope to write as autobiography or a novel.”

What made you decide to write a cookbook, Sapna?

“Food and cooking have been an interesting part of my life. I used to write column in a U.S.- based portal called ‘pachakam’ which in English means cooking. Eventually I began to answer readers’ questions on food and cooking. Later, I started another column in Malayalam. For these columns, I used to take step-by-step snapshots whenever I cooked at home. In fact, my niece, who is married to an Italian, suggested that I write a book on Kerala cuisine, with the recipes her grandmother and mother cook—food that she is she missing in her in-laws’ home. Following her line of thought the concept of a cookbook filled with the recipes that my daughter might miss while she’s in college, and when she moves away from home, was formed. The cookbook is done, now, and is being published by an Indian publisher called DC Books.”

My mother compiled a cookbook, many years ago. I’ve toyed with the idea of updating it and republishing it. You mentioned that you were writing yours for your daughter, presumably to share some family favorites passed down to you by your mother and grandmother. Do you think that this intergenerational connection is at least as important as the food itself?

“Yes, 101 %! This cookbook is a mix of tradition and memories that I am leaving for my daughter in print. It is also for kids of her generation who might miss their mother’s food and the tastes they grew up with. The recipes in my book are those that are found cooking in an everyday Kerala home—nothing new or unknown to anyone from Kerala’s cultural background. Yet I have gone a couple of steps further and separated recipes as vegetarian, non-vegetarian, pickles, sweets, and curries from Christian, Hindu, and Muslim families. An added new trend of backwater recipes which are those cooked with fish and non-vegetarian ingredients, fresh from water and land. I am leaving a tradition, culture, and specialties that I was taught by my own mother and my grandmothers and my mother-in-law in this book. No more 2nd editions of another cook, this is going to be only one, yet an English version is already in process.”

How do you test your recipes? Do you get your daughter to make them, and see if they turn out “just like her mom used to make”?

“I always cook and take my own photos, but mind you, I am no professional! Always been a photo junkie starting from my Sony auto focus to my current camera Cannon 550 D and Note 5 phone too. Every recipe in the book and in my columns is tested and photographed by me.

“Some of the recipes, my daughter herself has tried with great success, even impressing her grandmother. My daughter is a final year Law student and stays with her grandmother who’s half British by birth, which is again a training period for her as well.”

What’s the cookbook called? Do you have a launch date for it, yet?

“Right now, the book is in the regional language Malayalam and its soon going to be in English too. The cookbook is called Ruchikalude Swapnakoottukal (the dream combination of ingredients). There is my implication of my name in almost all the books that I write, whether its poetry or my own article collection or a cookbook. The book work is over, the launch date is not decided yet.”

I am looking forward to the book’s launch, Sapna, and wish you great success! I’m sure that your daughter, and other young people leaving home for the first time, will appreciate all the love and effort you’ve put into bringing it into being.

I am taking part in The Write Tribe Festival of Words #6. Want to read more bloggers’ #WTFOW posts? Click here. If you enjoy our posts, please share them on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or your other favorite social media sites, using the hashtags #writetribe #writingbravely #festivalofwords. And comment! Don’t forget to comment! We love to hear from you.

Fresh Start, Fresh Perspective

Letter to My Errant Muse #wtfow #writebravely

Dear Fred,

You and I have always had an uneasy alliance. I pooh-pooh the whole idea of a “Muse” as something akin to the myth of “writer’s block,” and say “I don’t need a Muse, for crying out loud.” You fling me a link to this scene and ask if I’d prefer to have a governess.

We wrestle over wording. I revert to the prosaic prose of the technical writer; you stab me with a knife dipped in lemon juice and suggest that I dip my fountain pen in the blood and carve the words on bone. I get lost in the thesaurus or dive down the rabbit hole of Google; you slam the book on my nose and tell me to stop dawdling. We make a good team – I’ll grudgingly admit that much.

You’re a bit lazy in the inspiration department. Perched, there, on the arm of the chair, you mutter something about going out, having experiences, finding my own inspiration. “Write what you know,” you hiss. “Well, whaddayaknow? You never take me nice places…” Bitch, whine – what good is a Muse who has to be constantly entertained? If I go out and fill the well from which I draw my own inspiration, why should I keep you around? Just to feed your popcorn addiction? You eat my chocolate and throw me razzberries. When I suggest that providing inspiration is your job, you recite poetry, for God’s sake. Your favorite seems to be John Berryman’s “Dream Song 14,” and I think that’s just a snarky taunt. Thanks for nothing. I thought you were supposed to be one of my “inner resources.”

Granted, we’ve had some fine adventures, bonding over our shared hatred of the Inner Critic, Edna. She’s still blue in the face (and everywhere else) after being chucked out of an airplane lavatory at 35,000 feet. I suppose I should work a bit more on our story, come November. I’ll bring the sharpened fountain pen, you bring the rum – deal?

Or maybe we should work on the djinni/pirate witch story (speaking of rum), since Prunebutt’s done his disappearing act, again. What is it with me and insufferably snarky, uncooperative Muses?  We have a lot of unfinished business, come to think of it, and now I’m starting to think we need some family counseling, to boot.

I sometimes wish I’d been blessed with a Muse that kept me up all night with a million ideas and didn’t share my love of dark chocolate and sleep, or @Prunebutt1, rolling out from under the couch to bite me in the foot – that we deserve. I’m not sure what I’ve done to deserve you (both) but we’re used to one another, now, so I suppose we’ve got no choice but to make the best of it.

Let’s have some new adventures soon,

P.S. My grandmother used to say, “You’ve got to write letters to get letters.” Ball’s in your court, Muse.

I am taking part in The Write Tribe Festival of Words #6. Want to read more bloggers’ #WTFOW posts? Click here. If you enjoy our posts, please share them on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or your other favorite social media sites, using the hashtags #writetribe #writebravely #festivalofwords. And comment! Don’t forget to comment! We love to hear from you.

As always, links in this post go to interesting things. Be sure to hover your cursor over them, read the tooltips, and click on them. They’re safe, I promise.

Just Another Saturday Walk in the Park #wtfow #writebravely

Just Another Saturday Walk in the Park #wtfow #writebravely

Darkness envelops me like a blanket, and I burrow deeper into it, into sleep. It feels like warm, dark chocolate. But as I rise up from its depths, I remember I have things to do and the day’s a-wastin’. I reach out, fumblefingers inching across the bedside table in search of a strip of plastic vials, each containing a single, refreshing dose of artificial tears. Eyes closed, I tear the vials apart and twist off the cap, then carefully pry open my eyelids with my fingertips and squeeze a drop or three into each eye. I make my way, half-blind, like a mole-rat, to the bathroom. I pull my hair back, brush it smooth, bind it with an elastic band. I don’t bother with make-up; if I ever bothered with make-up, now is not the time. I step on the scales. It isn’t an obsession, any more than brushing my teeth twice a day is an obsession. It’s just part of the routine. The scale, a Fitbit Aria, calls the mothership to tattle on me.

I pull on a work-out cami and a t-shirt, and the faded California Crazee pants that are almost, but not quite, too big on me. I slip into men’s New Balance running shoes. My reflection in the mirror, at 6:30 AM on a Saturday, reminds me that I am perilously close to becoming a “People of Walmart.” I don’t go to the trails to look good; I go to work: to walk and to sweat. My reward for this lack of primping is to hit the trails almost as soon as they open, before the morning sun has a chance to warm the oven up to “broil.” The first lap is easy. I have company: my Fitbit pals and my Write Tribe WhatsApp group. Vinay Leo R. (@artofleo) makes jokes about not exercising; I taunt him and hope one of these days, he’ll join me. I share the sunflowers with them along the way and hope the photos are worth the download.

The second lap, nearly two miles in, is a bit harder. Sweat drips into my eyes; I wipe them on the hem of my shirt. I should bring a towel. At least I brought a couple liters of water. I take one with me, and leave the other in the car. After two 1.7 mile laps, I exchange the empty bottle for a fresh, full one. Not so fresh; neither is it cold, sitting out there in the heat, but it tastes cleaner than what comes out of the drinking fountain by the restrooms. I ration it out: half a bottle per lap.

For some reason, lately, the sound on my phone goes crazy when I hit the back side of the lake. The volume goes up and down of its own accord; Google Assistant pops up, repeatedly, to show off what it can do – though I’ve yet to find anything it can do that is useful. It refuses to go away. I start fiddling with permissions. If I lock it out, my whole phone may be rendered non-functional. I’ve been warned. I deny it permission to use my microphone. This will later prove to be a futile gesture with mildly annoying consequences; I’ll end up undoing it hours later. My phone is a tool. A total tool.

The camera, too, is possessed. I tap the photo button and it gets stuck in “burst mode,” snapping over 100 pictures of a color-faded, wilting wildflower that’s past its prime and probably didn’t warrant a single shot. Mental note: never undress with the camera in the room.

I restart the thing, but this is the third time, now, and I’ve never known the phone to malfunction anywhere but this one spot. It’s not overheated. I am.

I pray for rain.

It’s barely 85°F, and I convince myself I have it in me to go one more round. That will be seven miles; I’m not up for ten. Maybe in the fall, when the weather turns cooler. I’m fading faster than the pink and yellow Lantanas when the heavens open up with cooling rain – a brief, but welcome deluge – a sunshower! Yes, it’s pouring rain and the sun is still shining brightly, reflected in the puddles that steam along the hot, asphalt path. I walk slowly, with outstretched arms, grateful that my Fitbit and my Galaxy s8 are water-resistant. I soak up the raindrops like a greedy patch of moss. The flowers open, releasing their secret scents, overpowering the swampy smell of dead and dying things, decomposing in the sweltering heat.

Refreshed, renewed, I make my way back to the car. But not before capturing another video of my friend, the heron:

I remember to flip my phone onto its side, so @Mitch_M doesn’t give me a hard time for recording video in portrait mode. I think of my friend, Dr. Taher Kagalwala (@DrTaher), a pediatrician and writer who loves birdwatching and whose blog deserves more visits. I hope he enjoys my occasional photos of birds in Texas.

I drive home and don’t stop to say hello to anyone – I drop my clothes, which are, by now, as wet as if I’d pulled them straight out of the washing machine before the spin cycle, and turn the shower on. Full blast, lukewarm water sprays out, and I step in. I scrub the sweat and dust away as the scent of warm, tangerine suds rises up from clean skin. Stepping out, I wrap up in two large, fluffy towels and lay down – just for a minute – on the bed. An hour later, I wake up. I don’t even know what day it is.

I fix lunch: a simple sandwich. Afterwards, I walk to the grocery store and stock up on bananas, peaches, nectarines, salad greens, cucumber, grapefruit – it wouldn’t be like this if I hadn’t spent hours walking. My inner couch potato prefers salty chips and chocolate. The parts of me that walked seven miles this morning do not want to work that hard again, soon.

I spend the afternoon blogging, reading others’ blogs, and leaving comments until my brain feels broken. Seven miles may be too much, though I rebel against that with every fiber of my being – for someone who once walked 20 miles in less than seven hours, jeans frozen stiff on her legs for at least five of those miles, it’s an admission of defeat. Don’t ask me how long it takes me to jump up off the floor from corpse pose, these days. Hell, if I looked like “People of Walmart,” earlier, you should see my impression of a corpse. Entirely too convincing, thought it may be my ticket to a small role on NCIS or Criminal Minds, one of these days.

I put a cup of rice and two cups of chicken broth into the rice cooker and turn it on. As the oven preheats, I season boneless, skinless chicken thighs with pink, Himalayan sea salt, cracked pepper, garlic, and fresh, creamy butter. While that cooks, turning golden brown and filling the house with its savory aroma, I turn this afternoon’s produce haul into a crisp, cold, tossed salad. My husband is visiting distant relatives in a distant town; my son arrives home in time to share a meal, and we watch anime together for a while before calling it a night.

I am taking part in The Write Tribe Festival of Words #6. Want to read more bloggers’ #WTFOW posts? Click here. If you enjoy our posts, please share them on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or your other favorite social media sites, using the hashtags #writetribe #writebravely #festivalofwords. And comment! Don’t forget to comment! We love to hear from you.

As always, links in this post go to interesting things. Be sure to hover your cursor over them, read the tooltips, and click on them. They’re safe, I promise.