The Story of Your Face

lines

When you stand back and look at someone, really, really carefully, you’ll notice that her (or his) face tells a story.  It’s the story of a life — well-lived or not, beset with tragedies or joys.  A roller-coaster of experiences that can be discerned in every laugh wrinkle, frown line, deeply-etched pain crease and sometimes, like a surprise rainbow, a dimpled cheek followed by lots of  )))).

Every line across your face tells a story. Mine certainly does.  If you look very carefully.  And, like every good story, you need to share it with someone.  Someone who understands, who sees you, hears you, who’s been there with you — during the best of times and the worst of times.  Someone who shares a history with you.  

Never underestimate the power of many decades of shared history.  It’s one of the secret ingredients to a relationship’s longevity and solidarity. 

As we face life’s challenges, it’s important to have at least one such person stand beside you.

I am deeply grateful that I have one. He happens to be the person I most respect on this planet.

Before you hit the “Play” button on Brandi Carlile’s beautiful rock ballad (“The Story”), I want to say — once again — that the lines across your face tell a story.  Don’t erase those lines.  Despite the latest beauty fads or what the trendy plastic gurus babble on about,  your lines are beautiful.

After all, they’re who you are.  

Και η ιστορία συνεχίζεται, αγάπη μου.   Αυτό το τραγούδι είναι για σας.

Photo (top) of  me at a seaside restaurant in Vouliagmeni (Athens, Greece, July 2007). 

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Ideas lost in shades of grey …

Photo Credit: K.R. Deepak

“However vague they are, dreams have a way of concealing themselves and leave us no peace until they are translated into reality, like seeds germinating underground, sure to sprout in their search for the sunlight.” 

~ Lin Yutang  (b.1895 – d.1976) – Chinese writer and inventor.

Have you ever thought  of a brilliant idea in your sleep, only to wake up and  find that you can’t remember it?

I hate it when that happens!

Last night, a few really good ideas for one of my chapters came to me and, being a light sleeper, I should have had the sense to wake up and jot them down but …. no, I decided to go back to sleep!

And now, for the life of me, I can’t bloody well remember them!

I’ve been wracking my brain, trying to retrace my thoughts ….

… still drawing a blank.

Maybe they’ll come back to me again tonight. Fingers crossed.

So this begs the question: Why does this happen? Why? WHY?

Is it because we:

  1. are sleep-deprived?
  2. suffer from too much stress?
  3. don’t meditate enough?
  4. lack vitamins?
  5. don’t eat enough seafood?
  6. are growing old (er)?

It could be any one, a combination, or all of the above.

As I’ve said many times before (maybe one day I’ll take my own advice!), the recipe for a healthy mind, body and spirit lies in one, simple practice:   Balance.

“We have overstretched our personal boundaries and forgotten that true happiness comes from living an authentic life fueled with a sense of purpose and balance.”   

~ Dr. Kathleen Hall, Author and Stress Expert

When we maintain a balanced life, we operate at peak level.  Our minds are stimulated. We think well and sleep well. We dream. And, amazingly, we recall/remember.  Here are a few tried and true tips to achieve Balance:

  1. Rest. Insomniacs are not able to function optimally. The brain needs to rest, in order to operate at its best.
  2. Meditate. Take a break and relax the mind. Gather our thoughts. Sit in silence. Regroup. This will bring us clarity of thought and completely re-energize us.
  3. Exercise. Do not omit this step! The process is simple:  cardiovascular exercise → improves blood flow to the brain → thus optimizing brain function.
  4. Eat healthy.  And, do NOT skip breakfast. Nuts (unless allergic), fresh fruit, green veggies and, yes, fish!
  5. Reduce your alcohol consumption.  Especially two hours before we sleep.  Alcohol is a depressant and it slows down/impairs mental function.
  6. Turn off the tellie (TV)! It’s a brain drain and, for the most part, a waste of valuable time.
  7. Stop relying on gadgets and exercise our minds.  Do we really need to use a calculator for simple math?  Do we really need to use the GPS every time?  Isn’t it fun and adventurous to discover a new place … by chance?
  8. Read a good book.  Reading helps us process ideas and thoughts.  It stimulates the imagination.
  9. Laugh and laugh often. Laughter is a great tonic for the brain and the spirit. Blood pressure goes down, and the “feel-good” endorphins flow to the brain.  Play the song  I Love to Laugh (from Mary Poppins) – remember that one? Laughter is infectious … in a good way!

On that note,  I shall go and fetch my notebook.  I just remembered the ideas and need to jot them down, lest I forget again!

 

Image via thehindu.com.

Today, Greeks Around the World Celebrate Orthodox Easter – Καλό Πάσχα! Happy Easter!

 

 

 

Χριστός ανέστη εκ νεκρών, θανάτω θάνατον πατήσας, και τοις εν τοις μνήμασι ζωήν χαρισάμενος.

Christos Anesti ek nekron, thanato thanaton patisas, kai tis en tis mnimasi zoin harisamenos.

Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and to those in the tombs, granting life.

To all my Greek family and friends, and to all who are celebrating Orthodox Easter today, Happy Easter and enjoy your feast!

Στην υγειά μας! Stin iyá mas! Cheers! 

heatherfromthegrove

 

 

 

A Writer’s Primer on Fitness and Ergonometry

I am by no means a fitness guru, although — once upon a time — I did have a 24-inch waist and could sit (effortlessly) in the lotus position with perfect posture.

Once upon a time.

The ravages of time and (admittedly) neglect have taken their toll.  It wasn’t an overnight transformation, and there were definitely plenty of warning signs.

My mother always used to say: “Where there’s life, there’s hope.”  Modern day translation:  “As long as we’re still breathing,  we can do damage control!”  We can’t turn the clock back, but we can certainly turn things around — for the better. 

Our bodies speak to us. Sometimes the messages are subtle, like a slightly stiff neck, a tingling sensation in the hands, or a split-second numbness in the feet.  Often (too often) we shrug them off, until our bodies send us more urgent signals like swollen legs, severe back pain/spasms, insomnia, and shortness of breath or even arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat).  These messages and signals, if unheeded, may possibly lead to a deterioration in health, mobility, and lifestyle — or worse.

Listen to your body.  Try to be proactive. Get out of the chair, stretch and move around. A sedentary lifestyle is a prescription for poor health.

“We are under exercised as a nation. We look instead of play. We ride instead of walk. Our existence deprives us of the minimum of physical activity essential for healthy living.”

~ John F. Kennedy (b.1917 – d.1963)  — 35th President of the United States – In office from January 20, 1961 – November 22, 1963

As writers (and, indeed, anyone who spends 8+ hours per day sitting in front of a computer), we face several “occupational hazards.”  We sit for prolonged periods of time (especially when the creative juices are flowing) and, more often than not, our backs are crouched and tense, our hands are curled over the keyboard (when not clutching the mouse). Sometimes we squint at the screen, because it’s either too bright or we lost track of the time and forgot to turn the light on (which happens to me very, very frequently when I’m caught up in an intense writing spurt).  Knees are bent and legs are in the same position for hours on end. I have a nasty habit of placing one foot over the other – and leaving it there.  It’s easy to forget to take a break, to have a bite to eat or drink a glass of something refreshing – like water, juice or tea.

“Intellectual tasting of life will not supersede muscular activity.”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson (b.1803 – d.1882) — American essayist, champion of individualism, lecturer, and poet

Yes, we need to move our muscles, so that we can be mentally alert, energized, and physically able to continue doing what we love to do … write.

Fitness 101 for Writers

Invest in a good chair. The two tools that a writer should not scrimp on is (a) a computer and (b)  a chair.  Your writing chair should have the right amount of cushion, back support, and adjustability (for height). There are some superbly ergonomic chairs on the market —  designed specifically for writers and computer users.  More on that  further on in this post.

Minimize eye strain. Place the monitor directly in front of you (so you don’t have to turn your head). The top of the monitor should be directly in front of your eyes, at a distance of 18-24 inches. Reduce the screen glare and adjust the brightness/contrast. Periodically look away from the screen and focus your eyes on something else. Consult your ophthalmologist and/or optician, should you encounter any problems with your vision.

Maintain good posture. It’s all a matter of simple geometry. Specifically, right angles (90°): feet and lower legs (at ankles) must be 90°; lower legs and thighs (at knees) must be 90°; buttocks and back (at hips/waist) must be 90°; lower arms and upper arms (at elbows) must be 90°.  If your elbows aren’t on a 90° angle, this means that your desk is too high.  Simply adjust the chair height.  Do not slump your back!!!

Take care of your hands. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is, according to the  Mayo Clinic (.com)“a progressively painful hand and arm condition caused by a pinched nerve in your wrist.”  Take a break from time to time. Typing continuously will have an adverse effect on your hand and wrist. Do finger and wrist exercises.  Move your fingers, do wrist stretches and rub (massage) your palms.

Use a timer. When you’re “on a roll,” it’s easy to get lost in your writing and forget that you need to move and stretch your muscles.  Why not set a timer/alarm every hour, to remind you that you need to get up and walk around for a bit, just to get that circulation going once again.

Exercise at your desk. If you’re feeling a little numb or stiff, consider doing some stretching exercises right at your desk.  Do neck rolls; loosen your hands with circular motions – clockwise, and then counter-clockwise; shrug your shoulders and release, then repeat (loosens neck and shoulders); do torso twists, and leg extensions

Take a break! If you can, break up your time with a walk (or run) outside. Maybe you could do an impromptu yoga or pilates session.  If you don’t want to lose your writing mojo, you may want to consider carrying a voice recorder with you. Remember to eat and, repeat after me, “Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!”  

 

Ergonometry 101 for Writers

When we use the word “ergonomics,”  we are referring to “the applied science of equipment design, as for the workplace, intended to maximize productivity by reducing operator fatigue and discomfort.” And, if anything reduces user fatigue or discomfort, it’s an ergonomic chair!

This is the Ergohuman V2 Chair V200HRBLK  – High Back with Black Frame and Mesh. This chair also comes in either leather or fabric.

Need I say more? 

One final word about exercise.  Running is not for everyone.  Walking is always a good thing. But, if you want to boost your spirit (as well as your fitness level), grab your nearest and dearest …. and dance!  You’ll be rejuvenated and ready to write that next chapter … !

Note:  Before commencing any physical exercise or fitness program, please consult your physician.

Images via bodyandsoul.com.au, brainmass.com, ergonomics-info.com, and ergohuman.com.

“Easter Day” by Oscar Wilde

One of my favorite writers is the Dublin-born Oscar Wilde (1854-1900).  Poems (1881) — an anthology of poetry  — was his first published work.  Easter Day was poem number 20 in a collection of 62.  I thought I’d share this with you. 

Sláinte, 

h.f.t.g.

 

EASTER DAY

The silver trumpets rang across the Dome:
The people knelt upon the ground with awe:
And borne upon the necks of men I saw, Like some great God, the Holy Lord of Rome.
Priest-like, he wore a robe more white than foam,
And, king-like, swathed himself in royal red,
Three crowns of gold rose high upon his head:
In splendour and in light the Pope passed home.
My heart stole back across wide wastes of years
To One who wandered by a lonely sea,
And sought in vain for any place of rest:
‘Foxes have holes, and every bird its nest.
I, only I, must wander wearily,
And bruise my feet, and drink wine salt with tears.’

Always do your research

“By seeking and blundering, we learn.”

~ Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, novelist and dramatist.

Good, thorough research is a critical part of the writing process — regardless of whether the book you’re writing is a work of fiction or non-fiction. There is nothing more damaging to a writer (aside from plagiarism!) than to misrepresent a technical, geographical, or historical fact.  A word to the wise:   always assume that your readers are smart.  They may possibly lose interest at the first blatant mistake.

Research, if done properly, will likely take more time than actually writing the book.  It may seem like a gargantuan effort but, in the long run, it will be time well spent.  Hopefully, the following research tips and tools will help to make the process less daunting.

TIPS

  1. Compile a list of all the areas in your book that will require additional research, outside your own personal area of expertiseThis list will not likely be exhaustive because as you navigate through your book, you will no doubt feel compelled to add to the research. A word of caution:  since most writers are avid readers and information seekers/gatherers by nature, it is easy to forget that “thorough research”  does not mean “excessive research.” Don’t get carried away. Remember, there’s still a book to be written!
  2. Develop a research methodology or strategy. This will assist you with categorizing your research and will save you a lot of time.  Decide how you want to handle your primary and secondary sources. When interviewing a source, determine in advance what questions you want to ask. Do you want to quantify your research over a period of time? Should you segment your research — chronologically, by theme, by geography, by chapter, or by subject matter?  Personally, I favor the “by chapter” approach.  I write very detailed outlines (for each chapter) and use the chapter outlines as a guide to determine the primary and secondary resources that need to be gathered.
  3. Compiling the research. Whilst there are many writers who function quite well in a state of “organized” chaos, I strongly recommend a more streamlined approach.  There is nothing more annoying than misplacing interview notes or a critical quote citation!  Many writers use several sets of index cards (one set for note taking, another for bibliographic info, and so forth). The cards can be color-coded by chapter, theme, or subject matter. I suggest that they be stored in small folders or pouches, so that nothing gets lost. Another option is to tack them to an easel, storyboard or wall.  In lieu of index cards, a notebook and folder will do.  Moleskines are widely used by writers.  Of course, you could always opt to go paperless.  A digital voice recorder is a must-have for face-to-face interviews.
  4. Information dissemination.  Again, you have to know where to draw the line.  Carefully pick and choose the most relevant information from that mountain of research material you’ve gathered and put the rest away.  You don’t want  your book to be a regurgitation of facts and figures. 
  5. Citation, citation, citation.  Although your book is a unique and creative endeavor, do not take liberties with other people’s words.  Quote your sources accurately.  And remember, there is a fine line between paraphrasing and plagiarism (more on that in a later blog post), so do be careful.
  6. Where to get information? As you know, the Internet is a vast cyberlibrary …. however,  you have to be very discriminating as to the reliability of  site/source.  And, then, nothing beats spending a day at the library (with books that you can touch and feel!).  The archives found in most University, public, and private libraries contain a treasure trove of source material.  If the information you seek is historical in nature, contact/visit the appropriate historical society  — a great source for historical maps, documents, photos and diaries.

RESOURCES & TOOLS

Internet: In addition to the standard search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo, AskJeeves), here are a few additional sites that may be of help:

Bartleby.com – unlimited, free access to books, famous quotes/proverbs/maxims.

Google Books – free access to full or partial text of  print books (and out-of-print books).

Encyclopedia Britannica – ahhh, I used this all the time … back in the ’70’s!  This is the online version.

Wiley Online Library – great for historical research.

Ancestry.com – a good genealogy source.

Software Tools:   To help organize your bibliography and reference citations (especially helpful for writers of non-fiction), you may want to check out Bibus bibliographic database software or EndNote. If your research involves any quantitative analysis, software programs such as Excel, Paradox, SAS or SPSS will be helpful.

I will sign off with this great quote from Ray Bradbury:

“You must write every single day of your life…You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads….may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.”