August 11, 2020

Addicted To Distraction


"Resistance hates two qualities above all others: concentration and depth. Why? Because when we work with focus and we work deep, we succeed. (...) Resistance wants to keep us shallow and unfocused. So it makes the superficial and the vain intoxicating."
~Turning Pro, by Steven Pressfield.

As mentioned in an older post that refers to Steven Pressfield's book The War of Art, Resistance is that part of our brain that's trying to do everything it can in its power to not follow our dreams. Because following our dreams is hard, a path fraught with risk. So it'll throw tons of things at us to distract us from doing the work.

Resistance is a Very Powerful Enemy.

And our modern world takes full advantage of that. It wants us to stay distracted, enticing us with dopamine-releasing strategies that will only get us even more addicted to them. Like binge-watching TV shows and movies, playing games, scrolling through our friends' (and the occasional celebrity's) pics on IG and FB, or through their videos on TikTok, or shopping.

Oh, how easy it is to fall pray to Resistance and let ourselves become a "shadow" of our true selves. Even letting ourselves be controlled by a day job can be considered a distraction! Why? Because all these things are pulling us away from our calling, from doing what is needed to turn our ambition into a reality.

I, like so many people, am guilty of this as well (I totally like to play app games while binge-watching, distractedly, whole series on Netflix, for instance). Worse, due to outside (dark) forces, I was already finding it really hard to concentrate at all (double-whammy!). Brain fog is no laughing matter (the fact that COVID causes this as well, on top of all the other nasty effects, is really scary too).

But I don't want to let my own life slip through my fingers. The battle is constant, and will always be a part of our lives, so I need to keep reminding myself that I need to put my butt in the chair and work on my storytelling, like any pro would, with focus and depth.

Otherwise my dreams will be just that.

Dreams.


----Edit---

I just saw this new Ted Talk today (Aug 12) where actor Ethan Hawke talks about what creativity truly means, and how vital it is to our lives. If you have a listen, you'll see how perfectly aligned his statements are with what's mentioned above :)




----End Edit----

Additional Sources:

Television, Videogames, and Other Stimuli That Hijack Your Brain's Dopamine Reward System

Dopamine, Smartphones & You: A battle for your time


August 6, 2020

Ambition

"Ambition, I have come to believe, is the most primal and sacred fundament of our being. To feel ambition and to act upon it is to embrace the unique calling of our souls. Not to act upon that ambition is to turn out backs on ourselves and on the reason for our existence."
~Turning Pro, by Steven Pressfield

August 1, 2020

August 1913 - The Year Before The Storm

Ford assembly line in 1913

Anecdotes of the month include:

  • Aug 3:
    Artist suffocates inside a pile of sand at Berlin Jungfernheide.
    His art consisted of being buried alive for up to five minutes at a time, but today, his director got carried away by a conversation, and forgot to excavate him until ten minutes had already passed.
  • Aug. 16:
    For the first time ever, an assembly line is put together at the Ford automobile factory, in Detroit.
  • Aug 22:
    The Austro-Hungarian army wants to strengthen itself, and so starts a search for deserters from military service. The police publish a missing persons notice:
    'Hietler, Adolf,
    last known residence in a men's hostel in Meldemannstrasse, Vienna,
    current residence unknown,
    enquiries under way.'
  • Aug 28:
    Celebrations of Goethe's birthday.
    Emperor Franz Joseph goes hunting and shoots a goat.

Source:

July 14, 2020

Of M.I.C.E. & Writers

Amazing artwork by j.Dickenson

As mentioned in a previous post, I've been listening to a lot of podcasts lately, and recently listened to Writing Excuse's Season 6 episode 10 on Orson Scott Card's M.I.C.E. Quotient. According to the

According to Orson Scott Card, as depicted in his books Characters & Viewpoints and How To Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, every story revolves around the following 4 concepts, with one of these taking precedence over the other three:


  1. Milieu - the setting of the story is the main ingredient. It usually starts when you enter a new place (ex: Narnia), and ends when you finally leave it again.
  2. Idea - where the story starts off with a question (who committed this atrocious murder?) and ends with the answer (the vicar).
  3. Character - where the story is driven by a character who's unsatisfied with her/his life, and it ends when that character's gotten his/her desired goal, or simply accepts their initial lot (farm boy wants to become a Jedi like his father)
  4. Event - something awful happens that changes everything, and the story ends with either a solution to the problem...or everyone dies (the volcano erupted!)
Art by Terese Nielsen
Not only can you use this Quotient to devise your entire story, but you can also use it to shape each of your scenes and chapters. You can therefore explore all of these concepts throughout the book. 

But whenever you use one, you need to make sure you finish it (for proper closure), and this should normally be done in a Last-In-First-Out way. I.e., if you introduced an idea, then later an event, the problem of that event will be solved before you get the answer to your idea's question.

The podcast episodes also brings up another very crucial point: the way you use this Quotient is also a way for you to set your readers' expectations. If your story is a mystery (and therefore follows mostly the Idea concept), you can't have a large question at the start of your novel...only to end the book without ever answering that question (the detective decides to never solve the case, nooooo!!!).

You can listen to the full podcast episode here, and get great examples from the hosts for all of these points!

July 1, 2020

July 1913 - The Year Before The Storm...With A Side Of Neurasthenia

Robert Musil never finished
his novel, The Man Without Qualities
July 1913. Quite a wet month in Prussia.

It also sees war break out between Serbia and Bulgaria over land in Macedonia. Turkey, Greece and Romania join in the fray, but neither Emperor Franz Joseph nor his heir, Franz Ferdinand, want their summer holidays disturbed (including by each other, as they're staying in two distinct castles).

The curators of the Berlin museum are finally exhibiting the results of the latest archaeological digs found in Egypt. However, they keep their best piece--the bust of Queen Nefertiti--safely in storage, afraid that "if everything taken from the country in January 1913 were put on display, the Egyptians would soon start demanding the return of their works."

In the meantime, Austrian philosophical writer Robert Musil is given sick leave from the Technical College in Vienna where he is a librarian. Reason: he wanted more time to write. Duration: six months. Official cause given: neurasthenia involving the heart.

***

Neurasthenia, the malady of the beginning of the 20th century. According to Philip Blom, "[i]n 1900, the most profound change of all was that in the relationship between men and women, and many indications point towards a deep anxiety on the part of men whose position seemed no longer secure.
   For the first time in European history women were being educated en masse, earning their own money, demanding the vote and, crucially, suggesting that in an industrial age physical strength and martial values were becoming useless. Men reacted with an aggressive restatement of the old values; never before had so many uniforms been seen on the street or so many duels fought, never before had there been so many classified advertisements for treatments allegedly curing 'male maladies' and 'weak nerves'; and never before had so many men complained of exhaustion and nervousness, and found themselves to be admitted to sanatoriums and even mental hospitals.
(...)
   [N]eurosis became a leading idea not only in fiction, but also in medicine.
(...)
   The symptoms of this mysterious condition had first been described in 1869 by George Miller Beard, an American doctor with a penchant for spectacular therapies, who observed in an alarming proportion of his patients a malaise that he called 'neurasthenia' -- an exhaustion of the nerves. Beard's treatments for this mysterious disorder ranged from cannabis and caffeine to wine, 'particularly claret and Burgundy,' and to electrodes applied to the bodies of his patients. 
(...)
   In 1901 the writer John Girdner suggested a different name for this mystery sickness: Newyorktitis, a special inflammation of the nerves resulting from life in big cities. ... What shocked the medical establishment (and no doubt added urgency to the problem) was that this wave of nervous exhaustion had nothing to do with the hysteria that male doctors had long diagnosed in women. Grown, professional men were collapsing. Judges, lawyers, teachers and engineers were suddenly unable to cope with their lives.

(...)

   Overwork was a common theme in the patients' histories. In fact, the condition seemed to target those who were most successfully living the lives of modern people - mobile, professional, hard-working, often with university degrees.
(...)
   A survey of one mental hospital in 1893 found that among nearly 600 cases, there were almost 200 businessmen, 130 civil servants, 68 teachers, 56 students and 11 farmers (there were no manual workers at this clinic) [who were neurasthenic]. Neurasthenia, the overheating and exhaustion of the nerves, affected mainly white-collar workers, overwhelmed by the demands placed on them.
(...)
   Was neurasthenia an illness of successful middle-class men? Of course it was not as simple as that. But workers who were institutionalized for 'shattered nerves' usually complained about the pressure of piecework and the noise and danger of the large machines they operated, while a large proportion of the women treated broke down under the strain of working, studying and trying to win a place in the world. These are conditions that today's doctors would diagnose as different from the feelings of inadequacy and the battles with their sexual selves that were related by the overwhelming majority of male patients from the worlds of business, academia or government. Neurasthenia was a condition that illuminated the emotional constellations of its time."

And thus, neurasthenia became the illness of the age.



Sources:
Anecdotes: 1913, The Year Before The Storm, by Florian Illies
Neurasthenia: The Vertigo Years, by Philip Blom

June 22, 2020

Favorite Podcasts For Writers


With the confinement, I've gotten to spend a lot more time walking than I used to (no wasted time commuting to work as I get to work from home + avoiding public transportation as much as possible).

And, to make these sessions doubly productive, I have taken to listening to a lot of podcasts, mostly on writing and publishing, of course :)

So here's my current list of favorite podcasts, which I thought some of you might enjoy as well:



  • On Writing:
    • Writing Excuses - A podcast started by Brandon Sanderson, Howard Taylor, and Dan Wells, though the hosts have shifted over the seasons, to including other great authors such as Mary Robinette Kowal. They give 15-minute talks on specific writing-related topics that manage to be both highly instructive, as well as very entertaining
    • Alone In A Room With Invisible People - A mother-daughter (Holly Lisle & Rebecca Galardo) podcast that digs deep into how to write fiction. Their podcasts are on the longer side (1 hour if not more), but I still love listening to them discuss what they've accomplished that week (including successes and struggles as authors), as well as going through exercises on how to improve their own stories & writing.
  • On Publishing & Writing:
    • The Creative Penn - Hosted by JoAnna Penn, a famous author/instructor in the indie publishing space, this podcast regularly interviews other people in the industry to give a better understanding of various topics such as: writing, editing, publishing, marketing. I really like her podcasts too, because she tends to also bring topics outside of the box, such as how to remain healthy (staying with a butt in a chair all day long isn't helpful), and also the future of the industry overall (how is AI going to alter our space, and how can we take advantage of it?)
    • The Self-Publishing Show - Hosted by Mark Dawson (a bestseller of thrillers, as well as one of the top names in the self-publishing industry in terms of marketing courses) and James Blatch (great interviewer, as well as a first-time author). Like Joanna Penn, they interview many different people on the art of writing, and the business of publishing. Always in a fun ambiance too.
    • Six Figure Authors - This podcast is hosted by three SFF authors who are full-time authors. They discuss all sorts of topics related to writing, publishing and marketing, particularly what's gotten them (and keeping them) in the six-figure income category each year. The hosts, Lindsay Buroker, Joe Lallo, and Andrea Pearson are all great fun to listen to!

  • Writing & Publishing News:
    • Sell More Books Show - This weekly podcast is hosted by Bryan Cohen and H. Claire Taylor, and is a great way to find out the top items (including tips) to have impacted the writing/publishing markets over the past few days. I particularly like listening to their takes on each item, as they bring out a lot of their own experience in their discussions.
These are my definite go-tos at the moment. What about you? Are there any writing/publishing podcasts you particularly like, that you think I should give a listen to?

June 1, 2020

June 1913 - Chronicles of the Year Before The Great War

Postcard for Kaiser Wilhelm II Silver Jubilee
Peace advocate Norman Angell is on a tour, coinciding with the republication of his book The Great Illusion, and which prompts the President of Stanford University, David Starr Jordan, to state "The Great War in Europe, that eternal threat, will never come. The bankers won't come up with the money needed for such a war, and industry won't support it, so the statesmen simply won't be able to do it. There will be no Great War."

In fact, after 25 years of rule, Wilhelm II wishes to be called the Emperor of Peace at his silver jubilee. Yet, a few days later, the Reichstag passes a military bill "approving the increase of peacetime troops by 117,267 men to 661,478."

Perhaps not quite that peaceful...

Source: Florian Illies's 1913 - The Year Before The Storm

May 21, 2020

Who Are You?

Image by Lisa Runnels

I am constantly working to improve my craft, spending hours reading books and listening to classes and podcasts on storytelling (and everything that involves publishing). Although, I admit that, due to my short attention span (I spend all my "concentration units" on actually writing, and the day job), I'm pretty far behind... 😋

Anywho, I've been working on two projects at the same time (technically three if you count the Arthur-based short story I'm also writing to give out via my newsletter), the writing of the Morgana Trilogy prequel, and the planning of my next book (hint: it's another fantasy story! ^^).

And, while doing so, I'd fallen on a video chat between authors Veronica Roth and Seanan McGuire about planning a series, where they mention at some point the book Story Genius (even swearing by it).

So, of course, I just had to get my hands on it! And immediately used it to plan my next book, as well as to make notes for my revision of the Morgana Trilogy prequel.

Because what's really intriguing about Story Genius, is that it doesn't focus on the what (what happens when to keep things exciting--more explosions and gore everyone!), but on the Who. Because only by knowing who the hero(ine) is, can one truly feel and root for him (her).

This has really turned into a fascinating exercise for me, because we're talking about discovering who your protag is truly--what drives him to act/think the way he does? What caused her to think that way in the first place (the origin of the protag's misbelief that shattered her previous world vision and makes her react the way she does now).

By following the exercises in the book, I've gotten to truly delve into my main characters' pasts and understand, in detail, what shattering moment affected them, and is still coloring everything they do now. And I'm still not even 50% of the way through!
Image by Alexandra Haynak

I'm even more amazed at this, because to be quite frank, I've never been very good at expressing my feelings, whether vocally or on paper (even when through my own characters). It's like every time that I try to, there's this rock blocking my airway, and I have to push painfully past it to do so (psychological aside, I wonder if this isn't because I have a hard time explaining why I feel the way I do...or why my characters do).

But by following the process in Story Genius, I'm actually being gently pushed into discovering my protagonists' inner depths, which, incidentally, also means I'm finding new scenes to incorporate into my story.

I'm very much looking forward to reading the rest of Story Genius and discovering more of my main characters this way!

May 12, 2020

The Ogham Alphabet


Those of you who have read the Morgana Trilogy know that I've been inspired by the Ogham Alphabet a lot (as well as Norse Runes), combining it with a key Fey feature to make it a central plot point in my stories.


So here's a little more on what the Ogham Alphabet is, historically-speaking:


  • The word "Ogham" derives from the Irish god Ogman, the god of poetry and learning (who, like the god Thot in Ancient Egypt, was said to have created the alphabet)
  • The alphabet is sometimes referred to as Beth Luis Nuin, after the original (Gaelic) first three letters of the Ogham Alphabet.
  • They were carved singly, or in groups of up to five --> 20 different characters could be created.
  • The basis of each letter is a vertical line and characters are lines branching to the left and right from it --> like a tree (the Ogham Tree)
    • Because of this, letters were named after trees: Beth is birch, Luis is roan; and Nuin is ash.
    • The whole alphabet is therefore considered like a forest.
  • "Individual trees held high symbolic significance, so the forest alphabet was deemed to be a repository of wisdom. The word for 'knowledge' also means 'wood'."
  • Inscriptions are read from the bottom up, the way a tree grows.



Of course, I used what I wanted from this (mostly using the term "ogham" along with Norse runes--the horror!), and then grouped each into different elemental categories. These, in turn, became the basis for calling out the basic Fey powers for the knights to use. My intention was to keep historical oghams for more complexe Fey beings, but that just didn't happen in this series...


Source:
The Element Encyclopedia of the Celts, by Rodney Castleden

May 10, 2020

The Leader of Heaven Has Left the Nation Without a Roof

The Death of King Arthur, by James Archer

Here is a translation from the funeral ode Marwnad Uthyr Pendragon which can be found in Rodney Castleden's The Element Encyclopedia of the Celts

The entry tells us that, although this was at one time thought to be instead an ode to King Arthur's father, Uther Pendragon, the word "uter" can actually be an adjective that can mean either "Terrible" or "Wonderful."

"Pendragon," on the other hand, was a Celtic title for the dux bellorum or High King (the titles are also mentioned in my previous post on King Arthur).

Which means that the following excerpt of the funeral ode could be for none other than King Arthur instead:

They crave with longing for a portion of your cause
And for refuge in the manliness of Arthur.
They long for your coming in a hundred fortresses.
A hundred manors long for your assurances.
They long for your coming in a hundred schools.
A hundred chieftains long for your coming:
The great and mighty sword that supported them. 
They look for your best judgments of merit,
The restoration of principalities.
Your sayings are remembered, soothing the aggressive.
...
The Leader of Heaven has left the nation without a roof.


May 1, 2020

May 1913 - Chronicles Of The Year Before The Great War

In May 1913, Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring is played and danced for the first time, at the newly-opened ThĂ©Ăąthre des Champs-ElysĂ©es. The cream of the crop of the artistic world is there to witness it: Gabriele d'Annunzio, Claude Debussy, Nijinski, Maurice Ravel, AndrĂ© Gide, Diaghilev, Marcel Duchamp, and Coco Chanel.

"From the first note of the extremely high solo bassoon, roars of laughter can be heard--is that music, or a spring storm, or the noise of hell the outraged audience wants to know. Drumming everywhere, up on stage the dancers are in ecstatic motion--there's laughter, then, when the Parisians realize it is meant seriously, shouting. The devotees of the Modern, on the other hand, applaud from the cheap seats, the music rages on and the dancers get tangled up; they can no longer hear the music for all the noise."

It got so rowdy that the theater manager had to momentarily turn off the lights in the middle of the performance. This didn't stop the musicians from playing (despite getting things thrown at them), nor the dancers from dancing, despite the 'shouting and screeching.'

And thus was first received The Rite of Spring on May 29, 1913.

Source: Florian Illies's 1913 - The Year Before The Storm




April 20, 2020

Discourse of a Defeated King to his Victor

Caratacus giving the speech of his life before Roman Emperor Claudius

"If the degree of my nobility and fortune had been matched by moderation in success, I would have come to this City as a friend rather than a captive; nor wold you have disdained to receive with a treaty of peace one sprung from brilliant ancestors and commanding a great many nations.

But my present lot, disfiguring as it is for me, is magnificent for you. I had horses, men, arms, and wealth: what wonder if I was unwilling to lose them? If you wish to command everyone, does it really follow that everyone should accept your slavery?

If I were now being handed over as one who had surrendered immediately; neither my fortune nor your glory would have achieved brilliance. It is also true that in my case any reprisal will be followed by oblivion. On the other hand, if you preserve me safe and sound, I shall be an eternal example of your clemency."

King Caratacus of the Catuvellauni tribe
1st c. AD
Speech to the Roman Senate after 
being taken to Rome as prisoner.
He'd been captured by Queen Cartimandua
who handed him over to the Romans.
This speech saved his life.

Source:

April 16, 2020

When The Initial Meaning Gets Lost - An Anecdote


Today, we shall travel to France, in the second half of the 19th century...

We see General Boulanger, a dashing military and political man with a well-maintained red beard, pass in front of a dark hallway inside the War Ministry's buildings. Thinking to have found a shortcut, he decides to take it, when a senior officer stationed there stops him.

"I'm sorry, General, but you may not enter here."

Confused, the general asks, "Whyever not?"

The senior officer shifts uncomfortably from one polished boot to the other. "I do not know, General. But it has been the case for as long as I remember. And the order is clear: we cannot let anyone through under any condition."

Intrigued, General Boulanger had the War Ministry's archives searched for the reason for that order. And, finally, after days of search, they found it.

The order had been given in 1839; forty-seven years prior, to not let anyone into the passage as it had just been repainted. They simply forgot to issue new orders once the paint had dried...

***

Interesting tidbit, to me, about General Boulanger, is that he died here in Brussels! Wonder if I can find his tomb at the Ixelles cemetery...

April 10, 2020

Getting Yourself To Work On Your (Dream) Project

But being a couch potato is sooooo tempting!
Image by Alexas Fotos
I have a confession to make: I am the queen of Procrastination, the Duchess of Laziness. I once told to my dad (must've been around 7 or 8) that "going to Harvard is good for the brain, but working is so hard!" (And before you ask, nope, did not go to Harvard...though I did work my butt off in college :) ).

Add to that the fact that (1) I've had some pretty bad illnesses which have forced me to be careful (no burning the midnight oil all the time) and slow down (sometimes stopping all activity for weeks at a time), and (2) work at the day job...makes it really easy for me to make up excuses not to get any writing done, if I don't want to.

Worse, I oftentimes end up not enjoying this unplanned time off away from my writing projects. I go to bed feeling restless, like I don't deserve to set my head on the pillow. This means this R&R time, which is supposed to be enjoyable, further drains me of energy (unlike planned time off, where I give myself the freedom to enjoy not doing anything, and therefore relieves me from the stress of guilt). A drain that further entrenches me into my inaction (hello couch potato!).

Here's the interesting point I have noted, however: If I get myself to get off my couch/bed/other to actually do something a little more active (work on my stories, do some art, go for a long walk 'cause, you know, being a couch potato doesn't help shed those extra lbs), I find myself recharged.
Image by GraphicMama-team

And lo and behold, I'm suddenly motivated to get some work done again!

With this observation, I know I need to fight down my natural proclivity to procrastinate, and be disciplined on my working on my storytelling. Every. Day. As they say, a rolling stone gathers no moss, and it's oh-so-very true. The law of inertia exerts extra pressure on me when I've reverted to my couch potato mode.

So yeah, discipline.

Here's what author and entrepreneur Kristine Kathryn Rusch says on the subject:

Gaining discipline is a series of mind games. Your mind will find good and effective ways to stop you. You have to figure out ways around them. (...) Discipline is not about forcing yourself to improve. It's about wanting to get better.

One way she and I both find helps in being disciplined with our pursuit, is to make sure we don't start on something that we know is going to distract us (reading, watching TV, playing video games) before we've done what needs doing first (like writing).

The key, like the frog-eating guy has stated, is to handle what needs to be handled first (and it's usually our "ugliest frogs" aka the Most-Import things the gods of procrastination often tell us to do last...such as working on my stories, in my case). And if we do that, repeatedly, we'll find success at last, and feel much better about ourselves.
Picture by OpenClipart-Vectors

In fact, according to Eat That Frog!:

The ability to concentrate single-mindedly on your most important task, to do it well and to finish it completely, is the key to great success, achievement, respect, status, and happiness in life.

So, what important project do you need/want to accomplish? One that will, despite the hard work, make your soul soar and make you proud of yourself?

Now make sure you work on that project first thing in the morning, before Life gets in your way.

For instance, I wake up extra early to get some writing done before going to the day job. Or, if that isn't possible, work on that project before you start other activities when you finish work. Perhaps stop by another place before you head home (that's what I need to do, when not in confinement, because if I sit in my couch, I know it'll be Game Over for me), or even stay in your parked car an extra 5-10 minutes to work on your project before you get inside your home.

Image by Alexas Fotos
Have fun creating! :)

PS: A small tip--if a task seems overwhelming, breaking it into smaller, bite-sized tasks helps. (1) You're less likely to freak out and have a sort of fear-paralysis. (2) When you finish it, you'll release some dopamine in your brain (rewarding hormone), feel good about yourself, and more often than not, get the boost to move on to the next task. And before you know it, you'll have accomplished a lot more than you thought!

PS2: Kristine Kathryn Rusch has extra notes on how her brain tries to trick her into getting her away from her core business of writing, particularly when the work is getting tough (which it inevitably does at some point or another). Highly recommend you read it here.

April 1, 2020

April 1913 - Chronicles Of The Year Before The Great War

Vienna State Opera House by A. Hitler
The Woolworth building, the tallest building in the world (and will remain so for nearly 20 years), is finally completed after three years of construction. "At exactly half-past seven in the evening of 24 April, the American President, Woodrow Wilson, presses a button on his desk in the White House and sends a telegraphic signal to New York. This triggers the simultaneous illumination of 80,000 light bulbs in the newly finished building. ... Thousands of onlookers are waiting in the New York darkness for the moment of illumination. The tallest lighthouse in the world can be seen from far inland, and by great ships up to a hundred miles at sea."

In contrast to this moment, across the Atlantic ocean, Adolf Hitler's seen his 24th birthday come and go in the dingy, dark insides of his small bedroom. He's been rejected by the art academy, his dream demolished. "But when the talk turns to politics, a spark rushes through him. He throws his paintbrush aside, his eyes flash and he holds blazing speeches about the immoral state of the world in general, and of Vienna in particular. It can't go on, he screams, there are more Czechs living in Vienna than there are in Prague, more Jews than in Jerusalem and more Croats than in Zagreb. He flings back his strand of black hair. He sweats. Then, all of a sudden, he breaks off from his diatribe, sits back down and turns his attention to his watercolors."

Source: Florian Illies's 1913 - The Year Before The Storm

March 29, 2020

A Historical King Arthur

Sword in the Stone
Image by Matt Rogers 
I don't know how popular or not King Arthur mythologies are in the US, but they are rather prevalent here in Europe.

Of course, Europe is the seat of the medieval knight, and chivalric tales have been sung by troubadours, poets, and writers in every part of the old continent (and still are, as I saw that the British TV series Merlin is now available on Netflix* or Amazon). And I know that they've found a certain echo in America too (with a bunch of Hollywood (or similar) films such as First Knight, King Arthur, Kingdom of Heaven, cartoons such as The Sword in the Stone and Quest for Camelot, and literature such as Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court).

Yet, even then, I still get a lot of blank faces when talking about Arthurian mythology to many of my compatriots. I wonder, would this be different if King Arthur had been a real person?

Morgana Pendragon vs. Luther in Merlin

I've recently cracked open The Element Encyclopedia of the Celts by Rodney Castleden which I found tucked away in my library** so here are some portions of the author's explanations as to why Arthur may have existed after all:


  • King Arthur as Great King. This title (or rather that of dux bellorum) might have been conferred to him (despite his questionable parentage, his prowess was renowned) so he could lead a joint war force against the Saxons.
  • There are two dated references of our hero in the Exeter Annals:
    • 516 - Battle of Badon, "in which Arthur carried the cross of our lord Jesus Christ on his shoulders for three days and three nights, and the British were victors."
    • 537 - Strife of Camlann, "in which Arthur and Medraut perished [or fell]."
  • Gildas, a 6th c. monk who wrote, among other things The Ruin of Britain doesn't mention him by name directly (which some deem to mean Arthur couldn't have existed), but he also had a tendency to use nicknames to talk about people already famous in his era. And one of these nicknames was "the Bear" which, in Welsh, is "Arth."
  • The Easter Annals imply that King Arthur fought most of his wars against the Saxons in the 6th c. between the two battles mentioned above. Possibly as the King of Dumnonia (which covered territory now covered by Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, and Dorset).
  • Killibury as Arthur's main castle:
    • Welsh tradition holds that Arthur's primary court was at Kelliwic (aka Killibury) (mentioned in Three Tribal Thrones of the Island of Britain, and the poem Culhwch and Olwen).
    • King Arthur by
      Charles Ernest Butler
    • An old name for Castle Killibury is Kelly Rounds, and an Anglo-Saxon charter mentiones a place called "Caellwic."
  • Tintagel Island - it was not a permanent settlement, but rather a place for special occasions: "The footprint carved into the living rock at the island's summit marks it as the coronation place ... This was where Arthur drew his power from the stone."
  • King Arthur had to travel a lot around his kingdoms to defend them against the Saxon invaders, to keep the peace, and to grow his subjects' loyalty toward him.
  • What about Camelot? The name might be derived from the Celtic war god's name, "Camulos." So perhaps Camelot was the name for a war gathering, and therefore moved whenever Arthur and his knights moved.
  • Arthur's final battle:
    • Likely place was Pont ar Gamlan (a place at the confluence of two rivers in northern Wales). The Gamlan river flows into one of these not too far from there too, and its name is very similar to the final battle's name (Camlann).
    • In Welsh, cadgamlan means "a complete massacre.
    • This place is far from the Saxons to the east of Arthur's territory, but all the tales point to Arthur's demise coming instead from internecine wars: Arthur was betrayed by someone close to him (some say his nephew Modred or Medraut).
    • This location implies Arthur was on his way north to the territory of king Maelgwn in Anglesey who might be the one who betrayed Arthur. Maelgwyn is actually one of those people that Gildas condemns in his writings for murdering his own uncle to become king.
    • King Maelgwyn won the High Kingship after this battle, and King Arthur disappears from history ever since.
    • "If Maelgwn was indeed responsible for the death of Arthur and for bringing the Arthurian peaceto an end, Gildas's extraordinary hatred and condemnation of Maelgwn's many-sided wickedness becomes understandable. Arthur was behnid the golden years of relative stability and justice between the Battles of Badon and Camlann, and those years came to an end with his final defeat."
  • What become of Arthur's body?
    • Welsh tradition: He was mortally wounded at the last battle and carried elsewhere to die. And the people close to him didn't want to spread panic amongst his kingdoms until a successor was found.
    • Cornish/Breton tradition: He survived the battle and was taken elsewhere (Avalon?) to be treated. This could also be likely, as "it was common for Dark Age kings to retire when they became physically incapable of fighting through age or infirmity. They withdrew from public life completely by entering monasteries." (After all, Avalon is supposed to be a Holy Place.)
    • If Arthur's reign ended the day he lost his final battle, but he still survived a few more years in secret confinement, it would explain why there are some inconsistencies for Arthur's death (537, the date of the Battle of Camlann, or 539 as mentioned by Geoffrey of Monmouth).
The Last Sleep of King Arthur by Edward Burne-Jones


But perhaps people's lack of enthusiasm these days with regards to King Arthur versus, say, Robin Hood, has nothing to do with how historical or not he was, but with the fact that his mythology has a rather sad ending?

After all, according to Rodney Castleden, "a distinctive feature of the Celts is dwelling on defeats; there is wailing, keening, lamentation, and nostalgia. A. L. Rouse commented, "It was the hero of the losing side, King Arthur, who imposed himself on the imagination." Arthur became a symbol of the glory of Britain as it once was and might yet have been, but for its destruction by the Saxon invaders. He was the perfect symbol of a kingdom and a culture lost."

And this attitude is, however poetic, not a very American trait...

What about you? What is it about Arthurian mythology that you like?


*I have yet to watch it...
**That's the trouble with purchasing LOTS of books all the time, you kind of lose track of what you do, or don't, have in your own library. Still, considering I am still within the Morgana Trilogy world which was inspired by such tales (in fact, I am currently working on a prequel at the behest of some awesome readers), thought I'd read it from cover to cover :)

(Re)Sources:


  1. The Element Encyclopedia of the Celts is a very handy little book with tons of different types of entries on items that touch on the Celts. From historical characters, to mythological creatures and people, and religious, political, societal items and facts. It is very well-researched, and sometimes includes some particular views and theses of the author which I find make this work even more interesting!
    It's separated into six parts:

    1. Celtic People and Lifestyle
    2. Celtic Places
    3. Celtic Religion
    4. Myths, Legends, and Stories
    5. Symbols, Ideas, and Archetypes
    6. Celtic Twilight and Revival
  2. Chivalric romance tales mostly centered around Ancient Greece (Trojan War, Alexander the Great), France (Charlemagne and his knight Roland), and British (King Arthur, the Holy Grail epics): Wiki

March 1, 2020

March 1913 - Chronicles Of The Year Before The Great War

Reclining Nude by Gustav Klimt

March 1913. Last few days of the Winter Season. The Fed (aka Federal Reserve Bank) is founded. Funnily enough, this is a private venture, independent of Congress despite Congress having created it, and some of its biggest shareholders and members of this new system are "the banking houses Rothschild, Lazard, Warburg, Lehmann, Rockefellers Chase Manhattan and Goldman Sachs."

On the old continent, Gustav Klimt still paints in his studio. He likes to do so naked under his apron, "so that he can take it off quickly when desire overwhelms him and the pose of one of his models becomes too seductive for the man inside the painter." Virginia Woolf sends her first book, The Voyage Out, to her publisher (it will not be very successful when it comes out).

It is in March 1913, also, that Harry Graff Kessler meets the English queen at a big dinner hosted at the German Embassy in London. Queen Consort Mary, according to Kessler, "'looked reasonably good, in silver brocade with a crown of diamonds and big turquoise stones.'  Otherwise she was rather a trial: 'I couldn't leave her standing on her own, and she couldn't find a way out of the conversation, and you have to keep winding the poor thing up like a run-down watch, but that only works for thirty seconds at a time.' Incidentally, as he confides to his diary, there is no threat of war, or so he has heard: 'The European situation  has been completely reversed for a year and a half. The Russians and the French are forced to be peaceful, as they can no longer rely on England's support.'"

Source: Florian Illies's 1913 - The Year Before The Storm


February 1, 2020

February 1913 - Chronicles Of The Year Before The Great War

Woolworth building
Grand Central terminal
According to Florian Illies's 1913 - The Year Before The Storm, just a day
before Valentine's day 1913, Professor Rudolf Steiner gives a lecture, in which he talks of the impending doom he senses, but attenuated by a feeling of hope for new things to spring after:

For in those dying forces we finally sense, even see, the forces preparing themselves for the future, and in the sunset, the promise and hope of a new dawn moves closer to us. Our souls must always respond to human evolution in such a way that we tell ourselves: All progress is so. When what we have created turns to ruin, we know that out of those ruins, new life will blossom forth.

But was Steiner aware of the heavy sacrifices humanity would have to bear for this new era to come forth? 

In other news, in February 1913 Stalin returns (illegally) to Russia, undercover as a woman, only to be captured in St. Petersburg and subsequently exiled to Siberia; the Woolworth building in NYC is completed, the first building to beat the Eiffel tower in height; the Central Station in NYC is also finished; artists are turning more and more towards the abstract; Arnold Schönberg has his Gurrelieder performed, which includes 5 vocalists, 3 4-part male choirs, and a 150-piece orchestra; Charles Fabry is about to discover the ozone layer; and in Vienna, a real Beauty and the Beast scenario unfolds with the intense (though short-lived) romance between reputedly beautiful Alma Mahler and the supposed ugliest of painters Oskar Kokoschka.
Alma Mahler and Kokoschka
as painted by the artist

January 1, 2020

January 1913 - Chronicles of the Year Before The Great War

Louis Armstrong, who gave us, amongst
many other wonderful pieces
"What a Wonderful World"
2020.

Will it be a magical year, where people finally unite to repair wrongs and build a better and brighter future...or will it instead toll the dramatic and painful end to another era (unless we are already in its throes)? 'Another,' for as history demonstrates, though we keep expanding our knowledge, we are still prone to repeating history in never-ending cycles.

It is with this in mind (as well as research for a future book series), that I've been reading about the beginning of the 20th century.

The years leading to 1914, the end of the Belle Epoque, were full of sudden bursts of creativity and scientific/technological advancements, sometimes so quick people couldn't cope with them.

Velocity can be frightening as well as deeply exhilarating, and it is this fear and rejection of change that also echoes across the century. In 1900 the most profound change of all was that in the relationship between men and women, and many indications point towards a deep anxiety on the part of men whose position seemed no longer secure. For the first time in European history women were being educated en masse, earning their own money, demanding the vote and, crucially, suggesting that in an industrial age physical strength and martial virtues were becoming useless. Men reacted with an aggressive restatement of the old values; never before had so many uniforms been seen on the street or so many duels fought, never before had there been so many classified advertisements for treatments allegedly curing 'male maladies' and 'weak nerves'; and never before had so many men complained of exhaustion and nervousness, and found themselves admitted to sanatoriums and even mental hospitals. (The Vertigo Years Introduction by Philipp Blom)

Could anyone have predicted that this deep malaise felt across the Western World would have led to something as horrendous and catastrophic as the first World War, even for those who'd relished the idea of going to war in the first place?
Art by Esra GĂŒlmen

Thus we start the year 1913 (or 1912+1), as Florian Illies describes quite charmingly in his book 1913 - The Year Before The Storm, with a gunshot in New Orleans. The shooter? Twelve year old Louis Armstrong. But when he's sent to the Colored Waifs' Home for Boys, where its director hands him a trumpet, and thus the world was gifted with wonderful music for years to come.

January 1913 is also when Stalin arrives in Vienna, engrossed in the writing of his Marxism and the National Question; Sigmund Freud adopts a stray cat who'll witness the end of his relationship with former student Carl G. Jung; Vanity Fair is launched; the bust of Nefertiti is discovered in Egypt to be whisked away to Germany; Austrian figure-skater Alois Lutz comes up with a spinning jump that still bears his name; ecstasy is born; all while the sinking of the Titanic is still a tragedy much talked of.

The world is still spinning on, and yet...