September 20, 2022

Wednesday Writing Prompt 15

 


Happy 🐪 Day!

Here's this week's writing prompt:

1.      You find a ceramic of a cute frog in an old furniture store. As a joke, you kiss it one night, and are shocked when the statue does transform.


September 13, 2022

Wednesday Writing Prompt 14

 


Happy 🐪 Day!

Here's this week's writing prompt: 

1.      The world is falling apart, but you were never one to give up, so you come up with a plan to save it, and need to bring your community together to help you.


September 6, 2022

Wednesday Writing Prompt 13

 


Happy 🐪 Day!

Here's this week's writing prompt: 

1.      One day, as you stare out of the living room window, you see someone who looks just like you on the other side of the street, staring right back at you.


August 30, 2022

Wednesday Writing Prompt 12

 


Happy 🐪 Day!

Here's this week's writing prompt: 

1.      You’re out running in the park when you literally stumble into the person who bullied you in seventh grade.


August 23, 2022

Wednesday Writing Prompt 11

 


Happy 🐪 Day!

Here's this week's writing prompt: 

You’re about to get married, but something keeps nagging at you as you stare at your partner smiling at you like they always do.

August 16, 2022

Wednesday Writing Prompt 10

 


Happy 🐪 Day!

Here's this week's writing prompt: 

You go to a school fair, where one of the kids reads your fortune. And it turns out to be eerily accurate.

August 9, 2022

Wednesday Writing Prompt 09

 


Happy 🐪 Day!

Here's this week's writing prompt: 

1.      The bookstore down the street is closing, so you finally decide to check it out. But when you do, things are utterly different than what you’d expected.


August 2, 2022

Wednesday Writing Prompt 08

 


Happy 🐪 Day!

Here's this week's writing prompt: 

1.      A neighborhood dog won’t stop barking, keeping you awake at night. Finally, you decide to get up and do something about it.


August 1, 2022

Appealing To Our Baser Instincts


"Shallow are the souls that have forgotten how to shudder."
Leon Kass, The Wisdom of Repugnance

In a world of intense turmoil, where everyone and everything seems to be polarized to the extreme, and the earth itself seems completely off-kilter, I find myself reading more and more about the human psyche in hopes of getting an understanding of how we could have ended up in such a state.

Apparently, the splintering of our society can be, in a pretty significant part, attributed to the universal emotion of disgust.

And I'm not talking about the cute emotion Disgust voiced by Mindy Kaling in Pixar's Inside Out (though the movie is great).


Disgust, voiced by Mindy Kaling
source: Time

"Disgust," as explained in a Nature article on the topic, "is related to bodily purity and integrity, with things that should be on the outside--such as faeces--kept out, and things that should be on the inside--such as blood--kept in."

All very natural. But with humans, disgust can go beyond the primary visceral reaction (aka core emotion') in applying the feeling to more abstract situations, including moral issues. For instance, one can feel disgust at the idea of a person being deliberately cruel to a cute, fluffy kitten, just as one could feel disgust at the idea of someone eating their snot. "People labelled as disgusting in this way evoke fears of contamination just as rotting food does."

Turns out the brain can barely distinguish the difference "between core and moral disgust." Both register close to the same way in MRI scans, with lots of overlaps.

So why is disgust then linked to the slow disintegration of our current western society, as mentioned earlier? Because "visceral disgust will sometimes affect ethical judgments." Disgust, you see, can override our higher instincts of empathy and compassion!

The roots of this could be linked to human evolution. Some theories postulate that humans wouldn't have survived, and thrived, if they hadn't been fundamentally kind to each other and cooperative(1). Thus, the article continues, "[i]n making symbolic distinctions between us and them visceral, disgust could potentially foster greater cohesion within groups by bringing people together in defence against a common out-group" (the 'others'). Basically, our disgust of a certain type of individual (say mass murderers) is for the better of the overall society. But it can also be distorted...

"Where core disgust is the guardian of the body, moral disgust acts as the guardian of social body--that's when disgust shows its ugliest side."

This is how propagandists and demagogues have hijacked people's brain throughout history: By causing them to associate a particular group of people with this feeling of utter disgust, until those preached to believe those people are not only 'other,' but also 'enemy.'

"Our moral disgust/indignation brain network is the source of prejudice, stereotyping and sometimes outward aggression." It is therefore highly important for us, whenever we feel disgust, to not react automatically based on that feeling, but to deconstruct our feelings of disgust to truly understand where they stem from before we make any sort of moral judgment. 

Of course, this is easier said than done. But it is crucial if we want to live in a healthy society, for allowing our disgust to become our moral compass--without appealing to our higher feelings of, say, love and understanding--leads to severe injustice and tyranny.

"History seems to bear this out. Women (especially menstruating ones), the mentally and physically disabled, and inter-racial sex have all been viewed with disgust, and are still viewed as such by some."

But what if instead we "cultivat[ed] cultural and personal values of tolerance and empathy" instead? What would our world look like then? How much greater our progress and prosperity?


Sources and Additional Resources:

(1) In Human kind, a Hopeful History*, author Rutger Bregman discusses this very concept of humans being good by nature and are therefore more prone to cooperation and trust, rather than the traditional Law of the Jungle theory that competition and mistrust are what helped us humans survive to this day.

(2) You can read the full article The Depths of Disgust by Dan Jones published in Nature in 2007 here.

(3) I discovered this article thanks to a very interesting thread by Vince Scafaria on Twitter which discusses the current war on democracy led by a number of people, and how they're using this concept of disgust, along with concepts of the Moral Foundation Theory to do so. 

*Disclaimer: Please note that some of the links are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I may earn a commission should you choose to buy the recommended item. If the link is an Amazon link, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

July 26, 2022

Wednesday Writing Prompt 07

 


Happy 🐪 Day!

Here's this week's writing prompt: 

1.      Flowers are delivered for you at the office, with no name written on the card. Just one message.


July 25, 2022

On The Hardships, And Rewards, Of Following Your Heart


I'm going through Steven Pressfield's latest book, Put Your Ass Where Your Heart Wants To Be*, and in chapter 25, he transcribes part of an article that concert pianist James Rhodes had written for The Guardian titled "Find what you love and let it kill you."(1)

I found it fascinating, and inspiring, so I'm sharing it here with you as well:

I didn't play the piano for ten years. A decade of slow death by greed working in the City, chasing something that never existed in the first place (security, self-worth, [etc.]). And only when the pain of not doing it got greater than the imagined pain of doing it did I somehow find the balls to pursue what I really wanted and had been obsessed by since the age of seven--to be a concert pianist.

Admittedly I went a little extreme--no income for five years, six hours a day of intense practice, monthly four-day long lessons with a brilliant and psychopathic teacher in Verona, a hunger for something that was so necessary it cost me my marriage, nine months in a mental hospital, most of my dignity and about thirty-five pounds in weight. And the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is not perhaps the Disney ending I'd envisaged as I lay in bed aged ten listening to Horowitz devouring Rachmaninov at Carnegie Hall.

My life [today] involves endless hours of repetitive and frustrating practising, lonely hotel rooms, dodgy pianos, aggressively bitchy reviews, isolation, confusing airline reward programmes, physiotherapy, stretches of nervous boredom (counting ceiling tiles backstage as the house slowly fills up) punctuated by short moments of extreme pressure (playing 120,000 notes from memory in the right order with the right fingers, the right sound, the right pedalling while chatting about the composers and pieces and knowing there are critics, recording devices, my mum, the ghosts of the past, all there watching), and perhaps most crushingly, the realisation that I will never, ever give the perfect recital. It can only ever, with luck, hard work and a hefty dose of self-forgiveness, be "good enough."

And yet. The indescribably reward of taking a bunch of ink on paper from the shelf at Chappell of Bond Street, tubing it home, setting the score, pencil, coffee and ashtray on the piano and emerging a few days, weeks or months later able to perform something that some mad, genius, lunatic of a composer three hundred years ago heard in his head while out of his mind with grief or love or syphilis. A piece of music that will always baffle the greatest minds in the world, that simply cannot be made sense of, that is still living and floating in the ether and will do so for yet more centuries to come. That is extraordinary. And I did that. I do it, to my continual astonishment, all the time.


Sources:

James Rhodes: Find what you love and let it kill you, The Guardian, April 26, 2013 -- full article

*Disclaimer: Please note that some of the links are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I may earn a commission should you choose to buy the recommended item. If the link is an Amazon link, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

July 19, 2022

Wednesday Writing Prompt 06

 


Happy 🐪 Day!

Here's this week's writing prompt: 

1.      A phone call wakes you up early one morning telling you your father fell down the stairs.


July 12, 2022

Wednesday Writing Prompt 05

 


Happy 🐪 Day!

Here's this week's writing prompt: 

1.      A stranger unexpectedly helps you when you’ve fallen down, and when they leave, you realize that they left something behind.


July 9, 2022

A Famous Belgian Inventor - John-Joseph Merlin

I spend quite a bit of time reading or watching historical documentaries, as I find they always bring up story ideas. Recently, I watched a documentary on the history of clockwork (very relevant for a future series of mine), in which I found out about a famous, and highly-creative belgian engineer:

John-Joseph Merlin.

On top of his fabulous last name, he was also the inventor of many clever and innovative contraptions, the only one which has remained popular to this day (though thankfully other works of his have survived and can be viewed in various museums), are the roller skates.

I know!

If you're curious, I wrote a little bit more about John-Joseph Merlin here :)

July 5, 2022

Wednesday Writing Prompt 04



Happy 🐪 Day!

Here's this week's writing prompt: 

1.      Birds have gathered ominously in your garden, covering every inch of it. And they’re all looking straight at you.


July 4, 2022

The Kuleshov Effect

Back in the first half of the 20th century, Russian film-maker Lev Kuleshov produced a short film in which he alternated shots of an actor after images of a bowl of soup, a girl in a coffin, or a woman reclining in a divan. Each shot of the main actor was exactly the same, yet the audience left the viewing convinced that he had magnificently expressed alternately hunger, grief, and desire.

Kuleshov Effect (1)

That was when Kuleshov discovered the associative power of the human mind using cutting techniques in film, for humans have the "need to impose order on the world. [Therefore, i]f an audience is presented with disparate images it will assemble them into a meaningful order."(2)

This, in short, is the Kuleshov effect.

As mentioned in Into the Woods by John Yorke, Finding Nemo co-writer Bob Peterson stated on the use of the Kuleshov effect in storytelling:

"Good storytelling never gives you four, it gives you two plus two... Don't give the audience the answer; give the audience the pieces and compel them to conclude the answer. Audiences have an unconscious desire to work for their entertainment. They are rewarded with a sense of thrill and delight when they find the answers themselves."

But it doesn't only work with visual images.

As a writer, you can juxtapose descriptions, lines of dialogues, or actions (or a combination thereof) in such a way that, when taken individually, each element might seem unrelated, but put next to each other brings a whole new meaning that's not obvious from the words themselves, but from the implications behind them.

It's a way to create subtext, and it draws the reader's (or viewer's) attention in. Because they have to work to make the connection to get the underlying meaning.

For example, say you have a woman who tells her lover that she now hates him and wants him to go, but she's crying and her fingers won't unclench from around the hem of his jacket, you understand that she actually loves him, so must be telling him to save him in some way (perhaps from her jealous husband, or from the Nazis, or from her parents who can't stand his family).

Hitchcock's Kuleshov Effect - Film Montage (3)

As John Yorke states further in the book:

"Two opposites are placed side by side; art is rendered from juxtaposition.
That interpretation is the art."

And it's by making readers interpret your scenes in this manner, that the writer helps them get more invested in the story, and they end up caring about the story because they've invested themselves (through their thinking power) into it as well (in a way, co-creating it with the author!).

In this short clip, you can clearly "read" the 
subtext between Walter Cronkite's professional announcement of 
the terrible news of JF Kennedy's assassination, and his actions (including
the slight pause he had to make), as the realization that this
is a terrible tragedy for the United States.

Sources:

(1) Kuleshov Effect on TV Tropes, where you can also read a number of other, more modern examples.

On the topic, Yorke also brings up the fact that the Kuleshov effect can be subverted to create unexpected twists. You put together a number of ideas or clues, so the reader thinks they know where the joke is going (or who the murderer is), only to realize that the end is a total surprise (hence the joke makes them laugh out of surprise), or that the way you put the clues together, if taken differently, lead to an entirely different suspect!
Into The Woods is a brilliant book, by the way, that really delves into what it is that make us so riveted to good stories.



*Disclaimer: Please note that some of the links are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I may earn a commission should you choose to buy the recommended item. If the link is an Amazon link, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

June 28, 2022

Wednesday Writing Prompt 03

 


Happy 🐪 Day!

Here's this week's writing prompt:

1.      You get an indecent proposal at work, but it’s not for what you think.


June 21, 2022

Wednesday Writing Prompt 02


Happy 🐪 Day

Here's this week's writing prompt:

1.      You’ve received a rat for your birthday, and, considering who gave it to you, you know can’t get rid of it. Ever.


June 14, 2022

Wednesday Writing Prompt 01

 

Hello,

I'm going to try something new here, and, as I (albeit snail-like) am posting more on the art of writing, I thought I'd also share some writing prompts.

The reason behind this is that I've had a very hard few years where events and health heavily impacted my storytelling ability. However, in my battle to reclaim myself--and my writing--one of the exercises I found that helped me was coming up with 400 words (didn't have to be a full story) using a prompt as a starter.

The key was to let my imagination run wild, using all the senses to describe the scene, and thereby rediscover the fun in writing. 

So, hopefully, these weekly(1) prompts might help someone else facing the same difficulties.

So here's the first prompt:

It's night, and a robot has somehow ended up before what appears to be an abandoned farm house.


Notes:

(1) I'm going to try providing weekly prompts for a year, then see after that :)

April 30, 2022

Why Art Endures


 "It's an astonishing fact of human culture: what lasts is what mystifies. Time is an acid that destroys answers. It ruins our certainties. What remains instead are those stories and paintings and characters that find ways to contain what they cannot fathom, hooking us with their unspilled secrets. They are alive with the mystery of the universe. Which is why they live on."

~Jonah Lehrer, Mystery: A Seduction A Strategy, A Solution

April 8, 2022

What Living Is All About

  "The fact remains that getting people right is not what living is all about anyway. It's getting them wrong that is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then, on careful reconsideration, getting them wrong again. That's how we know we're alive: we're wrong. Maybe the best thing would be to forget about being right or wrong about people and just go along for the ride.

~ Philip Roth, American Pastoral


Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream...♫

January 4, 2022

Setting Goals


 New year, new resolutions! Right?

I certainly have a long list of goals for this new year, a number of them with requisites to boot, as well as some significant changes to my lifestyle I'd like to implement. Of course, I know that I have a tendency to bite off more than I can chew, which has often led me to give up on my goals in the past. However, this time around, I'm confident that I can hit most of the goals on my extensive list, without losing my motivation, my passion, or getting burned out.

Over my short break between the end-of-year holidays, I was able to catch up on a lot of podcasts that had been accumulating (like my never-ending TBR pile, it seems). And it was while listening to one of them on Flow(1), that I discovered this great book, The Art of Impossible*, by Steven Kotler.

One of the chapters in the book is on Goals. In it, Kotler states that, although it's been understood for thousands of years that goals are "primary motivators of human behavior," (a notion advanced by Aristotle, way back in the day), "not every goal is the same, nor is every goal appropriate for every situation and--most important--the wrong goal in the wrong situation can seriously hinder performance and actually lower productivity and motivation."

So, goal-setting is important (it can increase performance and productivity 11-25%, based on research by Latham and Locke), but it needs to be properly assigned.

To understand why having goals has such an effect on us, Kotler explains that it's all about how our brain's wired. Our brain evolved to be amazing at predicting outcomes by acquiring of information, recognizing patterns, and then deciding what to do based on the results from those. And because our brain's constantly flooded with info, but can only handle an finite portion of it(2), it's very important to give it specific goals so it can focus only on the targeted info, and filter out the rest.

Therefore, setting goals has been primordial to our survival.

But for goals to be most effective, we must first know our true motivation (our passion and drive). Not only that, but the greater the goal, the better the outcome and probability of success!

So, how should one go about setting these big goals? There are several chapters in The Art of Impossible that discuss the finer details of this, but essentially, you need to find what Kotler calls a Massively Transformative Purpose (ie, your mission(s) in life, based on your true passions) and set High and Hard Goals to move along the path to fulfilling that purpose.

High and Hard Goals should therefore be set based on how they help you advance your mission. Anything else should be considered a distraction and discarded. 

It's important to reiterate here that your goals and mission in life need to be aligned, for "[b]ig goals work best when there's an alignment between an individual's values and the desired outcome of the goal. When everything lines up, we're totally committed--meaning we're paying even more attention, are even more resilient, and are way more productive as a result."

AKA, you're less likely to give up on them.

The only word of caution Kotler gives, however, is that you should not be talking about your goals with others. Because doing so will give your brain the impression that it's already achieved those goals, and therefore make you less likely to achieve them.

Momentum, on the other hand, matters the most. You must set goals that are difficult, but still achievable. Otherwise, you'll give up (too much stress to handle). 

Of course, these High and Hard Goals can sometimes take years to achieve, so you also need to have smaller steps that get you to those bigger milestones. These smaller goals are designed to stretch you a little bit, but no be so hard that you're overwhelmed and lose your motivation. They do need to be clear, however, so that your brain doesn't have to wonder what to do next. This, in turn, means you'll be able to concentrate better. And, as an added bonus, it will also increase your motivation!


For example, one of my life missions is to become a storyteller that entertains people and fills them with wonder and inspiration. To do that, I need to write a lot of books (each an important milestone), and make them as good as possible. Smaller goals would thus be for me to write 1000 words a day until one book is done, then editing it, taking classes/reading more on the craft of writing, etc.


Basically, to figure out what your daily goals should be, you need to find a way to break down your bigger milestones into smaller, bitesize pieces: "this is exactly what the road to impossible looks like--a well-crafted to-do list, executed daily." Because these are manageable goals, you can accomplish these every day, and checking them off your list gets a dopamine boost as a reward. This, in turn, will make you crave to repeat your accomplishments the next day as well, and the day after that(3).

"Stacking little win atop little win atop little win is always the road toward victory."

So, in conclusion, Dream Big and Dare Greatly (4) :)

I wish you a wonderful and healthy 2022!


Sources and additional information:

(1) Flow, as Kotler defines it, is "an optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best." When I'm writing, it's the state where I've managed to completely immerse myself in my story, nothing in the outside world exists to me in that moment, the words are pouring out of me almost faster than I can type them, and everything feels just right.

(2) Kotler states that "[e]very second, millions of bits of information floor into our senses. Yet the human brain can only handle about 7 bits of information at once, and the shortest time it takes to discriminate one set of bits from another is 1/18th of a second." According to Csikszentmihalyi who studied Flow, the max humans can process is about 126 bits of information per second. Kotler explains what this means by giving the following example: "To understand what another person is saying takes about 40 bits. If three people are talking at once, we're maxed out."

(3) Important note, Kotler states that it's important to also have some time off. "Recovery is critical to sustained peak performance." Being a workaholic is not the right approach either. You need downtime. So figure out what the max number of daily tasks you can perform each day on your road to greatness--not too few, but not too many either--and when you've checked them all off, that's your cue that you've had a successful day and you can get some R&R (without feeling guilty)!

(4) Inspired by a book from Brene Brown, Daring Greatly*, whose title was itself inspired by a speech from Theodore Roosevelt.

*Disclaimer: Please note that some of the links are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I may earn a commission should you choose to buy the recommended item. If the link is an Amazon link, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.