Let’s Hear It From Charlotte!

~ E.B. White (1899 – 1985)
American writer, essayist, creator of Charlotte’s Web,
and the man who updated and edited The Elements of Style, a writing guide embraced by generations of teachers, students, and writers


Musings and Impressions
Depression and the Deep Funk were once my good friends for a while, a brooding long while. They crept up on me just as 2000 rolled along with a boisterous burst announcing the new millennium. I don’t know if you could ever unfriend them or unfollow them the way you would with one simple click on Facebook or Instagram. But as with all yucky things in life, we all just learn to deal with it. At the height of their meanness, I used to pop Ativan, an anti-depressant prescribed by Dr. Goldstein, whose practice wasn’t far from the Grand Central Station. I was still in New York then.

Just as 2018 rolled along, I too suffered little jangles of anxiety, none I can blame on Depression and Deep Funk—thank goodness! The nerves, the poor nerves have got to do with performance anxiety more than anything else. The little burdens of expectations, this goal, that one, this wanna-do, this must-do, that gotta-do. And when you multiply them by two, or three, or four, even five—I’m a greedy girl, remember?— everything gets so huge, so noisy, so unbearable. Then I wondered, Why are there so little laughs?

That’s why when I sat down two weeks ago with my student Edie to write a New Year’s reflection—a freewheeling, no-pressure piece—I couldn’t help feeling she was my kindred spirit. Her opening line, how I loved her opening line!

New Year’s Day makes me nervous.

I can’t write that now. It’s taken, so I’m quoting her. And I shall quote her too about the way she deals with worries. She’d say: “Oh I don’t care!” or “Never mind!” I love that because it’s like a whiteboard duster, it wipes out junk from the mind and gets you on a clean slate, a nice new plateau.

I always look for ideas and people who get me on clean slates and new plateaus. That’s also why I started Soul Quotes on my blog. Today, I invite a spider to clear the cobwebs from my crowded and sometimes cluttered mind.

May I also invite you, in your most frenzied and frenetic times, to call upon Charlotte, whose voice I love, whose I weaves I admire, and whose words will guide me forever, right up to my quiet little horizon, wherever, whenever that may be.

Never hurry and never worry!

The video–my very first!–was created on a beta platform on Spark. If you should experience any jumpy bits, I ask your kind indulgence while my friends at Adobe fix the kinks.

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From the Cocoon of a Dream, Find Your Reality

“Make your life a dream, and that dream, a reality.

~ Antoine de Saint Exupéry (1900 – 1944)
French aviator, author, and lover of life


Musings and Impressions
Exactly a year ago in Paris, while walking along Rue de Turbigo towards Rue Montorgueil in search of that famed kitchenware store Dehillerins, I came across this shop with this Saint Exupéry quote on its façade. Such a brave bold line to run into, especially with the year so young and so new!

I’m letting it seep into my mind and eyes again, while imagining that the truck hadn’t been there to mar an otherwise impeccable portrait in the cold, clear winter morning of minus six.

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Be Nobody-But-Yourself

e e cummings (Image: brainpickings.org)

“To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle
which any human being can fight.”

~ e e cummings (1894 – 1962)
American poet, painter, essayist, author, and playwright

Related: The Adventures of Being Me


Musings and Impressions
Self-Care 101: Be yourself, love yourself.
You are your own great adventure. 

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Why You Need To Know Your Parts of Speech

“All fine prose is based on the verbs carrying the sentence,” writes F. Scott Fitzgerald

“Write with nouns and verbs, not adjectives and adverbs”

PATIENCE is always in short supply when there’s a spike in demand for quick, tangible results—the kind that has a screaming, nagging ring to it: “I want it, and I want it now!” I’m guilty of this myself.

Just last month, I sought the counsel and advice of a professional food photographer and in my agenda for our very first two-hour class, I shared with him an ambitious list of things I’d like to cover: styling, props, template settings for the dining room, manual mode, creative mode, my goodness, the works!

Ever the placating professional, the one who listens to the customer’s needs, Todd said OK to everything, but with a gentle nudge that “styling alone can take up a few hours” and that perhaps we could arrange a lesson for a future class. He was quick to point out too that our two hours would fly by quickly, adding that “we have to be focused on what you feel is the most important thing you would like to take away from tomorrow’s lesson.”

Embrace the Fundamentals
On the morning of our first session, guess what we eventually spent our time on? Talking about the basics, the very things I thought I knew, but in truth, hardly knew squat about—all the basic parameters of exposure: aperture, shutter speed, light sensitivity, and how to adjust them up or down, tweaking each one in fine balance with the other, all while dancing consciously with the light.

I thought I knew depth of field, but I’d be more honest if I told myself: “Not really, girl, you only kinda sorta know it.” And bokeh? Yes, of course, I’ve heard it before, I’ve even written a little reflection on the word. Gee, but I can’t quite remember what it is! Aperture priority? That too, sits in the recesses of my mind, but what’s the effect and purpose? Uh, not sure!

I suppose learning the craft of writing is no different—any craft, for that matter. Close our eyes on the basics, and run along with our bossy ego, chances are we can only go so far, as far as our fuzzy, kinda-sorta knowledge would take us.

So if you really want to write well, and write better, get to know your parts of speech. They are the building blocks of sentences, and it’s imperative you acquaint yourself with how they work, just as a painter would make it his business to understand the interplay of light and shadow, or a chef, the nuances of heat, and the fine balance between taste and texture, flavor and aroma.

The best part of our parts of speech primer is that it isn’t as complex as the lessons on exposure in my Photography 101 class. All you need to know is that there are nine parts of speech in English (I’ve counted them for you): 

part of speech (n)
a category to which a word is assigned in accordance with its syntactic functions. In English the main parts of speech are noun, pronoun, adjective, determiner, verb, adverb, preposition, conjunction, and interjection.

Better yet, you don’t even have to remember that there are nine, or what they are, except these four:

  1. nouns (n)
  2. verbs (v)
  3. adjectives (adj)
  4. adverbs (adv)

Embrace the Wisdom of Writers
I’d always invite you to write these four parts of speech in the above order because it reflects one of the most important tenets of writing:

Write with nouns and verbs, not adjectives and adverbs

This writing advice from Professor William Strunk, author of that decades-old writing guide, The Elements of Style, echoes with the voice and power of a Commandment. Keep it close to your heart and live it everyday of your writing life, and the God of Writing shall bless you with abundance.

But a misbeliever might ask: How could adjectives and adverbs be lesser creatures compared to nouns and verbs? Aren’t they the ones that give color and flavor to the nouns and verbs? Aren’t they the ones behind the descriptive powers of language, the very ones that school teachers simply, absolutely love to see dancing across the lines in our essays?

Exuberant. Double tick. Scintillating. Triple ticks. Elated. Tick, tick. Voraciously. Good!

No, not really. Think about this: without the nouns and verbs, how could adjectives and adverbs do their magic in the first place? It’s like exuberant paint without the wall, or a lively leaf of coriander without a scallop to receive its garnishing magic. 

Trust me, if not, at least, trust Professor Strunk, or these writers:

Cross out as many adjectives and adverbs as you can
— E.L. Doctorow

All fine prose is based on the verbs carrying the sentence
— F. Scott Fitzgerald

Trust, for once, real writers, and not your teachers who merely push and peddle ideas that come from a place that’s only exam-worthy—not art-worthy, or craft-worthy, certainly not worthy of the altar of Beauty where few dare to worship, or even care to.

Next week: Clichés 

Write Well is a series of essays offering insights on how to write with
confidence, clarity, and style.

I invite you to follow me as I share the universal principles of writing well.
I’d also be interested to hear your observations on how we approach
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The Definition of Discipline

Gavin Kaysen (Photo: Brent Herrig)

Discipline is about having a sense of routine, order, and control.

Discipline is doing things the right way, even when circumstances vary,
and even when you may not feel up to it.

~ Gavin Kaysen (1979 – )
American chef
Chef and owner of Spoon and Stable Restaurant in Minneapolis
Former executive chef for Daniel Boulud in New York City

Musings and Impressions
I read plenty of food literature and one of the books that’s sitting on my night stand presently is a revised edition of Daniel Boulud’s Letters to a Young Chef, which he first wrote 15 years ago. I’m not a chef, and I’m not 19, but the lessons of the kitchen and hospitality from this perpetually smiling chef are grand lessons in life as well. 

The tail end of this fine book captures an equally fine compilation of letters from some of his friends. The first in this august cast of chefs is Gavin Kaysen, who has chosen to give his letter the title, Discipline

It’s interesting how Kaysen chose to define discipline first and foremost as routine, which feels like the most mundane of words. But routine is everything. Gustave Flaubert, the French writer and the man behind Madame Bovary (a Boulud favorite), once said this too about routine: 

Be regular and orderly in your life,
so that you may be violent and original in your work

Kaysen noted that discipline was “a way of life” in Chef Daniel’s kitchen, and what struck me most was how he has come to embrace discipline as
“a tool for perfection.”

Tool for perfection. That’s powerful. 

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