Category: Life

Another issue of Slanting Nib & A Keyboard newsletter is out today. It features a few essays from the masters who have, over the years, learned to command the art by confronting each of the factors that drive every writer or a creative mind to satisfaction – inspiration, focus and craft.

I had to delay this issue by an hour as I could not complete my final review in time. It was a race against meeting the deadline and the last-minute call from work made it all the more difficult. I usually find the links that I want to feature way ahead of time. However, I carefully include the comments later to be sure about why I’m including the link as part of the issue. I had to rush through the commentary part today. So, if you find the description slightly incoherent, my planning-gone-wrong is to blame – a learning experience to not trudge too close to the deadline.

Do give it a read online. If what you read interests you, please subscribe. If you are already subscribed and have been enjoying the issues, I will appreciate if you forward them to your friends.

Another issue of Slanting Nib & A Keyboard newsletter is out today. It features a few well-written essays that talk about the partisan debates around the different forms of the books, starting with their evolution over the years, from “the clay tablets to the e-book format”. The physical, emotional and psychological effects of eBooks and paper; a love letter to audiobooks. This issue has it all.

Do give it a read online. If what you read interests you, please subscribe. If you are already subscribed and have been enjoying the issues, I will appreciate if you forward them to your friends.

Library Is a Space Ship, Time Machine and Much More

“A library, to modify the famous metaphor of Socrates, should be the delivery room for the birth of ideas – a place where history comes to life.”

Norman Cousins

Though it’s an apt characterization, a library has been labelled in many more ways. For some, it’s a getaway, a place they tip-toe into to gain a momentary respite from their daily grinds. For some, it’s a vast ocean of knowledge they dip their minds in to get enlightened. For writers, it can be both. And so much more.

This issue features a few essays that depict what libraries mean to a few writers and what, according to them, they should mean to everyone else.

Featured Writing

Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming

In this lecture explaining the importance of using our imaginations, and providing for others to use theirs, Neil Gaiman emphasizes on why it’s an obligation for all us, citizens, to support libraries and to inculcate the love for books among children, right from early ages. Highlighting first the significance of reading books, specifically fiction, he goes on to make one understand why it’s absurd to “perceive libraries as a shelf of books”.

Libraries are about freedom. Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication. They are about education (which is not a process that finishes the day we leave school or university), about entertainment, about making safe spaces, and about access to information. I worry that here in the 21st century people misunderstand what libraries are and the purpose of them. If you perceive a library as a shelf of books, it may seem antiquated or outdated in a world in which most, but not all, books in print exist digitally. But that is to miss the point fundamentally.

A library is many things

One would agree whole-heartedly with the title when it’s a mix of prominent personalities – an astronaut, a sci-fi writer, a painter, a cartoonist and a children’s author – convincing you about it. “Early-1971, in an effort to attract as many youngsters to the premises as possible, Marguerite Hart — children’s librarian at the newly-opened public library in Troy, Michigan — wrote to a number of notable people with a request: to reply with a congratulatory letter, addressed to the children of Troy, in which the benefits of visiting such a library were explained.” From amongst the responses from the likes of Neil Armstrong, Isaac Asimov, and Dr Seuss, here’s a snippet from the letter from E. B. White.

A library is many things. It’s a place to go, to get in out of the rain. It’s a place to go if you want to sit and think. But particularly it is a place where books live, and where you can get in touch with other people, and other thoughts, through books. If you want to find out about something, the information is in the reference books—the dictionaries, the encyclopedias, the atlases. If you like to be told a story, the library is the place to go. Books hold most of the secrets of the world, most of the thoughts that men and women have had. And when you are reading a book, you and the author are alone together—just the two of you.

My Manhattan; Not Just a Library, an Oasis of Civilization

Susan Jacoby’s love letter to New York Public Library, particularly its newly restored main reading room and its Center for Scholars and Writers. As she recounts the time that she spent in the library as the world changed outside, you can’t help but wonder if there’s any other apt description for this place than “an oasis of civilization” as she refers.

In a compartmentalized and bureaucratized American academic culture, the library is one of the last bastions of respect for those who try to carry on an older but increasingly archaic tradition of independent scholarship embodied by men like Kazin. My current research is concerned with the marginalization of secularism and free thought – the lovely, anachronistic term that appeared at the end of the 17th century – in American history. The range of the library’s holdings on this quirky and controversial subject has given me a new appreciation of the courage and vision of past generations of New York librarians, who collected material without regard for the received religious and political opinion of their time.

Featured Video

Featured Writer

Lena Valencia

A writer, editor and a teacher, Lena has published many short stories as part of publications and anthologies; one among them is the brilliant short story Mystery Lights published at CRAFT magazine. Though it’s not a mystery, Lena has you glued throughout as you learn more about the central character Windy and the other supporting characters. As the main plot about the show around Marfa lights is slowly unravelled, it glides into a crazed climax that brings a smile on your face. You can’t help but wonder if the Marfa town and the notorious lights that form the backdrop to this story are indeed magical.

Featured Tool

Pocket

Though libraries act as a repository of all the words ever written and published as books, many are also published independently online. Nonetheless, they can be equally significant, powerful and meaningful for an individual. As a free read-it-later service, Pocket allows you to catch up on these articles without being overwhelmed by the sheer amount of the written works available. With an optional premium subscription, it can also be your permanent library of articles and stories that you read online.

One Final Inspiration

Postscript

This post was delivered first as part of my weekly newsletter Slanting Nib & A Keyboard. Do read the archives and subscribe here.

Perfectionism Isn’t Healthy

I have been closely monitoring what affects my behaviour recently. One of the aspects that I’d identified was that I was always judging myself, was always thinking, analyzing my current actions for their effect on my future. I’d decided to stop doing that. But while I wrote that, I hadn’t realized that there is deeper malady there — my subconscious quest to be a perfectionist.

As I was reading an essay about the downsides of perfectionism from Amanda Ruggeri at BBC, it made me aware that I’ve also been affected by the same trait she was warning about. I want things to be done perfectly.

At home. At work. With the activities that I do on my own. With my family. With my peers, my superiors.

It is that perfectionist voice within me that’s constantly judging me, judging others. Even now, am thinking and rethinking on the ways I could word this prose. This paragraph. Is it the best way to make my point?

Why? Why do I do that? It can’t be healthy.

Even on Google, the first autocomplete suggestion for “Perfectionism” is “Perfectionism is a disease”. I wouldn’t term this trait as that — I don’t want to flippantly use a word while representing any form of mental disorder — it ain’t a “disease” for sure. However, even an offhand read through the internet would convince you that perfectionism can lead to a laundry list of such disorders. Anxiety. Depression. And much more.

I am not sure if my habit of aiming for perfection in every task is affecting my mood and my mind in any alarming way yet. However, I think it does lead me to procrastinate at times. I don’t have time now, will do it later “perfectly,” I can hear my mind say every now and then.

Well, it’s believed and acknowledged to be a vicious cycle – perfectionism, procrastination and paralysis. Or thought another way, it is the paralysis by analysis. Analysis paralysis.

All this lead me to a post I wrote back in 2013, on exactly the same topic of over-analyzing, overthinking. And it was then that I had linked to this term of Analysis paralysis for the first time.

That was 7 years ago. I believe I haven’t managed to get rid of my trait yet. It might be time to think about getting rid of this habit. To not let my pursuit for things to be perfect to affect me, to paralyze me.

The sixth issue of Slanting Nib & A Keyboard newsletter is out today. It features a few essays that depict what libraries mean to a few writers and what, according to them, they should mean to everyone else. A mix of prominent personalities out to corroborate, with their powerful words, the significance of library, and how a library is many things — now that’s something I wouldn’t want to miss.

So, do give it a read online. If what you read interests you, do subscribe. If you are already subscribed and have been enjoying the issues, please forward them to your friends.

I subscribed to Pocket Premium today. Recently, I have been reading a lot of articles on the web. And most of the times, it is on Pocket. I save the recommended articles from newsletters, blogs or Twitter to be read later and catch up on them towards the end of the day. Or when I have some free time at my hand.

What’s in the Premium option that made me upgrade from the free tier, you ask? Well, first of all, I wanted to support a service that’s part of Mozilla family. I’ve been a long time Instapaper user, but since Mozilla acquired Pocket, I have been using the later as my primary read later service.

I have also been using Pocket extensively to find the right articles to be included as part of my newsletter. I read a lot, heavily curate and include just a few of them. So my Pocket list and archive are always full of some great writings from many brilliant sources. I do not want to lose any of these wonderful essays.

I wanted to make Pocket a sort of my online reading library — it’s even better if it’s permanent as Pocket promises with an upgrade to Premium. The upgrade also offers full-text search which comes handy when finding that one article that talked about some peculiar topic. The biggest draw was the unlimited highlighting. The 3 highlights that the free option offered was limiting when each long read that I saved was full of thoughts worthy of absorption and introspection.

I have paid for a year; the pricing that it offers in-app is worth my current extent of the use of the service. I will re-evaluate after a year again. For now, Pocket stays the service of my choice.

This, That and A Lot on Punctuation

“I found a great many pieces of punctuation and typography lying around dormant when I came along – and I must say I had a good time using them.” – Tom Wolfe

A lot has been said and suggested by authors, amateur and experienced, on how we should and should not use punctuation. Setting aside the perpetual debates around specific punctuation marks, the importance of punctuation in making writing intelligible for a reader is never in doubt.

This issue features essays that provide a brief history of how punctuation evolved, its significance, some valuable tips and witty guidelines on using the marks.


Featured Writing

The Definition and Basic Rules of Punctuation

Richard Nordquist at ThoughtCo. takes us deep into the meaning and importance of punctuation. More than being an essay about brief on punctuation, it details the history of punctuation, its relevance before and after the introduction of printing, and the recent trends in the use of punctuation. Dr. Nordquist has it all covered.

The beginnings of punctuation lie in classical rhetoric—the art of oratory. Back in ancient Greece and Rome, when a speech was prepared in writing, marks were used to indicate where—and for how long — a speaker should pause. Until the 18th century, punctuation was primarily related to spoken delivery (elocution), and the marks were interpreted as pauses that could be counted out.

The Comma From Which My Heart Hangs

Benjamin Samuel at McSweeney’s Internet Tendency describes the great power comma possesses in our writing. Backing his argument with some pertinent examples, he delivers his point with an abundance of wit and tinge of humor that is a signature of every article at McSweeney’s.

If nothing else, one ought to know how to treat a comma. Abandonment or abuse of the comma muddles discourse, and this lack of respect is akin to neglect, to a lack of appreciation, to an unreasonable rejection of the very foundation of all worthy human interactions. (…) It simply cannot be said too often that punctuation, not just the noble comma, is crucial to communication and comprehension. Truly, a poorly constructed sentence can set worlds crumbling, can alter perceptions irreparably.

Tips on Grammar, Punctuation and Style

“If the rules you learned about commas and semi-colons don’t mean much to you, forget them and try this.” That is how Kim Cooper begins this helpful guide on punctuation published for Writing Center at Harvard University. This is a handy list of suggestions on how one can check the selection of punctuation like commas and semi-colons, dashes and hyphens as part of her writing.

If you don’t want your reader to pause, there shouldn’t be a comma, there, because as, this demonstrates it’s very difficult to figure, out, what you’re saying when your punctuation, makes the sentence unreadable. Your sentences shouldn’t leave your reader hyperventilating from the constant shallow breaths that over-punctuation requires. Nor should they be gasping for breath at the end of a long, unpunctuated sentence. (Consider yourself responsible for your readers’ cardiovascular health.)


Featured Video


Featured Writer

Caleb Tankersley

Caleb published a dark short story “Swarm Creatures” as part of Carve magazine’s Summer 2020 edition. He has woven the story wonderfully with some intricate, mysterious elements. With his vivid imagination and a fascinating way to word it, he very beautifully mirrors the darkness and the messy calmness of the swarm with mind within the central character.

The swamp is impressive, a gargling pool stretching as far as we can see from our backyard, tall ghostly trees sticking out of it and obscuring the horizon. We’ve been renting the same house two years but never explore too far back, some sense of reverence holding us.


Featured Tool

The Punctuation Guide

This is a pretty comprehensive guide to punctuation, though primarily focused on the current style of American punctuation, meticulously created by Jordan Penn. It also has clear examples of how American style differs from the British style. In Jordan’s words, he “consulted dozens of authorities, both online and in print. Where the authorities disagree, I either have explained the various positions or have presented the style I believe to be most useful”. This should be a pretty handy reference guide for anyone writing at any level.


One Final Inspiration


Postscript

This post was delivered first as part of my weekly newsletter Slanting Nib & A Keyboard. Do read the archives and subscribe here.

Buying Experience with Time

I spent the last weekend idling around; I did not do anything that I have always considered “productive”. No reading novels. Or catching up on my read later lists. Or writing. Or working on the short story in progress. Nothing. I spent the whole two days lying on my sofa, enjoying a movie marathon with my family. I did all that without judging myself, as I had recently decided.

It’s so easy to idle the whole days away. As James Clear has said, “our real motivation is to be lazy and to do what is convenient”. It’s only understandable then that it takes too much effort to break this built-up inertia of not doing anything. Time, then, is spent generously lazying around, scoring easy joys.

The thought also reminds of this exchange between Dan Buettner and James Hamblin during one of their interviews.

Buettner: In the long-term view, you’re better off buying experiences than some new gadget. Buying things does produce some spike in joy or appreciation, but that wears off over time. A good experience actually gains luster.

Hamblin: Despite knowing that, when I actually go to spend money on traveling or even just tickets to something, I think about how soon that will be over and gone. And if I buy a couch, I have it for years.

Buettner: But the joy from the couch wears out. You’ll still flop down on it, but it won’t provide that bump of joy.

With time as the most valuable currency, what is, then, the parallel in real life to the “gadget”, the thing that time can buy? Is it the worthless, hollow hours that one spends on streaming the same, old movies or TV shows? Or is that an experience?

What Buettner refers to as joy when talking about the product vs experience discourse, is satisfaction when moved over to real life. We should judge if the activity is an experience by the longevity of the satisfaction it brings.

There’s no doubt that a whole day of movie marathon can lend momentary joy. But does it do that without being a burden on your mind? If so, then it is an experience. Else you have just carelessly wasted the most valuable currency for owning a thing and it will soon stop giving you joy.

What are other examples of such experiences that time can buy?

Another issue of Slanting Nib & A Keyboard newsletter is out today. It features essays that provide a brief history of how punctuation evolved, its significance, some valuable tips and witty guidelines on using the marks.

This week’s issue also introduces a slight twist in the featured author’s section. With every issue going ahead, I will feature specific writing from the writer being featured instead of a broad collection of works from him. It can be a short story, a poem or an essay.

Again, do give it a read online. If what you read interests you, do subscribe. If it doesn’t interest you, do let me know what doesn’t work for you. I would love to hear it all.

I have published 5 issues of the newsletter and I have set the tone for the newsletter now. Setting the tone was the next mini-milestone for me. The newsletter has already been featured by Inbox Reads and Thanks for Subscribing and I couldn’t have asked for more. Now, I wish to continue the journey and focus on how I can interest more people to subscribe. Your feedback will, for sure, help.

Slow Down. Be Present.

I’m consciously slowing myself down recently while doing everything . I’ve spent too much time worrying about the small things, planning about things too far in future. I’ve realised I’m not living in the moment. That’s not healthy.

So, I’m taking time doing my regular day to day activities. Slow down. Take a pause. Be cognizant of the task am doing. Be present, doing it. Not think about 10 other things that I might have to do later in the day. That doesn’t help. Keep things simple.

I recently read this brilliant thought from Matt on Twitter.

Fed up of the western idea of self-empowerment where you have to become a better you, discover your inner billionaire, get beach bodied, work, upgrade. It fuels a resistance to the present. It’s self-loathing masquerading as empowerment. We need self-acceptance. Self-compassion.

Matt Haig

I can’t agree more with Matt. I have decided to not be too harsh on myself. It’s ok to not be “efficient” every time Not every activity needs to be done effectively. Or in the most time-effective way. Putting undue pressure on myself to plan things, multiple ones, so they can be grouped together. Nope, I am not ok to put myself through that anymore. All it does is adds to the already tall list of micro-stresses. Anyway, it’s not as if I’ve too much work, too little time at hand.

Do one thing at a time. Do it slowly. Be conscious. Be present.