The Sensational Inspirational Blog

Posted: 15 March 2014

Concentrate the mind on the task at hand
Concentrate the mind on the task at hand

“Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, the mind can achieve, regardless of  how many times you may have failed in the past” – Napoleon Hill.

By far, the best machine we possess is our own mind. Fortunately, Bradscribe was blessed with awesome English skills. Ever since one can remember, writing – whether it be fiction or non-fiction – has always played a prominent role in my life.

However, in the last 48 hours, a fearsome fever: skin burning up; nerve endings exceptionally sensitive; splitting headache; dizzy spells; you-name-it-this-bunny’s-had-it, has struck me down. Big. Time.

In short, my body feels like it’s been hit by a car.

Obviously, this has put a serious dent in my writing/blogging schedule. It’s amazing to think that prior to this unsavoury onset, my mind was positively brimming with good ideas; but when this crept up on me unbeknownst, all that promising stuff evaporated. Too often in my tender youth, illnesses would beset my system; thus, too often my active imagination wondered how these despicable intrusions could be willed out of my system…

Consider, dear friends, the marvel and sheer complexity of the human brain; it puts into perspective how poor this annoying so-called cutting-edge technology we are compelled to buy with money we don’t have, really is…

Don't give up! Savour the good things in life
Don’t give up! Savour the good things in life

“Don’t give up. Don’t lose hope. Don’t sell out” – Christopher Reeve.

How on Earth does the essence of an idea ever mterialise in the first place?

Apparently what drives the creative processes remains inexplicable, but what we do know: when ideas are generated (especially by this undervalued noddle), rather than emanating from either the left or right sides of the brain, actually both hemispheres work in unison to create that special spark. But what produces the motivation? That need to carry on when all hope is lost?

Yes folks, Kismet has blown sand in Bradscribe’s face more times than he cares to remember.

Once upon a time, a veritable stream of rejections swirled my way. Then it was reduced to a mere trickle. Now, not only have they dried up, but due to those copious never-ending technical difficulties, my Inbox has become inaccessible.

How – in the face of such sheer adversity – does this lil bunny manage to keep going?

"By living life for itself, don't you see?Deriving pleasure from the gift of pure being"
“By living life for itself, don’t you see?Deriving pleasure from the gift of pure being”

“If a man can control his mind he can find the way to Enlightenment, and all wisdom and virtue will naturally come to him” – Buddha.

No matter what technical, physical or financial problems lay siege to my battered mind – living in a country where Buddhism takes precedence – the gift of Meditation proved to be such a benefit. It came in particularly handy during my Southeast Asian office job, where the unfriendly inhouse atmosphere and stress combined with the noise and chaos of city life.

Even now, when my carefully constructed plans have not gone as well as hoped, the time and opportunity to sit back and meditate does come in pretty handy. Considering all that has been lost over the last few years – money, work, data disks, contacts, friends, trust, motivation – somehow this humble blogging bunny, (still a small name in a big Blogosphere) has come through so much (a little ruffled), yet persevered and retained his hop, skip and jump.

Nobody knows what tomorrow will bring, but make the most of what we have today, that’s for sure. Perhaps this is the main reason why most of my creative processes are reserved for reconstructing history. This discipline offers reassuring escapism as well as the comfort of nostalgia.

In an otherwise disappointing television adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles (1980), a speech of such insightful and inspirational depth concerning the Secret of Life was given by a Martian – a figment of the past; his words have resonated with me since that first viewing many moons ago. They have invigorated my own writing sometimes, and perhaps lie at the core of why Bradscribe just refuses to give up.  

It is hoped this quote will have a profound effect on you, dear reader. Goodnight. 

“Secret! There is no secret. Anyone with eyes can see the way to live.

“By watching life, observing nature, cooperating with it. Making common cause with the process of existence…

“…Life is it’s own answer, accept it and enjoy it day by day. Live as well as possible, expect no more. Destroy nothing, humble nothing, look for fault in nothing, leave unsullied and untouched all that is beautiful. Hold that which lives in all reverence, for life is given by the sovereign of our universe, given to be savoured, to be luxuriated in, to be… respected.

“But that’s no secret, you’re intelligent! You know as well as I what has to be done.”

 

Determined to Declutter (or: The Stuff That Matters)

Posted: 4 March 2014

Sooty likes my stuff, as long as it's comfortable.
Sooty likes my stuff, as long as it’s comfortable.

“Stuff is everything” – Malcolm Lee Bradford.  

It wasn’t until we moved house last year that Bradscribe realised how much stuff had amassed after a whole decade living and working in Southeast Asia. The wife groaned, not hesitating to admit that it would bring great pleasure to set it all alight.

Years to build – seconds to burn…  

Even the removal men complained about the sheer weight of my stuff. Typical, lesser mortals such as these do not comprehend or appreciate the value of our stuff. Stuff is powerful; stuff is relentless. It can gather and multiply unexpectedly, like an expanding and amorphous malevolent thing from a sci-fi/horror B-movie.

Naturally, those of you writers like me who revel in research will understand that when we collect our sources in various forms, it causes a seemingly insurmountable amount of stuff to just build up at an alarming rate.

No need to fret about your stuff on your own, my friend.

Determined to conquer the curse of my clutter, it was tackled systematically, so gradually the volume of stuff has been significantly reduced. Too good to be true? Not at all; if my stuff can be controlled, so can yours! Read on…

My former office; not my stuff. My stuff is more attractively laid out.
My former office; not my stuff. My stuff is more attractively laid out.

“Every time I have moved house, those first few days  – when the space is empty… are intoxicating. But… the clutter returns with all the vigour of a virulent strain of mould” – Emma Beddington.   

Of all the most incredible remarks this blogger has ever heard is: “Why do you have so much stuff?”

Yes, my jaw hit the floor when that preposterous statement was uttered. Honestly, how can anyone begin to explain this question, let alone answer it?

Everyone has stuff: such is the rich tapestry of life, different people have different types of stuff. After all, the only reason we buy/rent houses is so that we can have somewhere safe and spacious to store our stuff. When we go out, we usually end up buying more stuff. When we visit friends’ storage areas homes, we judge their stuff; and the only reason we go on vacation is, invariably, to accumulate more stuff… isn’t it? This seems to be quite obvious.

However, there comes a time when we all have to step back (if there is room amongst all that stuff) and assess how to reduce some of it. For starters, there is never enough time to read everything we have; realistically, if you have not looked at a certain item in the last four years, then you probably never will. In other words, it wasn’t that inportant; discard it pronto.

This stock photo reassures me no end; my office will NEVER look like this. Honest.
This stock photo reassures me no end; my office will NEVER look like this. Honest.

“You can’t have everything. Where would you put it?” – Steven Wright.  

Looking for answers on how to manage your stuff? This blogger can help.

The moment when Bradscribe noticed the sheer stuff overload came when he was annoyed to find… that nothing could be found. The most satisfying strategy to take was to halve the number of book projects in progress. Wherever possible, notes and papers no longer relevant could be discarded; some data had taken ages and lots of time and energy to acquire, so it was agonising to let go… but let go you must. Be strict.        

Don’t abandon your work for a day endeavouring to attack all those piles and pillars, mountains and mounds of stuff. Believe me: you will get nowhere; after hours of sorting, sifting and scrutinizing stuff, nothing will look like it’s been sorted out! Most importantly, the office will certainly end up in a messier state than when you started!  

But do not fret, Dear Reader (and Fellow Writer/Researcher), here is a handy tip on how you can declutter effectively:

Just take one hour a day (two if need be) to deal with a little bit of stuff at a time. Select a pile: deliberately sift through the tatty yellowed morsels at the bottom of it; chances are you will find items you thought were lost/forgotten forever. Stay sane. Enjoy the clear-out in gradual stages…

Every little helps.

It’s Only a Movie

Posted: 21 February 2014

Historical accuracy or entertaining inaccuracy: which is best?
Historical accuracy or entertaining inaccuracy: which is best?

“Film-makers have a great responsibility. How they present the past is how it gets remembered” – Kate Williams.

Movies cannot be treated as historical records; no matter how much attention to period detail goes into a feature film, as a seasoned historian myself, it should be my duty to point out those glaring discrepancies that litter some epic movies, not just lie back, enjoy a fantastical dramatisation and let blissful miscomprehension, or downright ignorance, of actual past events prevail.

This year, with a slew of big historical movies nominated for Oscars, it becomes imperative that a higher standard of care and attention should be put into such productions.

Yet some directors believe they still have every right to change – even distort – historical facts to provide a faster, leaner – dare one say it – more awesome spectacle. Should they be permitted to do so? 

Winner of Best Ways to Irritate Historians
Winner of Best Ways to Irritate Historians

“Creative artists need to be granted some poetic license, but that should not be a permit for the wholesale disregard of facts in historical fiction” – Allen Ward.   

Here are a couple of examples most relevant to this post. They are fine, classic bodies of work, but when analysed from a historical perspective, they flounder miserably.

One notorious example is Gladiator (2000), which won 5 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, but none, it seems, for historical accuracy. Bradscribe hates to say this (as it’s one of his faves), but the collection of inaccuracies on show here are… legion.  

Despite the vow of the renowned director: Ridley Scott to uphold high standards of historical research throughout, one advisor resigned and another requested to go unmentioned in the credits because those standards were simply not met.

Such extensive use of ballistae and catapults in the opening battle would not have been used in a forest-setting; both Roman and Germanian costumes are extremely questionable; stirrups were never used by the Roman cavalry despite being on show here… and so on. 

There is no way one can link this celluloid Commodus to the real-life emperor (hey Joaquin, where’s your beard?); he certainly did not commit patricide, and he lasted 12 years before being assassinated, not 3 hours. And the factual errors which beset the character of Marcus Aurelius are compounded by the inexplicable casting.

Nice helmet, shame about the historical inaccuracies
Nice helmet, shame about the historical inaccuracies

“I didn’t think they had guns then… in the days of Kirk Douglas” – Bunny Warren.

To show that this is not just a problem of modern cinema, enter: The Vikings (1958). Kirk Douglas! Tony Curtis! Ernest Borgnine! How could it possibly go wrong? Well, on several different counts in actual fact.

Kirk Douglas looks fab, yet anything but a Viking. No matter how big a star, if there’s no beard, there’s no credibility. He wears such a cool helmet but – let’s be honest – it was more a product of Hollywood imagination rather than Norse craftsmanship.   

One of the best scenes in the film is also one of its most annoying. The Viking siege of the castle is theoretically absurd; castles were not built until after the Norman Conquest, by which time Norsemens’ raids on the English coast had long since finished. After all the excitement, the drama, not to mention that stirring music score, no one can escape the fact that this whole charade centres around two immigrant boys from the Lower East Side gallivanting around in fancy dress…

Bradscribe will always love this film, but then again, it will always wrestle with his academic sensibilities.  

In conclusion then, movies should not be used as the source material for history essays. These movies can inspire a greater appreciation for history which a lot of books and uninspiring schoolteachers could never do, but the poor research in some productions suggests that not only a greater awareness of the value of history is needed, but the general attitude towards historical knowledge deserves a thorough revision.

This writer is left bemoaning the fact that instead of nitpicking the factual errors of others’ work, he could be working on such storylines, ready to prove that history in itself produced some stirring and dramatic events, packing more punches than any CGI can muster.

 

Energy Boost

Posted: 17 February 2014

What is it that draws writers to coffee?
What is it that draws writers to coffee?

“Coffee is a language in itself” – Jackie Chan.  

The inspiration for this particular post came (funnily enough) purely by accident – ruminating over what would be the next topic for discussion while the daily mug of coffee sat beside the laptop steaming away…  

This marvellous brewed beverage, using roasted seeds of the genus: “Coffea” just happens to be the second most traded commodity (after oil) – let’s face it: dark liquid makes the world go round. Don’t all writers grab a coffee first thing in the morning to zap away the drowsiness? Just what is it that blends (sorry) creators and coffee?

Some brain chemistry is required here. Possibly the most potent psychoactive stimulant in the known universe, caffeine blocks the neurotransmitter adenosine responsible for that drowsy feeling, while increasing the potency of other excitatory neurotransmitters such as dopamine, norepinephrine and acetylcholine, thus heightening alertness, energy and – yes!enhancing the ability to get some work done!  

Wonder how many cups of coffee those scientists downed in order to acquire that data?

Bean there, done that
Bean there, done that

“Science may never come up with a better office communication system than the coffee break” – Earl Wilson.  

In the average cuppa there are approximately 200mg of caffeine, and in an average day no more than 600mg (3 cups) should be downed. Whoa, go easy there!

You would think that the humid climate at which this writer chooses to pursue his profession would necessitate the desire for iced coffee, but that’s not the case, especially when sitting in a comfortable air-conditioned cafe. In actual fact, the most common brew in Asia: iced cappuccino offers more sugar and fat than caffeine, so it’s better if you served my drink pipng hot, if you please…

As long as he could remember, the bane of Bradscribe’s existence has been lack of energy, but nowwith a coffee-maker amidst the items in our new abode, my mornings have got off to a bright and proactive start. Moreover, in addition to caffeine, a well-brewed cuppa offers antioxidants. Both of these substances are known to have substantial health benefits and anti-aging qualities. 

Yay, drink up!

This blooger loves Mocha!
This blogger loves Mocha!

“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt” – Charles M. Schulz.  

Personally, above all others, Bradscribe loves Mocha – that scintillating mix of espresso, milk, whipped cream and chocolate syrup. If anyone is taking notes, this year sees the tenth anniversary of my passion for Mocha. Not so keen on latte, and wary about downing a dodgy cappuccino (it’s amazing how frequent they can be…), yet traditionally a happy tea-slurper, it’s staggering to think how Mocha could have tantalised my taste buds in this seemingly unexpected manner.

So, what’s the Story of Mocha? Where does it come from?   

The rise of Islam played a pivotal role in the rise of coffee consumption. With alcohol prohibited to Muslims, coffee became a regular staple in Arabia. The first (recorded) instance of coffee drinking comes from the Sufi monasteries of Yemen.  Indeed, the Yemeni town most closely associated with my fave hot beverage is… lo & behold: Mocha.

The Arabic word: “qahwa” became the Turkish: “kahve” but it wasn’t until 1582 when the Dutch name: “koffie” entered the English language under its present form. Out of the numerous tomes on “The History of Coffee” there does not appear to be a “History of Mocha.” It looks like my next writing project has just nudged its way forward…

In this modern age, with the advent of big multi-national brands, coffee is ubiquitous. Whether it be Bangkok, Singapore or even London, you can find this writer sipping a tall, hot Mocha while editing his papers.

Until the next brew Blog, enjoy your coffee, but watch those calories!

 

The Midnight Special

Posted: 12 February 2014.

On with the Nightshift
On with the Nightshift

“I often think that the night is more alive and more richly coloured than the day” – Vincent Van Gogh.  

The clock strikes Midnight, and yet Bradscribe is still at his desk hammering the keys on his sturdy laptop. The early hours of the morning have always held a very special appeal.

During those three memorable years at university, studying by day and thinking twice about venturing out to the dangerous city centre at night just hindered my progress, and had to be rectified. When this routine was reversed – thankfully for the better – the rate of productivity miraculously increased. Long after university this habit has joyously continued.

This writer takes pride in being a Night-Owl. Whether in the east or the west, gradually the lights of the other houses in the street go out, leaving me to revel in the solitude. With a purring laptop, some dishevelled notes and the pleasant addition of ambient music, the night becomes a most magical time. 

Sometimes it’s amazing to just slink away from the desk, wander onto the quiet balcony, be fanned by a comforting cool breeze and just gaze at the stars…

Great solace can be attained from nocturnal graft.

The Desktop Companion
The Desktop Companion

“Sometimes I lie awake at night, and ask: ‘Where have I gone wrong?’ and a voice says to me: ‘This is going to take more than one night'” – Charles M. Schulz. 

In countless Q&As, writers state that they prefer to spring to their desk at the crack of dawn and work out a cache of pages before midday, then carry out chores during the afternoon.

In my case though, the exact opposite applies; a replenishing afternoon nap and then my mind will function splendidly after dark. This writer has tried – Good Lord, has he tried! – to conform to this so-called conventional day-time formula, but has struggled to produce decent material; not even a good flow can be worked up before lunch. The trouble with writing during the day is the noise, business that can only be sorted out during daylight hours, and other needless distractions.

Sooty, our cat, likes to be with us wherever we go in the house; in the evening, she prefers to stay in and curl up at the foot of the bed, rather than mingle with the local alley cats. At some point during the early hours, she will wander in, just to spend time with me. Usually she will jump onto the desk and rearrange the papers to use as a pillow; as long as she doesn’t go mental and “file” my papers with her teeth, then she can be quite a lovely companion.

Somewhere in another street, a stray dog starts howling; Sooty sits up and glances anxiously out of the mosquito screen, her tail flailing from side to side. Quickly realising that there is no danger, she settles down to dream once more…

Let the Midnight Special shine a light on me
Let the Midnight Special shine a light on me

“I’m a night owl… My goal as a writer is more to comfort, than to disturb” – Joni Mitchell.   

The nightshift has become an irresistible part of my life in Southeast Asia. The early hours of any day out here are pleasantly cool (in surprising contrast to the humidity at high noon), and apart from the obstreperous bin-collectors or a speeding nocturnal motorcyclist, the peace to be attained here is really conducive to sometimes lengthy creative sessions.

Being in this particularly captivating part of the world, if you listen carefully at 4am, a monk in a nearby wat (temple) clangs a big bell, calling all his brethren to start their Buddhist routine for the new day.

When the heavens open up and the torrents lash against my office window, it’s always so inspirational. In September & October, the monsoons are fairly frequent, and thunder always invigorates an atmospheric session.

As the roosters over the road start their shrill hollering, heralding the imminent dawn, this writer does feel his inner data bank shutting down…

Time to get some well-earned napping in before lunch, then start the new Blog during the afternoon.