bookmark_borderThe workout that built the camel’s back

f you know me well, you may know that there are a few roles that are not on my LinkedIn Profile. I had a rule, any project that lasted less than a year, I usually omitted, and anything less than a month I left out.

Asleep yet?

Yes, I hear some of you say, but if something lasts for months, are you just going to leave a hole in your resume?

A lot of my education is missing. I started a degree, took a few courses, and dropped out. I didn’t want to list it because I didn’t want to talk about it and answer that inevitable question – why did you quit?

Why did you quit?

Why did…

Yes, I started a PGCE, and dropped it. And suddenly, the questions kept coming. My driving instructor refused to give me more classes. Older relatives yelled at me. This only made me regret applying for the PGCE in the first place.

But why didn’t I just answer the question? Well, I wouldn’t be honest if I gave a simple answer. First of all, There wasn’t a single reason.

Sure, I could try to blame a bad boss, an unsupportive person in my personal life, an extra responsibility, an illness, or find some other scapegoat. Blaming would be an easy way out. But really, it was a case of the straw that broke the camel’s back. I can point to that straw, that moment when I made my decision, but it was just a small thing compared to some of the other pressures I felt.

So, why didn’t I just say that I was overwhelmed? That all these little things, and perhaps some big things, got me down, and I collapsed under the weight of so much pressure? Because I got over it.

Almost ten years later, I was running my own business and interviewing people for the position of sound engineer. Or maybe it was assistant audio technician, I forget the exact job title.

If I could go back in time, I would have found a way to hire multiple applicants. One applicant stood out, and I might regret not hiring him for something. (Recruiters often make mistakes. I was one of the recruiters who made them.)

I asked him about a gap on his CV. Here, a man younger than I was, gave the best answer ever. “I was young.”

This is the main reason I do not like the question, “Why did you quit that job.” The answer that was true of me then would not be true of me today.

As we get older, our muscles change. Our relationships change. What may have been too difficult for me to deal with 20 years ago is a cinch today. Things I didn’t like back then I have since learned to appreciate. I was once a toddler unable to walk across the room, but now I can run a marathon.

To me today, a much more interesting question is, how did you overcome the difficulties that you once faced? Why are you stronger today? How have you shaped your life to be able to deal with the challenges ahead? What has made you interested in work you once found boring or pointless?

I remember that when my grandfather died, my grandmother went to university and became a professional nurse. She had served in the war but needed a certificate to work.

Then, when she retired, she learned a new language. And other skills in order to help her friends. Perhaps you can’t teach old dogs new tricks, but Grandma was never a dog.

That example was the first muscle that helped rebuild and strengthen the camel’s back. And the camel keeps getting stronger.

Now, of course, if someone tries to overwhelm the camel, the camel might spit. He doesn’t want his back broken again.

bookmark_borderArtificial Stupidity, a threat to history?

You might not know much about Chester A Arthur, one of the more obscure presidents of the USA. But if you are a history nut, or you even read a long article about the guy, then you probably know more than the AI does.

A lot of articles about Artificial Intelligence talk about how computer intelligence is a threat to writers (which may include historians). After a test drive of one popular engine, I do not feel the least bit intimidated by the engine’s “intelligence.” The bigger threat might be its popularity, and the possible impact it has on finding the facts.

Continue reading “Artificial Stupidity, a threat to history?”

bookmark_borderOpen by setting the scene

A lot of writing advice will pretend to teach you how to grab an audience’s attention. Well, there’s more to writing than getting attention.  There’s the reader to consider.

This is an editorial essay, so we start with an introduction.  In the first paragraph, I let you know the purpose, to determine whether or not this is something that interests you and is useful to you.  Good writing respects the reader, it doesn’t try to waste the reader’s time with sensationalism.

Not all writing is an essay, however.  In fiction, and in especially in journalism and in most other storytelling genres, writing usually starts with setting the scene.  If you were to write for the Ptara blog or an article for our journal, we’d normally expect the writing to start in the appropriate way, depending upon the genre. Continue reading “Open by setting the scene”

bookmark_borderBeaumarchais and the first writers’ strike

You may have heard of Beaumarchais. He was a watchmaker, a publisher of Voltaire’s works, a gun runner for the rebels in the American Revolution, but most notably a playwright of works such as The Barber of Seville (which Mozart adapted into an opera.)

In Beaumarchais’s time, writers were not well paid. The theatres of Paris held a kind of monopoly, or cartel.  They colluded together to keep writers’ fees down.

The Barber of Seville was one of the hits of 1775 and it continued bringing in audiences after that.  But, despite the money that the theatres got from Beaumarchais’s popular play, his remuneration wasn’t very high.

So, in 1777, Beaumarchais led the other French writers in a strike. If they didn’t get paid more for their successful plays, they wouldn’t write at all.

This led to a scarcity of plays and forced theatre owners into negotiations.

Theatre owners now paid royalties, instead of just a flat fee for plays.

bookmark_borderThe use of Flashback in Amazing Grace

Amazing Grace (dir. Michael Apted, written by Steven Knight) seems to be the first major film to depict the life and activism of Wilfred Wilberforce. I was reluctant to write any review because I’m not sure of the historical accuracy of Wilberforce’s life. However, from a creative point of view, I find the use of flashbacks interesting.

Many biopics, from made-for-tv movies to big-budget blockbusters, use flashbacks as a creative device. At one extreme you have The Iron Lady, where almost every other scene is the elderly Thatcher remembering her rise and fall. Then there’s the TV movie like Coco Chanel, where flashbacks are used intermittently to show a character still in her prime remembering how she got where she was while preparing a show.

The classic, however, is a film like Gandhi (Dir: David Attenborough, writer: John Briley, 1982), where we start at the death of the main character, then tell the story in sequence, introducing the protagonist just before that fateful first decision is made. But, all these devices open a story toward the end of the story, not in the middle. Continue reading “The use of Flashback in Amazing Grace”

bookmark_borderBen Franklin’s financial advice

Since the following quote is so long, I won’t put it in quote format.

TO MY FRIEND A.B.,

As you have desired it of me, I write the following hints, which have been of service to me and may if observed be so to you.

REMEMBER that time is money. He that can earn ten shillings a day by his labor and goes abroad or sits idle one half of that day though he spends but sixpence during his diversion or idleness ought not to reckon that the only expense, he has really spent or rather thrown away five shillings besides.

Remember that credit is money. If a man lets his money lie in my hands after it is due, he gives me the interest or so much as I can make of it during that time. This amounts to a considerable sum where a man has good and large credit and makes good use of it. Continue reading “Ben Franklin’s financial advice”

bookmark_borderIt takes more than 100 days

2 years ago, I witnessed the re-enactment of the battle of Waterloo.  Thousands of talented volunteers from around the world walked through the footsteps of Napoleon, Wellington, Blücher, and their allies and armies.

Although we didn’t have the best seats on the field, it was wonderful that so many dedicated re-enactors, or living historians, brought history to life for us.  If you missed it, you should have been there. Continue reading “It takes more than 100 days”

bookmark_borderFilmmaker admits awards are political

When The Hollywood Reporter asked producer Janine Jackowski if she was disappointed that Toni Erdmann didn’t win the foreign language Oscar, she said no. She expected it, when she heard the news of “Trump’s travel ban.”

“Two hours later I talked to Maren and we both said, ‘It’s gone.’ We knew the Academy would want to send a signal with the Iranian film. Up to that point, Toni Erdmann was one of the favorites.”

Continue reading “Filmmaker admits awards are political”