Climbing New Heights

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Dear Fellow Bloggers

It’s the first week of autumn or fall “down under” (it feels like spring) in Australia, and already the temperatures have cooled in Sydney. I hope the weather is warming up for you in the northern hemisphere.

I have enjoyed connecting with you and your wonderful posts on WordPress during the past months and years.

I want to let you know, dear bloggers—from all over the place, even from Romania !—that you have helped me greatly with confidence and strategies in starting out on my blogging adventure.

Thank you all for the kind likes and comments along the way.

It is now time for me to take new steps towards improving my technical skills in relation to a refurbished website, as I move towards publication and marketing of my books that are still in manuscript form.

For this reason, I am concentrating on developing my personally branded WordPress, site “Anne Skyvington:The Craft of Writing” at http://anneskyvington.com.

I would be very sorry to lose contact with you, and I invite you to keep in contact with me at the above site.

Let’s stay in touch

Warm regards

Your friend Anne

Dear WordPress Bloggers

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We’re coming into summer here Down Under, while you in the northern hemisphere head towards winter.

I have decided, paradoxically, to go into blogging hibernation now, while the outdoors activities in this part of the world, beckon me to join in. At the same time,  I wish to concentrate on finishing two novels that I started on some time ago. And I find that it is difficult focusing on any other form of writing while I do so.

Many thanks to all the friends I’ve met online. Happy end-of-fall and lovely wintry Christmas tidings to come.

Please keep in touch, if you wish, on my self-hosted blog. Also, please refer to my post here, about why and how I started it: “Taking Risks”.

New Horizons

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New Horizons

Those past two weeks had seen me have 2 new artificial lenses put in my eyes, that is, cataract surgery on both eyes, start a new blog, and study about plugins that help bloggers to make their sites look and work better. It’d been a steep learning curve. At the same time, I’d agreed to assist Labor in Australia’s recent elections, even though I felt they would lose. And what a disaster the election was for the Government, and perhaps for the country, too!

Cataract Surgery

Intaocular lenses (IOLs) are small plastic devices with plastic side struts, called haptics, to hold the lens in place within the capsular bag inside the eye. (Wikipedia). IOLs were conventionally made of an inflexible acrylic glass material (PMMA), utilised during the Second World War, in submarines and fighter planes, with positive results in terms of human survival and injury. Naturally, this has largely been superseded by the use of more flexible materials.

More recently, these lenses have been further improved, especially the multifocal lenses, which were originally associated with “haloing”  issues, and problems with night driving. So far, my experience with these new lenses has been excellent. I can read, shop and see far into the distance without wearing glasses. Hurrah for technology!

Blogging and Plugins

Starting a new website with a new theme had been a real challenge, coinciding with my new eyesight!  The Generate Press theme turned out to be a wonderful find. I’ve never been technologically confident, but this theme looked how I wanted my page to look, straight away, and was easy to install and to use.  Now that I’ve upgraded to Premium, it should be even better. And the support from the developer was phenominal!

Understanding and configuring things, both with my host, BlueHost, and my WordPress site was hardest of all. I’d never tried to use plugins before, so it was quite a challenge.  With WordPress.com plugins are done for you. With WordPress.org, I had to read up about this and try to get my head around terms; and at times it was too difficult without help from my host and/or WP.  It was time-consuming, but I was determined to see it through.

The Australian Election

It was only three days after my second cataract surgery, that the double dissolution election occurred. Our Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, had called the election to try and gain more power in the Senate. He’d been touted to win in a landslide by all polls and pundits in the country. Even people, like me, who’d voted Labor all their lives, were influenced by the media reports, and were expecting another Liberal/National (Coalition) Party victory in both Houses. A double dissolution also involves half the Senate.  The prime Minister himself believed in the hype, too. But it was a long pre-election campaign, and the leader of the opposition, Bill Shorten, campaigned hard by touring in his “Bill Bus”, and by making himself available to the public in his egalitarian way.  I’ve always seen myself as on the side of the underdog, and it was “Health and Education” issues that turned the tide against the government’s “Jobs and Growth” mantra. At times it looked like the opposition might even win, or gain power with a slight margin. However, it looks more likely that it will be a hung parliament, and especially bad for the Government in the Upper House.

Surely this outcome could not have been foreseen? It goes against the truism that in politics nothing happens by accident, but is always planned by far-seeing agents.  I didn’t see this coming: a 3.5 percent swing towards Labor; and the Prime Minister couldn’t have seen it coming, either, I’m sure.

Taking Risks

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Crazy young woman is biting her laptop in office

I’ve always been a bit of a risk taker in some ways. [See “My Travel Journal: (A Metaphor) From Paris to Russia and Back in 1968” (Memoir)].  In other ways, I’ve been incredibly stable during long periods of my life. We’re all made up of contradictions, I guess. Anyway, recently, I made the decision to change over to a self-hosted website on WordPress. I can tell you, it’s not for the faint-hearted! The first step was to migrate the site from WordPress.com across to WordPress.org, and to open an account with a web host (BlueHost in my case).

After that, the real troubles began. I’ve spent many minutes, hours, days, weeks, struggling to learn all the jargon associated with troubleshooting, changing things, chatting with online helpers bearing funny names, like Rajneeshi devotees, and it’s not over yet. On the bright side, I’m pleased with the look of the site. On the other hand, I hadn’t been able to figure out, or “configure”, comments from followers, which my friends had complained about.  You see, I had to spend time re-organising my categories and my menu, too.

Another problem to solve: there was a strange-looking dotted rectangle in the top left-hand corner of my site, (see below), perhaps to do with a plug-in clash, I believe.  Ah well, it could be worse.

You might well ask why did you do it? I had an attractive free blog already on WordPress, so why go to all the trouble … paying a host provider, and learning the new rules?  I think it was, partly, that I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it, and because I wanted to become the owner of a website looking blog with a blogging tool built into it. Perhaps I was wrong…

When I looked at the main advantages of  .org over .com, it wasn’t about cost, because I was already paying about the same fee annually, for premium upgrades—only about $100—as I will be now for the host. The main advantage is the plugins: there are hundreds to choose from with the hosted site, and you can learn to use them to advantage. But again, it was a sharp learning curve for me.

So I had to ask my friends and followers to please bear with me,  while I muddled around a bit more, trying to put the finishing touches to my “website”, like a painter or artist, who hasn’t quite mastered a certain technique yet.

And then, after all that, I discovered that I could retain the .com site and benefit from the WordPress  community there.

And here’s a link for anyone who wants to find out more about WordPress, and the differences, or to start a blog:  https://wordpress.com/create/

 

Getting Feedback on Your Writing

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How do you react to negative feedback?

I sent off my manuscript of “Karrana” (a novel) to a professional editor last year. I requested a structural edit. She gave me both positive and negative feedback. It was useful, and I’ve now started rewriting the first draft, and molding it into  a better shape.

My first reaction after receiving criticism was to withdraw from the project. I read only negativity into the feedback. Is this normal for most writers? We are, after all, such sensitive souls. Now that I’ve started on the second draft, I realise how useful the feedback was.

But have you ever been trolled? That is, targeted by unfriendly readers of your blog? I haven’t as yet, because the WordPress tools are so adept at blocking and preventing this.

I have received some nasty comments recently from someone who used to be close to me.  He’d started following my blogs, after I’d changed to the WordPress platform.

Having been brought up in a relatively dysfunctional family, my first instinct was to forgive his comments, as it’s all about projection on this person’s part.

In our family, I was often (overly?) sensitive. Fate had paired me off with a mother who had quite a thick hide. Small things upset me, and big things were crushing  for my very soul. One instance was the near-death of a beloved brother when I was five. I tried to conceal my “weakness”. I took on the guilt for some things that were not my fault: even this brother’s accident. It meant that I grew up carrying heavy emotional baggage on my shoulders.

Later on, after much work on my part, I was able to heal from my troubles. I even got rid of the “Black Dog” of depression, so that I could bring up my two children in a healthy environment. One of my main aims in writing is to destigmatise mental illness.

Sometimes I feel like The Idiot  in the masterpiece by Dostoyevsky, because I find it hard to give up on those who are suffering. The protagonist, Prince Myshkin, puts up with a lot, and comes across as being stupid; but he is the incarnation of compassion within the structure of the novel. The title is meant to be ironic.

When I was in fourth class at primary school, my teacher, a returned war serviceman, used to write this short poem on the blackboard. It was for cursive writing practice. I was never good at handwriting, but I loved poetry. The sentiments expressed in this poem made a great impression on me at the time.

Life is mostly froth and bubble,
Two things stand like stone.
Kindness in another’s trouble,

Courage in your own.
Adam Lindsay Gordon

This sentiment stood by me when I was being bullied at school around this time; when I felt terribly alone with no one to stand up for me. Many sensitive children go through this at some stage in their school days, I am sure.

How do you protect yourself from trolls and others who may wish to do you harm or to hurt you?

One thing I love about blogging is the friendships I make online, and the fact that I don’t need to be a neat writer!

The Bridge at Mostar

Mostar Bridge

The bridge is pleasing to the eye. It’s perfect in its simplicity. You can only appreciate the grace of its arcs from a distance, or from the pebbly beach down below. Looking up you see a figure standing on the topmost point of the arc. A man is waiting until the amount of money offered by spectators on the bridge reaches a certain point. Jumping is dangerous. If satisfied with the offering, he will jump into the Neretva River below the bridge. It’s a drop of 24 metres. The water is always cold. A young Australian man died last year when his body hit the cold water. Up above, the temperature had reached nearly 45 degrees celsius. He died from a heart attack.

The Mostar bridge is in Southern Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is inhabited by 113,169 people. It was destroyed by shelling in 1993 during the Croat-Bosniak war. The Old Bridge, an Ottoman structure, stood for 427 years. Reconstructed with international aid, gathered by UNESCO after the war, it has become a World Heritage structure.  It is constructed of 1556 stones.

I first learnt about this bridge from a Bosnian refugee in Sydney during the nineties. He was giving a cultural talk in a Second Language class I was teaching at the time. This inspired me to one day visit Bosnia-Herzogovina and see this bridge for myself. I got the chance this month while staying in Croatia, a three-hour bus trip away. We had to pass through three border stops, as a slim coastal strip belongs to Bosnia.

The bridge is whole once more, but the people in Mostar remain split, torn asunder by trauma left over from the war.  Moslems live on the east of the town, worshipping in mosques, while Catholic Croats and Orthodox Serbians are on the west. Healing takes a long time in these situations. The three entities tend to choose segregation rather than forgiveness at this stage.

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Getting  ready to jump…

A storm was brewing

Otherworldly… taken from the other side

Finding Peace…Going Deeper…Meditating

What is Meditation?

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“It’s what happy and successful people do,” I was told, when I first started learning about meditation and how to do it. The Dalai Lama and other Tibetan Buddhists  believe that happiness is the actual goal of most people on earth. I started meditating in the nineteen nineties, when I was searching for strategies for overcoming work-based anxiety and depression, which were causing self-esteem issues for me. However, it wasn’t until more recently, after stopping full-time work, that I joined groups to enhance the practice and to go deeper into it.

Meditation has been around from time immemorial: first recorded in written texts from seven thousand years ago in China. While meditation has become linked mainly to Eastern cultures, it is integral to most spiritual paths, and basic to all major religions in some form or another.

Dr Ian Gawler of the Ian Gawler Foundation claimed to have been cured of cancer through meditation and dietary changes.  He states that “No matter where in your life you want to see  improvement, meditation can help. It does not matter what age you are, your culture or beliefs; meditation is for everyone and can provide you with great benefits, many of which have been scientifically confirmed. This simple, yet powerful mind training tool, can bring long-term improvement to your health, wellbeing, relationships and career.” Mindbody Mastery

How to meditate:

There are many different groups offering many different meditation practices. Here is an article outlining the  main different types of meditation.

Simply put, you sit with your back erect, close your eyes, focus on your breath, and practise mindfullness. It takes time and continued practice to learn how to do this easily and comfortably, without being pulled around by speedy, agitated “monkey mind“.

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Monkey Mind

 A Simple meditation for beginners
  1. Sit or lie comfortably. You may even want to invest in a meditation chair.
  2. Close your eyes.
  3. Make no effort to control the breath; simply breathe naturally.
  4. Focus your attention on the breath and on how the body moves with each inhalation and exhalation.

Credits for the Mercedes Benz ad:
Advertising Agency: Shalmor Avnon Amichay/Y&R Interactive Tel Aviv, Israel
Chief Creative Director: Gideon Amichay
Executive Creative Director: Tzur Golan
Creative Director: Yariv Twig
Art Directors: Gil Aviyam, Dror Nachumi
Illustrators: Gil Aviyam, Lena Guberman
Copywriters: Sharon Refael, Oren Meir
Executive Client Director: Adam Polachek
Account Supervisor: Yael Yuz
Account Manager: Mayran Sadeh
Head of Strategic Planning: Yoni Lahav
Planning Director: Zohar Reznik
Planner: Nili Rabinowitz

Emotional Intelligence

Wikipedia gives a good overview of the term  Emotional Intelligence. But what are the implications for writers and others today?

I love this ad from Mercedes-Benz from Ads of the World  that seems to sum up the functions and importance of both sides of the brain. Which side do you think emotional intelligence is linked to? See credits for the ad below

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Swedish “love coach”, Carolin Dahlman,  gave a presentation to our writers’ group around the idea of networking in order to be published.  Most of the large group of writers who attended were hoping to be published one day. Her message was that in this fast-moving world we need to self-promote through the internet and other technology at our disposal, and to go out and meet people and talk about our projects. Admittedly, she has found a saleable niche, in that many lonely people need her psychological know-how, and her skills for relating to others. At the same time, she knows how to self promote, loves what she does, and has boundless energy for doing so.

One of the questions was from a group member who saw himself as being highly intelligent. He claimed the supra-importance of IQ, intelligence quotient,  for a happy life. The speaker claimed that, in fact, intelligence can be an obstacle in a person’s search for “truth”. Carolin’s response was that “emotional intelligence” (EQ or EI) is far more important for finding love and happiness than IQ. She often meets intelligent men and women who are afraid of seeking out love (fearing commitment? emotional pain?) and who live a lonely life as a result.
Several people in the group pointed out examples of “idiot savants” (Remember “Rain Man” played by Dustin Hoffman?) who can calculate extraordinary sums in their head, but who can barely look after themselves. However, these are extreme examples of specifically gifted individuals within the “autism spectrum” , who do not score well on intelligence tests at all.
 Another definition of EQ is from Salovey and Mayer: “A form of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.
Daniel Goleman, in his 1995 book Emotional Intelligence, identified 4 aspects of the concept as follows: Knowing your emotions; managing your own emotions; motivating yourself; managing relationships i.e. managing the emotions of others.

The fifth one is the hardest to achieve;  many parents will agree with this, as small children are naturally egotistical.

Credits for the ad:
Advertising Agency: Shalmor Avnon Amichay/Y&R Interactive Tel Aviv, Israel
Chief Creative Director: Gideon Amichay
Executive Creative Director: Tzur Golan
Creative Director: Yariv Twig
Art Directors: Gil Aviyam, Dror Nachumi
Illustrators: Gil Aviyam, Lena Guberman
Copywriters: Sharon Refael, Oren Meir
Executive Client Director: Adam Polachek
Account Supervisor: Yael Yuz
Account Manager: Mayran Sadeh
Head of Strategic Planning: Yoni Lahav
Planning Director: Zohar Reznik
Planner: Nili Rabinowitz

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Are You Left Brained or Right Brained?

Tread Carefully Here…

I have to be careful when discussing this concept, as I’m married to a scientist, who also happens to be a very creative person. He was an actor when we first met, but has for a long time worked in a left-brained (academic) field: researching best-practice treatments for treating stuttering.

Left-brained people are said to utilise the parts of the brain related to logic, whereas  right-brained people choose the areas concerned with creativity.

Many who subscribe to this idea of left-brained versus right-brained, believe that we are born with a particular leaning towards one or the other hemisphere.  However, I see this distinction as partly metaphorical, rather than literal. That is, we are probably utilising both hemispheres of the brain all of the time, when working mentally, thinking and using language. But certain tracts or pathways might be forged differently, certainly over time, for the creative versus the logical thinker.

Are You a Creative or Logical Thinker?

Overall, I’m probably a creative, rather than a logical thinker. Yet I’ve excelled in academic pursuits at certain points in my life, when I’ve chosen to do so.  At this stage in life, I have chosen to follow my goal of mastering creative writing (fiction and memoir) now that I have retired from full-time work.  And recently, in every survey I’ve filled in relating to this topic, I’ve been shown to fall on the side of “right-brained” rather than “left-brained”.  But only just.  That is, I’m using all of my brain, all of the time, but I’m currently favouring creativity, over logical thinking.  And it shows!

Follow the Dancing Lady

When I follow the dancing lady figure with my eyes, which many might see as a puerile exercise—a trick?—something interesting happens. I only see her turning right. Does this clinch the deal? I’m a right-brained person!

Which side of the brain do you think you favour?

Brain scanning technology is quickly approachi...

Brain scanning technology is quickly approaching levels of detail that will have serious implications (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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First Week of Spring … Downunder

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Someone asked me today why I blog. Another person said recently that, at my age, it’s enough to be a good grandmother to my grandchildren. To be honest, and I’ll try to be truthful in this, the reason I started blogging was because of my older brother. I’d like to say that he encouraged me to do so, but the truth of the matter is that it was a case of sibling rivalry. Mine. About ten years ago, he started a blog from his eyrie, a farmhouse nestled in a valley below the French Alps, (http://skyvington.blogspot.com.au/), and I wanted to prove that I was able to do so myself. I’d been writing for therapeutic reasons for many years at the time. I knew it was a hangover from childhood, this need to prove myself: an immature impulse on my part. It’s the same reason why I embarked on higher studies, and ended up with several Masters degrees, even though I didn’t like school or even university very much. Continue reading