November 19, 2006
'If we wait until we're ready, we'll never get started' — Eleanor Roosevelt
Though it dates from the mid-twentieth century, the above quotation still rings true.
Julie Myerson's column in yesterday's (November 18, 2006) Financial Times about how waiting for "a room of one's own" is a prescription for — in the end — accomplishing nothing, is superb, and follows.
- My 'writing room' is in my head
I wrote my first novel in the (then) spare room at the top of our house in Clapham, south London. Actually it was more of an everything-else room — a big, dusty, chaotic space crammed with all the things we hadn't used for years but couldn't quite bring ourselves to get rid of. My "desk" was an old wooden door supported on two stacks of cardboard boxes and wedged between suitcases and piles of old tennis racquets and Wellington boots. To get to my chair I had to ease myself in sideways and then I was pretty much there for the duration.
In some ways it felt right having to squeeze myself in like that. I wasn't yet a real writer and hadn't earned the right to anything more. I was still doing a full-time day job, had two noisy children under three and, for almost half the time I was working, was pregnant with our third. But all my life, for as long as I could remember, I had talked about the novel I wanted to write. So now here I was — wedged between the second and the third baby, wedged between stacks of junk — finally shutting up and having a go.
The novel took 18 long months of evenings and weekends, all in that room, so maybe it's not surprising that I still have raw, sharp memories of the space. I can still see the (firmly shut) pine door with its tarnished brass Victorian knob and, turning my head, the grey view of the houses opposite, telegraph wires, purple slate roofs, red chimney pots, fast-moving clouds.
The house across the road was a refugee hostel and, as dusk fell, I'd watch the unknown, transient people moving in their separate, dimly lit spaces. I'd gaze as they walked in and out of rooms, disappeared from view, then re-emerged. What were they doing? Where were they going? Probably just a trip to the kitchen for a cup of milk but watching them lead their lives a few yards away made a change from staring at the blank screen of my basic Amstrad computer (this was 1991) and wondering how I would ever find the confidence and staying power to create a whole novel.
I didn't always get the peace I desired either. Some days three-year-old Jacob would come and stand outside my door and just breathe. "Mummy?"
"Are you doing your nobble?"
"Yes sweetheart, and now can you go back downstairs and leave me in peace to work?"
"Darling, you have to go downstairs now and leave me in peace."
"I'm not doing anything. I'm just being here till you've finished."
Did Virginia Woolf struggle to finish The Waves with a small dungareed person breathing outside her door? I don't think so. Not that it mattered. As I somehow wrote my way through two long winters and out the other side into spring, I realised with elation that I was getting there. I was actually close to typing "The End". Never in my life had I made such a life-changing journey in a single room.
When I sold that novel, I was ecstatic. This was all I had ever dreamed of. Actually, it was more than I'd dreamed of: my advance was just enough to allow me to give up the day job and write full time. But did this mean I was going to spend every day from now on in the spare room among the junk? Rather haughtily, I took a leaf out of my literary heroine's book and claimed "a room of my own". The spare room was cleared out to accommodate all three of our babies (who were happy to sleep hugger-mugger in those days) and the tiny, bright sunshine-yellow room on the landing, which had until recently been the baby's room, became my study. I was a proper novelist now, after all.
But space and inspiration are strange things. Though I took enormous pleasure in my wroom, though I enjoyed filling its shelves with the books I loved, in having a proper desk, a proper chair, in surrounding myself with my stuff and not being wedged in by junk any more, still it changed nothing. My head was still the place where I spent all my time, the place I pulled the words from. And while I did that the room dissolved around me. As I began my second novel, I had no idea whether I was surrounded by Wellington boots or pristine bookshelves. I could have been anywhere or nowhere.
So these days when aspiring writers tell me they want to write a novel but they're just waiting to find the right working space, or get a new computer, or take some time off work, or for everything in their lives to be just so, I'm afraid I tell them the truth: that they'll wait for ever.
Because though I am very happy to have my four white walls and my glass-topped desk, I know I was never more inspired than stuck in that room between those piles of junk, with a toddler breathing outside the door and another baby kicking inside me.
A room of one's own isn't a thing you can buy or rent. It's a place inside your head and once you own it, no one can take it from you. It's yours to go to as often and for as long as you choose.
Glow-in-the-Dark Wall Clock
Because for $4.99 it's got an awful lot going on.
From the website:
- Glow-In-The-Dark Wall Clock
Tell time at a glance — 24 hours a day — with this sleek, glow-in-the-dark wall clock.
Features a precision quartz movement and large, easy-to-read numbers that glow in the dark unlike many clocks.
Perfect for any room in your home or office.
Uses one AA battery (not included).
A time machine — of sorts.
[via Brian Nelson]
FlashMic — 'World's first self-contained professional recording microphone'
Tell us more.
"Combines a high-quality, Sennheiser omnidirectional condenser capsule with an inbuilt, broadcast-quality Flash recorder."
Recording-studio-on-a-stick is another way of looking at it.
£799 (€1160; $1,514).
Death by Powerpoint — Slide 1: 'This is our corporate headquarters.' Slide 2: 'This is our corporate headquarters at sunset'
Jared Sandberg's "Cubicle Culture" column in the November 14, 2006 Wall Street Journal was the best summary I've ever read re: the fake authority and real vacuity of PowerPoint.
Here's the piece.
- Tips for PowerPoint:
• Go Easy on the Text
• Please, Spare Us
You would think that Mark Glackin didn't like PowerPoint at all. Ask the advertising vice president his thoughts about Microsoft's tool, which he's used to spruce up his presentations for the past 12 years, and you get an impassioned, 1,200-word screed on the things that drive him absolutely nuts about it.
Needless to say, you also get a PowerPoint slide summarizing his points. To name a few, people write paragraphs for each bullet point and simply recite their slides. "If you are going to just read the slides, email them and don't make everyone come to a meeting," he wrote in an email. Please don't squeeze a ton of text into your slide; don't go special-effects crazy with flying text. It may enhance your PowerPoint but not your point.
"Oh, do you want to hear more pet peeves? I'll over-share anyway," he wrote. Collect multiple presentations on one machine so there isn't endless laptop plug-and-slay. And ban laser pointers, which are wickedly distracting, he says. "It's like trying to watch the net at a ping-pong match."
Even people who love PowerPoint have no shortage of gripes about it. Over the years, the software has been blamed for boring people senseless. The phrase "Death by PowerPoint" is common corporate parlance. Some companies and conference organizers have prohibited PowerPoint, and the press perennially skewers it as a thought-free plague. One legal scholar, tongue-in-cheek, proposed a constitutional amendment banning its use.
Yet, there are an estimated 30 million PowerPoint presentations given each day around the world, inviting the question: Why, if so many people dread presentations, do we still see so many of them?
One answer: (big bullet point, please) Because it's a lot easier on presenters than the audience it's allegedly intended for.
"It's much easier to write a presentation if you're writing in bullet grunts," says Edward Tufte, the pre-eminent designer of visual information, who argued in a 28-page polemic against the program, "The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint," that PowerPoint routinely disrupts and trivializes content.
Mr. Tufte says thought and analysis are sacrificed for convenience to the speaker, hurting both content and the audience. "PowerPoint allows presenters to pretend they're giving a presentation," he says. Still, "its cognitive style profoundly corrupts serious communications," he says.
Dave Paradi, who co-wrote a book on PowerPoint, adds that executives routinely "seem to be surprised that they should think about the audience before they think about what they're saying." Mr. Paradi estimates that bad PowerPoint presentations cost companies $252 million a day in wasted time. He thinks that's a conservative figure.
PowerPoint proponents say slideware doesn't bore people, people bore people. The tool puts powerful features at their fingertips and they need learn only how to best use it, they say. To lifeless presentations, it adds what is described — unfortunately — as verve, flair and panache.
Besides, for those who freeze in front of an audience, PowerPoint can help keep them on message, another reason for its popularity. "Fear of public speaking ranks slightly below night-landing a plane on an aircraft carrier during a storm," says John Falck, a partner at a proprietary trading firm who has seen his share of "soul-sapping PowerPoint muggings." When they freeze and forget their own name, they can just read it off the first slide, he says. "PowerPoint is a great crutch."
Another PowerPoint truism inflating its popularity: Your own PowerPoints don't smell.
Two weeks ago James Studinger, a sales representative, was told by another salesman about his "wonderful" PowerPoint presentation. A moment later, Mr. Studinger was staring at a slide that said only "Long Term Relationship." His mind began to wander; he pondered why someone would devote a whole slide to those three words and why someone would think that would impress him. "By then I was beginning to wonder about the competency of a person who thought that was a great presentation," he says.
But he didn't protest, which may be another reason why PowerPoint is so prevalent: People tell everyone but the presenter of their boredom — civility that only reinforces its use.
"It's just not worth generating the ill will that it's going to cause," says Stephen Rojak, fresh from a presentation. When he was in software sales, Mr. Rojak's former company sent him to a class to learn how to make an effective presentation without PowerPoint, because all of its competitors were using it. "I used to call it the Betty Ford Clinic for overcoming PowerPoint dependency," he says. The instructors mocked the program with slides of photos, noting in one: "This is our corporate headquarters," and with another, "This is our corporate headquarters at sunset."
But the civility has some self-interest. Larry Chung, a software developer, doesn't criticize fellow presenters, he says, "because I know the tables could be turned a few weeks later." To him, PowerPoint presentations are like corporate karaoke. "For the most part, it's tough to listen to," he says. "We all applaud each other even though we know how bad it stinks."
Many years ago I discovered that the key to a great PowerPoint experience is a comfortable chair — for myself.
Artecnica tranSglass Vase — by Tord Boontje & Emma Woffenden
"The tranSglass series is a collection of glassware made from recycled wine and beer bottles, a triumph of transformation of garbage to re-use and new function."
'Are you an A-list Blogebrity?'
Good thing he woke me up and told me about this 'cause my crack research team was — as usual — out to lunch, dinner and breakfast.
I didn't make the A-list, alas; my status is up top.
Real soon now, though....
Heliodisplay — 'Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic'
So observed Arthur C. Clarke in 1973.
Here it is late 2006 and it still holds true.
"The Heliodisplay projects video into mid-air."