6. Neil Gaiman (and his website)

Sep-14-2012 | Comments (1)

Bird’s Eye: It’s bird’s eye all the way down on this one. This is what I found when I was exploring authors’ blogs, and got to Neil Gaiman. It’s worth a (guided) exploration)

Start at Neil’s Work, as you are now trying to remember what exactly did he write.  Notice how the “You are here” next to live links makes it so easy to navigate?

Now click across the menu bar at the top to get a sense of the range of the web site. Note the way the shots of Neil in upper right echo each other. When you get to the “Message Boards” scroll down the page, to look at the numbers of posts and think of that community.

Finally, read a short short story, (1141words) Cinnamon, a charming fable of an exotic princess who refuses to speak. This currently exists only on Neil’s website and has never been published in print or any other format.

Want some more? Read either his bravura Hugo nominated How To Talk To Girls At Parties, or watch him reading The Graveyard Book (yes, the entire book) on tour. The Graveyard Book won both the British Carnegie Medal and the American Newbery Medal recognising year’s best children’s books, the first time both named the same work. It also won the annual Hugo Award for Best Novel from the World Science Fiction Convention and Locus Award for Best Young Adult Book selected by Locus magazine subscribers. (Thanks, Wikipedia!)

Three interesting Gaiman nuggets from his Wikipedia entry

* For his seventh birthday, Gaiman received C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia series. He later recalled that “I admired his use of parenthetical statements to the reader, where he would just talk to you … I’d think, ‘Oh, my gosh, that is so cool! I want to do that! When I become an author, I want to be able to do things in parentheses.’ I liked the power of putting things in brackets.”

* Gaiman generally posts to his blog describing the day-to-day process of being Neil Gaiman and writing, revising, publishing, or promoting whatever the current project is. He also posts reader emails and answers questions, which gives him unusually direct and immediate interaction with fans. One of his answers on why he writes the blog is “because writing is, like death, a lonely business.”…Gaiman is an active user of the social networking site Twitter with over 1.6 million followers as of January 2012, using the username @neilhimself.

* Gaiman is married to songwriter and performer Amanda Palmer. The couple publicly announced that they were dating in June 2009, announced their engagement on Twitter on 1 January 2010, and confirmed their engagement on their respective websites two weeks later. On 16 November 2010, Amanda Palmer hosted a non-legally binding flash mob wedding for Gaiman’s birthday in New Orleans.

7. Neil Gaiman

May-25-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: I’ve enjoyed Neil Gaiman’s work for a while, but his commencement speech is just over the top fantastic. It is funny, entertaining, insightful, and utterly inspiring to all of us who strive to do creative work. You will be so happy you chose to watch it. And his explanation of why he defends free speech is germane, and his talk with Stephen King gives fine insights into both men, as any good interview does. But watch the commencement talk!

* Neil Gaiman Commencement Address Explains The Artist’s Life Cory Doctorow Boing Boing

Here’s Neil Gaiman’s commencement address to Philadelphia’s University of the Arts, who awarded him an honorary doctorate. It’s a wonderful talk on being an artists and pursuing a career in the arts. I’m getting an honorary doctorate in Computer Science from the Open University next month, and I’ve been boiling my brain to come up with my own speech — this has really raised the bar.

* Why Defend Freedom Of Icky Speech? Neil Gaiman

I was born the day of the conclusion of the Lady Chatterley trial in England, the day it was decided that Lady Chatterley’s Lover, with its swearing, buggery and raw sex between the classes, was fit to be published and read in a cheap edition that poor people and servants could read. This was the same England in which, some years earlier, the director of public prosecutions had threatened to prosecute Professor F R Leavis if he so much as referred to James Joyce’s Ulysses in a lecture (the DPP was Archibald Bodkin, who also banned The Well of Loneliness) , in which, when I was sixteen and listening to the Sex Pistols, the publisher of Gay News was sentenced to prison for the crime of Criminal Blasphemy, for publishing an erotic poem featuring a fantasy about Jesus.

When I was writing Sandman, about eighteen years ago, I had thought that the Marquis de Sade would make a fine character for my French Revolution story (I loved the fact that at the time he was a tubby, asthmatic imprisoned for his refusal to sentence people to death) and realised I ought to read his books, rather than commentaries on them, if I was going to put him in my story. I discovered that the works of DeSade were, at that time, considered obscene and not available in the UK, and that UK Customs had declared them un-importable. I bought them in a Borders the next time I was in the US, and brought them through customs looking guilty.

* Neil Gaiman interviews Stephen King

Driving down to Florida I listened, for over thirty hours, to the audiobook of King’s time travel novel, 11/22/63. It’s about a High School English teacher (as King was, when he wrote Carrie) who goes back from 2011 to 1958, via a wormhole in time located in the stockroom of an ancient diner, with a mission to save John F. Kennedy from Lee Harvey Oswald. It is, as always with King, the kind of fiction that forces you to care what happens, page after page. It has elements of horror, but they exist almost as a condiment for something that’s partly a tightly researched historical novel, partly a love-story, and always a musing on the nature of time and the past.

…“I never think of stories as made things; I think of them as found things. As if you pull them out of the ground, and you just pick them up. Someone once told me that that was me low-balling my own creativity. That might or might not be the case. But still,  on the story I am working on now, I do have some unresolved problem. It doesn’t keep me awake at nights. I feel like when it comes down, it will be there…”

King writes every day. If he doesn’t write he’s not happy. If he writes, the world is a good place. So he writes. It’s that simple. “I sit down maybe at quarter past eight in the morning and I work until quarter to twelve and for that period of time, everything is real.   And then it just clicks off. I think I probably write about 1200 to 1500 words. It’s six pages. I want to get six pages into hardcopy.”

9. Your Mind at Work (and Play)

May-25-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: A quick and easy reading speed tester, that shows how your score compares with others. (Editor’s note: still over 1000 wpm). A painfully funny piece about losing touch with popular culture by a 42 year old (Hint: Charlie, it’s going to get a lot worse.). And a spectacularly tricky rebus, with the answer below it, in white text. Select it to see it…when you give up, or to confirm you got it.

* Test Your Reading Speed

Read a short passage, answer comprehension questions, get your reading speed in words per minute.

* When You Lose Touch With Popular Culture, It’s Tough To Get Back Charlie Brooker  The Guardian

Things change so rapidly these days it’s easy to get left behind, no matter how powerful you are. Much online tittering occurred last Friday when … Rebekah Brooks told the Leveson inquiry that David Cameron used to sign off his text messages with the acronym LOL, in the mistaken belief that it stood for “Lots of Love” instead of “Laugh Out Loud”, the idiot. The great big lizardy berk. The scaly, reptilian, basking-on-a-rock-to-raise-his-body’s-vitamin-D-level nincompoop. LOL what a noob #CamFail

Actually, it’s vaguely refreshing that he didn’t know what it means. Cameron is 45 years old, which means he has been allowed to not know stuff for at least a decade. He’s a few years older than me, but I got a head start by wilfully deciding to ignore huge chunks of popular culture as far back as 1999. That was the year the film American Pie was released. Lots of people seemed to be talking about it, chiefly because a teenager has sexual intercourse with a dessert in it. Being 28 years old in 1999, I considered myself too old and sophisticated to watch such a thing. As a result, American Pie is forever tagged in my mind as a “new” film for “youngsters”.

So imagine my horror on seeing a poster the other day for American Pie: The Reunion, a film in which the original cast reconvene after 13 years, presumably now in their 30s and dealing with kids and mortgages and paunches and OH SOD EVERYTHING. It’s a piece of nostalgia cashing in on something I was too old for first time around. That’s how you know you’re really getting old. That and the way your eyebrow hair goes all wiry and starts sprouting away from your face like its afraid of something, which to be fair it probably is, considering how knackered you look.

* Rebus

A rebus is a puzzle in which words are represented by combinations of pictures and individual letters; for instance, apex might be represented by a picture of an ape followed by a letter X.

Your challenge: FA  TH (Answer is two words of five letters: triple click the line below this one to see the answer.)

Faith without its I, or “Blind faith”.

6. Shame, Disgust, Humiliation

Mar-23-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: The shadow emotions, the ones we don’t show, don’t talk about, often don’t admit to ourselves, are the ones which may have the most to teach us. Starting with a marvellous TED talk, we shed some light on three shadows. Take a look… and they’ll grow less scary.

* Brené Brown: Listening to shame   Video on TED.com (Thanks Erin!)

Shame is an unspoken epidemic, the secret behind many forms of broken behavior. Brené Brown, whose earlier talk on vulnerability became a viral hit, explores what can happen when people confront their shame head-on. Her own humor, humanity and vulnerability shine through every word.

Brené Brown studies vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame.

* Humiliation by Wayne Koestenbaum   review, The Guardian

Humiliation is always a reminder of our embodied being – it involves flesh and fluids and unwanted (or shamefully desired) intrusions. Koestenbaum recalls many instances of his own body’s abject eruption, from childhood accidents such as sneezing on his hand at school to deadpan anecdotes from his erotic life: “Sitting beside a playwright, I began ejaculating, and at just that instant an urban planner walked into the room.” This last (delightfully context-free) anecdote points to the book’s first key insight: humiliation requires, or at least imagines, a trio. While one may burn with shame alone, or suffer embarrassment in the presence of one other, humiliation’s “infernal waltz” is danced by victim, protagonist and witness: “The scene’s horror – its energy, its electricity – invokes the presence of three.”

With fame, of course, the triad structure remains but the witnesses multiply, and some of Humiliation is devoted to persons whose celebrity is or was largely a matter of having their bodies exposed, or speculated on in more than one sense.

* Disgust’s Evolutionary Role Is Irresistible to Researchers  New York Times

Disgust is the Cinderella of emotions. While fear, sadness and anger, its nasty, flashy sisters, have drawn the rapt attention of psychologists, poor disgust has been hidden away in a corner, left to muck around in the ashes.

No longer. Disgust is having its moment in the light as researchers find that it does more than cause that sick feeling in the stomach. It protects human beings from disease and parasites, and affects almost every aspect of human relations, from romance to politics.

Disgust was not completely ignored in the past. Charles Darwin tackled the subject in “The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.” He described the face of disgust, documented by Guillaume-Benjamin Duchenne in his classic study of facial expressions in 1862, as if one were expelling some horrible-tasting substance from the mouth.

“I never saw disgust more plainly expressed,” Darwin wrote, “than on the face of one of my infants at five months, when, for the first time, some cold water, and again a month afterwards, when a piece of ripe cherry was put into his mouth.”

His book did not contain an image of the infant, but fortunately YouTube has numerous videos of babies tasting lemons.

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