Just blogging

Compassion or self-marketing?

Yesterday, I came across a post on instagram which I found rather particular. It was a repost from a girl battling cancer, prompting others to send prayers. Seems nice, doesn’t it?

The caption said that the two had met two years earlier at an event. It didn’t make it seem like they’re close at all, or even acquainted. Besides, the girl who shot the original photo (I’ll call her Fightergirl) is not following the one who published the repost on instagram (I’ll call the latter Charity). And just another fun fact, Fightergirl – who’s of course tagged in the repost – has a community of almost 300k people, whereas the other account has just about 16k followers. So far, the repost got a little less than 350 likes and 30 comments, half of which are replies reminding people to read the caption. Because most people are just talking about Fightergirl’s outfit. (She does have great style.)

Call it cynicism, but I don’t think Charity’s repost was truly genuine. Let’s assume she did feel inspired and her only intention was to share that feeling as well as to show compassion. She could have done so by leaving a comment on Fightergirl’s page or sending her a DM. But no, she had to post it on her own page. And besides, why wait two years? It actually reminds me of the attention seeking RIP status on Facebook when someone famous dies. Sure, everyone has the right to feel how they feel, but not everything and every emotion has to be shared with everyone.

Of course I don’t know anything about Charity. For all I know she could be an activist who’s dedicating her life to support cancer patients, so I don’t want to discredit her. But it is unfortunate that on her instagram, she’s just picking one person with a large audience to show her ‘support’ to. Btw, I’d love to know what Fightergirl’s reaction was. I bet it was something like “Oh how thoughtful! This girl I saw for a second at that event is using my name and it got even two praying-hand-emojis in the comments! Now that really made my day!”

Ok, I’m done ranting now. So I let Bill sum up what I wanted to say.


Just blogging

What makes a good story?

This semester, I’m taking part in a photography workshop. And even though the main focus is set on photography, obviously, we’re also doing some exercises to help us become more creative. One of these exercises is writing short stories.

The first one was pretty simple and very very short. All we had to do was sit down somewhere and describe our surroundings. Then, in a second step, we had the task to develop that description and create a short story from it.

Initially, I was super excited about that. Mostly because it gave me a good excuse to go to Starbuck’s and stuff my face with cake. But also because it sounded like a fun thing to do, especially because somehow I always have some fighting couple or gossiping teenagers sitting right next to me. It’s highly entertaining. Btw, I seem to attract crazy people in general and I think (but am not sure) that I already wrote about this a few years ago. But I’ll get back to that in a minute.

This day however, there were no gossiping teenagers and no fighting couples, just boring, normal people and a crying baby. So the transcript of my surroundings was just a bunch of onomatopoeias for the opening/closing door slamming and the coffee machine. Which was totally fine with me. I even thought it had some sort of experimental character to it. But apparently, the teachers hated it, because I didn’t get any feedback (not even bad feedback). Besides, it’s quite difficult to turn “clong” and “crshhhhh” into a short story. So the story I wrote instead was pretty shitty and didn’t have a story line at all. I basically just wrote down my thoughts but called myself Nancy. So no big literature at all.

Still, when some of the other short stories were presented in class, I was pretty underwhelmed. Or maybe our teacher praised them way too much before they were read out loud. I thought they were pretty cliché, from their story lines to expressions such as “unruly hair”, that everyone’s read at least a million times. Which made me wonder: “Am I just immune to good writing?”, and: “Is it ok to hate on detailed descriptions or am I just a moron who doesn’t have the slightest idea of art?” And anyway, “What makes a good story?”

Of course, you can look up all the technical stuff online somewhere. And of course, lots of practice makes your work better (hopefully). But besides that, I guess it’s like categorizing a joke (which is nothing but a very short story) as funny or not – purely subjective and depending on the reader’s taste.

However, since I can’t come up with fictional stories, I’ll share one of my personal life. As I mentioned, I attract lots of crazy people. Some would maybe be annoyed by that, but I find it rather funny. And it always gives me something to talk about.

Anyways, during my first two years in Paris I used to live in a chambre de bonne – a tiny studio that used to be intended for the maids back in the 19th century. My floor even had a seperate entry, so I would only cross the people living in the bougie apartments down in the hall.

One day, a couple of months after I’d moved in, a middle-aged lady who was living in the first floor approached me. She seemed nice at first, but also quite nosy. In just one second, she went from the regular small talk to rather personal questions, including for example how much rent I paid. I guess for her, the concept of boundaries just didn’t exist, as she then started to talk about how annoyed she was by her husband. I’m normally really good at getting rid of people that unnerve me, but it was different with her. Not only didn’t she notice the common signs of disinterest, but she also followed me after I told her for the umpteenth time that I had to go. This scenario kept happening everytime i ran into her, which by the way, seemed to happen more and more often and made me believe that she was waiting for me. Since her apartment was in the first floor, she was able to see the hall from her door. Besides, I found it rather awkward that I only met this person after living in that building for almost a year, but then suddenly at least once a week. One day, she even made me come see her apartment and meet her husband, just to prove me how annoying he was. The both of them then got in a fight and I quickly left. Another day, she ran into my then-boyfriend. I have no idea how she knew who he was, but judging from what he told me, it was a very weird encounter. And her telling him in her coarse cigarette-whiskey-voice that he was “very handsome” definitely added to the awkwardness.

The weirdest moment however happened one night after I came back from a night out. It wasn’t that late, but late enough to expect that the entire building was already sound asleep. But just as I reached the door to the servant’s entry, I heard the lock of Crazy Weird Lady’s apartment turn. I froze, hoping that she was just about to go outside to have a smoke. But then she started calling and so I ran. It’s not that I was afraid of her or anything, I just didn’t want to deal with her, especially not at 2am. But I heard her following me and so I continued running, all the way up to my place in the 6th floor. When I closed my door behind me I was hoping she’d given up. But then, a minute later, I heard a knock on my door. I first ignored it, but then there it was again, followed by a loud “Hello?”. I opened the door, unnerved, seriously wondering what kind of excuse she’d have to track me six floors in the middle of the night. Pause. – “Do you have a lighter?” – “No.” – “Ok, good night.”

That was the entire interaction. It also was the last time I saw the weird lady from the first floor. Maybe she was embarrassed, but I highly doubt that. Seen from a theatrical angle, it was the perfect exit. It would have been really hard to top this kind of crazy without making it totally creepy. Therefore, well done Crazy Weird Lady, well done!

Just blogging

The big book question

Maybe you know the situation. You’re filling out an application or participate in a contest and then there it suddenly is: The big book question. Right in the middle of all the questions which are rather easy to answer or to navigate around, there’s this one question that’s even more troublesome than “Where do you see yourself in five years?”.

And here it is, the trickiest of all tricky questions (drum roll):

“What’s the title of the last book you read?”

Is it just me who’s totally stressing out about this one? At first, it seems pretty standard and easy to answer, I’d even say innocent. However, it’s basically what my worst interview nightmares are about. And I wish I was exaggerating here. – Well, I’m not.

See, this supposedly easy question says way more about a person than one might imagine. That’s why I’m never sure how to answer it. Of course, I could be honest and say that for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been reading EVERYTHING Sophie Kinsella has ever written. But what would that say about me? Honestly, I love Sophie Kinsella, so I really don’t want to discredit her work or judge anyone for reading her books. Regardless of that, I (meaning: that’s my problem, don’t care about what I’m saying) have the feeling that if I admit to that, I’ll be considered pretty basic. I mean, I am, but I don’t want it to be that obvious. So which book can I mention?

Something written by Oscar Wilde? Nah. I mean, he’s brilliant and I will probably never stop fangirling over his amazing work that is just unparalleled. Nevertheless, I don’t want anyone to think that I’m a part of the crowd that’s not even able to correctly match his quotes to the texts they’re originating from. Also, when I went to Père Lachaise and saw what “fans” had done to his resting place, I immediately knew that I would never want to be considered one of them. That’s why I usually never talk about how much I love Oscar Wilde in public.

Ok, how about some classical literature then? Pfffff. The worst. Classical literature is the one that makes you sound the most pretentious. Even if you genuinely enjoy reading it, my personal impression is that – if I don’t want people to roll their eyes at me – it’s somehow better not to mention it. I mean let’s imagine someone asks you about your favorite book and you say “I’m just in love with Goethe’s Faust, part II”. (Or just Faust for that matter.)  I’m sorry, but it’s quite unlikely that demography will be on your side here – unless you’re at a party for German philologists, maybe. What’s more probable is that this statement will be considered as pretentious, and that no one cares that the plot is actually still relevant, even today. Same goes for anything existentialist. In an era where we’re watching future brides making a big deal of having to face the huuuuuuge decision whether to go with a sleeveless or a halterneck dress on TV, it’s quite challenging to make sure that the person who’s asking the book question will relate to Meursaults angst in Albert Camus’ L’Etranger, for example.

So what’s left to quote? I actually don’t know. Of course, this teeny tiny overview is far away from being even remotely representative of all the great literature out there. But since we’re here, why not quote comics/ graphic novels like Persepolis or Maus? Would it be smart to mention these? I’m pretty sure that quite a few people have read and also enjoyed them I feel like basically everyone has read them, which might be cool for getting a conversation going.

But since I’m super self-conscious when it comes to mentioning books I like, I also want to be extremely sure that I’m not quoting something super mainstream. That’s why I usually name Cakes and Ale; or: The Skeleton in the Cupboard by William Somerset Maugham. (Btw, I can recommend ANYTHING written by him, his work is just amazing.) And then, an awesome book I just recently discovered and will definitely quote next time the book question comes up: When to Rob a Bank by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. I haven’t even read that much of it, yet, but I’m already hooked.

So that’s it, that’s my answer. Let me know if you have any great titles to recommend or tell me what kind of question you fear the most in an interview (or in general).





About fanfiction

Last week, one of my friends asked me to write a short text for her website. She wanted it to be some kind of fanfiction about the impressionist writer Rainer Maria Rilke. Well, she didn’t actually employ the word “fanfiction”, but she wanted me to invent a story about why the writer had spent a part of his life in Paris, mentioning, that it hadn’t necessarily need to be true – so basically fanfiction.

It’s very funny how things happen in life. Only a couple of days before, I had read an article about students being much more into literature than their teachers would have expected. They invent alternative story-endings, or add some funny details to their beloved book or movie characters lives, letting them experience great adventures and unexpected relationships. Although the author of the original book might not be too happy about the fan’s rich and wild imagination, I think that fanfiction is a very interesting and delightful way of interpreting a story. And in some cases, it even gives space to new productions, like Snow White as a horror movie. Well, this is more of a reinterpretation than fanfiction, but I think that it’s pretty close, though.

While reading the article, I was already thinking about what I would do to the characters of Harry Potter. And since the book is so incredibly detailed, I found it quite hard to imagine anything which still would make sense to the book, but be totally new to the story. Also, I’m respecting my childhood heroes way too much to imagine them in a threesome or anything of this kind. (According to the article, people’s imagination is endless and touches all areas.) And so I came to the conclusion, that I would probably never write anything which can be categorized as fanfiction. Despite of all that, I surprisingly did, just a few days later, on the request of my friend. And it was fun! And since I had to do some research as well, like finding out more about Rilke’s biography, learning more about historic and cultural events which were important at that time, I actually upgraded my general knowledge.

And le voilà the text I finally wrote:

The Story of a Youth to Discover Paris

“Why Paris of all cities? That’s a good question.

It mostly was thanks to my friend Auguste Rodin, who had had a big influence on me taking this decision, after all, it was him who had offered me the position as his secretary. I could never have rejected such an offer, particularly as I have always been a great admirer of his artwork. And of course, Paris is a very scenic city, considerably more charming than London, which seems to be a little too gloomy for my taste. And considering that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle probably found the inspiration for The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes in current events, then I’m feeling a little uneasy about England. Besides, the weather there seems to dampen one’s mood and to make one miserable. I  do not want to deny at all that the English culture has its appeal and that it produced quite a few great and brilliant authors and artists, let’s just name Charles Dickens or William Turner. But it seems as if Paris was more pleasant after all.

I find it especially interesting that the Russian culture, which has always aroused my enthusiasm, has been following the French example. Who knows, if my friend hadn’t made this offer, I maybe would have traveled to Russia first. I think it’s a fascinating country.

Paris isn’t any less splendid, of course. Art and beauty are always celebrated there, even in everyday’s life. Just think of Parisian fashion! This makes me think of how impassioned my mother used to talk about French couture. From my very early age, she tried to share her love for French fashion with me. I suppose, and Sigmund Freud would certainly agree, that the enchantment my mother felt for the French style has left its mark on me in a manner that it explains my curiosity for Paris. Besides, I’m convinced that there’s almost no other city which could be more suitable for an artist. Magnificent beauty always surrounds you, everything is incredibly picturesque. Not to mention the remarkable architecture. And the gardens! They’re just a true paradise. If you have ever been to the Jardin du Luxembourg or the Jardin des Plantes, you know what I’m talking about. It’s almost impossible not to find any inspiration in those places and not to be impressed by Paris.”

Just blogging, Lifestyle

About my new way of blogging

Now that I’m getting back to blogging, I’m thinking a lot about how I could best promote my blog, of course. Certainly, there are many instructions to read and some researches to make – I noticed that I actually don’t know a thing about wordpress or social media. It was only recently that I’ve found out how to use Instagram, and looking at the accounts followed by thousands of people, I’m still not sure if I’ve totally figured it out. 40 followers, whoop whoop! It was quite the same for Pinterest, my flatmate needed to explain it to me, otherwise, I would definitely still be clueless. And there are still tons of apps which leave me somewhat confused. Snapchat for instance, or Dubsmash, which recently flooded Facebook like a virtual tsunami.

I don’t really mind that my social media skills give room for a lot of improvement, I can always add that to my “Things I want to do or to know or to be better at” list. And since social media can be really important for your personal or professional project, I guess I will start some reading after finishing this post.

After having published my previous post I thought about with whom I wanted to share my blog. Taking a more personal direction, I wasn’t sure if I wanted everybody to read it. Funnily, I wasn’t afraid that my mum could find out anything compromising about me, she already knows everything. I was more afraid of the possible judgement of the people I know, which means friends, friends of friends, some coworkers, some acquaintances. I’m rather introverted and so making friends usually takes quite some time, mostly because my extremely pronounced skepticism makes me dislike most people at first. So of course, I don’t want to ruin a friendship with a couple of stupid lines. But of course, I came to the conclusion that your friends like you for who you are, or in some cases, despite of who you are. So I guess that also counts for blogs. By the way, I’m sorry Linda that your guinea pig got diarrhea. It was me who had fed him all the dandelion. I didn’t know he had a dandelion intolerance. Hope we can still be friends!

Finally and as you can see, I spent way too much time thinking about how I would come across. Also, I’m somehow hoping that those who read my texts will be more inspired by the texts than by my person.

As for music, people tend to recognize themselves in a song and the most successful and powerful songs usually have lyrics which are appealing to many people, so that they can connect to it. Good music provokes an emotion but also responds to the listeners emotional state. When we’re listening to music, the person who wrote and sings the song seems less important and is slightly shoved in the background, becoming a rather abstract figure.

I think it’s the same for fictional literature, and maybe even for some non-fictional books, such as (auto)biographies. Besides a great plot, readers are hooked if one of the book’s characters inspires sympathy. This is mostly the case if the reader finds any kind of common ground between himself and the character. Besides, I think that this even contributes to creating a suspense. In my opinion, as identifying with a character, we’re also looking at an abstract reflection of a part of us. This can lead to questioning our own acts and our behavior towards others. Therefore, identifying with a character also means judging ourselves through this character. And so while reading, we constantly need to be reassured. Is the story going as I expected? What if I was in the same position? Would I have done the same thing?

It has happened to me that I was disappointed by a book’s character I firstly liked. This happened either when the character did something extremely stupid (and so I got frustrated because it was so easy to see it coming), or when the character did something against the values I support. In such a situation, I’m always wondering who’s right and who’s wrong, or if there is such a thing as the right choice. And there again, the author doesn’t take much space in the reader’s mind. At the moment of reception, his role is less important than the role of the hero, except if there are obvious autobiographical traits. But even then, I think that the reader still concentrates more on how the text he’s reading affects him.

Probably, it’s not very different with a blog. The blogger mainly has the role of a mediator and also seems rather abstract to me. Of course, I may see a part of what their life is like and what experiences they make through their eyes, but the blogger as an individual person remains an enigma for me. In the end, and again, it all comes down to just sharing stuff, may it be personal or not. And I will be glad if a few people like my texts. And if they don’t, well, they don’t.