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Twisted by Jessica Zafra – Pumping irony since 1994
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Archive for the ‘Books’

On leave from work, Day 1

July 01, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Books No Comments →

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Uro’s Gandalf pipe, now a talisman

My late friend Uro once wrote a novel in one month. He did it by locking himself in his room and having his meals brought to him so he wouldn’t have to go out. I tried the lockdown method last month, and it is effective. The cats have no food preparation skills, and even if they did they would not deign to bring me my meals, so I stocked up on yogurt, digestive biscuits and liver spread and occasionally ordered out from Pancake House (which delivers salads, but has terrible packaging—sometimes the sauce has leaked out of the box. Also it’s expensive, Php440 minimum order). I got a lot of pages written and they have survived (I write longhand, and then type them up, editing in the process). Twice a week I allowed myself out of the house for appointments, chores, and to see my friends.

Then I realized that I can’t just sit at my desk and start producing pages. I have to work my way into writing, which typically involves hours of doing something else (reading, watching movies or TV, aimless walking or since I am indoors, pacing) while thinking of writing. Whenever I keep to a schedule—say, write from 1 to 6 pm—the pages read like they were written by someone on a schedule. Which means I have to rewrite them, so that’s double the work. (Usually after I’ve written something I never want to see it again or I will get stuck rewriting it for days.) I work on the Federer method: the best results for the least amount of effort. It would be laziness if it did not involve decades of training. Once I figure out how the page sounds (hear the words in my head), I can write fast. So the actual writing actually takes less time than working up to it.

And then, having worked myself up to writing the novel, I had to stop every other day to meet deadlines for columns and other jobs. This destroys my momentum. Plus my mind is on my novel, so the paid work is not as solid as it should be. And when I get back to the novel, I have to work myself up to it all over again. Aaargh, so much time lost.

So I’ve taken a month off from work to allow myself to focus. (Blogging is not work because it’s one of the things I do to work myself up to writing a novel.) Also I’ve taken to using the pocket Moleskines (in photo) rather than the large notebooks because they fill up faster, giving me the illusion that I’ve been good.

P.S. The cats wish to clarify their role in the household. Their job is mystical guardianship. They keep out unwanted spirits.

Penny Dreadful drops the ghastliest twist of all: It suddenly ends.

July 01, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Television No Comments →

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Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) in session with Dr. Seward (Patti Lupone). In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Dr. Seward was a man.

This is my last column for BusinessWorld, and now I am on leave.

For three seasons the fans of Showtime’s Victorian drama Penny Dreadful have reveled in its sumptuous Gothic atmosphere, its bloodsoaked storylines and its never-ending struggle against demons without and within. We’ve seen things you wouldn’t believe; we do not terrify easily. But when the words “The End” appeared at the close of season 3, episode 9, we greeted it with shrieks of terror. It’s over? Without warning?

The series created by John Logan careened to an end, leaving many plotlines dangling, abandoning its new characters before they’d done anything, and assigning a particularly cruel fate, capped by a corny last line, to its most fearless character. Logan, whose screen credits include Gladiator and the last two Bond movies, said that this was how he’d always envisioned the series. With a supposedly triumphant resolution that not only feels like a big buzzkill, but nullifies the rationale of the entire show? I suspect not.

The third season began with two of the major characters leaving gloomy, claustrophobic London for the wide open spaces of the old American West. I don’t care for sunshine myself, but I’m all for the series expanding its scope. And then everyone decides to hurry back to London as if the studio had announced it was turning off the lights, and before they can unpack their luggage it’s the final battle. Remember the outrage over the third Alien movie where, after everything Ripley had endured and overcome in the two previous movies, she dives into the furnace? I mention Alien 3 because Logan is the writer of the forthcoming Alien Covenant. Also, that ending was poetic justice compared to Penny Dreadful’s.

What do we do when we are not satisfied with the outcome of a TV series? We could circulate a petition for its resurrection: a show that has Dr. Frankenstein and various dark powers in its cast has as many means of bringing back the dead as Game of Thrones. We could write fanfiction with an alternate ending. Or we could binge-watch the entire series (Third season optional) and relive the many pleasures of our favorite Victorian Gothic entertainment.

Keep reading

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Read The Secret History of Holywell Street: Home to Victorian London’s Dirty Book Trade

Poem to read while standing in a queue for coffee: Campo dei Fiori by Czeslaw Milosz

June 30, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, History No Comments →

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Giordano Bruno’s statue in Rome’s Campo dei Fiori

Campo dei Fiori
Czeslaw Milosz, 1943

In Rome, on Campo dei Fiori,
baskets of olives and lemons
cobbles spattered with wine
and the wreckage of flowers.
Vendors cover the trestles
with rose-pink fish;
armfuls of dark grapes
heaped on peach-down.

On this same square
they burned Giordano Bruno.
Henchmen kindled the pyre
close-pressed by the mob.
Before the flames had died
the taverns were full again,
baskets of olives and lemons
again on the vendors’ shoulders.

I thought of Campo dei Fiori
in Warsaw by the sky-carrousel
one clear spring evening
to the strains of a carnival tune.
The bright melody drowned
the salvos from the ghetto wall,
and couples were flying
high in the blue sky.

At times wind from the burning
would drift dark kites along
and riders on the carrousel
caught petals in midair.
That same hot wind
blew open the skirts of the girls
and the crowds were laughing
on the beautiful Warsaw Sunday.

Someone will read a moral
that the people of Rome and Warsaw
haggle, laugh, make love
as they pass by martyrs’ pyres.
Someone else will read
of the passing of things human,
of the oblivion
born before the flames have died.

But that day I thought only
of the loneliness of the dying,
of how, when Giordano
climbed to his burning
he could not find
in any human tongue
words for mankind,
mankind who live on.

Already they were back at their wine
or peddled their white starfish,
baskets of olives and lemons
they had shouldered to the fair,
and he already distanced
as if centuries had passed
while they paused just a moment
for his flying in the fire.

Those dying here, the lonely
forgotten by the worId,
our tongue becomes for them
the language of an ancient planet.
Until, when all is legend
and many years have passed,
on a new Campo dei Fiori
rage will kindle at a poet’s word.

Translated by Louis Iribarne

Freedom! I’m on leave from column-writing for the month of July.

June 30, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Projects 2 Comments →

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Must finish novel by August. Lockdown very helpful, but having to stop periodically to meet deadlines halts my momentum, and writing a novel is all about momentum. So I have decided to take a month off from professional commitments and allow myself the luxury of doing only one thing.

I am on vacation from InterAksyon, BusinessWorld and the Philippine Star, but will continue blogging for my own amusement. The freedom of being able to watch a tv show without reviewing it in my head! Life as life and not as research! You can reach me in Comments.

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Remembering the lovely Anton Yelchin

June 22, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Movies 6 Comments →

from Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood
by William Wordsworth

There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
It is not now as it hath been of yore;—
Turn wheresoe’er I may,
By night or day,
The things which I have seen I now can see no more.

The rainbow comes and goes,
And lovely is the rose;
The moon doth with delight
Look round her when the heavens are bare;
Waters on a starry night
Are beautiful and fair;
The sunshine is a glorious birth;
But yet I know, where’er I go,
That there hath past away a glory from the earth.

What does it mean to be a human being in the digital age?

June 13, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Psychology, Technology No Comments →

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Attendees of the Qingdao International Beer Festival taking a selfie with a smartphone, Shandong province, China, August 2015. Ian Berry/Magnum Photos

Virginia Woolf’s serious joke that “on or about December 1910 human character changed” was a hundred years premature. Human character changed on or about December 2010, when everyone, it seemed, started carrying a smartphone. For the first time, practically anyone could be found and intruded upon, not only at some fixed address at home or at work, but everywhere and at all times. Before this, everyone could expect, in the ordinary course of the day, some time at least in which to be left alone, unobserved, unsustained and unburdened by public or familial roles. That era now came to an end.

Many probing and intelligent books have recently helped to make sense of psychological life in the digital age. Some of these analyze the unprecedented levels of surveillance of ordinary citizens, others the unprecedented collective choice of those citizens, especially younger ones, to expose their lives on social media; some explore the moods and emotions performed and observed on social networks, or celebrate the Internet as a vast aesthetic and commercial spectacle, even as a focus of spiritual awe, or decry the sudden expansion and acceleration of bureaucratic control.

Read In the Depths of the Digital Age