Tag Archives: writing

Blog Post 1,000

Verily, these are fine arguments which you cite, and I do not see why you do not commit them to writing.

- Castiglione, Book of the Courtier, Vol. III.

Yes, you read the title of this blog post correctly: this is my 1,000th blog post on Blog of the Courtier.  Over five years have passed since I started this particular blog, centered around the ideals that Baldassare Castiglione put forth in his “Book of the Courtier”, from whence this project takes both its name and inspiration.  And the writings of the good Count still provide me with inspiration on a regular basis – though whether I cite, verily, fine arguments I will leave for the reader to decide.

It strikes me that this is a somewhat improbable milestone to have reached, for what in the end is a project which I work on simply because I enjoy it.  The fact that this regular writing habit happened at all is thanks in no small part to the initial encouragement of two very good bloggers in particular (and you know who you are, lady and gentleman.)  When I was getting going with this current blog, they made an effort to ask their readers to give me a look over; many have stayed and become good friends.

Over time, the readership of this blog has grown from a few dozen to a few thousand readers a month, something I find equally astonishing, since truthfully all I am doing is just scribbling down some thoughts to share with you, about things which I find important or interesting.  As with any activity, the more you do something, the better you get at it, until writing a blog post is something which I just need a few quiet minutes to do each day.  And I hope that over time my writing is improving, rather than otherwise.  In fact just this week, WordPress selected one of my blog posts again for their “Freshly Pressed” highlight page, after having done so for the first time earlier this year.  To know that a diverse community of fellow bloggers appreciates your work is just tremendous.

Naturally it falls to me to thank you, gentle reader, for your continued readership and support.  Whatever I choose to write about, you come along for the ride and allow me to explore a variety of topics, sharing with me your own thoughts and opinions.  The fact that you care enough to give me some of your time and attention, as well as to leave comments, is truly humbling.  It has been both a great pleasure and privilege for me to share these ramblings and ruminations with you, and  I hope to continue to do so through many more posts to come.

Rembrandt

“Sketch of Raphael’s Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione” by Rembrandt (1639)
The Albertina, Vienna

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Looking Back at London

If you have ever moved to another city, another country, or another continent for any extended period of time, gentle reader, then you know that the first few days you spend there are some of the most vivid memories you will take away from that place.  You may of course forget some of the later things that happened once you settled in, and began to see the place as your home.  However this is why I want to encourage those of my readers who are going to be living somewhere far from home for awhile, to make an effort to write down their experiences and observations now, in order to be able to draw upon them later.

Reading my updates on Facebook this morning I had a bit of a shock, realizing how quickly time seems to pass.  A good friend from here in the States had just arrived in London to begin a year of graduate school there, and I saw the news that he had safely arrived at Heathrow posted in my timeline.  It suddenly dawned on me that it was 15 years ago, in September of 1997, that I moved to London for the first time.  I could not help but sigh a little, as I thought about what my friend would be experiencing, as this was his first time ever in London.

To give you some context about what Britain was like at the time when I first went to live there, I arrived exactly one week after Princess Diana’s funeral on September 7, 1997.  The Labour MP Tony Blair had only been Prime Minister for four months, after decades of Tory government under Margaret Thatcher and John Major, and the most popular British musical act at the time was The Spice Girls, who had only released their debut album in the U.S. earlier that year.  The Queen Mother was still going strong, mobile phones were seemingly all made by Nokia and about the size of a television remote control, and internet was exclusively of the dial-up variety (and very, very slow.)

As weird as it may sound, I can remember my entire first day in London on September 13, 1997, as if it were yesterday.  If you recall the expression of “having your wits about you,” I would say not only did I have all of mine about me, but they were firing on all cylinders.  Everything was new and interesting, and there was this strange sense of having landed on another planet.  For although the language was the same, many details of everyday life were handled completely differently.

For example, once my cab had dropped me off at my halls of residence on Regent’s Park – no Heathrow Express to Paddington in those days – I decided to see how long the walk was from there to where I would be studying, close to Piccadilly.  I remember looking at the words painted on the asphalt at intersections as I made my way through the car park and around the side of the building, which read, “Look Right” or “Look Left”.  I did not quite understand what they were for, until I started walking down Portland Place, and crossed an intersection without looking in the direction indicated.  As I did so a car came whizzing past honking its horn at me, and I had a near-miss with getting flattened within minutes of arriving in London.  From then on, I was quite careful to read what was on the ground before I stepped onto it.

Feeling a bit shaken and deciding I had better calm myself and call home, after a couple of blocks I spotted the BBC and All Souls Langham Place, both of which I knew from a lifetime of watching British television shows.  Across the street were three red telephone boxes in a row, standing at the side of a rather grandiose Victorian building, which I later came to learn was the Langham Hotel.  I chose one and made a telephone call to my parents, waking them up at about 5:00 a.m. Eastern to let them know that I was there and safe.

They were happy to hear from me, particularly my Father who is more the Anglophile of the two, and as I looked about from inside the phone box describing what I saw, I spotted a cafe across the road and down a little ways.  I told them I would head there to get some caffeine and try to call them again later, after I had done some exploring.  I could not have known it at the time, but later I ended up spending many, many hours in that Italian cafe/deli, using it as a place to study and write, and to meet up with friends, since it was centrally located but not a major tourist draw.

However rather than ordering their – excellent, as it later turned out – coffee, I must admit I bought a bottle of Snapple Iced Tea imported from the U.S.  It was warm, and the thought that I would be able to have American iced tea despite being far from home was rather encouraging.  As I continued down Regent Street sipping my beverage, I passed a news agent’s – which again, as time went on I would come to patronize regularly for magazines and for postcards – and noticed that they had that day’s New York Times for sale.  I realized that although I was in a different country and a different culture, there would still be plenty of things from home to keep me connected to the other side of the pond.

That was the beginning of a wonderful day, which included visiting my school and running into some of my classmates who were also figuring out the lay of the land; visiting what would come to be my parish in Mayfair for the first time; having my first gin and tonic in London at The Marlborough Head just north of Grosvenor Square; and coming back to my residence to find that a friend from high school was in town from Cambridge, and would be returning later that evening to meet up and go to dinner.  This is not a testament to any particularly astounding powers of memory on my part, mind you, but just an inkling of how much of an impact that first day in London had on my memory.  It is something I still treasure.

And if for some reason I should forget all of this, thank goodness I had the sense to keep a journal during both of my stints living in London.  It runs to many volumes, and though I must confess I have not sat down and cracked open these books in years, I do know they are there if I ever want to do so.  Perhaps with the realization of this anniversary, it might be a good time to revisit them, and recall some of the things I experienced, but have forgotten with the passage of time.

In the end that was the one piece advice I emailed to my friend today: that he makes sure to keep a journal for the year he will be living in Blighty.  No one knows what the future holds, and whether his experience will be as rewarding as mine, but having these memories to draw upon undoubtedly makes your life, and your understanding of the world in which you live, much richer.  Whether the city is London, Vienna, or Poughkeepsie, take the time now to write about what your impressions and thoughts are, so that you can relive those experiences later.


Phone boxes at the side of The Langham Hotel
Langham Place, London W1

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Putting It Mildly

If like me you are a blogger who does not blog for a living, then you know that statistically speaking, you live for feedback and followers, when it comes to your blog posts, rather than for clicks and advertisements.  This particular blog has been online since 2008 and, while my readership is not gigantic, it is certainly regular, and has been steadily increasing as the years go on.  So when WordPress selected my blog post on collecting secondhand books to appear on their “Freshly Pressed” page on Saturday morning, I thought – well that’s nice. I might get a few more readers.

Now, after about 1,200 reads, 130 “likes”, and 50-0dd comments on that one post, and despite having blogged for some time and more recently become involved in podcasting, it still astounds me how powerful new media can be.  It brings a diverse group of people to your message, whatever that message may be, in ways which basic word of mouth among friends can rarely hope to do.  And some of these people who may not normally choose to read a blog like yours might actually want to stick around, and see what you are going to write next.

This creates both an opportunity for the author and a sense of responsibility he must bear to his reader.  For if you are reading these pages, it means you are not reading others, with the time you have available for reading such things.  There is, as economists would say, an opportunity cost in giving up some of your time to consider my thoughts, rather than someone else’s or indeed your own.

More to the point Count Castiglione, the patron of this blog, would have commented that it is not the popularity of a blog in and of itself which necessarily assures us of good content, but rather the continued effort of the writer to try to get better at it.  We can all think of bloggers whom we have read in online publications, and wonder who on earth encouraged them to start writing – let alone paid them to do so.  Yet as Castiglione observes in The Book of the Courtier that “those who are not thus perfectly endowed by nature, with study and toil can in great part polish and amend their natural defects.”

There is nothing whatsoever to be lost in admitting that one has a great deal to learn about something, for this is in fact the way by which we can begin to try to improve ourselves.  If I walk out into a football game having never actually played football, I am probably going to end up carried off on a stretcher, unless I admit that I need coaching and training.  Or if I want to try to cook a paella having never actually made one before, by simply using a recipe book, something is almost certainly not going to come out quite right – the rice will be underdone or the seafood will have been overcooked into pieces of rubber and so on.

WordPress has certainly sent a large number of new readers my way over the past 48 hours, for which I am deeply grateful.  Yet at the same time I admit that I am by no means an author who has perfected his craft.  There is still a great deal to learn, and when you are both writer and editor of your own material, sometimes the results are decidedly uneven.  Thus, while my opinions on certain subjects may remain strong, and at times even be viewed at as outspoken, as a scrivener I remain deeply convinced that while my writing talents have improved, there is still much to improve upon.  Fortunately with feedback and interaction, such improvements are not only possible, but likely.


Detail of “Portrait of a Man Writing” by Jacobus Eeckhout (c. 1840)
Southampton City Art Gallery, England

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Taking A Write Turn

As you have probably noticed, gentle reader, this week I have not posted as often as I normally do.  There are a number of other things requiring my attention at the moment, which are going to limit the amount of free time I have for writing the type of blog posts which you have come to expect from this site.  I do not earn a living from my blogging, but rather engage in it as an outlet for some of my creative energy; as a way of encouraging a deeper appreciation for and curiosity about our culture; and adding what I hope is a reasoned, intelligent voice, from my perspective as a young-ish American practicing Catholic in the 21st century, to the ongoing debate about what direction our society is taking.

Rather than simply suspend blogging altogether, or change to writing much shorter weekday posts than is usually my wont, The Courtier is going to take a somewhat different approach.  For the time being, I will be posting on the weekends, rather than during the work week.  This will allow me to attend to affairs that need attending to, while at the same time still providing the content which you (hopefully) enjoy.

Since my blog posts are often rather involved reading, being feature-length rather than short news reports, many of you have commented that you only have time to catch up with what I have been writing on the weekends or when you get some free time.  So for those of you in that category, the change will probably be somewhat welcome.  While I know my regular weekday readers will be a bit disappointed not to have the chance to read me every morning, I can offer little solace other than to say that one must attend prudently to the business of life, in order to have time to pursue culture in one’s leisure.  And remember that there is a searchable archive of blog posts on this site going back nearly five years, which you can always turn to if you are looking for something to read.

Hopefully you will stick with me during this intermediate period, however long it may last, since it is a joy for me to have this opportunity to write and share some of my thoughts with you, as it is for me to hear from you about what you like, or disagree with, and so on.  Consider me an addition or alternative to some of the reading that you might pick up on a lazy weekend afternoon, like leafing through a commentary magazine on Saturday evening, or spreading out a big, Sunday morning paper.  And as always, thank you for your loyal readership and support.


“Chez Tortoni (Man Writing in a Cafe)” by Eduard Manet (1870)
Whereabouts Unknown: Stolen in 1990 from
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston

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Peel Me A Grape

Over the past couple of weeks, several of my Tweeps – i.e. Twitter friends – who read this blog regularly and promote it on Twitter and elsewhere, have commented that they don’t know how I can write such in-depth posts as I do on a daily basis. Over the past (nearly) five years that I’ve been blogging, most weekdays I publish a post in the range of 1,000-1,500 words. I get a great deal of pleasure out of this, not only from the interaction with my readers, but also from the actual research and writing process.

That being said, sometimes the self-imposed pressure to publish a long piece every day wears me out. I don’t make a living from my writing, and so I don’t have an editor or publisher pushing and goading me to produce what I do. And last night while listening to Catholic new media guy extraordinaire Greg Willits on a podcast episode of “The Catholics Next Door”, I was reminded that sometimes I need to take a break, particularly when I’m feeling a lot of poking and pulling from many different areas in my life – health, work, personal, spiritual, and so on.

So I’m taking a bit of a blogging vacation, but I will be back next Monday. Hopefully you will stick around and check back then. In the meantime, if you’re itching for things by me to read, try using the “Search” box on this blog to pull up some of 900-odd previous posts I’ve written. Thanks for your continued support, and I look forward to writing more for you soon.

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