March 2010


I’m one today.
Hip-hip-hooray!

To celebrate my first birthday, I’m posting my first interview and holding my first competition. Yes, at the end of this post you can win a prize. Here’s a clue to what that prize could be:

Interview

My guest today, Gill Downs, is not a writer, although, having been on the receiving end of many wonderful emails from her, I know she could be. She has appeared before in this blog, but this time she’s here to tell us about the business she has developed around the fascinating world of fractal images. Not having much idea of these, I began with the obvious question.

M: What are fractals?

G: Fractals are forms produced by fractal geometry and characteristically contain infinite copies of themselves at different points and scales, revealing more and more detail however closely you look at them.

Fractal geometry underlies the forms of the natural world, and the beauty of the patterns and structures seen in fractals are evocative of those found in nature – in, for example the self-similar patterns and forms of leaves and flowers, snowflakes, mountains, clouds and river networks.

M: What made you decide to create fractal images?

G: I came to making fractal images from a long-standing interest in fractals. I remember watching a fascinating TV programme about the Mandelbrot Set [M: see http://inpotential.com/wordpress/articles/numerology/arthur-clarke-fractals-colors-infinity/ for another fascinating programme] years ago when computers powerful enough to generate them were first available, so when I eventually had a half decent computer myself I began investigating fractal generating software. I had no idea before this that sophisticated fractal graphics programs had been developed and that there existed a whole world of fractal art and artists creating beautiful fractal images.

M: What have you learnt from this venture? Has it changed your aspect on life in any way?

G: I’ve learned a great deal of technical stuff, and I’ve acquired a lot of new skills which have wider applications. And it has changed my aspect on life through a deeper understanding of the role fractal geometry plays in shaping the universe. It’s also led me to becoming involved in communities, both real and virtual, based around fractals and/or art and artists.

M: Do you have to know a lot of maths to create the images or does the software do it all for you?

G: Well that’s not really an either/or question. No, you don’t have to understand the underlying maths to use the software, but even so it certainly doesn’t do it all for you. There are fortunately some very brainy formula writers who write the fractal formulas and colouring algorithms for the principal software I use, Ultra Fractal, but the parameters of the formulae can be changed and combined by the user in numerous ways to create an infinite variety of possible images, the characteristics of which are user-defined.

One of the virtual communities I’ve become involved with is the Ultra Fractal mailing list, on which formula writers and fractal artists share their work and knowledge. People ‘tweak’ each other’s images, answer questions, post tutorials and challenges etc. – it really is a wonderful resource for anyone who might be interested in trying their hand at making fractal images 🙂

**********

Gill, thank you so much for giving us a brief introduction to this complex topic.

Gill’s company is called ex entropy. If you want to know where the name comes from or any other information about fractal images and the cards and prints that ex entropy produces, you’ll probably find the answer at http://www.exentropy.co.uk/.

Competition

Gill has very kindly offered to give away three of her images to the winner of my competition. These will be of their own choosing, selected from any on the website, and will be sent rolled in a tube to wherever the winner is in the world.

So, here’s what you have to do. Write a story about a character who suffers from social anxiety or just describe such a character. If you’ve read some of my blog, you might have an idea about how such a character would behave. Or you might know someone who fits the bill. Or you can find explanations on the Internet.

The winner will be the person whose description or story best captures the essence of the disorder, in my opinion.

Rules: maximum 200 words, to be sent to miriamcompetition@yahoo.co.uk or as a comment to this post by Monday, April 5.

While you’re busy writing, I’ll be busy too – sping cleaning. Grrrrr!

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Tuesday is my blog’s first birthday.

Do come back here on Tuesday to help me celebrate it.

You’ll be able to read about something special. Something not connected to SA, or writing….

And there’ll  be a competition! With a prize. Three prizes, in fact.

See you then.

I have just finished reading this heartbreaking memoir of Frank McCourt’s childhood. It’s an incredibly sad tale of growing up in dire poverty. I felt sorrow for the child who, through no fault of his own, was born into that family, anger at the people who could have helped but didn’t, and… envy, but only twice. The memoir recalls two instances when Frank was bullied – one for having an American accent and one for coming to school in shoes held together with bits of rubber tyres. In both instances, the teacher intervened and stopped the bullying.

I don’t remember a teacher ever intervening on my behalf.

I was surprised to discover that this word existed before I was born. It certainly wasn’t part of everyday speech in my youth, but I think it describes what I want to talk about.

I’m reading Stephen King’s book: On Writing. I’ve found it’s a good book to read in small chunks, whenever a moment appears. King himself advises reading in waiting rooms, theatre lobbies, while working out on a treadmill and elsewhere. I keep his book next to my computer and pick it up when I’m waiting for the computer to finish some action or waiting for my brain to catch up. If I can’t decide how to continue what I’m doing or what to do next, I read a bit and somehow the decision becomes easier.

On the subject of writing, King says, “Don’t wait for the muse.” He says we should get into the same writing routine every day with no distractions and the door closed, and sooner or later the muse will show up. Proactiveness.

And so it is in life. I’m reminded of a joke. You must have heard some version of it. I found one here.

It was flooding in California*. As the flood waters were rising, a man was on the stoop of his house and another man in a row boat came by. The man in the row boat told the man on the stoop to get in and he’d save him. The man on the stoop said, no, he had faith in God and would wait for God to save him. The flood waters kept rising and the man had to go to the second floor of his house. A man in a motor boat came by and told the man in the house to get in because he had come to rescue him. The man in the house said no thank you. He had perfect faith in God and would wait for God to save him. The flood waters kept rising. Pretty soon they were up to the man’s roof and he got out on the roof. A helicopter then came by, lowered a rope and the pilot shouted down to the man in the house to climb up the rope because the helicopter had come to rescue him. The man in the house wouldn’t get in. He told the pilot that he had faith in God and would wait for God to rescue him. The flood waters kept rising and the man in the house drowned. When he got to heaven, he asked God where he went wrong. He told God that he had perfect faith in God, but God had let him drown.
“What more do you want from me?” asked God. “I sent you two boats and a helicopter.”

* or London, or Jerusalem… well, maybe not.

So, don’t wait for it to happen. You have to make it happen. Proactiveness.

If I did, please tell me. One of the reasons why I write is that it’s the only way I know of explaining and getting my message across without being misunderstood. So if I’ve written anything misleading, I want to know so that I can correct my error. I think I can do that.

What triggered this question was an email. Being an expert at guessing other people’s thoughts (which is the essence of a good SAer*), I’m wondering if this is what my readers think I’m asserting:

*SAer: someone who suffers from social anxiety.

We SAers belong to this elite of perfect people who always act in the right way, especially when regarding other people’s feelings. If everyone behaved as we do, everything would be fine. Unfortunately, non-SAers are bad people who don’t give a damn about messing with our feelings and have caused us to suffer.

NOOOO! I’ve never said that or thought that or intended anyone to understand that. And I hasten to add that the email writer didn’t say that either. I’m exaggerating slightly… like maybe 2000%.

So this is what I want to make clear: SAers are just human beings like everyone else and come in many different varieties with different opinions, thoughts and feelings. You can see this on SA forums where members argue and get upset and even leave the forum due to the behaviour of other members.

And non-SAers are also nice, nasty and mediocre. In fact, some of my best friends are non-SAers.

I saw this on Twitter the other day:

The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense. ~ Tom Clancy

He wasn’t the first to say this. Mark Twain wrote:

Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.

Clancy said it better. His quote is shorter and gets straight to the point without even saying it: reality doesn’t make sense. We can’t understand our universe. That’s why we need fiction – because we can understand it.

This is one of many things I’ve learnt from my writing group. I know that when someone says, “This couldn’t possibly have happened,” it’s no use replying, “But it did!”

Ruth’s diary is the new novel by Fiona Robyn, called Thaw. She has decided to blog the novel in its entirety over the next few months, so you can read it for free.

Ruth’s first entry is below, and you can continue reading tomorrow here.

*

These hands are ninety-three years old. They belong to Charlotte Marie Bradley Miller. She was so frail that her grand-daughter had to carry her onto the set to take this photo. It’s a close-up. Her emaciated arms emerge from the top corners of the photo and the background is black, maybe velvet, as if we’re being protected from seeing the strings. One wrist rests on the other, and her fingers hang loose, close together, a pair of folded wings. And you can see her insides.

The bones of her knuckles bulge out of the skin, which sags like plastic that has melted in the sun and is dripping off her, wrinkling and folding. Her veins look as though they’re stuck to the outside of her hands. They’re a colour that’s difficult to describe: blue, but also silver, green; her blood runs through them, close to the surface. The book says she died shortly after they took this picture. Did she even get to see it? Maybe it was the last beautiful thing she left in the world.

I’m trying to decide whether or not I want to carry on living. I’m giving myself three months of this journal to decide. You might think that sounds melodramatic, but I don’t think I’m alone in wondering whether it’s all worth it. I’ve seen the look in people’s eyes. Stiff suits travelling to work, morning after morning, on the cramped and humid tube. Tarted-up girls and gangs of boys reeking of aftershave, reeling on the pavements on a Friday night, trying to mop up the dreariness of their week with one desperate, fake-happy night. I’ve heard the weary grief in my dad’s voice.

So where do I start with all this? What do you want to know about me? I’m Ruth White, thirty-two years old, going on a hundred. I live alone with no boyfriend and no cat in a tiny flat in central London. In fact, I had a non-relationship with a man at work, Dan, for seven years. I’m sitting in my bedroom-cum-living room right now, looking up every so often at the thin rain slanting across a flat grey sky. I work in a city hospital lab as a microbiologist. My dad is an accountant and lives with his sensible second wife Julie, in a sensible second home. Mother finished dying when I was fourteen, three years after her first diagnosis. What else? What else is there?

Charlotte Marie Bradley Miller. I looked at her hands for twelve minutes. It was odd describing what I was seeing in words. Usually the picture just sits inside my head and I swish it around like tasting wine. I have huge books all over my flat; books you have to take in both hands to lift. I’ve had the photo habit for years. Mother bought me my first book, black and white landscapes by Ansel Adams. When she got really ill, I used to take it to bed with me and look at it for hours, concentrating on the huge trees, the still water, the never-ending skies. I suppose it helped me think about something other than what was happening. I learned to focus on one photo at a time rather than flicking from scene to scene in search of something to hold me. If I concentrate, then everything stands still. Although I use them to escape the world, I also think they bring me closer to it. I’ve still got that book. When I take it out, I handle the pages as though they might flake into dust.

Mother used to write a journal. When I was small, I sat by her bed in the early mornings on a hard chair and looked at her face as her pen spat out sentences in short bursts. I imagined what she might have been writing about; princesses dressed in star-patterned silk, talking horses, adventures with pirates. More likely she was writing about what she was going to cook for dinner and how irritating Dad’s snoring was.

I’ve always wanted to write my own journal, and this is my chance. Maybe my last chance. The idea is that every night for three months, I’ll take one of these heavy sheets of pure white paper, rough under my fingertips, and fill it up on both sides. If my suicide note is nearly a hundred pages long, then no-one can accuse me of not thinking it through. No-one can say; ‘It makes no sense; she was a polite, cheerful girl, had everything to live for’, before adding that I did keep myself to myself. It’ll all be here. I’m using a silver fountain pen with purple ink. A bit flamboyant for me, I know. I need these idiosyncratic rituals; they hold things in place. Like the way I make tea, squeezing the tea-bag three times, the exact amount of milk, seven stirs. My writing is small and neat; I’m striping the paper. I’m near the bottom of the page now. Only ninety-one more days to go before I’m allowed to make my decision. That’s it for today. It’s begun.

Continue reading tomorrow here…