Blacktop Rain

…and other secret joys


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Why are you learning Dutch?

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Me, being Dutch

I get asked that question a lot, especially by Dutch people – even by the Dutch person who is supposed to be teaching me Dutch. At this point I have a set of pre-prepared answers I can rattle out: because I think it’s rude to live in a country and not make an effort to learn the language; because despite repeated assertions from Dutch people that everyone here speaks English, everyone in fact speaks Dutch; because I’d like to be able to understand the announcements on the train; because I thought it would help me find a job. All of these reasons are true, but at this point I don’t think they are the reasons that motivate me to keep trying.

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On writing and prestige

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A few years back I came across an article by Paul Graham called ‘How To Do What You Love‘. I’ve read it periodically since then and every time I seem to take something new from it. On the most recent reading, the bits about prestige seemed to stand out to me. Graham writes:

What you should not do, I think, is worry about the opinion of anyone beyond your friends. You shouldn’t worry about prestige. Prestige is the opinion of the rest of the world. When you can ask the opinions of people whose judgement you respect, what does it add to consider the opinions of people you don’t even know? Continue reading


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On fighting the origami beast

Image by Gerwin Sturm, used under a CC2.0 license

Image by Gerwin Sturm, used under a CC2.0 license

I have a problem. I am constantly coming up with good ideas for writing projects, but they never come to much. It’s been a constant problem in my writing life, ever since I was 14 and jotting down idea after idea for novels that would never get written. Some would get a few chapters along, but they invariably died a death at some point. Continue reading


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To be amongst friends

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This week I was in Paris for a work meeting and whilst there I went along with some colleagues to see Notre Dame. It was evening, so we didn’t have the chance to go inside, and once we had taken a few pictures we decided to go for a wander and find somewhere to eat. As we were walking along we spotted a bookshop with shelves outside. I assumed the books would all be in French and besides I tend to avoid bookshops these days since I usually end up buying something. But the books on the shelves outside turned out to be English books and when one of my colleagues went inside the shop, we all followed. Continue reading


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so you want to be a writer?

Image by Drew Coffman, used under a CC 2.0 license

Image by Drew Coffman, used under a CC 2.0 license

For my 17th birthday I got a collection of Charles Bukowski’s poems. I remember reading it and one poem in particular standing out to me. In fact, ‘so you want to be a writer?‘ hit me in the guts the way Charles Bukowski says writing should explode out of them.

if it doesn’t come busting out of you 
in spite of everything 
don’t do it. 

unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would 
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder, 
don’t do it.  Continue reading


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On writing nostalgically and being in place

Manchester Oxford Rd train station (because apparently this is the only picture of Manchester I've taken)

Manchester Oxford Rd train station (because apparently this is the only picture of Manchester I’ve taken)

Two weeks ago I spent a few days back in the UK. I thought I’d probably end up writing a blog post about it, because I expected it to be a noteworthy experience. In a lot of ways it was, but not in the ways I expected it to be. I had expected to feel as though I was back in the UK, to feel a sense of having returned. I expected reverse culture shock.

I did notice a few differences. Oddly, one thing that really stood out to me is that people in the UK look, well, kind of miserable. Though perhaps that’s not so odd considering that Dutch children are the happiest in the world (UK children rank 16th), whilst the Netherlands was ranked 4th in the 2013 UN World Happiness Report. But on the whole, I didn’t really feel a sense of being back in the UK. Continue reading


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The social mediation of nature

 

Me, taking a picture on my phone

Me, taking a picture on my phone

Mobile devices do not just extend the number of places that you can use social media; they bring social media to those places and, through the LBS [location based service], contribute to the construction of new cartographies of space. In other words, they provide us with new ways of mapping meaning to space and creating new places.
– Understanding Social Media, Sam Hinton and Larissa Hjorth.

I spent the last year working in social media and in my spare time I write about nature. These two aspects of my life always seemed very disparate – I even have separate blogs for my writing about nature and social media. But perhaps I’ve been wrong to think of them in this way, perhaps the two interact and mediate one another in ways I hadn’t considered before. Continue reading