Month: May 2012

Writer’s Block

The little pesky problem has been waiting for me for weeks.  It was hiding just around the corner of last weekend, waiting for me to get comfortable with the blank pages and time to fill them.  It waited until the routine of work resumed this week, then pounced.

Writer’s block always hits me in the midst of a good stretch of creativity.  I have yet to figure out what works for me, but I often advise my tutoring students to try a few tactics when they can’t seem to compose an essay: go for a walk, read a book, do a little research, take a nap, listen to music, or anything to break yourself away from the blank pages.  My students seem to have more success beating writer’s block than I do.

Do you have any writer’s block/creative block-beating ideas?  Please share!

until next Thursday,

Katie (unwritten, untitled)

p.s. You might enjoy this infographic about writer’s block.


[image 1: original source unsure, pinned here/image 2: source also unknown, pinned here/image 3: write on art print from Keep Calm Shop]


What are you reading?

The Simple Story

I’ve completely crossed over into the Kindle camp. I can’t live without it now. This week, I’ve been reading “Isabella Blow: A Life in Fashion” by Lauren Goldstein Crowe. It’s a fascinating account of Blow’s life as a fashion maven. She lived in high heels (made by Manolo Blahnik or Alexander McQueen) and outlandish hats (fashioned by Phillip Treacy). Of course, she was always the life of the party…She was like a character from an Evelyn Waugh book!

What are you reading these days?


(Photos:  Mr. Eureka and New York City Girl Style)

Jacqueline du Pré: Immortality in just 12 years

Jesse Kornbluth again, mostly of, here this week to celebrate a classical musician who might be correctly be shelved in the “soul” category.

Her career lasted only 12 years, but if had been only half as long, she’d be considered one of the greatest cellists of the century — her playing was that pure, her personality was that compelling, her story is that intriguing.

Jacqueline du Pré, born in 1945, heard a cello when she was four years old and reportedly asked her mother for “one of those.” Her mother was her first teacher:

She was marvelous, because she has a great talent for teaching small children, and she started off by writing little tunes for me when I could hardly play the thing at all, and she added words to these tunes, and on the opposite side of the page she drew beautiful pictures illustrating the tunes. And she used to do these while I was asleep, and I could hardly wait until the morning came, because in the morning I’d wake up and find this beautiful thing waiting for me. And then we’d rush down and play it together. And that really made me very excited about the cello.

Other teachers followed, but she needed so little — at 17, she made her concert debut, playing the Elgar Cello Concerto at London’s Royal Festival Hall. In her hands, the Elgar sounded as it never had before — she didn’t play the music, she became it.

Jacqueline du Pré didn’t lack ambition, but practice bored her, and she avoided it. Decades later, when she was sick and a well-meaning interviewer praised her accomplishments, she would have none of it: “I’ve achieved nothing at all because I’ve never had to work.”

Her reality check wasn’t reviews or ovations — it was the music. “I have the same feeling when I walk in a very beautiful place that I have when I play and it goes right,” she said.

So it seems absolutely correct that, on New Year’s Eve in 1966, Jacqueline du Pré would meet pianist Daniel Barenboim at a party in London in 1966. ”Instead of saying good evening,” she recalled, ”we sat down and played Brahms.” They married six months later at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

She was tall, large-boned, a formidable presence. She was also shy and otherworldly — she never knew, for example, what things cost. So her relationships were best when they were about music — Barenboim has described her as “a musical conversationalist.”

According to her sister Hilary, when Jacqueline was nine years old, she shared a vision: “Don’t tell Mum, but… when I grow up, I won’t be able to walk or move.” In 1971, when she was just 26, vision became reality in the form of multiple sclerosis.

She died in 1987, at 42. And that leaves us with her music and some documentary films.

The compilation of her favorite cello concertos is probably the greatest bargain in all of recorded music: half a dozen classics for $17. The Dvorak Cello Concerto is one of my favorites, I’ve been listening to it, with some care, for decades. But to hear du Pré is to hear it as if for the first time. And the others? All at the highest level. [To buy “Favorite Cello Concertos: Boccherini, Dvorak, Elgar, Haydn, Monn, Saint-Saens, Schuman” from, click here.]

Or is it the Elgar, alone? The Elgar is where you start with du Pré and will always return — its beauty goes far beyond the power of words. To buy the Elgar Cello Concerto from, click here.)

Jacqueline du Pré may have had a complicated life, but the story of her real life — her life as an artist — is really very simple. Barenboim summed it up nicely: “I have never come across anybody who was so completely music. Everything was music in her. Brain, heart, intestines — it was her most natural form of expression.”

To buy “Jacqueline du Pré In Portrait” from, click here.

To buy the DVD of Jacqueline Du Pré: A Celebration of Her Unique Enduring Gift” from, click here.

To visit the Jacqueline du Pré web site, click here.


Antipodean dispatch: The Harp in the South

Morning passengers leave the Manly ferry with wharves and Harbour Bridge in the background, Circular Quay, ca. 1946-1949 by Australian Geographical Society

Good morning! (Or good evening depending on your neck of the woods). This is Naomi Bulger again, bringing you another little literary dispatch from Australia.

I was back in my hometown of Sydney, Australia, a couple of weeks ago. I wanted to spend time with my family and friends before my little baby was born (in a matter of weeks, yikes!) and I was grounded for a while.

First stop was morning tea with my parents. We went to Surry Hills, where I lived for years before I moved to New York.

Surry Hills is one of those places that has faced a fundamental shift in personality, more than once. A hundred years ago, it was the most dangerous part of Sydney, full of razor gangs and brothels and sly-grog joints. In Ruth Park’s famous novel The Harp in the South, she conjured up the Surry Hills of the 1940s, then a slum, and the downtrodden yet vibrant families that populated its old streets.

Salvation Army - Surry Hills Sunday morning service in street, Sept 1949, from Series 02: Sydney people & streets, 1948-1950, photographed by Brian Bird
Left: Old age pensioner in Surry Hills alley with stick, Aug 1949, from Series 02: Sydney people & streets, 1948-1950, photographed by Brian Bird. Right: Martin Rubenstein and Kathleen Gorham, dancers in the J.C. Williamson / Borovansky Ballet production of Gay Rosalinda, 1946 / photographer Hal Williams
Capitol Theatre, 17 November 1944, by Sam Hood

This is a glorious, rambunctious novel about love and poverty and family and dreams. Have you read it? Here is a scene from the New Year bonfire, an illegal fire built on a street corner, just out of reach of the trams. “The authorities always forbade it, and nobody ever took any notice of what they said, but went on lighting New Year bonfires just the same.” This year’s bonfire was the biggest Surry Hills had ever seen.

“Suddenly there was a glad roar in the distance, and, startled, they looked up. Tommy, with glistening eyes, cried: ‘It’s on!’ They forgot everything and pelted down towards the bonfire…

“A second later there was a yellow glare, as some old books which Mrs Siciliano had saturated with grease and kerosene caught the flame. Whoosh! A ragged blue tongue of fire spurted high into the air, and everyone sprang back and surveyed it with awed excitement.

“‘Bravo! Bravo!’ yelled Jacky Siciliano, and he kissed his wife with pride because she had thought of the kerosene. And all the black-haired little Siciliano brats danced gipsy-like around the bonfire, yelling shrilly.

“Roie looked awed at the rose-red tower of flame, and the little hyacinth-blue sparks that showed and vanished. A ruby glow was cast over every face, the good and the wicked, the old and the young – old women with their hair rosy with reflected light; little goblin children, dirty and hungry, with bony brows and big, shining eyes; even babies with grubby wrinkled faces, blinking painfully in the glare. Dolour jumped up and down with hysterical excitement. The old year hovered around them; he was like a shadow vanishing bit by bit under an onslaught of light; all his fears and terrors, his failures and monotonies seemed now something soon to be tossed away on the stream of time, to be forgotten for ever. Dolour did not feel this; she was only glad that she was one year older than this time last year; that she was almost fourteen, and not a child any longer, and soon would be freed from school and allowed to go to work.”

Today, models, artists and designers walk those same streets, which are now filled with top restaurants and wine bars; organic cafes; vintage and designer fashion; and boutique books, stationery, music and furniture design stores.

"The Women" Co. girls on Tamarama beach, 2 February 1939 / photographer Sam Hood
ANZAC Day - celebration drinks, marching down Pitt Street, April 1950, from Series 02: Sydney people & streets, 1948-1950, photographed by Brian Bird
St Patrick's Day sports at Showground, March 1940, by Sam Hood
Outdoor dancers, schoolgirls in Botanic Gardens, Sept 1949, from Series 02: Sydney people & streets, 1948-1950, photographed by Brian Bird

It was kind of poignant to be back in Surry Hills after living overseas and interstate, to be in a place that was at once as familiar as any home I’ve had and yet now, with the passing of just four short years, had changed yet again and was not ‘me’ any more.

Have you ever revisited ‘home’ and found it had grown up without you? Or is it you that has grown out of your home?

All Sydney archive photos from the State Library of NSW photostream on Flickr, no known copyright.

ps. To give you some perspective, these photographs were taken from my apartment in Surry Hills, in 2006:

The terrace houses that Park's characters would have lived in are still there and, while many have been renovated into seven-figure homes, these across the road from me are probably not much changed from the Hills' slum days
Looking west across Surry Hills and into the heart of Sydney. That tiny spire on the horizon on the left is the Anzac Bridge. The top of Sydney Tower is on the right.

An Afternoon at the Lake

This is what my Monday looked like…

How about yours? So sorry for the late post (I had technical difficulties yesterday), but Tina was sweet enough to let me pop in a day late to share some goodies with you. First of all, a little mini vacate.

“I’m an old-fashioned guy… I want to be an old man with a beer belly
sitting on a porch, looking at the lake…”
– Johnny Depp

Our friends have an amazing little dock on the lake that is the perfect place to spend an afternoon. My must-haves?

{ sunglasses  /  towels  /  cooler }

What about you? What are your *must-haves* for a day by the water?

Also, I wanted to share with you that I’ve started blogging again on my personal blog: Secrets of a Belle! I hope you’ll come over and say *hello!* There’s lots of really great content I have planned for the coming weeks that I’m sure English Muse readers will enjoy.

Hope you have a *happy* week! xo* ~ Hannah B.


Working with Paper and Scissors

This spring, I can’t seem to get enough butterflies. I keep finding them everywhere.

This is the work of English artist Rebecca J Coles. She creates these lovely, three dimensional, pieces from bits of discarded paper. In her artist statement she writes:

“Each shape is hand drawn and then intricately hand cut from carefully selected paper, focusing on recycling a medium that would otherwise be discarded and lost. I dissect small details of colour, imagery and text into silhouettes that are then re-sculptured, pinned and encased. My aim is to transform an every day object into a piece of work that invites the viewer to see beyond its original source.”

The finished work is beautiful, but I love seeing the details, and noticing the bits of scenes printed on the paper.

I so enjoy art that takes the ordinary and makes it extraordinary.

Have a lovely Tuesday,

Sarah from Design Flourishes

all images from Rebecca J Coles’ website

How do you picture Christian Grey?

For you 50 Shades of Grey fans out there, I’m running a little survey: How do you picture Christian Grey?

Maybe like this handsome model (spotted on a flash sale site)?

Or dark and exotic, like this guy?

Or maybe like Robert Pattinson (apparently the author modeled the character after him)?

What do you think?

I always try to cast my favorite characters before Hollywood does…

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