Saturday, 17 August 2013

About Photos

Mine is a difficult blog.  

It opens on your screen... and instantly you find it difficult to start reading. 

It's unappealing, all those blocks of texts, and you would wish there were photos - if only to make you stop or draw you in. 

Personally I do this on purpose - but I would not advice you to ever do the same: nothing as unattractive for the online surfer than seeing blurs of texts.

It's difficult enough to attract visitors to your website, so you have to make an effort to make them stay. 

Which, by the way, never works by 'just having photos'; they need to be original, of high quality, and relevant as well (so forget about using stock photos here and now: they are recognized as such and deemed to hurt your reliability and professionalism or success rather than help it). 

Hence why companies who are serious about their online success, start by spending a part of their budget on professional photography (and an other big part on professional copywriting... the other pillar of memorability). 

If I know this, why don't I practise what I preach? 

First, I have my website to do that. 

Secondly, unlike most blogs, mine does not serve to drive traffic to my website. It has a different purpose - communicate with like minded people, and writing the blog that me myself would want to read. 

Thirdly, if I can't provide quality, I much rather prefer to not have photos at all.

And four, as a SEO advisor I know how to achieve rankings anyway: I can afford to make it difficult for myself. 

YOU want to maintain the website visitors you have, AND convert them into clients. Good, high quality and original photography is key in that. 

Any budget reserved for a professional photographer, is arguably the wisest investment you can make. 

The human eye craves images. 

Friday, 16 August 2013

About Summertime

And the living is easy...'

Except when it is sung by Mahalia Jackson: then this song of sunlight and silence becomes one of self-delusion.
The kind of lullaby you sing to yourself when everything goes wrong, as self-motivation or as escape: it becomes a prayer.
'Oh, your daddy's rich
And your mamma's goodlooking...'
Most probably Gershwin did not mean it that way, but in the voice of Mahalia Jackson that becomes:
Your daddy was sold as a slave and you have never known him.
Your mum was raped by the Master, is toothless and used as a tool.
Why else would you end the song by:
'One of these mornings
You're going to rise up singing
Then you'll spread your wings
And you'll take to the sky...'

That doesn't make sense. If everything is as picture perfect as you sing it to be, why would you need to have that belief?

Why would you need to say 'hush little baby, don't you cry'?

You need to sing that, since over and above and under these scenes of picturesque peace, there's one big, slow, intense tear.  
If 'Summertime' were only a still life of happiness and calm, it would have become a hit for one summer - and then have been forgotten.
Now it is an American cathedral, discovered by generation upon generation, who might not know why this song creeps into the head and stay there forever... but know it does.
In this case it is the clash between the lyrics and what we know about the singer and what she represents - that turns a simple song into literature.
Literature is never about what is being said. It is about the seed it plants deep within us, way past the neo cortex: a seed that is there to stay and enriches our inner life.


Thursday, 15 August 2013

About Literary Songs

There's a repetitive beat, not very exciting.
There's a fragile voice of Agnetha Faltskog, with a little tear in it.
The video shows a grey day in Sweden, just another day of commuters.
And on top of that, the lyrics are only a recount of every hour of the day: 'At this time I must have taken the morning train, at that time I must have had a coffee,...'
And so it goes on, for almost 6 minutes.
A simple memory of 'the day before you came'.
The singer can remember it that well, since all her days were identical.
She might as well have sung: I did something boring with someone insignificant in a dreadful spot.
So how is it that this song grabs you by the throat, has become a classic?
It is right because of putting the words on music: the lyrics are OK, the music is OK... but together they clash and shape a work of 3 dimensions.
The message is: nothing has changed.
Before you came or after you came: it doesn't matter. Nothing changed.
Life, this song is telling us, is sad. It's a boulevard of inexplicable longings, fulfilled dreams that are the same as broken dreams... and there's nothing we can do about it.
We sit on this every day train, with expectations, but expectations is all we will get.
Even if we do not study the texts, do not analyse the song, do not intend to grasp its meaning: our intuition does that for us.
At such a point, music, as literature, becomes art.
The message is not told, it is fed to us in a sneaky, subliminal way; it slips in between the cracks, breaking through our neo cortex straight to a deeper place: the place where we store our memories, all the tiny little dots and wires in our head that shape our intuition.
This is the whole difference between 'a book' - and literature.
Between craft - and art.
In the days to come, I want to tell more about such 'literary songs', talking about literature alone can be boring... but put it on music, and the message can break through the last cultural or educational barrier. Making the message available to anyone.
No art form is 'better' than any other: they can assist each other and create something entirely new.
In the case of literature: Music is the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

About Movie Adaptations

"The book was better".

Here, we all agree - always.

Of course it was! One stands to the other as a 1€ hamburger to a meal in a top restaurant.

(If we are talking about a work of literature, that is. A John Grisham is obviously a different matter). 

For how can one squeeze an 800 page novel into a 2-hour movie?

Only by stripping it from everything that made it literature in the first place.

We’ll have to quickly snatch the main plotline, and eliminate all the rest. Reduce the number of characters and strip the main ones of most of their deeper layers. Summarize the inner world of each personality in one tale-telling action. Forget about psychology or sociology, bar the most basic one. Etc.

I am not belittling movies. Hey, I studied cinematography. It is an art form in itself.  

And I can really like movie adaptations. Truly enjoy them. Once in a while even find them masterful or unforgettable.

In general though they seem to only tap into the popularity of a novel; a fast track to the next buck.

A movie keeps being a quick snack, a tapa that does not leave many traces; no remaining footsteps on the beach of our inner life.

It's the jingle version of a symphony.

Someone has 'done the imagination' for us. We can say ‘oh, the movie-trilogy Lord of the Rings is so imaginative’… but only when we don’t have a lot of imagination in the first place; it’s ready-made imagination.

We can sit back, without any fear that someone will make an appeal to our grey cells. We know: for the next 100 minutes we will not have to organise a single thought.

A work of literature though is action. It is our travel and life companion for days, if not weeks - and for that reason in itself it can make such an ever lasting impact.

A work of literature has travelled with us for weeks. AND it has put our senses and grey cells into motion... and has thus penetrated further into our brain. 

Great literature can stay there forever. 

The movie adaptation for a few remarks during a few conversations. 

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

About Communication (2)

You are visiting Marrakech and a beggar holds up his hand. 

What do you do or say? 

Are you the sort of person who will collect all energy to pretend you don't see the beggar, feeling your toes curl?

Will you feel annoyed that someone has put you in the situation where you have to say 'no'? 

Perhaps you are the sort of person who - possibly - smiles and says: "Allah will give you". 

The latter is not a good communicator, he is a brilliant one. 

For he shows he still respects the other and wishes him well: a silent greeting between two people, a tiny spark of hope in the hustle and bustle of just another day. Both will feel better afterwards. 

For sure not all good communication has to be elevated to art. In general it is simply easy

"Would you be able to do this or that or me"? 
"I am sorry - for this or that reason I can't or won't". 


Most of our problems with communication lies in the fact that we have such a problem saying 'No'. 'Sorry' and 'no' seem to be the hardest words. 

And the words that grease the wheels of life; people who can say 'no' possess a wonderful gift. 

Provided that the rejection is in balance with the self-esteem of the other. 

There are so many examples of brilliant communication - and none is like the other. In almost all cases they can be compared to someone defusing a bombshell. 

I'm not into the habit of throwing YouTube links at you; the following though is such a classic example it tells 'more than a thousand words': 

Reagan does not tell he is healthy... in 10 seconds he shows it. For everyone to grasp. 

About Communication

Communication skills are of such importance and make such an impact that a president can be remembered for it: 

Ronald Reagan was known as 'The Great Communicator'. 

At first sight that might sound a bit strange. Why remember someone for - and name him after - 'just' his communication skills? 

After all, is there anything as easy as communication?

You tell what you've got to tell, in an easy way, for everyone to understand, and that is that. How difficult can it be?!

Well, simplicity is the most difficult thing of all. 

It is no miracle we talk about noble simplicity. In German it is even 'noble simplicity, quiet grandeur'. 

Simplicity is an art in itself. That we humans, in general, rarely possess.  

And next to never when it comes to communication. 

Most of us communicate in a very difficult way, with as result; a true quagmire of confusion and frustration.   

We do not actually read our emails; or we do not reply to them out of fear to say 'no'; we wriggle ourselves out of an annoying situation in a very complicated way, frustrating for everyone; we use others to convey a negative message to someone else; we talk behind the back of people instead of to them...
We need 5000 words to explain something that could be said in one phrase; we forget to put our phone number in our website;
we instantly kill our own standing by being a talker rather than a listener...

We agree to do things we will regret; or if we refuse do it in an insulting manner; we do not apologise... or things do simply not come over our lips the way we intended to. 
It is unimaginable, the amount of time, potential and happiness lost over us being so bad at communication. 

Many a friendship or business relation has ended over bad communication.

Worse; if such a relation ended, it is most probably because of that.
Whereas it is so simple:

If you are being asked a question, you think. 
You give the answer that is honest. 
You tell why you give that answer. 
While you balance it with kindness, respecting the values of the other.

Does that sound hard to do? 
But there you go: the simplest things in life are the most difficult. 

Why? Because our mind is not simple. It exists of millions of wires spread over 3 brain parts, grown over millions of years, and further molded by experiences and voices of dozens of people in our personal life. (Let's say 'we hear dozens of voices').

This causes an eternal battle between ratio, heart, balls, aspirations, dreams, aims or what we consider to be realism; a true web in which we ourselves are lost as well; we hardly know what we want, or what is good for us.

In the midst of a life that is already difficult and saturated with conflicting signs.

So if someone is a clear communicator, easy to understand, leaving no room for confusion while at the same time being kind... we are astonished. It is unique.

This lies at the core of every successful Brand and every successful person: excellent communication.

The message in a piece of literature is usually a very complicated or unique one, and thus literature becomes great when it succeeds to get that message across.

World Literature is that novel that touched the heart or changed the lives of millions across all cultures...  by making a highly complicated emotion or fact of human life understandable to the reader.

From India to Spain, from New Zealand to Russia: people understand Jane Austen. Wrapped in Englishness, straight out of the 19th century, but with a universal message, understandable by all.

No matter where you live: you will recognize her characters. You will say: that's really my uncle, my neighbour, a colleague of mine! Or: I had exactly the same problem!  I know that situation! Or simply: exactly!

Out of the thousands of politicians that have passed by over the past decades, we only remember a few: Reagan, Thatcher, Clinton, Mandela... the great communicators.

You do not need a complicated website. You need one that is a great communicator. 

You will not have a lot of competition.


Monday, 5 August 2013

About Literature

The word literature comes from the Latin word 'litterae'.  

It literally means 'things made from letters'.

Just as with things made of bricks, or of clay, paint or notes, the result can be just a useful tool, craft... or art.

Nowadays we speak of literature when a work of fiction reaches a higher or deeper level. 

For reading a book is not the same as reading literature: the latter is an experience. 

The message might no longer be explicitly told or explained, but slips in between the words and leaves you in a state of mind you have not experienced before. 
 A great novel is as the 'Mona Lisa': you read it once, and it can forever haunt you. If it makes a great impression, it is impossible to forget throughout your whole life, and even becomes one of its corner stones.
A very good book can be so unforgettable because:

1. It sets the imagination and senses to work. Unlike watching a movie, which is sitting back and letting someone elses imagination or direction wash over you, reading is an activity. It pushes all buttons of personal imagination, senses, memories, comparisons, longings and dreams. And thus intrusive.

2. Whereas a movie lasts around 2 hours, many a novel is a companion for days, if not weeks on end. Words, sentences, thoughts or ambiance keep lingering all throughout the day... you can call it a holiday, simultaneously with your day to day life.

Any word of fiction can teach you something. Great literature though opens one new eye after the other, enabling you to look at things from all possible sides, from the outside as well as the inside, from all possible characters and personalities. 

Literature makes a human mild

From fully ego-centric, we slowly move towards human-centric; instead of zooming in into a highly personal feel, we pan out, forever further away, until we are almost looking from the moon at humanity as a whole. 

Literature provides us with new levels of understanding. 

It can sooth and comfort, teach or open eyes, be a companion or make us feel understood, provide us with new insights or suddenly make us understand behaviour that always was a mystery to us.

Literature is a door towards our own depth... and that of all humans around us.


About Reading

After a warm-up, I will start writing about those things that are really very close to my heart. 

One can not write about these things without a lot of practise: the more beautiful the human trait or activity, the more inexplicable. 

You can't explain a thing of beauty. You can't write about it. 

Just as you can't describe a chord of sheer beauty. 

It can crush the lily in your soul... but how to describe it to others? 

People who say they don't have time to read simply don't want to. And it's a great big loss. It will take them far more time to discover all the different layers of life, the thousands shades of grey of the human mind. 

It's also not their fault: they have never learned how reading can enrich a life unlike anything else. 

Personally I find reading that Number 1 activity that makes life worth the while. Over architecture, over sculpting, over decoration... over music, over paintings, over any art bar music. 

If the arts were a city, reading would be that cathedral on a hilltop overlooking all the rest. 

So here I go: one month of articles about reading. 

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.”

“You're never alone when you're reading a book.” 

“Maybe this is why we read, and why in moments of darkness we return to books: to find words for what we already know.”    

“If one reads enough books one has a fighting chance. Or better, one’s chances of survival increase with each book one reads.” 

“When I get a little money, I buy books. If any is left, I buy food and clothes.” 

Friday, 2 August 2013

About Writing

It's a good day: I got a few compliments regarding my style of writing. 

People say it's poppy

Clear and easy to read. 

That stems from my days at the Film School, where we were taught: write for the average 13 year old. 

If your movie is a Vietnamese co-production for intellectuals, write for the average 13 year old intellectual. 

That was in the 1980's, so today it might be: the average 12 year old. 

This has got nothing to do with infantalisation. If it were, I would not use a word as infantalisation. I would not write about marketing or human traits in the first place. 

A good website - and this blog is one big motivator to turn your website into a good one - shows respect for its visitors. The first sign of respect is understanding: that we are all very busy, and that we are all bombarded with information. 

Everything on the Internet is screaming for our attention - compare it to standing in the biggest library on earth and all books jump at you. Our senses run overtime all the time, and are overloaded. 

Thus the easiest way to protect ourselves is to simply ignore most of it. We black it out. And make our attention span forever shorter. Either your website text instantly grabs us, or we simply do not read; we go on clicking. 

That takes one little movement of one small part of one finger. 

Respect the time and attention span of your visitor. Have got something to tell. Tell it immediately. Tell it in a way it is immediately understood. 

As Joseph Pulitzer said: 

“Put it before them briefly so they will read it, clearly so they will appreciate it, picturesquely so they will remember it, and, above all, accurately so they will be guided by its light.”