Friday, July 22, 2011

Dressing for Work

My senior year in high school, I took AP English. It was a wonderful, mind expanding course of deep literary analysis and challenging texts. In memory, AP English ranks as the greatest class of my schooling--better even than my college literature courses, because it marked the biggest advancement in my life as someone who thinks about words and language and literature. I was in heaven. Ms Hilborn, wherever you are, thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

However, AP English wasn't just an excuse for a book lover like me to wallow in Dostoevsky and Beckett. The class was meant to count as college credit, to be awarded upon passing the AP exam at the end of the year. This was the first test I ever really lost sleep over. Even the SAT was just another standardized test in my mind. But the AP exam? That was a real test. Hours' worth of questions designed to test everything I'd ever learned about a single subject.

After last-minute drills in various Shakespeare works and the particulars of Theater of the Absurd, my teacher gave us practical advice for the day of our exam. Much of it was the same advice we'd all heard for years the day before a test: Get plenty of sleep; eat a good breakfast; use the bathroom before school starts.

Her final piece of advice was new to me. She told us to dress up a bit.

Statement pieces like a great necklace really
help pull a look together.
The reasoning behind her advice was this: The clothes we wear affect our thoughts and behavior. When we put on clothes different from the ones we normally wear, it changes how we act and how we think. Comfy sweats are great for lounging in front of the tv, but they lead to sluggish thoughts. If we dress in a way that is just a wee bit uncomfortable (on account of being different from our normal mode of dress), the mind is sharper and more alert. Putting on an outfit we know flatters us helps us feel more confident, and, in turn, act more confident.

This simple bit of behavioral psychology is behind the advice for job hunters to dress their best for an interview. Not only do our wardrobe choices affect the way we are perceived by others, but they affect the way we perceive and present ourselves.

For anyone who works at home, be you self employed or a telecommuter, the ability to dress comfortably is touted as a perk. With no co-workers popping in or meetings to physically attend, why not stay in pj's all day?

Well, for me, it goes back to the psychology of dressing myself. If I wear pajamas or grubby clothes, my mind just isn't as sharp as I want it to be. It's harder for me to write fiction when my clothes are contributing to a lazy frame of mind.

For those of us who only have ourselves to rely upon for the motivation to get a job done, think about how you're dressing for work. Do the clothes you're wearing make you feel professional, or are they keeping you mentally sluggish?

I have to admit that this summer I've been less disciplined with making sure I'm dressed to get work done, and you know what? I've achieved less in my writing than I would have liked. So, this morning, I fell back on my AP English teacher's advice. I put on some makeup, slipped on a dress, and even donned some slightly uncomfortable shoes. I'm ready to tackle the day and get some serious writing done.

Whimsical footwear is advised for romance writers.

The day of the AP English exam, I followed my teacher's advice. I got sleep, ate a good breakfast, and wore clothes just a bit nicer than what I normally wore to school. My classmates did the same. In a feat unmatched by any other AP course offered at our school that year, every one of us in AP English passed that exam.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

In a Sense

One of the many things I admire about language is the way a single word can encapsulate a whole concept. Take the English word "home," for instance. It refers to not just a physical domicile, but also to the emotions of belonging and peace we (hopefully) find there with our family and loved ones.

It's interesting to discover what concepts other cultures have captured in a word or phrase. Oftentimes, these words don't have a clean translation into other languages. The literal English translation of je ne sais quois is "I don't know what," but that's not quite what the phrase means. Someone or something possessed of je ne sais quois has allure and charisma and fabulousness that are hard to put into words.

Another French word the English language borrows is haute. It refers to the highest, the best of the best. We see it in haute cuisine, haute couture, and--if you're a reader of Regency romance--haute ton, which is the highest echelon of society. One could say "top cuisine," or "the best fashion," but those don't have the same sense as haute, which denotes an air of exclusivity and luxury, as well as a top ranking.

OMG, it's Jersey Shore. Change the channel, quick!
The German language is riddled with marvelous words that have no clean English equivalent. One that's become quite popular in the Internet age is Schadenfreude, which is delight at another's suffering. One that hits close to home for me is Fremdschämen. This is vicarious embarrassment on another's behalf, and is the reason I cannot watch reality television. I become terribly uncomfortable when I witness someone else behaving foolishly. They seem to have no shame, but I have plenty for us both. That's Fremdschämen.

What words--in English or in other languages--do you know that lack an equivalent in other tongues? Share them in the comments!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Gorging on Books

I started writing because I love books. Adore them. Fervently. I have stories of my own to share, and books, being indescribably awesome, are the medium through which I wish to share those stories. Sadly, writing fills up a lot of the time I used to spend reading. Research material gets reading priority these days, pushing my fiction picks to the bottom of the reading pile.

Sometimes I just have to take a break and recharge the creative juices with some novels. Novels are like that old Pringles ad... once I pop, I can't stop. I glut myself on them. Eventually, I stagger away from the books for the literary equivalent of a food-induced coma.

I'm the guy in the red hat.

I've just had a reading feast, and a delightful one it's been. Blue, by Lou Aronica, was totally unexpected. I'm not sure what I thought I was in for, but this was a wonderful surprise. It's a fantasy novel mashed up with a literary look at the bittersweet heartbreak of parenting and growing up and dying.

I read Water for Elephants. I tend to run 5-10 years behind in exposure to popular books, so I'm a total Johnny Come Lately on that one. I enjoyed it. Rosie the elephant is a fabulous character.

Next, I read a novella by new-ish author Courtney Milan, called Unlocked. It's an historical romance that takes place in 1840, the period between the Regency and Victorian eras. I don't read too many novellas, but I was impressed with how fully fleshed out the characters and story are. The shorter length of the piece didn't take away from the experience at all--it was as satisfying a read as a full novel. This was a charming, lovely romance, and I'll definitely be on the lookout for more from Ms. Milan.

Finally, I read the Sherlock Holmes story "The Sign of Four." I've been slowly working my way through The Complete Sherlock Holmes, reading stories here and there. Holmes is such a dark, complex character. In "The Sign of Four", we learn about his worrisome cocaine habit, as well as his generally low opinion of women and the institution of marriage. As ever, I am astonished by Doyle's intricate plot. If only my imagination were so clever!

Great fiction gives my creative brain a rest. It also gets me fired up and inspired and excited all over again about my own work, and how fantastic it'll be to someday see my novels in print. I'm ready to dive into the final push on my current manuscript, which I hope to have completed by the end of summer.

What are you reading? I'm always looking for a good book!