Look Who’s Coming to Dinner

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I got a new dinner set recently. I’ve never really had a best dinner set before and my mother started me on this one with two pieces for Christmas. I loved it and we managed to get the rest of it in the after-Christmas sales.

It’s strange but having it makes me feel more grown up somehow. A formal dinner set is something I’ve always wanted and I guess now I have it, it feels like my home is starting to come together a little more.

While unpacking it the other day it made me think about that old game, ‘Guess who’s coming to dinner?’, the one where you’d make a list of people from throughout history who you’d invite to dinner if you could. I used to love doing that when I was younger and so I thought it’d be fun to do it again now as a post, but with a bit of a twist – a list of fictional characters instead.

After giving it some thought, this is my list of ten characters. It took me a long while to put it together; there are so many interesting characters from books and film etc that it’s really hard to choose.

But in the end these are the ones I think would be a lot of fun. They’re not necessarily my favourite characters but I think they’d all be interesting and more importantly I think their conversations would be interesting too.

I chose ten because I think twelve people is a good number for a dinner party as it’s not too many people to cook for and they can talk in pairs or in groups. The other two people would be you, dear reader, and myself of course.

As far as the food goes I’d do an apple and pecan salad for the entree, spaghetti with prawns and rocket for the main, and an Eton mess for dessert. I think they’d complement each other well and I could manage most of them (the dessert would take some practice).

So who would you invite for dinner? 😉

Sherlock Holmes
I’ve loved Sherlock Holmes since reading The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes as a child. His stories and intellect would be fascinating around a dinner table.

Victor Frankenstein
Shelley’s Frankenstein is one of my favourite novels and one of the first books that made me want to write. Frankenstein is such a tragic character and it would be fascinating to pick his mind and justifications.

Gandalf the Grey
Gandalf is probably my favourite character of all time. He’d be a lot of fun to have at the table and he’d have some pretty interesting conversations with some of the other guests as well.

Hermione Granger
I think Hermione is the real hero of Harry Potter; her intelligence and skill save them over and over again and she’d be much better company at a dinner party than Harry or Ron. I’d love to see her pick Gandalf’s brain.

Scheherazade
The Arabian Nights (the original version) is another of the books that had a big influence on me growing up and I’ve always liked Scheherazade. Her insights into her time would be interesting and she could definitely tell a good story or two which would be great too.

Mister Spock
If Gandalf is my favourite fictional character Spock wouldn’t be far behind. He’d be fascinating (sorry) to talk to and one of the few people who could keep up with Holmes.

Long John Silver
Has there ever been a villain more fun than Long John Silver? Equally devious and charming, he’d be a lot of fun around the table, particularly if Spock and Holmes tried to see through his lies.

Mary Poppins
I loved Mary Poppins growing up and must have watched the film version a hundred times or more. Mary would be the perfect guest, entertaining and fun and capable of keeping some of the other guests in line if needed as well.

Willy Wonka
I have a soft spot for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; it’s just pure imagination and with his humour and charm, Wonka would be a great guest. It’d be great to pick his brain for recipe ideas too.

Morgan le Fay
I love the legend of King Arthur and I’ve always been particularly interested in Morgan. She often tends to be depicted quite badly, either as the evil sorceress or a conniving seductress (or both), but her story is really quite tragic. It would be be interesting hearing her perspective and she’d have a lot to talk about with Gandalf and Hermione too.

Photo © CJ Levinson 2016

Looking back on Shutter & Pen

So I came across something interesting earlier. As of last Friday my blog is officially nine years old. Happy Blogiversary to me!

It’s actually a little older than that if I think about it; originally I started the blog in 2006 with another host, before moving it to WordPress at the beginning of 2007. I hadn’t written many posts before however so I think of the blog starting more when I moved to WordPress.

It’s been a long nine years and the blog has gone through several iterations in that time. When I first started the blog it was called A Writer’s Life and primarily was a writing blog with some book reviews and other things. Back then I mainly saw the blog as a way of generating interest in my writing and so pretty much everything related to writing or books in some way.

After a while I started to find that too restrictive and I decided to widen what I wrote about. I still saw the main purpose of the blog as generating interest in my writing but I started to approach it differently and started writing more general articles and columns. The topics became more random and the blog much more of a window to my thoughts on life and philosophy as well.

During this time a funny thing happened. I guess originally I stumbled into blogging because I felt like it gave writers an online presence they could control and needed but I actually found I really enjoyed it. I liked writing about ideas and philosophy and knowing that this little space was mine, a piece of my intellectual property. And along the way I started to find a bit of an audience and made some new friends.

This period lasted for about four years, from late 2007 to 2011, and it’s interesting because it probably coincided with the peak of blogging as a whole as well. Blogs were everywhere then, both professional and personal, and it was a good time to be a blogger and reach an audience. Interestingly though I think the quality of blogging was not as high as it is now; while there are fewer blogs now, I think writers are more experienced and more focused now which has definitely helped the quality. They’re blogging because they want to, not because it’s fashionable.

Around 2010 things started to change though and blogging went into decline. The biggest impact on blogging was the rise of Facebook; the majority of blogs then were personal blogs where people shared updates about their lives and interests and Facebook gave them an easier and more convenient way of doing that. So blogging declined and unfortunately I saw it happen to many bloggers whose blogs I really liked and who eventually stopped updating.

During this time I started to cut back a bit myself. Part of it was that I was saddened at seeing many of my friends disappear but the major reason was that my health took a bad turn at the same time and I found it difficult to concentrate and update regularly. I still felt like what I published was good but my output was drastically lower and I went from a post or two a week to one or two a month, sometimes less.

I still enjoyed blogging though and I knew I wanted to get back to doing it more regularly… I just knew that I’d need to find some other posts that were easier for me to do while I worked on my longer articles. And so that’s when I started to post my photography, usually with a haiku or haiqua to provide a link back to my writing.

I’ve always loved photography but I’d never really thought of myself as being a particularly good photographer and initially I was actually quite nervous about posting my photos. But I was flabbergasted by the response I received. Right away I started getting really good feedback on the photos and people seemed to like the haiku as well and thought they complemented each other. And so I started posting more.

And that’s how the blog changed again. The name changed from A Writer’s Life to Shutter & Pen and I started posting more about photography than I originally intended to, to the point where a casual visitor to my blog now probably wouldn’t realise that I’m actually still more of a writer than I am a photographer! But in all seriousness sharing my photos here has been one of the best things I’ve done. It’s made me want to go out and take more photos, which in turn has improved my photography, to the point where I have now sold quite a few photographs and could legitimately look at it as a profession if I wanted to (one I am seriously thinking about in fact).

But I am still a writer first and foremost and whilst unfortunately I can’t write the way I used to anymore due to pain, I do still write… I’m always writing in fact, whether it’s a poem or jotting down ideas, and I’m starting to work on short stories again now, with the ultimate goal being to start on my novel again later this year.

And so that’s where we are with the blog now. What was originally a simple writing blog has become a lot more than that, a window to my thoughts on writing, philosophy, photography and life. And yet, at its heart, I don’t think it’s really changed all that much over the years. The idea is still for this blog to be my intellectual space and somewhat random and that’s what I always want it to be… and hopefully people will have some fun along the way too.

For the next year I guess my goal with the blog is to keep to a bit more of a schedule; I aim to post something at least once a week, with a new column every Sunday fortnight. I also want to try a few new things as well – one of them a semi-regular Q&A which should be fun (feel free to suggest a question if you like!).

My other goal is to get back into interacting with the community more. I’ve got into a bad habit of just reading other blogs recently and I’d like to put that right, particularly as there are so many brilliant bloggers out there, like the wonderful Cordelia’s Mom and Manniqueen, two people I’ve met recently and whose blogs I absolutely adore.

Looking back over the last nine years I think the most interesting thing for me has been watching how blogging and the internet have changed. A lot has happened online over that time, particularly the way people access the internet. I was looking back through my stats earlier and that’s the thing that really jumped out at me. Even four or five years ago (let alone nine) the number of people accessing my blog on a smartphone would have been fairly small, probably around 4% or 5%. Looking today it’s 27.2%. That’s huge and shows just how much smartphones and tablets have changed how we interact with the web.

There were some other interesting things in the stats too. One was the average length of time visitors spent on my blog. 90.7% of visitors spend less than 30 seconds, which isn’t great but isn’t too bad I think for my kind of blog – it’s just a small, low profile blog so people tend to come off Google a lot and click away -, but the really interesting thing to me is that 4.1% spend longer than an hour looking. So basically that means almost half of the remaining visitors spend an hour or longer on the site which to me seems like a really good ratio. Drilling down on it a lot of that looks like people going through my stories and poetry as well, so I guess it shows if I ever do get a novel finished, I might have some people interested in reading it which is encouraging.

The other interesting thing was which posts have been my most popular ones over the last couple of years. Since 2012 the top 5 posts have basically all been the same and they’re all older posts. I’m not sure why that is. It may be that they have particular staying power for some reason, or perhaps I just haven’t been writing about things that catch on as much these last few years. Either way I thought it was interesting.

These were the 5 most popular posts from 2015 if you’re interested:

Do we rely too heavily on technology?
What makes something art?
5 famous misquotes from literature
10 things I’d do with 10 million dollars
5 sayings that don’t make sense

Anyway that’s just me getting geeky. All in all 2015 was a pretty good year for my blog but the truth is, none of that matters. I’ve never craved hits. I do this blog for me and not for any other reason. Never have and never will. What matters is that I’m happy with it and I’m glad other people seem to like it too.

Hopefully 2016 will be a good year too as the blog continues to evolve. Thank you to everyone for reading and I hope you continue to enjoy the journey with me.

The Chess Match

The Chess Match

Do you play to win
Or for the love of the game?
Life is how you play

They say no one knows you like you know yourself so I thought why not play myself in a game of chess and see who wins? So here it is. Chris vs. Dark CJ. The prize? My soul! 😉

More seriously I took these last night for some fun and to experiment a bit in Photoshop. I’d wanted to do a quirky self-portrait like this for a while and as I wasn’t doing much last night I thought it was the perfect time to try it.

Chris vs Dark CJ

Chris warns Dark CJ not to get cocky

Creating the images looks hard but it’s actually quite easy and you can do it with any kind of camera, even a simple point and shoot. The most important thing is having a background that doesn’t move and using a tripod or a flat surface so the perspective doesn’t change. You can then take as many photos of yourself in different positions as you want.

When it comes to combining the photos I use Photoshop CC but you can do it in Photoshop Elements or a number of other programs as well. You simply open the photos you want to combine, copy and paste them on top of each other, and then use a layer mask or an eraser tool to paint over/erase the sections where the other versions of ‘you’ would appear. Because the background itself never changes, you should end up with something like this.

Taking these was a lot of fun and has given me a few ideas for some other projects as well. I’m still not sure who would win the match though. I’d like to think Chris would but maybe Dark CJ might have more to play for. Might have to go best out of three. 🙂

Chris Levinson smiling

I took a more normal self portrait as well which came out quite well too. Think I’ll use this as my writer’s photo for the year.

Photos and haiku © CJ Levinson 2016

A Group of Seagulls

Oh! To see the world
Like a bird, from high above
And be truly free

I took this down by the lakefront in Belmont yesterday afternoon. I had lunch down there and the seagulls left me alone for the most part, which was a nice surprise.

I wasn’t originally planning to do this in black and white but I like it like this. It gives it the slightly old fashioned look I was going for.

And in case you’re wondering, a group of seagulls is actually called a colony, not a flock as is commonly believed. I blame the 80s band for leading people astray. 😉

Photo and haiku © CJ Levinson 2016

A Heart That Loves Is Always Young

Love Kanji

When in doubt
Trust your heart:
It may break
But it will never lead you wrong

I’ve been in a bit of a rut with my photography lately. It might be the festive season or maybe the wet weather we’ve had but I haven’t taken many photos lately. So last night I thought I’d brush off the cobwebs and try some macro.

I enjoy macro. I don’t do a lot of it but I love the idea of taking an object and looking at it in a completely different way and it’s something I often turn to when I feel in a bit of a rut.

For these photos my subject was an affirmation plaque I’ve owned for a couple of years. It’s actually part of a set (the other is a ‘harmony’ plaque that I might do another time as well) that I bought when I first moved to Newcastle, so it has a lot of personal meaning to me as well.

I love the sentiment and and the plaque has a plastery surface that has a lot of very interesting lines and textures that are perfect for macro. I love the detail the shots were able to capture and how different the plaque looks close up, and yet how parts of it still feel familiar as well.

I’ll have to do some more macro. I really enjoyed this. Wonder what other things I can find around the place? 😉

A Heart That Loves Is Always Young

A heart that loves is always young

Love Kanji 1

Close up of the kanjiLove Kanji 2

At the crossroads

Twisted question mark
Texture 1

From the heart

Kanji

Textured kanjiLove Kanji 4

Mouth wide open

Love Kanji 5

Triangle and shadow

Texture 2

Lines in plasterLove Kanji 6

A narrow channelLove

Love is…?

Love Kanji 7

Ruins in sand
Love Kanji 8

X marks the spotTexture 3

Rough textures

Love Kanji 9

Light and dark

Love Kanji 10

Curves and linesKanji

Love kanji

Photos and haiqua © CJ Levinson 2016