Tag Archives: blogging

“It’s the most confusing, energetic, and hilarious place I’ve ever been”

Hilary and Indian child (image © Girish Menon)

Hilary FG is the author of hilary in mumbai, a blog about her life as an American expat in India’s so-called Maximum City. Her posts cover the gamut of Mumbai activities – from the perils of buying food, to coping with humidity, to the cast of characters at a regular expat party – and while her blogging is occasionally infrequent, this is largely in an effort to ensure quality.

I first discovered Hilary’s blog when she commented on one of my posts for The NRI about dealing with the dreaded local FRRO on the quest to obtain tiny-but-vital residency stamps. My immediate reaction upon looking through a couple of her posts was to laugh, loudly and repeatedly, but consistent reading showed that her humorous take was not merely frivolous. Many are lengthy and detailed, and the humour acts as a vehicle for quite genuine insight into what it’s like to be young, white and female in such a seething foreign metropolis.

Hilary has been known to undertake long flights somewhat regularly, and works full time for a living in a place where working full-time can easily occupy all of your surviving brain cells, but she was happy to answer my questions and let us a little further inside her world.

(NB: You will notice that Hilary is American and therefore spells ‘humour’ without a ‘u’. Please forgive her for this.)

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Why did you start blogging, and why do you keep blogging? (Is this your first blog?)

For about one week my sister and I had a blog called “Sisters Make the Best of Friends” on which we posted pictures of the cake we made on the 4th of July, items of clothing that prove that money can’t buy class, and video clips we think everyone should see. We didn’t really share it with anyone and took it down the next week.

I started blogging because my fellowship encouraged us to, and because I thought it would be a good way to keep my family informed without sending monster emails to everyone. My blog ended up not being about my day-to-day activities, so I still sent out those emails anyway, but the blog definitely helps me put events into context and reflect.

I keep blogging because it’s fun and other people seem to enjoy it. People tell me I say things they’ve wanted to talk about but couldn’t express. Expats here have sent my blog to their families and said, “Now they can picture just what I’ve been going through.” I love that. I also want a testament to all the things I go through here that I might forget later in life.

Have you ever kept a personal journal? If so, do you see ‘hilary in mumbai’ as an extension of that journal (or vice versa)?

I tried to keep a number of journals at a young age and failed pretty miserably. I usually liked journaling because I loved buying pretty notebooks, and physical paper is one thing ‘hilary in mumbai’ doesn’t have. I think there are a lot of “stream of consciousness” blogs out there, that are very journal-esque, and I’m usually not a very big fan. I like to give events the proper time to ruminate before I try to put words to them. If I had a journal it might have even more swears in it.

There are also a lot of things I go through that I will never put in the blog. Some things might be interesting, but violate some general privacy considerations, like my personal relationships or my job. Other things, like travel logistics, are just boring, and I don’t think anyone should put them anywhere.

What is your first memory of writing creatively?

My first experiment with writing creatively was a journal I kept of our family trip to Italy. I was around 5 years old and the whole thing is barely comprehensible and phonetic. I think it makes for a really wonderful read of life through the eyes of a weirdo 5-year-old.

"This is sugar packet from a very fancy restaurant."

I was told I was a horrible writer for 20 years of my life and it never came easily to me. I’m actually a published author now, and there’s the ole blog, so people have been eating their words.

Describe something that is beautiful to you.

I really like gradients in nature, like sunsets and horizons. I think the beach my family and I go to in Wellfleet, Cape Cod, is probably the thing that I dream about the most. Thinking about the transition of the dunes to the water to the sky makes me very homesick. There is something particularly magical about the light on Cape Cod.

Have you always been interested in India, or was there a moment in your life that pushed you to go there?

I have a pretty nerdy backstory. I took Latin and Greek in high school, and I started taking Sanskrit so I could get all three Indo-European root languages. I’ve forgotten almost every word I learned, but I loved the material I was reading. The difference in worldview and philosophies that I came upon studying Sanskrit spurred an interest in India, although I really knew nothing about it when I first started. I visited India for the first time in 2004. I was on a high school trip in which we visited the Mumbai slums. My world was definitely blown open by what I experienced. I had no idea how to categorize or contextualize everything that I saw, and I knew I was never going to stop studying India. I remember picking my major in college and knowing that if I picked South Asian Studies I would never get bored. Since then I’ve been back on a study abroad program and now “for good” in September 2010.

How would you describe Mumbai to someone who had never been there? What advice would you give someone visiting for the first time?

I have two pieces of advice, once of which you’ve probably read on my Twitter. “Take the shits with the giggles” and “It’s worth it” are my main words of wisdom, but I would also tell people to try to suspend judgment for as long as possible. It’s difficult to describe Mumbai to people, especially if they have never been to a developing country. It’s the most confusing, energetic, and hilarious place I’ve ever been. If you can take the shits, you get a lot of giggles. Literally. I think visiting India can be really fun and worthwhile, but moving here might not be right for everyone…

People who come with preconceived notions of spirituality and romanticism can be disappointed, and people who come expecting to see the functioning and developed financial hub of a major world power may also be disappointed. It’s better just to show up. Oh, and use a lot of talcum powder and unscented baby wipes. Eat the street food but don’t wear valuable shoes. And come say hi!

Pretty much every post of yours cracks me up one way or another. I sense such an appreciation of the absurd in the way you view the world around you and your own endeavours. Is this something you’ve had to work at? Who has influenced your sense of humour?

Thank you! Humor is a family specialty. I grew up surrounded by the funniest people I’ve ever met. We have a very verbal family and sitting around making fun of things is probably what we do best. When my last visit with my mom and sister ended we joked that we weren’t going to laugh again until we got to reunite. My father passed away from cancer a year and a half ago, and he kept his sense of humor until the very end. It was impressive.

When I started the blog, I wasn’t sure what audience I should try to write it for. My sister told me to write it like I’m talking to her, and that set the informal tone. What I have to work at is balancing how much to let events speak for themselves, or try to explain the humor in them. I find myself in a lot of situations here that are objectively funny, and I always have to remind myself not to add, “It was soooo funny,” at the end.

It might also be worth mentioning that I have a degree in South Asian Studies and I’ve been studying India for almost a decade now. I try not to make the blog too academic, but I know that my experience with the subject matter means I can spend less time trying to figure out what the hell’s going on, and more time laughing about it. I try to put in My Mind Numbing Fact of the Day to acknowledge that even though I’m laughing, there are a lot of fascinating and devastating things happening all around me.

Even before I moved here, people have complimented me on my ability to convey my worldview in an entertaining and interesting way. People generally like talking to me unless I’m making fun of them. I think if people aren’t naturally observant or critical, a blog by them won’t be fun no matter where they are.

How much of an effect has living abroad had on your belief system(s)?

I’ve changed a lot since moving here, but I’m not sure if it’s had an effect on my belief system. I was an atheist when I moved here and I’m definitely still one. My family has always been the most important thing in the world to me, and that’s still true, maybe more so. Living abroad has definitely made the world seem really small to me. If it’s near an airport it feels nearby to me now. I also think I have been more determined to convince everyone that all people deserve the same standards. The inequity here is really difficult for me to live with and I think that it does not get adequately portrayed in the media. You can’t help but see firsthand here how GDP can correspond so little to people’s lives. Don’t believe the hype.

Is there a post on your blog that you are most proud of?

I like ‘approowalls’. I think most foreigners have a lot more help with relocation than I did, and so not a lot of people have to deal with all the Indian approvals at the same time right when they land, with no maid, driver, phone, internet, etc. That whole experience made me feel invincible.

Has your blog made a difference in other areas of your life?

I’m a more confident writer, and I definitely have more pictures because I force myself to take them. People have recognized me at parties and introduced themselves. Professionally, I try to keep things pretty separate, at least for now, but I like knowing that if I ever need to produce conversational material at a later date for my job, it shouldn’t be a problem. I like to judge new friends by how they respond to the fact that I have a blog and then check in later to see if they’ve read it. I’ve come across some great people that I would probably never have encountered if I didn’t put myself out there, including my interviewer.

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This interview is part of Inside the Bloggers Studio, an ongoing project of short interviews with bloggers I read and admire. (Apologies to James Lipton.) To view the archive, click the category tag in the ‘By Category’ section at the top right of this page.

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In praise of Roger Ebert

'Life Itself' by Roger Ebert, on release this week

“But now it’s getting late, which means he has his own work to do. Chaz heads off to bed. Millie, for the moment, hasn’t been seized by night terrors, and the brownstone is quiet and nearly dark. Just the lamp is lit beside his chair. He leans back. He streams Radio Caroline — the formerly pirate radio station — and he begins to write. Everything fades out but the words. They appear quickly. Perfect sentences, artful sentences, illuminating sentences come out of him at a ridiculous, enviable pace, his fingers sometimes struggling to keep up.”
-‘Roger Ebert: The Essential Man’, by Chris Jones, Esquire, March 2010

Roger Ebert, more than anyone else, is the reason why I wanted to be a writer. I think most of us have an initial reference point from whence our passions arose, like a car enthusiast’s formative obsession with the 1961 Lincoln Continental convertible or a young swimmer watching Michael Phelps sweep eight golds at the Olympics. I write because I have always written, since I was a small child, but I take my inspiration from Ebert above all others. His writing is honest, principled, informative and articulate, always entertaining, never boring.

When I first started this blog on Blogspot back in 2004, it was to practise writing film reviews, and I said in the first entry (since deleted, time wasn’t kind to those words) that I hoped I would one day be Ebert. I hadn’t actually been reading him for very long at that point – maybe a year or so at most – but he’d already become the standard to which I aspired, for reasons I’ll attempt to put into words further down the page. It was my plan to write reviews of most of the films I saw in an effort to get better at watching them, but my bigger hope was that I would at least become a better writer, if not a successful one.

Over time I’ve written less and less about film, and taken on a wide range of other writing influences. To my great surprise, it is India that has given me the inspiration, impetus and support to be a bit more successful as a writer, and not film. However, I’ve continued to read Ebert – who in fact has also written less and less about film, proportionally at least. In addition to the weekly film reviews he’s been filing regularly for over 40 years, and the other writing he’s compiled in the form of interviews, features and books, Ebert now has a blog, too. He writes on many subjects besides film, most of them aspects of his colourful life Every entry is a joy to savour. The blog was the main reason behind his winning the 2010 Webby Award for Person of the Year – not only for the quality of the blog entries he posts but also for the quality and depth in the comments he receives, which are sometimes even more fascinating than the entries themselves.

The definition of a good writer is elusive, and likely subjective. The standard of one’s readers, like the myriad folks who comment on Ebert’s blog, might be a pretty good one. But a definition that appeals to me is this: a good writer articulates thoughts in ways the reader might not have arrived at on their own. Even if they are thoughts with which the reader strongly disagrees, the writing itself can still be compelling in the hands of a vivid wordsmith. Take, for example, Arundhati Roy’s work in recent years, which can be as misguided as it is literary. On the other hand, saying what a lot of people are thinking can be even harder; one has to work the words on the page into a form that somehow impacts on a reader who agrees with them before he or she even reads them.

With Ebert, whether I completely disagree with him, completely agree or am ambivalent (I usually agree), there is always something new to discover in his words. Perhaps some film fact I never knew, or the name of a new actor to watch; most often, it is the sentences themselves that offer the greatest delight. They frequently surprise me, flicking a ‘how did he do that?’ switch in my head.

I find Ebert’s words returning to me at unexpected moments as a way of articulating what I see before me, or to offer something of value to a conversation with someone else. Ebert’s words are often so tightly formed that they sometimes seem to have always existed, like he plucked them from the sky and set them before me. And his words become part of me even as I read them.

After decades of getting those words in small chunks (though nowadays, with his blog and Twitter and Facebook etc, those chunks arrive more frequently), now we have Roger Ebert’s memoir ‘Life Itself’. Thousands upon thousands of those words, all arriving at once, and I am certain they will be just as much a joy. Thank you, Mr Ebert, for being such an inspiration.

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Learning How to Blog

No, Jdanspsa Wyksui isn’t dead. Yes, this is another one of those ‘no, the blog isn’t dead, don’t leave yet, please’ posts that you see on a hundred dormant blogs anytime you crack open the Pandora’s Box of the blogosphere.

Taken with Nokia 2700 classic

Varkala beach at sunset, June 2011

The difference between those desperation posts and this one is that most of those ones are already months old and have been followed by roughly zero updates. I’m not going to do that, promise. I’ve been accumulating ideas for posts on here for a while but just never getting around to writing them up, and with a bit more time management in the forthcoming months, they’ll trickle in and (hopefully) be half-decent.

It’s not that I’ve been sitting around watching bad films or drinking lemon tea on the verandah, or whatever it is normal people do when they aren’t blogging. (Although I have at times been doing both of those things.) Apart from working three jobs (plus a secret fourth), I’ve been getting kicked out of India, shocking strangers, decrying pornography and – most terrifying of all – dabbling in economics. I’ve also been tweeting quite a lot.

So yeah, I’ve been passably busy. The question is, after hanging this blog out to dry – again – why should I come back to it, especially when I’m already writing elsewhere? And why should you bother reading it? Well, I have a lot of ideas that I want to write about somewhere but just don’t think would fit anywhere else. Things like:

Timbuk3

The future's so bright...

More than ever, though, I feel comfortable with just sitting and writing, and am figuring out how to do it better for an audience (even an audience of about 3 people) over a long period of time. If I were a pretentious git, I’d say it’s a bit like I’ve been on a sabbatical, blogging elsewhere, reading a lot, taking low-quality photographs, pursuing new and old interests… learning how to blog, because I never really figured out exactly how.

What this most likely means is that you can expect to be very bored, very soon. Still, I try to keep in mind that I write for myself first and foremost and that if anyone else is happy to tag along, that’s a bonus. I’m hoping I get this right from now on, and you enjoy reading my words almost as much as I enjoy writing them.

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“The joke happens in real life and then I blog about it”


Jayanth Tadinada, aka g2, is the author of gtoosphere, a blog of satire inspired by his life as an IIT student and a member of India’s growing upper middle class youth. He is also my colleague on The NRI, contributing regularly hilarious posts such as his aam aadmi interviews.

His posts on gtoosphere are a mix of observations about television media, social networking culture and Indian society in general, and they often seek to explode myths and inspire people to look at the world around them in a more mindful way. In the line with his heroes, his method of confronting people is to amuse, something at which he succeeds apparently effortlessly. His irreverent ideas come across as equally inspired by Indian and American senses of humour, and will hopefully strike a chord with many.

Jayanth did me a favour and answered a few questions to help me get this Inside the Bloggers Studio thing rolling again, even though he is a busy college student preparing to join the salaried masses.

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Why did you start blogging?

There was a phase when I was bunking a lot of classes and yet I was not happy. (Those were pretty depressing times!) I felt I needed a better reason to continue bunking classes. So I thought a hobby might help.

In your first blog post, you mention a diary. Is gtoosphere an extension of that diary, and do you still write it alongside your blog?

No, I don’t write a diary in the traditional sense anymore. I maintained a diary for a couple of years in high school. It was mostly about what was happening in my life around that time. After coming to IIT, I no longer felt the need to keep an account of things happening in my life.

I was into reading psychology for fun (nerd alert), interpretation of dreams and stuff like that. I started maintaining a dream diary where I describe the dreams I have at nights (afternoons actually). We remember our dreams only for a very few minutes after we wake up. So I always sleep with a book and a pen somewhere close to my pillow. (Yeah, I know that’s weird!)

For the last year and a half or so, I developed the habit of noting down funny ideas, silly observations and interesting thoughts as soon as they pop in my head. I store them in Google Wave (yes, Wave!) and refine them from time to time. So technically, I do write a diary but it’s more about what is going on in my head rather than what is going on in my life.


What is your first memory of writing creatively?

The first time realized I enjoyed writing was when I was writing essays in high school. Most of the topics were very dull and ordinary like ‘your hometown’ or ‘post man’. I took it as a challenge to write those essays in interesting ways.

I often broke the conventional school essay format and made up stories with long dialogues, exaggerated descriptions and bizarre storylines loosely inspired from the Famous Fives and Hardy Boys I was reading at the time! Luckily my English teachers did not discourage that sort of behavior and often rewarded me (with generous grades) for my attempts, however lame they were!

Describe something that is beautiful to you.

I consider any of the little things that momentarily make me lose sense of time as beautiful. It could be a movie or a book; a conversation or a cat playing; filter coffee, National Geographic channel, a warm shower on a cold morning, dessert before main course, an intelligent conversation, yawning, huge spiders, useless trivia… it’s a very long list.

I also find extremely complex stuff like snakes, Scarlett Johansson, the human brain, religion, the Internet, Godavari, classical music, history etc. all to be very beautiful.


gtoosphere fits quite nicely into Indiblogger category of ‘humour’. Are you ‘the funny one’ among your friends in real life?

Yes, I am definitely ‘a funny one’ if not ‘the funny one’. Most of my friends have a very good sense of humour too. I get most of my ideas from the conversations I have with my friends and my brother.

What differences are there between telling a joke in real life and telling it on your blog?

The joke happens in real life and then I blog about it. That is usually how it is. A joke in real life is about timing and spontaneity, it just happens. But when you’re writing a joke, you have the time to think and build the context. So the onus is on how funny the idea is to begin with. Maintaining the flow, the punch lines, the comic art – all just follow from the idea.


Speaking of Indiblogger, you’re quite active on there, as well as on Facebook and sporadically on Twitter. How important are social networking sites in relation to your blog?

Very important! They are the lifeline for my blog. I would have never got myself to write anything more than sticky notes if it is not for the instant feedback that I get from readers through social networking sites.

Comic art is integral to many of your posts. Which do you enjoy more, drawing/design or writing?

What I enjoy most is the ideas – coming up with them and connecting two or three ideas that people wouldn’t otherwise think of connecting. That is what drives me. I also immensely enjoy the process of refining the lines over and over trying to find that elusive economy of expression. I feel I am moving in a direction where words come easier to me than strokes.


Name some of your favourite satirists, and whether they’ve influenced your own creative style.

The first comedian that comes to mind is Jerry Seinfeld (his standup). He has this ability to point out really silly things around you which makes you go, “how did I not think of that first?” In one of his interviews, he explains that he never uses profanities in his material because he feels that (in many cases) they are a shortcut to get a few cheap laughs. I adopted that policy for my blog too.

One more thing I picked up from him is to not misrepresent anything just for the sake of getting a laugh. This pushes me to work from an honest feeling about something. So when I joke about how the aam aadmi doesn’t deserve any sympathy, I really mean it!

George Carlin is a personal hero of mine. His body of work is just so vast that it’s an encyclopedia on how to construct a joke. The philosophical undercurrent that runs through his material had a huge influence on not just my writing but on me as a person as well.

Larry David, the genius behind Seinfeld (the sitcom) and Curb Your Enthusiasm is another big influence. He kind of convinced me that profanities are funny when used in a tasteful way but I decided to stick with Seinfeld on that one ;)

When it comes to political satire, Jon Stewart is the best it can get. All my posts on politics and media were directly or indirectly inspired by him. I also like Bill Maher (I did a couple of “New Rules” posts) and Woody Allen.

I love Telugu comedy in general. I think we people have an amazing sense of humour. I am a huge fan of Mullapudi Venkataramana. He is a genius when it comes to capturing the beauty, the simplicity and humour in middle class life – something that our entertainment industry completely overlooks.

Is there a post on your blog that you are most proud of?

If I have to choose one, I’d probably choose my take on Meter Jam. This campaign sort of summed up the attitude of the young city folk of my generation. They protest because it is cool and they only do it in the comfort of their Twitter and Facebook accounts. Their anger in most cases is justified but none of them are inclined to do anything more than cathartically yell at the symptoms.

I am also proud of the articles I wrote for The NRI. I really pushed myself to write about issues that I wouldn’t have written otherwise and they were very well received too.


Do you believe in God?

Depends on how you define God. When I was 13 or 14 years old, I was like, “If the Gods are really that powerful, why do I even have to pray? Don’t they have access to the wish list on my Facebook profile?” That was when I realized praying for material things makes no sense. I’ve been kind of agnostic since then.

But I feel that Hinduism (technically, it’s too broad to be an -ism) is an awesome religion to be born in. It gives you a lot of freedom of thought. You can be atheist or agnostic and still be a Hindu. The line between culture and religion is really blurred in India. I never pray but I do celebrate all festivals. (If you remove the puja from the festivals, all you’re left with is good food, family reunions and fun activities. Now who doesn’t like that?

I love the culture. I love the mythologies. I have immense respect for the religion and its philosophy. I just don’t subscribe to the over-the-counter-30-million-Gods-in-the-skies version of it! I only scratched the surface of Hindu philosophy and I definitely want to go deeper. Not now but maybe later!

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This interview is part of Inside the Bloggers Studio, an ongoing project of short interviews with bloggers I read and admire.  (Apologies to James Lipton.)  To view the archive, click here.

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“the blog has given me a reason and the freedom to enjoy writing again”

Jill Haszard is the author of Just Bung It In, a blog about being a mum, wife and PhD student. She is also my sister-in-law, married to my DJ brother, and mother to my nephew and one of my nieces. After spending a few years in Sydney in the early part of the 00s, she and her family decided NZ was the place they wanted to be and started making a life in Dunedin; her posts reflect the various aspects of family life in NZ’s deep south – school, work, holidays, the neighbourhood, renovating, househunting etc.

Her words and photographs are obviously very meaningful to me as a close family member, but my enjoyment of them is not merely obligatory. I feel her writing style has just the right amount of detail and is very easy to get lost in – not to mention some charming experiments with the structure of her posts. Seeing my niece and nephew grow through her blog is an important part of my life, and it’s also fascinating and informative to learn more about her PhD study in nutrition.

Like most of my interviewees, Jill is a very busy person, but still found time to answer my questions. I suppose that busy people are much better at getting things done!

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Why did you start blogging?

To connect with friends and family that live far away. To share photos of my children with those that I want to be a part of their lives.

Have you ever kept a personal journal? If so, do you see Just Bung It In as an extension of that journal?

I have kept journals in the past but I think the blog is quite different because it has that immediate audience. However, I do see my blog as a diary of sorts. It is a record of bits of my life and I really enjoy reading over past blogs and looking at the photos, as I would a photo album or a scrapbook.

What is your first memory of writing creatively?

When I was 5 years old I wrote a story that was at least a whole page long. I drew a picture to go with it and I felt that I had written this epic masterpiece. Mum sent it into the local newspaper and they printed it – I was so proud but it was a reality check to see my story printed in only two lines…. I guess my hand-writing was quite large when I was 5.

I’ve always enjoyed writing to some extent. What I’ve lacked is the confidence that I’m any good at it and I eventually came to the conclusion that it will never be a great skill of mine. However, the blog has given me a reason and the freedom to enjoy writing again.

Describe something that is beautiful to you.

There are only two things in this world that actually make my tummy flip with their beauty: my children. Sorry to be such a cliché Mum!

My daughter’s smattering of freckles; my son’s brown eyes; their knees; their necks; their skin; their lips; all the little parts that amaze me. When they are busy and lost in their own little worlds I don’t want to take my eyes off them because they are absolutely stunning to me and perfect in that moment. Nothing in this beautiful world even comes close to the beauty that I see in my kids.

You maintain a posting frequency of about once or twice a week, despite being very busy. Do you set specific time aside in your weekly routine to write, or is it whenever you get a chance?

If I go for longer than a week without posting a blog Mum rings me up and complains. I write for my Mum!

I do prioritise blogging because it is something that is important to me. I also know that if I left it three weeks, or more, it would become this massive task to catch up and I don’t have the time to do that. So even if it is just a small story, a thought or a stack of photos, I keep it chugging along so that things don’t get away from me. I don’t put too much pressure on myself to make it perfect, I just do it (hence ‘That’ll do’) and that works for me. Usually a Saturday night offers itself to blogging.

Has your blog helped you in other areas of your life?

Interesting question. I’m going to say yes to that one because it helps to form my ideas and thoughts more. When I’m mulling over something I want it to develop and mature a bit before it becomes a blog topic. Also, having a blog about my life helps me to see the good side of things. It helps me to see myself as worthwhile. Oh, and I can’t forget that the regular writing will probably have been a good thing when I come to write my thesis – eek!

Do you feel that you have complete control over ‘Just Bung It In’, that it has a life of its own and evolves on its own, or somewhere in-between?

I feel I have total control over it. It’s my life story really and I pick what goes in there!

Is there a post on your blog that you are most proud of?

No I don’t think so. The blog posts that I enjoy rereading the most are the ones with pictures of holidays and the little stories of things that my kids and husband do. In the end, this blog is for me.

Name two countries: one you’d like to visit, and one you’d like to visit again.

At this time in my life I have no pressing urge to travel the world. I love New Zealand. My dream holiday is the one that we take every Summer: camping on a classic NZ beach with friends and family. If I won Lotto I wouldn’t change the destination, I would only buy a bigger tent and a flasher beach lounger.

Ask me this question in 10 years and it may be a different answer!

Do you believe in God?

I believe that every individual has their own reality so God does exist for some. I don’t deny the existence of God for others. However, my reality does not have a God. I believe in nature and the wonder of the world. I believe that there is more. But I don’t believe in a God.

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This interview is part of Inside the Bloggers Studio, an ongoing project of short interviews with bloggers I read and admire.  (Apologies to James Lipton.)  To view the archive, click here.

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“your senses become overwhelmed with the sheer brilliance of what you are watching”

'Forty Guns', directed by Samuel Fuller

Bill Georgaris is the webmaster of They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They?, a regularly updated film site that aggregates film criticism and opinion for the benefit of curious cineastes – a ‘cinematic traffic cop’ to sort the wheat from the chaff – with a focus on directors.

TSPDT comprises sections such as comprehensive  director listings, the best films of the 21st Century, appreciation for unsung classics and a resource on film noir; there are lists, links and essays to provide a wide base of knowledge if you’re eager to learn which films, directors and actors are important and why they are revered. By far the most popular part of the site is the 1,000 Greatest Films, an annually updated resource that collates the ‘best of’ ballots of over 2000 filmmakers and respected critics into one mammoth list.

It would have been about 2004 that I first discovered TSPDT, though it had already been around for a couple of years. In those days the site was much smaller, but its director database and Recommended Reading links became the starting point for every time I wanted to feed my burgeoning film obsession. The first 1,000 Greatest Films list came out in 2006, and the site has grown a great deal since then but, thankfully, has kept the same straightforward and easy-to-use interface.

As always with these interviews, it was a wonderful surprise to get a response to my initial inquiry, and then another when I received Bill’s answers. There is a relatively comprehensive About page on the site, but I tried to ask questions that would offer a little extra insight into who he is. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Bill & Vicki, his partner-in-crime, for the letter grades which I have co-opted from TSPDT’s rating system.

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Why did you start They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They?

Looking back, I’m not sure if there was any one reason in particular. I think it was a combination of probably three factors. Firstly, I had time on my hands (not so much these days). Secondly, I thought building a website would be a good outlet for my okay PC skills. And thirdly, and most importantly, my deep affection for cinema. It must be said that two books in particular hugely influenced the way I approached the initial version of TSPDT. They were Geoff Andrew’s The Film Handbook and Andrew Sarris’ The American Cinema.

Have you always kept records of the films you watch and how you feel about them? If so, what form(s) have those records taken?

Absolutely. I’ve maintained a database since 1992 (currently in Microsoft Access format) of the films I have seen, and of the films I wish to see, and all else in between. I think it contains approximately 29,000 titles at the moment. I rate each film I see in the same manner we do on TSPDT (Highly Recommended/Recommended/Worth a Look/Approach with Caution/Dud).

What is your first memory of enjoying watching a film?

There isn’t one particular moment in time I could nominate, but I can say that my first fond film viewing moments were on Saturday and Sunday afternoons when I was aged probably between 6-10. These afternoons were spent watching matinee sessions on the local television channels. The films that left a mark on me were the Lewis/Martin films, the shockingly dubbed Italian sword-and-sandal films (who didn’t want to be Steve Reeves?) and – most memorably – the 1950s Westerns (particularly those with Randolph Scott). I only realised later that the Scott films I loved as a kid were in fact the very sparse and terse (and very adult, I might add) films he made with Budd Boetticher.

Randolph Scott in Shoot-out at Medicine Bend

Describe something that is beautiful to you.

In cinematic terms, that very moment in a film where your senses become overwhelmed with the sheer brilliance of what you are watching (tingling sensations normally ensue). An extraordinary film like Black Narcissus, for example, contains more than a handful of these moments. In non-cinematic terms, my partner Vicki, and my youngest cat Syd. Jean Seberg’s screen presence and Syd Barrett’s singing voice also come rapidly to mind. Stanley Baker in Hell Drivers is also a thing of beauty, as is Carrie Snodgress’s performance in Diary of a Mad Housewife.

What is your chief purpose in compiling ‘greatest’ film lists?

Mainly to keep a record of what films have received, and continue to receive, the most critical acclaim. I don’t know why exactly, but this is of constant fascination to me. These list compiling shenanigans assist me to plan my own film viewing experiences, and I hope that they also prove useful for those that visit TSPDT. As snore-inducing as it may seem for many, I genuinely enjoy playing around with formulas and collating data.

Jean Seberg in A bout de souffle

In the TSPDT 1,000 Greatest Films list, which film do you think should place much lower in the list (or be absent altogether), and which film do you think should place much higher?

There are countless films amongst the 1,000 that I feel should either rate higher or lower, so picking two is difficult. For me, Battleship Potemkin is perhaps the most over-acclaimed film on the TSPDT list. I can think of a hundred silent films that deserve to place higher. It’s an important film, that applied some groundbreaking techniques, but its 10th placing does irk me a little. Somewhere in the 500s would suit it better. In terms of deserving a higher placing, Sam Fuller’s Forty Guns, which is currently placed 985th, should be in the top 200 at least.

Have you ever made a film yourself?

No, absolutely not. I don’t consider myself to be a creative person. I try to keep within my limitations. I wouldn’t subject my lack of creative talent to anyone. That hasn’t stopped Michael Bay or Baz Luhrmann though, has it?

'Battleship Potemkin', directed by Sergei Eisenstein

 

Is there a section or page on your site that you are most proud of?

It’s hard to feel pride for the provision of an assortment of letters, numbers, images and hyperlinks. I don’t consider it that big a deal. I’m prouder of the fact that I’m still breathing after all these years! ‘Pleased to be of some use’ is perhaps a more accurate summation of the way I feel with regard to my TSPDT endeavours. In answer to your original question though, I’m pretty happy with the Film Noir pages at TSPDT. I think they are a decent resource. Additionally, I’m also pleased with the (mainly positive) reaction towards the 1,000 Greatest Films listing.

Name two countries: one you’d like to visit, and one you’d like to visit again.

I am not the best person to ask this, because I am not much of a traveller. I’m a homebody at heart, but I am heading to the UK and France next May.

Do you believe in God?

I do not believe in imaginary beings. Watching films is my preferred mode of escaping reality.

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This interview is part of Inside the Bloggers Studio, an ongoing project of short interviews with bloggers I read and admire.  (Apologies to James Lipton.)  To view the archive, click here.

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“Inaie the blogger is the one who cannot keep her mouth shut, and she tells on all other Inaies”

At Yosemite, California

Inaie Ramalho is the author of Inaie – out and about, a blog about her life and travels as a serial expat. Her homeland is Brazil but she has lived in Australia, New Zealand and the UAE, and is currently based in Bahrain with her husband and two daughters. She writes mostly about her and her family’s travels and lives, with plenty of accompanying photos, but also about all the people close to her in her life.

‘Out and about’ is certainly true, then, but one realises that she has her eyes wide open with curiosity as she goes from place to place, person to person, experience to experience. Her writing is typically open-hearted and direct – she has little use for self-censorship – but a sense of what really matters to her shines through, as well as a desire to learn and understand more about herself and the world around her.

I discovered her blog after she left a comment on mine, and was immediately intrigued by the fact that she double-blogs in English and in Portuguese (which she clarifies further below). Having looked into her archives and found them at times hilarious, at other times moving, I asked if she would answer a few questions, and she responded in record time. All photos used with permission.

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Why did you start blogging?

When I left Brazil I started writing  emails with “my stories” to friends back home. They were emails with my feelings, my discoveries and a bit about everything. A way to stay connected. 10 years later, I was still sending the same emails, but my “receivers” list was much larger and incorporated friends from all countries where I lived. I was writing my emails twice. In English and in Portuguese.
If I were tired, fed up, or just had nothing to say and did not write frequently enough, these friends would send me angry emails, complaining about my absence.
Because of it, I made a point of writing regularly, but Yahoo was blocking my account every other day, calling me a “spammer”. Every time I was blocked I felt so p’off, I would promise I would start blogging. But then Yahoo would unblock me, and I would forget all about it.
I also had several friends asking me to start blogging. BLOG! BLOG! BLOG! they would say…
Recently I met a FAB lady who is a professional blogger, she translates blogs from several languages, she does a pretty serious job with this blogging business. When she told me I should blog, I thought: Well, maybe I should. ‘A’ is someone who knows what she is doing… she has not been my friend for long and has no reason to say things just to please me.
I started the blog, thanked her for “making me do it” and received furious emails from all those friends who have been saying the same thing for ages, with no result.

Bridge near San Simeon, California

Do you keep a journal? If so, what relationship do your blog and your journal have with each other?

Nah. No journal. My mother used to break the lockers to read my teenager journals. Initially I would make up these horrible stories, about unthinkable things, just to terrify her. After a while I just lost interest. If I could not be true to my journal because my darling mother would read it, what was the point? I never went back to journal writing, unfortunately. Today, my revenge is to write things she would not want to know in an open forum – and I know she still reads it.

What is your first memory of writing creatively?

I always enjoyed writing, I remember being 8 or 9, and spending hours making up stories… As I grew up, I realized real stories are far more fun!

Describe something that is beautiful to you.

This is going to sound so tacky, but my girls’ smiles are the most amazing sight. When they look at me and smile, the whole world changes colors, all sounds seem far more clear and beautiful. It is just amazing!

I have pictures of them on my phone; when things get rough, I just look at them and smile too.

Ramalho girls in Santa Barbara

You blog in both English and Portuguese. Do you try to convey the same feeling in both languages, or do you attempt to express yourself with the difference nuances of meaning to which each language lends itself?

You are mistaken. My blog is both in BAD Portuguese and Pidgin English, as I explain in the first line of the blog, but your question has its merit. Initially, my idea was to write in one language and then translate to the other – but as I started doing it, I found it just impossible. I write one story, then when I tell the other one, I remember different facts, I use other visuals; I just write all over again instead of just translating it. Sometimes the texts are completely different, although they talk about the same thing and they are both true.

Have your experiences living and travelling in various different countries changed your belief system(s)?

They sure have. This lifestyle taught me to be more tolerant with the world and see people under a different light. I used to think WE were right (whoever we were) and THEY were wrong. Now I don’t believe in us and them. People are just submitted to different stimuli, grow up under different circumstances and form their values based on these experiences.
People behave different because they see things different. In most cases, there is no right or wrong, in my opinion.
All this traveling made me want to travel more, want to know more, to learn more… life is a fascinating journey!

On the road in California

In your Blogger profile, you mention ‘several Inaies living together under one identity’. Would you say the ‘blogger Inaie’ is distinct from the others, or more an attempt at representing all of them?

Inaie the blogger is the one who cannot keep her mouth shut, and she tells on all other Inaies. She is the gossiper. She would get in trouble, but would not lose the opportunity to tell her story. With my life story, I do live many different realities in one. I am an only child, but I live far, far away from my parents. I love my dad desperately, but I have not seen him in four years. If you ask how I would feel if I did not see my children for a year, I would say it would just not happen. I could not survive without them. Both of them. I am Brazilian, but I am not your “regular” Brazilian. I am a workaholic who is in a huge crisis because I just found out there is life beyond the office desk (but don’t give me an office desk, I will get stuck in it), I am all for equality and sometimes catch myself being so totalitarian. I am a walking contradiction. I have always been told I am different, but no one ever managed to explain “different” how – and it haunts me. I would really like to know who I am. Sometimes I have no idea what I want or how to get it…

Michael, a friend of mine, once gave this close definition about me:

‘I want it all – and I want it now…’

That sounds pretty real.

Is there a post on your blog that you are most proud of?

To be honest, my blog is a window into my soul. It is not supposed to be pretty, fun or anything specifically. It is just meant to be a piece of me, to tell my story, my thoughts, my feelings. And to register my journey… I am not afraid to show my ugly sides. I have plenty of them. I guess I am proud of having my blog, and I am sooo grateful (and surprised) people actually read it.

Sunset in San Simeon

Name two countries: one you’d like to visit, and one you’d like to visit again.

I would love to visit Iran. And Morocco. And India. I also would like to visit Oman and see sea turtles. Mexico too. I would like to go to Turkey and fly over Capadoccia. Ireland is in my list of countries to visit, so are Vietnam and Lebanon… oh, sorry – you said ONE! But there are so many other places I would like to experience…

A country I would revisit? To be honest, I am not ito revisiting places. Given the opportunity, I will always choose the one I have not been to. In saying that, I would like to take my teenage girls to Egypt and to Jordan, to share the beauty of these places with them, especially because we are so close and these destinations are so magic…
I would not consider going to these places again if it were not to show them to Anita and Lia.

Do you believe in God?

I sure do. I just feel very sad for all the atrocities men do in name of Him. I am sure it pisses him off too.

***

This interview is part of Inside the Bloggers Studio, an ongoing project of short interviews with bloggers I read and admire.  (Apologies to James Lipton.)  To view the archive, click here.

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Filed under Inside the Bloggers Studio