Brilliant Posts: on the roots of Western democracy

This thoughtful and informative post by William Newton was deservedly featured on WordPress‘s Freshly Pressed list a few days ago. In Newton’s own words,

Reading a 6th century text is probably not most people’s idea of a good time, but on this (11 July) Feast of St. Benedict (480-547 A.D.) I want to encourage you, even if you are not Christian, to take a look at an extremely important document to the development of Western culture, the Rule of St. Benedict….” 

He points out that the importance to Western culture of St Benedict’s Rule – though often overlooked today – lies in its having generated a number of profoundly important ideas which still shape our flawed but continuing attempts to live in a civilised manner with one another.

Do read this post, revisit these ideas, and realise how key thinkers still reach deeply into our lives, shaping them, from what we tend to regard as the distant past….

The Monastic Roots of Western Democracy

St Benedict
St Benedict 

200 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2013
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

A day for spreading Sunshine!

On my Twitter biog I describe myself as a ‘Glasgow weather survivor’. With good reason. Last Thursday it was unremittingly wet all day. I even had to apply blotting paper to my eyebrows when I got home. However, good news awaited. I found that one of my blog followers, emariaenterprises, had nominated me for a Sunshine award for my most recent post “Holy Dharma with Heron”. Many thanks, emaria! Your award certainly cheered up a lousy day.

There are a few rules to follow on being nominated for a Sunshine award. I am complying – most unlike me!

1) Include the award’s logo in a post or on your blog.

2) Answer 10 questions about yourself.

3) Nominate other fabulous bloggers.

4) Link your nominees to this post and comment on their blogs, letting them know they have been nominated.

5) Share the love and link the person who nominated you.


Here are seven answers – more than enough! And you, dear Reader, have to work out what the questions are….

1. I have far too many planets in Leo. 2. Just as well they’re in the Twelfth House! 3. I was actually born in the 12th House – 12, Plantation Road – on the street in which my parents were living at that time 4. My birth was so premature and I was so tiny that I was anointed in olive oil, wrapped carefully and placed in a drawer – too small for a cot – and not expected to live. Wrong!!! 5. I have my Honourable Discharge Papers from the British Merchant Navy 6. At a time when I was utterly dismissive of astrology, an astrologer I met by accident in a launderette drew up my chart and predicted that I would become an astrologer in my early thirties. Right!!! 7. I am still asking the same question I started asking when I first opened my eyes to the world: “Why are we here?”

(answers, under a plain wrapper, to this site. Reward for most original response)

Here are six great blogs,  in no particular order, whose writers can always be relied upon to inspire, inform, move, provoke and amuse. Check them out! – Holding on to hard won hopefulness – The Task at Hand: a writer’s on-going search for just the right word – Reflections on parenting…. – It’s just my point of view. Love it or hate it. – Your gateway to understanding the cosmos

And last but not least, with my thanks, the blogger who nominated me: – Musings on life, love, politics, and the nature of happiness

400 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2012
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

I know I said I was taking a break until September. But on WordPress’ Freshly Pressed section tonight I found this brilliant post, featuring a totallly awe-inspiring clip of the Hubble Deep Field. Watch – and marvel……

To the website! Chapter Three (at last!)

“Welcome to Facebook! Say goodbye to your life….”

(Message from a friend on the day I joined)

Now read on!!

Chapter 1

“……Much of 2007 was taken up in reflecting on a challenging topic: should I become more computer literate – a writer with a website – or sink slowly to the bottom of an ageing and increasingly befuddled slime of computer-refusing baby-boomers?

Befuddled slime did not appeal……”

….. To the website! Chapter One (c/f July 08 archive) described the process of acquiring a new AppleMac laptop and getting on the Net via mobile broadband – both accomplished during April 2008.

Chapter 2

“……Still can’t quite believe this….it is September 2008 and I am now a writer with a website. To inspire and encourage other writers in the same direction, the first thing to say is this: the process of moving from dinosaur to cyber-babe has been great fun, very creative, and not that difficult…..”

……To the website! Chapter Two (c/f Sept 08 archive) chronicled my progress – as I slowly built Writing from the Twelfth House – from bottom of the cyber-literacy food chain to a few links up, ably aided by my web person Susan Elena and my highly cyber-literate friend Willie Miller. In September 2008, not without some trepidation, I started posting articles weekly. Traffic soon increased….

and I said “……To the website! Chapter Three…... will appear in a few weeks, to give you some ideas and tips on the very important ongoing task of publicising your site. Watch this space…”

Chapter 3

Nine months and a considerably longer number of weeks later than I had intended, many apologies to those (three? four? two? one?) addicted writer followers, gazing at an empty space, whose lives have been blighted by the persistent non appearance of Chapter Three. Sorry. Sorry! OK?

Seriously though – it has taken much longer than I thought for a perspective to emerge which I hope may be useful to other writers who are still contemplating the leap into cyberspace. The terms of reference of this third article, therefore, have broadened somewhat from my originally stated intention….

Regular readers will know from the ‘Just let me get old, ok?’ theme that one of my preoccupations is how to face the reality of growing older with as little denial and as much grace, humour and realism as possible. An aspect of ageing which needs to be resisted is that increasing pull to stay with the familiar, avoiding taking on new challenges.

I feel a great sense of satisfaction at having managed to tackle and overcome my own fears and resistances, succeeding (with a lot of help!) in setting up a site which not only pleases me, but more importantly – judging from the messages and emails I have received – does offer support, information, entertainment and inspiration: my stated aspirations in setting up Writing from the Twelfth House.

Here, then, are a few perspectives I have gained in the last year which may be of use:

* realise from the outset how addictive the internet is – if you aren’t disciplined your whole life will get sucked into it. How much time do you want to spend? If you don’t build in restrictions, the Web will take over. Networking sites need to be especially watched for this reason. My friend’s sardonic comment on my joining Facebook could have been predictive!

That same friend thinks I’m mad (he’s a 12 hour a day minimum web nut) to lock away my computer over the weekend in the office, and to have a policy of not checking emails every day – though at times I do give in. If you aspire to a balanced life, and are too weak-willed to resist the siren call, use tactics which will separate you from the Web.

* set your site up as a blog – initially I was rather dubious about a blog format – I’m not interested in daily chatter about my cat etc, which was rather the way I perceived blogs until I researched other people’s, set up my own, and became more knowledgeable about how flexible an instrument this format can be. It can be adapted for whatever your purpose is.

The interactive nature of blogs is also ideal, opening your Web experience out to a positive and creative sense of community-building. If you join eg WordPress which I really like, there are various safeguards built in – great spam filtering and ease of monitoring comments, enabling you quickly to get rid of anything you do not wish displayed.

I can see that my own site is more like a magazine than anything else, since I use it to republish articles which I still think are of interest, offer new material, and publicise my books. From June 2009, I am pleased to be launching an occasional Guest slot, in which I will be publishing material from writers whose work I like which fits into the ethos of “Writing from the Twelfth House”.

* it is very important to keep in mind what your site is for – and what your aims are. Your Home Page should state this briefly, simply and compellingly. Humour helps in getting the message across – as does an arresting visual image. It keeps focus to refer back to your objectives often.

* have lively and varied content – post regularly, interact with your readers, cultivate contacts with sites you like and build relationships, trade links, be generous. Post articles on showcasing sites eg Author’s Den, Creative Carnival, Blog Carnival, Technorati, Zimbio: get listed as much as possible.

Anne interacting with her reader....
Anne interacting with her reader....

* be happy to take critical feedback on board – for example, in the autumn of 2008 I had an email from a visitor to my site saying that she found my use of colour – mostly black and green, with some purple –confusing. She had clicked on some parts highlighted in green or purple thinking they might be links: they weren’t.

Not having had anyone else comment on this, on checking I discovered that I had not followed an early golden rule, ie underline all links: do not use underlining in editing UNLESS it is a link. I could see where there might be some confusion, over the next couple of weeks re-editing the whole site to fix this problem. Thanks, Linda!

* keep adding new links – I have begun to date the links I add, partly to let readers see how up to date they are, but also to keep me on my toes!

* don’t get complacent and sink into a comfort zone – be aware that your site is a work in progress, and keep an eye open always for ways to improve it.

* know yourself and be realistic about your limitations – this applies to everything in life, including running a website. For example, although I have got myself listed on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn (professional networking site) etc, I simply cannot be bothered chattering for chattering’s sake and acquiring scores of cyberfriends (I prefer the flesh and blood kind!) although I know perfectly well that this is one of the best ways to build up a big following. (it is also a major way of saying goodbye to your real life!) I also don’t want to carry ads or do any of the commercial things which will bring traffic to my site but distract attention from the content.

My overall aim is for gradual growth of traffic, and moderate success in attracting a regular group of visitors who share my interests and preoccupations – as well as now having an essential tool for promoting my books. This is happening. I am a happy cyber-babe!

STILL teetering? Go on – jump!!


1300 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2009

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

To the website! Chapter 2

“……Much of 2007 was taken up in reflecting on a challenging topic: should I become more computer literate – a writer with a website – or sink slowly to the bottom of an ageing and increasingly befuddled slime of computer-refusing baby-boomers? Befuddled slime did not appeal……”

To the website! Chapter One

(c/f July 08 archive) described the process of acquiring a new AppleMac laptop and getting on the Net via mobile broadband – both accomplished during April 2008.

Now read on!

Still can’t quite believe this….it is September 2008 and I am now a writer with a website!.To inspire and encourage other writers in the same direction, the first thing to say is this: the process of moving from dinosaur to cyber-babe has been great fun, very creative, and not that difficult. For this, much credit goes to my web person, Susan Elena. Her winning combination of geekiness (does this word exist? It does now….), efficiency and reliability, clear teaching and patient good humour set a context where I could relax and have a laugh – mostly at myself, with plenty of input from Susan! – as well as learn a whole range of new skills.

I was also fortunate in benefiting from the very considerable computer expertise of my friend Willie Miller, who runs a successful urban design practice here in Glasgow, Scotland, UK and uses both Macs and PCs. An initial discussion with him, after I had drafted and showed him the Home Page and categories within which I wished to locate articles, proved very useful in focusing the research I did prior to beginning to work with Susan.

There being innumerable Net articles on Writers Websites, it felt very lucky right at the outset to come upon just what was needed to get going. Check out “ , the site of Sky Bolt Enterprises which specialises in ‘….effective business websites….’ and a very practical article by Ginny Stibolt called “You Don’t Have to be a Technical Wizard or Rich to Have an Effective Writer’s Website”. It fitted my starting level of comprehension, ie at the bottom of the cyber-literacy food chain. Read it for yourself. Before you start, you need to know why you want a website and what you want it to do. You should then be able to compose a clear, brief and if possible entertaining mission statement for visitors to your Home Page. As Ginny Stibolt observes: “….you have less than 10 seconds to capture their attention. You must state or imply your message instantly.”

I checked out quite a few writers’ sites, and decided that the one whose form I liked best was Bryan Appleyards. I am a fan of his writing so this may have caused some bias! But the clear, unfussy, simple way it is laid out appealed to me – easy to navigate and easy to read.

Following my meeting with Willie and subsequent research, I drafted a preliminary list of ten key website requirements to give Susan a clear idea of what our aims were. Here are four which you might find useful as starting points for thinking about setting up your own site:

1. Purchase a domain name and arrange hosting. Set this up with your name on it, not your web person’s – thereby retaining your independent status.

2. Set up the website as a blog with archives and some fixed pages: eg for Biography, CV (if you decide to put this up, bear in mind the risk of identity theft), Clips, and several writing themes. Thus when you want to put up new articles, the additions can initially be posted on the weblog, then transferred to archives under appropriate headings.

3. Create simplicity of use, so that you can transfer words and images from desktop into website without intermediary help or having to learn eg HTML. This is where a blog format really works.

4. In sum – create structured, categorized, designed web space into which you can then cut and paste your own material at your own pace. Aim to make your web person redundant rather than establishing an (expensive!) ongoing dependency.

Willie suggested WordPress, who provide a wide range of FREE templates, as a good option for a flexible blog package. This was also Susan’s recommendation. I have found my WordPress template very easy to use, with lots of clever and ingenious features – eg Blogstats. This supplies details of visits to your site in addictive and easy to read graphs for day, week and month, enabling you to monitor your fame rippling across the Web!

(Considering my avowed intention right back at the beginning to lurk quietly in an unpromoted corner of cyberspace whilst putting everything together, I am truly amazed at how many visitors the site has had already. Thank you and keep visiting! )

With Susan’s help, I also arranged to be hosted by WordPress. This is very easy to accomplish, at a very modest cost.

We met for nine 1.5 hour sessions from 8th May until 21st July 2008. Essentially, Susan showed me what to do, and I went ahead and did it. Within a couple of sessions, I was happily pasting already prepared articles into the fixed pages we set up on the site, each page presenting one of my writing themes as well as Biog, Clips, Favourite Quotes and Cartoons.

I learned very quickly how to add interest to the text with colour – deciding to stay mainly with black and green for an uncluttered, professional look. Some images were uploaded next. Although it is a writers’ site, I didn’t want it to look too ‘wordy’. Following this came learning how to insert links into articles, then the Blogroll facility which enabled me to post a few key links – relating to each of my writing themes – on the bottom right of the Home Page.

At the start of our process, Susan said “ What do you want to call your site?” I hadn’t a clue. Playing around with a few phrases relating to my writing themes proved unproductive – so I just used my own name. Then, early in August, the title came through. “Writing from the Twelfth House”. This feels right, for reasons which are revealed in Evoking the Twelfth House.

Willie Miller, a speedy kind of person, couldn’t believe that I intended to take the whole summer setting up the website. However, in an article called “Learning to do slow”, you will see why. It has felt very good to do so – taking time gives the creative process opportunities to let ideas ripen and take shape. A website is, of course, a work in progress like any other creative venture. But I am reasonably happy with it as it stands. It will develop as my web and computer skills progress – do return from time to time to see how we are both getting along!


……To the website! Chapter Three…… will appear in a few weeks, to give you some ideas and tips on the very important ongoing task of publicising your site. Watch this space……


1200 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2008

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page