Thursday, August 18, 2016
This has been an interesting month, as in the old proverbial curse "may you live in interesting times."
Our family dynamic is shifting around, as my firstborn is now attending college, a reality that seems unreal, as it can't have been long since I graduated college and (mumble mumble counts on fingers) ah, yes. Well, it's a change, anyway. And I have explained this to my children endlessly in true Expository Dad Fashion, that as a parent, it is very difficult for me to separate the reality of the child/teenager/adult standing before me with the memories of this same person as a smaller child/toddler/newborn. It's as if all that time is compressed on top of their being, and I am unable to stop the temporal disconnect when I look at them (to wit: "where has the time gone," "I remember your first day of school like it was yesterday," etc.) This mental timehop is the reason that I call the children by the wrong name. That excuse is less believable when I call them by the dog's name.
And so that's changing. Letting go of the oldest one as he does his best to push away and define himself, while I unhelpfully respond by clinging all the harder. Why can't we stuff all those reality-genii back into the bottle? I demand a do-over! We're adapting to this change in our own ways (I choose denial.)
Personally, the bigger change for me is that I am right now between employers. This is a situation I haven't been in since... well, since the older one was starting school, over a decade ago. I've been feeling untethered and buffeted in these weeks, a balloon come undone into a stormy sky. There's more people depending on me, and the world has changed, and my field has changed, and old Mr. Imposter Syndrome comes a-whisperin' in my ear his little hurtful lies, like: the only thing that hasn't changed is me. Tiny stinging lies are the specialty of Mr. I.S., and they are extra sharp when you're already a little raw watching some young adult stride off to college with a small backpack while you're also seeing him skip off to kindergarten with a giant one.
Parents of school-age children, be warned: the school-Feels are deep and poignant. After their twelve-year slumber, they emerge like soppy emotional cicadas right up on your face. #UglyCry
I am not a believer of signs and portents, though numerous found pennies have crossed my path, and inspiring and courageous words are popping up right when I needed them most. Maybe I'm just more attuned now. Like our sleepy cicadas, I also feel that I've been dozing for years, and now I get to shed the skin and start over. It's a messy process, and I have to confess that more than once I've thought about retreating to the same familiar hole I've just come out of. But holes are dark and close and hard to move in. I'm out in the sun now, flexing my limbs and hardening my skin and even singing my own song. There's a new melody to it, one that I didn't realize it had before. It's louder than stinging lies.
And through all this change, I've found support in the likeliest place, though not the first place I would have turned. My son was there, though he's dealing with his own life changes, his own new job, and the scattering of his friends to all points. He was there for me, backing me up, and is seeing me off to my own new adventure.
So thanks, buddy, for everything you did, for everything you do. For the kid you were and the man you've become. And I'm sorry I keep calling you the dog's name.
Some things never change.
Sunday, July 17, 2016
I don't know. But it's been a hell of a week in a hell of a year, and we're only half through 2016. Our national elections are still months away, and the levels of toxicity and division are the highest I can ever remember. As a country, we've gone from memorializing the Civil Rights movement to reliving it. And I hug my kids, and try to breathe, and take the time every morning to be glad of the sun and the sky and even the mundane details of my neighborhood. And I'm still wrestling with a rewrite of a book, because I have few things I can do right now except to create.
Thursday, June 23, 2016
Preparations began the night before...
As usual, the joy of pulling together a typecast is tempered by the cringing horror at my inability to spell. In my defense: it was early, I had not had coffee yet, and I had just hoofed it up a couple of hills to the pre-selected spot. But what a view! That's Mount Diablo, in the San Francisco Bay Area. There are far worse places to sit and be inspired on a summer morning, even without proper caffeine dosing beforehand.
As Richard rightly points out, this invented celebration has taken on a life of its own. I never expected that well into the 21st century we'd be fetishizing typewriters with wirelessly-connected pocket computers. It's a funny old world. But of course QWERTY and its cousins live on strong in our pockets. We're all carrying a piece of Sholes with us, and I don't think anyone's ready to say farewell to their keyboards just yet, physical or virtual. It's hard to get attached to a poem that's been "swiped."
Typed on a Smith-Corona Corsair Deluxe
Tuesday, May 31, 2016
Just got back from a week's "staycation" to celebrate my eldest child's graduation, mark a milestone wedding anniversary, and spend many days loafing, swimming, and not shaving. I highly recommend all of these activities whenever summer comes your way.
Editing continues, with only a day or two off now and again to scribble in a notebook or blog post to keep up the wave of daily writings. Things are about to get bad -- and then better -- for my characters, and at the moment they're struggling their way across the plains of the U.S., a long flat land and a high mountain range between them and their goals.
Last year at this time, I pledged I'd be rewriting, and I was. I took up AlphaSmart and pen and headphones and hid in the bedroom every evening and finally, finally typed the damnable thing in. I've been running through all that re-typing since February, even powering through in the evenings when I was too tired from celebrating or swimming, even when I should have been working instead of loafing (but loafing is key, too.)
Now I'm free again, free to enjoy my early summer mornings with a brisk walk before the heat, and before I go to work and simply dream of swimming and loafing. The book is about to get into a whole, weird, not-real sort of place, and as I've been taking and posting photos taken during these walks, the tone is getting more abstract and askew and orthogonal to reality. It's the state of mind I'm in right now. Charged up and heading places, looking for the mountains and to get to the other side.
Saturday, May 14, 2016
I was, of course, an odd child, the kind that would be more likely to bring a book to a swimming pool in the summer than actual swimwear. (True story from when I happily sat under a tree devouring Robinson Crusoe while my siblings splashed and sunburned.) So maybe I was marked from the start to love H.G. Wells' classic The War of the Worlds. I've owned a couple of copies over the years, and read them until the literally fell to pieces -- one of them had particularly haunting line-illustrations of the infamous Martian war-tripods lighting a terrorized crowd aflame.
I still have one copy, a cherished anthology given to me around age 11 or 12, a hardback edition bound in green leatherette with gilt-edged pages, collecting some of Wells' more famous stories, all of which were poor seconds to my favorite of the bunch. I read and re-read that story, which held the honor of coming very last in the volume. I'd make myself try to get through the other tales first, like suffering through over cooked broccoli to make the eventual dessert all the more sweet.
I don't know what it is about the story that triggered such admiration. (And here be spoilers, if it's possible to spoil a century-old tale.) Wells wasn't afraid to be lurid in his descriptions or brutal in his apocalyptic vision for the fate of mankind, and he certainly showed a wry understanding of the power of a twist ending long before The Twilight Zone made it fashionable. Wells was the master of the Gotcha ending before it became cool. I'm sure, as a boy, I enjoyed the visions of the wild marauding tripods ravaging over field and village, unleashing destruction at ever turn. Humans are merely fodder and food, obstacles to be eliminated, and its not through any heroism or brave deeds that mankind ultimately survives. It's not a story of bravery, or cleverness, or heroism coming to save the day. It's more a study of man at his worst, and how much luck is part of his survival. At least I hope it is.
Because honestly, I haven't picked up the story in ages. I still have that green-bound volume in place of honor on our "classics" bookshelf, wedged in among Alice and Frodo. The gilt edges are lost from the pages, and the bottoms are slightly waterlogged from being propped up on my stomach: poolside, of course. I'm a little afraid that it won't hold up. Another beloved childhood book did not, upon a recent re-read. Jules Verne's Mysterious Island also hit a sweet spot in my consciousness at the same time, and I read and re-read it many times. I remember being genuinely excited when both it and The Hobbit were handed to us as texts for a class. Both were favorites, but unlike Tolkien, Verne did not stand the test of time. I've since found Island to be rather fawning, aggravating, and generally dull. It's the opposite of War, as Clever Men solve Interesting Problems in a Clever Fashion. Rereading it as an adult was not time well-spent.
So, I'm hesitant. I'm nearing the end of my every-now-and-then re-read of The Lord of the Rings (yes, even the Appendices, because envy.) And there on the shelf, in the gap sits Mr. Wells. And for my birthday, I did treat myself to the Jeff Wayne musical version of War, which has all the earnestness, schmaltz, and disco guitars one should expect from a late 1970's concept album. I've been listening to it a lot, lately. Quite a lot. Enough that my co-workersare surely dreading the opening string-section chords, right before the wocka-chicka disco bassline kicks in. (And the chords are good. Made them my ringtone. I'm still an odd child at heart.) The bones of the story are present in the musical, and as an adult, I can see a lot of themes that either Wells or Wayne are throwing in there: colonialism, fear of the machine age, the mechanization and dehumanization of war. Descriptions of Londoners fleeing the invasion especially feels poignant as we see Syrian refugees fleeing their own horrors (and it is all side that are dropping the "cylinders.") It may have been a gripping and exciting poolside read as a child. Under the guitar solos and the Big Pop Song Number of the Wayne musical, it's still a dark and frightening story.
So there's my confession for tonight. Strange, pasty child with an overlarge book on his lap, both cheering and fearing the Martians, and wondering as a strange, pasty adult if they will still hold the same thrill. I listened to the musical yet again this morning as I worked my required co-op hours. At the pool.
Thursday, April 28, 2016
The last two times I did this, I agonized for months over the decision, finally getting -- and being extremely happy with -- a Pelikan m205 in bright red, and later, a Pilot/Namiki vanishing point in blue and chrome. There's aspects of each of those two that I like and maybe having other examples of "real" pens around made the decision easier. Or maybe I just was impatient. So in the timeless tradition of the chronically indecisive, I made pro/con lists:
Pelikan m205 positives:
+ ink management: massive capacity, visible levels, easy refill via piston system
+ upgradeable: swap nibs by unscrewing
+ fit and finish: Pelikan knows how to make them
- plastic: model is the low-end of the Pel line (but +light in the pocket)
- smallish: I've got big hands, and unposted, the pen is a shade short
- unsubtle: when subtlety is called for, a bright red pen is not it (but I love it)
- two-handed: I don't post, so the cap has to go somewhere (other hand, usually)
And the vanishing point is almost a perfect complement.
Pilot Vanishing Point positives:
+ brass and metal: a hefty pen, it feels real in your hand
+ a good size, too, for me
+ classy styling, and deploys with a click: an ideal meeting pen
+ excellent build, and love watching the nib deploy and retreat
- ink levels are a mystery: even using a converter instead of a cartridge
- so refilling = disassembly, as with most cheap pens, and this is not a cheap pen
- nib updates means buying the whole inner assembly again
- heavy in the pocket, comically so in a breast pocket unless clipped securely
They are both in rotation at work, swapped in as the mood strikes. I have a couple of recurring meetings each week and always take notes, and the Pelikan has never let me down by running low on ink, ever. The VP is ready literally at the press of a button, but I have to make sure to perform the take-apart/refill/wipe ritual before I leave my desk, or pack a second pen for backup.
So, enter the Lamy 2000. What does it offer?
* classic Bauhaus design (says the literature, anyway)
* piston fill for largely clean hands
* magical durable material -- fiberglass and plastic paired with stainless steel, very chic
* a brand/warranty behind it
Here's my impressions after the first few days, in mixed pro/con form:
+ ink handling: it's piston-fill like the Pelikan, so most of the interior is devoted to ink storage, thus I'm still operating on the first fill-up
- ink levels: warnings about the comically-small ink window are true, so we'll see if I can tell when the well is about to run dry
+ fit and finish: excellent, and the barrel material is prepared in such a way that it looks seamless, even at the end where the piston button seats
+ size and heft: it's comfortable and large enough even in my hand, but not super-heavy either -- right between its two drawer-mates
+ style: the 2000 is so subtle it might as well be a magic marker, and is easily mistaken for one with the cap on. "Pregnant Paper Mate Flair Pen" would be how I'd describe its looks, but in a good way, if that makes any sense
- upgradeable: not so much. A new nib means pen surgery, which is doable, but doesn't appear to be Lamy's intention. Buy a Safari instead if you want to swap nibs easily, or a second pen... :-)
- two-handed: the cap has metal tabs inside to secure it, and it looks like these will quickly scrape up the barrel when posting. So no, the cap goes in the non-writing hand with this pen for certain
Criticisms that I heard but haven't experienced:
"Oh, those horrible little metal ears!"
The cap has to snap on to something, and on this otherwise blemish-free pen, there's two spring-tensioned metal tabs or "ears" sticking out on opposite sides of the section. They happen to be at or near where one grips the pen. This evidently aggravates some owners to the point of distraction, a la the Princess-and-the-Pea.
I don't see it.
Oh, they're there all right, and my fingers rest against one of them, but I've not found them distracting, and have been using them even to get the pen aligned properly to writing. Plus, I own and use a vanishing point, which is the ultimate in the having-something-by-your-fingers lifestyle. Not an issue for me.
Bad nib/dry nib/nib takes time to "warm up"
These reports look intermittent, but are vocal -- "I expected better from Lamy, had to send two of them back, etc." Maybe it was a bad batch, or a particular owner with different expectations… who knows. I did flush out the inside of my pen with plain water a few times first (see below) and some of the complaints about dry or skipping nibs noted that it resolved on the second fill. As we know from typewriters, a good gentle cleaning rarely hurts anything.
Stiff piston (hur hur hur)
Inner twelve-year-old aside, there's observations that the refill mechanism is difficult to work. Is it? It's got to be air- and ink-tight, and I don't think it's worse than my Pelikan's piston. Again, I flushed with water first a few times, to chase away any residual oils and inks leftover from manufacture and quality control testing (some blue ink showed up, so I know the nib wrote at least once.)
Interestingly, using the Lamy has given me another point of comparison, this one for the Pelikan and any pen that refills with a threaded cap:
- inky threads
I don't know how I did it, but there's dried ink inside the cap threads on the Pelikan, probably from brushing up against the lip of a bottle while I was refilling. There's no such issue on the Lamy, as it's smoothness all the way down.
I've heard it's possible to get a fine amount into the grooved texture that's polished into the barrel, but it seems like it cleans up better. It's something I never noticed before now, since I'm usually messing with converters and a partially-disassembled pen or syringes and empty cartridges.
So, is there a clear winner? Not yet for me. I like all three, for different reasons, and for different uses. The Pelikan and Lamy overlap the most in terms of function and usage, and it may be that one goes home to use for marathon writing sessions, and the other stays at work for marathon meetings. It never hurts to be prepared!