Monday, December 29, 2008

Surviving the holidays

Somehow, we've made it through the Big Day, the day that gets small children up at 3:00 to stand next to mom and dad's bed and stage-whisper "How many hours until Christmas? Only one more week before school and work resume out here. The jolly old elf did not, in fact, slip a typer under the tree which is probably a good thing, considering. The kids did come through with a new demonstrator fountain pen and bottled ink combo from Levenger in a jazzy "Bahama blue." It's a pleasure to use on thank-you notes as we wile away the last days of 2008. The computer has been off most of the time, which is nice, quite frankly. There's time enough to stare at the little screen later. I've also been actively ignoring the novel synopsis in favor of playing with the kids (and the new Wii) but I'm going to need to get off my rump, and get typing again. I'm reading to start laying down some electric blue ink on that typewritten stack o' pages.

Hope everyone in more Northern climes is staying warm and safe these days. See you folks in the New Year.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Happy (Retro) Holidays

Christmas 1970Hope the big guy brings you everything you want this year. Take some time to dress the pets or kids up silly and snap a little film. There's still time to get a typewritten letter out to Santa, the big guy might appreciate a little old-school wishlist for a change. (Have you ever tried texting with mittens on? Not pleasant.) Or go really retro: turn off the computer, put on the old Andy Williams LP, make some popcorn, and just watch the lights twinkling.

Have a great holiday everyone. Back to the regular blog-schedule in 2009

Friday, December 12, 2008

Gold, Frankenpen and Murray

Murray the pen Meet Murray

In lieu of any other identifying marks, I've decided to name this no-name pen Murray. Like too many things in my life this year, Murray came by way of shopgoodwill.com. I'd been looking at desk calendars for some time, as a little extra retro-junk to litter up my workspace. I'd lost out on a ticky-tacky World's Fair model, but the fates provided, and Murray in all his brassed glory is now enjoying his retirement in California.

Why "Murray?" A little quick research on the nib (marked "Velvet Point 6") shows this pen to be what's charitably classed "third-tier" by those in the know, a kinder way of saying "a step above junk." Still, I'd been also meaning to get a desk set at some point, and this fit the bill. Murray's nib was broken ages ago -- it's only got one tine -- but after careful application of force and swearing, I was able to remove the old nib and feed, and shove in replacements from a cheap gold-nibbed calligraphy set I had picked up last year, thus converting this into a Frankenpen. "Murray" seems like a pretty average name for an otherwise average pen, even if he has had some work done.

I figure this pen sat on the desk of some middle-aged, Midwestern*, middle-of-the-road manager, maybe a thank-you gift for years of uneventful service. The finish on the date knob is brassed away from patient years of counting off the days. It's not a flashy set and yet... I like it. We have a lot in common, Murray and I: generic heritage, utilitarian without being flashy, just trying to be ready and useful without leaking everywhere.

* Don't take offense, Midwesterners. The pen came from Illinois. This wasn't meant as a pejorative.

Friday, December 5, 2008

What's black and white and foggy all over?

Jacob's LadderIt's the winter slump time with foggy cool mornings making it hard to get up out of bed, and harder to face the day. I can't even see out the window this morning, but this was the view yesterday.

Passed along the Classic 12 to another one of my son's friends after my wife and I discussed the curse of Perfectionism that seems to settle in over boys of this age, dense and impenetrable like our morning fog. I suppose it's just another taste of the upcoming teenage years: suddenly we're dealing with peer pressure, and fretting about hair and clothes and shoes and the "right" way to carry backpacks to school (dragging them nonchalantly behind on the way to class, apparently.) Like my own son, the Classic's new owner struggles with writing assignments, grappling with the idea that he's allowed to write what he wants, and not to try to write what he thinks his teacher wants. It's a hard lesson, when the world is very black-and-white and wrapped in fog. I hope the Classic helps him out. Manual typewriters are perfectly non-judgemental, they don't beep or blip or underline when you've made a gaffe, they're just happy to serve you and wait on you, as long as you keep them well-fed with paper and ribbons. The perfect companion! The new owner was well-pleased with the Classic's paper "ears", its Power Spacer key, and the magic of the typebar unjammer. I don't know if it will help him out of the fog, but I hope it'll be a good companion as he works his way through it.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Teh Ned

The secret to a high word count Done at last.

I'm not entirely sure how it happened, it kind of spiraled out of control, and in true NaNo fashion, there were surprises, tears, laughter, and many, many typos. And now it's done, really done. I typed those two magic words just an hour or so ago, said a small blessing of gratitude to the word gods, and am now planning on taking the muse out for a drink. The old girl deserves it.

If you're out there toiling away in NaNo land, hang tight. I'll send the kids right over, they're a great help.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Stairclimbing

wordcount

I know that 50K is just an arbitrary number, a Big Round Figure that's supposed to be huge and scary and cast in unobtanium and all, but it's a great goal. If anything, it's a testament to the power of erosion: of the rippling effect that regular small-scale chipping away can do. 50,000 is a big solid slab of text, but picked apart by word, line, and page, it's completely reasonable. Last year, I couldn't fathom how anyone could not only beat NaNo early, but then go on to set such crazy goals like 100K, 250K, 500K, or 1 million words in a month. (Actually, I'm still out on that last issue. One million? You people are crazy.)

So here I am, green bar on the site, little "winner" dingus on the name badges. A nagging part of me still thinks I've over-estimated my word count, but there's plenty of story left that needs writing between now and the end of November, especially if I want to claim my prizes. There's a lot of roughness going on, but at the same time I'm surprised by the turns the characters are taking, the plot elements that are unfolding within the loose cat's-cradle framework that I've laid out. I'll have to write up a recap when I'm all done-for-real-done, but when it comes to regular writing on a typewriter, I'm a believer.

Friday, November 14, 2008

And it's (almost) halftime...

NaNoWriMo 2008: Day 14

Everybody kicking some wordcount butt? Yes? No? Well, even if you're not, just keep at it. Even with my highly-planned setup, I've suddenly been introduced to three brothers that seem to be serving as both comic relief and some word-building backstory. Writing their pathos makes me think that the rest of the book is over-serious, something I'll have to investigate when I go back to revise: seek opportunities for lightness. I'm concerned that I've got 100+ pages of drudge to muck through before there's any chuckles, and that may be too much for anyone to bear.

Maybe I need appropriate headgear? These three brothers were born of an early-morning writing session when I'm still in my pajamas, groggily blinking my way into the world of the living again. I can get maybe three pages done in the morning before the kids are up, but get another five or six at work on my lunch. I think the button-down shirt is making me too serious. Might need to look into wearing the kilt sometime. (Or you know, not and instead keeping my job.)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

More on motivation

Doomed?

I've been typing on my novel first thing in the morning, before the kids wake up and flump on the couch at my elbow and begin their Morning Bicker, which is Not Useful For Writing. After the time change, this was pretty easy, rolling out of bed at 5:00 instead of my usual 6:00ish to grab an hour of writing before the rest of the house shuffled out into wakefulness. But now November has really settled in to the area, with its chilly hard-to-get-out-of-bed mornings, and a warm sleepy baby, and a dark house, and... maybe just five more minutes... gzzzzzz.

I've been bragging about my word count, but I'm also lagging in my story, about three or four days now according to my outline. This is almost worse, since the words are coming, but if the plot ain't moving, then I'm not getting any closer to the magical The End that I should be hitting 'round about November 30. I want to work to the deadline, and to get this thing out the proverbial door by the deadline I can't be pissing around with plot in December... January... June... argh, the thought of it makes me shudder.

Yesterday I wrote about why I'm doing this novel: to share with my family. I've beaten NaNo once for myself, I know that I can do it, that's not why I'm participating this year. The hard part now is facing that big stack of Plot from inside my warm morning cocoon, and letting the cocoon win. And so I'm now threatening myself.

I bid on and won a lot of cameras from shopgoodwill.com the other day, including one that I've wanted for a while -- an Olympus 35 RC, a little manual rangefinder camera -- and two Brownies just for fun. The box is on its way now, and with it comes The Deal.

If I fail to hit The End by midnight November 30 PST, my NaNo-widowed wife will be entitled to hurl the contents of the box from the nearest landmark, including but not limited to the roof onto the cold, unfeeling cement of our driveway, and maybe back over it with the family minivan a few times for good measure.

You're all witnesses. If this doesn't get me out of bed in the morning, nothing will.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

What moves you?

OK, now I'm just plain gloating. I owe it all to Duffy and the brilliance that is the Typewriter Brigade. I've hit a couple of rough patches here at the end of the first third of the story, but that's mostly due to under-planning on my part. As a whole, I'm excited about my NaNovel, and think it's coming together well for the hasty, poorly typed draft that it is. And I'm especially digging how the lack of a mass-select-and-delete feature has forced me to redo a page or two here and there when I just couldn't let it lie (and needed a hook for later.)

Using Rollabind to keep the manuscript together has been a good thing, too. I've filled the first set of discs, and need to move into a new notebook with today's writing. I like being able to go back and drop in pages that need to be inserted, like this morning's work of fleshing out past scenes or doing some rewrites of exceptionally strange pages. I'm looking forward to revising this around mid-December, and running it past "the critics" in our house, namely my wife, my English prof. mom, and my son, who this whole thing is really for.

Somewhere in the past year, we stopped the habit of the nightly bedtime story: he outgrew it, or his younger sister grew into it, or something, but pretty much gone are the days when he'd fall asleep listening to me read Dr. Seuss or Tolkien or fables or whatever. Now he skulks out of his room just before bedtime, his radio blaring the local all-rock-goofy-DJ station-with-the-awesome-name, gives us a good-night kiss, and that's it until he's hunched over cereal and comics at dawn. He's still reading on the sly, and we keep his room well-stocked with books, but I'm looking forward to sharing this one with him. And that's really the motivation for NaNo for me this year. He's the reason I'm busting out the word count this time around, the reason I'm not anguishing over the really awful clunky dialog I've laid down, and the reason why I'm going to go over every single page with a pen in hand and edit, edit, edit this bastard until I'm not ashamed to read it aloud.

Come December 1 I'll hang up my "novelist" hat for a year -- note to self: buy a noveling hat -- but this year, I'm doing it with a little more pride.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Smiling through gritted teeth

Random crabby thoughts...
  • To everyone who thinks that the outcome of the recent election is "the worst day in American history" and the end of freedoms and the descent of the Marxist state, I say: really? When the rest of the world seems to be celebrating the change, I have to think this result not as bad as it's being painted. Shockingly, I do think that global opinion of the U.S. is important, and that it's surely taken a beating in the last eight years. Perhaps we need to think about ourselves more as citizens of the world, and not saviors. Just a thought.
  • I'm sure it was meant well, but Backdate's latest post is a bit upsetting. Vesuvio, I'm sorry that I'm airing this here, but you seem to have left comments locked on the topic. NaNo isn't a path to published greatness, and I get what you're doing with the mock comparisons, but it rang a little harsh to my ears. No paid authors were harmed during the production of this event, and I think very few people have realistic aspirations of a publishing career from anything written in these four weeks. The world might be a little more interesting if more people did pick up a trumpet, a camera, or a paintbrush and see what they could produce. Can't we all just get along?
  • The hardest thing about sacrificing my lunch hour to the Brigade has been weaning myself from the lunchtime walks and (worse yet) the thrift stores. Gahhh, and it's sunny today, too. I don't want to break the mojo by taking an afternoon off, but still... wahhh.
  • After some back-and-forthing, we now have a number of AlphaSmart Pro's at home. My wife's original one, one other slated for me, and a bonus third one that's gone to my son. I'm staying typewriter-pure for November, but am seriously eyeballing this as the means to forge my final typed revision into digital form. Best of both words, and more flumping on the sofa in December, something not do-able with the big standard Royal.
Have a good weekend, and lots of word-count to the NaNo'ers out there.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

I'm not trying to brag...

...but I am completely thrilled with the boon that is the Typewriter Brigade. Good karma all around for the TypeMos. I've never written this much this quickly, and I'm actually falling behind in my story, despite being about three days ahead in terms of word count. There's literally not enough writing time in the day right now.

I know that this is the honeymoon period, the thrill of being able to finally -- finally -- work on the novel after all that time planning and sifting and jotting and sorting, but I'm completely convinced that there's something magical about typing it up by hand, no electronica and especially no distractions. And I'm really enjoying camping out the office lobby with the Skyriter. It's a sweet little machine, even with the sticky "5" and "e" typebars, and it's attracted its share of comments. I just love being able to go heads-down with it and bang out a page or five in an hour.

I've been watching your blogs and checking your word count, and I feel just a trifle guilty about crowing this loudly this soon, but I'm way too giddy not to say something.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Tennish, anyone?

20081022 typecast

Temporal note: "today" and "tonight" actually mean "yesterday" and "last night" since I post-dated this blog post. So not really now, but then.

Related photos:

The setup at home:
NaNoWriMo: the home front

The wife's typer this year:
Old School Typing Machine

Monday, October 20, 2008

Couldn't be prouder, or, my son vs. the Pod People

Young author at work My novel ideas are starting to shape up: for the first time, I did a very sketchy outline of the story in order, to see what holes I have to fill in. Last night, I pulled out Gomez and engaged in a little hole-filling. Thanks to a active topic on the Portable Typewriters group Gomez now sports four new rubber spacers/bushings/whatever, which lift his innards ever-so-slightly from the case. With a 99-cent package of sink washers and about ten minutes with a screwdriver, Gomez's return lever no longer drags into his ribbon cover, and the carriage slides smoothly and near-silently, where before it was dragging a bit on the tab stops. I'm deeply indebted to the collective genius of that list.

Anyhow, Gomez and I were working our way through some index cards, when my son walked by and asked how the story was going. I explained the details of NaNo -- start November 1st, quantity over quality -- and out of the blue, he asked for his typewriter back. After the brief flurry of interest, it was getting buried underneath the detritus of a pre-teen's life, so I had put it back up on the shelf for safekeeping. Now he wanted it back, he had a story in mind, and he wanted to write it down.

I'm not sure if any of you are exposed to pre-teen boys on a regular basis, but let me clue you in on two key observations about their behavior:

1) They do not like to write. In fact, merely suggesting that they spend ten minutes doing their English homework will usually result in thirty minutes of complaining, sighing, and severe my-parents-are-such-dorks eye-rolling.

2) They do not like failure. Especially making typos that cannot be obliterated easily, before anyone sees it.

Without acting too much like a kid at Christmas, I brought down his machine, set him up on a TV tray with my new typing pad, fed in the paper, and said the Typewriter Brigade mantra: "Typos don't count, mistakes don't count, it's the first draft, and no one will read it but you."

That was apparently the magic spell. Gomez and I sat down on the floor while he was working, providing a little aural and moral support, my wife moving off to the kitchen with the laptop so as not to disturb the resident authors. Neither of us wanted to break the moment: our son, writing... willingly! Forty-five minutes later, we had to tear him away to get ready for bed. He let his mom and I read the beginning of his story: four lines agonizingly crafted, but actually quite good. This morning before school he spent time feeding the paper back in, queuing up the machine to the same point in the page so "I can start right after school."

I couldn't be prouder. And I'm going to check his room for pods from outer space... just in case.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

It all comes out in the wash

Typing pad project: the raw materials

One week of work, and only one extra trip to the store for another skein, and the typing pad project is nearly done. I've just pulled it out of the wash, sodden brown murky mess that it is, and am well-pleased with the results. Unfolded, the piece was about five and a half feet long, with the random gaps and goofs that say "this was a project done in a hurry." It all comes out in the wash though: the row that I randomly reversed stitches, the rough edges, the strange gappy oversized overall yuck of the raw piece is now square, damp, and smooth. I could probably shrink it a bit more, but I'm considering tossing it into the dryer to get it from the completely-dripping stage to the merely-damp stage. Pictures of the completed work to come once it's dry enough to play with Gomez, but you can get a glimpse of the "before" piece and its accoutrements perched on a TV tray this morning, before its date with the Kenmore. I was skeptical at first that the finished product would be as good as it is. Just goes to show what a little attention, friction, and a good soak can do for your first draft.

Update: after drying 12 hours later:

Typing pad project: after felting

Thursday, October 9, 2008

You can't be serious

20081009 typecast

My God is the SM-9 a nice machine. My fingers have a post-coital smile. Using this Dell keyboard afterwards is like a cold, wet washcloth to the face after that.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Warp-speed procrastination

Am I the last person on Earth to notice Google Reader? I keep toying with a "blogroll" section so I can keep an eye out for new posts on everyone's space, or obsessively reload Strikethru since she's on top of finding new type-blogs. Thanks to Reader, I just subscribe to 'em. It's incredibly cool, and now makes me look like ever more the cyber-stalker.

Lots of good discussions going on about NaNoWriMo and maintaining the balance between writing fast and writing well. Again, hoping for the latter, but only worrying about the former this year.

Halfway through the typing pad project. I tried for a casual-posed shot showing the work-in-progress along side the Skyriter, but the fabric totally dwarfs that poor machine. It looked like it was being swallowed by a giant brown poo. Will try for a more flattering "before" photo before I run it through the wash. Only 130 rows to go...

Sunday, October 5, 2008

DIY Typing Pad

(The craft-averse should look away now, perhaps at Olivander's relaunched photo gallery. Feel free to pretend that I'm saying something pithy and observational about the unfortunate collapse of typewriter beauty and the rise of the featureless smooth laptop.)

How to Knit a Typing Pad (I hope)

You need:

* the ability to knit, or pay someone who can
* needles of sufficient size
* a quantity of feltable wool
* a means for felting said wool
* old towels or jeans
* mild washing soap (soak flakes, or a wool wash like Eucalan)
* time, time, time (optional)

This is my first go at making a felted or "fulled" piece. I'm well-versed in the school of "knit a large rectangle" since I have made numerous baby blankets for co-workers' showers, including doubles for the two pairs of twins. I wanted to make this project felted, since the original style was done that way, and felting nicely covers up knitting mistakes, which I fully expect to make. My lovely wife has knit a number of felted items, so any advice related to the actual mechanics of felting is hers, just channeled through me.

Needles and wool:

For my pad, I'm using Lion Brand Fisherman's Wool in brown, mainly because it's cheap for the yardage and being brown, it will hide the stray hairs of my large black dog, which are absolutely everywhere. Needle size recommended is a U.S. 9, and for felted items you want the stiches to be loose and open, so go up a couple of sizes. I'm using U.S. 11 for mine, though I could go for bigger.

Sizing:

You must, must, must swatch here. I figured out that I wanted to make a 15" x 15" pad, because that's about the size of an SM9 case, plus a little fudge factor. With felting, it's easy to make a project go smaller, so plan bigger. Knit up a small swatch (mine was 16 sts x 18 rows), write down your stitches and rows, and measure it carefully. You'll need this later.

Felting:

Supposedly the best way to do this is in a top-loading washing machine, since you really want the agitation cycle. Of course, we swapped ours out some time ago for a water-sipping front-loader, but it still works, just with more time. Take your swatch and toss it into a mesh bag or old pillowcase, taking care to close the opening securely (rubber band it shut.) Include some old towels in the load, or jeans that you don't mind shrinking, or in our case, the cheapo jean jacket that was a quarter at Goodwill and is now "the felting jacket."

Run the machine on its hottest wash cycle and coldest rinse, and wait. You want to catch the machine before it gets into a high spin, because "if it folds over when the machine is spinning, you're screwed." The heat and friction will conspire to give your little swatch a wicked beating, and make the fibers rub together and shrink. Mine took two wash cycles before I couldn't see light through the piece (my highly scientific test) and I thought it looked good. Lay flat on a towel and roll up to dry.

Math time:

Sorry. With your pre-felting swatch measurements at hand, measure the width and length of your new, teeny felted swatch. Figure out how many stitches-per-felted-inch and rows-per-felted-inch you knitted. Multiply these ratios by your target measurements to figure out how many stitches you'll be casting on, and how many rows you'll be knitting. These will be big, upsetting numbers. It's OK.

Pictures of real pads show them to be thick, so I'm planning on actually knitting mine twice as long, folding it over, and sewing the edges together before felting, so I'm doing:

CO 72 sts
K in sts 249 rows
BO

This thing will look like a freaking blanket when I'm done, but that's OK! There will be a lot of shrinking in the wash. And exact measurements are not required: I just rounded up a bit. I can always felt it smaller, or just chop off the edges with a rotary cutter if it's really way crazy too big.

For the real wash, include the soap flakes/wool wash, mostly to keep everything from stinking of wet sheep. Check your project often, since it's easy to get the whole thing too small if you just left it go.

And that's the plan. If nothing else, this should keep my hands busy until November. Stay tuned for the occasional update.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Snippets of news

A couple of things of interest today:

Just when you thought it was time to put away the banners and bunting, the Typewriter Day celebration continues! Despite events both unfortunate (a few drop-outs) and fortunate (a wedding and a major move -- both for the same person) I believe all of the T.D. packets are still accounted for, with one making the cross-country trek as I type this, hopefully to arrive on Western shores... soonish. Everyone think positive thoughts for the postal service and pray for mild headwinds.

After a bit of technical hysterics, the NaNoWriMo.org site is up and going again, and hopefully for the duration. All Typewriter Brigade members and supporters are encouraged to join up and become one with the collective. There is no escape.

Realizing that my participation in the T.B. may upset a few denizens of my house (read: everyone) while I'm banging out my nightly 1,667 after bedtime, I'm going to make a felt typing pad to act as a cushy barrier between the bottom of the chosen machine(s) and the writing surface of choice. Watch this space for thrilling updates of the knitting variety.

Finally, typecaster "Desert Loon" has posted pictures of his new daughter, and I have to say that she may be the third most beautiful little girl on the planet (after my own two, natch.) Click on over and get your awwww on.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Space cadet

Argus Autotronic 35 There's hope on the horizon for me and my latest development project at work, rewriting some code that I laid down when I first started at this job over four years ago. The typewriters are getting antsy, but I've assured them that I'll be starting up again in October when the NaNoWriMo forums are unlocked, the Typewriter Brigade reborn, and my self-imposed "get the novel organized" time period. I'm giving myself a month to spackle any glaring holes in my plots, and even gave Gomez a go last night, typing up a few more notes I jotted down during my daughter's soccer practice.

I've been scouring shopgoodwill.com for more finds, though steeling myself against those of the typewriter variety. Since I've already proven my weakness for selenium photocell cameras, it was a sure bet that I'd bid on the Argus Autronic 35 that was offered by a store just across the Bay from me. Come October, I should be able to get away at lunch and give this one a try. I love its space-race style looks, and Argus' utter defiance of all things ergonomic. As a former Ann Arborite myself, I feel a special affinity for these transplanted midwesterners, shocked to find themselves in palm tree country.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Halfsies

Really amazingly busy these days trying to wrap up a software development project that will either a) be met with ovations, accolades, and all manner of praise or b) hobble along in a semi-functional state, hiccuping violently at the first sign of a bug. I'm hoping for a) but planning for b). No time to play with typewriters, but I was able to slip free of the surly bonds of my desk for a few lunch hours and play with my half-frame Olympus Pen. Not all of the photos were winners, and the processing mightily confused the gal at Walgreens ("I think your camera's broken") but as hoped, I got some interesting results, including a few unexpected juxtapositions brought on by me either mis-counting frames, or by deliberately just pointing the camera in a direction and snapping the shutter (distressing to my inner control freak.)



More...

Monday, September 15, 2008

Baby books and the mailbox at the end of the street

As a first-child, my early days are well-documented. First holidays, first steps, first teeth, first foods; it's all there in my mother's distinctive southpaw penmanship, neatly noted on yellowed scrapbook pages from a time when I was the center of her young life. I don't say that conceitedly, I say it with parental experience. Your first child is fated to become the body about which your nuclear family life suddenly orbits, from the moment you first hold their tiny hands and look into their eyes, squinting against the bright lights of the room. Unless you're made of stone, there's no helping it. When you see your child for the first time, you're hopelessly in love, and you want to capture every moment of that feeling.

With the first child, you also realize how much you're Winging It. I remember hitting this moment about two weeks after my son was born, when we'd pretty much figured out diapering and feeding and napping, and then thinking OK, now what? That gave way to a highly scrutinized life: every outfit photographed, hours of videotape of the drool-and-barf variety, first crawling, first major holidays, first steps, first time on a bike, first day at school. All carefully cataloged and documented, up to a point. That point is called "siblings" and it's a big one. My own baby book suddenly stops after my third birthday, when my sister arrived. My own son's book is very much the same, stopping nearly cold after his fourth birthday. One child makes the orbits of your life change, but two children makes those orbits eccentric. Still in love, still cherishing the moments, but somehow not being able to get it jotted down. Up until two weeks ago, daughter's baby pictures were still in their sleeves from Costco, before my wife got tired of tripping over then and filed them all in a pretty flowered box, where they will probably sit for another six years. It's even worse for the third: her milestones are marked with conversations like "Hey, the baby has another tooth!" "Really, how many is that?" "I don't know, eight or nine. We need to get to soccer practice." As much as our Good Intentions want us to observe our kids through a viewfinder, Real Life doesn't allow that.

The bike-riding rule at our house is that you are to turn around when you reach the last mailbox on the street. Once the kids got steady and fast enough to ride ahead of Mom and Dad, the Last Mailbox is our invisible fence, a local landmark and the edge of our comfort level. Our house sits smack in the middle of our block, so from space, our little skaters/scooters/cyclists could be seen making long, oval transits along the blacktop, whirling past our home but pulled in by its gravity at suppertime. Within the past two months my middle child started riding without training wheels, and this weekend, she made the leap into learning to read; something just clicked in her brain and she's started sounding out words in books, on signs, in the car. She's got it. Like her older brother, she'll soon be ready to pedal beyond the edge of our neighborhood, over the canal bridge at the end of the street, and into the World Beyond, reading all the way.

There's no way for me to jot this down in a tiny space even if one was provided in her nearly-blank baby book (sorry, second-child.) To her I say: even though I don't have obsessive photographs of your first years, I love you, I love you, I love you, and I'm very proud of you. Keep your eyes up on the road, and know that I'm right there watching.

Learning the Bicycle by Wyatt Prunty

for Heather

The older children pedal past
Stable as little gyros, spinning hard
To supper, bath, and bed, until at last
We also quit, silent and tired
Beside the darkening yard where trees
Now shadow up instead of down.
Their predictable lengths can only tease
Her as, head lowered, she walks her bike alone
Somewhere between her wanting to ride
And her certainty she will always fall.
Tomorrow, though I will run behind,
Arms out to catch her, she'll tilt then balance wide
Of my reach, till distance makes her small,
Smaller, beyond the place I stop and know
That to teach her I had to follow
And when she learned to let her go.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Wimping out

20080912 typecast

Note: the opinions expressed by ancient Greek goddesses either real or imaginary do not necessarily reflect those of the management.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

100 Years of Insanity

Today marks what would have been the hundredth birthday of musician/inventor Raymond Scott, familiar to anyone (like me) who grew up watching far too many Warner Brothers' cartoons. Scott was the musical inspiration for many of Carl Stalling's arrangements, and Scott's original tunes are glibly named, reflecting jazz age sensibilities with -- I suspect -- an impish sense of humor. Scott was a pioneer in early electronic music, literally filling the walls of his home studio with his own creations. I envy and admire both his musical chops and his tinkering talent, and note with some sadness that only posthumously is he being recognized and re-discovered.

Scott was also a bit of a perfectionist. Listening to one of the "bonus" tracks on the Microphone Music albums, you can hear a candid recording of him drilling his ensemble's clarinetist through a complicated passage in "Powerhouse," repeating the same sequence of notes again and again. Without the sheet music in front of me, I honestly have a hard time determining what's wrong with the performance; is he muffing the intonation? The dynamics? Considering that the passage in question practically flies by when played at-tempo, I think it's very telling to listen to Scott semi-patiently drill the clarinetist over... and over... and over... seeking that perfect passage. No wonder he went into electronic and mechanical music: adjustments could be made by setting a dial or flipping a relay.

I certainly see a lot of myself in this, not coincidentally because my own meager compositions sound very Scott-like to me, especially when held up against his later all-electronic stuff. He and I seemed to take the opposite paths, though: immersed in human imperfection, Scott embraced the clean precision of the machine in his work, whereas I'm looking to muddy up my work with a little lower-tech imperfection, embracing the ink bottle and the typo.

Happy Birthday, Raymond. Hope you found perfection in the end.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Don't Know Much About Writin'...

Don't do a NaNo without them ...so I crib from other people. NaNoWriMo is looming, with four weeks to go before my self-imposed "get my crap together" October deadline. I was by chance given a copy of Stephen King's On Writing which was recommended in the discussion on my July post about must-read titles on writing aimed at the novice writer like yours truly. The recommendation wasn't in vain, this was certainly a keeper, destined to be set in a pile next to the typewriter when I feel the need to Look Serious.

It's probably a touch of selective memory at work, but there seems to be common threads among the books I like, so I'm going to take a stab at summarizing them here. Some of the books are what I'd call very NaNo-compatible, especially encouraging for the once-yearly hobbyist fiction novelist:

Plot is Overrated...

It's never said directly, but at least three of the books I read talk about stepping out of the way of your characters, and giving them time and space to decide what the story is about, and what direction it's going to take. I've got Major Plot Points worked out for this year, but they look more like scenes in my head, places where character X meets up with character Y and they have a conversation or plan or something. It's like watching a silent movie, and I'm not letting myself read lips until November. Getting out of the way of your characters and permitting them free reign on the page is a common theme.

...but a Little Structure Won't Kill You

There's a lot of division on outlining/not-outlining, or generally trying to steer the story in a fixed direction. I went too far into the "let's see what happens" realm last year, and eventually the story just kind of fizzled. I wasn't quite brave enough to introduce story ninjas at that point ("suddenly ninjas dropped from the ceiling") but just skipped over the deadwood and wrote up the ending. I don't deal well with self-made chaos, so trying to make a nightly word-count without some story landmark to steer by... well, it wasn't fun. I'm hoping to avoid that this year by laying out at least the big silent-movie scenes and letting the "work" be in getting from one to the next. October for me is the big scene-making month.

The First Draft Sucks

Truly the core idea of NaNo, the just write mantra made manifest. The first draft will be nasty, and no one but you will ever see it. In fact, no one should see it. If you're sitting in front of the typewriter or PC, channeling your characters, they're going to have a rough time of it the first time through, trying to talk past all the recipes and schedules and soccer meets and political miasma cluttering up your lobes, and will have an even worse time if you edit-as-you-go. Just get it down as best you can and go forward, forward, forward. Write like Lot's wife: there'll be time enough to look back when you're safely out of the city limits in December.

Your Muse Likes Routine...

Having a regular writing time, place, and process helps to nudge even the most recalcitrant muse into performing. Mine tended to talk the most in the evening after the wife and kids were abed, and I suspect the same sort of thing will happen again this year. Like any exercise regimen, you're only going to get stronger with regular reps.

...but Be Prepared Just In Case

I love Lamott's system of carrying around index cards for random idea jotting. I do this anyhow for the random gossamer somethings that flit through my head, usually in the morning while I'm dropping off the kids at school. I've got a combination wallet/index card holder that holds about five cards that goes with me everywhere these days. Sometimes the sneaky old muse tries to catch me off-guard with some story idea, but now I'm ready.

Any secret survival tips from you more experienced NaNo'ers?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Codin' it Old School

20080829 typecast

Postscript: ninety minutes later and the lights and A/C are both back on, at least for the moment. The office's scanner is woefully confounded about the power loss, though, so this typecast is done hybrid-style, cooling drink and cell phone at the ready.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Monday, August 18, 2008

And the little one said "Roll over... I'm crowded"

5-6-7-8 who do we appreciate? Thank goodness for high gas prices. Looking hard at my monthly Visa bill made me realize just how much I was spending on fillups, and how (too) often I was doing it, considering my small commute. I made a pledge to myself to swap out my twice- or thrice-weekly thrift-driving with a walk, getting reconnected to old pedestrian-friendly hobbies and spending less time peering into the "collectibles" case for junky clicky treasures (recent acquisition notwithstanding.) To tell you the truth, I've been pretty good, too. I even passed up a yard sale Lettera 32 this weekend that my wife spotted, though the "passing up" had to do more with me going to the wrong sale afterwards.

I'm trying to keep focus, shedding or passing up machines that are outside the magic 1950's decade, steering clear of electrics, shunning all things plastic. My resolve shall not be broken, nothing will stray me from my course, I shall... ooo, what's that?

temptation

A pristine 1970's SM-9.

Oh hell. Oympia. Why does it always have to be Olympia.

Naturally I lugged the stupid thing back to my office, which then forced a shuffle of all the other machines sitting on the shelf. Scoot over, Smith-Corona, budge up, Royal, there's a new kid in town.

Again.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Translators wanted

Duffy's post about finding treasures in typewriter cases reminded me of this scan my dad sent to me of a note I left for myself in the case of my grandmother's old typewriter. I'm sure it's more readable in person.

DIY time capsule

Section #1:

Well, heregoes my terrific typing/hunt&peck
Skills again! It's about 7:45 on 6/9/86.
?? days until my ?????? goes to ???'.'
I hate this ribbon! My Mac ???? ? ??? ???? job!

Section #2:

Sat, April 2, 1988

[mostly unreadable, though I think I can make out the name of my hometown, "Buckhannon"