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 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


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.)


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 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?