Friday, May 21, 2010

On Skye Ferrante, the Writers Room, Noise, and Advocacy

NaNoWriMo: the niche

Obviously, we typewriter people are an excitable bunch. The news of the banishment of Mr. Skye Ferrante's typewriter from the Writers Room in Greenwich Village has rocketed around the narrow confines of the typosphere community, myself guilty of shoveling coals and dousing it in gas by posting to the Portable Typewriters group and encouraging type-ins, letters of protest, and sending industrial-sized packets of earplugs to the W.R. patrons who are clearly suffering from some sort of technology-induced anger management issues. In my head, I have drafted countless Nasty Letters to the W.R. staff, their membership, and their pets, shaming them for their close-minded stance on one paying member's choice of writing machine. It was his grandmother's, for chrissakes! Why not kick a few puppies while we're at it!

Luckily, I've slept on it.

First, it is perfectly within the rights of the Writers Room (say that five times fast) to dictate what equipment can be used within their space. It would be childish for me to point out that they still offer storage for typewriters, while simultaneously advertising themselves as a "a quiet, affordable place in which to work." (The "quiet" designation seems to have been added after their last site redesign. It was merely "tranquil" before.) Short of a thermal-paper-based typewriter, I know of none that are truly silent, as some kind of impact is taking place, either from a typeslug, daisy wheel and hammer, or pins on a print head. And it would be equally childish to point out that they have "a separate room for typing with four desks" which is different from the "[l]arge loft with 42 partitioned desks" that non-Luddites are forced to use. Maybe that dedicated typing room doesn't have a door?

Second, Mr. Ferrante is well within his rights to drop his membership -- as the article claims he will be doing -- in favor of finding a less-hostile work space. It's not clear to me whether the pressure to leave is coming from the W.R. staff, fellow members, or both. At around $100 per month membership, I'm sure he'll be able to find ample places where he can type undisturbed. I've been to New York City a few times: I do not remember it as a quiet place. He could easily apportion some of his savings into earplugs for himself, set up shop in a friendlier place -- say, anywhere -- and get work done. Our own experiences with writing show that: a quiet (or tranquil) place is nice, but for many of us, it's also a dream. NaNoWriMo has shown me that I can write "in the cracks" and still turn out a volume of words, even in my cramped behind-the-sofa writing space shown at the top of this post. It's not where you write, after all, it's that you write.

Finally, some thinking about my hostile letter to the puppy-kickers. I don't know Mr. Ferrante or his motivations for using a typewriter, though his comment about preferring it to a computer ring true to me. It's perfectly possible that he's an elitist hipster snob, looking for attention and raising a small degree of polite Hell. But even if he is, I applaud him for it. Dedication to a creative tool is nothing to be ashamed about, and in a truly public space, nothing to be apologetic for either. By the account in the paper, he was using the space set aside for typists, though I'm sure a larger number of screened-in desks can be wedged in there now for the laptop crowd, thus turning a quirky, creative space into something as exciting as the reference book section of the public library. (Free, by the way.) He's probably doing himself and his work a service by getting out of that place.

In the last line of the article, he's quoted as saying:

I just wish that there were some typists out there that would back me up, but I don't know any.

Rather than write my hostile, righteous, scathing, brilliantly-crafted and ultimately pointless letter to the Writing Room staff, I'm going to send a letter to Mr. Ferrante, before his June 30 expulsion, maybe invite him in to our noisy, weird, world-wide circle of retro-nuts. The world has enough negativity and exclusion and outrage already without me contributing more.

I'll be sending it to him c/o The Writers Room, of course.

The Writers Room
740 Broadway
New York, NY 10003

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Hip at Last?

...or midlife crisis? Or lucky coincidence? Probably more of the latter. I stumbled into an original Polaroid SX70 yesterday completely unexpectedly and grabbed it if only for he eBay potential. I still have a few boxes of the expired film stash that I found last year, although it's the wrong speed for this camera, it can be made to fit, and after a failed test shot, I managed a blurry one of one of the flowering bushes in our yard:

Bottlebrush Plant

Overexposure and old film makes it hard to pick out what you're seeing: here's a black-and-white conversion of the same shot:

Bottlebrush Plant (b&w conversion)

The SX70 is desirable among the hipster crowd, possibly because it's one of the few Polaroid cameras that is a "reflex" model: that is, when you look through the viewfinder, a set of mirrors and lenses is letting you peek through the actual lens, allowing a fine degree of focus -- much finer than the rainbow-striped "One Step" or "The Button" models that it seems like everyone had in the 70's and 80's. It's a cool little camera, and while trying to figure out how to fit the wrong film inside* I found this pretty-awesome version of the old SX70 ad with "Garbageman" by The Cramps overlaid:

(caution: may cause unexplained rocking out)

Turns out the original video was directed by the infamous Eames brothers, best-known to me of the creators of the Eames Lounge Chair, which was the chair of choice of my late photography-nut grandfather. The Eames name has become a shorthand to mean "mid-century design" and has a certain degree of hipness to it as well.

Suddenly I'm cool all over the place.

* The 600 film packs have little nubs on the bottom that get caught up in a tensioning spring in the SX70. You can use a playing card wedged under the film to make a little ramp as you slide it in, then remove the card to seat it properly. 600 film is faster than the original SX70 film, and there are instructions in the nets about using filters to trick the SX70 sensors into compensating, though it's not strictly necessary.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

That's What She Said (Wrote)

Brainstorming supplies

I don't know whether this is one of those freaky typosphere convergences, or another tribute to the utility of paper and pens, but today's post on Little Flower Petals was spookily similar to what's become my own standard practice: namely, using a composition book to jot down all manner of ideas. I've talked about this before, in using a small Rhodia pad for on-the-go capture, and I still tote that little guy around with me on walks and to the kids' sporting events, as it's the ideal form of pocketable pen-friendly paper. But lately, I've been using a composition book by the bed, and trying to make myself write at least one thing in it every night.

Composition books are great: they're cheap and spacious and a comfortable lap size, and the stiff covers are suitable for holding a reading light: good for those of us jotting late at night. I'm using Staples "eco easy" line of books, which are made from bagasse paper (remnants from sugarcane production.) It's a light, slightly crispy paper that also takes fountain pen ink exceptionally well, especially for the price. My barely-awake ramblings in the notebook get transferred to index cards on one of the typewriters: usually Norma Jean as she's an elite machine, so I can pack more words per card as needed.

I have a number of works-in-progress in mind when I make notes, and put an abbreviated working title next to the notes which gets transcribed onto the cards (makes it easier to sort out later.) Currently, I've got nine works in various states of woolgathering, including my 2009 entry, and a first draft that I started writing just to test out a restored typewriter (and which will need a do-over, since I got stuck and abandoned it.)

With all the hype about the latest greatest iThing and how it will revolutionize media consumption, it's very satisfying to find rewards in low-tech acts of media production.