Monday, December 26, 2016
"Yes ma'am. I said it looks like you have elves."
"Yes ma'am. About a dozen or so I'd suppose, th0ugh it's hard to tell for certain. They tend to keep out of sight, most times."
"Yes ma'am, you heard correct. Right around Boxing Day we start getting the calls in. Looking for a place to nest down for the season, you know." He looked around at the home: brick and neat white cladding, two-storey with shutters over the windows, icicles dangling along the edge of the roof. Pretty as a Christmas card. "Yep. This is the sort of place they flock to, your basic elf."
That he parked in plain sight in the driveway was bad enough. Now this? What would the neighbors think? She lowered her voice. "This is a good neighborhood," she hissed. "The realtor said nothing about… infestations."
"Oh, it's a fresh bunch," he said. "Probably smuggled in on one of them Alaska cruise ships. Real problem up north, you know. But global warming… well, they're losing habitat."
She shivered in her robe, clutching her cocoa for warmth. The candy cane tinkled against the edge as she shivered. It had taken hours to roll them out and get the twists just right, and dammit, they were going to get used. Except they'd been disappeared. A few here and there -- easy enough to blame on the kids -- but then this morning, over two dozen, just vanished. And two empty cookie tins, out in the yard. And all the decorating sugar, gone. The gingerbread village disappeared without a trace. Rats, she thought. Or mice. And she called the exterminators, and they sent this… person.
"I'm really having trouble with this," she said. "You know, yesterday was kind of a busy day…"
The exterminator nodded. "Perfect time for them to slip in, you know. All the hustle and bustle. But you can't miss the signs." He'd showed her the gap in the basement wall, lined with leftover tissue paper like a paper wasp nest. The neat piles of cedar shavings in the corners ("Probably tinkers," he said. "Mind you lock up your tools.") And of course, the little piles of peppermints stacked neatly under the stair. ("Droppings," he told her. "Fresh ones. Still sticky.")
"Isn't there anything you can do?" she said. "A spray or something?"
"Oh no, can't spray," he said. "They're a Protected group, your basic elves. More'n my job's worth to cross that line."
She felt a headache coming on. "Traps, then?" she said. "What do they do for raccoons? My sister had a raccoon up the chimney in their cabin once."
"No good," said the exterminator. He was filling out a complicated-looking form. "Far too clever to fall for that. Most of 'em could build better, anyway. You can't get 'em by outsmarting."
"Well, what am I supposed to do, then?" she said. She tried to ignore the noises coming from the dryer vent. It sounded suspiciously like Christmas carols, being sung by tiny, childlike voices.
"Well," said the exterminator. "There's no guarantees, but if you get all this down and packed away, nature tends to take its course, if you know what I'm saying."
"But these wreaths are handmade!" she said. "White pine from Scandinavia! Hand-woven grosgrain! Blown-glass bulbs from Austria!" It was enormous, too, and well-lit. She made sure the whole neighborhood could see it.
"I understand, ma'am, I truly do. But there's nothing for it. They look well moved-in now. Maybe you'd have a chance with an artificial tree…"
"An artificial… we are not barbarians you know."
"No ma'am, sorry ma'am. I'm just saying that you've made it all so nice, it's no wonder they flocked to you."
"Flocked? You said it was six or seven!"
"I said 'probably' six or seven, but there's no way to be sure. Two tins of cookies and a stack of peppermints. You have any sort of chocolate in the house?"
"Cocoa powder, of course. Baking chocolate. I know the kids have some candy from their auntie."
"Make a list," he said. "And check it. Twice. Basically, you need to get your supplies down now, before the hibernation season. See, they fatten up good for winter, maybe wake around Easter for a snack, and then again at Halloween before their migration. That's your best chance. Make sure you don't bring out any decorations until at least December first. Maybe St. Nicholas' Day, to be safe. The last thing you want to do is give them an excuse to stay through next winter." He tore off the back sheet of the form and gave it to her in a mittened hand. "Giving that it's the holidays, this call's on me. Merry Christmas."
She snatched it from him. "Christmas was yesterday, and thanks for nothing," she said. She slammed the door hard enough to dislodge a few icicles from the roof.
"You're welcome," he said to the door knocker. From a vent down by his feet, he heard the sounds of jingle bells and laughter. Checking that no one was watching, he left a stack of cookies next to the basement window. Chocolate chip. Still warm. "See you next year," he said to the window. A pair of tiny hands snatched the cookies and disappeared again.
And laying his finger aside of his nose, he climbed into his van, and out the cul-de-sac he drove.
Saturday, December 24, 2016
I always have trouble sleeping at this time of year. My long-suffering wife blames it on the very true fact that mentally I turn into a raving seven-year-old during the Christmas season (actual quote from me yesterday: "Why is there no Christmas music playing [in the living room]? How will Santa know we're ready for him?") It's anticipatory now, knowing what's waiting for my family under the tree and looking forward to the surprise, the laughter, and the inevitable meltdowns as we try to take our family through the motions one more time: the 6:00AM sharp commencement of activities enforced by the youngest child, the mandatory extra coffee and fresh cinnamon rolls required by the adults. This is life in a normal year.
Of course, 2016 has been far from a normal year.
With dread and anxiety, we're all hoping we can just make it through the few days we have left without some new bleak piece of news. I won't rehash all the terrible events of the year. I'm already sleepless, and there's no reason to get miserable before the sun has even risen. I'm sure you have no shortage of reasons to want to see the memory of 2016 dropped in a hole and buried as soon as possible. My more faithful friends say that this has been a year that Tests each of us, and I would not be surprised if that's the tone and tenor of the Christmas Eve service we'll be attending later today. But even they are struggling with the ongoing drumbeat of terrible things that happened this year, and which continue to happen. The horrible news and pictures from Aleppo leave us all haunted and feeling powerless, for example. Any cheer and seasonal joy we muster feels artificial and fruitless, honestly. This is the legacy of 2016 -- one ass-kicking after another, for those of us left who can still stand.
And here this gets political, especially United States-political. If you have the stomach for it, hear me out. Have some coffee and a cookie if it helps. I'll wait.
The political pendulum swings as always, and for a large number of American voters, we feel that we're now swinging in a very bad place, dangling over the very swamp infested with the worst sort of creatures. It's just One More Thing, and it's haunting and demoralizing. Social media drains directly into that swamp. The water's turned foul, and just keeps pouring in. It's easy to feel like you're doing something when you're fighting the current all day, and the echo chamber of outrage, dismay, and anxiety grows in sound and fury, if not significance. It's no accident that my nation chose a President-elect that can think only in easily digestable and resharable word-bites. This is where discourse has landed now. That haunted and powerless feeling is here at home, too. And this is what woke me up this morning. Not the promise of excitement in the next 24 hours, nor joy, nor breakfast with my loved ones -- the fear that we've all slipped into a place where everyone is yelling, and nothing is changing.
And then I realized the True Meaning of 2016. 2016 existed to Piss Us Off.
2016 showed us the frailty of life, the horror that man is still capable of in the name of "peace" and the throwback ugliness that still lies beneath the surface of voting populations of the world. And we have a choice, here, with about a week to go in the year. We can look to the turning of the calendar and pretend that all the terribleness is behind us and that 2017 cannot possibly be as terrible as 2016 -- and I admit, that's a high bar -- or we can be realistic, and realize that 2016 may have just been a warm-up for tough times ahead. Much as I'd like to believe it's the former, I'm steeling myself for the latter. I'm tapping into the despair of 2016 and planning to punch back in 2017, and I want to encourage you all to do the same.
IN 2017 I PLEDGE:
* To become a better-informed citizen by following local, state, and federal legislative activity
* To post my elected representatives numbers by every phone and to call, regularly
* To do the same with the office of the President
* Not to confuse "shares" and "likes" and "retweets" with direct action
* To donate blood as often as I can, and encourage others to do so
This year was terrible. Next year will probably be terrible, too. But I'm kicking back.
What do you pledge?
Thursday, December 1, 2016
So, my tenth Nano come and gone -- and quite a year it was, too. It reaffirmed my need to be team planner versus team pantser as I struggled to bring the two complementary story lines I had in my head together for a dance. But all was not lost, not at all: I uncovered details and backstory that had not even been hoped for in my pre-writing process, and amid all the rambling dialogue and word-padding, I've uncovered some potential bones for future work. I don't have a novel to show for the month, but I've got over 50,000 words spread across scenes and dialog that will be seeds for something bigger and better to come.
Now December's here, and I'm looking forward to really-and-truly having written every day of 2016. I'd like to say it's been easier as the year has gone on, but this has been a hell of a year to face with creativity. It's been anchoring and grounding, and more than a little therapeutic at times. And I've been doing it enough that the thought of "getting in my daily" is a sense of something I need to do instead of something I ought to do. It's become a vital piece in my life now, and I'm glad for the addition. Even if the output doesn't amount to anything, it's been good for me to work through. Fitting this year together has been like working a massive, at times frustrating jigsaw puzzle, and there have been points where I was afraid to look up to see all the work yet to do.
As always, I'm grateful for the madness that is the NaNoWriMo Typewriter Brigade, the collective crazies that insist on banging out their own creative pieces year after year, on manuals, electrics, wedges, or (shhh) AlphaSmarts. Literacy and creativity and the joy of making feels like it's in short supply this year, in a season of political divides, fear and doubt, accusations and blame. And more than a few creative minds were taken this year, and left holes in many of our hearts. It's been tough to spackle over all those cracks. Seeing the Brigade reform against all common sense is heartening.
I'm also glad for the relative normalcy of the typosphere, and its doged determination to keep growing despite all my shameful neglect. Social media seems to have turned largely into Antisocial Morass this year, so a cheery picture of a custom-painted Lettera or gleaming typebars or some truly dazzling typewriter art is a welcome smile. I'm glad we can all celebrate the little positive pieces of our lives, too. Thanks for being here, Typosphere, and if you're a Brigadier, too, thanks for jumping into the annual fray!
Sunday, October 30, 2016
By the anticipatory vibratings of my youngest child, I can only assume that Halloween is nigh, a night promising sugary riches in exchange for minor scares and occasional suburban mirages. (One year: a horse dressed as Pegasus being walked on a lead.) Finishing touches on costumes are being applied, reworked, and revamped. Pumpkins have been agonizingly rejected and selected, sliced and scooped, carved and positioned. Careful attention is being paid to playlists: blood-curdling sound effects before or after the Disneyland Haunted Mansion music, and how much Danny Elfman is too much? It's more logistics than most military manuevers. As a parent, I'm obligated to carry bags and flashlights and hoods when they get itchy, and masks when they are too hard to see through, and (very likely) tote umbrellas, too. My rate is one Reese's cup or mini Baby Ruth per block walked, payable at the stop sign at the corner. I think this is being more than reasonable. And sometime after we've all walked about two blocks too far, and the kids are cranky, and the parents' arms are tired, and at least half of the group needs a bathroom stop and/or coffee, we call it a night, say farewell, and close our eyes on October.
And wake to November.
Of course I'm NaNoing again this year, marking a decade of dubious novel-writing (or the writing of dubious novels.) I "planned" my first year on Halloween night, set off into November with high hopes, and came thisclose to a full crash and burn before the end of the month. I had high hopes and grand plans and good intentions, which was all but inviting Disaster and Doubt onto my laptop for thirty days. I had not then had the experience I have now: the knowledge of just how "rough" a rough draft can be, of the power of free writing, of both the pain and the pride of a good edit. Our family grew by a child, faced all the usual things young growing families face in a ten-year span, plus the outliers. I've learned to be more flexible in my personal life, less self-critical, more outgoing. I've tried to get back in touch with my creative side, and take better care of my professional side, too. And I don't know if I can lay all of that at NaNo's feet, but I put a lot of it there, for certain.
Facing a Big Scary Thing once a year has been like a booster shot for life. My family and I have faced Big Scary Things together in these ten years, things that we anticipated and things that we did not. I'm reminded of these when we pull the big costume bin out of storage every year and remember the Octobers past, the people our kids have been, and look to who they've become. I think about all our annual rituals and how they anchor us even when we're being tossed around, and I can appreciate the importance of keeping those rituals alive even when we'd Rather Not This Year. And this year especially, we've recited our mantra of This Too Shall Pass to help us keep perspective on what matters, and what we need to do to get by. Rarely will we ever get anything right on the first try, and rarely do we need to. A best effort is better than no effort at all, and it's possible to get through even the most overwhelming task if you sit down a little every day.
I'm way off on my usual planning routine this year, a fact I've bemoaned in the NaNo forums. Ten years ago I didn't think I needed to plan. Ten years later I believe it. The bar to winning NaNo is set very, very low if you think about it. It's just words, one after the other. It's not life. It's not even a walk down the block in the rain. But you can bet there's going to be candy waiting at the end.
Monday, October 3, 2016
Monday, September 19, 2016
Just surfacing for air again, meeting my daily chore of writing, and feeling seven kinds of smug because despite having a very bad day yesterday -- or perhaps because of it -- I buckled down and reached the end of my 2011 NaNoWriMo draft: a long meandering through middle age, video games, love, life, death, religion, Las Vegas, and funnel cakes. It's kind of complex. It's also (surprise) kind of wordy, and it took me over a year and a quarter to finally get it into digital form, and another six months to get through that. That's the six months I just finished, and in that time there's been a few personal dramas and life changes. And maybe it's the old from-adversity-comes-strength maxim, but I still believe that some of this writing is the best I've done, at least on a micro scale. There's some turns of phrase in there that I like. I'm worried, though, that the entire mass is maybe less-than-readable. So that's the next draft. Get it all together in a file, and print/read/scrawl upon it, and try to get it in a steady state where I can ride out November.
November! It's closing in fast. I usually give up October to my pre-planning over-thinking super-outlining frenzy so NaNoWriMo can happen relatively smoothly -- thirty days of assignments, in essence, with the option to pop the chute and write randomness if I start feeling rangy, or heed the Master Plan if I feel at sea. I want to get this draft in before the next draft blows through and is added to the stack. I'm not worried about it, though. Right now I'm cruising along on the high of semi-completion, riding in the wake of a lot of hard work. I've made the pledge to myself to Rhino Every Day, and that has been an anchor in these turbulent weeks. There have been days when I found very little encouraging to look forward to, but knowing that the writing was waiting -- that I owe myself that time -- at least put a consistent button on the days. Life has been blowing around pretty hard this summer, so it's been good to have a tether, even if the other end is fastened to funnel cakes and video games.
I'm also finding out what sort of writer I am, by at least better-defining what sort of writer I am not. There's a pretty good chance that this November's draft is going to veer sharply away from the magical realism underpinnings of this novel. I'm not sure I have enough imagination to keep up with everything that Real Life can dish out. I'm looking forward to it, even though I don't quite know the hows-and-whens of my writing schedule this year, or even if I'll be able to Brigade it. The social acceptability of a typewriter on a commuter train seems unlikely. But the Rhino doesn't care about Real Life, just the Writing Life. Real Life can go blow on the wind, carried away on endless drafts.
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!
Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Like many social media spots, I'm hanging out as @mpclemens on Instagram if you long to see random abstract blown-out tilt-shift carefully staged snaps of my breakfast cereal, or whatever one is supposed to Instragramify.
Friday, March 18, 2016
The prod of doom
Temporarily misplacing my original typescript while rewriting this recent draft may have been both the worst and best thing I could have done. Worst, since I didn't have it to refer to, and had to try and pull the story together largely from memory. Also best, for the same reasons -- the story points that stood out most vividly in my memory are the ones that made it into the digital copy, and the forgettable and regrettable asides largely did not.
That's not to say that there isn't some inflation. Approximate wordcount at the end of NaNo was 70,000 words, but after digitizing it's closer to 98,000 words.
Hmm. My digital draft is the poster child for opposite of edit syndrome.
So I've fired up Scrivener and spent a couple of quality days trying to break the whole mess into scenes -- or firebreaks, if you're picturing an out-of-control plot wildfire as I am. To say it's kind of daunting is like saying the ocean is a bit moist, but I'm hoping that I can keep dividing and subdividing and get the whole thing into a manageable size. Daily writing and a four-line AlphaSmart screen got me this far. I hope that narrowing the focus, slicing and dicing, and fiddling with the details will keep the momentum going.
Sunday, March 13, 2016
I made it! Somewhat!
After many false starts, I decided to buckle down last July and no-kidding-this-time get a digitized rewrite of my very weird and convoluted modern-day road trip/ode to the 1980s/thinly veiled updating of a Greek myth that emerged from my NaNo typewriter in November 2011. It's been a very long time coming, and has been through a number of major tonal shifts and a few challenging technical ones -- like setting it in first person, present tense. I'd love to say it was an edit, but it really was more of a rewrite, with only cursory glances back at the original typescript. Many new things happened. Many strange paths were taken. Many more words got added. But I made it.
Now comes a sit-down and a look through the landscape that I've just traversed, trying to stitch up all the save-files that were dropped like breadcrumbs along the way. Try to find coherent scenes and themes and events and start shaping readable prose around them, from the raw materials I've put down. The typescript showed me the direction, this draft got me to the summit, but I don't think the trail is safe for anyone else yet to traverse. Too many pitfalls, too many dead ends. So there's a lot of work ahead, still.
But today, in a mental fug because of the switch into Daylight Savings and the lack of sleep that goes with it, I can at least look back and say: hey, look, I actually finished something I set out to do.
Thursday, March 3, 2016
For reasons largely chemical -- having my pupils dilated for an eye exam -- I'm unable to tackle my nightly writing assignment, since I'm unable to handle any sort of related reading. So far, I have managed to be a nuisance around the house by badly loading the dishwasher and not being trusted to cook dinner for the kids, since I can't actually read the controls on the oven, and thus I've been banished to the far reaches of the house where I can sit in semi-darkness and not harm myself or others or pose a fire hazard to anyone.
So I'm going to ramble here, and talk about knitting.
I learned around fifteen years ago or so, when my then-only child was in preschool: I vaguely remember one of my very first projects was a slightly lumpen and uneven toy bear for one of his classmates who was about to become a big brother. My wife taught me to knit, and I love her dearly, but she and I are of very different mindsets to life, and knitting is one of those things that, if you must be taught by someone, should be taught by someone who thinks like you do, or who you have the proper amount of respect/fear for (a dear old grandmother is perfect.) My wife's lessons, no matter how often she repeated them, did not take, leaving me to my own devices in the pre YouTube days to puzzle it through from diagrams and books, and to finally wind up getting it right in the "Continental" style. Did you know there's more than one style? I didn't, but I learned it the opposite way that I was taught. She knits "English," which basically means that she uses one hand to manage the loose yarn and I use the opposite hand. Luckily, we're both right-handed, or chances are I'd still be learning. Continental is, from personal experience, unusual among the few knitters I've met in my area, and a male knitting is even rarer still, though I did strike up a very pleasant conversation with a gentleman about how he and his siblings had all learned as children, and were put to work by their mother making socks for themselves during the winter months. Having children of my own who tend to come undone during winter, I see this as exceptionally good parenting. Anyhow, those first few attempts at making anything other than odd lumpen animals, or slightly crooked socks (I tried) or overlarge hats were not wild successes. And although it's not really any more difficult than tying a shoe -- it's practically the same motion, in fact -- you're still doing it with a pair of sharp pointy tools and about a million times in a row.
There's three aspects of knitting that make it pleasant, though, and more pleasant than tying endless shoes. First is setting the expectations appropriately. I have little desire to make myself a nice complicated anything, and certainly less desire to impose such a project on another person. Sweaters are involved. Even proper socks are a hassle -- turning the heel, ugh ugh ugh -- but scarves are super easy, and baby blankets are just scarves without boundaries. I do a pretty brisk business in churning out baby shower gifts for my coworkers thanks to the innate simplicity of the rectangular form.
Second, it's very soothing. Once you get past the agony of actually learning the motions and the silly mnemonic rhymes to do them in the right order ("through the fence, catch the sheep, back we go, off you leap") and you learn your knits from your purls, it's possible to become a veritable fibre-slinging machine. When I had a longer commute, I'd work on the train, and provided that someone in my office is expecting, I can be seen hauling a black bag (manly) of fuzzy pink yarn (less manly) to my kids' soccer games, or pulling it out in front of our nightly murder-mystery TV, or whenever. It's easy, almost enough that you don't need to look at your work after a while. You can feel it -- you learn to know when you've placed the needle wrong and can fix it nearly automatically. I doubt I would have believed this all those years ago when my wife was patiently and fruitlessly trying to teach me how to Catch The Sheep. It's meditative, clicking the needles and handling the yarn and feeling the piece grow beneath your fingers. I've heard it releases serotonin even, one of the brain's built in "happy chemicals." I can believe it. The temptation to stay up late to knit just One More Row... well, it's kind of a buzz, actually. A socially-acceptable grandmotherly buzz, but a buzz nonetheless.
Third and finally, though, is overcoming one's fear of frogs. Or of "frogging" one's work by ripping it out when it's beyond repair or just not working. Frogging a piece can be traumatic, especially if you're really invested in it -- like a sweater or some infernally complex sock, and you may be tempted to just forge on ahead, or bargain with yourself to rip back just a little bit, just a few rows. Since I'm in the realm of rectangles, ripping out is not such a big deal. When you take as much pleasure in the pulling-apart of bad piece as you do in the putting-together of a good one -- well, that's supposedly when you've Leveled Up at knitting. That you can embrace the creation and destruction as integral parts of the piece... or something. It can be an infernal pain (pro tip: never attempt to rip out boucle) but it is a literal unwinding and remaking, too. A fresh start, with lessons learned from the last attempt. Taking a new approach to the summit. Insert your own metaphor here -- it's a do-over, and with the added benefit of wallowing in more happybrain chemistry.
So I'm in the middle of a piece now, a pen wrap for myself, and I just ripped it out for the fifth time in a row. I'm working without a pattern, without a plan, just a picture in my head of what the end product should look like and feel like, and I'm far too lazy to make a small sample swatch and do all the math and figure out how it should count out. I'm leaping in, something sharp and poky in both hands. It's taking shape again, and I think it might be right this time. And like the other creative endeavors I've worked on over the last fifteen plus years, it's teaching me more about making mistakes, and trusting instincts, and being brutal about editing (and starting over) and working through process along the way to a finished product.
I'm a computer programmer by hobby originally and by trade later, and there's very much an immediacy and a correctness to that sort of creation -- errors are reported quickly, and results are true/false without a lot of unpleasant nebulousness in the middle. Knitting -- and writing, and typing, and music, and carpentry -- is not like that, thank goodness, and although I'm not sure I'm good at it, I'm not terrible, either. And when I am, I'm happy to haul it off to the frog pond and rip it, rip it, rip it.
Monday, February 29, 2016
So I generally shy away from politics as a rule: I won't discuss them, I don't usually give my opinions on various candidates and issues, and keep my voting very close to my chest. This year's election is different-ish, for two reasons.
1) I'm not sure if it's because my child has reached voting age, or because the interconnectedness of the world has dramatically changed the landscape, or if I'm (heaven forbid) starting to finally resemble an adult, but I'm pretty excited about The Whole Process this year, to the point where I even put the primary election schedule up on our refrigerator at home. Perhaps this labels me as a Wonk, but I'm following things much more closely this year than ever in years past. I suspect, though, it's mainly because of
2) A certain candidate who has managed to evolve from harmless blowhard to punch line to actual potential candidate. I won't mention his name, but it rhymes with "rump" and "dump" and oh I can barely even joke about it. I personally skew on the liberal side of the ballot, but hey! I live near San Francisco, California after all. It's practically required. And I will admit to a certain amount of smugness in the early days of the process, as if anyone could seriously consider such a toxic, bigoted, self-absorbed, pandering egoist as He Who Shall Not Be Named. A little disarray can be healthy now and then. But what nobody counted on, I think, is the breath and strength of the disorder. The populist appeal of a demagogue in a supposedly well-connected, well-informed America. But he's playing the media like a fiddle, and the media happily dances to his tune, because it's great TV.
And somehow, inexplicably, inexcusably, he continues onward. It's no longer funny. It's become a train wreck, watching this self-inflating wind sock of a candidate flap around in whatever direction the breeze is blowing. And during those rare quiet moments, he manages to puff himself up and generate his own breeze. It's an ugly wind. It stinks. No matter what your political inclinations, it's blowing up trouble.
Now we're on the cusp of "Super Tuesday," a day when major decisions are made in several states, determining the future of many of the campaigns. I'm a little sad that California's primary is still way out on the calendar in June. There's a certain feeling of being last to the buffet line, after everything has been picked over by the rest of the country. But this year more than others, I'm despairing at the choices being left to us.
Sunday, February 21, 2016
For a short while, I, like so many other reckless young men, flirted with the idea of becoming a mathematician. Luckily I was pulled from the brink by a faculty advisor and an intervention by friends who weren't so fortunate. (Intro to Organic Chemistry was their downfall. I got out just in time.) Anyhow, one of the few things I took away from those fateful months -- other than the nagging sense that I used to know how to do things like find an integral, three times a week at 8:00am -- was the notion of dimension and projection. This is hopelessly mingled in my mind with the other classes I was taking at the time, including a few philosophy courses, so Professor Polt is likely to grade me on this. I'll try to get the essay done while he's still lagged from travel.
In essence, when you're losing a dimension, you're losing information. You're seeing, in essence, the shadow-of-a-thing, projected there on the cave wall, and not the Thing itself. This came up a bit in those forgotten math courses of mine, and tragically for me, in a later computer graphics course when we talked about representing three-dimensional figures on a two-dimensional screen. (This was tragic because it threw me back into linear algebra again, after I'd worked so hard to stay clean.) You lose something, of course, when you try to show a 3D ball on a 2D monitor: the "back" of the ball is gone, flattened out and masked by the "front" of the ball. After the projection, there's no going back. The information is lost.
This is a very long-winded and rambling way for me to rant about trying to copy and paste something off my tablet, which I'm actually typing this upon, with a fingertip, which was a disaster. Left on its own, a single finger is a poor substitute for all ten working together, and I genuinely do have empathy for my fellow comp-sci graduates (and math refugees) for trying to write software that can properly derive user intent from a wobbly fingertip. I certainly got to see this in action, as I watched the poor tablet sweep through menus and settings while I tried to highlight a small section of text to email to somebody. It was a UI disaster, no matter how I tried to sneak up on it.
And that's why I broke out the keyboard, and took a second to do what I wanted with minimal fuss -- each key mapped to the action it represents, not projected down into the pitiful low-res representation. It's no wonder I cling desperately to my keyboard-enabled phone, after comic text-attempts from my wife's keyless phone "Pick up egos, molt, and very from store" is her phone's shadowy projection of "eggs, milk, and bread." The ideas are flattened out by the process, and information is lost. And personally speaking, the fingertip-on-screen barrier is annoying enough that I won't try to do that again.
I wonder if this will turn us into flat-thinkers, too? I see it, to some extent, with my eldest child. He and his friends have marathon chat sessions, but they're largely photos and short bursts of video (a technology we would have loved, back in school, no matter how much information was lost.) Text and words are a dimension that single-fingers alone are poorly situated to navigate.
Wednesday, February 10, 2016
So, this happened tonight:
Thanks to a cheapy body cap, some short work with power tools (ooh, power tools) and an old set of macro-photography bellows that I inherited, I bring you operation "Great googly moogly, this might actually work." The bellows adjust for the long focal length of the lens perfectly.
The lens is just resting inside the hollowed-out cap at the moment, since the threaded ring that held it to the board was too large to fit inside the new mount. I'm going to look at options for this -- maybe a rubber ring to friction-fit it into place, with some tape to be extra sure? I don't want this to be a permanent attachment. And I need to get into the shutter mechanism again to figure out how to get the "T" setting working again so it doesn't require four hands to operate.
Dang. I've almost finished something I started. I may have to walk away for a year or two just to pace myself.
Wednesday, January 27, 2016
Refitting it to take modern 120 film, for example, instead of the long-defunct 122 roll film format. Replace the disintegrating bellows. And, like so many of my good intentions, the scope of the work staggered me. The "to do" list looks like:
- Remove lens and clean shutter
- Remove and replace bellows
- Acquire old 122 spools, somehow fit to 120 spools
- Hope to the spirit of George Eastman that the camera is still light-tight
- Take photos!
1. Remove lens and clean shutterDoable enough, thanks to directions from the Net. Hey presto!
And you may remember "clean shutter" from a long-ago post. Here's the insides, if you want to marvel at it like I do:
2. Remove and replace bellowsRemoval, check:
Not surprisingly, Kodak didn't want you to remove the bellows from these cameras. Think iPhone battery, but in the 1920s.
Replacement is simple! First, build a time machine...
The collective wisdom of the Net shows DIY bellows made from leather, or light-blocking curtain fabric, or black Bristol board and duct tape. There's a lot of measuring, evidently. And creasing. And folding. And maybe even a bit of math.
Progress: FULL OF GOOD INTENTIONS IF NOT ACTUAL PROGRESS
3. Acquire old 122 spools, somehow fit to 120 spoolsOne of the Typosphere's own solved this problem years ago, and far more elegantly than I would have. A trip to eBay for spools and the dollar store for some sacrificial screwdrivers would do it.
Progress: SHAMELESSLY COPY, BEING SURE TO CALL IT A "TRIBUTE"
4. Hope to the spirit of George Eastman that the camera is still light-tight[Cue sound of needle scratching across a record]
Yeah, about that.
So, aside from the century(?) old bellows having seen far better days, some previous owner mishandled this camera and dropped it right on the front corner. Part of the carriage that slides the lens forward and back is simply gone. And the rangefinder mirrors are cracked and bent. And that's only what I can see.
Replacing the bellows properly looks like a project unto itself. And for a camera that's been traumatized already, that will resist my "upgrades"... well, you can see why this got shelved.
Progress: SHIFT TO PLAN "B"
Enter Plan BTwo things have me pulling the old Kodak and its part of the shelf again, working the shutter on the lens, looking at Bristol board, and pricing black cloth tape...
First, various people shooting by bodging antique or vintage camera lenses onto the front of their DSLR cameras. The results are rather dreamy and lovely to look at, and although the integrated shutter in this lens makes it far from suitable for re-use that way, it got me thinking about the marriage of old versus new.
Second, there's (no surprise) a very vibrant DIY camera movement out there. Joe Van Cleave's examples are lovely pieces of engineering and camera-making, especially his recent box/pinhole model, which got me thinking about old view cameras, to the point where I checked out a monster coffee table book from the library just to get more inspiration. And the one that's currently giving me the most hope, as in "hey I have all that stuff at home" is this Lego-and-paper-and-tape creation.
All of these examples are helping me attain something I so badly need: focus. Not getting bogged in particulars, and remembering that it doesn't take a ton of engineering to make an image.
So, the lens is off, the bellows are destined for the trash bin, and maybe, just maybe, one project will come off the shelf.