Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Update Just To Update: Caffeine, Gadgetry, and Some Final NaNoWriMo Thoughts

Dew

1. Ya-hooo!

In my young Air Force days, before I discovered that there was more to coffee than the lousy yucky-to-begin-with-then-cooked-for-hours-cooled-and-reheated stuff most typically available at home, I was well and truly hooked on the glowing yellow elixir that is Mountain Dew. I didn't lug around a two-liter bottle or anything, but I did go through the stuff. OK, so I realize it's essentially just very watered down orange juice with some whole buncha sugar and a plethora of unsavory and suspicious chemicals and dyes and things added to it (brominated vegetable oil, anyone?), but I loved it nonetheless. Still do, though I partake but rarely these days, if only due to the sugar content. Although Diet Mountain Dew is not the downright sacrilege that Diet Vernor's is (ohhh, Vernor's, how I love thee!) it still just isn't the same.

So the other day I was at the grocery, and they had "Mountain Dew Flashback" for sale. It's made with reg'lar sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup, which made me mildly curious about any taste differences...but I still would have passed it by but for the label. I could not resist the charms of the hillbilly with the moonshine jug (don't read too far into this). I mean...come on! So I picked up a twelve pack. But the package said, "For a Limited Time Only," and I'm a sucker...so I grabbed one more. I mean, that's like a month's supply if I don't have one every day. And then I got to the cash register and after everything was rung up, the clerk said, "Oh, those are buy two twelve-packs, get two free. Do you want to run back for two more?"

Um...so if you run into me in the next few weeks and I seem particularly hyped up on sugar and caffeine...well, I probably am.

2. Nanooooo

A few (belated) final thoughts on the whole NaNoWriMo '10 experience: this was a fun year in a lot of ways, and in other ways, the toughest year ever. My writing method--pencils--was not really to blame for the struggle. Life got in the way, and I fell behind early on and struggled ever after. Let that be a lesson to me: in my case, the first week is make-it-or-break-it time. If I can get at least a day ahead by the end of the first week, I'm far more likely to have an easy go of it.

I also really struggle to write entirely at home, because it's all too easy to procrastinate when there are other distractions. If I take my notebook off to a coffee house or some such thing where there's nothing to do but write, I get lots more done. I did most of my writing at home this year, and did a lousy job of time management. Those of you who are not only able to write steadfastly at home, but write steadfastly at home despite having lots of other folks around have my admiration. I am weak.

But the writing process was a lot of fun, trying out all sorts of different pencils! I learned that paper matters a great deal--regular composition book paper is much nicer for pencils than bagasse. I liked the whole ritual of sharpening a whole platoon of pencils and using them one at a time, noting the differences as I went along. I developed some favorites for this lengthy writing: mostly the cheerful middle-of-the-road types, neither too hard nor too soft, not too smooth or too rough. I'd have to think a bit before writing full thoughts, but pencils that come to mind are the Mongol 482, the California Republic Golden Bear, the Forest Choice and the General's Cedar Pointe. (By the by, I just contributed a review of the Cedar Pointe on Pencil Revolution--check it out here!

3. Drrroooooiiid!!

I have a new toy. My contract with Verizon was up, and with all the free-with-contract-renewal deals out there right now, I decided to take the plunge into smart phonedom. Yes, I will pay out the nose for the thing over time with the added data plan, but I still have my dumb phone, so I can retreat if need be.

I got me an HTC Droid Incredible: an Android phone. I gotta say, thus far I'm impressed. Smart phones have come a long way in the last few years. Rather than just a very basic way to keep track of a calendar and check e-mail on the go, this thing is a full-fledged mini-computer. I expected to use it as a phone (well, duh...) and also for GPS (those who know me know just how much I *need* this feature!) and for basic internet checking when out and about, but didn't really think beyond those possiblities at first. But wow, there are a lot of things these little guys can do. Just a few of the things I've discovered in about a week's use:

  • In addition to playing MP3s, I can have podcasts delivered directly to the phone, and then plug the thing into the car and listen as I'm driving without having to rely on radio time schedules and reception. As one example, the most local Catholic radio station is based up in Seattle, and the AM signal doesn't reach down this way much of the time, particularly after dark. But the main morning show (Sound Insight) is available in podcast form, and with Google Listen, I can listen to it on my way to and from work, pausing if I want, and not miss any of it. Ditto other interesting podcasts (Car Talk, , music programs, documentaries, stuff from EWTN, etc.). Very nifty. There are also lots of streaming radio stations, and the 3G coverage 'round here is good enough I can typically listen without a hitch while driving around.
  • There's a free program called iBreviary (originally developed for iPhone as the "i" indicates) that gives you the Mass readings and ALL the major hours of the Liturgy of the Hours, and in the same translation as the books so you can follow along with other people. No, it's not a true substitute for a well-loved real book, but it's easier to carry around--I've been using it at least some of the time since I don't have to find my place, and because I always have my phone on me. It'd be very handy for travel. Way cool. The Android version is a little on the unpolished side from what I can judge from screenshots of the iPhone app, but it does the job. I like.
  • OpenSudoku. Very nice Sudoku game with literally thousands of free puzzles available. Need I say more?
It makes me a little nervous that my phone is now essentially just one application on a computer that does all sorts of other things, but it does work well as a phone. We'll see how I feel about it over time. There may be such a thing as being too connected, but just as, back when I got my first cell phone, I liked the fact that I no longer had to wait at home by the phone back expecting an important call, I like not being tied to a computer. I can check e-mail, news, weather, store hours, maps...all sorta stuff wherever I am. Fascination with old technology doesn't preclude fascination with new....

Weird search terms of the week: "i hate you poems" and "poems about haters". Can't we all just get along??

Sunday, November 28, 2010

2010 NaNoWriMo by Pencil: Week Four Report

Weapons of mass erasure

My random thoughts are going to be even more random and thrown together than usual, I'm afraid.  Had no time to think any of this out ahead of time.  It's been a crazy week!

1. Oh, Happy Day!
I was at Fred Meyer today (Fred Meyer = a Northwestern chain of big supermarket/drugstore/everything else under one roof stores--like a Super Wal-mart but nicer) looking for a lantern to prevent further power outages ('cause you know as soon as I get a good one, the power will remain rock solid for the rest of the winter), and happened to walk through the art supplies section.  I noticed first of all that they actually carry a pretty good supply of sketch books (which make good blank books for pencil, especially if you kinda *like* having no lines).  And then I spotted these!

Cedar Pointe Pencils from Fred Meyer

I really liked the Cedar Pointes that came in the goody assortment of pencils Speculator sent me awhile back, but until now, the only real source I'd found for them was Dick Blick on-line, and the shipping charges were exorbitant, and I decided I'd live without them.  But hey, I can get them locally!  They weren't cheap at $2.75 for the package, and I'd rather have had a full dozen pencils rather than yet another pencil sharpener, but still...Cedar Pointes!  Locally!

But no, I still don't have a lantern.

2. Erasers and paper
I had a dream a few days ago that a) I had moved into an apartment right next door to a coffee shop, and b) I had invited all of my siblings over to the new place for an eraser showdown.  In my dream, the Black Pearl melted into tarry goo if used strenuously, whereas the Mars Plastic worked like, well, a dream.  My brothers (who would never do this in real life) spent most of the dream passing the Mars around, scribbling heavy lines and erasing them and saying, "Where have these been all our lives?  How come no one told us????"

Ahem.  We will not analyze the dream.  But I will say, that Mars Plastic is a wonderful thing.  I could only dream of such erasers when I was a kid.  I'm also fond of the Pentel Clics, especially for quick mistakes.  And actually, in real life that Black Pearl works almost as well as the Mars Plastic, and the shape--with a pointed rim  all the way around the oval--means it can get into small areas pretty well.  Also--and this is a big plus--it doesn't get grungy looking.  The Mars Plastic flunks that category big time.  If I was really going to keep it clean, I'd need to spend as much time erasing blank spaces as erasing mistakes, to work the mess off of it.  I probably should have done so before taking the photo, but that's another story.

Paper: I'm now working my way through one of the Norcom composition books, after writing the first big chunk of the story in a bagasse composition book from Staples.  I have to say, although the bagasse paper is marvelous with fountain pens, it's less than great for pencils.  I had a great deal of ghosting between pages in the bagasse, pencils wrote lighter than on other paper, and it's sort of hard and smoothish compared to regular paper.  It didn't feel good.  The Norcom paper is much better.  Now I know.

Quick stats:
  • Composition book pages killed: 281...but the day isn't over yet.
  • Pencils obliterated: none this week, but the first Palomino will be the next to go.
  • Words written: 43,555, but I'm hoping to get in another seven hundred to a thousand tonight.  We'll see.  I really intended to get a ton of words in yesterday, but I gave blood in the morning, and my right arm (where the needle stick went in) felt...funny if I wrote much.  No pain, just felt really tired, like I'd lifted weights.  So I cut it short.
I'm not out of this yet.  If I have to, I may resort to (gasp!) using the computer in the next few days, just because there are more times when I can squeeze in two or three minutes of computer writing than there are times when I can grab a pencil and my notebook for the same amount of time.  But I really, really want to say I pulled it off by hand.  And I'm awful stubborn...

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Rule number 3427 of NaNoWriMo writing

NaNo Notebook
Scribbled on early in the month, during thinking moments and then in one long obsessive session.  I don't like the colors--shoulda left it greyscale--but once I started, there wasn't any going back.  "EP" is a childhood nickname my family still uses.   Short for Epsi.  And I dunno where Epsi came from.

Rule number 3427 of NaNoWriMo writing: when all else fails, blow something up.  A cherry bomb can work.  So can the spectacular destruction of an entire planet.  However, although it may be a temptation, it is best (no matter how bad the story may be) to stop short of annihilating the universe and all life therein.

There are only so many words one can write about an annihilated universe.

Another crazy week, and I'm still behind.  If I can write three thousand words today, three thousand tomorrow, and a little over two thousand the next two days, I can still beat this thing.  I'm not out yet.

Ka BOOM!!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

2010 NaNoWriMo by Pencil: Week Three Report

Mini Gallery o' Ferrules (and such)

Whew, what a week.  I say this in both good and bad senses, but in all senses, it took away from my word production.

To begin with, last weekend my most local brother and sister-in-law welcomed their first son into the world.  What with waiting for news, fretting, and the flurry of phone calls and the posting of photos and everything else after his birth--plus all my usual weekend errands--I struggled to get much writing in.  Did OK, but didn't get caught up, as I'd hoped.

Monday, I thought.  Monday, I'll write like a mad woman.  I was going to hit that halfway mark by the end of Monday if it killed me.

And then the power went out.

Now, in some cases, this would be an opportunity for me to chortle with glee at the shortcomings of higher tech writing methods as I scribbled nonchalantly onward.  Couple problems with this: first of all, in Washington State in the winter, it's dark an awful lot of the day.  When it's pouring rain and windy, it's dark *all* day.  I do not currently own a battery powered lantern or a book light.  I couldn't see to write.  Tried writing by flashlight, but it really didn't work.

Secondly, within a few minutes of losing power at home, my pager started screaming bloody murder because the power to the data center at work had also gone out, and the equipment was Very Worried.   And it was my responsibility to calm it down and babysit.  I got some sleep that night, but the early morning hours and all the next day were spent dealing with the outage (over twelve hours at work) and its aftermath.

And then I had a reading assignment I had to finish.  So Tuesday night, with the power finally restored at home, I read until midnight, went to bed too keyed up to sleep, and then had to get up again Wednesday morning at five.  Wednesday morning I squeezed in a few words between the church thing and work, but in the evening, I had a dinner thing and didn't get home until about nine.  I crawled into bed and fell asleep instantly.

Now here, I'm sure someone is going to say, "Well, *I* would have stayed up until ten and gotten an hour's worth of writing in, you lazy good-for-nothing."  To you, I say two things: Well lah-dee-dah, and Bah!  I'm a morning person, and even on a good night, my brain goes into power-save mode after about eight, and that night I was so tired everything around me seemed sort of squished and muffled.  I could barely remember my own name, let alone put strings of words together.  I probably would have awoken in the middle of the night with drool on my notebook and graphite on my face and no words written.

I did, however, set my alarm for early the next morning, in hopes of getting some words in before work.  It was a futile hope.  I slept through the alarm.  I double-checked the clock when I did wake up, and it was set correctly; but I have absolutely no memory of it going off, not even as part of a dream.  *sigh*

I still managed to stagger across the 25k line during lunch on Thursday: the line I'd hoped to sprint across clear back on Monday.  Only three days behind.  Yay me.

I'll spare you the details of the rest of the week.  Let's just say the challenges continued.  I only get a thirty minute lunch but usually can cram writing in...but we were too busy for that this week.  And there was more family stuff.  Unexpected schedule changes.  Unexpected obligations.

I'm still hoping to finish this thing in time, but it's liable to be down to the wire.  The lack of morning and lunchtime writing time was the kiss of death this past week, so hopefully I can squeeze in at least some this week.  Thanksgiving will probably be a lost day, and I work Friday, so no extra time there.   There's next weekend, at least.

OK, enough of all that.  This week's stats:
  • Composition book pages killed: I passed 200 tonight (I'm at 203), which would mean a new notebook if this one wasn't poorly made...but it is, so I got twelve bonus sheets / twenty four bonus pages.  I'll finish filling it up tomorrow or Tuesday.
  • Pencils obliterated: the Helix Oxford is dead.  Or at least mostly dead.  I used it down to little more than a nubbin before reluctantly tossing in into the shorty jar.
  • Word count: around 31465, which means I'm about two days behind.  However, on Thursday I was three days behind, so hey, progress!
Pencil Achievement Awards:
  • Coolest ferrule: the classic Ticonderoga has an unfair advantage in this category.  I mean...look at it!  It has those distinctive and handsome yellow and green stripes, that textured band across the middle.  There is none cooler.  However, I would like to give honorable mention to the Mongol--that's it smack dab in the middle of the photo above.  Not only does it look interesting, but the eraser isn't crimped in, so you can yank it out and pop it back in.  It amuses me.
  • For courage under fire: OK, so courage is a strong word.  So is fire.  But I would like to publicly apologize to the Palomino for calling its lettering silver when it's actually pale gold.  Also for breaking off a big chunk of lead this week because I was careless when sharpening.  Sorry, little guy!
The story is...going.  No, actually it's working pretty well, aside from the whole being behind thing.  As I mentioned in one of my comments on last week's post, I've settled into a different period and plot than I originally intended: I fell in love with a few of the characters in the backstory, so they've become the primary story line instead.  Why? Because I'm the author, and I said so.

Monday, November 15, 2010

2010 NaNoWriMo by Pencil: Week Two Report

Pencil Shaving Roses

OK, second attempt at this post. The formatting went wonky after I posted it the first time, and when I went back in to edit...it got eaten by gremlins. And of course, I don't have the entire original. I'm attempting to fix by memory.

I'll cut straight to the pencil stuff.

A short rant on pencil variability:
1. Mirados: In my web wanderings, I'd read great things about the Mirados, and was super excited to find them in a store locally: both the yellow Classics and the flat black Mirado Black Warriors. All packages are marked Made in Mexico. Now...all have some fit and finish issues--paint chips overlapping the ferrules, that sort of thing. But the Black Warriors--or the two that I've pulled out and used so far--have issues that go beyond cosmetics. 

The very first one out of the package has a lead that's so off-center, it's a pain in the neck to sharpen the thing. and it wobbles as you write.

 The second had space around the lead...that's the only way I can describe it. Which meant that the lead flexed as you wrote with it, making obnoxious clicking noises. It drove me bonkers (not that long of a drive, perhaps). I kept sharpening it hoping it would get better, and I think I've finally reached a point where the lead is more tightly gripped and less noisy and doesn't feel about to break at any moment. But it took at least an inch off the over-all length, and at any moment, the problem may crop up again.

 It's all rather annoying, because they should be great pencils: the matte-finished round barrel feels good in the hand, and the lead is quite nice. It's greyer (lighter) than the CalCedar offerings, and no, it isn't the smoothest pencil ever (that'd be the Palomino, at least in my so-far-limited experience), but it's pleasant to write with, leaves a nice solid line, and doesn't seem to have any weird gritty chunky bits in it.

I've not had similar issues with the Mirado Classics, but I've really only used one of those heavily. Thus far, I'm wondering if I should stick with the Classics. They have a more substantial feel, too, I suppose because of the heavier lacquer. And they don't tend to charge off into their own little battles every time you set them down on a table like the round-bodied Black Warriors do.

2. Ticonderogas: Leaving overall thoughts on the whole outsourcing of an American classic thing aside...I've discovered a curious discrepancy: I have some Tri-writes and a few Ticonderogas that were marked "Made in Mexico" on the blister pack. They're...just OK, if that. Rather pale writing, and with very definite chunks in the lead here and there. Scratchy. Sometimes you have to go back over a line where they've just failed to write due to a hard bit of something in the lead.

This weekend I found myself at Staples (odd how often that seems to happen) and noted that a) they carry various grades of Ticonderogas and b) those that come in different grades come in cardboard boxes instead of the blister packs, are not pre-sharpened, and most are "Made in China" rather than Mexico. Hm. I was curious. I bought some--just reg'lar HBs for now. And they're very different. I don't think it's at all subjective--I can see the difference on a page if I switch back and forth between the two. The Chinese Ticonderogas are darker, and don't have the same issues with chunks of something making them scratchy. Maybe it's a batch variance rather than an across the board thing, I'm not sure. Or maybe the boxed Ticonderogas are made using a different "recipe". In any case, I quite like them.

Some stats:
  • Composition book pages killed: 146 as of this morning. Hoping to break into the 160s by the end of the day.
  • Pencils obliterated: Well, the original Forest Choice has retired to the short-pencil jar. Next to follow will almost certainly be the Helix Oxford, followed by the most used of the USA Golds and the crooked Mirado Black Warrior...but all but the Oxford may live to write another week. Now that I'm using the many pencils sharpened method instead of tending to use a few favorites most, the wear is more spread out.
  • Word count: somewhere upwards of 22630. I upped my words-per-page estimate to 155, since even the dialog pages I counted had at least that.

Pencil Achievement Awards--only one this week. We've run low on trophies.
  • Best bang for the buck: I continue to be impressed with the USA Golds, which were about two bucks for twenty-four at Wal-mart. They're on the skinny side, but write well even on the bagasse paper, darker than the Ticonderogas and with no weird chunks in the lead. The eraser is smallish and kind of an odd orangey pink, but it works surprisingly well: erases very cleanly, and any eraser bits curl right up into neat shreds to be easily brushed away instead of turning into smeary crumbs like some can.

Aaaand the status of the NaNoWriMo story: OK, so I still haven't really gotten to the story. Two characters who were supposed to be a flash in the pan have spent the last thirty some pages discussing debt and their first kiss and farm equipment and a cousin's ugly eagle lamp and a spider evacuation. Over hot cocoa, no less. (Incidentally, the amount of cocoa/coffee/tea consumed by my characters over the course of my NaNoWriMo career would be an interesting theme for psychoanalysis.)

Considering how much time I've spent recounting about thirty minutes of thelives of these "minor" characters...we'll see how I manage to sum up the next fifty years or so in order to get to what was supposed to be the real story.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

I Am A Guilty Pleasure

NaNoWriMo Leavings
Photo idea blatantly stolen from Pencil Revolution. Kind of cool looking, huh? Also completely unrelated to the rest of this post, which sort of goes with the theme...

After eight past NaNoWriMos, seven of them successful, I don't have anything to prove to myself. I know I can write a whole bunch of words in a month, one way or another. Some years have been painful. Some have been surprisingly easy. A few of the resulting piles o' words aren't steaming piles of...whatever.

This year, I didn't have a preconceived story I was eager to get out, or any high hopes. So this year, I decided, I was going to run with the assumption that whatever I wrote might never even get transcribed, let alone edited or shared. I'm just telling myself a story, in this case a sort of epic thing set in space, mostly about a first colony and a revolution. Oh, you moan, how cliched! But there is a certain comfort in cliches, and besides, it's my story, and I can stick whatever I want in there. I can put in all sorts of exaggerated and stereotyped characters--plucky ship's captains and cute doctors, surly geniuses with good hearts, gutsy colonists, controlling and bureaucratic "old worlders," maybe some pirates or monsters. There's no need for plausibility, no need to get the words in the right order. If I get bored, I can take off on a completely new tangent with no explanation.

And you know, it's kinda fun. Admittedly, the writing is often pretty bad. It's kinda like one of those books that I enjoy despite knowing the author is a hack who really doesn't deserve to be published--one of those books that when people ask, "So what are you reading?"I say vaguely and sheepishly, "Oh, just a book about...um...it's kind of a sci-fi thing." And if they try to pin me down by asking the author, I say, "Author? I don't really remember. I think it begins with an 'M,' maybe?" 'Cause I know it's lousy. But I like it anyway.

There is room in life for a little lousy.

Monday, November 08, 2010

2010 NaNoWriMo by Pencil: Week One Report

IMG_0396
All pointied up and ready to rock and roll!

I went to take out the trash this morning, and it seemed to be mostly pencil shavings, coffee grinds, and spent tea leaves. Ah, NaNoWriMo, what have you done to me?

Coupla first thoughts:
1. I'm using one of Staples' sugarcane paper composition books (the line is now called Eco-Easy, I believe), which has a slightly different texture than regular paper. It's wonderful for fountain pens, but maybe a little hard and smooth for pencils. Some pencils I really enjoy on other paper feel slickery or strange. I'll switch to a regular composition book next.

2. I'm finding it's easiest to spend a few minutes at the beginning of each writing session sharpening up a whole *bunch* of pencils to use in sequence rather than stopping over and over to sharpen. It gives me a few minutes of reflection time before taking the plunge, too. A nice ritual.

Stats and such:
 NOTE: you may want to imagine the headers of the next two items as they would sound if read by one of those guys who does commercials for monster truck rallies and large power tools. < deep echoey voice mode > "COMP-oh-ZIIIH-shun book pages KILLLLLED!!!!!" < /voice > And so forth.
  • Composition book pages killed: 85
  • Pencils obliterated: none, but the Forest Choice will soon be assuming semi-retired status in the jar of shorties and a new Forest Choice subbed in. It was short to begin with, and has had a busy week.
  • Words written: 12750 as a low estimate. On the pages I counted, I had somewhere between 155 and 170 words, so I'm estimating 150 so as not to cheat. If I get ambitious or stuck, I'll start transcribing, and likely get a good boost. With the current estimate, I'm a little behind, but not terribly. If I could just get away with writing uninterrupted during lunch once in awhile...

Next up, some Pencil Achievement Awards.
  • Most fun to sharpen: the Rhodia given to me awhile back. They're linden wood, so you don't get the cedar smell, but the triangular shape produces interesting shavings, plus those shavings are a lovely velvety black with orange trim. They fascinate me.
  • Purtiest: The Palominos are beautifully finished in thick blue lacquer and lovely silver writing, but I'm still captivated by the deep red-orange Golden Bears with blue erasers.
  • Most aromatic: probably the Golden Bears, with the Mirados a close second.

It's turning out that some of the pencils I like most in the "off season" are not the greatest NaNoWriMo pencils. The Helix Oxford, for example. It writes a nice dark line that really stands out when I look back through the pages of my journal...*but* it requires frequent enough sharpening that it's less than satisfactory for long slogs. It's also one of the pencils that feels funny on the sugarcane paper.

And how is the story going? You *would* have to ask that. Wellll...I'm finally *mostly* finished writing about a century's worth of history regarding space exploration in the late 21st and early 22nd centuries, so maybe the story can finally truly begin. As usual, I got a little sidetracked by secondary characters I hadn't even dreamed of when I started out. I like them anyway.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

If it hadn't been an Olympia...

Olympia SM-9 No. 3

I might have been able to resist. But it was an Olympia. And it's the first typewriter I've seen at a thrift store in a long, long while. And it was eight bucks. And I'm only human.

I now have three SM-9s, one of each generation: a cream colored and green one, this silvery-white and black one, and Stinky representing the last white-and-black-with-orange-symbol-thing generation. This one, per the serial number, is apparently from 1968.

It needs a new ribbon eventually (though the one it has actually is pretty darned good!), and there's a lot of icky eraser dust inside, but otherwise, this may be the cleanest typewriter I've ever found in the wild. It's beautiful.

It also really, really, really fits snugly in that case. Holy smokes...I practically had to use a crowbar to extract it.

Edit to add a very small sample of the typeface--just a standard Olympia 11 pitch type.
New SM-9 Typeface

Thursday, November 04, 2010

No Writing Instruments Were Harmed (Fatally) In The Making...

A Pen-conomics Pencil Edition Addendum

No pencils died...

Just a brief final update on my previous post on the subject: on Halloween, I finished off another composition book journal. It was written strictly in pencil, over the course of the month of October: roughly the same span of time as the journal I documented here. The results? The blue California Republic Golden Bear I used most ended up short enough to be awkward to use for long periods, as I mentioned a few posts back. And the Forest Choice I also used a lot shrank by maybe half (I've actually used it a bit since then for NaNoWriMo, so it's shorter than it was on Halloween). I used a smattering of other pencils, too, though none long enough to do serious damage. In other words...not one pencil died, really! Compare this to the pen carnage...

Which means, from a purely financial standpoint, that if you use up an entire notebook a month (and, as my journal post shows, this is something I only do for about three months at a time every few years...), you would still only go through roughly two pencils a month. If you're using cheapish pencils, you could write for a year for two dollars or two-fifty, tops. Pencils are, as I had already surmised, pretty cost efficient, in addition to their many other fine qualities.

Now...we won't go into how much I actually *spent* on pencils over the course of the month of October.

It's easier (and more fun!) to use bunches of pencils rather than concentrating on a few since you can sharpen half a dozen and use them without pause, and I'll probably switch to that method now that I've sort of finished the "experiment." But I had to know!

How's NaNoWriMo going for everyone? I'm less prepared than ever before (I had a few character names, a vague idea that this was going to take place in space, and very little else), but except for a long diversion into back-story involving an eccentric entrepreneur who lived at least a century before the story began (still working out the timeline), and a great deal of telling rather than showing which would need to be remedied if I actually intended to do anything with this thing, I seem to be doing OK. I'm going back and forth between "wheee, this is fun!" and wondering why I'm doing this at all, but that's par for the course. I have about thirty comp book pages and counting--hoping to at least approach forty by the end of the evening. I'm a tiny bit behind, but nothing that can't be remedied by an hour or so at the coffee house this weekend, and considering this thing started on a Monday...could be worse.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Milk crates full of memories...

Journals and diaries

Faced with housework, I procrastinate in every way possible. This weekend, I organized my journals while putting off vacuuming. After my move this spring, they'd been crammed onto shelves in no particular place or order, so I gathered them from the four corners of the house and arranged by date. (Mostly by date, anyway--for some reason, there are a few journals in 1997 that overlap. Apparently 1997 was the Year of Living Disorganizedly.) They span some twenty-seven years now: that little one all the way on the left was given to me for Christmas when I was six, when I was first learning to write.

And of course, once they were all nicely organized like that, I proceeded to yank them off the shelves (those classy milk-crate shelves...) and look through them. Some are in better shape than others. The colored journals I favored in the nineties fared the worst: the blue fountain pen ink I used in some entries vanished, and at least one journal was the victim of temporary storage in a damp basement. And there are large gaps in the record: I tend to write more when there isn’t as much going on, which means that most of my entries, especially those in the most recent journals, are mundane daily details and rambling. Their value is in the writing of them: they help me process my days and sort out thoughts, and many may never be read again. But other content makes me smile, or laugh out loud, or get a little weepy. Inconsistent though they may be, they contain a lot of memories, these books.

There is evidence of my long standing fascination with office supplies:
Crayons
Translation: John and Jim got a car. I got crayons.

There are birthday reports:
12th birthday
I recall this as one of my best birthdays *ever*, especially the bird seed, strangely enough!

Book reports:
January 9, 1989

I’ve waxed poetic:
The Forest
I was twelve when I wrote this entry, and apparently hadn’t yet learned appropriate apostrophe use in its vs. it’s. I guess I’ll cut my young self some slack....

I’ve attempted artsy:
An attempt at artsy
Everything's coming up daisies

Sometimes relatively casual entries make me smile, looking back. Stumbled across this comment about a conversation with my brother as I was flipping through...

I'll say...
A wedding and several children later...I’d say it turned out pretty well!

I’ve recorded thoughts on births, deaths, current events, pets, books and music, bemoaned my own bad habits and worries about the present and future. Reading through these, I’m amazed at how much I’ve changed in some ways, and how little in others. It’s kind of fun to revisit once in awhile on a rainy afternoon.

And speaking of revisiting and rainy afternoons, tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of the day I picked up the gloriously restored Olympia SG-1 from Blue Moon Camera.

Shinied up Olympia SG-1

Happy rebirthday, big guy!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

NaNoWriMo Weapons of Choice

NaNoWriMo Arsenal

Did some playing with pencils tonight, and I think I have my NaNoWriMo arsenal lined up. Going to be another handwriting year this ninth (!!) time around, possibly with some typewriter spells if my hand really gets tired. Paper will be two cheap composition books--they each hold about 30k words. For pencils, I was going to get more Helix Oxfords but ended up ordering a goody sampler of three CalCedar pencil varieties from Pencils.com instead...and while I was waiting for that package to arrive, I got impatient and bought some others locally. What I'll probably use:

1. Palominos, if I can bring myself to use them. I couldn't resist grabbing a pack since they're so raved over, and they really are a different breed. I love how smoothly they write and how little pressure they require, but they're a lot pricier than your average pencil-from-Walmart. On the other hand, they're bought and paid for now, so I might as well enjoy.

2. Some very pretty orange California Republic Golden Bear HBs with blue erasers. These are actually pretty cheap, and I like the way they look and write. These will probably be my go-to pencils.

3. Forest Choice HBs. Good lookin', relatively cheap, and seemingly a tiny bit harder than the others I've mentioned, which means they hold a point pretty well.

4.5.6.and.so.on. Some Papermate Mirados (Classic and Black Warrior) I found at a drug store right near my house (woo-hoo!), my one remaining Helix Oxford (providing the lead behaves--I love the dark line of these, but I had some issues with the lead breaking off inside one), a few General's Cedar Pointes, USA Golds from Wal-mart (probably the best value going in pencils right now), and whatever else is on hand.

The truth is, you could probably finish NaNoWriMo with no more than three or four pencils, but variety is the spice of life, right?

Now if I only had a plot.

Casual Group Shot
Casual group shot...

Monday, October 25, 2010

Monday Evening Update Just to Update

Today's Update Just to Update (UJTU) is brought to you by the letter "W," as in wet, weekend, windy, weather and say whut??

1. We had a wet, wet, windy weekend. Which means, naturally, that my stuck-indoors yucky-weather survival skillz mode kicked in, and instead of doing anything seriously productive this weekend, I made prodigious quantities of beef vegetable soup and chocolate chocolate-chip muffins and did a lot of reading (Connie Willis, in fact). I did no NaNoWriMo planning. Lots of weekends left for that.

Only there aren't, as I realized this morning as I was paddling...er...driving (kinda) to an early morning dental appointment. NEXT MONDAY is the first of November!!!? How did *that* happen??

I suppose I should at least pick out a notebook and start figuring out character names and such.

2. Speaking of notebooks, one of the few things I actually *did* accomplish this weekend was my first ever outing to the bookstore of a local college. The college has a rather...umm...polarizing reputation, but I will say this for 'em: their bookstore is pretty awesome. They don't have much in the way of woodcase pencils (a handful of sketching pencils and a jar of the ubiquitous Ticonderogas), or unusual pens (mostly your standard Pilot G2s and such) but they do stock all *sorts* of nifty paper products. We're talking stacks of Rhodia, seemingly every available Moleskine product, Blueline notebooks, regular composition notebooks, all sorts of interesting engineering notebooks, Paperblanks journals, a whole aisle of sketchbooks in every size and configuration, and--my favorite, since I'd never had the chance to see them in the flesh before--a full aisle-end display of Rite-in-the-Rain pens, papers, journals, and notebooks.

I bought both a very small pocket notebook and a medium sized one, though I suppose I have no real excuse to own one. Granted, I do live where it rains about six months out of the year, but I really don't *need* to write in the rain. But on the other hand, now I can. If I can bring myself to actually use the things. I'm half afraid to, for fear of not using them to their full potential or something. But I'll probably give them a shot just out of curiosity. The paper doesn't *feel* that weird. It just feels like slightly heavy regular paper. The notebooks smell kind of funny to me, but that may be the cover material rather than the paper treatment.

I rather like the bright yellow color of 'em. I'd take a picture of them, but my indoor lighting shots are pretty lousy (witness the candy corn and pencils shot a few posts back), and although the notebook may be immune to rain, my camera isn't....

Thursday, October 21, 2010

You might be spending way, way, way too much time reading pencil blogs if...

No points

You open a bag of candy corn and find yourself momentarily contemplating whether the candy corn points are long point or standard. Hm....

Not to mention feeling antsy because of how dull they are.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Art of Letting Go: Another Pencil Post (Plus)

Little Golden Bear
Aw, it's a little *baby* Golden Bear!

1. Pencil Post
After a few weeks and some seventy-five composition book pages (albeit with a certain amount of white space factored in), the Golden Bear I was using dwindled to a little over three inches long. I set it aside in favor of this week's favored pencils, primarily a General's Cedar Pointe and a USA Gold. But I keep wondering if I'm selling it short. (No pun intended. Sorta.) I mean...it still writes. It's doing all it can. Doesn't it deserve my using it to the best of my ability until I absolutely cannot hold it anymore? (I'm not sure if these questions are pure sentiment, Catholic guilt, or my partially-Scots blood...)

For those of you who use woodcase pencils routinely, how short do you let them get before giving up on them? And what do you do at that point--toss 'em in the garbage without a second thought? Save them up for a once-yearly ceremonial funeral pyre? Hoard them as pocket pencils even though you know deep down they may never be used again? Take them out in the woods and set them free in the wild? I'm curious.

2. Plus
Has anyone else noticed that Blogger recently added a sort of rudimentary statistics application to their dashboard? It's not super powerful, but it gives you a vague idea of how many hits your blog gets and where the traffic is coming from. Also, it shows you which recent search terms led people to your site. And thus it was that I discovered a few days ago that if you searched Google for "inane bunnies," my site was the first one to pop up. Woo-hoo!! I'm number one! Oh...wait...what? Inane bunnies?? Really? (Sadly, I've since slipped to third or fourth place...)

On the bright side, Inane Bunnies would be a good name for a band.

And yes, there are days when it might even be a good name for this blog.

Also, today is my birthday. You know you're getting old when you can't actually remember how old you are and have to do the math three times before you believe the number you're coming up with. For the record? Thirty-four. Eep.

Friday, October 15, 2010

NaNoWriMo, My Old Friend

2002 was, shall we say, a very unpleasant year for me.

For starters, the country was still reeling with grief and uncertainty over 9/11, and the economy was struggling. Tensions ran high at work even early in the year. At our sister company, employees who had worked the factory floor for decades were laid off, with no real hope of finding new jobs in the local area.

In February my mother--who was truly my best friend, for better or worse--finally went to see a doctor about feeling tired and sick, and that funny feeling in her throat. By April, she'd been diagnosed with stage 4 esophageal cancer that had already metastasized to her liver. It was too far along for chemo or surgery. It was too far along for anything but attempting to say goodbye, really. She passed away on May 22nd, my brother Ben's birthday.

The summer passed by in a sort of blur. I went to World Youth Day in Toronto, with three of my siblings and a small group from our parish. There were enjoyable, enlightening moments to be sure, but I also spent a certain amount of time hiding in bathroom stalls or facing into a window on the bus, crying because I couldn't call Mom and tell her about the places we were seeing, the people we'd met, how much I was coming to love hanging out with my little sister now that she was getting all grown up. For years, especially when I was overseas, everywhere I went, I tucked away facts and anecdotes to discuss with Mom. Now she was out of reach of even expensive long-distance phone calls. I couldn't even write in my journal as a substitute--writing about real life brought me face to face with too many strong feelings. It was still too raw. It would be nearly a year before I started keeping a journal again.

And in October, I lost my job. There was a company draw-down and I was one of the group that was cut.

Just to add to the stress level, I had purchased a house less than a year before, with all the expense and responsibility that goes with that. The winter heat bills were starting up. And Christmas was just around the corner. And now here I was, in a rural area with a very limited job market, jobless and broke and with who knew how many weeks to sit alone contemplating my own dark thoughts.

And that was when a friend of mine told me about this crazy challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in the course of the thirty days of November. "You have to do it," she told me. "It'll be fun!" I wasn't so sure, but I was intrigued, nonetheless. Could I actually pull it off? I was curious. And at least it seemed more positive than spending the month counting flowers on the wall and crying. So I agreed to join her (and other recruited friends) in the madness of NaNoWriMo.

And you know, it was a surprisingly wonderful experience. My plot that year was a sort of sci-fi / fantasy thing involving time travel and a sinister secret society bent on fixing history to their advantage. My main character that year was a guy who had recently lost his wife, and into that poor character I poured all my own sorrow and pain and guilt and anger. And I brought him through it. I gave him a happy ending. It was cathartic. The story? Eh. It was probably too big for me. But I finished the challenge. And it, in a way, pulled me through what could have been a much worse time than it was. By the end of the year, I'd had two job offers out of three interviews, I'd been able to go to a midnight opening of "The Two Towers" halfway across the state on account of not having to work the next day (coldest line party EVER at at least -20F...but we prevailed), and we'd managed to live through the first holiday season without Mom with more laughter than tears. And I could say I'd written my first novel. Life was looking up.

NaNoWriMo will never again be for me what it was that first year, but it's largely because of that year that I keep coming back. I've now participated eight years (!!), finishing all but once. Two were hand-written, two were at least partially typed, one was written entirely on the Alphasmart Neo, and the remainder were computer projects. This year, I think I'm gonna go for hand-writing again, this time with pencil. I'll switch to the typewriter if it gets to be too much.

NaNoWriMo Number Nine? Bring it on.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Sound of One Fat Man Praying

This could also be subtitled, "Why I'll Probably Never Be a Saint...."

Moleskine cahier scribble

On Wednesday mornings from six to seven, I have Eucharistic Adoration. Six to seven. AM. What this means is that every Tuesday night, I set my alarm clock for five o'clock, and every Wednesday morning I wake up at five and spend at least five or ten minutes arguing with myself about actually getting up in time to be at the church at six. Maybe next week I could tell the man who shares the commitment with me that I accidentally slept through my alarm, or didn’t realize it was Wednesday. Or I tell myself I have a headache--just a little one, but if I get up now, it’s gonna get worrrrse, really it will. But eventually I stumble out of bed, trip over the dog (who is WIDE AWAKE and SO EXCITED because he's going to have the same DOG FOOD(!!!!!) he had the night before extra EARLY today!!!!!), wade through the cats, take a shower, and race out the door knowing I’m going to just barely get there in time if I do get there in time at all, and resolving to do better next week. See subtitle above.

It’s actually surprisingly busy there most Wednesday mornings. The parish men’s group meets at six-thirty, which allows even those with busy work schedules to make it at least some of the time. Not only do they get a good sized crowd, but quite a number of the men come early to stop by the adoration chapel before the meeting. It’s inspiring to me how many come as much as an hour or so early just to spend time in prayer early in the morning. It can also be a little distracting, lots of people coming and going, at an hour when I’m still getting it together.

So this morning, I had just run in (literally, late as usual), signed my name on the list for the six to seven o’clock hour, and had been kneeling there for maybe five minutes, when a man I hadn’t seen before came in and went up to kneel on one of the kneelers at the very front. He was middle aged, paunchy and balding, but very well dressed in a nice suit, and carrying a nice hat (hats are a wonderful, wonderful manly accessory, incidentally...but I’ll save that subject for another time). Perhaps because of the nice suit and a general air of authority, his portliness seemed more distinguished than anything else. And a line popped into my head, “You can forgive a fat man a lot for the sake of a good suit.”

It means nothing. It’s not a very good line. And it's probably not very kind. But at six-ten this morning, it was all-important. I desperately wanted it saved for posterity. I had dreams of writing a story around it. I wanted to shout it to the world, post it on facebook and Twitter, even though I don’t even have a Twitter account. It could not be lost! But, with my early morning not-on-coffee brain flickering from thought to thought like a radio on scan, I knew I couldn’t hold on to it unless I stopped with the rosary and recited that sentence over and over instead. (See subtitle above). This obviously wouldn’t do. I sat there fidgeting for a long, long moment, trying to tell myself I could remember this one short crucial sentence without thinking about it constantly for the next fifty minutes, and then I finally gave up and took a pocket notebook and pencil from my purse.

As I might have mentioned a time or two, I’m completely paranoid about writing in public. Writing by hand helps because most can’t read someone else’s handwriting instantly, so reading over someone’s shoulder tends to be more difficult. But even so, I admit as I was writing that sentence, I had my hand sort of cupped over one side of the page, so “You can forgive” and “for the sake of” were visible, but the “fat man” and “good suit” were hidden. Because those first bits almost seem suitable for writing in a chapel. I am...a hypocrite.

At least I could move on once it was written down. Eventually. I dove into some St. Francis de Sales, who is, as Speegle mentioned recently, the patron saint of writers. Hmmm...I wonder if he ever suffered the same sorts of distractions?

Maybe there’s hope for me yet?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Pen-conomics Update (The Pencil Edition)

Justin, you inspired me.

I started a new composition book journal about a week and a half ago, and decided to go full pencil this time around.

Pencil of the Week: Golden Bear
Pretty blue California Republic Golden Bear Pencil, courtesy of Speculator.

I've been using the same one for the first fifty pages or so, and it's still alive, despite a pencil sharpener that keeps eating the point and other such challenges. It's a bit the worse for wear, but still, it has proven pencil-efficiency. And done so quite pleasantly.

The effects of a week and a half
The toll a week and a bit has taken, shown with a nearly new pencil for comparison!

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Yes, but can he do Ron Mingo?

This is very strange, but I couldn't stop watching, nonetheless.
  • The History of the Typewriter, Recited by Michael Winslow

  • And, for reference, our old friend Ron Mingo, courtesy of Mike Clemens and Click Thing. Just in time for NaNoWriMo!

    Saturday, October 02, 2010

    Paperback Throwdown

    Something just a little out of my usual realm today: a journey through some paperback cover art.

    I kinda sorta collect old mysteries, particularly Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Rex Stout, and a small handful of others, plus a few sci-fi books here and there. Most of these books are paperbacks, because a) I'm cheap, and b) they tend to be far more common than hardback editions. Paperbacks aren't as durable, of course, *but* they do have one bonus feature: while hard cover volumes tend to have long ago lost any dust cover and thus their original artwork, paperbacks can't ditch the original cover, for better or worse. They're stuck with their original artwork, cheesy or lurid or bizarre as it may be.

    Old sci-fi paperbacks in particular are known for being...odd. There are many with strange, brightly colored covers, often with motifs that seem to have no real connection to the actual story. Heinlein covers tend to be especially odd, in my experience. This particular one is tame compared with the last library book of his I checked out. Woo-hoo for pink sea-dragons!
    Time for the Stars

    Then there's C.S. Lewis' That Hideous Strength. I've read this book practically every other year since high school, and I still couldn't tell you what the cover is supposed to be about. I mean...what's with the painting of what is apparently bouncing orange balls and bolts of flying black lightning? No clue.
    That Hideous Strength

    Mysteries seem to do different things by decade and depending on the publisher's whims at that point in time. There is a whole series of Nero Wolfe books with cover art that could *all* be titled "Still Life With a Gun". Usually a revolver, but not always. They liked to mix things up, those cover artists of old.
    Homicide TrinityIn the Best FamiliesToo Many Women

    My favorite in this series: revolver plus chocolate. Nice.
    The Black Mountain

    There's another whole series of Nero Wolfe books with gobs of fake blood as a major component of every single cover picture. Apparently there was a special on red paint that decade. Or something.
    Three Men Out

    Many of the older Agatha Christie covers go along with the classic Still Life With a Gun motif, though in painting form rather than photography. And no, I cannot explain the GIGANTIC syringe and watch and revolver on Appointment with Death's cover. Or maybe they aren't gigantic, in which case that's a very tiny maze and skeleton and gate and trees. I tried to figure it out, but it just gave me a headache.
    Appointment With Death

    Revolver and dagger and jooolry. And burning candle. All carefully balanced without falling over. And without setting the house on fire.
    Double Sin

    Because of the cover art, I sometimes end up with two copies of the exact same book. This is partly because it means I can't remember if I already own a given book, since they look completely different, and partly because it's just fun to compare. For example, here's an old copy of Agatha Christie's Ordeal by Innocence. It's very worn, but if you look closely, you can make out the sort of 1930s style car, the woman's elegant hair style.
    Ordeal by Innocence

    And, for contrast, another edition. Can you guess which decade this is from? (Nice hairdo, huh?)
    Ordeal by Innocence (80s)

    And then there is this little gem, one glimpse of which is sure to make a teetotaler of even the hardest drinking guest.
    Third Girl

    A closeup of the scary cover thing. Isn't she lovely?
    Third Girl Scary Closeup

    I'll finish off with a Dashiell Hammett cover, which I love just for its complete over-the-top-ness.
    Dain Curse

    It's like an old movie trailer in one image: "Guns! Girls! Fast cars! Kidnapping! MURDER!!!"