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!!!"

    Friday, October 01, 2010

    On this, my blog's patron's feast day...

    I yet again utterly failed to come up with anything momentous to say. Instead, I direct you to an article on another blog:
    Mystic, Comic, Everything | From "Saint Thérèse of Lisieux: Her Family, Her God, Her Message".

    And in addition, I say...TGIF! It's been quite a week.