Sunday, December 28, 2008

Review: Renaissance Art custom composition book cover

Beautiful rustic brown leather...

I LOVE composition books. They're old friends. My oldest ones are now getting yellowed and crackly, but they date back to the mid-80s, so I guess they've done OK. I used them for journals, mostly, and for my early attempts at poetry and fiction. The oldest are thin, squashed down, with well-thumbed edges and bits of the white portion of the marble pattern and some of the letters filled in with blue ballpoint. Didn't everyone do that as a kid?

Even now that I've grown up and can afford more exotic and expensive notebooks, I still fall back on my old standard time and time again. They're cheap, readily available, comfortable and familiar. I still like to doodle in the top margin, scribble notes in the side margins. I still have times when I'll write a word three or four different ways inside the cover as I try to remember how to spell it, or do math problems (like figuring word count) in the margins or inside the covers. I love the size: not too small or too big. The wide ruling lets me stretch out a bit as I write. I like the way the pages crackle and pop at the stitching as you turn them.

And if you can find the Made in Brazil ones (Wal-mart usually has at least some, typically for less than a buck each), they're pretty fountain-pen friendly, too. You can write on both sides of the page with all but a really wet nib (or Noodler's Baystate Blue). There's occasionally some show-through, but very little bleeding or feathering. Much better than the Moleskine I'm currently using for a journal, for that matter.

Point is, I like 'em. But...let's face it, they're not exactly very stylin'.

Enter Renaissance Art.

Close-up of the tie

Renaissance Art is a small company that makes leather book covers, homemade journals, leather folios, etc. Their work has a rustic, old-world look to it. They have a strong following among folks on several of the writing related forums where I hang out, so I'd seen their name tossed around quite often. When I started looking for a cover to protect and add a bit of style to my cheap comp books, they were one of the first places I checked.

They don't list this particular cover on their site, but they'll make you pretty much anything you could wish. Since I was confused as to how to proceed, I dropped them an e-mail and got a very timely response in which I was directed to customize the large custom book cover to get what I wanted. I was able to easily customize it right there on the site. I went with brown leather, marked out the dimensions and noted that this was for a comp book, since Arthur (the company founder and typically the one who will respond to your messages) had mentioned they have them in the studio, and I figured they might be able to get a more accurate measurement in person.

The toughest part for me was picking a closure style. Normally for the standard book cover they offer either no type of closure (just a simple cover), a wrap and tie, or a strap that tucks into a couple of little loops to hold the book closed, medieval style. Since I carry my notebook chucked into a bag with lots of other stuff, some sort of closure was a given, to keep it all protected. I originally asked about having a wrap with a snap instead of the tie. It seemed the tidiest, least fussy way of keeping the book closed. For years, I've scorned any of those frou-frou journals with the tie closures. It just struck me as pretentiously earthy and silly. But in considering the snap, I started to think about the reasons why I'd disliked snaps on things like purses in the past: they can wear out eventually, for starters, though I think the ones RA uses aren't liable to do that any time soon. But if they do fail, they're hard to replace. Also, you have only one small spot where you can close the book, and you have to be precise. It means you also can't overstuff the thing with a stack of paper that day. Not very flexible. And it only holds in one spot--it doesn't snugly wrap around the whole book to hold it all together.

And when I finally broke down and played with a few of the tie style journals at the bookstore, I had to admit that in general, it was pretty easy to close them quickly.

I still feel a little self-conscious about the tie when taking out the notebook in public. But I have to take back much of my original thoughts on the subject. I like the tie. The one that came with the cover is very sturdy and attractive, and I can imagine it wouldn't be too difficult to replace if I eventually wear it out. It wraps around twice and tucks under--easy. I played with some tying methods as well, but a simple tuck works just fine. The biggest downside is that my two cats are *fascinated* by that long cord. Neato! A Tarzan rope just my size!

Cover open

I also had a medium sized pen loop added to the basic cover: the perfect size for a Parker 21/51 or other like-sized pens. Most of the time when I head somewhere with my notebook, I drag my whole bag along with me, but this lets me take it all together in one compact package if I so choose. The pen fits snugly into the nice long loop, and combined with the wrap, I have no fears of it falling out and being forever lost: something I *have* experienced with lesser loops in the past.

The turn around time was pretty amazing: I ordered Sunday night, it shipped Tuesday, I got it Thursday. I'm impressed! This wasn't just something to pull off a shelf, either: they had to build it right then.

Opening on the right makes it easier to insert the comp book

The comp book fits in perfectly. There are flaps on each side to hold it in, with the flap on the right being open to make it easier to work the book in. I tried to show that in my picture, but photography isn't my strong suit.

And the leather? Just wonderful. Soft and thick and with a wonderful depth of color. It should only become more attractive with time, and it feels great already. It did have a rather strong smell at first--a little *too* strong, and somewhat unpleasant. A remnant of the tanning process, I'd guess. It has faded fairly quickly to just a nice leather smell. It's not a polished and business like sort of leather, so there is that to keep in mind, and you can see that the pieces are cut and not just punched en masse. I like that aspect, personally.

I'm very pleased with it, and wanted to share it with the world, particularly since I know there are other composition book fans out there who might be interested in one of these puppies. I couldn't find any pictures when I was searching. Maybe this will help the next lost soul!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

NaNoWriMo Redux, and paper and stuff

1. NaNoWriMo Redux:

Another year of NaNoWriMo insanity has come and gone, and I managed to squeak past the finish line for the sixth time. Yay, me! This was the second time I've handwritten it with fountain pens start to finish, in spite of my good intentions on the typewriter front. I don't exactly understand my own reasoning there. Part of it was that I'd started out by hand, figured out my average page count, and it was easier to stick with the figuring if I didn't switch methods. Partly I just liked (some of) the results I was getting. Partly I once again got all obsessed with fountain pens and ink, and I tend to focus on one obsession at a time. And I also got into the habit of hitting the coffee house at six thirty or seven every morning and writing for a solid hour before heading off to work. I'm still not at a point where I'm comfy lugging a typewriter into a very quiet early morning coffee house to type.

In any case, I finished. What have I learned? What did I come away with? Well, for the third year in a row, I have a story I think merits finishing and polishing. It needs considerable rewriting, but my stories always do. I'm a figure-it-out-as-I-go writer, and sometimes my stories are a bit like a game of telephone. I have to go back to the beginning and rewrite the scenes that I understand better now that the characters have fully evolved. But the story is moving. I have a head start; I've slogged through the sometimes tedious and scary initial stages of inventing characters and scenes and figuring out the skeleton of the plot. I love that about NaNo. I still have a good half the story to write, and a lot to trim away. I can't really blame NaNo for the bits that need trimming. It's more to do with my own tendencies as a writer: if I get stuck, I spin my wheels, and the story takes awhile to move on. Much of the wheel spinning will need to come out in the rewrite, but without it, I never hit the ground and move forward. Honestly, this is another reason paper works for me. I need to see all of those stages where I'm trying to figure out where to go or how to say something important. On paper, my character may say the same thing four different ways, and of course that's redundant. But now I can come back when the story is done--after I know *exactly* who that character is--and choose which of the four ways is really, truly them. I love that.

OK, now for some negativity. You know that old adage about monkeys on typewriters? Well, you know and I know it's a bunch of hooey. It doesn't matter how much time you give the monkeys, they'll never pound out anything but gibberish. Sometimes I feel like one of those monkeys. There are lots of inspirational little sayings out there about needing to write so many words of dross before being able to write a really good novel. But the truth is, you do need a certain amount of innate talent and creativity, or you're basically like one of those monkeys: no amount of time and effort and books and classes and critiquing is going to change the fact that there's a limit to just how good you're gonna get. Skills can only be honed within one's limitations. I tell myself that it doesn't matter, because I'm only writing for myself, but--and many of you can identify with this, I think--there's a little part of me that still wishes--at least some of the time, or now and again--that I could be that big famous author I dreamed of being when I was first learning to form sentences on paper. And there's still that little voice that says writing isn't worth it unless I am capable of doing just that, but I'm not, so why do I try? No matter how many times I tell that little voice to scram, it still pops up now and again to ridicule me and tell me that what I'm doing is pointless and painful and will only mean I leave piles of paper for people to laugh at when I'm gone.

Wretched thoughts. But can anyone identify sometimes, at least a little bit? I've been plotting ways to kill the little voice, but it tells me my ways aren't nearly creative enough. Poisoning with an antifreeze smoothie has been done. Shooting is soooo messy and overused. Dissolving with acid tends to muck up the carpeting if you drip....

2. Paper and stuff

Thanks to the guidance of fellow typecaster mpclemens and a 20%-off coupon I found on DIY Planner, I picked up some Circa/Rollabind disc-binding goods right before NaNoWriMo began. My entire 50,000 words fit into one letter-sized Circa notebook, on lovely fountain-pen-friendly heavy HP laser paper that I punched to fit. I also punched 3x5 cards to add notes in various places, especially questions and comments for the rewrite; added articles that I wanted to references; moved pages around or took 'em out as needed. It's a perfect system for a writer. You can combine typed pages, handwritten pages, reference material, pages of different sizes and shapes...all in one notebook that holds together nicely. I was impressed with how well it worked for me.

So, naturally, during the month I went to Wal-mart (during an hour when no one was there...) and picked up a stack of my old favorites: el-cheapo composition books (the Made in Brazil ones with nicer paper). This is my logic for you. Especially considering that the Circa stuff is a pretty hefty investment.

Not that composition books don't have their points, for sure. One thing that concerns me a bit about the Circa books is that you *can* move things around. It's not like anything fell out in spite of all the flipping through the book I did over the course of the month. It seems less likely to come apart than the average spiral book, honestly, especially if you use heavyish paper. But it's still an irrational fear of mine. I've never had a comp book tear in all my over twenty years or so of using them. And they're the perfect size. And they're cheap. And I am immediately comfortable with scribbling in the margins and drawing doodles at the top of the page and writing all my hard to spell words inside the covers, etc., etc. They're a well known and loved quantity.

But I can't mix them with typing or easily add any other information to them, and therein lies the rub. I usually just combine them with a smaller notebook for any notes that don't fit in the margins (since I number the pages, I can even mark what comp book and what page the notes apply to), but it's not quite the same as having one package. I like 'em both. I'll probably use both. I'm using a composition notebook for the next section of the story, for example, if only because I felt guilty about having 'em otherwise. But I struggle with the inconsistency of it all.

I'm fortunate that these are the complex issues of my life right now....

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Subject to Subjectivity

There has been a great deal of recent talk on various blogs and boards about NaNoWriMo and, as a natural following point, the rights and wrongs of writing fiction. To an extent, I find the more pontificating posts laughable. We aren't discussing mathematics here. There aren't clear right and wrong ways to learn to write, or clear right and wrong ways to compose fiction, so long as the end result--not the first draft--is good. And even that is too subjective for any bold statement. "Good" is what is enjoyable to your target audience, whether that be a family member, fans of a particular genre, or just you. Beyond the technical details of grammar, vocabulary and spelling, there isn't a simple way to measure good prose. Just as a single example, I happen to despise Hemingway--despise is not too strong a word here. Both his style and his content completely rub me the wrong way. I do admire him for having such a distinctive style, and I think everyone should read at least one of his books just to glimpse that style--I'd recommend The Old Man and the Sea, which I almost didn't not like (double negative intended)--but I would never want to emulate him. His writing, to my mind, isn't good literature. I find it all but unreadable, and constantly wanted to rewrite it as I went through. Obviously, plenty disagree. His books sell; he has legions of fans. It doesn't really matter that I, personally, don't like his writing.

The process writers use--real writers, not just folks like me who write primarily for amusement--varies as greatly as their text. Again, an example: let me refer one more time to the Tess Gerritson comments I referenced a few posts back. She writes about teaching writing workshops with Michael Palmer. Both are successful authors in the medical thriller genre; both are what I would consider to be good writers from a technical standpoint. But they approach their stories from wildly different angles. Michael Palmer plans extensively, down to the smallest details. Tess says she has no idea where the story will go, and that she finds it impossible to plan ahead. They both get great results, in my opinion. Who's right? Wouldn't it be better to try both approaches for ourselves and see what works? Some writers write by hand or using a typewriter; some only use computers. Some writers produce a paragraph a day, some produce pages and pages; some edit extensively as they go along, some do major revision when they finish the draft in its entirety. If it works for them, it works. I get the impression that many of those who put NaNoWriMo down are those who have found that it is absolutely wrong for them. It isn't an approach that works for them; it makes them uneasy and uncomfortable. Maybe they are the sort of people who edit and revise as they go, perhaps, or who don't write every day, who mix projects, whatever the case might be.

But for me, I have to say, it was a revelation. I admit that I'm currently turned off a bit by the cult phenomenon it has become, with some participants trying to outdo one another in extremes; but the basic concept is sound: set a date, set a deadline, and commit to writing steadily, every day. And for all the talk about sleep deprivation and marathon caffeine-fueled writing binges, we really aren't talking absurd quantities here. We're talking well under 2000 words a day, every day for a month. This post comes to about half the daily total all on its own. The daily word count for NaNoWriMo can be completed in a few hours worth of writing, spread throughout a day.

Prior to my first NaNoWriMo, I'd never written anything that extensive. I was one of those geeky kids who always had a journal going, who carried a notebook and documented anything and everything, wrote poems, wrote stories, wrote. And I'd written technical documentation for work. But a longer fictional work--a rough draft for a novel--this was something mythical, something unreachable, something one had to be born to do. When a friend talked me into doing NaNoWriMo for the first time six years ago, I thought she was insane. But I battled my way through it, and finished the story. It isn't something I would show to anyone, but it taught me a great deal, nonetheless. I knew I was capable of that first step in novel writing, of producing the raw material of writing: the rough draft. I understood the ebb and flow of writing something of novel length. No, it wasn't a finished product. And I admit, although it's a semantic detail, I don't care to see the word "novel" used to describe works in progress. I always just say "story," which sounds juvenile, but at least not pretentious. To me, the word "novel" bespeaks a finished product, polished and published.

But many people would never achieve that raw material without NaNo to give them a kick in the pants. It's a good start. It won't make one a writer overnight--and I think anyone hanging out at the website would understand that most don't believe it will. If you don't care for it, so be it. But dismissing it entirely is shortsighted.

This post was drafted by hand, with pen and paper, and then typed and edited, 'cause that's what works for me....

Monday, November 10, 2008


I'm somewhere in the vicinity of 15k words now. Which puts me right at that stage when the shine starts to wear off my story. The realization dawns that as cool as it was in my head, all vague and swirly and brightly colored with lots of interesting characters and a few really awesome plot points to aim for, on paper it's plodding and pedantic and my characters don't do anything but talk in cliches and even *I* don't believe the rationale behind their actions. Not to mention I always tackle topics I know nothing about, without bothering to do any research. Last year, for example, I wrote a crime novel, despite knowing absolutely nothing about police procedures or court proceedings.

This year, I'm topping that by writing about brain science; about a future where memories can be eliminated. Yeah, very "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind", but to be fair, this is a topic I've tackled repeatedly since well before that movie came out. It's a subject that fascinates me because of the philosophical and moral questions that arise from it: can there really be experiences that only affect us in a negative way, or do we have the ability to learn something, to bring something positive from all experiences? How much of who we are comes from the sum total of experience, good and bad? Would it be wrong to eliminate almost all memories in order to start over, and if wrong, how wrong? And would we be the same people if we did, or something else entirely?

There's no way to answer these questions, but it's fun to play with them. At the same time, I'm really struggling just because it's all very complex: what would drive a person to do this? What kind of people would allow it and help them accomplish it? How would it affect their families and friends? And what about practical concerns: how would they establish a new identity from a legal standpoint if they completely started over? How would they make a living? In my own world, I can sort of make that up as I go along, but I'm feelin' a bit overwhelmed, and the story isn't the wonderful shiny thing I would like it to be.

But I'll keep plugging along, hoping I can polish it up in the next draft. I gotta keep repeating that to myself. Otherwise, I'm gonna go nuts. It's all very traumatizing. Maybe could do with some memory erasure myself.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Procrastination: who needs internet?

I can procrastinate marvelously even whilst on restriction. *sigh*

This gives another point to the Neos and typewriters. Can't do much with them but write. Well...except make typewriter images, but I'm not artistic enough for that.

Now I'm off to a coffee house to write for a bit before work. With a bit of luck, I'll more than make up having a slightly skimpy day yesterday.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Day two: why am I doing this again?

Actually, the story is going pretty well. I underestimated yesterday's count slightly--I was pretty close to 2000 when I typed it up. I probably added another 1500 over the course of the day today, maybe a bit more. And everything is moving along nicely. I still did more procrastinating than writing, but I'm getting into the swing of it. If I get in an hour before work and another hour in the evening, with a few stints at lunch if I fall behind, I should be able to finish this thing one more time.

But here comes the rant, and one reason why I considered not doing this at all this year.

This year I want to write something *good*. Not "good" as in finished--I realize this is a first draft, and as such it'll be lumpy and rough and have scenes out of place and scenes that should be removed entirely and characters' names will change (one guy has had three names so far) and much revision will be required. But I want it to be the start of a story that actually deserves revision. For me, that means taking my time, thinking about what I'm doing, walking around or reading other things between writing stints, and accepting that I will get in an average of about 1500-2000 words a day if I keep at it. And this is supposed to be a personal challenge. I should be OK with these facts. I should embrace my own strengths and weaknesses and work with them.

But every year, I watch as certain friends end the first few days with over 5k, or over 8k, or 10k, or 12k, or more (not joking), and I feel like throwing in the towel. I couldn't write like that, at least not without serious compromise and a lot of stream-of-consciousness blather. This obviously isn't true for all participants. And does it matter? No. This isn't a race. If that style of writing works for them, I should be OK with it.

But I'm not--not entirely. I end up getting competitive and feeling miserable about my lack of speed and my inability to sit and just write for hours at a go. Logically, I know that not all writers write that way, and my own way is OK if it gets results. But illogically, I don't like being lapped. Repeatedly.

And then I get mad at myself for being mad.

It all makes me very cranky. I wish I knew the solution. Ice cream, maybe. Or chocolate. Or both in one.

I'll leave you with a link I came across while procrastinating today. It's a wonderful post on writing from an author I only recently discovered: Tess Gerritsen. It is so nice to know that I'm in great company when it comes to my inability to plan!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

First-day-of-NaNoWriMo thoughts

Well, I'm doing it. Wasn't sure if I'd actually start or just bail for the year, right up until this morning. I had no characters, no settings, and about a micro-millimeter of plot. As I posted elsewhere, I knew this was going to be like driving at night. In a heavy fog. I could only see about ten words ahead of me.

Tonight, I still can't see more than ten words ahead, but I have three characters: two scientist dudes, who are partners in a memory research venture; and a gal, who has only been very vaguely hinted at, but who exists nonetheless. This seems potentially promising.

And of course, this being me, I'm already in love with one of the scientist dudes. *sigh* He needs to lighten up, but it's the gal's job to help with that a bit. Lucky gal.

I had a late start compared to some. I was *not* one of the ones who had a sentence (or first chapter!) all ready to go at midnight. I slept in until seven or so, got up, drank coffee, ate toast, paced around the house for a couple of hours, read a bit, checked every typewriter and fountain pen site a few dozen times each, and wrote three pages of a journal entry about how hard this was going to be and all the things that could go wrong.

Then about ten I finally sat down and started. I've repeated the above activity (substituting tea for coffee and other edibles for toast) about four or five times now, and I'm just about at the daily goal, I think...I'm just guesstimating word count for the time being. I've started off writing longhand with fountain pens, on paper that will be bound in my Circa notebook. Heresy for a member of the Typewriter Brigade, I realize...but it's still the most natural form of writing for me, and until I have a good flow of ideas to work from, it'll be easier. Since I can put whatever I want in the Circa notebook, I can switch back and forth between methods at will. I am totally digging the Circa thing.

Here's to twenty-nine more successful days!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Comparative analysis of writing methods, and the editing thereof

With NaNoWriMo upon us, as well as the winter months when I tend to write anyway for lack of anything better to do, I've been even more obsessed than usual with the contemplation of writing and all the accoutrements thereof. Aren't we all? The equipment of writing, I must confess, is one of the biggest draws for me. Writing tools of all kinds have always held fascination for me. There are, of course, many more than I have outlined below, and many more subsets of the ones I do have listed, but these are just my own scratch thoughts.

Pen and paper:

Pros: Convenience is the biggest one. I can write with pen and paper anywhere, and it's the most portable method. might be tied with the Neo for the most portable, since I don't like writing on pages much smaller than letter size, and the Neo is about that size. But I'm more comfortable with whipping out a legal pad at work to fit in ten minutes or so of writing. I could probably do the same with the Neo at lunch, but then I would be overtly writing. I'm kind of secretive about my life as a fiction writer; the notepad lets me keep my anonymity.

I also like playing with different pen types and different colors of ink. Granted, this may be a con rather than a pro. It can be a real distraction: "I can't possibly write during lunch, because I left the pen with the purple ink at home, and this blue ink is booooring!"

Cons: Not many, actually. I have a hard copy of all I've written, usually in a nice tidy notebook I can reference for years to come. Nothing can happen to that copy unless it gets torched or flooded, and both seem pretty unlikely. One con is that I have about a bazillion stockpiled notebooks and way more ink than I'll ever use, and this causes guilt. Every so often I frantically write by hand for a few weeks just in order to kill off some of that paper that's staring at me reproachfully from several shelves throughout the house.

It's also slower than other methods. I *have* finished handwritten NaNoWriMos, so there's no doubt in my mind that one can produce a great deal of text by hand. But it's not the easiest method. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, though, except for quantity over quality word races....

The biggest con, true for all straight-to-paper writing methods, is that I can't move words around or stick in a paragraph if I forgot one, at least not without lots of arrows and crossing out of words. This does mean, however, that I can't waste time with moving a sentence, moving it back, taking it out, wishing afterward that I remembered the exact phrase 'cause I need it now, etc., etc. I can always rearrange things when entering them onto the computer.

The typewriter:

Pros: It's the most enjoyable method of writing from a sensory standpoint. I know that sounds really weird, but other lovers of typewriters will understand. It's the sound, the smell, the feel of the keys under your fingers. Writing with a pen has some of the same aspects, of course: I love the feel of a good fountain pen and the way the ink flows, the smell of ballpoint ink and the way the pages turn puffy and curl up as you write on them. But typewriters still have an edge. Typewritten pages are also generally more legible: some pages may be more typo-laden than others, but it's still uniform printed text, unaffected by mood or tiredness like handwriting can be.

Cons: portability! My favorite typewriters are the two standards, and they're not moving from one room to another, let alone to a write-in or coffee house. Another big one for me is the difficulty of keeping typed pages organized. This is as the forefront of my mind right now, because I'm working yet again on a story from a few years ago. Last time I worked on it, I was just getting into the typers, and I wrote up a few chapters on the SM9. I didn't file those pages carefully, and now they're gone. Thanks to fellow typecaster mpclemens, I've started playing with Circa notebooks, and I think I may move toward getting the whole system and keeping a Circa notebook for all of my writing in the future. The nice thing about 'em, as I see it, is that I could mix my various writing methods in one place, so I could type at home, take the Neo or writing paper if I write at work or a coffee house, and still put all the pages in one big book. Then I could move inactive stories to 3-ring binders when I was done, for future reference.

My prose is typically choppier when I write on the typewriter than when I write by hand. Not sure why this is. I have fewer run-on sentences, which is good...but sometimes my writing gets a bit staccato.

One final con: these are machines, and as such, they are capable of breaking down. A well built Olympia is unlikely to suddenly just stop working, but it could happen, and it's hard to find repair people anymore. It isn't a con I've come across with typewriters that were working when I got them, but I still have a slight misgiving about all things mechanical. At least with typewriters, they don't take any of your hard won text with them if they do develop a hitch.

Alphasmart Neo:

Pros: Lots! It's lightweight and portable, does nothing but write (no distractions, except maybe playing with text size and the word count), has a wonderfully fast keyboard and insane battery life. I haven't yet found reason to doubt the 700 hour figure Alphasmart tosses around. It really does last almost forever. It's also incredibly durable. Dropped it off the table? No big'll laugh at such treatment. And it holds something like 200 pages of single-spaced text. Try lugging *that* around with you.

I've tucked mine into my bag to take on trips, lugged it on bicycle outings in case I wanted to stop along the way and get in a few words, dragged it to coffee houses and park benches. It really is a marvelous little invention.

Cons: for one, it's odd. It looks, as so many have said, rather like a Speak and Spell in a dark green business suit. People do ask about it. And when they do, although I do have a tendency to go all fan-girl concerning the thing, I also have to confess that its sole purpose is as a writing machine. And, as I've said, I'm rather secretive about the whole writing hobby thing. Also, the very clear screen with its nice big print makes me feel as though everyone is reading over my shoulder. Actually, I feel that way even when writing in notebooks in public, but this definitely compounds that feeling. I have trouble writing on it in public unless and until I get into my writing enough that I'm not as aware of those around me.

It will also bother my wrists after awhile. Considering how many people have Neos and don't have any such difficulties, my guess is that this is as much my fault as its. I think I tend not to hold my hands in the right position when I'm using it, particularly because the flat, fast keyboard lets me get away with being sloppy. I'm going to do some experimentation in that field and see what happens.

A con that also applies to the computer, and any other digital writing device: when I'm handwriting, I will often find a few words or a phrase in a scrapped portion of writing and revise it for use elsewhere. Because those words are on paper, they're immortalized, even if I didn't use them where I intended. On the Neo or the computer, the delete key wipes them out for good. I can't recycle; and honestly, I do recycle a lot, given the opportunity. Even years later. Kind of makes me sad thinking of all the fine words I've vaporized over the years when doing digital writing.

One final con: because I can write so quickly on the Neo -- almost as fast as I can think -- my writing can end up being a lot more wordy and convoluted than it should be.

The computer:

Pros: well, there are computers everywhere. And it means I don't have to transfer the words in any way. I *can* write on the computer. I've finished two NaNoWriMos on the computer. But I don't think it's the best method *for me*, personally. I get bogged down in adjectives, and in playing with word rearranging, even more so than on the Neo. And I am one of the most easily distracted people ever. I am a fantabulous procrastinator. I can sit down at the computer intending to write, but...hey, I'll just play a game of Bookworm first. Oh, and check the NaNoWriMo Technology forum, and see what's going on in the Typewriter Brigade thread, and anything to do with fountain pens. Hey, speaking of the Typewriter Brigade, I wonder what's up on Strikethru and in the rest of the blogsphere...and the next thing I know, it's past bedtime and I've done no writing.

Cons: OK, so I kind of covered that above. Did I mention I'm easily distracted?

Thoughts on the writing process and editing:
writing by hand and then typing into the computer likely produces my best writing. I think I've done more of it than most other methods, so this may not be a fair test. I will say this: text I have written by hand usually just needs a little rearranging for clarity, sometimes a bit of fill. It tends to be much less wordy (in a good way), and the dialog works better--it's more natural. I also tend to be more engaged with the story if I hand write. I walk around with my own words echoing in my head, thinking about the next sentence or the next scene. I can picture my words on the paper, and think about how I could rephrase that one sentence on rewrite. I'm inside the words in a way that is much harder to accomplish with other methods.

The typewriter may be the most fun. The Neo is the fastest--I can churn out prodigious quantities of text on that little guy. And the computer is the final editor, in any case. Though, speaking of editing, I should add one more thought: one thing I like about the paper methods is that I have a clearer idea of which portions of the story have been edited and which still need polishing. On the computer, unless I change the font color as I go, it's harder to keep track of which pages have been worked up and corrected. If I at least print and mark up the pages, I have a better idea of where I've been and what I haven't yet touched. It's easier to keep hold of the concept of a draft. I think that's very important in producing quality writing. Without that, it's all too tempting to call a shaggy, sloppy mess of words complete, just because they're all kind of in order in one computer file.

NOTE: I typed most of this on the Neo. I'll blame it for the wordiness. ;-)

Monday, October 06, 2008

Oops. knew this was gonna happen, right? You enablers you....

I'm now in the enviable position of being able to directly compare an SG-1 with an SG-3. I'll hold off on details until I've had a bit more time to do so.

After being told that it was pica (I'd told myself I wouldn't jump for it otherwise), I then set myself up a second stumbling block: I wanted to come up with at least half the money in some way that didn't involve dipping into the bank account. And it occurred to me that I've not cashed in any change in the few years I've been here. I have a habit of tossing loose change into the bottom of my pen mugs (I have far too many of those), plus leaving it all over the house. I spent about an hour gathering it all up. Picture a grown woman running frantically through the house checking coat pockets, purses, the counter by the sink in the bathroom, the top of the dryer, underneath the bed, the night stand...everywhere I tend to dump the stuff. It worked, though: I came up with nearly thirty bucks in change, well above the halfway mark.

This also says a great deal about how disorganized I am, but we'll leave that thought alone for the moment.....

I took my pot o' change to the grocery and used the change machine there. They charge a bit for the service, but it's pretty reasonable. I still came out with twenty seven bucks, and I took the rest from my just-for-fun savings account, so I didn't have to touch the main account at all. I feel absolutely virtuous....

Then, having called and set up an appointment, I dawdled around the house nervously for a few hours, waiting for it to be time for me to go look at it. Just look -- no need to buy unless it's absolutely right. Yeah. That's the ticket.

It was sitting on its stand on the sun porch in back of the house, though there's no sun today. It is a very Washington sort of day. Much like the night Bernard arrived, in fact. It was even greener and handsomer in person. Love that chrome trim -- we don't use chrome trim enough these days! But...there were downsides, too. For starters, she measured the typeface wrong. Not pica. It was yet another of those weird Olympia 11 pitch machines. It seems to be the most common size around here, for some reason. And the ribbon didn't work -- not only was the black ink too dried up to make an imprint, but the ribbon was one of those nasty, awful, terrible, disgusting black and white "correcting" ones, with sticky white dust and white flaky chunks dripping off and into the poor typer's innards with every press of the keys. The seller indicated that her husband had had "problems" with the ribbon, but wasn't sure if he just wasn't getting a good print from the existing ribbon or if it was more than that. But oh, it felt nice to type on: light and quick and springy and yet solid and snappy at the same time. Someone on the Yahoo Typewriters group described the SG-1 as "a sensitive battleaxe", and typing on it like "driving a knife through butter." I think I understand.

She was able to tell me a bit about its history, and even had a maintenance record for it, showing that it was purchased new in 1959 (same year as the mojo Hermes 3000 -- they can reminisce together), and had maintenance regularly for the next decade and a half. She said it was the work typewriter of a friend of hers, and when it was replaced in the 70s and sent to surplus, another friend of hers bought it. That friend's husband was an upholsterer, and he made it the quilted cover that was pictured in the Craigslist photo. I'm not as clear on how it passed from friend #2 to her, but she said for the last few years, it only gets used once a year: her husband uses it to address Christmas card envelopes, and that's it. The rest of the time it's been sitting wrapped up in its pretty cover in the sun room. Kind of a sad life for a serious old workhorse of a typewriter. And so, against my better judgement, I brought it (and the stand) home.

Sebastian (named partly just because it fits, for no definable reason, and for a character in the novel I'm hoping he'll finish with me) is now here in the computer room, convenient for typecasting and editing work, and Bernard (who will still be my main typing buddy) sits on the big ugly desk facing the big ugly window overlooking my big ugly yard and the big ugly mini-mart place next door. Someday, hopefully I have a more inspiring vista....

And time will tell how I feel about the new guy. As far as pure typing feel goes, it's unsurpassed. But the ribbon weirdness just has to go.

Saturday, October 04, 2008


It's a good thing I'm broke. But even so... *whimper* *sob*

In spite of Bernard the Magnificent, I wants it. And the stand and cover...see, it'd even have a place to go, though I'm out of desk space!

Yeah...right. Like anyone needs more than one standard. Or more than one typewriter in general, for that matter. But this...this would be going off the deep end. Way off.

But if it's still listed in a few weeks...I dunno if my self control will last. It's my birthday and all. And it's green! And has that lovely old Olympia shape! I don't have any old Olympias...


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

More on writing, or "In Which I Publicly Pummel Myself With Rhetorical Questions"

Another note, continuing a bit from my original post, and getting a bit more personal.

1. I know people who don't understand the concept of reading fiction. They'll watch fictional movies or TV shows without a thought, but don't understand why one would read it just for pleasure. They see literary fiction as a shameful waste of time, or something for children. One of my co-workers flat-out states that he doesn't have the attention span for such reading. "Why would I read a book that might take me weeks when I could get the same basic story from a two hour movie, without having to work for it?" Apparently he's always felt this way -- even when he was little he never really enjoyed being read to or reading chapter books on his own -- too slow, he says. It's as if he's missing the part of us that enjoys processing words, that gets pleasure from internalizing a story in ways not possible with other media. He'll read to get information, but not for entertainment. Reading, to him = work. I've discussed this subject with him a number of times, and we just don't have a common ground to start from.

I can't imagine trying to explain to him why I like to write. You think *reading* fiction is slow? Ha! But he's not even a true minority. Most people can understand writing in a journal, though they may not be drawn to it themselves; but even people who enjoy books are often utterly baffled by the concept of writing fiction for fun, simply as a hobby, with no plans to make it a career. Is this because we've put writing on a bit of a pedestal these days? Because so much amateur fiction is so incredibly bad? Because writing is such a solo activity? Because writing without an audience is an incomplete action? Or another reason entirely? People understand playing sports for fun, or playing music for fun, to an extent at least. Writing is different. Why is that?

2. (Which will cause most folks to think, "Yeesh, you need to lighten up!") Being a Catholic who passionately believes in the tenets of my faith, I have moments now and then when I struggle a bit with the morality of my own fictional writing. First of all, is it sufficient for a story to be entertaining, or should it have -- at least in places -- some underlying lessons or philosophical thoughts (not overt preaching, by any means...but some basic, hidden morals, or at the very least a sense of good and evil)? And what about content: obviously even the best of people are flawed and tempted, and a good writer needs to include that side if the characters are to be realistic. Going further, in most stories there are plenty of people -- both "good" and "bad" in the full context of the story -- who commit violent acts and other immoral acts; people who make bad decisions, sinful decisions. It wouldn't be much of a story if everyone was picture perfect and exactly alike, without internal conflict and with all their motivations and choices above reproach. If it's clear that immoral actions are in fact immoral, is it OK to detail immorality? And if so, how much is necessary to make my point, and at what point does it become unhealthy dwelling upon lifestyles and behavior that I don't condone? What about profanity? It's pretty much required to give realism to certain characters, but since I don't use it in real life, I feel incredibly awkward putting the words in my characters mouths. I feel like a child trying to use big words I've just learned: transparently self-conscious about it.

And all of this, my friends, is why sometimes I think I'd be better off writing kids' books. I often feel like my stories lack maturity as a result of my own squeamishness and concerns about writing the bad stuff. Compounding that squeamishness is the fact that playacting the bad guys is disturbingly fun. For example, last year my NaNoWriMo story concerned, in part, a serial-killer-in-the-making. I alternated between the point of view of several characters, but his sections -- rife with self-centered paranoia and the rationalization of the unthinkable -- were the easiest and most enjoyable to write. I'm a little weirded out by that. I'm sure much of it stems from a natural desire to understand people and acts that are so contrary to our own lives, but is there more to it that that, a connection with the most base and perverted part of our human nature? It was both intoxicating and unnerving. To an extent, as authors we temporarily become the characters we are writing: we try to think their thoughts, speak with their voices, make their actions real to ourselves so we can explain them on the page. It's very intimate. I suppose the feelings I experience when writing these types of characters aren't much different from the slightly guilty thrill we may get from reading mystery novels, or watching violent movies or graphic crime investigation shows; but it goes so much deeper that it can be a bit scary.

3. Apropos of nothing.... After only a week of deprivation, I gotta say I really, really miss using Bernard, the Olympia SG3. I know it's not as though I don't have four or five other typewriters I could use (Stinky, the Mojo 3000, the nice SM-9, the Classic 12, or the old Corona Standard), but I want to use Bernard. (My inner child is stamping and pouting as it screams out that last bit.) The others are OK, but they aren't the same. I'm spoiled forever. I want the weight and bulk of it beneath my hands, the smooth action of that BIG return lever, the paper feed lever, that lovely key action, the Senatorial typeface. *snif* I think I've found my typewriter, and it's killing me not being able to use it for the time being. It shouldn't be more than a few weeks at most before I get the platen back, but I am not known for my patience. I feel like I'm filled to overflowing with things I need to write, but writing by any other means just isn't quite right.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

I so love stories like this...

At 100 years old, he's found a tiny musical destiny

Sounds like quite the character.

Also makes me feel quite young with with years of potential ahead of me. I like that.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

On writing....

With the SG3 out of commission for the time being, this typecast is brought to you courtesy of Stinky the Twisted SM-9.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Random typewriter related happenings

1. With a little help from the Yahoo Portable Typewriters group, I got the platen off my SG3. (It ended up being a matter of unscrewing the knobs. Period. Easy peasy. I feel a little foolish for having asked.) It's off to Ames Supply for new rubber. This is a first for me: I have one or two other typewriters that would likely benefit from the re-covering treatment, but this is the first time I've gone through with it. Now I have to wait a month or so to see how much of a difference it really makes, and how much it ends up costing.

Meanwhile, Bernard is sitting crippled and useless, staring at me with a hurt and accusatory "What did I ever do to you?" kind of a look. Makes me wanna cry. I'm sorry, big guy! It's for your own good, really it is!

And I'm having anxiety attacks, worrying about the thing getting lost or damaged in the mail, leaving me without the use of my favorite typewriter FOREVER. AAAAGH!!

*breathe* *breathe*

2. I'm also shortly to receive an original manual and a cleaning kit from a gentleman on the Yahoo TYPEWRITER list. With that and the newly re-covered platen (and a bit more elbow grease on my part), it'll be practically as if I bought this machine new, back in 1966 when it was born. Nifty.

2. I sold the newer of my two Hermes 3000s today -- the boxy design. Since I'm not a collector (really I'm not!) and they were identical elite typeface, it didn't make sense to keep both that one and the mojo 3000, particularly considering I just spent big bucks on a new acoustic guitar. ( guitar...) Once again, I probably scared the buyer with my over-the-top typewriter love. Once again, the buyer was young (college age), which makes me feel all warm and fuzzy and hopeful about the future. He came down with his dad, who good-naturedly declared us both insane. ;-)

I gave him a quick lesson on using the 3000 (including a demonstration of those funky margin setting thingies), provided him with some extra ribbons, and inundated him with links and tips. I hope he falls in love with typing!

4. I need more ribbons before NaNoWriMo starts up. I have one Smith Corona ribbon that I'm hoarding, but I'm out of Hermes ribbons, and more importantly I'm out of Olympia ribbons: the most crucial ribbons of all. This must be fixed. I'm toying with the idea of getting some silk ribbons from Jay Respler of the Yahoo TYPEWRITERS group. I've never tried silk, and wonder if they're really that much better than nylon. They're pricier. It'd be an interesting experiment. Maybe a good NaNoWriMo motivation: I must type enough to make the added cost worth it!

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Maybe these folks should get together?

Sewing machine as typewriter:

Typewriter as sewing machine (from this auction for a Hermes 3000 -- actually they can't seem to decide *what* it is):

Thursday, September 04, 2008

About that Hermes 3000

Courtesy of the 1959 Hermes 3000, one of my most typo-ridden typecasts yet!

1959 Hermes 3000

Refresher: Stinky's sad tale is here. Gotta get some pictures of him one of these days.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Smith Corona dreaming....

Had a couple of the portables out last night, actually. Fun...though it also clarified just how nice the big beast is. It doesn't move. It takes less effort to get a good imprint. It's much easier to go fast with accuracy. It's taller, so it's easier to see what I'm typing and easier to jot notes or corrections on my draft as I go. And it's just more comfortable for marathon typing sessions. Man, I'm lucky! I think at this point, I'm fast becoming primarily a sometime collector of portables and a user of a big ol' desktop. It's a bit more dull than the little guys, but (for me) it's a better writing machine.

But I do love the *snap* of that SCM. It just sounds and feels like a typewriter to me.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Second draft in progress

Yes, I'm posting too much lately. I'm seriously considering starting another blog as a place to dump thoughts on writing and music practice, without cluttering this blog. The catch is coming up with a name for it and filling in that new blog application form. Commitment is scary.

Moving on...

Based partially on the drafting discussion on Click Thing a few weeks back, I've decided to write at least one more draft of my short story on the typewriter before either typing it into the computer (my usual MO) or attempting to OCR it. I test-scanned a page of text from the new SG3 this morning and was pleasantly surprised at how well it translated. I was afraid the odd typeface would throw the software for a loop: even with the cleanest typeface, I've not had good luck with that particular software (the free program that came with my cheapie flat-bed Canon). There were three minor glitches, and that's it. I may try it. Wouldn't want to scan a whole novel that way, but ten double-spaced pages (less, if I do this right) shouldn't be too bad.

I finished the rough draft of this story night before last. It was *very* rough -- I had decided the most important thing was to push myself to finish. Last night, I went over the whole thing with purple pen. I was brutal. On careful reading, the most obvious problem was my tendency to babble: often I take many times longer than necessary to express a thought. I chopped off whole *pages* that just slowed the little plot down. I also changed a major part of the plot (killed the husband of one of the two characters instead of leaving him dying...), which made her motivation a little more logical. The ending is still a bit fuzzier than I'd prefer, but the changes I've made should bring that into better focus this time around.

I'm pretty pleased with my progress! I'm not sure I could do this sort of in-depth editing and revision with a full manuscript without resorting to the computer, but it does make for better prose. I'll probably do one more draft after this one. Gives me excuses to play with the typewriter, for one....

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Some pictures added!

From the side:

From the front:

And, just to show how gargantuan Bernard really is, look at how he dwarfs my SM-9 -- which isn't exactly petite!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I think I'm in love....

Ack! One last edit! I think the typeface is actually 11 pt -- it's just taller and more open than my other 11 pt Olympia typeface (Stinky's), so it seems bigger. Closest match I can find in the typeface files in the Yahoo group is Senatorial, but I'm not 100% certain of that.

I guess I just accept it for what it is, without my usual over-analyzing. Whatever it is, I like it!

I'm off to pick up an SG-3!

I'm soooo stinkin' excited.

It looks to be elite (I'd prefer pica, but oh well) and pretty grungy, but apparently all the pieces move, and it's not like these come up often.

It's also pouring rain. And starting to get dark. But I know I wouldn't be able to sleep tonight if I didn't run and get it. Come to think of it, I may not sleep much anyway, if it ends up needing a heavy-duty cleaning session.

The things we do and the lengths we go to for this obsession....

Watch this space!

Monday, August 18, 2008

I was an evil child....

A recent spate of childhood papercasting reminded me of this masterpiece from my own younger days. Judging from other dated items in the same folder, I would have been somewhere between nine and maybe eleven.

As you can see, I was already well acquainted with strike-through methods. Even I'm not really sure what exactly I meant to say in a couple of those lines!

Pretty brutal. Why, I wonder, are kids so fascinated by gore? It wasn't like we, personally, were exposed to much either. We didn't have TV for the most part for one thing, and didn't watch movies except for the occasional old classic. Closest we got to bloody violence was listening to murder ballads, and reading The Boy's King Arthur...which is, admittedly, pretty gory. "...and with a mighty stroke he smote Sir Maurhaus upon the helm such a buffet, that it went through his helm, and through the coif of steel, and through the brain-pan, and the sword stuck so fast in the helm and in his brain-pan that Sir Tristam pulled thrice at the sword or ever he might pull it out from his head, and there Maurhaus fell down on his knees, and a piece of the edge of Tristam's sword was left in his brain-pan..." Lovely stuff, that. Yum.

I have a confession to make....

I'm a serial hobbyist.

I have a lot of interests, but I have trouble with combining them, with the exception of crocheting and writing, which seem to go hand in hand -- every November I do NaNoWriMo and crochet up a storm. But other than that, I tend to pursue one interest at a time with a completely obsessive focus.

So...lately it's been music. I went to Kamp Kaufman back in June, and I've been to various jams since then, plus one bluegrass festival (and counting -- hopefully I'll make a few more of the small ones before the season is out. There's an Irish session in town that I want to start going to. I've also been hanging out on FLATPICK-L, and playing my guitar. A lot. Usually a few hours every evening, sometimes more. I play for a bit when I first get home, just sitting on the couch. I play while watching TV, both while watching shows, and sometimes try to pick out the melodies during commercials, just for practice. (Anyone else ever jam with the guy? Don't answer that....) I play along with CDs, especially since I picked up a nifty little program called Amazing Slow Downer (cheesy, but descriptive) that lets me adjust pitch and speed. Mostly I've been working along with Steve Kaufman's Four Hour Bluegrass Workout, which has backup tracks for a whole bunch of fiddle tunes. Very nice. I still have to learn about nine-tenths of them, but hey, it's a start.

The sad thing is that I'm only *just* getting back to where I was last time I obsessed over guitar. I spent a few years way back when being a total guitar junkie. Then in 2002, a lot of things happened: my mother passed away, leaving me (legitimately or not) feeling like I was partially responsible for helping out with my youngest siblings (littlest sister was 12 at the time). Also, many of us spent much of the summer working toward and then attending World Youth Day in Toronto. Then my job was eliminated (remember this was right after 9/11), and I got more into playing the mandolin (though it's never had quite the draw guitar has, for no logical reason), and that November -- maybe the biggest reason my focus changed -- I participated in my first NaNoWriMo. Guitar fell by the wayside. I lost five years worth of potential practice time. There's no going back, and I'm really kicking myself for it. I'm determined not to let that happen again. I ain't getting any younger, and I really want to get to the point where I can participate in a jam without embarrassing myself. Maybe learn some swing, too.

Now the trick is to keep writing in the picture, too. If I could stay away from this here Internet thing, I'd have a better chance! Hence my love for typewriters....

Speaking of which, although I've told myself I'm *not* going to buy anymore, there's currently what appears to be an SG-3(?) on Craigslist. I don't have a desktop model yet. If I can ever get the seller to respond, I might have to make an exception for that one. If. Twenty-four hours and counting. What's up with that?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Back from Kamp, Kamp was great, I is tired....

So...trip report attempt. First off, it was, like last time wayyyy back in 2001, one of the best experiences of my life. I don’t really have words. It was kind of like a really fantastic family reunion, but all centered around acoustic music of all kinds and all levels. All of the instructors were good. (Instructor list for those who might know them, maybe: The Flatpicking Team: Russ Barenberg, Kathy Barwick, Mitch Corbin, Mark Cosgrove, Beppe Gambetta, John Goldie, Chris Jones, Steve Kaufman and Chris Newman. The Mandolin Team: Carlo Aonzo, Robin Bullock, David Harvey, Emory Lester, Don Stiernberg and Roland White). Excellent line-up on both sides of the fence, but I went for guitar this time around. About three instructors in particular stood out for me (Mitch, Chris Newman and Kathy) — I’ll probably spend most of my practice time on the material they gave me, as much as possible.

The trip out was awfully long — got picked up here just before nine in the evening and didn’t arrive in TN until about one or so their time. I didn’t really sleep, either. And I wasn’t altogether impressed with Delta as far as customer service went — I know everyone is pretty tense when air traveling these days, and it can’t be easy for the airline workers, but they had an awful lot of surly personnel. Still, I got there OK. I wasn’t sure where to go to catch the Maryville College shuttle, so I wandered around by baggage claim until I spotted a guy with a guitar case and asked him if he was headed to Kamp (it’s Steve Kaufman’s camp, hence Kamp), which he was, and we figured out between us where to go, picking up another straggler as we went. We chatted until the shuttle came, which happened pretty fast. Nice guys - one of them ended up being in my class.

There were already some familiar names (folks I "know" from the FLATPICK-L mailing list) in the building where we registered, so that was good. I spent most of the afternoon and early evening wandering around saying hello to the folks I knew from on-line or last time, and getting to know at least some of the others. I stayed in the same building as last time, this time in a suite: four of us in two bedrooms, with a little kitchenette in between with a fridge and everything. OK, so the beds were very hard college mattresses, and everything was a bit on the worn side, but still, not bad at all. My roommate was another single gal, and we clicked pretty well. I was a little afraid I’d end up with someone who went to bed early and slept lightly, but we almost invariably stumbled in about the same time every night, and if we didn’t, we’re both sound sleepers so it didn’t matter. And the gals in the other room were a mother and daughter from Atlanta — super nice folks. The daughter is about sixteen and already a great mando player, and mom is a professional classical musician who primarily plays oboe. It was kind of a hoot seeing people giving our door a funny look if they walked by when she was practicing...”Hey...wait...that’s not a mandolin OR guitar OR fiddle OR banjo...what the hey???” She performed with a violinist at one of the open mics - really purty music.

First evening, I bought a guitar. Already had that deal lined up so I wouldn’t have to carry a guitar with me on the outgoing trip. I bought it from a guy who was one of the first few “Internet people” I met in real life — a Vermonter with a rather dry and twisted sense of humor. Really fun guy who does a lot of good parody songs. Thenewlittleguitar (it needs a name) is a more basic model than my other one, and therefore less worrisome to lug around. The back and sides are made out of a material that’s almost like...well...Formica. The top (where most of the sound comes from) is real wood. Makes for a pretty sturdy instrument that still sounds decent. I’m tempted to bring it to work with me some of the time and see if I can find somewhere private to practice a bit during lunch.

I went to bed relatively early that first night since I didn’t know where the good jams were yet. Last time I went, people did a lot more hanging out outside; this time most jams were in rooms. One of the dorm areas has buildings with rooms that have huge living rooms in each suite, and many of the people on that side hosted jams of all sorts. Once I was introduced and a little less shy about poking my head into the rooms, I mostly hung out with a group that tended to stay smallish (ten or fifteen people) and played a lot of different styles — one night they were doing the contradance music I know and love, another night one of the instructors who does Celtic music and jazz was there, another night another instructor was playing awesome swing music. I did more listening than playing; maybe next time I’ll have learned more of the commonly played tunes and improved my chord knowledge. I'm also a lot better at mando thank guitar at this point, and although several people kindly loaned me mandos over the course of the week, I was really struggling whenever I didn't have one.

Most days we got up in time for breakfast at seven thirty or eight, played / talked some, had a class, had lunch, played some / talked some, had another class, played some / talked some, had dinner, played some / talked some more, went to the concert of the evening (there was an open mike, and then the various instructors took turns doing sets over the course of the week, generally bringing up others for backup), and then after the concert, we’d play (or listen) well into the wee hours. I wasn’t as hardcore as some of the craziest folks, but even so, I ended up being up until three or four most nights. It’s sooo hard to go to bed when the next tune is always something you don’t want to miss. Just one more...and the next thing you know, you’ll be lucky to get a few hours sleep before the whole merry-go-round starts up again. The last night, I didn’t go to bed. The first all-nighter of my life. I knew I was going to need to be up by three-thirty or so to get ready to head out for my six o’clock flight, so there didn’t seem much point in lying down. Mostly hung out playing tunes and chatting with a guy who was in my roommates class, and listening to another guy who was settin’ on the porch playing guitar until late. Good times.

The flight back went really well, actually. I decided at the last minute to risk carrying on thenewlittleguitar in a gigbag rather than borrowing a case I’d have to ship back. I was worried they’d take it away from me and it’d end up getting smashed in a luggage compartment, but it worked out just fine. The first plane from Knoxville was really small, and the stewardess said I’d probably have to gate check it since someone else already had a guitar in the coat closet, but it turned out it fit in the overhead with millimeters to spare. On the second flight from Houston, I expected to be challenged when I carried it on, but no one said anything, and the nice folks in my row helped me pack bags around it so it wouldn’t get smooshed. No problems. And Continental actually still serves meals. *gasp* They also didn't charge me for my second checked bag (I checked my backpack so I could just concentrate on carrying the guitar), although according to their policy, they shoulda. I'm not going to complain.

Now I miss Kamp. *snif* Really good group of people, all ‘round. I’d really love it if I could go again next year. I’m already trying to think of ways I could make some cutbacks in order to make it possible.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Sad Story of Stinky the Twisted Olympia SM-9 that last paragraph I guess I should have used the word "dent" for the problem with the back. Too many dings in a paragraph makes that all very confusing! Oh, and I should clarify, this isn't a new purchase - he's one of the first typers I got. I'm a bit ashamed of having bid on that auction at all, so I tend not to mention him. He deserves better. ;-)

We added three pages to my story this evening in addition to the typecast. I call that a good typewriter evening. I'm supposed to be packing for Kamp, but hey...

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Keystone Kommuter

I rode to work again today. And fell again. I are a moron. I have one spot where I have to cross a fairly big road. The trail kinda just ends at the road and starts up again on the other side and down a way, and until recently, there wasn’t a crosswalk or anything there, either - you just had to wait for a gap in the (busy) traffic and run for it.

Now there’s a new crosswalk with some flashy thingies that are activated when someone wants to cross...but said flashy thingies aren’t visible to pedestrians / bicyclists, so you kinda just have to watch for when the cars stop. And the whole thing just flustered me and made me want to get going. I guess it's better than playing chicken each and every time I cross that road,'ll take some getting used to.

When I got across to the other side, there was a guy mowing by the sidewalk, who stopped the mower to let me by, which further flustered me, ‘cause he didn’t have to do that. When I turned to thank him, my tire went into the space between the edge of the other side of the sidewalk and the grass, and I went down right in front of him, leaving him wondering what he did. I just told him, “You didn’t see that, OK?” and went on.

And then I locked myself out on the roof at work...but that’s another story.

Whur's the coffee?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Successful first bike commute of the year! Sort of...

I know, I know, I'm late to the ball game. It's been spring for a few weeks at *least*. Kind of. It can't seem to make up its mind here in the great Pacific Northwest.

Last year, frustrated with how little riding I was able to get in during the evenings, plus the gas prices (and we thought they were bad then...), I made up my mind to try riding to work. It's 12.5 miles each way, which isn't really at the extreme end of bike commuting, but still nothing to sneeze at. I scoped it out in the car for weeks, then rode it on the weekend, and finally figured out a route that is almost entirely wide shoulders, bike lanes, and bike paths. There's one small bridge where I have to merge into traffic, and two left-hand turns that also pretty much require joining the big scary cars. Other than that, it's pretty stress-free.

I'd not ridden yet this year, partly because of our changeable weather and partly because I'd had a nice long winter in which to build up my phobias again. I'm scared of riding on the road. But then, I'm scared of merging on the interstate, too, especially at night. If I do it often enough, I at least get to the stage where I figure I'm more likely to make it than to die. That's about the best I can do. ;-) Same goes for the bike commute.

Yesterday at work, one of the other gals in the office, who knew that I rode in last year, came to talk about her determination to ride in today and the sorts of obstacles she anticipated. I got all wistful and decided I *had* to ride in today - this despite the fact that I'd not even been on the bike this calendar year. Yes, I am a slug.

But I'm a very stubborn slug. That's in my favor, at least!

It was a grey, cool morning - actually very nice weather for biking, IMO. No glaring sun or confusing shadows. After a mile, I thought about giving up and going back. My legs were already burning. Then, the first of the mishaps occurred. I got my shoelace looped on a pedal - something that *never* happened last year. In about two pedal strokes, my foot was completely stuck, twisted sideways, and I was unable to control the bike or free my foot. So I did what I had to do - dumped myself into the grass at the side of the road. There I was, sitting in a dip with one foot sticking up, one foot glued to the bike, and cars slowing down to watch. Yeah. Lovely. As a co-worker said, they probably figured I'm one of those folks who are starting to bike because of the gas prices, but who haven't been on a bike since about second grade. Heh... I had to take off my shoe to get my lace loose, but nothing was broken, on the shoe, the bike, or me. And it made me mad enough to go on instead of going back.

The rest of the commute was equally imperfect. I took a left turn too soon and had someone slam on their brakes and honk at me (they made it into a much bigger deal than it was, but I was at fault, for sure - again, something I didn't do alll last season. Ungh...) I ran over broken glass, which fortunately didn't cause any flats, but sure made me nervous.

But I made it. And I also had the chance to remember how much of the riding experience I'd missed - in the car, you miss the sounds of the world going on around you; the smell of flowers or cut grass or wood (or sewers) as you go past; smiling and waving at pedestrians and other cyclists; the joy of cresting a steep hill under your own power, even if you slowed to a near-walk for the final third; the rush of the wind - sometimes friend, sometimes foe....

It's good to be back again.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

I think I need NAA (Notebook Addicts Anonymous)...

I think I officially have too many notebooks going at once right now. Currently:

1. A large Moleskine that is my current journal. I like these - they lay absolutely flat when open (no writing up to and away from a hump), the covers are stiff enough to allow for writing without a table nearby, the pocket is handy for interesting receipts and ticket stubs and whatever other little souvenirs I care to put in there, the elastic keeps everything tidy, and the ribbon means I don't have to hunt for my last entry. Downsides: they're ridiculously expensive, for one! I have a batch right now that I got from someone on a message board, and therefore didn't pay all that much for 'em...when those are gone, we'll see if I keep using them. Other downside is that the paper isn't altogether fountain pen friendly. There's bleed-through using anything but a fine pen, and even with a fine pen some inks don't work. And feathering occurs pretty much no matter what.

2. The large Rhodia A4 sized notebook I just started for story writing. I <3 Rhodia paper. Loooove. It's a tiny bit thinner and maybe not quite so slick as the other gold standard for fountain pens: Clairefontaine. I've used both, and I'm not sure I have a definite preference, but the Rhodia pads are cheaper and more readily available, and are easier to find in graph format, which I like...

3. An Ampad Gold Fibre notepad at work, used for meeting notes, tracking my time, taking notes on tasks and procedures so I can remember 'em, etc. It's my memory. Can't function without it.

4. A logbook I've been keeping in addition to the journal. It just has a brief rundown for each day, to help me remember when I did stuff: "Ordered still more Rhodia paper from Swisher Pens. Made stuffed peppers for dinner - not as good as recipe A. Started reading Jane Eyre again." That sort of stuff. It's a good quick reference. My journal has a lot more thoughts and complaints and other fluff...

5. The mini Moleskine I keep in my purse or coat pocket, and use for story ideas for future stories, current-story brainstorming, current-story notes for easy reference (things like time lines, minor character names, scenes-to-be-written).

6. A mini memopad for reminders, grocery lists, to-do lists for home. I used to use sticky notes, but this is tidier, and I can refer back to earlier lists more easily.

7. A mini Rhodia pad for pocket-carry - for poems, mostly.

8. A tiny Japanese notebook I got when visiting my brother in San Francisco, used for fountain pen ink scribbles and comparisons, so I can remember what a particular one looked like with a particular pen or in comparison with similar colors.

I *think* that's about it. It's a lot. I could probably combine 5 & 7, I suppose, but they do all serve their purposes. Legion though they be, they get used. It makes me feel a *tiny* bit less guilty about all the additional notebooks waiting in the wings. I'm a compulsive paper buyer. I can't help myself. I love papery goodness...

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Playing the building

This is mondo cool.

I don't really care much for the Talking Heads. In fact, they're one of the few artists / groups my favorite radio station plays that make me start groping for the dial the instant I hear one of their lead-ins. (The exception to the rule is "Psycho Killer," which I crank and sing along with...not sure what that says about me...) I like David Byrne's solo efforts even less.

But this is very, very cool. You remember how, as a little kid, you'd wander around tapping various household items with a pencil or drumstick to see what tone you got from it? Everybody did that, right? This takes that to a whole new level. As Neo would say, "Whoa!"

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Guess who's a typewriter collector?

Ralph Bakshi.

Ungh. It brings to mind a mental picture; something along the lines of a seething, rolling, motion-sickness-inducing mass of typewriters, complete with double-vision style blurred keys and distorted clickity-clacking noises, marching toward you on walking grey typewriter tables, through a sea of twitching cartoon ink-ribbons.

In case you can't tell...I was forever scarred by some of the Bakshi Lord of the Rings footage. I *hate* rotoscoping. Hate, hate, hate.


Blawg vivisection

Today I did some poking around in the guts of my template. I found the HTML and figured out the images that make up the background and adjusted them, as well as playing with some of the widths. It gives me a little more wiggle room for pictures, though I think I did a bit of a messy job of it. I don't really know what I'm doing, but it does open my eyes to some possibilities. Now I'm wondering about maybe replacing the background with a real paper

Hasty pudding

The other night I really, really wanted something sweet-creamy-chocolatey, like pudding or ice cream, and didn't feel like actually leaving the house for it. I also didn't have all that many ingredients on hand, or the patience to spend much time on cooking. I did a Google search for "quick chocolate pudding", and voila, this recipe from came up. Here's my version:


* 1/4 cup white sugar
* 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
* 3 tablespoons cornstarch
* 2 cups milk
* 2 tsp vanilla extract


1. In a microwave-safe bowl, whisk together the sugar, cocoa and cornstarch. Whisk in milk a little at a time so the mixture does not have any dry lumps.
2. Place in the microwave, and cook for 3 minutes on high. Stir, then cook at 1 minute intervals, stirring between cooking times for 2 to 4 minutes, or until shiny and thick. Stir in vanilla. Chill.

That's it! I'm not going to say it's the best chocolate pudding I've ever had - it's not. But it's pretty good, and very, very quick and easy. Changes I made from the original: cut the sugar in half, for starters. I ended up discarding almost the entire first batch because it was gaggingly sweet. Bleh. I also upped the cocoa and vanilla for richer flavor.

The original recipe also had this step:
3. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pudding to prevent a skin from forming

To which I say...why?!? Why would you do that? Why would you kill the skin? The skin is what sets homemade pudding apart from the competition! Don't mess with the skin!

I didn't have any regular milk, so I used powdered and water, which worked just fine. It *might* be cheaper that way, too, not sure. Using the powdered milk, and cooking over a burner of some sort instead of in the microwave...this could be a good pudding to make when the revolution comes...

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Everybody's doing it...

My first attempt at a...well...what would this be, considering it's not a typecast? This is using a very unfriendly scanner at doesn't like anyone, especially me. Click for a better view of the image - I made it too wide this time around!

Verbal pitch

I've been on various music-related mailing lists over the years, and every so often, the subject of perfect pitch comes up. The general consensus is that it's not necessarily a fine thing to have perfect pitch (at least according to the strictest definition of the term), because it makes most music impossible to enjoy, as even the slightest deviation from absolute pitch becomes painful.

Sometimes I feel like I've got a mild form of the verbal equivalent of perfect pitch. Irregularities and imprecise speech annoy me, depending on the context. I can watch a movie or TV show or read a book where characters don't speak perfectly - I'm not quite that uptight. But...well..sometimes...

Yesterday, for example, my boss said he was feeling "nauseous", and I just *had* to give a lecture on why that was the wrong word. Nauseous does not mean "nauseated" - or it didn't until people misused it to the point where that definition got added to the dictionary. Strictly speaking, it means "causing nausea or disgust". If you're feeling queasy, you're "nauseated". You aren't "nauseous" unless you're causing other folks nausea; which could, of course, be the case if you insist on detailing your symptoms, I admit.

Signs and labels also annoy me sometimes. I have a few bottles of Bath and Body Works' aromatherapy shower gel stuff. They each have a word describing what they're supposedly for: the Ylang Rose stuff says "Sensuality" on it, for example. Umkay. Anyway. The Mandarin Lime says "Energy." All good so far. Both nouns. But the third bottle is Eucalyptus Spearmint, and it says "Relax". "Relax" isn't a noun. It doesn't fit. It should be "Relaxation." If I just had the one bottle, it wouldn't bother me, but in the series, it bugs me every single morning.

Another bottle from Bath and Body Works says to use a "button sized amount." What does that mean? Are we talking shirt button? Coat button? Elevator button? I can't use the stuff without pondering this imponderable. It's mentally paralyzing. Not a good way to start the day...

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

It has evolved...

Dang, that was fast...I just came across my old van on Craigslist, being sold by one of the local very-used-car dealerships. *snif*

Apparently it now comes with power widows, though. Interesting enhancement.

I’m just wondering what exactly power widows might do for ya, you know?

Do they keep the inside nice and clean? Nag you if you drive recklessly? Bake?

Monday, March 31, 2008

Shiny blue newness

I am *done* with the horrendous, strength-sapping, mind-melting affair that was the car-shopping experience. Ugh. In the end, I went with new. First time I've ever done that, and possibly the last - we'll see. It'll be nice to have the peace of mind of a warranty, but of course it's a lot of cash.

I spent a lot of nights during the search period not sleeping, because I was reading and rereading reviews and ratings and user reviews and user ratings and specifications and measurements and...well, you get the idea. I tend to get completely obsessed with whatever the current goal may be.

Finally a few Fridays ago, I decided I was tired of weighing options and thus ready to go for it. I talked to a local Pontiac dealership that had a number of new-but-'07-model Vibes, and was all but set to do that. But just to make sure I didn't regret my choice, I stopped by the Toyota dealership to see if they could cut me as good a deal on a Matrix. They could, pretty much...but then I noted that the brand new '09 Corollas were actually a little less, and included all the safety features and all that weren't included with either the Vibe or the Matrix. And there was a pretty bright blue one. And the inside wasn't that much different than my lovely '97 Corolla of fond memory: the same comfy little fat steering wheel (albeit now with tilt and telescoping), the same big, chunky controls that can be operated without looking, in mostly the same locations. But it was the enhanced version of my old car, with power windows and cruise control and a CD player. CD changer, actually. And an auxiliary jack for an MP3 player. Whoa - very high tech...

I'd done absolutely no research on the Corollas. And they're probably not the most bike-friendly vehicle. But I drove one home that night. Logical, I'm not. Entirely, anyway.

So far so good! It's a blast to drive a fairly peppy little sedan after driving the van for so long. And while getting twice the gas mileage doesn't really balance out the payment, it doesn't hurt, either. looking at the reviews on-line after the fact, they mostly said about the same things that were once said about my '97 model: that the car is well-built and should be reliable, but it's boooooring, and not enough of a change from previous versions of the same model. I can live with that.

Am I a trendsetter for once?

I was in downtown Olympia the other day, and one of the many quirky little shops down there now has about half a dozen typewriters in the window. Mostly they were new-ish Smith Coronas (one older flat top, it looked like), and the prices were in the hundred dollar range, which puts them outside of what I'd pay except possibly from a real typewriter shop, but I still found it interesting. Apparently typewriters are hot stuff!

I was with a friend and didn't get a chance to go in and look to see if they're really display only or if they were cleaned up or not, but considering that the rest of the shop's mercantile mostly consisted of Communist literature and hemp jewelry...I'm thinking it's unlikely they're serious repair people. Still...very interesting!

There's also a really fascinating little antiquey shop called "Finders Keepers" just a few doors down from there that has an Olympia SM-9 from the seventies and an Underwood desktop from, I'd guess, the late fifties or early sixties. Both of those were priced fairly reasonably - I think the Olympia was about $20, which isn't super bad, in my opinion. And they provided paper for folks to try them out. They also have a section in the back of the store with old magazines, and also ads from old magazines that weren't in good enough condition to preserve whole. Yes, there were typewriter and fountain pen ads. I didn't buy any, but I *must* return and go through them more thoroughly. Way cool...

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Nailing jello to a wall

I currently drive a '97 Mercury Villager minivan with nearly 130,000 miles on it. It is about the most uncool vehicle a single gal with no kids could *possibly* drive. In fact, in pondering, I don't think I can even think of something less cool. Even a Suburban would have far more cool points than this thing. When I bought it, five years ago, I was doing a lot of driving younger siblings around, along with instruments and pets, and it was very handy. Then I moved across country twice, and again, it was a great hauler -- of goods and cats.

But it's starting to slowly but surely wear out, and it's getting to a point where the lack of payments isn't necessarily costing me less than repairs, and I'm nervous about driving it long distances anymore, because things rattle and bump and I always feel like it's going to fall apart. Most of those thoughts are illogical, but it's true that the next big repair could be the one that makes it worth nothing as a trade-in; not to mention that there are places I've avoided going in part because of driving fears. So I'm tentatively but fairly officially shopping for another vehicle: something smaller and cooler. Though, again, pretty much *anything* is cooler than this thing. A Dodge Neon is cooler than this.

But I'd really love to have something like a Pontiac Vibe. Or a Subaru Forester, if I could find a really good price on one. Something station-wagonish and dog and bike and musical instrument friendly (nice to have the instruments in the same compartment as me, so they aren't exposed to strange temperatures, for example), but a little bit sporty.

I found two cars locally that looked to be more or less in my price range and asked questions asking about pricing. And now I'm remembering just how unfun it is to shop for a vehicle. It's worse than a job interview. The salesbeings answer pricing questions with evasive maneuvers. It's a complicated and ugly dance. "Oh," they say, "Why don't you come on down and we'll have you take it for a test drive. Then we can talk about what we need to get you into that vehicle." And speaking of which, what is with that particular turn of phrase? "We'll get you into a great used Subaru," they say. I don't remember folks talking like that last time I was shopping. Now...I do intend to "get into" a vehicle to take it for a test drive. And I can do that all by myself, thank you, Mr./Ms. Salesperson. After I'm done, I will drive back and get out of the vehicle. If I like it, I might buy it and get into it to drive it home, but then I will get out again. Getting into a vehicle is not a permanent condition. Hopefully. And that phrase bugs the snot out of me.

Luckily I'm busy this weekend and can't really do any shopping around. I need to recover my calm and steel myself before going out to try to pin down any direct answers from the salesbeings. Maybe I'll make myself a specially designed tinfoil hat to strain out the buzz phrases, too.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Followed me home, it did! Hones'

I, again, couldn't resist an orphan.

Someone posted a free typewriter on Craigslist, and from the blurry picture I could tell it was a wide carriage SM-9. All good so far, huh? But it's never that simple, is it? The guy who had it said he wasn't sure if it worked, which I already assumed meant "it doesn't work", but I was optimistic enough to think maybe it just needed a good scrubbing. It was the filthiest typewriter I've dealt with yet, at least on the top. Looked like it belonged to a smoker, who possibly collected beetles, too. Ugh.

But still, I put in a piece of paper and tried to type. First, the type bars wouldn't go all the way to the platen. I eventually remedied that - not sure how - but now key pressings only move it half a space, and then it stops.

I spent hours and hours cleaning it up and fiddling with it this weekend, and that's still the final result, though it's a good deal cleaner now. I don't know whether to laugh or cry. I guess you get what you pay for, but I was so hoping it'd work, and for free...I had to try! Worst case scenario, I may try to find someone to look at it eventually... There's a certain charm to the really ugly typers.

On another topic, at the bottom of the case with the beetles, there was a little white plastic case that says KoRecType Typewriter Opaquing Film. It's copyrighted 1976, which was a very big year for me. Opaquing...gotta love that word! This is the first time I've gotten to play with correcting tabs, and I like them! They don't always give perfect coverage, but they're sooo much tidier and easier to use than anything else I've ever tried. Different than I'd pictured, too. Tabs brings to mind something itty bitty...I thought you used one per letter or something. But they're actually between the size of a business card and a playing card.

The other interesting thing about them is that they leave you with a typed record of your mistakenly typed letters. For some reason, I seem to mistype "d" in place of other letters a lot. I'm sure there's some Freudian explanation for it. I just can't think of any before coffee...

**EDITED** to add...yes, that's a bug and a bit of cobweb that's adhering to the box. Ew. I should probably retake the photo, but I guess I'll leave it as a sample of what I was dealing with. Ew again.