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Saturday, 15 December 2012

A Continued Defense

     There is something just so magical about typewriters: they were so indicative of their time. For instance the early Royals and their gold decals, made with real gold and glass sides show the decadence and prosperity of the 1920s, before the Depression. Then look at the war time and post war models and their utilitarian simplicity: function for the sake of quality, when metals were becoming too costly. Keep in mind that, during the war, whatever metal could be spare was in order to help fight the war in Europe, and Royal (like so many American typewriter companies of the day) turned many of their factories into weapons manufacturers.
     Now, let's look at the sixties and the seventies. Stylish and futuristic, there is also a seedy under current. All of the once great manufacturers begin, around the year 1970, to simply relabel Japanese machines as their own, stopping production of some of the hallmark brands, like the Quiet De Luxe, the real Remington Streamliner, and anything under the Underwood name.
     I know that this isn't really going anywhere, but what can I say? I am a sucker for sentimentality. There is real magic in these machines that you can't get in a Mac Book or a Dell or HP. A picture of Neil Gaiman sitting at his iPad just isn't the same as seeing Francis Ford Coppola sitting with his Olivetti Lettera 33, or Tennessee Williams at his Studio 44. Does anyone care that Ian McEwan uses an Apple computer? Does that seem nearly as cool as when you found out that Cormac McCarthy still uses a Lettera 32 that he bought before going to Europe? How about when John Irving said that he has six or so IBM Selectrics that he uses to write his novels, and they are all in need of repair.
     It is sublime, knowing that the function of the tool, and its form are just as important as what these people make with it. And that's all I have to say about that.

Wait! I've got one more...Sylvia Plath.

Okay. Now that's all I have to say about that. 

Update: a special thanks to Retro Tech Geneva for buying all those awesome machines, and posting them online; and to Mr. Typewriter, of whom I bought my first Olivetti from.

Friday, 7 December 2012

On Writing

     I hate writing about writing; no matter what, it feels (and, I am sure, most likely is) completely self-indulgent. It's like being the surgeon at the party, or college professor, who--regardless of this rich life spent in higher learning--cannot talk about anything other than: the brain, impressive though it is; arrogant college students, who have so much that you didn't but aren't as clever, smart, hard working, etc.; wonders of the undiscovered; the complexity of human identity. All of these are fine topics when administered in proper doses. But, like too much dessert or reality TV, they can become taxing and tiresome on those who, maybe, just want to shoot the breeze or hear how the kids are doing.
     Now, I might hate writing about writing, but that doesn't mean that I don't like stories that have writers in them. A Widow for One Year is possibly one of my favorite novels to date, and one cannot help but appreciate Ian McEwan's masterful craftsmanship when reading Atonement. And the movie Ruby Sparks? genius.
     It's when the idea of writing takes over; when the characters have to take a back seat to the craft; they must bow to the author's Might of Words--that is when the work stops being fun or clever, and is just plain pretentious.
     So in the spirit of ducking pretentiousness, I am going to preface the rest of this entry with a warning: I am going to write about writing. It may be boring, but certainly some parts of it might be interesting.
     The reason for this entry comes back to my old fashion way of writing. As an early Christmas present, my girlfriend bought a restored Olivetti Lettera 32. Some of you might recognize that brand and model as the favorite of Cormac McCarthy--No Country for Old Men, The Road, All the Pretty Horses. Now, mine may not have been Cormac's, but that doesn't make it any less special. After all, mine had a previous owner, too. I even have his name; he typed it on the instruction manual, probably on the first day that he bought it sometime in the early 70's.
     I won't put his name here, because that just isn't right. However, I did look him up. I even mailed him a letter, typed out on his old Lettera. I just wanted to let him know that it was in good hands. Also, I cannot help but wonder as to the history of this little machine.
     So, what does that have to do with writing? I will tell you.
     The Lettera 32 is not my first typewriter. It's not my second typewriter. In truth, I could not tell you just how many I have to date. But it is this typewriter that really gets me thinking about writing: the act of and the art form. It reminds me of how massive a book really is. You may not think much of a children or YA book while you plug through it, but believe me when I tell you: rewriting 40,000 words is nothing to sneeze at.
     As an aspiring novelist, the most terrifying part of writing a book is knowing that you'll have to go back and revise the entire thing. Even on a computer, the thought of revision--of all those hours ruining your vision--is a heart sinking affair. It is why I have so much respect for John Irving, Tolkien, McCarthy, and Dickens. They wrote (and still write in the case of McCarthy) massive works and braved the world of rewriting when cut and paste wasn't a function, but two verbs and a conjunction. It was a time when one's mind had to compose quickly and elegantly, and the idea you were about to lay down must be complete. If it wasn't, or if it was just plain bad, it would mean either a fresh page for your machine or testing your skills with the Wite-Out.
     I think that I will break this one up for now.

     ...To Be Continued 

Thursday, 6 December 2012


I work--and am currently sitting in--a house for the rehabilitation of brain and spinal cord injury patients. When you look around, it looks and feels nothing near medical. There are flat screen TVs with HDMI cords running out of them; the furniture is nicer than anything in my past four apartments; though iffy, there is internet for all to use. No bracing florecent lighting, no hard plastic seats.
The house resides in a quiet upper middle-class neighborhood. Though we do not know the names of the neighbors, us employees never hesitate to wave hello as we drive by. They wave back, standing in their well kept yards, and clean cars in the driveway. Rarely does it occur that someone puts their auto in the street.
But while inside--when the clients come out of their rooms--I (and my fellow workers) become acutely aware of just how strange of a world we are currently in. We cook dinner and do laundry for grown men, who still act like their 16 or 17 on a good day--13 on a bad day. It is my job, through their various programs and by my example as a functioning member of society, to help make them viable members of society.
There is just one problem: I don't know if there is anything I (or any of us) can do to make that so.
Try as I might, I cannot stop parents or guardians from treating grown men like children--spoiled children--and letting them get away with drug abuse, physical abuse (O, yes) and general misconduct that one might think to see in a movie or reality show, not in a church, or gas station, or Meijer...Weddings...Thanksgiving dinner. The list goes on.
Yet, I do like this job. I work with decent people, even if we are just bodies to the company: there to take up space until we've had enough, or they want to replace us with somebody who will work for less. Never forget, dear reader, that every for-profit is in the game for money and nothing more. Philanthropy is a ruse and cover to bring in more clients and dollars. 
But we deal with it. And we cook.
It's rare in my life that I can go shopping and not having to be conscious of how much I spend. But here that is possible. For just a handful of guys, we are given dollars upon dollars. And we use it--all of it.
One of the many great frustrations of working in this field is the constant battling with clients. Their programs are ever changing, and rarely effective in changing their behavior. We are here to make them better. They are here to see if they can get us fired. In the kitchen is where we have our reprieve. 
In the kitchen there is work to be done: dishes, food preparation, and constant debate of the menu. In essence: there is work and a lot of it.
It is a great way of telling which clients are ever going to be ready for the real world. The ones that take an interest in what we do while in the kitchen, and wish to participate. They are that much closer to being human again, and make no doubt that it isn't a human existence that is led in this place. It is only a half living and sleepy state, waiting for the day that someone you have never seen before tells you that they trust you out there. 
It's tough on them. It's tough on us. But right now, there is dinner to be made.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Parenthood: Introduction...not to parenting but to me.

            The life of being a parent, at least for me, is a dichotomy of, "I cannot wait for you to grow up!" right after witnessing a particularly wet diaper seep over the carpet, and, "O my god, what am I going to do when you grow up?"
            I want to tear my hair out, and I yell. Then I want to cry every time my son crawls up on my lap and gives a tiny, "I'm sorry."
            One day he won't want to apologise; one day he will simply resent me. One day he will be a teen.
            My girl friend loves going through my old photos. It makes her laugh as she sees the evolution of my family, from my birth to the present day. It fills me with anger. You see, I hate the old me--that stupid kid with bad hair, worse clothes, desperately trying to be cool and love hip hop, even though he knew that it sucked; he moped around, trying to find love when he should have just shut up, quit writing lame poetry, and had some fun.
            Wow, did I hate me.
            So how do I face that which, in me, I could not stand? I guess that is why parents should be in their thirties when their kids turn over to thirteen. Maybe, then, I will have the distance from my own adolescence to obtain have a different perspective. Or maybe  it will be unconditional love for my son that will keep me from going mad whenever I see my own child touting the stupid, new fad of 2023.
            I guess that I could hope that everything I do today will be super cool in a decade, but, then, I would be an idiot. And I'm not an idiot...most of the time. I'm a parent.