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Thursday, 21 March 2013

Disgusted; or, Why Can't We--All of Us--Just Shut Up for One Minute?

     A tragedy happened near--too near--home today, and it has thrown my blogging schedule off. I'm fine with that. This needs to get out of my system...
     Another in a long line of shootings has happened in a middle school today. A thirteen year old boy shot himself. A student found his body, and he was pronounced dead (so the report went) at the hospital.
     The first time I heard of this was in the morning, just minutes after it was posted to the Channel 4 website, then exploded into the social post-o-sphere. The report itself was less than fifty words long. You can read it for yourself here. Yet, regardless of the fact that there was no real report in this report, regardless that no profile of the deceased nor evidence of possible bullying or mental illness was reported, there were thousands upon thousands of words filling up the "comments" section. Or--as I like to call it--the compulsory soap box.
     I love opinions. They are the best. Opinion is the only reason I do this. But there is a fine line between opinion and being that troll, out to hurt feelings with your "radical" or "I calls it like I sees it" commenting. Just go here (really leave the page for just a minute. Then come back) and see what they say.
     Some of it might be spot on. Might be. Until we find out, though, it's just conjecture and flouting.
     So, as a side quest in the low budget Odyssey that is this blog, I offer another form of advice. Can it.
       A child died this morning past. Another in a long line of kids put under the gun. He will never walk down an aisle again, whether it be to fetch a box of cereal, graduate, go to church, or get married. His father will not get to teach him how to drive. His mother will not sigh as he clumsily attempts to put on his prom date's corsage. Grandparents will bury the reason you have kids--to watch them tortured by their children. Other children have lost another piece of their childhood, and know death--unfair death--far too early in life. One child witnessed something I have never had to endure: the finding of a body.
     And yet you go on about "bad parenting" and "I blame bullying" or "it's the guns."
     It may be. It may be. But that is neither here nor there. We lost a child today. And that is more pressing than how you feel about parents, guns in America, or the failings of our society. Just be quiet. If you're religious--pray. If you're not--be still and cherish those around you. Send a letter of condolences. Be thankful of what you have. Stop being the troll.
     I almost dug into the comments myself. Seeing so much blame and finger pointing. I even wrote up a nice 250 worder. Then I deleted it. The world doesn't need anymore of that kind of compulsion. Not from me. Not from anyone.
     A child died today.
     That's all from Elliott at the Kitchen Table.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Undivided Attention; or, Hang on I Just Need to Send This Text...uh...yep...Okay. I'm Good.

     It is the latest phenomenon to strike the human race: connectivity. And it is doing for us today (if you adjust for inflation) what written language, the printing press, the coffee house, the newspaper, the mail system, the telegram, the telephone, and radio have done for us in the past. It reduces the time lapsing between queries for information.
     I know what my son is doing nearly thirty miles away, because of constant updates--text messages, phone calls, pictures. And all of it goes from a phone in one pocket to a phone in my pocket.
     A little reflection is good for anyone's day; I just want you to stop and think about what I just wrote. In 2013 I can have a picture sent to my phone. In 2003 a camera was not yet standard on a cellular phone; Android was still in the works. In 1993 we could barely make a phone call on a cellular phone; pay phones were on every corner. In 1983 computers were still getting used to the idea of using something other than command line; Atari just came out. In 1973 no one had heard of AIDS, and had no means of looking it up, unless they found a library with a national science journal from THE FUTURE! 
     It took a decade to make the computer accessible to the average Joe when the Smart Phone Android and iPhone took about 10 minutes. In just the past ten years we've seen touch screens become so standard, their BS children toys! Important people use Twitter when once it was implored by the likes of the New York and London Times to ignore it, for it is a silly thing that will fast pass.
     That is how fast and crazy our world is. We have--never in all human history--been as advanced as we are today. Not that we know of anyway. Yet, when you look at what we do with all of this new stuff, it is kind of saddening. They put a man on the moon with the equivalent of my high school calculator, and I need my Windows Vista 64bit computer to do addition and subtraction--I haven't seen a single lunar landing that isn't somehow tied to Angry Birds. 
      Sure this new world of uber tech and connectivity has had its out of the park homers: Libya, Tunisia, and now (maybe) Syria; the Kilpatrick sex scandal; Wikileaks...But these social revolutions and "we gotcha!" have been swept under by the waves upon waves of useless facebook posts, twitter messages, instagrams, and piles and piles of redundant porn.
     And most importantly, we have forgotten how to pay attention. I wonder who got to this line. After all, statistically speaking, if it isn't 100 words or less, no one will read. Prove me wrong world. Prove me wrong.
***
     There was a date I had  many years ago. Over all, it was a forgettable affair. We had little to nothing to talk about, and, truthfully, neither of us really knew how to hold down a conversation like adults. We were just 18 and 17 or something like that. I don't blame her for that. I don't even blame myself. But what I will hold against any human being is that darn phone sitting at the center of the table, as though it is some kind of fashionable conversation piece.
     "O, is that the new blackberry?"
     "Why, yes, it is. It really is one of a kind."

     "Is that so?"
     "Of course not. It's just like another 100 million phones sitting in the pockets of on the go businessmen and women and truck drivers and kids and drug dealers and door to door salespeople."
     Worse yet, not only is it unoriginal and uninspiring, it is my competition. Can I out wit and out charm the next text or phone call she gets from her friends? The answer is, "No," and--honestly--how could you? It's like being that guy who is really good at of the cuff humor, but the moment your put on the spot because everyone is expecting you to say something hilarious, nothing comes out.
     Maybe it's just a myth--this full and undivided attention--that our parents made up when they hearken back to the gold age, when men were men, women were women, blah blah blah. After all, they had TV and radio and a growing social dissent from the Korean War and later Vietnam.
     A grand fantasy, yes, but a fantasy nonetheless. And, once long ago, I did experience it. Or, I was able to feel as though I did. But that is for another day.
     That is all from Elliott at the Kitchen Table with his old Olympia SM-9 and a bottle of Oarsmen Ale.

     P.S. Did you notice how the first Mac ad was made to be view in print--vertical, like a magazine page--and this last one is made to fit on a widescreen computer?
 

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Attention; or, the Troll Under the Router

     I recently saw a quote from Seinfeld, in which Jerry and one of his friends (I never watched much of the show, so forgive me that I cannot recall a single name save for Kramer and Jerry) bemoan the lowness of using one's cell phone (or, as they call it, street phone) to call and inquire on one of their friends.

     "It's the lowest move. It's like saying, 'Yeah, you're so unimportant to my life that I'm just checking in on you in whatever sliver of time I can find.'"

     Sorry if it's not exactly verbatim. But the sentiment evoked something in me. 
     I remember the day that my family got a computer. Oh how wonderful! Now I can used Lime Wire and Bear Share. Google! Oh the dirty pictures I will find with your image search. But most importantly I was now able to use America Online Instant Messenger--AIM. Or--for those damn kids who thought they were smarter than the rest of us, even though there clearly were not any periods separating those letters--Aye Eye Em.
     And you can bet my foolish self took to it like a white kid in the suburbs takes to mainstream hip hop music--or pot. I could not wait to get home so I could mutely chat with the same people I just left at school. How cool! It's like conversation without the conversation. Only now you're being recorded by some of them, and the normal social parameters of speech are being irreverently destroyed one block text at a time. And you're realizing just how fast the literacy rate has fallen in your city.
     It took me almost a week to realize that, when I would be talking to someone, they were not actually paying even the slightest amount of attention. More often than not, they were dedicating their time to someone else, or their e-mails, or this really funny website, or youtube (whenever that finally popped up).
     I was not prepared for that shock.
     "You're doing what?" I'd type to no response for ten or fifteen minutes.
     "Sorry."
     "It's oka--" "brb" would inevitably follow.
     You see, I had a pattern. Turn on the computer, check the e-mail, update what needs up dating, turn on the AIM, get to it. I answered one at a time. If someone chimed in, I asked them to call again later. Sometimes I even put up the away sign just so that no one would bother our conversation. Real thought was put into the AIM, at least on my end. It was how I learned touch typing; my analytical thinking was germinating; even my creative side of punctuation and sentence structure was begun on AIM.
     One time I recall rewriting an entire entry because I found that the syntax was too repetitive. Yes. I admit here: I revised on AIM more than any term paper in five years of college.
     I was used to that. That was how we did it in school. That was how we were raised in the late eighties and early nineties. If many people were speaking, it was on one topic in a circle. Everyone got their say, even if they had to force it--even if it wasn't wanted. When you spoke solo, there was no dipping under the table to check the stats on the Patriots.
     That was how conversation worked up until that year of the AIM. What we were soon to be doing on AIM, our past selves would have seen as rude...that's putting it nice: Jackassery.

     I've got to say: I kind of hurt the first time. 
     Jumping into the internet--and the subsequent larval social media--was in many ways a breaking of the barrier. A defiling of your innocence. A digital Hymen. You're exposed to: sex; porn; gossip; digital bullying and harassment; destroying friendships; building uncertain and new ones with strangers; learning more than you would ever want to about the human sex trade. You say stuff that no teenager should ever be caught speaking in mom and dad's house. If you're not prepared--if there is no one to tell you how it is (believe me, my father was already fifty. He had no idea what I was getting myself into, or that there could even be problems like these)--you end up in online wars, cussing out your friends, threatening the lives of others, losing sleep because someone is posting vicious live journal entries...
     You end up a troll.
     I--like most people my age--found this out the hard way. And we dealt with it in our own unique ways as we grew older; as we did, the electronic world changed with us. At seventeen a laptop was something for college, when you would be sooooooo busy that you would never be able to stop in at the family PC. A cell phone? Ha! Counting the minutes and the characters in a text? Whose dad is going to pay for that when there is a perfectly good house phone to use. Of course, a few friend got them by the end of my high school career--first in bricks, then in flips. My first one came with a camera. That was cool. I had no way of taking the photos off of the damn thing, but--who cares?--it's a digital camera!
     Yes. The times they are (and most certainly were) a' changin'. With them, we forgot a lot of things along the way.

     Next: Undivided Attention; or, Hang on I Just Need to Send This Text...uh...yep...Okay. I'm Good.

     That's all from Elliott at the Kitchen Table with Magic Hat's Heart of Darkness
      

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Writing Right (or Correctly): MONTEVERDE

     The second pen I have ever used is by Monteverde. It was bought off of ebay for a song, and has not disappointed--at least, not entirely.
     http://www.monteverdepens.com 
     It's a company that has a little bit for everybody. Their collection is big, and the prices are low. I don't think you'll find any of their pens breaking the $100 mark.
     The Regatta is my pen. It's stylish, with alternating blue and yellow acrylic sealed with chrome bands. When it touches paper, rarely does the ink fail to flow. However, it has a few drawbacks to its design.
     The nibs of Monteverde are very--and I mean very--sensitive. A medium nib can turn broad after a few pages. It is also heavy; the body has more metal than a pen probably ought, and--if you post the cap, which I do not recommend--it becomes so top heavy that it is almost unusable.
     Also, due to the weight, I do not recommend dropping this pen. As a traveling writer, I bring my pens everywhere I go. Because of this, they get banged against my keys, my wallet, and the ground. The Regatta is not that kind of pen. The cap in particular is susceptible to falling apart, and the body with lose its snug fit after a few trips courtesy of gravity.
     All in all, I rate this as a good pen, especially if you can get it used like I did. It gets the job done, and, even new, it won't break your bank. Did I mention that it looks great? It is the kind of pen that you would save for a black tie event. Just make sure that you bring your best suit, because the Regatte will show you up.

That's all from Elliott at the Kitchen Table, wishing his ink would come in the mail.

Up next: Yafa 

Writing Right: A Continuum

     Before there was Puffy Daddy and his Sean John; before Beyonce sold her first line of perfume; before someone thought it was a good idea to put the androgynous Justin Beiber on a line of nail polish (and the subsequent Twitter posts that mocked it) there was Mark Twain and the Mark Twain Crescent Filler fountain pen.
     History remembers good ole Samuel Clemens for his novels, and his bigger-than-life-itself adventures along the Mississippi, but what most people forget is how well Mark Twain was at creating his own brand.
     Just imagine, here is a guy living in the latter part of Reconstruction America, getting ready to see the turn of the century. The typewriter has not even been commercialised yet. 
     You know what, marktwainhouse.org says it best:

During his lifetime‚ Sam Clemens watched a young United States evolve from a nation torn apart by internal conflicts to one of international power. He experienced America’s vast growth and change – from westward expansion to industrialization‚ the end of slavery‚ advancements in technology...

When you really try to imagine it, Mark Twain was able to make himself into what we might see today as a Steam Punk Pop Star during the horse and buggy and telegraph and steam boat America. He did readings of his works across the country. Claimed to have turned in the very first typewritten novel, even though there is no evidence that Mark Twain ever used a typewriter. He just released, for the first time in 2010, a memoir. Want to talk about good publicity? He made his audience wait 100 years after his death to read about his life as a writer!
     During his time he had his own signature line of pens from the Conklin Pen Company, then located in Toledo Ohio. It was unique for its time as a self-filling pen, but most importantly for the crescent guard on its belly, making it leak proof.
     According to the Conklin web page, Twain loved it for,

"I prefer it to ten other fountain pens, because it carries its filler in its own stomach, and I can not mislay even by art or intention. Also, I prefer it because it is a profanity saver; it cannot roll off the desk."

     It is beautiful, and still available today. However, they do take some time to obtain. If you do not have a pen store nearby, you will need to rely on ebay.com or goldspot.com or any other sellers of fine pens, and they do run out of stock.
     They are also expensive. Not as expensive as say Bexley or Parker, but in the low $100 range, which for a quality pen like this is not a bad price to pay.
     It should also go without saying that the Conklin pen company is no longer an American company as it once was, but, according to Richard Binder and richardspens.com that doesn't really matter, as the original company was not very good at maintaining its brand over the long run.
     That's all from Elliott at the Kitchen Table.
     Next Time: Monteverde

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Writing Right (or Correctly)

     It is never fun being left handed. It is messy when you're a child; it is frustrating when you're an adult; and it just plain hurts when you're two hours in, and trying to keep up with your fellow classmates--of whom all are right handed.
     As a college student I saw my left handedness as a badge of honor; through careful practice and hundreds of man hours, I was able to write, leaving my hands mostly ink free, and--most importantly--a page that looked like a righty did it.
     I went from chicken scratch to high art in just under two years, when most people spend their lives making a mess out of thousands of fallen trees.
     But my victory came with a price. In order to leave my page clean, I was force to write about the page, which meant that I would have to arch my wrist and cock my elbow so that my wrist was parallel with the top of the page. It hurt. It hurt something fierce.
     That was when I did some research. Isn't the internet grand? That is when I found M.K Holder whose techniques for lefties was invaluable to me.
     I also found my good friend the fountain pen
     For those of you who have never use one--right or left handed--let me assure you now: there is no better experience with writing than when you use a fountain pen.
     Their design has been pretty consistent since the early 1900s. The most major changes has been to materials and the advent of the ink cartridge. Gold was cheaper back in the day and was used ad nauseum for its pliability. Rest assured, new fountain pens with steel and iridium are just as awesome--if not more reliable--than their predecessors.
     And though they are more expensive than a traditional BIC or Uni ball, there is no denying the ease in which they write. Also, you don't have to throw it away when you're done. Just buy more ink.
     In the next few articles, I'll probably be going on about a few of my personal pens, as well as some more famous models.
     Until then...
--From Elliott at the Kitchen Table with ink on his fingers.
 

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Little Blue Bird

     And now I find myself coming into the twenty-first century at the behest of others. I now have a twitter; I am oddly okay with that.

https://twitter.com/ElliottMcCloud

Follow it if you wish.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Random

     There was a girl I dated some years ago. It was a transitional relationship--a high school hang over--during the summer before my freshman year of college. I cannot lie--I like this girl. I liked every girl I ever dated. I am not--nor have I ever been--the kind of person who simply needs to date. So the relationship I had with this girl, which evolved naturally over my last year of school, was a genuine kind of puppy romance. And it ended, as so many of them do, with empty reasons of being apart because of: work, school schedules, the impending college years. 
     It all came down to this: we just don't have it. And that is fine in my book. More people should have that kind of foresight to know when relationships don't have the staying power. Then I needed these childish reasons. 
     For those listening, I don't care how old you are, if you need childish reasons to break off that which does not have the staying power, do it. You can never be too old to act young.
     But back on topic. This girl was affable in her time, and together we had fun, more or less. But there was just something about her that drove me up a wall. Something I could not stand. It was how she considered herself: "So random!"
     Like a badge of honor, she refused to stay on a single topic when on AIM. Did I just date myself with that reference? Her Live Journal was very much the same--oh boy, I am getting old, now, aren't I? Talking to her was often like reading the yahoo headlines. Many things to read but with very little substance behind it. And--unlike the yahoo headlines--there were no links for further information.
     Being the impetuous young man that I was--by impetuous, in this context, I mean mostly spineless--I feared causing any kind of strife within any circle of friends, no matter how remote. So I went along with it. "You are. It's so awesome," and the like. All the while, I tried to avoid groaning with dismay.
     It is not that I ever hated the idea. Why, random searches and the random feature on a CD player are two of the defining modes in my formative years. I don't even hate randomness as an idea, though recent years have been begging me to rethink this particular stance. What really got me was her own self awareness. Her practiced, purposeful, willful act of randomness. That I could not stand. Not. One. Bit.
     All of us have our own phases in life, when we are trying to manufacture an ideal self for the world to see out of the little we have to work with as kids. It is very natural. But to claim something that was so obvious--without any nuance-it drove me mad. Mostly because--until this moment, with this one girl--I had already (the judges on the outside of my being had already decided) considered myself to be a random kind of guy. I will never admit to that publicly, though. That would tear down the entire illusion.
     And her laying such a claim is, I think, indicative of a much larger trend of self-creation in the noosphere and the post-myspace.com generation.
     It might be because of the nigh unlimited photo ops that we have in the filmless world, but I think that the real root is in the very simple "About Me" section of every personal webpage on the web: too early on in our development we are forced to put into words who we are.
     I remember my own battles with identity. It took place every day in the real world: the home; the high school cafeteria; in the sad songs I wrote when I thought I'd be a rock star. My development came in waves of public and private.
     Public: clothing changes; adapting vernaculars previously foreign to my speech; attitude changes toward anything.
     Private: rectifying taboos in my own personality; fighting with depression and anxiety; that minutely brief sexuality question that, thankfully, went no further that, "Do I like girls?" to which my body heartily responded with, "Oh, yeah!"
     It was at times practiced, but always natural feeling. Going back on a choice, changing my opinion, it was all okay back then, because--most importantly--within a few days it was all forgotten!
     There was no digital record to throw back in my face by malicious internet trolls. No one was up in arms when I decided to shift from grunge to farm boy chic to punk and vice vice versa. 
     But now?--how is anything achieved with a panel of a billion plus judges waiting at your door? Anything I did way back in the day would have made me a fake--a fraud. I would have been ridiculed. Well, more so than I was back then. Thinking back on those days and how hard I took it, I cannot imagine going through it now. There would be no room for personal growth.
     That just isn't right.