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Monday, 30 September 2013

Killing Words

Stephen King had once written in his memoir, On Writing, that in order to write your best you must, "Kill your darlings." In other words, never be afraid to edit, rewrite, and delete--keep it somewhere so that you can always go back and see it again, but certainly delete.

If ever you wanted a lesson on learning to do so, find an editor. These past few weeks have been some of the most informative, helpful, and, in some cases, frustrating; there is no denying that, in order to be a writer, to take a chance on something so foolhardy, you need to have the utmost confidence in yourself, your personal voice, and--most of all--your word.

Sometimes that confidence in your work means that you can't quite find the will to admit when something is weird, contrary, or just downright wrong. Or you're just so set in your vision that you cannot see beyond it.

Confession: I don't know if you can tell this about me but I really like the semi-colon as a form of regular punctuation. I also enjoy, large, clause loaded, and compounded up the wazoo sentences, as I find them most appealing and enjoyable to both read and write. It's like Tony Hawk doing a 900 or Lance Armstrong doing...never mind. We'll ignore him.

For a magazine, however, these tend to be less than admirable traits for writers. After all, when we're being honest with ourselves, semi-colons and twelve line sentences are really just for people who want you to know that they went to college, or for Salman Rushdie. They don't really lend themselves to reading.

As a result, I had the supreme pleasure of having to wonderful editors from aid me in revisions that tightened my prose into a neat and streamlined syntax, perfect for a burgeoning journalist.

Everyone has someone that they like so much that they wish to emulate. I have several. Truman Capote. John Irving. John Steinbeck.

Now that I'm really getting my feet wet in journalism, I think it might be time to find others out there with different prose, cleaner and more direct prose, in which I might find a new way of using the tools in my tool box. After all, learning to hold back is just as important as when you let everything fly: like writing; like music; like any craft.

Just remember, no matter how many articles you write and how successful you become, never be afraid to kill your darlings.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

The Olivettis: the Myth, my Collection

In light of my article in or maybe in celebration of it, I have decided to do a tour blog of my Olivettis. It isn't the biggest collection, or even the most complete. It is, however, mine. And I love it.

Olivetti Lettera 22
There are earlier models of Olivetti portables. If you look hard enough, you'll find the rare MP-1. But as far as the world is concerned, it is the Lettera 22 that got the ball rolling. Sleek, light, and well built, the 22's were well reviewed if not bought in droves. They were really the shout out from Olivetti, saying, "We are here, World!"

Everything on the 22 went to the 32 ten years later. All basics: line select, paper supports, half-space for corrections. It even had the unique hallmark of Olivetti--the margin release key, when depressed, could act as an automatic 1/2 indent when returning the carriage.

A true first attempt, there is a lot in the guts of the 22 that needed a good revision. They are messy and convoluted. A lot is stacked and hard to get to. The 32 cleaned up nicely and is very easy to do repairs on. Also the action of the 22 is terser, requiring on the lightest setting a great deal of force.

But it still stands out as the first in modern typewriters, and was a favorite of Sylvia Plath.

Olivetti Lettera 32
It is the typewriter of all typewriters, sitting in the hallowed halls with the Royal Quiet de Luxe, Olympia SM-9, Hermes 3000, and IBM Selectric. What was wrong in the 22 was corrected, and what was right was improved upon.

The 32 has the perfect touch. It is also a little bigger than the 22, giving it a bit extra meat when sitting on the table, which is good for long typing sessions; chasing your banger across the table every two or three words can be taxing.

It is from the 32 that Olivetti planned its next 30 years or so of manufacturing. Everything that follows is really just ruminations on the 32, sometimes improving and other times redressing for a new generation.

As far as usability goes, the 32 is one of my most used machines. After tens of thousands of words, it shows no signs of wear, even after 40 years of use.

Olivetti DL/33
It was first called a deluxe, and later a 33. That's going to become a bit of a habit for Olivetti. The 33 added superficial features to the Lettera mostly making it look more high fashion than student machine. The paper guides were given their own encasement; a platen shield--to keep the dust and wite-out away from your feed rollers--was added. The DL is one of Olivetti's first shots at plastic body typewriters, though it was marketed as vinyl. 

The only real addition the DL made mechanically was moving the keyboard tension lever to the top of the machine instead of on the side. The inside has a lot more insulation, too. The 32 pings when typing, and the guts can be heard clearly through the base plate, but the DL has a perfectly singular clunk, accompanied with nothing else. It's little things like that that make it worthy of being called "Deluxe"

Olivetti Lettera 31/Dora
The very antithesis of deluxe, if the 32 was the standard, the 31 was super economy. The paper guides, grapher, tab were all taken out, as was the aluminum body. Instead the 31 has a plastic box. Literally. It makes for one of my favorite machines to look at. With its well defined and simple lines, it looks like a beginners guide to how Olivetti designs.

It is this boxy style that really lasts the longest. When the 32 is phased out, the 31 body continues on under a thousand different names. The latest I saw it was in an ad for the 1990 Soccer World Cup, labelled an Italia 90. The keys are different, but there is no mistaking the Dora/31 box. I'll bet it skids across the table like a Dora, too.

Olivetti Lettera 35
Debuting in 1974, it is the true successor to the Lettera 32. It has everything the 32 had, but in a new all aluminum body. Updated with newer, smaller, white key caps the 35 is a new direction for Olivetti, moving the company away from their sleek, tiny typers and to thicker portables that look more like cartoons of typewriters.

The 35 also came in a million different names over its twenty years in production. It also shared the name Italia 90 in the same ad as that 31. Mine is a 35l, which is probably the "deluxe" model of the 35. It has all the extras that the 33/DL had back in '69. However, there is no denying the heritage of the inner mechanism. It is a Lettera 32, through and through.

Olivetti Lettera 25
The 31 of its day, the 25 is a stripped down, economy typewriter. Marketed as Olivetti's basic portable, the 25 is a plastic housed 32 mechanism without the tab, paper guide, or tension adjuster. Like its brother, the 35, the 25 is much bigger than the Letteras of years past. But put alongside a 35 and a Studio 46 semi-standard, you see that it too shows a unified vision that Olivetti had. It too is sleek, cool, and simple. Also like the 31, the 25 showcases all of the basics of Olivetti design in its simple and sexy lines.

Most will say that the Olivetti's of the late 70's through to when they stopped production in 1994 were not as good as the machines of their heyday 60's, but I would disagree. The platen might not be as big, but I would argue that the last incarnations of the Lettera (excluding the 10 and 12, because those are hideous) are every bit the machine their grandfathers were. 

The typewriter was on the wane by 1975. Computers were coming up. Olivetti was even making some. Yet, when other companies phoned it in with Chinese knock offs (I'm looking at you Royal) Olivetti kept making their own machines, designing them with their eye, and kept the original vision alive: looks, touch, and price. The Lettera of the 80's still feels great. Much better than a Brother or Nakajima. I'd say they feel better than the last of the SM-9'S that rolled off the line. They look better too. Just looks at those shadows on that sharp body. Sexy. Damn sexy.

In the end, you can say what you want about Olivetti, but there is no denying: this is a company that could sell itself and its machines. They lasted longer than any of the others. They beat out Olympia, Royal, Hermes, Underwood. They did it with a quality product, dynamic marketing, and style and grace that wasn't to be seen again.

That's all from Elliott at the Kitchen Table, ready for another day.

UPDATE 10-4-13: As I have come to find, the 35l is not a "deluxe" model. Rather, it was a trimmed down version of the 35, with different colored platen knobs (black instead of white), a slightly smaller shell (literally, we're talking fractions of a inch smaller all round), and no hard shell case. Mine came with a tote bag. 

It also sold a bit better, as the 35l pops up more on ebay and etsy than the 35 does. It also helps that the 35l was produced longer, if my estimates can be trusted.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

The Religious Eclectic

It's hard being the one truth, the only right way, the least insane in the the field of faith; it is inherently a mad thing: a matter of suspension. That kind of corner in the market is made harder to maintain when everyone in the pew can actively cross reference and source check whatever you say, and in that process find the way to a wiki list of alternate religions full of the same tropes, teachings, mythology, and contradictions.

Common born deities that rise up to do great things; the ascension of body and soul into heaven; rising from the dead, having literally or figuratively beaten death; your actions in this life bear consequences  in the next; worldly attachment versus enlightened focus on the spiritual and otherworldly; the existence of heaven and hell; creation through the act of a deity, told through metaphor or simile.

Of this list, you will find traditions in all the Christian sects, Native American, Greek and Roman Mythology, Buddhism, Islam, and any number of religions around the world that I have forgotten to mention. Despite these similarities, and despite the fact that everybody knows it, too many modern religious groups spend so much of their time denying the similarities exist, and call those who point them out, pushing for a moderate religious environment mislead fools, unworthy to criticize their doctrine, or evil bent upon destroying said church.

To combat such movements in the world, the Catholic church has been doing a year of faith and in 2011 put superficial updates to their mass. Nothing major. They just changed a few words and responses enough that they had to supply everyone with a mass card to help them through what used to be second nature. Layers and layers of religion, but (if I can misquote an old lady) Where is the faith???

I think it is safe to say that Generation Y and the Millenials are not too concerned with religion. As Stephen Colbert once called it: "All that upin' an downin' and crissin' and crossin'." We live in a time where we have less time and more to do--life is micromanaging now, with email, work following you everywhere, phone calls anywhere, and more hours on the job than before to make end's meet. For good or bad, the system of religion is less relevant today with its heaping of busy work and extra micromanagement.

It is a time when most people can look around and appreciate the other faiths around them. The truth doesn't have to be in any single of them. It can be in bits in all of them. Faith--I think you find--is the operative word of these two most recent generations. A religious eclectic, they do not worry so much about the correctness of there own faith, or what the Pope thinks your children should or shouldn't read. Your personal relationship in your heart with your deity/deities is more important than financial obligation to keep big churches running, especially in a world where religious leaders have Mercedes to ride around in while their parishioners live in projects.
That's all from Elliott McCloud at the Kitchen Table.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Religious Warfare

"Good. You're here," said a middle aged usher at the church that my mother goes to each Sunday. "Bring your wallet!"

Maybe it was just a joke. It probably was at some level, but that is just the one--the surface and insignificant one. The other, underlying is the one that concerns me.

Like so many religious organizations in America today, the Catholic church is reaping the rewards of extravagant expansion in a time where the pews spend more time with dust on them than butts. The towering spires, peaks, golden goblets, fancy robes, and all the gas, electricity, and water that comes with running it are not equal to the dwindling base. As a result, the Diocese of Detroit is having to close down churches, upsetting its existing base as they quibble over debts and donations and who pays what with greater punctuality.

It's the kind of problem that should never have come up, for it is the exact problem that could have been avoided through christian practices of piety, and modesty.

Driving around town, it is clear that religions of all denominations tend not to subscribe to these basics, as is evident in their extravagant stain glass, towering ceilings, thousands of square feet; and, though it is true that many of these religions have their own charities to help the needy, it is equally true that when looking for a place to donate, one must look at the difference between cost of operation to the number of people helped. What is the cost of a city of castles, or a thousand palaces called churches?

The ideas of modesty and poverty seem so foreign to the church that its current Pope--a Jesuit no less--seems like a character out of a fairy tale, and whose messages of forgiveness, modesty, and poverty run opposite to his most recent predecessor. His was a message of lavishness, from his fountain pen, to his shoes. And with exception to the few Tridentine churches I have been to and the Order of Jesuits, it is the message of wealth--built on the backs of the working and the poor in the name of Christ-- that has pervade since the time before the word catholic.

An irony would be putting it nicely. Hypocrisy would be putting it correctly.

Friday, 6 September 2013

The Spirit in the Machine

What is spirit? For the life of me, I could not tell you. If pressed, I'd say it's equal parts style, touch, and history. A collusion of meaning and quality that makes a thing transcend being a simple machine or a toy or picture or car, and turns it into a being.
Spirit certainly is not unique to my Olivetti's. There have been hundreds of machines that have had the same affect on writers for generations.
Woody Allen had his SM-3 since he was a kid, writing jokes for the papers. Paul Auster had his SM-9. For Jack Kerouac, there was his Hermes 3000 at least the last few years of his life, but spent most of it on an Underwood--a model from before the company was turned into a rebranding for Olivetti; he never liked the Italian company. Hemingway had his Royals, of which I think he grew more attached to as he aged. Isaac Asimov, to this day if I am not mistaken, still has his IBM Selectric I.

All of these are great machines in their own right. Many of them I own in my personal collection. None of them, with exception to the SM-9, could captivate me like the Olivetti's (especially the Lettera 32) did.
Within Olivetti, there is more than just usability and quality. When Ico Olivetti found his company, and though it would be many years before he could find the thesis statement of his grand plan, he believed that a typewriter could be all of these things: usable, affordable, beautiful. And the Lettera's are. 
They endear the most die-hard love from collectors and users like Cormac McCarthy, who used his for almost his entire career. Leonard Cohen spent much of his career on a well loved Lettera 22, and Francis Ford Coppola wrote the screenplay to the Godfather on a Lettera 33. 
Many writers are loyal to their machines. Many of them have an affinity for Royal, Olympia, etc. But none of them seem to have the love that comes from Olivetti users.
Finding your machine is a lot like dating, and among typers I am a bit of a whore, in that my heart belongs to many, all of them Olivetti, all of them usable, stylish, sexy. That is part of what brings me back to me time and time again.