Posts Tagged ‘writing’

Skill Set

8 September 2010

Dear J-

It feels like it’s been a solid week since I wrote in the mornings, but of course that’s not true; if you’re supposed to practice one thing and do it well, that means getting used to a routine, or, more succinctly, write every day, write something new, write consistently. I dunno; that strikes me as being counterintuitive: as Gurney Halleck, one of Paul Atriedes’s mentors from Dune would have it, there are some skills you can’t turn off (like fighting) just because you’re not in the mood. I like to think that writing is one of them, but you have to have a topic.

Inspiration is serendipity; skills and tools, on the other hand, need regular sharpening. I suppose that’s what I’m doing with homework out of the book for the exam, whether or not it has anything to do with actual test questions. If you’re supposed to be practicing as part of simulating actual exam conditions, well, I’m going to have to drag the cat along to sit on my feet and pipe in recordings of figgy yelling for us to come into her room and find something she dropped under the bed. Oh, and start the exam at 10PM, when my eyes can hardly stay open, let alone reason out a path to the solution. There’s a lot happening now compared to the last time I was preparing for a test, but some things are oddly familiar — the darkness, the hours spent honing skills.

People say you have to develop an eye for photography, which is nothing more than visualizing a scene before you take it. I suppose the equivalent writing skill is knowing where you’ll be by the end (and for as much as I write, I can’t seem to make that click) and removing everything else that doesn’t contribute to the story. Both may be iterative, creative processes, and both definitely demand feedback, which I’ve been demonstrably remiss in sending; I subscribe to several Leica digests* but haven’t been brave enough to submit any pictures for fear of getting ripped to shreds — there’s one guy on there, Dr. Ted Grant, who’s got a keen eye and a teacher’s heart, tempering praise with liberal amounts of suggestions**. It’s the only way to get better, I suppose.


* You’d think that the Leica digests would be full of insecure dentists both proud that they’ve gotten the jewel-like lenses and bodies and worried that their skills aren’t up to the task. Being a recovering Nikon guy, I used to see them that same way, after all. I’m happy to say that I was wrong, as the Leica folks are full of lively discussion and an un-smug certainty that they’ve got the best equipment in the business; from my limited exposure to the magic glass, I have to agree.

** This is the assertion that practice doesn’t make perfect, but perfect practice does make perfect. Alternatively, think of it in hockey terms: keep your head up and stop admiring your passes.


State of the Art

19 February 2010

Dear J-

I was in a thrift store this morning poking through discarded technology (as an aside, the pickings were slim indeed and possibly reflective of the economy — no one’s upgrading so there was nothing that wasn’t totally beat) and came across an INFOCOM game — Sherlock Holmes for the Amiga; I’ve always liked the pack-ins with those games, so I poked through the map and manual, but it was the floppy disk that gave me the biggest double-take. It’s been at least five years since we had a computer that can read a floppy.

It’s also been a hard week for technology here in the household; yesterday the Wi-Fi radio on my iPhone failed (as it’s something I use without a SIM card, it’s strictly a iPod Touch with a camera), rendering it essentially useless except as a media player; today half the screen on theVet’s Kindle went unresponsive. Funny how quickly we’ve moved from networking as a nice option to an essential; both devices are useless without talking to their respective motherships. For my part, I actually prefer consuming e-mail on the iPhone to the computer.

Given the assumption that iPad features will trickle down to other versions of the iPhone OS, that means that there’s a Bluetooth HID stack coming, and all the different mobile devices I’ve used to compose may fall by the wayside. It’s another piecemeal cost; I could have afforded a nice netbook with all the junk that’s passed through my hands, and I’ve actually had a laptop to work off of for a couple of weeks — but at the end, I actually prefer working on the small screen, and it’s far more portable too.


Annual Writer

15 August 2009

Dear J-

I used to pride myself on being able to write extemporaneously on the oddest topics — this would come in handy during yearbook season. Granted, we had a small school, so there was always something to talk about; some odd story, some rumor, some half-truth with legs all its own. You never knew how much to mention, or how little you wanted to believe — your experiences may have one day made a funny story one day, but in the meantime you had to live with the looks.

We could take a page from figgy in this regard, who wears her emotions out loud (dragged, kicking and screaming two blocks home when we couldn’t figure out the right configuration of leash and tricycle; bashfully hiding behind my leg for the friendly strangers instead of declaring her love for the fishies; sitting down and refusing to go any further, sorting pine needles from street to curb and back again); rather than leave it as a festering nonsense, to be read in some slight tilt of body language, it’s out for everyone to watch.

Yearbook 09 5322 -sm

You write something quick in the annual shoved in front of your face and maybe you’ve got a theme going, maybe you end up writing more than you intended. It’s strange how we treat our yearbooks — I’ve run across more than a few in thrift stores, but tempted as I’ve been, I haven’t bought any yet; when we write we assume it’s for forever and yet we never spend more than a few minutes composing and committing those words to posterity. It takes perspective — writing down those numbers, 1992, makes me realize we’ve spent a lifetime already, we’ve lived a life outside those flat pages bound together documenting a moment. It’s fun to visit; it’s impossible to dwell, no matter how infinitely forever and wise we believe ourselves at eighteen.


Tools of Exploration

15 December 2008

Dear J-

Is it strange that I should believe that the more obscure and hair-shirty the tool, the more creative the results?  At work I do many of my drafts in NotePad (honest, I’d use vim if it didn’t conflict with our strict no-outside-programs policy), this despite having a full-blown copy of Office XP available to me (though to be honest, I haven’t done much with Word since I managed to squeeze my hundred page thesis out of it ten years ago).  I had not one but two of the Nikon F5/Kodak digital hybrids, one permanently stuck at ISO 80, and both sharing the same somnolent battery (leave it in the camera for more than a day and I’d have to use the 9V trick to get it working again).  And, of course, there’s this which is usually composed (during the week) on an overgrown cell phone and keyboard.

I think it’s the idea that things can be used for purposes other than what’s intended, not that they should be, but that they can be.  A chance mention on Retrothing about how the old DMG-001 Game Boy has been re-programmed into an electronica music device, which sent me scurrying to learn more about LSDJ and Nanoloop, of course.

I suppose the key is to realize that it’s nice to have a second calling, but it’s not a magic bullet to unleash some hidden talent.  You know, a tool is only a tool, and has little to do with actual ability:  if you have it, you’d be able to work with anything, no matter how dextrous or sinister the tool.  It’s why I’m beginning to understand that the right tool for writing might not be something like a TRS-80 Model 100 or an eMate, but just something that does the job transparently and doesn’t require too much thinking about how to operate it.  Maybe something like a netbook, instant-on, wi-fi, decent battery life, and with a reasonable keyboard?


So what did I do?

5 November 2006

Dear J-
I can’t really remember that much of the day-to-day work in grad school aside from searching for MP3’s and surfing that nascent web. You young folks, we used to call it surfing. And I hand-coded all my HTML in vi! Don’t make me get up from this porch!!

After I handed in my thesis, my advisor told me that it would have been a good start at a PhD — ha ha, the first encouraging words he said in two years! Too late, sucker, I’m going to … go to Sacramento and … be unemployed … for ten months … ha? On the other hand, maybe it’s part of the forge of life, these frequent, lengthy unemployment periods. I kinda doubt it, though — it’s the same sort of rationale that lets us excuse touring in Europe as “discovering yourself.” (Hey, it’s fun, and I’d love to do it soon — but it’s touring).

When I got recently hired, in fact, it was the first time since 1996 that I didn’t have a unemployment break between activities (and that was when I went for grad school, instead of searching for a job). Am I so unambitious to not want to work (folks who’ve known me for more than a few days are undoubtedly nodding their heads now)? I keep hearing, over and over, that the only people who don’t have jobs don’t want to have jobs, so I must just be lazy, right? It’s more that I don’t want to start things — once started, I like to see them through, but that means a fair amount of time invested.

I do like to write, enough to enjoy the little joke John MacDonald makes in the foreword to Night Shift, enough to want to delude myself into thinking I have some talent for it. But it’s not effortless for me; I can’t make the letters dance on the page with the same grace and vigor that they stand out in my mind; it’s like my Mandarin — I can hear it, pitch-perfect, what I want to say, but it comes out strangled and incomprehensible. Oh, by the way: I do not call China or Taiwan. I do not need long-distance service. It’s a PLOY, when you call me and ask if I want to sign up for long-distance telephone service. I always reply in English. I always say I don’t understand. Secretly, I do understand. I just wish you’d leave me alone.

So, the writing. The writing keeps me sane. The writing keeps me in shape for more word-pushing at work. It gives me an outlet that involves pushing buttons, but not for the same purpose as video games (I play a fair number of adventure/RPG-ish games, and I’m sure that I’m experiencing nothing different than what uncounted thousands have experienced before/after me). This is me, as distilled as I am able. I’m a poor storyteller, and am notably lacking in composition skills. The intended subject invariably is missed; I started this entry as an introduction to the acknowledgment page of my thesis, but it’s grown beyond that into a tumor-laden parody of prose.

I believe we’re all different, J-, and I can’t begin to imagine your experiences in life (although, oddly, we seem to be on parallel paths — Eastern Washington, Bay Area, East Coast, Southern California). I don’t know if you’re now the same J- that surfaces when I write. I believe you are. I believe you deserve happiness on a scale as great as mine. I believe what you believed — me, us. So many changes over the last fourteen years and I haven’t changed the depth of my jealousy and greed — I want it all, I want nothing for anyone else. One of the smartest things I think Mrs. Nyman ever said was that one person in the class was an extraordinary writer without saying who; it gives us hope that we’re it. I still have a vicious competitive streak in me — even though we’re all supposed to be learning the same things at work, I jealously hoard the nuggets of wisdom passed on to me, either so that I can feel good about repeating them later, or to make myself indispensable. theVet says I often slip into lecture, but for folks who enjoy reading the encyclopedia, how can you not?

Sometimes I feel as broad as the ocean and as deep as the puddle that fooled our neighbor ducks in Davis. We used to live in a duplex next to the railroad tracks. Every spring, enough rain would fall that the ditch next to the tracks would fill — and a mated pair of ducks would invariably nest there. I’m not enough of an expert to tell if they were the same pair (likely), but the puddle would dry by June and the ducks would head for wetter digs. I can’t seem to finish anything lately.

I haven’t forgotten anything, J-. I remember watching you sleep at Gonzaga, head down on my coat. I remember what you said when I told you I was getting married. I remember believing it, too. Some days I still do, and of all the unfinished business in my life (what happened to the model BMW M6 that I hid under my bed, only 25% complete, after my parents moved out of Cheney?) I never thought anything else was more important. Maybe it was just a throwaway comment, maybe it was goodbye in a way I didn’t understand (it’s been difficult to keep track of where I am — you know that Michael Lius seem to be a dime-a-dozen, but J-‘s have always been easy to spot with google — and we haven’t said a word since then), but selfishly, again, I want to know that you’re happy, knowing that I can then say we did okay. We left it unresolved, J-, and I never told you how wonderful theVet is aside from saying what a strong person she is.

That’s like saying the pope is holy, J-.

We’ve been through a rough year, between having the miscarriage in May, losing my childhood home, and having grampa die. Maybe it’s why I feel a need to reconnect with folks I knew, folks I know. You’re closer to me, J-, than most of my cousins, and we’ve known each other so long I can’t help but think you’re curious about the last ten years, just as much as I am.


Laboratory School (Rat on the Wheel)

5 November 2006

Lab school is a creepy concept. No one should be on display that early.


The first couple of years I went to a Laboratory School. We weren’t given chemistry sets and crystal radios. We were the experiment. I realize this now only in hindsight, as there really was no other reason to have thirty foot (9m) high ceilings than to line the upper half of the walls with one-way glass and set graduate (education majors) students on the observation decks. We would see them, occasionally, behind the glass, and we’d wave to them blithely unaware of ourselves.


Cold Water on Your Back

5 November 2006

I must have really been homesick those two years in Boston. That’s all I can excuse myself for.


All the same, I really enjoyed grade school. You got crayons, glue, pencils, and a notebook in September. You listened to stories after lunch. You wondered what was on top of the roof, over the fire escape, past the fences, behind the bushes, under the slides, inside the teacher’s lounge. I personally had a huge fear of being in the sunlight with the bloodstones present. As my friend described it, it would suck the blood right out of your body, much as lab reports and midterms were to do in a few years.