I’ll Keep my Laptop, Thank You

Yesterday, a friend tweeted this article on The Guardian, “Unthinkable? Bring Back Typewriters.” While the author makes some great points about how using a typewriter slows the writer down, thereby making writers more intentional about word choices, and how typewriters remove the distracting allure of the internet, I’d have to say, “hell no!!” I’ll keep my laptop thank you very much.

In fact, I wonder if the author ever had to actually type something that mattered on a typewriter, like a research paper or even an important letter. If so, I think the nostalgia for the click of the keys would quickly wear off.

I still have my antique ribbon typewriter. It has lived buried in the back of my daughter’s closet for years. When I was seven or eight years old, my Dad brought it home for me to write my stories on. It made me official. I was a writer.

I never use it, but I’ve lugged the thing with me for my entire life. It weighs around 50 lbs. and represents my youthful attempts at writing, my dreams to become a writer someday.

My ancient typewriter that made me feel like a true writer.

My ancient typewriter that made me feel like a true writer.

I actually don’t remember writing that much on it. I remember spending more time trying to get it to work so I could write. The ribbon would come unwound, little mechanical metal pieces would get stuck. I remember jamming more than one butter knife in to get it going again.

You also have to hit the keys hard to get them to work. Fingers don’t fly over these old keyboards. Nope, typing a sentence gives the fingers a pretty good workout. One letter at a time.

If you hit more than one key at a time, the little letter bars fly up at the same time and stick to each other, creating a mess and nothing gets typed. It’s the equivalent of your computer screen freezing, but in this case all you have to do is reach a hand in and unstick everything. There are definitely days that I wish I could do that with my laptop.

All the keys stuck together in a wad. This happened a lot.

All the striker bars stuck together in a wad. This happened a lot.

Typing is a sensory experience unlike writing on a computer. There is the sound of the letter striker bars (or whatever they’re called) hitting the paper and the carriage. You have to watch where you are because at the end of each line, the typewriter doesn’t automatically “wrap” around. As the typist, you have to reach up and move the carriage back to the left margin. It’s labor intensive. Mistakes cannot be fixed.

The letters are also quirky, with each typewriter having its own “fingerprint.”

The Letters

The Letters

I loved reading mysteries as a kid (and still do), and I remember typewriters often providing clues. Detectives would study typewriter fonts with the forensic intensity that today’s CSI investigators go after DNA evidence.

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No MS Word conformity here. My typewriter has a definite style. The “e’s” are all red. For some reason it dropped down a half a line halfway through the word “kind.” If I had committed a crime and left a clue on my typewriter, I’d definitely be caught.

Perhaps it would be good to create clues for a mystery on this, but I think that’s about it. I won’t be cranking out any stories on this old thing, but I also don’t think I’ll get rid of it. It’s comforting to know that even though I haven’t used it since the early 1980’s, I still can. My computer would never work like that. I could not shove it in a kid’s closet, have kids sit on it during games of hide and seek, leave it there for 20+ years, pull it out one day, write something on it and then print it to paper like I did with my typewriter this morning.

I have no idea whatever happened to any of the stories I wrote, or even if I ever finished a whole story on it due to all of the issues with actually using it. Even so, when I think of my typewriter, I think of my 8 year old self imagining stories, and for that alone, I’ll hang on to it. It reminds me that yes, I am a writer.

On Expectations

As they say, anticipation is half the fun. We get to imagine perfect outcomes for any experience we may dream up, but when the job, book, vacation, or even the restaurant I’ve just tried doesn’t live up to my expectations, disappointment ensues.  Expectations make me focus on the outcome, not the journey, and I wonder what opportunities I have missed out on because I decided on the expected outcome before I  had the experience.  That sounds ridiculous, but its the truth.

I live in Nevada, home to slot machines in each and every grocery store. Gambling exists because of this whole idea of focusing on the outcome – players think if they just “play” one more time they’ll win big, with no attention paid to what’s happening right now which is, “OMG, I’m losing all my money!!” I tend to do this (though not with gambling) because it is often far more fun to think about possibilities rather than “what is” or “what I should be doing right now to make that possibility happen.”

This past week, I was needing some creative inspiration for a quilt, and I came across this video. It was on a site on Design Principles, which I found kind of funny, but  I loved the concrete example of people stepping up to meet expectations.  Check it out – it’s really cool!

What is the lesson here? People step up to meet expectations others have for them.  They don’t just lead to disappointment but to people achieving great things.

Last week I had a fishbowl style Socratic Seminar in two of my Inclusion 10th grade English classes.  An inclusion class just means that there are 5-10 kids in the class that struggle with the subject.  They’re generally kids who have an IEP (Individualized Education Plan ie. they require special ed. services). I co-teach it with a Special Ed teacher, so we can give those kids the support they need. It works really well because it includes kids, rather than excludes them by parking them in the “resource room.”

I have used socratic seminars in honors classes and wasn’t sure how a population of students who tend not to be quite so engaged would do. The seminar entails putting six desks in the middle of the room in a circle. The rest of the desks are set in a larger circle facing in.  Six students start in the middle and begin their discussion on whatever text we have been reading, in this case Elie Wiesel’s Night.  They then proceed to have a discussion.  If somebody wants to go in, they get up, quietly tap on the shoulder of one of the people in the middle, and the students trade spots.

The kids loved it.  I only had one student out of almost 60 (in two classes) who refused to enter the circle. They didn’t want to quit talking. Students who never speak up in class got upset when somebody “tapped them out.” My co-teacher and I were shocked.  These kids put my own book club to shame with the depth of their responses and their reliance on the text to support their opinions.

The kids were prepared. They had done the reading. They had written responses to the reading, and prepared “Big Questions” (questions that don’t have one right answer) to ask about it. I had also told them that I had only ever done this in honors classes, and it was up to them to make it work.  I set the expectation high and they stepped up.

So what’s the lesson here? I need to raise the bar, not only for myself but for my students and even my own children. Not so high that they can’t be met, but high enough that I force both myself and my kids out of the status quo where many of us (myself included) happily schlump along.

Are you a Super Hero?

I participated in my final regular season Forensics/Speech and Debate tournament as head coach this weekend, and last night at the awards, each of the coaches shared something they had learned from participating in this thing we call Speech and Debate.

One shared that he had learned that the effective use of language to manipulate, persuade, or change people’s thinking was a super power. I completely agree. If we think about all of the language we see, hear, and use each day that is shared in the name of persuading us to buy a product, behave in a specific way, or agree/disagree with a belief, it is difficult to disagree.

The coach ended his talk by saying that the responsibility of using this particular super power is huge, and like all super powers it must be used only for good.  We all envisioned Spiderman when he said that and the 100+ high school students cracked up, but he made a great point.

Though he was talking to a room full of speakers, I instantly thought of my writing.  When we write words that others will read, whether through a blog, novel, story, essay, article, or even website content, we have some sort of purpose. Generally those are to inform, persuade, or entertain, but in each case, we somehow influence our readers. That is power.

I’ve been thinking, am I using that power for good?   Are you?

(Image is Royalty Free clipart from Microsoft Office.)

Reading for Fun

“You seriously bought a book called Hot Rocks?” my husband asked.

“Yep.  It looks good too!”

Most every published author will tell you that you need to read, and read a lot, in order to write.  I have always read a lot, but this past year it seems I’ve been reading lots of what would be considered literary fiction, some classics, and lots of non-fiction research and craft books.  I keep thinking that I need to read stuff that will improve my writing.

In On Writing, Stephen King advises writers to just read and read a lot.  He doesn’t read to improve his craft and even argues that the “bad” books sometimes teach writers more than the “good” ones.  I completely agree with that, but  I’ve been focusing so much on learning that I’ve forsaken one of my favorite hobbies, just reading for the pure escape and joy of it.  That is . . . until this weekend.

My son played in a hockey tournament, and on Saturday, we had several hours between games.  I live thirty minutes from the rink, so it wasn’t really enough time to go home.  We went to lunch, ran some errands, and then I asked my husband to stop by our little local bookstore.

A groan followed by, “Noooooooo, it’ll take fooorrreevvveerrrr,” came wailing from my fourteen year old daughter in the backseat.  How I gave birth to a child who I would consider a non-reader will always be one of my life’s great mysteries, but I did.  My husband, bless his heart, ignored her and pulled into the bookstore parking lot.

“Really, this will just take a minute,” I said before dashing into the store.  My daughter, having spent hours with me in bookstores, didn’t believe it at all.  She just stared at me with that look that fourteen year old girls have perfected especially for their mothers, sort of a mix of resignation and annoyance all covered over with “why me?”.

I was out of the store in under six minutes which, for me, is something of a record, and I had exactly what I wanted, a couple of romantic suspense novels: a little mystery, a little sex, a fun story.  Perfect.

I spent the rest of the weekend watching three more hockey games, a little football, and snuggling in my chair with tea, a quilt, and my new book.  I remembered why I like these quick, light reads.  The characters are fun, the dialogue is always witty, and they always have a happy ending.

They’re entertaining!  I guess it’s like watching a romantic comedy as opposed to an academy award winning movie.  As an English teacher and lover of good literature, I sometimes get in the mindset that one is “better” than the other, but that’s ridiculous.  I get sucked into romantic suspense novels just as much as I get sucked into what would be considered “literature,” sometimes even more so.

I read for a good story, for the entertainment, for the escape.  This weekend, I got that.  Thanks Nora Roberts.  It was just what I needed.

Reflections on 2011

In 2010, I spent the last day, December 31, 2010, journaling and creating a mandala that I posted in my writing area.  I’ve spent this entire year, looking at it everyday.  I’d never actually set goals for the year in such a concrete and specific manner, and as I’ve spent time during the last two weeks of 2011 reviewing and reflecting before looking ahead to 2012, I have to say that I’m happy with what has transpired over the last year.

My happiest accomplishments during 2011:

  • I started this blog in March, posted twice a week with great regularity until late this fall when my job and mom duties made life crazy.  I also got brave enough and after a few months and some encouragement from a new writer friend (thanks Susan) to link my blog to Facebook where people that I know (other than immediate family) would read it.  That was a scary day for me – not sure why it was so scary, but I overcame it and now I’m okay with whoever reads it, or not.
  • I wrote 70,000 words in a novel with the working title, The Overlander’s Daughter.  Just writing that title makes me happy.
  • I applied for and received a new passport which will help me fulfill travel dreams.  I haven’t needed a passport since I was fifteen, and hopefully, after a 17 year hiatus from international travel, I will need one in the near future.
  • I made it to almost all of my kids’ soccer and hockey games.  I love watching them play.
  • I visited the Redwoods which I’ve always wanted to do.
  • I started and completed three full quilts – Megan’s fairy quilt, my Man quilt, and Haley’s denim nightmare quilt.  I also finished six Christmas table runners and started a scrappy block quilt. I have it all designed, but it’s currently in my WIP pile along with my hand quilt, a beach themed quilt, and a block exchange quilt.
  • I participated in the Willamette Writer’s Conference and learned a TON about writing, the writing industry, and publishing.
  • I ran a 5K.  I wanted to also run a 10K but was unable to find one that I could get to on a free weekend.  Having my own kids in sports as well as my own coaching responsibilities tends to keep my weekends full.  In fact, I had to miss the first quarter of one of Haley’s games to finish my run.  I’ll keep the 10k for next year I think.
  • I read Writing Down your Soul by Janet Connor.  It was a great book that inspired me to write three to six times a week in my “Soul Journal.”  This has helped me to clarify what I want and who I am.  It also helped me to feel much calmer and more grounded each day.

One thing I haven’t included on the above list is the awards my Speech and Debate team won which we’ve definitely earned or those accomplishments with students in my classroom.  Those aren’t accomplishments that ring true to me right now, maybe because I’ve been so focused this year on writing and moving forward in other areas.  I am ready to move on to adventures that excite and inspire me.

As I look over this list, I’m pleased, and I think its okay to celebrate what I have accomplished.  So often we focus on what we didn’t do or fail to accomplish.  In fact, its been surprising to me how many people have blogged about how ready they are for 2011 to end as its been such a bad year.  One lesson I’ve learned and been able to appreciate as I’ve gotten older is to take time to celebrate what we do accomplish and achieve, even if they’re small or seemingly insignificant.  Taken altogether, as I look at my list, I can say “I’m a writer,” and overall, 2011 has been a good year.  I’m excited to see what 2012 will bring.

The Smell of Home

I grew up with pine trees outside my bedroom window.  For eleven years, I fell asleep listening to the branches and needles swoosh in the breeze coming off the mountains.  The wind is an everyday occurrence on the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  It starts to blow around three in the afternoon and keeps up until after sundown.

In the front of our house, there were two trees, quite close to one another.  One was easy to climb, the other not so much.  My sister and I would climb the easy tree, grab a branch from the other tree and swing across to the taller tree.  Then, if we climbed way to the top, we could sit way up high and sway in the afternoon gusts.

We’d grip the trunk tight with our hands and lock our ankles below the branch we were sitting on as the entire tree would bend and sway.  I’d always stick my nose right up against the branches and breathe in the vanilla-y smell of the Douglas pines.  It is one of my favorite smells in the world.  Even now, the smell of pine makes me think of the home I grew up in.

Last week, my family traveled to the Redwood forests in the far northwest corner of California, just below the Oregon border.  I thought about what those giant forests might smell like.  When we first pulled in to the campground and opened the truck doors, I fully expected to smell the forest, the wood, the moss . . .  something, but I didn’t smell anything.

How can it be possible that these trees don't smell like . . . anything? Notice the itsy, bitsy person in the corner for some perspective on size. They're HUGE!

The next day, on a hike through a grove of giant old growth trees, I stuck my face right into a tree.  This tree towered over me and made the Douglas Firs I grew up with look like tall, woody weeds.  I breathed in deeply through my nose thinking that up this close I’d be able to smell some piney scent or maybe even some sort of tang like in a eucalyptus tree.  I didn’t smell a thing.

I was hoping for something, some scent that would, after I returned home, remind me of these trees and forests that exuded a sense of peace.  Standing below the trees, we could crane our necks and see neither the tops of the trees or the sky.  They were immense, majestic.  I loved them and will return someday, but I won’t be reminded of them by a passing scent, the way the smell of pine trees reminds me of my childhood home.

At the end of the week, after a long drive we pulled into our driveway following a summer thunder shower, and I breathed in the smell of my home now, the sweet scent of sage following a rain.

Smell is integral to my sense of place.  I hadn’t realized quite how much I associated smell with place until this trip, to a place that I thought should have smelled but didn’t, through Tahoe and the smell of my childhood home, and back to the desert after a rain.

It is something that I will definitely be aware of in terms of my writing as well.  What does my setting smell like?  And what does that smell mean for the characters or what emotions do they associate with it?  I think I’ll have to chat with them about that.