Thursday, May 13, 2010

Brontë Sisters Action Figures

Thanks, Aunt Rachel, for pointing this out.

Although the dolls look similar to the eccentric, and often writerly, action figures available from Accoutrements, as far as I can tell, there are not yet any Brontë figurines. The video was created in 1998 by Phil Lord and Chris Miller (most recently famous for their movie adaption of that other Gothic Romance classic, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs). This educational pseudo-commercial was never aired.

My childhood feels retroactively deprived.

Maybe the right idea at the wrong time? If internet reaction to the video's recent release is any measure, the world is more than ready for the Brontësaurus.

Anne, I love your WWWF growl. But if you really want to blast barriers with Feminist Vision, hit 'em with The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

One of the semi-secret goals of my life is to spread the realization that Tenant of Wildfell Hall is a superior book to Agnes Grey and deserves far more recognition than it receives. Other goals on this invisible list include: learning to pick locks and finding a way to recharge my laptop battery via hamster wheel. And getting my hands on some Brontë Power Dolls.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Why Do We Love Typewriters?

My laptop is like an extension of my mind, but with a more reliable memory. But pictures of manual typewriters cause inexplicable tingles of nostalgia to run down my spine. (The site makes me croon with delight, even though I know that without my laptop I would not be seeing these images.)

I only tried to use a typewriter once—back in high school when I didn't have a computer and I thought carrying around my mother's old typewriter would be equivalent to having a laptop. It was not a "portable" typewriter by any stretch of the imagination. Writing on a heavy manual typewriter with very old ribbon in the back seat of a moving vehicle is not for the faint of heart. I had to pound the keys with all the strength in my wimpy little fingers to make any impression on the paper. Is it possible that this short-lived experiment left a pleasurable impression on my psyche? I doubt it. But what other explanation is there for my typewriter love? Watching the opening credits of old Murder, She Wrote episodes too many times?

Or maybe this yearning is a manifestation of some innate longing for connection to the past, to writing traditions? I'm certainly not the only person who loves old typewriters. There are societies, museums, and several eccentric collectors dedicated to the obsolete machines. Ads in Writer's Digest and images on writing sites are much more likely to feature typewriters than PCs. There is something aesthetically pleasing about a typewriter (particularly one with the old round keys). A beat-up laptop just looks beat-up. A beat-up typewriter has character. A computer has a brain (and frequently, a will) of its own. It's just as likely to be your antagonist as your friend. A typewriter may have a personality, but you don't have to worry that your typewriter is secretly beating your solitaire scores or surfing the web for ways to increase its radiation output when you're asleep.

And then there's the sound. I love the clicking of my computer keyboard when I'm banging away at something. But a typewriter really builds up a rhythm, especially if you've got a nice carriage return lever: Clickity-clickity-clack-clack. Ding! Ziiiiip. With that sound comes a physical connection to the work you are carving out of the air. Besides, the furious clicking of my computer keyboard could easily mean that I'm playing online Boggle instead of making progress on my novel. The sound of a typewriter always means writing is being done.

I may wax poetic, but I am not going to convert. In a (typewritten) essay on why she believes typewriters create better writers, Rino Breebraat states:
The computer automatically flags and corrects; its design choices are limitless and its printing quality is faultless. But still you don't write the same way—the machinic mutuality is completely negated and abstracted. It's all fixable later.

With typewriters there's a need to think a sentence through completely, one has to print it correctly the first time by focusing on the physical typing process, and hence the pace of the entire writing process is different.
And that is exactly why I am not trading in my laptop for an Underwood. Some days, the only thought that encourages me to write is I can fix this crap later. I often write a scene, only to find—fifty-five drafts later—where I originally thought things were going was nowhere near as interesting where they finally ended up. But those first fifty-five drafts were essential. No amount of mental preparedness can take the place of my awkward, stop-start-backspace-rewrite process. I am not a very good writer. I am becoming, however, a great re-writer. Typewriters are not kind to re-writers. If I had tried to write this blog post on a typewriter, I would now be passed out on the floor from overexposure to Wite-Out fumes. Never mind my single-handedly completing the deforestation of North America.

I still love looking at typewriters. Perhaps all I really need is a nice steampunk computer. Then I could feed my inner Luddite and still have high-speed internet.

Enough philosophy. Want to see some old, really funky-looking typewriters? You know you do. Want to see some images of famous writers and their typewriters? Why not? Want to see the awesomeness of a working steampunk laptop? Random photos of typewriter prettiness? I could link forever—this rabbit hole has no bottom.

(First image from an Odee article showcasing the amazing work of typewriter sculptor Jeremey Mayer. The image of the lovely Hansen writing ball is from The Virtual Typewriter Museum. Image of Steampunk laptop by Jake von Slatt is from a Wired article. The typewriter/waffle iron comes from artist Chris Dimino's site.)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Racquetball Poetry

I've only ever played Racquetball once. By myself. I couldn't figure out how the scoring worked, so I can't tell you who won—either the wall or the ball.

That said, I will not be traveling up to Racine, Wisconsin to compete in the Racquetball Chapbook Tournament on February 1st, but I sort of wish I was.

How can you not love a contest that begins its description with
Tired of myriad chapbook contests whose winners are determined by their works’ literary merit? Are your poems being rejected for publication because editors deem them unfit to print?

Would you prefer your chapbook published because you displayed a level of athletic prowess and competitive determination that in no way signifies your achievements as a writer?

In other news: I won an honorable mention placement in the Kentucky State Parks 85th Anniversary Poetry contest. Richard Taylor, a former Poet Laureate of Kentucky, was one of the judges, and the thought of him holding one of my poems makes me feel happy and slightly sweaty at the same time. At some point, the winners are supposed to be listed on the Kentucky State Parks site, but that point is not yet.

After this experience, I feel a connection to Ken Burns. He created a 600-hour documentary on the National Parks; I wrote a one-page poem on a Kentucky State Park. I'm probably only two-degrees removed from a Peabody Award now.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

2010 and Wrapping Up Old Business: Fifty Books List for 2009

I wasn't sure I was going to finish the fifty books challenge for 2009. I did, but just barely. (What I didn't seem able to finish was blogging about them.) I'd rather focus on what I'm reading/writing in 2010, so I'll just post the 2009 list and a give you quick run-down of my favorites.

Children/Middle School

  1. I Once was Lost: What Postmodern Skeptics Taught Us about Their Path to Jesus—Don Everts and Doug Schaupp
  2. Once Upon a Marigold—Jean Ferris
  3. Gaelic Ghosts—Sorche Nic Leodhas
  4. A Journey of Poems: An Original Anthology of Verse—ed. Richard F. Niebling
  5. Heart of Darkness—Joseph Conrad
  6. Doctor Faustus—Christopher Marlowe
  7. Life is a Dream—Pedro Calderón de la Barca
  8. The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm—trans. Jack Zipes
  9. Housekeeping: A Novel—Marilynne Robinson
  10. Girl Meets God: A MemoirLauren F. Winner
  11. The End of the AffairGraham Greene
  12. One Writer's BeginningsEudora Welty
  13. 1-2-3, Pain FreeJacob Teitelbaum
  14. Little DorritCharles Dickens
  15. The Pope's Children: The Irish Economic Triumph and the Rise of Ireland's New EliteDavid McWilliams
  16. UlyssesJames Joyce
  17. The Hero with A Thousand FacesJoseph Campbell
  18. Calder: Gravity and GraceCarmen Gimenez
  19. Clans and Families of Ireland: The Heritage and Heraldry of Irish Clans and Families—John Grenham
  20. Calder Game—Blue Balliett
  21. The Black Dudley Murder—Margery Allingham
  22. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn—Betty Smith
  23. The Case of the Late Pig—Margery Allingham
  24. Fathers and Sons—Ivan Turgenev
  25. Pictures at an Exhibition—Sara Houghteling
  26. The Extraordinary Adventures of Ordinary Basil—Wiley Miller
  27. Attack of the Volcano Monkeys—Wiley Miller
  28. The New Kid at School (Dragon Slayers’ Academy) —K.H. McMullan
  29. Revenge of the Dragon Lady (Dragon Slayers’ Academy)—K.H. McMullan
  30. Searching for Dragons—Patricia C. Wrede
  31. The Grapes of Wrath—John Steinbeck
  32. Breathing Lessons—Anne Tyler
  33. Calling on Dragons—Patricia C. Wrede
  34. Talking to Dragons—Patricia C. Wrede
  35. The Joy Luck Club—Amy Tan
  36. The Ugly Princess and the Wise Fool—Margaret Gray
  37. The Short Reign of Pippin IV: A Fabrication—John Steinbeck
  38. Mystery Mile—Margery Allingham
  39. Rice—Nikky Finney
  40. Beyond Style: Mastering the Finer Points of Writing—Gary Provost
  41. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?—Edward Albee
  42. Of Fiction and Faith: Twelve American Writers Talk about Their Vision—ed. W. Dale Brown
  43. Lunch Money—Andrew Clements
  44. A Reliable Wife—Robert Goolrick
  45. Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha—Roddy Doyle
  46. Brave New World—Aldous Huxley
  47. Not Becoming My Mother: And Other Things She Taught Me Along the Way—Ruth Reichl
  48. The Cider House Rules—John Irving
  49. Four Quartets—T.S. Eliot
  50. Emergency! True Stories from the Nations ERs—Mark Brown

That's 9 nonfiction, 3 poetry, 19 fiction, 3 memoir, 3 plays, 11 children/middle school books, and 2 "other" (both happen to be collections of stories). Fifteen of these works are listed on Editor Eric's Greatest Literature of All Time list. After my 2008 list, I'd said I wanted to read more poetry and drama for 2009, but comparing the two lists, I can see that I've finished the exact same amount of work in both categories. I've also been working my way through 1000 Years of Irish Poetry, which is heavier than my cat, so I've technically been reading more poetry, even if I haven't finished more volumes. Maybe I should just try to see more plays?

Favorite Fiction of the Year:
Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith—I suppose I could have included this under Children/Middle School because it's often assigned as middle or high school reading. But the best books about childhood are rarely written (entirely) for children.
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

Very Honorable Mention: Pictures at an Exhibition by Sara Houghteling—I hadn't really heard of this book before I won it in a drawing through The Book Studio. The melancholy atmosphere, the aching combination of tenderness and disconnection in the characters' relationships, and sensitively depicted obsession with Art kept reminding me of Potok's My Name is Asher Lev and The Gift of Asher Lev. (The fact that a majority of Houghteling's characters are Jewish, albeit, non-practicing, probably doesn't hurt the comparison.)

Favorite Non-fiction:
I Once Was Lost: What Postmodern Skeptics Taught Us about Their Path to Jesus by Don Everts and Doug Schaupp
Beyond Style: Mastering the Finer Points of Writing by Gary Provost
Of Faith and Fiction: Twelve American Writers Talk about Their Vision ed. by W. Dale Brown

Favorite Play:
Life is a Dream by Pedro Calderón de la Barca

Favorite Poetry Volume:
Four Quartets
by T.S. Eliot

Favorite Memoir:
Not Becoming My Mother: And Other Things She Taught Me Along the Way by Rachel Reichl

Favorite Children/Middle School:
The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede
The Extraordinary Adventures of Ordinary Basil by Wiley Miller

I'm restarting the challenge this year. (My first book is Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie.) But I can't help thinking that maybe I should make it my goal for the year to keep up with this blog...