Rantings of a Picky Pen User

Apparently, I’m just too picky for my own good.  First I bitch and moan about trying to find the perfect purse/bag (I found a reasonable substitute….it’s being field tested as I type this….I’m finding chinks in its armor….), now I’m going to bitch about pens.

About a year and a half ago, I finally got my first fountain pen.  I picked it up in part because I liked the old-fashioned novelty and in part because I’d heard that it can make writing more comfortable for people who are experiencing hand/arm strain/pain (which I was starting to have problems with…very troublesome for a girl who loves to write things out longhand).  I can’t say for sure there’s not some placebo effect going on, but I feel like it has made a difference in my writing comfort–the change in angle and the reduction in the amount of pressure necessary to write have made a difference.

Unfortunately, the big draw back to fountain pens is that it can be very tricky combining them with air travel.  Because of my crappy luck, I wasn’t about to tempt fate on my travels and risk winding up with an ink disaster somewhere over the Pacific.  So, I am having to resort to ball points.

At the time of this writing, I am just finished with leg-one of this adventure.  A one hour and fifteen minute flight.  And I have NO IDEA how I’m going to survive with just a ballpoint pen.

I’m totally not used to writing with these anymore.  I have to press so hard, and the lines look so dry and weak after consistently having those liquid, flowing, solid lines you get with a fountain pen (even the extra fine nibs like I use).  And my hand is already cramping.  Granted, some of this is just because I’m out of practice for this type of writing instrument, but….

Yes, I’m whining.

At one time I thought a gel pen or a roller ball was going to be the solution, but I’ve had a lot of trouble with those on planes.  I don’t know if it’s my crappy luck again, or if it has something to do with the dry air in the cabin, or the altered pressure, but roller balls and gel pens skip and dry up on me on planes.  And, to be honest, they are only marginally better than a ball point as far as writing (they do seem to require less pressure for me).

I’m sure I’ll survive somehow, but I think my written output is going to suffer because of all this.

My Latest Reason for Not Sleeping

I haven’t been sleeping much lately. Mostly this is from stress. I decided I need to do something to de-stress. My usual go-tos of alcohol and exercise weren’t helping, so I decided to try a strategy recently recommended to me by a colleague. I decided to try reading fiction. And since the piece of crap book I’m trying to slog my way through wasn’t helping either, I decided to pick up some new fiction.

I was at Target to buy a new flashdrive, and I had to walk by the books to get to electronics. I saw The Hunger Games on a display, and since the same colleague had also recommended this book, I decided to pick it up.

When I couldn’t sleep again Friday night I decided to start reading it.

Bad mistake.

At 4am I finally got to sleep.

The good news is I read it in two nights (I skipped Saturday). The bad news is that’s because I stayed up till 5:45am on Monday to finish the damn thing. Keep in mind I’m a sleep deprived narcoleptic who tends to fall asleep after five pages.

The question is: why?

Admittedly, the writing style has some minor issues. Most notably a tendency to break the “show me, don’t tell me” rule. And yet, I’m totally addicted. And unlike with Twilight I’m not even ashamed of being addicted. I’d blame this on social pressure, but you all know how eagerly I admitted my soap opera addiction, so that seems doubtful.

I could give you the answers everyone else seems to give regarding this book: the social commentary inherent in the dark future and the strong female character. Those are both true. I like that Katniss is not just a strong female character, she’s a well rounded one. Let’s face it—emotionally the girl’s a train wreck.  Understandably so.

But I think the truth is that the book actually does a remarkable job of blending plot and character. A lot of popular fiction these days is all about plot. Which bores me. A lot of other writers (myself included) get so distracted by character they forget they need a story. This book balances both forces perfectly. Enough that it can break my heart and keep my heart pounding for five hours.

Needless to say I can’t wait to read the other two books. But I’m not letting myself stop them till Spring Break. When not sleeping won’t be such a problem.

Snarfing Coffee With Erma Bombeck

Would we have coffee with…Erma Bombeck?

Cammy:  A resounding YES.  Bombeck was held out as the benchmark for humorous newspaper writing by my journalism teacher (who didn’t generally encourage us to write humor in her class, but had no problem with us reading and appreciating it).  Reading her column was the first time I really realized that people wrote funny shit for adults, too.  Before there were “Mommy Bloggers” venting about the housewife life, there was Bombeck.  Not only did she write about the absurdities of suburban moms and their families, she wrote it in a way that anyone could snarf their Dr. Pepper over.  It’s been more than 10 years since I first read one of her books (When You Look Like Your Passport Photo, It’s Time To Go Home), but I still recall clutching at my sides laughing.  For that alone, I owe her a thank you cup of joe. I’d like her take on the Mom blog phenomenon mentioned above–I have to imagine she’d have something humorous to say about that one.  I think it would be interesting to get her take on women and humor in general (more than once I’ve heard that women can’t be as funny as men–something that women like Bombeck render totally untrue).  And if nothing else, I once read she was twice as funny in person as she was on paper, so as long as I’m careful when I take a sip, this should be a riot.

Kristy: Sure. I’ll shamefully confess that although I’d heard her name for years, I didn’t really know who she was until tonight. But you know I like people that bring the funny, and a quick google search for quotes reveals that this woman could indeed bring the funny. So while I lack Cammy’s passion for journalism, I share her passion for spending time with smart funny people. Like Cammy, I’d also like to hear her thoughts on the “Mommy Blogger” phenomenon. I’d also like to ask her about her forays into television, even though they were largely unsuccessful. Perhaps even more to the point, I’d be interested to know what she thinks about the dearth of female writers in television, particularly on comedy shows. Is this just social prejudice or something else? Does she think there’s any thing that can be done to help? I will also be careful when I sip my coffee.

My Name is Cammy, And I Have a Notebook Problem

I don’t know when it happened.  I’m fairly certain it’s been coming on for at least 10 years, but when the actual breakdown happened is anyone’s guess.

I used to be content to write in a spiral notebook of the 50 cent variety.  Or on plain notebook paper, lugged around in a red binder left over from someplace my Dad used to work.  People had given me a journal or two, but I was intimidated by the permanency of sewn binding.

But somewhere along the way, I lost the intimidation.  I filled up the two bound journals I had.  I picked up another.  Filled it as well.  Then came the first pocket Moleskine with graph paper and it’s perfect size for the purse.

Then came another pocket Moleskine.  And a larger one received as a gift…..

And I think that’s when the wheels came off.

It makes absolutely no good sense.  I have Field Notes notebooks (awesome, simple and Made in the USA), Picadilly notebooks (Moleskine imitations at a fraction of the price), no name black cover books, a brand-less fat cream colored book, more Moleskines, hand-made books found in Harry-Potter-esque shops in Budapest….

And the vast majority of these?  Aren’t full.  In fact, most of them I’ve not even begun.  It’s embarrassing.  Even more so since I haven’t stopped looking for new ones to add.  I try to refrain, but when you see that mark-down on a Moleskine that you know you’ll fill eventually.  And what am I to do when a family member who’s actually paid attention to the fact that I don’t stir out of the house without a pen and notebook presents me with a new one as a gift?

I honestly wish I could fill ’em up as fast as I seem to acquire them.  I refuse to use them at work (cold day in hell before the job intrudes upon the notebooks!), but work eats up time I might spend filling that obscenely large stack of notebooks.  Damn real life.


My Favorite Movie

My apologies to Kristy for this, I know she is not a fan…

In my previous post I mentioned an example of my night-owl-hood in my childhood habit of staying up until all hours on the weekend watching musicals.  This reminded me of a yearly vigil I had yet to keep, and which I will not have the opportunity to take care of after Thursday.

I have watched The Sound of Music once per year, minimum, since I was about 6 years old.  I stopped counting the number of times I’d seen the movie sometime in high school.  At that time it was 82. If I were a little more Sheldon Cooper-esque, I wouldn’t have stopped counting.  And I wouldn’t feel quite so ashamed about the size of that number.  Or of the fact that I can recite every word, name all the supporting nuns (my favorite is Sister Sophia–played by Marni Nixon), and point out the scene in which the real Maria von Trapp walks through the background along with two of her daughters.

At this point, I get that it’s sappy, schmalzy and utterly saccharine in the eyes of most of the universe.  I honestly wasn’t too aware of this until I moved to Virginia and encountered the ridicule of a “friend” in high school who liked to mock me and use this as evidence of my banal and parochial musical tastes (which, in turn, evidenced how parochial I was in general).  He was a narrow minded douche, but I was forced to acknowledge that this movie is not deep or sophisticated.

I’ve stopped trying to convince people that it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.  I have totally accepted that my best friend will never, ever like this movie (but she doesn’t give me shit about it though, for which I’m eternally grateful).  And, until this particular post, I’ve definitely been keeping it on the D.L. with new friends and colleagues.

But that doesn’t mean I can let it go.

The bloody thing is completely entwined in my life.  It was the impetus for many a learning experience: European geography ( “Daddy, where’s Vienna?”), Catholicism (although, for the longest time I assumed all nuns were nice), WWII, the division of Germany, communism (Dad’s lectures go on for a while and branch out quite a bit), submarines, the Austria-Hungarian Empire, WWI (“Daddy, how can Austria have a navy if they aren’t by an ocean?”) telegrams (which I thought were the single dumbest idea in the world and yet I really hoped I would get one someday–still haven’t)….  I spent a good decade measuring my age against the ages of von Trapp kids.  Turning 13 was awesome because Lousia was my favorite of the kids.  Turning 17 was honestly daunting because I was completely without a point of reference, except Rolf, and really, who want’s a Nazi as guidepost?  Not me.  And, God help me, I really, really, really want my own puppet show.

But the biggest connection came in 6th grade. My English teacher, who was truly a kindred spirit, initially connected with me because I’d checked out The Story of the Trapp Family Singers from the school library (the last person to have checked that one out was my teacher when she was back in junior high).  She, it turns, out, had always loved the movie herself.  That led to me being willing to reveal to her that I liked to write.  She was the first adult I ever talked to about writing, and she read, edited and encouraged in a way that (unfortunately for all of you) led me to believe it was something I could do and do well (well actually, all you have to worry about is the part where I think I can write.  The “well” part was adequately obliterated by the College of William and Mary).

So, you see, at some point, this became more than a family-friendly musical of extreme length–it became a focal point for a lot of memories, and the starting point for a lot of education.  When I put in this movie as a comfort flick once a year, I get to wallow not just in nostalgia for the movie itself, but in the nostalgia of late nights in the living room of my old home as an elementary school kid up way past bed time, of spreading out maps on the floor in front of the TV with Dad point out borders, of sitting in Mrs. D’s classroom after school reeling at the wonder of a grown up taking me seriously.  I can see that it’s sappy, but, unlike the douche who mocked my tastes, I also see more than just what plays on the screen.

Why November?

I would dearly love to participate in NaNoWriMo.  I actually made a half-ass attempt once.  Unfortunately, there are few months of the year more crappy as far as timing is concerned.  Honestly, who the hell picked November?

In college it came at the end of the mid-term crunch which extends into the hellish push to the end of the semester.  When you’re pulling all-nighters and paying the kind of money you shell out for an education these days, it’s hardly the time to try and churn out a novel.

I thought once I was done with school it would be better, but it’s not.  I’ve found that in my meat-space job, November is a push month to clear things out before December which is a hell month for business with people constantly going out on holiday.  It’s like everyone’s last ditch effort to get real work done before the year ends, and the closer you get to the end of November, the worse it is because you also have the kink of Turkey day thrown in.

Even when I was unemployed (the one year I attempted the run), November proved to be a nightmare because of the number of family get togethers and my continued ass-busting to find a job.  Thanksgiving week was a total bust.  Telling my family I need time to work on a novel just isn’t going to work.  No one believes you’re serious.  And even if they do, they don’t grasp what it entails.  And then they want to know why you’re not polishing your resume to find a job.  That was a week gone.  Plus an additional week gone since I was sworn in as an attorney that month and the family made a to-do there as well.

Even December works better.  For students you get a chunk of the month off (the first part’s a bust, admittedly).  The family togetherness is still an issue, but for my family it’s always spread out more than the November blitz of Thanksgiving.  In my job, things at work tend to slow down a lot as people take off.

I’ve considered doing my own novel writing challenge in some other, less poorly-timed month, but I lament the lack of mass support of other writers, and the fun of badges and kick-off parties, write-ins and bragging that you made it.  There’s something to all of that.  In my one attempt to participate, I found that solidarity with other writers quite heartening and helpful.

Anyone out there want to rebel with me?  Name the month.  Seriously.  Leave a response, or, you can drop us an e-mail–all addresses are @mytvmypeanutbutter dot com (before the at you have your choice of Kristy, Cammy or themanagement).

Separate Note:  Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.  I did not do my duty and post Sunday.  I’ve got company in town and it totally slipped my mind.  You may feel free to either suggest punishments, hurl virtual rotten food, or just tell me that it’s actually nicer when I don’t post.

Laughing At A Personal Masterpiece

I  found the “masterpiece” I wrote at the ripe old age of eleven again today. I was actually looking for something else. I forget what it was I was trying to find because I’ve been laughing my ass off at this piece of trash. I kind of feel like I’m living that scene from Anne of the Island where Anne finds some of the old stories from the Story Club, including the ever-tragic “My Graves” and gets a good laugh out of it.

It was called Cassie and the Camp Wiggee-Hama Ghosts and though I was quite proud of it at the time, I look back and see a story riddled with one cliche after another, filled with the kind of things that seem incredibly cool when you’re eleven and told from the point of view of a character which I know now was nothing but a Mary-Sue of myself.

Opening lines?

“Oh, 99 bottles of beer on the wall….” chorused most of the bus.

“Ohhhhhh,” I moaned pitifully.

“The headache strikes again,” said my friend Helen sympathetically.

“If I hear that kid,” I said, pointing to a girl two rows ahead of me, “hit that wrong note again–“

“You’ll scream,” Helen filled in.


“No, I’ll calmly rip out her vocal chords and place them in formaldehyde.”

Out of the mouths of babes, I tell ya.

I wanna know how I learned to spell “formaldehyde” when I was 11 because I really don’t think I could spell it now if I weren’t looking at it.

Just be glad that the internet was still an experimental toy of DARPA and certain Universities, or a broader swath of people may have suffered exposure to this particular exercise in amateur writing.