Here is an article from Slate last week on the first book ever to be written on a word processor. In 1968.
The IBM MTST which stands for Mega Ton Snazzy Typewriter.* Costs more than your house.
*Actually I have no idea what MTST stands for.
The book's author, Len Deighton, explains, "Having been trained as an illustrator I saw no reason to work from start to finish. I reasoned that a painting is not started in the top left hand corner and finished in the bottom right corner: why should a book be put together in a straight line?" Which is a good argument. I'm not sure I'd have had the bravery/foresight/cash involved in knocking out a window of my home in order for a crane to install a 200-pound, $10,000 (1968 dollars, at that) typewriter in my home office, but the idea of processing words strikes me as remarkable even if you'd never heard of it before.
You gotta love when the point of the ad copy is: we can't believe it either.
IBM evidently never considered that these machines would be used by individuals. I get that these things were huge and expensive, but processing words has always, always struck me as the ultimate killer app. It's not that I can't imagine writing a book longhand or on a typewriter -- I can, and I imagine it was torture. As both a reader and a writer I came of age in a time of flexible, malleable, negotiable text. Messing with text feels like my birthright. It's as hard for me to imagine writing novels without a computer as it was for IBM to imagine me writing them with one, but I'm pretty sure I'd have chosen a different career. I thought a lot a lot a lot a lot about writing and technology for and of and as Goodbye For Now. Technotext is my text. But processing words, well that's just something I take for granted.
Me if I had to draft in hardcopy.
I also like the note about how afraid he was of losing work to power outages. I am an anal backer-upper, so I totally get it, but anything electronic seems less worrisome than the alternative. I have long wondered how writers ever used to leave home in the days of hardcopy. What if your house caught on fire? Or the roof fell in? I have always had this backup plan: I would leave my hardcopy in the refrigerator. I mean dropbox is pretty awesome, but as a fallback, I'm not really doing anything with the meat drawer anyway.
"Why oh why must I live in a time before cloud storage? Perhaps I am being karmically punished for caring more about my desk than my cute little dog."
We are moving. Just across town. Less than five miles away. A minor change as far as these things go. But oh, as you know, moving is hell. This is because first you have to cull all your stuff, which is hard. Then you have to pack it, which is hard. Then you have to move it, which is hard. Then you have to unpack it, which is hard. Not to mention the business of procuring a new home and finding someone else to love the one you're in. Not to mention the emotional upheaval involved in the leaving of something as monumental as a home and the adoption of something as monumental as, well, another home.
Roughly .0007598% of the boxes of books. Too. Many. Books.
As you also know, when you move, you turn up a whole bunch of crap that needs to be thrown away (that is, recycled, donated, sold, or thrown away). One of the things I turned up today was the first printed-out drafts of each of my books. The best word for these is "fumblings." They are trying things. They are seeing what happens. They are totally free because there is so much change ahead of them. They are totally lost because they have no idea where they're going. But I do. They are harbingers, but they weren't at the time. They're amazing to look at because they are, indisputably, where you've been, but you just can't imagine how they got where they went from that place where they were.
Instead of buying boxes and/or begging them from liquor stores as in days of yore, KarmaBoxx delivered these big, strong, clean plastic bins to my door and will pick them up from me after I move. Cheaper, easier, more pleasant, and much greener than cardboard boxes. Cool, no?
At the moment, from the bottom of the box-canyon, it doesn't feel like it, but moving houses is not nearly so dramatic, so changeful, as writing novels. My new house will have all the same words as my current one, the same general plot as well. That's true of the barest percentage of first drafts of my novels. And meanwhile, back at the beginning of book writing again, as I fumble about with the start of #3, nothing is so comforting as those early lost drafts. See where they were? See where they went? Doesn't seem possible, but evidently, it is.
My extremely cute and beloved current home. I'll post a pic of the new one next week when we're actually in it. Meantime, if you're interested in buying a very lovely house in the CD in Seattle, please do be in touch.
Sometime soon, I will write a blog post about Ruth Ozeki, who, ages before we met, changed my life in nearly all the important ways it has been changed. It's a pretty remarkable story, so stay tuned for that. Her new book, A Tale For The Time Being, has the greatest title ever and comes out in March, and really you'd think I'd have read an advanced copy by now because honestly I'm just not sure my patience can hold out much longer. Meanwhile, long after she changed my life in all those important ways, we met and became friends, and I'm very honored to be tagged by her in this bloggy-internet-y game of, well, tag. One author answers a list of questions on his/her blog, tagging at the end a handful of other authors who answer the same questions on their blogs, tagging a handful of authors in turn.
In her toss to me, Ruth mentioned that she hoped I'd talk about Goodbye For Now, even though the questions here are really about one's brand new or forthcoming or in progress work, and I shall. For several reasons. One, she asked me to. Two, my new, in progress work is just barely either one and not ready for discussion yet except by people married to me. Three, though I've answered these and similar sorts of questions on lots of other people's blogs, I haven't done so on my own blog. So here's theGoodbye For Now overview right where it belongs.
Right, so tagging. Remember freeze tag? Remember TV tag? Man I sucked at TV tag. Anyway...
My friend and mentor, Jennie Shortridge, has her fifth (!) novel coming out this April, Love, Water, Memory. Great title, great book, great person all around. She blogs here.
My new friend Tara Conklin's debut novel, The House Girl, releases next month. I've read it, and it's wonderful. She blogs here.
Like everyone in the world with a small child this week, I am looking at mine a little differently, through red-rimmed eyes and yammering "there but for"s and a mountain of questions about how to proceed in life given the warning shots, given the status quos, given all the unacceptable impossible things which turn out to be unacceptable, yes, but in fact horrifically possible.
How we proceeded was to get on an airplane to come back east for the holidays. Seattle is at its rainiest, darkest, coldest, and wettest. It might get rainier, wetter, and colder, but because this is in fact as dark as it will get -- dark by 4:30 and until 8:30 the next morning with full rain clouds all the time -- it's the nadir emotionally. My parents live in Maryland where when I was a child winters were freezing and miserable, but now, with new and improved global warming, it was sunny and nearly 60 today. Perfect bike riding weather.
D's bike at home has training wheels. And she hasn't ridden it in months (see above re: rain, wet, wind, cold, dark). My folks got a bike-for-grandchildren on Craigslist but it doesn't have training wheels. Here's how this went...
D: I want to ride bikes.
Me: It doesn't have training wheels. You are only four. You don't know how to ride a two-wheeler.
D: Yuh huh.
Me: Nuh uh.
D: Help me get on it.
Me: Can you ask nicely?
D: Help me get on it please.
Then I held the back of the bike. She got on it. I let go. She rode away.
Now listen, I learned to ride a bike myself once upon a time. Post-training wheels it was hard, scary, painful, and time consuming. I remember my sister learning to ride a two-wheeler. Years passed. She cried, screamed, tore her hair, rent her clothes, threw things, and refused to go near the bike again roughly 40 billion times. I thought my parents were going to have to give her away. (She is now a triathlete, so it worked out eventually.)
I have also watched movies, television, and commercials and therefore know that running along bent double while holding onto the back of child's bike seat then letting go, watching her fall, kissing her scraped knees, and wiping her nose then helping her up to try again and again and again until finally she wobbles a few teetering feet on her own before collapsing in a fit of giggles, giddy relief, and a return to my arms is a) a metaphor for letting her go which I must do, however much it scares me and b) a metaphor for her finding her way in the world without me, though it be painful for her and sometimes bloody and c) a right of passage we will both experience as a mixture of triumph, release, pain, excitement, possibilities, and doors both closed and open.
But no, my kid gets the hang of it right away with no coaching, no drama, and no emotions, metaphor free, just glad to be able to go outside and get some exercise.
But here's the rub: there's no such thing as metaphor free. Not in my universe. It's a sign of something. I just have absolutely really no idea what.
I want love stories. This is what I want. I want books I read to be love stories. I want my movies and TV to be love stories. I want plays I go see to be love stories. If I played video games, I'd want them to be love stories.
My own story is a love story.
Which is maybe what I have found so can't-look-away miraculous and wonderful about all the photos of gay weddings this week in Seattle.
Marriage licenses became available to all last Wednesday night at midnight. Did Seattle open the offices where one procures marriage licenses at midnight? Of course they did.
There is a three day waiting period to get married in Washington after one has a license. Did Seattle open the courthouse at midnight Saturday night, and did judges come in all day Sunday, their day of rest and freedom, to perform gay weddings all day and all night? Again, yes they did. As same-sex marriage becomes slowly legal all across the country, there are going to be places like Seattle -- a very gay, very liberal city -- where most people are going to be enthusiastic and delighted.
And then there are going to be places where the celebrations will be less public, more muted, and more closeted. There will be people applying for marriage licenses from authorities who don't want to give them to them. There will be people getting married in towns where they have little public support, where however legal it is, they will still face prejudice and opposition.
But there will also be places simply less public and exuberant than Seattle where same sex marriage will become normalized -- just as celebrated as any other wedding but open only during regular business hours and not stopping downtown traffic in order to get it done. And that's nice too. It's going to be interesting to watch as these dominos fall all across the country.
I am very glad to see same sex marriage legalized in Washington. Because it's fair and right and time. Because the more families we acknowledge as such, the better the world is for everyone. But mostly because of the love.
And what I wonder is this: whether these pictures might be changing hearts and minds. This fight has not exactly been a fair one. The counterarguments have not always been truthful. Scare tactics have been employed. And I wonder whether people who are anti same-sex marriage, some of them, looked at these pictures this week and thought: Oh. No goats. No people trying to wed their pets. No lewdness. It doesn't, in fact, look like porn. It doesn't look anti child or anti family.
It's hard to look at these pictures and think they look unnatural. It's hard to look at these pictures and find them threatening. If you backburner the politics and the what a long time this has been coming, mostly it just looks like people getting married.
They look really happy. They smile a lot. They look at each other like love. They have families and friends in tow. They look a little uncomfortable because they're more dressed up than usual. They look a little uncomfortable because there are all these people looking at them. They look older than a lot of wedding photo couples because they've had to wait so long. They often have their children with them -- same reason. But overwhelmingly, more than anything, they just look normal. Like a love story -- extraordinary from the inside, typical from the outside. And seriously, who in their right mind objects to more love? It's not just what the world needs now. It's what the world needs always. Obviously.
Retreat is a word that always makes me giggle because, in my line of work, it means going off to the woods/sea/countryside for writing/reading/contemplation/quiet reflection/time to one's self/a room of one's own whereas I am always instead thinking of running away from marauding hordes. English is a funny language.
Traditionally, the girls in sundresses and butterfly wings are the ones retreating from the viking warriors, but I like this way too.
I spent last week at the first kind of retreat -- the kind in the woods with writing, reading, reflecting, and time and room of my own. It was my very first retreat of the non-running-away kind, and it was pretty of amazing.Hedgebrook is a retreat for women writers on Whidbey Island, WA. One can apply for residency and stay for between a couple of weeks and a couple of months. One can pay to attend workshops and salons. Or one can come teach, as I did. I'd have done so with joy and delight just for the pleasure of doing it and of working with and meeting such talented, committed writers, but when payment turns out to be a cabin to myself for four days with all meals gloriously prepared (and delicious)...I actually lack words to sufficiently describe this experience. The best one I have is generous.
It was also a week left to the imagination. There's no phone. Cell reception was essentially non-existent. No wifi in the cabins. So alone felt really alone, disconnected, isolated. Good for the imagination certainly, but good for the imagination is not itself always good for the soul. Hedgebrook is a safety-first sort of place. They warned me that the fire alarm in the cabin rings the fire department directly, so don't burn toast. There's a fire extinguisher, a total ban on candles, a battery-powered lantern, a panic button for instant police signaling, and air horns on both floors. But the provided flashlight is one of those small emergency crank things that sheds a tiny amount of light on only the half square foot immediately in front of you. The way back from dinner is woodsy, windy, and wet, branches blowing, rain spattering, noises noising...let's just say it was a long quarter-mile every night. It is perfectly, perfectly safe, but I imagine things for a living...and imagine I did.
My friend Tara, of the lovely blog Tea and Cookies, points out that being in a city is much more dangerous than being in the woods on a rural island. True enough. She says there is much more to fear from people than animals. But I was not worried about being attacked by a bear. I was worried about being attacked by a zombie. This one actually:
Freaking Joss Whedon. I get it. I do. Really. But one wants to see a film and then move on with one's life whereas the memory of Cabin in the Woods prevented me from achieving the proper zen retreat state. I thought too much about the other kind of retreating -- the kind where you have to run away from a redneck zombie torture family who might be lurking just outside the beam (a charitable term in this case) of your so-called flashlight waiting to cut you open with a rusty saw. Thankfully, this did not harsh on my productivity -- only on my mellow and my willingness to leave my cabin for really any reason at all. Except food. Oh the food. There are times in one's life where someone else cooking is like the greatest thing you can imagine -- besides zombie survival -- and I am at one of those times apparently. Meantime, novel #3=underway. Not very underway. But underway nonetheless.
It's easy to reflect philosophically on the election when you win. Sweep in fact. And it's nice to be able to listen to the news again.
Last I heard, estimates were that this election cost six billion dollars. Six billion. Dollars. That's a lot of really good schools. Especially since very nearly everyone already knew who they were voting for before anyone had spent a penny. And especially since in most states it didn't matter anyway. What I've been thinking is that the technology inGoodbye For Now could have saved everyone a lot of time and money. The idea behind RePose is that it reads your emails and tweets and FB posts and such and figures out 1) who you should be dating and 2) the sorts of things you say and how you say them. It could also, far more easily I expect, figure out who you're going to vote for. Even better, it can figure out who you should be voting for. You may be undecided, but the software knows. Think of the money we could save. Think of the time and effort and energy. Obama must be exhausted. The man had to run for president while also being the leader of the free (and not so free) world. This is like pitching game seven of the World Series during halftime of the Superbowl you're quarterbacking. It defies belief.
"I ran for president while leading the nation, and still my desk is neater than yours will ever be. What'd you do in October?"
And much respect to Nate Silver, but I wonder what the miracle is here. That he was right? Or that the answer was knowable? Much has been discussed (in, say, census conversations) about whether actually asking everyone is the best way to vote/count/decide. If we already know, why/how do we ask? There are answers to that question, but they're not easy and they're not quite being widely discussed and they're not bipartisan, which makes them even harder.
Washington state is entirely vote-by-mail now, so in fact I voted a month before election day. I missed going to the polls because there is great camaraderie in standing in line for several hours with one's neighbors attempting to do something civic. My neighborhood is very African-American which made waiting to vote for Obama that much more stirring. I also remember voting with my mom when I was very little, her bringing me behind the curtain with her and letting me pull the lever -- that's stuck with me, and it would be nice for D to have that experience, that memory, and that civic understanding. Would it be as nice as it is not to have to stand in the rain for three hours waiting to vote? No. As nice as it is not to have to miss a day of work to vote? No. As nice as it is not to have to find daycare in order to vote? No. As nice as it is to be able to vote even if you can't get to the polls? No. So I'm with my once and future president on this one: we have to fix that.
"I feel so much civic pride and a nascent sense of both my privileges and duties as a citizen." Or possibly, "Nothing in the history of time has ever taken as long as this has. I am about sixteen seconds from pitching the biggest fit this precinct has ever seen."
I've been thinking about what we all experience the same way and what's different for everyone. I've been thinking about it because the two biggest, most demanding, most brian-occupying things in my life right now fall into the latter category: books and parenthood.
I had been a mother for about an hour and a half -- on a 12-hour flight home from Korea which is itself another story -- before I realized children are all different and therefore all assumptions I had which began with phrasing such as, "When I'm a mother I will never..." or "Good parents always..." or "My children will never do that due to my superior parenting skills and general attitude as a human" were in fact a load of shit. Parenting seems like it's going to be a universal experience. It seems like one of those things that brings people together and unites us all. It seems like there are standards of good practice which will apply across the board. It isn't true. It isn't even almost true. In some ways, this is very freeing. I am now nearly judgement-free where parenting is concerned. Think Gatorade is a better choice than milk for your infant? Maybe. Prefer to dress you kid in a plastic trash bag than in clothes? Sure saves time. I say no to kids and guns and to Halloween costumes which equate children with sex. Otherwise, all bets are off.
I mean hey, at least she's safe up there, right? Plus her parents were thoughtful enough to let her have her duckie.
And books. You know why they say there's just no accounting for some people's taste? Because there's not. Lots of books are bad. Lots of books that are bad -- that I know are bad -- garner great reviews, sell millions of copies, and/or are beloved by otherwise seemingly reasonable people, thereby encouraging more bad books. And conversely, lots of books are good, and it seems like nobody knows it but me. In contrast to parenting, I am right about books, and everyone else is wrong. The books I like are good, and the books I don't are bad. I have seriously great taste in literature. This is true. Pissing into the wind. But true.
And not even that anymore. But the point still holds.
In contrast, everyone experiences weather the same way. NYC darkens, floods, and we all feel either a) wet or b) helpless/empathetic/terrified/hopeful/appalled/alarmed/intrigued/ashamed which is something of a complicated emotion to be shared by everyone all at once. This is true of less dramatic weather too. As a writer, I find weather to be useful shorthand for all sorts of things. As a human, I find myself flirting daily for nine months a year with moving somewhere where it isn't raining. There is a reason why weather is the stuff of small talk. It's the thing we all share, not just the experience but the experience of the experience. I can't think of another thing about which this is so true.
When my husband and I moved into our current home seven years ago, we set up our four big bookshelves and then unpacked books onto them. When they got full, we did creative things like pile books on top of the bookshelves, and on the lips of the shelves in front of other books, and on and under chairs. Then we were out of bookshelf space, but we still had boxes and boxes of books. We couldn't buy more shelves because we had nowhere to put them (it's a small house). So into the attic they went.
Last holiday season, we made a Christmas tree out of books in order to give more books someplace to be. We didn't use all our homeless books, but we used some. The tree is taller than I am. And it is still up. (For there remains nowhere else for the books to live.) This December, we might build a forest. We're that festive. (Or have that many books. You decide.)
What? Your tree toppers aren't a baseball and a Shakespeare action figure? How come?
The beauties of having books on hand are many, but the best is this: sometimes you need to consult a book for one reason or another, and instead of going to the library or the bookstore or the internet, you just go to your shelves and there it is. And not only is it there, but it smells like it did last you were reading it and so transports you right back to that time and place. Or some sand falls out because you last read it on the beach in Hawaii. Or a bookmark flutters out to remind you of the little shop where you bought it in London or the play you went to the night before you started it and whose ticket stub was then repurposed as a placeholder. And you've already made notes, written in the margins, underlined great passages, noticed smart connections. In fact, it's downright creepy the number of times I go to a book to look up something that has just this minute dawned on me only to realize that, nope, I've already written down that idea years ago right there in the margin. Once, I was reading about a book online which sounded interesting then on my way to the bathroom sometime later walked past my bookshelf where not only did I notice the book already there but found it already marked up, full of copious notes, and me with no memory at all of having read it. (Such useful memory-holes also mean I get to rematch tv shows as if for the first time. It's awesome.) And never mind I sometimes don't remember books I've read. I can often remember, years later, roughly where on a page and roughly where in a book a certain passage appears. So I can usually find a certain quote by flipping through because I remember that it was in the book's first third and on the top of a righthand page. And likely as not I've bracketed it and put exclamation points there from the first time through. My memory of books is tactile, olfactory, scavenged, and visual. Can't do any of that with an ebook my friend.
It is therefore very frustrating when I come up with a book I need to read/reread/consult/flip through, a book I know I own, and yet I can't find the damn thing. Is it in the tree? Can it be removed by jenga-ing it out and replacing it with a similarly-sized volume? (Often, I find myself in the book tree corner saying things to my husband like, "Let's go hiking this weekend. Find me an Inside Out Washington sized book.") Or is it still in a box in the attic? Or have I leant it out to someone? Or has it simply been lost in years of moving, packing and unpacking and repacking, shuffling books around and over and under and behind furniture, ready to reveal itself, perhaps, next time we move?
ATTN EVERYONE: I need a new, larger house to buy and my copies of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and About A Boy. If you have borrowed either of the latter, please return -- no questions asked. If you are in possession of the former, we might ask a few questions -- you know, like have the place inspected -- but we're pretty easy. Built-in bookshelves a plus. Thank you.
It's Banned Books Week, a time to give thanks for your reading freedoms and to consider that they are not shared by all. Lots of my favorite books are on frequently banned book lists (go figure), but at the moment, the one I read most frequently is And Tango Makes Three. Written by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell (writer and producer on The West Wing) and illustrated by Henry Cole, it tells the true story of two male penguins in the Central Park Zoo who become first a couple and then parents together. The book explains that usually penguin couples consist of one male and one female, but Roy and Silo spend all their time together and show all the behaviors of other penguin couples. When the heterosexual penguin couples sit on eggs, this couple finds a rock for their nest. Seeing this, a zookeeper finds a heterosexual penguin couple with more eggs than they can care for and puts the extra egg in Roy and Silo's nest. Roy and Silo take turns keeping the egg warm, and when it hatches, Roy, Silo, and the baby, Tango, are a family.
I live in Seattle, a pretty gay and gay-friendly city, and I love this book's message that, while most two-parent couples are made up of one mommy and one daddy, some are made up of two mommies or two daddies instead and that's great too. But what I really love about the book is the message that families are made by love and caring, not blood. My daughter is adopted. Like Tango, she needed adoptive parents because her birth parents couldn't care for her. And like Silo and Roy, my husband and I were thrilled to welcome her into our family.
I love And Tango Makes Three because I love its message about different ways to make a family. My daughter loves it because she loves penguins. I don't know for sure I suppose, but I bet it's oft banned for the former reason rather than the latter. If people wanted the book banned because they hated penguins, that would be mean (penguins are, obviously, awesome) but far less upsetting than the actual case: the people who want this book banned don't want kids to know that some parents are gay, don't want kids to know that gay people can be a family, don't want kids to know that there are lots of good ways to make a family rather than just the one. Depriving kids of that knowledge hurts them and me and you and families like mine which are non-traditional. And frankly, depriving kids of knowledge pretty much sucks in general. Certainly there are advanced topics -- say genocide or pandemic disease -- they're probably not ready for, but surely love and family don't fall into that category.
I say more love, more knowledge, more permutations that are also okay, more families that count, more books, more literate knowledgable kids. And more penguins.
About The Author
Laurie Frankel writes novels (reads novels, teaches other people to write novels, raises a small person who reads and would like someday to write novels) in Seattle, Washington where she lives on a nearly vertical hill from which she can watch three different bridges while she's staring out her windows between words. She's originally from Maryland and makes good soup.