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It is with a sorta-heavy heart that I report:  I have broken my streak at 750words.com.  I had 45 days under my belt – 45 days! – almost half way to the coveted Phoenix badge (awarded to those who write 100 days in a row).

If you’re not familiar with 750words, I encourage you to check it out.  It’s a very simple, basic idea.  It gives you an online space to start and stick to a writing habit.  You write 750 words a day, you win cute little meaningless animal badges for writing so many days in row, or writing without distraction (ie. a 3-minute break), or completing a one-month challenge.

Even though I knew the cute little badges amounted to nothing really, I was actually mysteriously motivated by them.  Before I broke my streak, I had accumulated 9 badges – 9! Including things like the Speedy Cheetah and the Undistractable Hamster.  I was on a roll, man.

But the most mysterious thing of all? … I’m actually not that disappointed about breaking the streak.  No, really.  Maybe if I had been actively trying to write my post and wasn’t able to because of the cable went out, I might be upset.  In reality, I just plum forgot.  I had a wonderful day yesterday – got off work early, lunched at our favorite coffee shop, did some errands, made cookies, watched the X-Files pilot (which I had never seen and, heck, it was on Netflix Streaming), read a bunch out of a really great book I’m into — all around, a superbly relaxing day.  Writing?  Didn’t even occur to me.

So now I’m looking at this mishap as an opportunity – a chance to take a week off from writing, and focus more on all the reading I’ve piled up for myself, which will be mentioned in a separate post.

And I have to give 750words credit for doing the unexpected — it got me writing again on a regular basis.  Something I haven’t had with that much consistency in *years*.  In grad school, writing had become a laborious, painful punishment.  Considering I used to keep a journal, used to write poetry, used to *love* writing (before grad school) this was a pretty major change in attitude for me.  The silly animal badges and the colorful graphs showing progress in 750words helped me love writing again, even if it was just a simple journal entry.  So even if I won’t get that Phoenix badge as soon as I hoped, I am now looking forward to writing an article in the near future and I’m even considering getting on the NaNoWriMo bandwagon.

That can all start in a week.  For now, I will pause this newfound love of writing to revisit my love of reading.  Another beauty of 750words — I can always start again.

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from Milan Kundera’s, The Joke,
Czech: 1967 / English: 1992, Harper Perennial

p. 164

“… I only asked with a calm (and well-rested) heart: why did I meet her? what did the encounter mean and what was it trying to tell me?
Do stories, apart from happening, being, have something to say? For all my skepticism, some trace of irrational superstition did survive in me, the strange conviction, for example, that everything in life that happens to me also has a sense, that it means something, that life speaks to us about itself through its story, that it gradually reveals a secret, that it takes the form of a rebus whose message must be deciphered, that the stories we live comprise the mythology of our lives and in that mythology lies the key to truth and mystery. Is it an illusion? Possibly, even probably, but I can’t rid myself of the need continually to decipher my own life.”

Me:  But more specifically, I want to decipher the now of my life as it is happening.  Some things I have deciphered – long after the thing passed and was just ready to be forgotten completely.  But that doesn’t satisfy.  I want the sense of right now, the meaning of right here.

This post has been in draft mode for a long, long time and resurfaced in my memory thanks to various conversations including this one at FriendFeed and this post on e-book reading.

It seems like a great way to get a bunch of librarians really going is to ask “Is paper dead?” and let them have at it.  For the most part, people immediately think of books and that’s how this post started, too.  But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that my own personal paper-to-computer transition has been happening gradually for a few years and didn’t really involve the book aspect until recently.

I’ll start with music.  I’m including this in “paper-to-computer” because CDs are, after all, digital music so it’s not really “analog to digital”.  The change is really in packaging.  In 2003 I went from carrying CDs and a Discman to keeping all my music as MP3s on an iAudio.  Oh, the great magic of shuffle! And playlists that could be longer than a 70 minute CD-R! My listening habits started changing right away.  I eventually moved to an iPod after switching to a Mac and only in the last year have I started downloading a few songs off of iTunes and Amazon.  I still primarily like to own my music on CD because of the paper and physical media (or my perception of something closer to permanence than MP3s).

Gallery Leather

Gallery Leather

My calendar switch took me by surprise.  Before I started grad school, I used the same brand of beautiful little day planners each year.  In my first year of grad school I started using Google Calendar and within two months I wasn’t looking at my paper planner at all.  I was still optimistic that I would find some reason to use the paper planners (and still bought the same brand of beautiful little planner even last year) but found that I was adding events to my online calendar from too many different places (home computer, work computer, cell phone) to keep my paper calendar “synced” anymore.  For a back-up, I use iCal.

Grad school also changed my reading habits to some extent.  Perhaps reading blogs paved the way, but I found myself reading most of my articles for class as PDFs in Adobe Acrobat Pro, where I could highlight, bookmark, and annotate very quickly and then easily search my notes during class discussions.  At ALA Midwinter this past January I used a friend’s iPod Touch rather than lugging around a laptop.  Out of sheer boredom I started reading an e-book (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes) on the plane trip home.  Once I got my own Touch, I continued reading on the bus trips to campus each day.  It was just so darn convenient!  The downside for me, however, was the lack of a trusty paper bookmark that I’m accustomed to using for jotting notes and quotes.  Right now my bus trip book is a hardback paper book again, and the trusty paper bookmark is almost full.  I could possibly keep a scrap of paper with the Touch for such notes, but I usually use the book as support when I’m writing the note and I wouldn’t want to press on the Touch like that.  For the most part, I think I would just use e-reading for the kind of books I would check out from a library and not actually own.  In other words, fluff books for pure entertainment.  All other books, I will continue reading as paper for a while longer.

And now in the last couple weeks I’ve made the paper-to-computer transition that was the hardest but the best:  journaling.  I have a small chest full to the brim of paper notebooks I’ve used as journals from the past 20 years (what?? not going to think about the implications of that…) and I’ve been toying with the idea of moving this very personal ritual to the computer for over a year but kept resisting.  I was too attached to the physical act of using pen on paper to give up paper journaling until recently when I looked through my current paper journal and realized that in the last 3 months I’ve only written 11 entries, the most recent being a month ago.

The final push came from talking with a good friend who had been using Word as a journal platform for some time now and who was generous enough to show me how he set up his files.  He used a new Word document for each month, with many entries that were simply a line or two.  Some days had several of these brief entries, some days were skipped entirely, and some entries were longer, more reflective.  For some reason, I never gave myself this much flexibility in my paper journaling and that is most likely one of the reasons my journaling had become so infrequent.

VoodooPad Journal

VoodooPad Journal

So I started journaling in VooDooPad, creating a page for each month with links to the page for each day that has any entries.  Sure enough – in the month of March alone I had 21 entries.  The most surprising benefit to me was how much more easily (and flowingly?) I could write when typing than when writing by hand.  I also appreciate the ability to search all my entries at once and back up the journal in multiple places (a factor that worries me a little re: my paper notebooks).  I’m not convinced yet that I have the right structure going (year / month / day) but it’s working for now.

With such big parts of my life now in my computer, I wondered what paper habit might be next to make the transition.  I looked around my apartment and here are some of the paper things I found:
to do lists / grocery lists
checkbook (only used for rent, though)
hand-outs from presentations
concert programs / tickets / flyers
class hand-outs & notes
receipts
doodles / outlines / sketches
paper scraps from collage book workshop
coupons
greeting cards

I have a shelf full of blank notebooks of various colorful bindings and another shelf of blank notecard box sets, one of which I use each month when I send my paper rent check to my landlord.

And honestly… do I *want* all these paper things to turn into bits & bytes?  I have to say “no” because I do still have a love affair with paper.

Okay, so it’s been – what – over a month? since my last post.  I could open a new tab and find out for certain, but I’m trying something out here … just writing for the sake of writing.

Or it might be more accurate to say I’m writing for the sake of letting anyone out there who only knows me through this blog know that I am indeed still alive.  Just very, very busy.

These two months – September and October – are the Run For Your Life Non-Stop months at my job.  I find this time exhilarating, challenging, breath-taking and exhausting. And my classes this term are dynamic, fun and  well-balanced.  It’s actually a very good term on the whole.

But, as you might have guessed from my last post, I’ve been thinking a lot about personal expression.  This includes a lot of different things for me — everything from individual style to creative outlets to one’s writing voice.  I’ve had some great conversations about this with various people this semester, giving me plenty of food for thought.

From an art student friend, I’m learning about using the influence of the great masters in your craft as a process toward finding your own voice.  I had always been frustrated by all the influences on me, feeling that I would never know what *I* wanted to say, because I have so many other writers buried in my sub-conscious.  But this friend has pointed out to me something rather obvious — that these influences blend together and form a mosaic that becomes a part of your voice.  That those masters had mosaics of their own, going back farther than we can see.

From a kindred spirit with a love of words, I’m rediscovering the subtle power of poetry.   My study of poetry has been  varied but rather lazy up till now.  I’ve always shied around the science of poetry, never really delving into the mechanics too much for fear of tarnishing the enchantment of poems with the nuts and bolts.  But this friend has shown me and reminded me that, linguistically, the careful and deliberate construction of poetry is key to its power.

So with all this in mind, I plan to steal away some time for myself to revisit some familiar and unfamiliar masters, unlock some favorite and foreign poems, and allow this mosaic I’m sitting on to show itself bit by bit.

Spring always inspires me to notice the details; so as a toast to this lovely season, I offer a few little things that make me happy every time I use them:

  • “is:unread” … Do you use Gmail?  Of course.  Do you use the filters?  Possibly.  If you’re like me, you are on a lot of listservs that don’t rank too high on your priority list but you keep them around anyway.  In an effort to de-clutter your Inbox, you might have created a filter or two that send these listserv messages directly to their appropriate Label and neatly out of your way until you decide to look at them.  Unfortunately, many of us operate in an “out of sight, out of mind” fashion, and those filtered messages just pile up in our poor neglected Labels.  All I wanted was a nice little link in Gmail’s left sidebar, under “Starred Items” that read “All Unread” which would show me all the Unread messages I have scattered across my Labels.  Well, I can simulate this handy feature simply by typing “is:unread” (without quotes) in the Search box at the top of the Gmail screen.  You can also get the same effect by clicking “Show search options” and selecting “Unread Mail” from the drop-down that defaults to “All Mail.”  Now I just type that magic phrase in the search box a few times a day and – voila! – I  catch up on ALL my mail, not just the Inbox.
  • Podcasts … Three podcasts in particular.  One of my favorite weekend routines is cleaning the house while listening to (1) This American Life, then (2) Selected Shorts, and finally (3) NPR’s Poetry Off the Shelf.  This gives me exactly 2 hours of cleaning / picking up time, and it’s delightful, to boot.   If you’ve never heard Selected Shorts, I highly recommend it.  It’s simply a talented actor/actress reading the short story of the week.  I love being read to.  I love attending author readings and hearing their words in their own voices.  Heaven.  The Selected Shorts readings are recorded live so you also get the wonderful sound of the audience’s reactions to the story.  I found that I couldn’t listen to this podcast sitting down because the steady voice would invariably lull me to sleep, no matter how great the story was.  But if I was doing something that kept me moving, with my iPod in my pocket, I could listen to the stories with full appreciation.
  • The Creative Whack Pack … my only deck of cards.  This is a set of 64 cards in 4 suites (Explorer, Artist, Judge, Warrior) with fun little suggestions for getting out of a creative rut.  I got this when I was an undergrad and felt I had a severe case of writer’s block.  I found them again recently and find myself (again) at a point where they could come in handy.  Tonight I did a “Whack Reading” to get myself motivated to work on a big project that I’ve been kicking limply but not really “doing” … below is the card position followed by the card I pulled for it:
    • Environment card = “Reverse” (as in, reverse your perspective)
    • Mirror card = “Set A Deadline” (oooo… touche)
    • Shadow card  = “Rearrange” (the shadow card represents what you’re not seeing)
    • Caution card = “Let Your Mind Wander” (ouch! guilty!)
    • Power card = “Get out of the Dogma House” (as in, let go of your assumptions)

    So there we have it.  I will ponder this over my toaster oven dinner and try my best to get down to business, now that my mail has been read and my house is clean.

I just finished Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: a family tragicomic, my first graphic novel.  Many of you might already be familiar with Alison’s work in lesbian-librarian comic strips, and if you are a fan, you’ll love the book Fun Home.  It’s like an autobiographical prequel to the comics.  And better.

One of my favorite parts of the book was the recurrence of James Joyce toward the end, but the other thing I really liked was how she used her childhood diaries as a reference work, a primary source for her history, even though many of those childhood diaries had glaring omissions and simplified her days to “We had ice cream.” The diary-keeping reminded me of the black-and-white marbled-cover composition books I used when I was in high school — I called them my “journals” in the same way I say I wear “underwear” … words like “diary” and “panties” have always sounded horribly pretentious and affected to me.   But I never felt free enough to simply write an entry like “We had ice cream.” And I think that restraint is bleeding over now into my blogs.  So many bloggers have wrote about this, the need to “say something” … the self-imposed pressure to come up with something important/ clever/ original, when all we should really be doing is writing for the sake of writing.  Ray Bradbury said the only way to be a writer is to write 300 words a day.  Every day.  As much as I enjoy the nature of blog writing, I am missing my journal days, too. But I haven’t been keeping a paper journal for almost a year now, and I think this is part of the reason my blog writing is suffering, too.

I keep eyeing the black-and-white marbled-cover composition books in the campus bookstore.  I do love the texture of the finer blank books, with proper binding, thick creamy unlined paper, a smell of wood when you flip the pages… but those old marbled comp books speak to a nostalgia that means a lot to me of late.   They even have the old “class schedule” table on the inside of the front cover and the multiplication table in back, just as I remember.   Oh, did I fill up those books.  I wrote and wrote and wrote when I had those old notebooks.  I haven’t gone back and read any of it.  I’m worried I’ll be too embarrassed still.  At some point, I’ll be ready to read all that stuff and have a good laugh at myself, but I don’t know if I’m there yet.

Content, Content, Content
Where, oh where, is my Content?
“I have fled,” she said,
“to the precarious edge
of haystacks, needles,
and tongue tips.”

— An Ode to Writer’s Block

by me

The International Herald Tribune recently picked up a NYT article about bibliographies in novels. According to the article, this non-fiction tradition appearing in fictional works is causing quite the uproar. It has been seen by some as a vanity tactic on the part of the authors. To my mind, the article did not present a strong enough case in favor of the bibliographies. The only proponents seemed to be “readers” – who, as we all know, don’t know anything (she said, sarcastically).

I read this article in the middle of a bibliography-producing week of my own, writing nice long papers for seminars and amassing four times as many citations as I actually needed all in the name of academic pursuits. And, if I’m honest with myself, I really enjoyed it – the treasure hunt for the perfect sources. Actually I’ve always thought that bibliographies should be arranged in the order that the articles were found (or read, maybe) so that a reader can see the writer’s train of thought as the paper progressed, which could, in a way, provide a treasure map of the writer’s treasure hunt.

And this is what I think authors are providing when they append a bibliography to their fiction. The bibliography is a breadcrumb trail, a way of putting their work in context. Imagine not knowing anything about western civilization and trying to read Eliot’s The Waste Land, for example. To really “get it” one has to have a sort of bibliography in one’s head of all the works that Eliot is referencing. What’s wrong with providing this information up front? I wish more fiction came with a list of works consulted. God, if only Tom Stoppard’s plays came with such a list!

For American readers, at any rate, a typical public education is horribly lacking in exposure to the foundational classics that would prepare them for reading anything from T.S. Eliot to Allen Ginsberg. It’s this new generation of undereducated readers (with a desire to be educated) who will benefit most from having the breadcrumb trail of a bibliography with their fiction. I don’t think this is anything to hold against these readers (I am, after all, one of them).

If anything, I see this as the beginning of hypertext fiction in print. Our new brand of literacy includes links. We don’t simply read anymore; we read and want to find out more. And we want to find it quickly and directly. Perhaps Nabokov was ahead of his time when he wrote the crux of Pale Fire in the endnotes. Can’t you see Pale Fire as a web site? The simple 999-line poem serving as a hyperlink-heavy flash page into a web of ramblings, ravings, and rejection? Jane Murray wrote about “multiform stories” and “hypertext fiction” in 1998, noting that this style of writing anticipated the hyperlinking technologies. Authors like Nabokov, Italo Calvino and James Joyce were the webmasters before the webmasters.

Novels with bibliographies are just the beginning.

subtitle: The small world of bloggers.

I have had some lucky coincidences lately.  The kind that make the whole six degrees of separation idea very real.  It started last week when I went to a talk by guest speaker Barbara Ganley called “Blogging in the Classroom” which was an excellent brown bag session.  Barbara has a wonderful enthusiasm for what she’s doing, and she’s enthusiastic about what other people are doing, too.  In fact, she mentioned several faculty bloggers at UIUC, including Christian Sandvig, the Spence-meister, and Lanny Arvan.

Connections – I know Spencer!  Spencer is cool.  Lanny posts about Akeelah and Barbara. Whoa!  I have Akeelah at home from Netflix right now and I haven’t watched it yet.  Creepy.  Blogging – I’ve been working on turning a newsletter at work into a blog and just last week I finally got the RSS feed to show up in our web page template correctly.

But my big question is — How do these people do it??  Look at Barbara’s blog, Lanny’s blog — these people can write pages and pages of really good stuff in just one post!  Add to that the links on my Blogroll that I haven’t kept up with … Tame the Web, Librarian in Black, the ever informative InfoTangle… and I feel like I’m not writing or reading anything!  Where do they find the time??  Just working at a computer for my jobs makes me want to put in a new pair of eyeballs and stare at trees for a long, long, long time until everything doesn’t look so pixelated anymore (note to self: big school doesn’t mean big budget for decent monitors).   There are many words for this feeling – information overkill, information overload, oversaturation – but very few solutions offered.  I *want* to keep up with all the great tid-bits and insights produced by all these great writers/bloggers, but at the same time I don’t want to be chained to a computer for 12 hours a day.  Suggestions?

Influences, suggestions, and eavesdrops of late:

— a viewing of the French film Far Side of the Moon, wherein a struggling PhD candidate repeatedly defends his thesis arguing that space exploration was a manifestation of man’s narcissism; in contrast, a scientist argues that it was not narcissism so much as soul-searching, self-exploration, and man wanting to know himself.  I could see this same argument being made for blogging.  Vanity vs. personal vetting. The space race as metaphor for our race against time, hoping to know ourselves before we’re gone.

— “nuking” – my girlfriend’s word for my habit of thinking about something until it’s been blown into ity bitty pieces to the point of not existing anymore, which reminds me of …

— “slow fires” mentioned in a library class, the steady deterioration of something from exposure to light, as often seen in libraries where books are in the direct light of windows and slowly get eaten away; along those same lines…

— acid paper … “a book with it’s death built into it”

— “digital death” … formerly new technology going obsolete

— “I could have died just then” … another view of deja vu

New Blog!

Starting February 2012 I'm combining my two blogs into one:

http://esquetee.wordpress.com/

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