Monday, February 24, 2014

Writing and Resolutions

The snow is falling heavily outside my window as I write this, which would be exciting if it were early November. I love winter, and I love the snow, but here in Pennsylvania, the winters tend to be quite long and the snow stops being exciting once the holidays are over. I happened to be born with an extended holiday season. Today is my birthday, cozily nestled midway between Christmas and Easter.

Birthdays, I think, are a perfect time for reflection and resolution. The birthday marks the passage of another year of life. A birthday is an individual's special day. Spend it how you like. Get drunk, take a long walk, go shopping or stay inside and read a book. It's entirely up to you.

As for me, I've resolved to spend a few hours parked here in front of the typewriter. That's how I'm spending my 34th birthday. As for my 34th year of life yet to come, I've resolved to spend more time on my writing. No more excuses. No more complaining that I don't have time. The truth is that most of us have a lot more time and money than we think we do. We just don't use it very wisely.

Birthdays seem like a far more appropriate time for resolutions than New Year's Eve. How serious can one really be about quitting smoking between beers and shots? If quitting smoking greatly improves your health, then some of us should be immortal for as many times as we've quit.

New Year's Eve is simply the climax of a modern day Saturnalia, an end-of-year festival filled with drunken lustful debauchery. It's wonderful, but it's certainly no time to buck up and get serious about life.

I've been reading Stephen King's "On Writing." Stephen King was my childhood hero. My first King book was "Christine," which I read in 6th grade. At that age, I wondered why he spent so much time on character development instead of cutting straight to the sex and violence. Though I may have been too young to appreciate all the elements of "Christine," I still loved it. It was a good old fashioned ghost story at its core, and I loved ghost stories.

As a kid, I had an overactive imagination (still do) and was afraid of the dark (still am). Ghost stories scared the piss out of me, and I couldn't get enough of them. (Still true.)

The next King book I read was "The Shining," and by then I knew I wanted to be like Stephen King when I grew up. I wanted to be one of those wizards who brought the imagination to life. As a child, I was often chastised for not paying attention and being off in my own little world. I couldn't help it that my own little world was way more interesting than whatever the adults were talking about.

Stephen King clearly had the life. He spent most of his time in his imagination and got paid for what he found there. Suck it, real world.

In a way, looking up to these literary heroes of mine may have contributed to a self-defeating attitude toward my own writing. The sentence I'm typing isn't perfect. It's not genius. I'm not the next Lovecraft, King or Poe, so maybe I'm just not that good. But I guess that's for the reader to decide.

In biographical depictions of great writers, we often see a romantic portrayal of a bohemian life in which the hero ducks the landlord, struggles to make ends meet in a small apartment and shells out pennies and dimes to pay off a bar tab. Somehow, the struggle looks so much cooler in the movies. Maybe that's because we know how the story ends. We know we are watching the story of a great man. In your own story, you don't know the ending. You have no way of knowing if you are an intoxicated genius or just another drunk asshole. You can't tell if this small apartment is the first step on the journey to a secluded country estate or if you're going to die here.

There is something sweet and adventurous about living like the legends, but I don't want to die like them. I don't want to go out like Hitchens and be robbed of my golden years by cancer. I don't want to end my own life with a bullet like Thompson. I don't want to fade out and be lauded as a brilliant poet only after I'm dead like Poe.

So for this year's birthday, I went on a writing binge. Sure, I downed a few beers and shots over the weekend. I still have to have my fun, but my body refuses to play when my mind gets up to its old tricks. My mind still thinks I'm 21. My body knows better.

I will never be the next Stephen King, nor do I want to. I would have never called Stephen King the next Lovecraft. Both King and Lovecraft might very well slap the shit out of me for even suggesting it. Lovecraft is Lovecraft. Stephen King is Stephen King. I'm Jim Meyer, and that is who I resolve to be this year.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Servant or Master

Thanks to a reblog by Welcome to the Typosphere, I read a BBC news article about Gordon Martin, UN Correspondent for Vatican Radio, who still uses a typewriter. An old man, set in his ways, he eschews the use of the computer and has never owned a cell phone. He seems to believe that modern gadgetry can get in the way more than it helps.

After a recent experience at the newspaper office, I'm inclined to agree. As I was laying out the next morning's edition, I realized that our internet connection had gone south. This left me unable to get the weather report, lottery numbers or Associated Press stories. Without all this, it was going to be a very short paper. Either that or I was going to have to draw pictures in the blank pages, or this edition was going to be a nightmare of press releases, or ... horror of horrors ... I was going to have to type up those school lunch menus I'd been sitting on for the last week.

For the life of me I don't understand why the school lunch menu has to go in the newspaper. Italian dunkers, grilled cheese, pizza burgers, whatever. It's what's for lunch. Eat it or go hungry. Pizza burgers are a disgusting arrangement of cheese and sauce on a crusty burger bun. Why does that exist? I swear I've never seen pizza burgers outside of a grade school cafeteria, and I'm displeased to know that this sorry excuse for food is still being served to kids.

But anyway, back to the topic at hand ...

It never ceases to amaze me that when the internet goes down, everything stops. Technology, like money, is a good servant but a bad master. We should embrace the technology that makes things better, faster, more efficient, but we should not forget those skills that preceded the digital age. To do so is akin to sitting at the top of a skyscraper and kicking the foundation out from under us.

I'm not sure what the answer is. Perhaps we need to keep some of the old ways alive. Maybe we should be talking to our neighbors, so that we have a social network that isn't in cyberspace. Perhaps publications need to keep the old machines and lines of communication up and running so we don't miss a beat when the internet gets faulty. Perhaps we need to hone our tinkering skills so that fixing the internet is as common a skill as putting air in the tires.

One way or another, we need to catch up to our own technology.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Dreaming and Doing

One of my character flaws is that I've always been more of a dreamer than a doer. I'm that guy that talks a lot about what we ought to do ... one of these days ... real soon. I spend a lot of time thinking about what I should do and not enough time actually doing it.

From the time I was in fourth grade, I wanted to be a writer. I even started working on a book with paper and pencil about a guy who was half vampire and half werewolf. Apparently some movie producers found my fourth grade notebook and made a movie called "Underworld." Bastards. I want my royalty checks.

I have entire novels written inside my head that I could never get out on paper. "On paper." That phrase is practically outdated. Books nowadays are rarely written on paper. They're printed on paper, but they are usually written on a screen. Saying that I got something on screen sounds like I'm a film maker rather than a writer (or like I'm Captain Picard answering a hail from a Romulan warship).

The typewriter seems to be the talisman that bridges the gap between the world of dreaming and the world of doing. Typing on the computer feels like work. Typing on a typewriter is fun. I don't quite know why that is, but I think it is due to the fact that I actually feel like a writer when I'm at the typewriter.

Unlike the personal computer, the typewriter never became a household item. The average person didn't have a typewriter just sitting around. They were expensive. People who had them were people who actually needed them. Typing was a specialized skill. It wasn't taught in elementary school like it is today.

Now I find myself writing everyday, and I'm always getting something on paper. Something I plan on doing soon (See, there I go again.) is to go through my computer files and type them out on paper. I have a feeling that in revisiting these old ideas, some new ones will emerge and maybe some of my abandoned projects will actually see completion.