19 April, 2010

My My My ... How Times Change

Killing some time, waiting for a vendor to show up at one of our satellites. Decide to look up Flunk Day to see if there are any rumors pages I can access and stumble upon The Knox Student website. TKS is a weekly student newspaper for Knox College. They had a couple of articles about Flunk Day but nothing with a link to rumors.

So I clicked around and started reading other articles and came across one entitled ,a href='http://www.theknoxstudent.com/newsroom/article/all-plugged-knoxs-laptop-controversy/'>"All Plugged In: On Knox's Laptop Controversy". My interest piqued, I clicked through.

First off, I was shocked there is a controversy. I thought it was a bygone conclusion that laptops are everywhere and thus belong everywhere. I know in my day, laptops didn't even exist. But then again, neither did color monitors. And our printers were very, very loud. When I went off to college, my dad asked me if I wanted him to buy me a computer for school and it being 1989, I said no thanks, Dad. I'll get a word processor - that's all I need. And I was right. With the exception of a stupid Apple computer that corrupted my floppy disk right before senior finals, I rarely used much more than my word processor.

Had I been born 10 years later and entered Knox the fall of 1999, my answer would have been different, although I doubt the question would have even been asked. By that point, more than likely, I would have gone through an entire junior high and high school career using a computer and my dad would have known that I expected to do the same in college. And by that point, I may have been gifted an IBM Thinkpad 600 with a 300 mHz processor and 5.1 GB of storage. And I would have been on the cutting edge with a machine like that.

When I was a student, the only way to take notes involved ink (or graphite) and paper. Professors spoke fast so it also involved copious amounts of unreadable scribbles stretching across the lined sheets in front of me. The process of going over those notes later for a test inevitably ended in headache.

It seems a little odd that Knox is having this controversy now. Laptops have been in students' hands for over a decade so I have no doubt they have been in the classrooms just as long. Why carry a 4oz notebook when you can haul a 6lb laptop from SMaC to CFA?

Of course, the answer is Facebook. And Twitter. And old fashioned email. “We’re starting to get a generation of students who have always been multitasking ... What a lot of students are weak on now is the ability to focus.” How times change. And how I stay the same. I have always had a problem with focusing - clearly, I was born 20 years too soon. I am of the wrong generation and now know why I have been unable to focus all my life. Facebook. Twitter. Email. It is apparent to me, I have been social networking in my head all of these years, waiting only for a machine that could provide an actual connection to real people rather than the imagined connections to no-doubt the pretend-people in my head. I am so thankful that it has finally caught up with me and given me a forum to truly be my multi-tasking, unfocused, inattentive self.

Thank you Bill Gates! And thank you, Facebook.

16 April, 2010

Pet Peeve #543.3: The Elevator

They keep us in the basement. Us being the employees in the IT department, the basement being a secure zone that requires a keycard to access. So in a building of three floors, four if you count the basement, the elevator is a necessary means of transport when an executive on the 3rd floor is in dire need of an installation of software he will never use. So, being in the basement, I am the first one on the elevator and, being of moderate intelligence, I press the appropriate floor number.

Now, we are a public business and while I am insulated from the public by the security of the basement, I am still likely to run into a member of said public on the elevator or one of the floors above, where they are allowed. I don't relish these moments; I am a relatively anti-social, shy individual. I like the basement - I like being secured away from the public, I presume for their protection from me. I smile at the old ladies getting off at the 2nd floor but that's only because I know I will one day be one of them and hope that when that day comes, someone will smile at me. I smile at the old men because my dad is an old man (sorry!) and I think the world of him so all old men must be pretty good people. For anyone without white in their hair, well, yea, I generally ignore them. I will give a very brief upward curl to the corners of my mouth and then return my stare to the nicely tiled elevator floor as they get on and push their buttons. Or as they get on and see that I have already pushed the button for the floor they need.

But then there's the ones who see that the button they need has been pushed, it is the only lit button on a darkened panel, and they deliberately push the lit button. Once, perhaps twice. Some even hold it in, to make sure it gets the message. Take me to the 3rd floor. I really mean it, unlike the incompetent person who is already on the elevator with the lit 3rd floor button. It is for those people that I reserve a not so unnoticeable rolling of the eyes. Are you kidding me?!? I am not, in fact, chopped liver, standing here in front of the elevator doors you just walked through. I am an intelligent being who knows how to push a fucking elevator button. As you can tell, by the fact that the button is lit! So stop pushing the same button as if you're the only person in this hurtling metal box, you idiot, you!

Phew. That felt good.

09 April, 2010

Art of the Short Story

When I wrote my 50,000th word during last November's NaNoWriMo, I earned myself a CreateSpace proof copy of my book. In the middle of the month, when I strained to find time and inspiration to continue, this reward kept my feet (or in this case, my fingers) moving ever forward. It won't get me too much closer to The Dream of being a best-selling author but it does - technically - get me part of the way there by being a published author.

The problem is, there is a limited time to receive this reward and despite having written just beyond 50,000 words, the novel was nowhere near an end. My motivation to complete it, however, was ... at its end, that is.

If I haven't mentioned this before, I'm a terrible Closer - a fact that drives those near and dear to me absolutely, insanely bonkers. I'm really good at starting, but that's little consolation when what you've started sits in a closet for two years, waiting to be completed.

I had this idea to make these reusable grocery totes from fabric that had always captivated me when I'd wander the aisles at Joann's or Hancock Fabrics. I didn't need a pattern; I'm actually pretty good at fashioning things like that from scratch. I made a decent amount of money a few years back creating "poster pouches" for the die-hard Phish poster collectors who had to run in and grab the show poster and then worry about its safety for the remainder of the show. So I created these long, slender bags that held poster tubes of various sizes. I lined them with vinyl to help resist water and covered them with cool fabrics like corduroys and interesting patterned cotton and sewed a shoulder strap on so they could be comfortably worn throughout a show for those people who were just too nervous to lay their paper booty on the ground. I created the pattern from scratch on a scratch piece of paper that I've long since lost and went and bought a whole bunch of different kinds of fabric and vinyls and went to town. I created the first one in about four hours and got so I could do one about every three hours.

I don't know exactly how many I made but we sold all but two of them for barely enough money to cover the fabric and supplies, much less labor. It wasn't a very lucrative business given the time it took, the money spent and the limited client base, most of whom only needed to buy one. My husband convinced me to create a wider, longer pouch for tapers but again, limited client base and even more money for more fabric. That may be the one project I started that I actually chose to finish rather than finished without ever making a cognizant choice.

What I'm getting at is I have a short attention span. I'm like a puppy. I jump from thing to thing with a wagging tail and when I grow bored, I jump to the next thing. Or I take a nap. Taking on a novel was a huge thing. My mistake, I think, was making my goal 50,000 words rather than actually finishing the novel. I made my goal, I didn't need to continue. But that's not entirely true. I really did need to continue.

So I have this free proof copy I can use, but I only have till July 1st to claim it. I have an unfinished novel that no longer interests me and a few short stories that keep me happily writing. What to do.

Why not use the proof copy to compile my short stories? I have many. Some will never see the light of day, even with this proof copy - they were practice stories and read as such. Some of them, however, are actually really good. I'm a good writer, better even than I am at creating bags. But I am a short story writer. Besides the 50,000 words I threw together in November, the longest thing I've written before is a 100 page novella that bored me around page 60. Somehow, I persevered and completed the novella but never completed the idea - it was intended to be a series of novellas with a common character.

The beauty of the short story is in its compact nature. I can get in, right in the middle of the action and end it within 25 pages. If I have an afternoon and inspiration (and the ability to block out Facebook and the various other online distractions - the Leechblock add-on for Firefox is great for this), I can write the entire story. Or if not in one day, certainly two or three days is no problem. Because it doesn't drag on, because there are a limited number of words to go from the beginning to the end, the story is all action. There is no need to describe the banister which has been in the family 107 years and polished to a sheen by the sliding asses of generations of rambunctious boys and girls. If a description of a non-essential element of the story goes beyond one medium-length paragraph, it can be edited.

So I started with a story I wrote a couple of years ago. I have no idea where it came from - it evolved from a name that popped into my head. That one is definitely in the proof copy; it just needs a final edit for schlock and it's done. Then a story I wrote a couple of weeks ago inspired by an email I received from myself. That one will need more editing, but it's sitting and I'm forgetting for now. And another story I started a couple of days ago - again, I had a name in mind and wrote a sentence with that name in it and the story began. I found a couple of really old stories on my website that I think I can put in as well; they need a little updating and a lot of editing but they're still really good stories, even from so long ago.

The goal is to get nine stories. I know Salinger already did Nine Stories but nine is my number and I don't have to call it the same thing. But it will be the same thing. Nine stories. I read Salinger so easily because I write a lot like him. So why the hell not.

I just need four more. By July 1st.