Freewrite: Writer at Large

It’s called the Freewrite. 

It has a lunch pail handle. It weighs almost nothing and is about the size of a school loose-leaf binder. The body is made of hard black plastic shaped to resemble a portable typewriter. The keys are white with gray letters and numbers. The “on” button and the keys to create a new document are both a pleasant red. There are two screens where your eye would have fallen on the paper and carriage of a typewriter. It has the feel of a typewriter and travels like one (some users worry about its portability; I do not). There are two toggle switches in the position of where the ribbon spools rest on a typewriter. The toggle on the left can be moved to indicate one of three possible “folders” to place your documents. The one on the right is for the “off” “on” or “new” needs when wanting to connect to an existing or new wifi network. The screens resting in the middle where the eye would have sought the paper and carriage rest one on top of another, as the picture shows, the larger of the two holding the typed content, the smaller can display a number of messages like time or word count. At rest it has several, randomly-chosen, screensavers depicting famous writers like Agatha Christie, Issac Asimov, Shakespeare. 

img_7656It is not a complicated machine/program to learn or use. The reality of what it does and does not do requires no time to establish and once you understand its capacities and limitations you’re off to the races, so to speak. 

When the Freewrite is connected to a wifi network it more or less automatically sends your documents to a password-protected storage Web site called Postbox. Conversely, if you choose to write without the wifi network toggle turned on, the machine knows to send the documents to the cloud site the next time you are connected, although, as you can imagine this is the less reliable of the two options. Some users do not connect to a wifi network in order to save battery life; all I can say, and I stress this, is do not give one moment’s time to thinking about the battery of this beast — it’s phenomenal. 

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So you turn it on by softly depressing the red “on” button (there have been issues with the button becoming stuck so when I mean softly depress, I really mean it), the screen enlivens with either the last text you were working on or a blank screen. You type. And if connected it goes directly to the cloud. The machine can simulatenously send your documents to Dropbox and/or Evernote; from all sources it is extremely easy to download your work into another word processing application. I was an early adopter of this smart typewriter (I’ll say more on this later) and I can say unequivocally there have been no document loss to speak of. Once faith is established it is not tested. And to be clear, when the machince and you are connected to wifi there is no capacity to surf the web, check your Twitter feed, send a Snapchat or Instagram; no Facebook. It is largely distraction free.

I use Freewrite solely for drafts. A rudimentary examination or practice on it will establish how you will use it. I use it for drafts because for all intents and purposes it is a forward-motion machine — there are no hot keys allowing you depress a button to move back up to the third line in the second to last paragraph. You can delete only by using backspace (caveat: there may be tricks to using Freewrite in unique and customizable ways, but I’m not one who knows, so when I say something can’t be done, that’s speaking of my own experience and understanding of its general use, others, well, are more ingenious.) Editing is always for later with the Freewrite, and on another word processing application, i.e. Word or Scrivener. 

Its (arguable) distraction-free allure and the rather instant upload to the cloud make the Freewrite highly desirable. It has a high “hipster-alert” quotient however when used out in the wild, which is to say you get a few stares and ‘tude like the ponce who takes his 1920 Underwood Standard Portable Typewriter to coffeehouses to work (me). My own use has been sporadic because I have other means and machines to help me get a draft down. Frankly, I have an iMac Clamshell laptop, I purloined from eBay a few years ago, performing the very same functions as the Freewrite, at a fraction of the cost. It should be said though, the Freewrite keyboard is superior to my Clamshell. It has a very tactile feel to it that feels and sounds rather marvelous. This is no fey MacBook keyboard. 

The clear barrier to wide adoption, understandably, is its price. It is costly to purchase when the very same activity can be accomplished with any number of meager tools and some honest to goodness will power. 

So why?

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Me at work, not distracted, at Starbucks. I wrote the first draft of this review on the Freewrite at Starbucks

I am a lover of gadgets and typewriters; when the two were melded into the Freewrite (originally called the Hemingwrite, BTW) I was more or less on board from its Kickstarter beginnings. It was painful to be in on this device so early, because its founders took utter care in crafting it and making sure it was all they had hoped for and promised. It took time to finally arrive; now my understanding is that they can overnight one. It costs less than most quality laptops, comes with a community of fellow enthusiasts through the same Web site that serves as main cloud depository, and Freewrite allows you to get some work done, without much distraction, anywhere you choose.

It was an easy choice for me to make. Sell a couple of stories and the thing is paid for.

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One of the resting screensavers — the Freewrite does not have to be turned off completely each time you are done

The Gate

Watching Interstellar for the umpteenth time. I find it rather fascinating; the world coming to an end, and we go out there searching for answers, which very well might be inside us all along.

While I’m watching the movie, I read about pain (it’s a bad habit, I know, to read while watching TV, and I’m not particularly good at it to be honest, ask Dyan.)

What I read about pain is that it is not objective. There are no pain receptors, per se. This means pain is an interpretation. It’s subjective.

Here’s the cool thing.

I just read that for decades we have known about the gate. The Gate Theory of Pain. Here it is:

The spine regulates the flow of signals to the brain.

The spinal “gate” opens and closes in response to sensory perception or signals.

The gate opens and closes in response to emotional signals coming from the brain. (I’ve read recently too (not to muddy the H2O) that emotions are value-judgments of well being).

So.

Pain (often a measurable heat) opens the gate via a tipping point.

When a critically large number of signals pass through the gate – pain.

Researchers Ronald Melzac and Patrick Wall say the gate allows heat signals through more readily than pressure signals.

Heat, friction, opposing forces.

Through the gate.

There’s only one problem – as far as I know – no one’s been able to physically locate this so-called gate.

But I’m assured by friends and scholars (you know PBS, Google) it remains – the gate theory of pain – the dominant (not the sole by any means) explanation for how pain is experienced.

Inside us.

How cool is that?

Francis de Sales

for JWT for a fast recovery

He needed patience…

© The Catholic Gentleman

© The Catholic Gentleman

Assassins & wolves avoided
His father’s consent finally
Through love and understanding

Be who you are
Be that well

For he knew the more files
Caught by spoonfuls of honey
Saves barrels of vinegar

Be who you are
Be that well

And he was on his way in ’23
When he became a saint
to ink and ink-stained wretches

Be who you are
Be that well

Know this in all things
First of all be
Yourself

Be who you are
Be that well

A Novelist’s Notebook

PKgrrlcoverGoing through some old digital notebooks this morning, I came across my notes for the novel PKgrrl. And I wondered if readers understood the extent to which some writers — this one, for sure — go to bring life to the page. Below, here are some of my notes for a minor character in PKgrrl:

I am mainly thinking of Ell’s mother at this juncture. At this point we know that at birth she was disgusted by the baby, threatened, and attempted to have the child killed. Infanticide? What’s that disease called where… postpartum depression.

Knowledge of Ell from great-grandmother — scared, horrified

Instant postpartum depression giving birth in Lodi

Seeks darkness and darkness comes at the accident

She is possessed

But unbeknownst to everyone, including herself, she is Jairus.

Symptoms

The symptoms of postpartum depression are the same as the symptoms of depression that occurs at other times in life. Along with a sad or depressed mood, you may have some of the following symptoms:

  • Agitation or irritability
  • Changes in appetite
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Feeling withdrawn or unconnected
  • Lack of pleasure or interest in most or all activities
  • Loss of concentration
  • Loss of energy
  • Problems doing tasks at home or work
  • Negative feelings toward the baby
  • Significant anxiety
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Trouble sleeping

A mother with postpartum depression may also:

  • Be unable to care for herself or her baby
  • Be afraid to be alone with her baby
  • Have negative feelings toward the baby or even think about harming the baby (Although these feelings are scary, they are almost never acted on. Still you should tell your doctor about them right away.)
  • Worry intensely about the baby, or have little interest in the baby

Maybe the mother can be inflicted with this, but I also think she might have been in touch with the great-grandmother, who was a Jairus, and being in touch with her became a “urim” perhaps.

Surely the mother will be possessed. She is possessed because the mother has asked to be, to fill the vacuum inside her; possession doesn’t just happen, you have to grant it admission.

When the car accident happens the mother is trying to shoot the child in Eliot’s embrace. She is the person who throws the baby out the window, only to see it land in a tree.

When is she possessed?

After the accident, as I have it. Possessed by a lower demon.

Parnell knows most of this and tells Ell, or we hear it in his final address at the end.

Notes on Myth

IMG_5941Coming up with a definition of myth is incredibly difficult, because the term’s meaning changes based on context. In other words, out in the world with your friends or your family you might consider a myth as “Something that isn’t true.” We might say, “oh that’s just a myth,” as if to dismiss it. This perception has deep historical roots, which we’ll get to later. Just remember, we tend to reside in an age of reason, or Logos, which was not always so; we once were more inhabitants of the spiritual realm. We have moved to a human-centric world that had once placed a deity there.

Consider this briefly:

Imagine two birds.

It is a particular time of the year, a season, and they are in the limbs of a tree.

One bird shakes its tail-feathers.

The other its beak.

To us what is going on?

To them?

It is a seasonal ritual, we say giving it a story. The one bird does this and the other that. And birds are born.

This ritual is based entirely on the sensory world, on the natural conditions of time and space, that time of year, here in this tree.

Rituals, stories, myths derive from this desire, to reflect what is seen, to provide order.

The chief order here is seasonal.

The seasons come in cycles — as do most things in life.

A cycle is round.

The sun.

The moon.

The fire pit.

The way we live our lives, the lifecycle, the circle of life.

To explain seasons and love.

Bring in two birds.

To tell a story about life.

Bring in a hero.

Bring in the sun.

The moon.

The fire pit.

Bring in the lifecycle, the circle of life.

Bring in the circle.

Definitions

Historically myths are looked upon as stories largely hailing from vanquished religions; a lasting byproduct of taking stories from one faith to be used in another. The story of the flood in the Holy Bible, for example, came from a Mesopotamian myth, predating it .

In Literature, myths are the basis for the canon, in large part providing a seemingly endless supply of plot and structure, characters and conflict; allegory and metaphor.

Many psychoanalysts see myths are archetypical patterns of our psyche, the iconic embodiments of our psychologies, pathologies.

In academic, literary, philosophical — in the humanities the term myth means something all these things and more, but first and foremost as prose composed of an oral tradition which dates to the birth of civilization.

Overview

“Myths are universal and timeless stories that reflect and shape our lives — they explore our desires, our fears, our longings, and provide narratives that remind us what it means to be human,” Phillip Pullman writes.

Karen Armstrong, an authority on the history of religion and the author of A History of God, states that myth have three hallmarks — deal with the experience of death; must always be linked to ritual and deals with the “extremes” of our potential.

Now, you can already see that these measures provide context, and with context comes a clearer idea as to what defines a myth. Going on these three a myth spoken of today, as to dismiss something as being false, need hardly be about death; need not be tied to a ritual or be about what we can and can do explicitly.

The text A Short History of Myth already begins to winnow down our definition of what is a myth. A myth helps us understand ourselves, our world and our mortality, she writes. It is a way, symbolically, to talk about what cannot be described — the ineffable. In other words, myth helps us to get a sense of the beyond (beyond our senses, our ability to describe it) — a place we seek to return to, now exiled from it. Sound familiar?

The wonderful aspect of myth, says Armstrong, is that it is a gateway to an event that happened once, but also it is an event happening all the time. For Catholics, the Eucharist sacrament (sacramentum is Latin for sign of the sacred) of the wafer and the wine is a prime example; there is a story behind it, yes, but the story it speaks of IS IT and is happening now and forever more.

Armstrong short history provides us with a good timeline of how myth first dominated then came to be derided in society.

Bulfinch

While Armstrong historical look provides us with a sense when and myths evolved over time, the seminal work of mythology goes to Thomas Bulfinch’s Mythology. This is the collection that all other books on mythology must bow. It groups the age of mythology through three periods of specific address — “The Age of Fable,” “The Age of Chivalry” and “Legends of Charlemagne.”

To read the culled myths here is to read the DNA of almost every story or movie that came after it. This is the reference book for writers, journalists, politicians and thinkers. This is the book of Homer, of Ovid and Virgil.

Campbell

Even though, as we will find out, myth’s power in society has waned considerably, there are still champions of its powers and none more so than the late Joseph Campbell. Mythologist Campbell was famous in his lifetime for such books as “A Hero with a Thousand Masks” and the “Power of Myth.” For him, myths in total contained a message and that the message were clues to the spiritual potentiality of our lives. Myth was the rapture of being alive, he said.

Myths told us not only the meaning of life, and were universal in their telling, but also how to understand ourselves. “Mythological images are the images by which the consciousness is put in touch with the unconscious.”

He hoped that society would regain the magic of myth that once characterized it. He was famous for saying “follow your bliss,” and that bliss took time, but most of all adherence to myth and its expression of the mysterious.

Notes on Solitude

IMG_4132I have always sought some sort of solitude, and for a reason singular and unaltered since I was able to put it into words — to sort out what I was thinking. I do find myself a rather poor on my feet thinker, although verbally this may not sound like it to those who know me. 

I tend to take in a lot of information and take some time to process. Either it is an instinctual response, a way to assess the dangers to myself at some level, or, simply the way I view the world and how to interact with it — taking my time. I tended to behave in this fashion as a child, young man, and now I fully find solace in my delay, which requires solitude.

One illustration is my journal, which for years was my constant companion — it still is, somewhat, but with self-consciousness bothering its edges — whenever I attended a lecture, a class, a film, a reading or a sermon. I would put my head down and take notes, scribbling down nearly all that was spoken without a pure understanding of what I was finding through my notes.

This is partly because this was my mode as a journalist. I took copious notes. You had to, your job depended on it. For years, as the reporter for newspapers in news-dry towns, I needed to take down as much as possible in order to write the longest stories possible in order to fill the spaces alloted to such things in the newspaper (also covered with advertisements, photographs and other newspaper ephemera). I had to come up with so many stories and of a certain length or else the holes in the newspaper would be filled with those other things, and I simply, in good conscience, could not have that.

There were times when I would cover a governing body in the morning — the Mountain View County Council, say — and by end of business I would have had to fill an entire 24-page weekly newspaper with stories, entirely being roughly a 60/40 proposition of news to advertising. It was a lot. I needed notes to do this. Head down, take notes. Scribble as fast as you could.

Hemingway once said a newspaper career won’t hurt a young writer’s should they get out in time. Which is to say, Hemingway (yes, once a journalist) thought the reporting life was good for setting up habits, but it would be best to take those habits and apply them to the writing of other things than words on newsprint.

My reporting career created to my mind a grace under pressure, if you will, to borrow more from Papa; it habituated an economy of words, some might say, but also that willingness to test one’s mettle for deadlines and accuracy. It was all this, and more. The newspaper job more than anything prepared me to sit alone with my thoughts and to take those resulting processed thoughts, culled from content scribbled in a notebook, and place them down in some kind of record of reasoning. 

(this is an excerpt of a longer work I’m currently engaged in looking at the research agendas of writer/scholars) 

Hunting & Gathering

We glean.

We gather.

And it is inevitable. When a seemingly random and inexplicable piece of information (data, memory, story, etcetera) crosses the writer’s path it is no longer questioned.

It gets filed in some way or another for that day that will surely come when the information will answer a question, solve a puzzle, or be exactly what is needed at that exact moment.

This is partly why it is difficult for some writers — certainly this one — to discard; for writers, you just don’t know when whatever it is in your hand above the dustbin might be of some use.

So, the files continue to mount in ziggurats; notes get written and stashed; boxes are stuffed and stored, while books are arranged and re-arranged to accommodate more, and more in our offices, ateliers and writing outposts.

Everything is material, after all. A writer’s defense against a charge of hoarding.

Writers are guilty as need be.

I am.

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The Darkest Shade of Twilight

Brilliant new short story by my Southern brother, Daren Dean, author of Far Beyond the Pale (Fiction Southwest Press) The story is called “The Darkest Shade of Twilight,” and it was published by Bull a publication dedicated to, “…examining and discussing modern masculinity: what works, what doesn’t, what needs to change and what needs to go. We’re in quickly shifting times and more than ever this conversation is crucial. We want fiction and essays that engage that conversation from every angle. We want stories of exemplary masculinity, cautionary tales, accounts from every possible perspective and persuasion.”

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Here’s the  link: Daren’s Story Or: http://bullmensfiction.com/fiction/the-darkest-shade-of-twilight/

 

See This, if You Can

Olivia Cooke, Thomas Mann and RJ Cyler in the very funny, but also sad, Me, Earl & The Dying Girl, a film about growing up that ranks as modern day must sees, like Nick and Nora Infinite Playlist and The Perks of Being A Wallflower. Highly recommended.

Olivia Cooke, Thomas Mann and RJ Cyler in the very funny, but also sad, Me, Earl & The Dying Girl, a film about growing up that ranks as modern day must sees, like Nick and Nora Infinite Playlist and The Perks of Being A Wallflower. Highly recommended.