Just My Type

Surely the sun shone bright that July day in 1973 when I achieved my goal of typing 50 words per minute with no mistakes. Even if it was raining, I’m certain the sun would have split apart thunderclouds to send a beam of light through the panes of glass in Mr. McGeorge’s classroom.

It had been my mom’s idea for me to take the typing class during summer vacation between my junior and senior years of high school. A small-town newspaper editor, she probably reasoned it would be a useful skill to have, “Because you never know when you might need it.” I was pretty certain I’d never “need” to know stenography (the other summer class Mr. McGeorge taught), but I could accept that typing might come in handy when I went to college to study English.

Hunched over a black  Royal typewriter, pounding its QWERTY keys into the touch memory of my fingertips, I willed my fingers to move faster through drills, repeatedly typing simple sentences. Mr. McGeorge, always in black trousers, a crisp, short-sleeved shirt, and a plain, black tie, strode among our desks. I’m sure he carried a stopwatch, too, for all of the exercises were timed as I attempted to increase my speed while decreasing my errors.

The stakes were high. A few rows of sleek, red, self-correcting IBM Selectrics waited to reward my achievement. I dreamed of the day I’d type quickly enough to graduate to the light gray keyboard that propelled a silver ball of letters across the page. I’d no longer have to lift my right hand off the keys at the end of a line to press a silver arm that sent the carriage back to the left margin; with just a slight stretch of my right pinky, the RETURN button sent the ball of type back to start a new line. Best of all was the X key that magically eliminated miss-typed letters so I could replace them with the correct ones.

Nearly forty-five years later, I don’t worry so much about the speed of my typing. My lightweight, silver laptop automatically corrects many of my typos, or at least signals their presence with a squiggly, red line. I can highlight words, sentences, and entire paragraphs, then move them to another spot in the document—or to the “trash.” Now, I can’t imagine writing a 60,000-word manuscript on the Royal, but I’m glad it’s still around. Like many writers today, I’m infatuated with any kind of manual typewriter.

During a recent wait in the San Francisco airport, I discovered an exhibit celebrating the typewriter as “…one of the great inventions of the modern world…” easing and speeding communication on paper when typewriters appeared in the late 1800s. The exhibit caught the attention of other passengers, too, as a dozen or more paused, like me, in front of the display, jockeying rolling suitcases (some likely holding laptops and e-readers) and snapping photos with smart phones.

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t know if the exhibit is still there, but if it is, it’s the perfect advertisement for a book released earlier this month, Uncommon Type – Some Stories by Tom Hanks. According to New York Times reporter Concepción de León, “The collection of 17 stories all include, in one way or another, typewriters, which are Mr. Hanks’s passion.”

There’s a good deal of buzz about the actor’s book. Evidently, Hanks is as good on the keyboard as in film.

“It turns out that Tom Hanks is also a wise and hilarious writer with an endlessly surprising mind. Damn it.”    ~Steve Martin

“Reading Tom Hanks’s Uncommon Type is like finding out that Alice Munro is also the greatest actress of our time.”    ~ Ann Patchett

I haven’t yet read Uncommon Type, but I’m looking forward to it. I’m hoping at least one of Hanks’s stories includes my personal favorite. As a Chicago transplant, it’s just my type.

What’s your favorite type?

 

Sick of the News and Wondering – Why Write?

This morning after I turned the key in the ignition to drive to the gym, I flicked on the radio. It’s programmed for NPR, and as I heard, “Here are the day’s headlines,” I switched to the classical music station. I knew my heart would be pounding soon enough in my circuit class; I didn’t need the morning report to raise my blood pressure.

I’ve been feeling this way a lot lately. Distressed by accounts of wildfires, hurricanes, mass shootings, sexual assault and harassment, earthquakes, dismantling of our health care system, and environmental protections erased, I’ve had to limit my intake of current events. And that distresses me, too, because denial or ignoring does nothing to ease the suffering of our world.

I’m not alone. In the last week, two women I admire have responded to these troubles, each in her own way.

Eileen-Valley-Green-e1504621326715I’ve written previously about Eileen Flanagan, and I found her course, We Were Made for This Moment, extremely helpful in the early months of 2017. A couple of days ago, an email from Eileen asked, “Sick of the news?” Some intense, exciting work had kept her away from media, and when she tuned in again, she writes, “…I went on a CNN binge. It was the spiritual equivalent of chowing down pork rinds and jellybeans right after your yoga retreat.” The news literally made her sick, disturbing her eating and sleeping. Eventually, though, she realized “…it wasn’t just the stories themselves that were depressing; it was the way they were presented, with no role for me to play but voyeur. It confirmed my intention to keep my focus on things people like you and I can actually do to create the world we want to see.”

One of the ways Eileen shifts her perspective is through teaching, so she’s offering a new, four-week, on-line course, How to Build a Nonviolent Direct Action Campaign. It begins October 23, and there’s still time to register. Like her earlier courses, I suspect this one will help participants build their capacity to make change.

In “We Were Made for This Moment,” Eileen discussed a variety of activist roles (helper, organizer, advocate, rebel) and helped me gain some insight into the actions I feel I’m best equipped for and that give me joy. She cautioned that no one can do all the roles, and that if a role doesn’t feed you, burnout is likely.

Hiking Naked Final CoverWriting is both my creative outlet and my way to advocate for change. But as I’ve turned much of my energy to promoting my new book, Hiking Naked: A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance, I’ve wondered what good it’s doing in the face of the tragedies throughout the world.

Carol-768x1024Another friend, Carol Sexton, reminded me I’m not the only artist raising this question. Her blog post a couple of weeks ago, “Why I Make Art,” wrestled with, “What is the point of this art that I am making?  I see news of police brutality, racial injustice, political corruption, the failure of our current health system, or natural disasters such as wildfires and hurricanes, and I am sitting at home making a drawing of lace. I have to wonder whether there is something more I could/should be doing as an artist to address the needs of a hurting world.”

lace

Carol explored her role as an artist further.

“There are artists who focus their art around issues of social justice, and I admire and respect what they do, but that is also not who I am as an artist. I paint images of plants. I draw mandala designs. I carve figures in stone. I am attracted to things that I find beautiful and I want to share them in some way. But how can I justify being an artist when there are so many other worthy causes that need support?”

While acknowledging the privilege of choosing to make art, Carol lists clearly why she continues it. By changing the words “make art” to “write,” the points work for me, too.

  • I continue to make art write because it is what I do, and who I am.
  • I make art write because it is a gift that I have been given, and it would seem wrong not to exercise that gift.
  • I make art write because it satisfies my soul and gives me pleasure on a daily basis.
  • I make art write because part of my livelihood depends on it. In a lifestyle where there is no regular paycheck, every little bit of freelance income counts. And before getting income from art, one must take the time to produce art.
  • I make art write because it brings enjoyment to others.
  • I make art write because in a world full of ugliness and hatred and injustice, there is also much beauty to be shared and celebrated.
  • I make art write not as a direct response to important issues, nor as an escape from thinking or caring about them. I make art write because it is what I do best, and I want to offer my best to the world.

Most days, I trust that if I listen to the voice within, I’ll be led to actions that contribute to the world we want to see. But when I doubt, wisdom from people like Eileen and Carol sustains and inspires me. My hope is that my writing does the same for others.

Whatever your work is, how do you view it in the midst of today’s tribulations?

 

 

 

 

A Creative Nonfiction ABC

Some days, writing is tough, seems beyond my skills, makes me wonder if I’ll ever master the craft of creative nonfiction. As I prepare for the launch of my memoir, “Hiking Naked: A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance,” I’m much more focused on my calendar, press releases, and book orders than generating new work. I know I’ll return to it, and when I do, I’ll have Karen Zey’s ABCs to guide me. I suggest the same guidance fits for fiction writers, too.

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

zz zeyBy Karen Zey

Avoid adverbs assiduously.

Befriend brevity.

Capture sensory details: creamy, crackling or crisp.

Devise dialogue that sounds like real talk. Drop the tags.

Em dash your way to emphasis—and limit those exclamation points!

Flash your essay. Or pen your theme in long form.

Grasp the grammar rules. Ain’t no problem bending ’em on purpose.

Heed your inner muse, but write beyond the self.

Imagine the reader imagining your experience. Read your work aloud.

Juxtapose tender and tough to add depth.

Keep studying your craft—writing is arduous.

Lay down heartfelt moments with lyricism.

Merge metaphors and memories for prisms of meaning.

Narrate with a compelling arc: sweeping tale or braided strands of thought.

Open with a strong hook that hints of more to come.

Punch up your ending with a powerful thought that lingers.

Question every word choice. Quell your penchant for purple prose.

Revise, obsess; revise, lose sleep; revise…

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Condolences to the U.S.

This year’s 4th of July celebrations stretched over an entire week on the rural island where I live. Many tourists from the mainland took advantage of a midweek day off from work and turned it into a vacation that reached across weekends on either side of the national holiday.

We crowded both sides of the street running through our village for the annual parade, this year dedicated to our local solid waste and recycling center.

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Instructions at Lopez Island Solid Waste Center

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People attended concerts, cookouts, and the Farmers Market; paddled and cycled, joined the Lions’ Club Fun Run/Walk, perused used books at the Friends of the Library sale, and lazed on the beaches.

 

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Except for the annual community fireworks display at 10:30 PM, there was a noticeable (and blessed) absence of whistling and exploding firecrackers at private events. Evidently people responded to the dozens of reminders posted along island roadways that all personal fireworks are banned in our county.

I’ve long felt ambivalent about 4th of July festivities. Too often, much of the celebrating focuses on the use of violence and war to protect our “freedom;” nowhere is that more evident than rockets bursting in the air, often over fragile wildlife habitats and bodies of water.

declaration-of-independence.jpgBut this year, my emotions included grief. Ever since the vitriol of the 2016 Presidential race and the resulting election of Donald Trump, I’ve worked to manage the anger, fear, and sadness that shadow me. As I re-read the U.S. Declaration of Independence this week, I was struck by the explanation of the reason for this declaration:

“The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these States.”

That statement is followed by a long list of “facts” to prove that claim. Many of the examples resonate with actions of our current President, this one in particular:

“He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.”

So, yes, anger, fear, and sadness shadowed this year’s 4th of July for me.

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David Oates, author & teacher

A couple of days later, I received word from writing friend and teacher David Oates that one of his essays had been published in Terrain.org’s “Letter to America Series.” Through this collection, the online magazine presents “urgent, powerful, and beautiful post-election responses from writers, artists, scientists, and thinkers across the United States.” The series began on November 17 when Alison Hawthorne Deming published her Letter to America in response to the election. Her instructions about how to respond were clear: “Think of the great spirit of inventiveness the Earth calls forth after each major disturbance it suffers. Be artful, inventive, and just, my friends, but do not be silent.”

People have followed Deming’s instruction in the form of poems, photographs, traditional letters, and more. David’s response took the form of a condolence letter. As good sympathy notes do, David’s words consoled me—and reinforced Deming’s urging to not be silent. I recommend you read David’s entire essay; this especially spoke to me:

“Each of us wants his or her own way. But we are unhappy–lonely, abandoned, miserable–unless we are profoundly woven in with others. The tearfulness and sorrow of our present moment come from a feeling that in this dimension we have received a profound wound. And we’re all bleeding. David James Duncan calls it our civic grief.

Here we aim for possibility, a more perfect union. Here in our striving and imagining we know vulnerability, this heartbreak, this civic grief.

Let us miss it so fiercely that we become real again, re-inhabit our skins, our plazas and public places, our words that once rose above us like a phalanx of bright spearpoints. Let us grieve as long as necessary and remember as hard as we can.

And then act.”

Four years ago when David was guest faculty in my writing program, he became an example for me of how to overcome fear of speaking out through my writing. “Be grounded in your process as a writer so that your writing isn’t dependent on what others think.”

There’s much comfort and sustenance in the Terrain.org series, and it’s all just a click away. It’s another place I turn to remember the earth’s and our nation’s great spirit of inventiveness. It gives me strength to act.