Pen and Ink – #amwriting #randomwednesday

Sometimes, in this computer age, I feel I’ve lost touch with what it means to actually write.  I mean to actually pick up a pen and a piece of paper and write something out longhand.

Granted, I’ve had problems with my writing in the past.  My English teacher at school informed me in no uncertain terms that my handwriting was terrible and that I should do something about it.  I took an evening class and learned to touch-type, a skill that has stood me in good stead ever since and one I can heartily recommend to anyone.  However, it did nothing to improve my writing and you’ll find that “3 sides of A4” on a given subject needs a lot more words when hammered out on a typewriter than it does when written longhand in pen and ink.

There’s a part of me that objects to the computer, that rails against using it.  This is despite my being an IT manager and website designer.  Irony, huh?  So I keep my to-do list in a notebook, or on index cards, or in a Filofax (see Monday’s post on the excellent DIYPlanner templates).  I carry a notebook and pen with me at all times waiting for the moment when inspiration strikes.  And when someone asks “do you have a pen?” I can always answer in the affirmative.  When they see it’s a fountain pen, they’re usually either confused, intrigued or a little of both.

Unfortunately, I’m not satisfied with the humble Biro.  No, if I’m going to have a pen it’s going to be a proper one.  No rollerball for me, either.  Fountain pen.  Filled from a bottle of ink. And since I’m being honest, I have several, all filled with inks of different colours.  There’s black for the day-to-day notes, red for annotating the notes, a lovely green-brown from Noodler’s (El Lawrence, to be precise) for further annotations if they’re needed or just general day-to-day writing.

Using these pens has connected me more to my writing than the keyboard ever could.  There’s no “delete” key on a fountain pen.  If you want to get rid of something, you cross it out and pretend it doesn’t exist.  This has proved useful on a number of occasions as something I thought useless at the time has found a new lease of life elsewhere in the Ongoing Project – if I’d deleted it it would have been gone and forgotten.  I can look back on a writing session and see stuff.  Even if half of it is crossed out, scribbled over and consigned to the “Someday/Maybe” file.

I still have the occasional problem with little things like reading my own writing.  Shopping lists are great for that, standing in the supermarket trying to work out why I was wanting to buy a bairn (that turned out to be “bacon”).  And I have to resist the urge to obtain more pens than I really need (I think I’ve lost that battle already but I dabble in calligraphy as well, so all things find a use).

There is a wonderful feeling in sitting with a blank sheet of paper – rather than a blank screen – and beginning to write.  Sure, word counts are a pain to keep up and there’s no spell-checker, but you don’t get Clippy trying to be helpful, there’s no Blue Screen of Death and a piece of paper can’t connect you to the Internet and distract you from what you were doing.  You don’t need power, you don’t need batteries and you don’t need a WiFi connection.

Over to you…

Do you use pen and paper? For first drafts? Important notes? Writing long letters to family and friends?

Instant Gratification, the Internet at it’s Finest

Above all things that are great about the Internet, the instant gratification of needs and desires is the one I love the most.  Second to that is Google’s amazing ability to find the answer to just about anything, third is Wolfram Alpha’s fantastic website.  But I digress.  Actually, it’s probably the second best thing about the internet.  Social Media is the best.  I can be social from behind my screen and no-one would ever guess what an anti-social b’stard I can be.  Unless I told them.  Oh.  Ah, well.  On with the post…

Instant Gratification.  It’s lovely!  I’ve had an Android phone for over a year now and between the Kindle app and the Amazon music store I can get pretty much anything I want.  Instantly.  Well, I say “instantly”, it’s as instant as the broadband speeds up here allow for and that’s still faster than buying a book or a CD.  If I upgrade the card in my phone from a 2Gb to a 16 or 32, I can ditch my old iPod completely!

Example a.  The Detroit Social Club.  Until a few weeks ago, I’d never heard of the band.  Didn’t know they existed.  Then this fantastic song, “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” was used in the soundtrack to an episode of Being Human.  Song ID app on the phone told me who had done it, Amazon MP3 store provided a link.  One click and 79p later a new band had entered my life.  Superb.  I haven’t bought their album yet, but I have listened to it a few times on Spotify at work.  I’ll get it one of these days.

Example b.  Spotify.  Anyone who says that all the world’s music is on there can go fish.  Colin Hay’s new album, Gathering Mercury, isn’t on there, nor was his last album.  Be that as it may, a lot of the world’s music is on there.  The violinist, David Garrett, appeared on ITV’s Dancing On Ice for the final.  Yes, I watch DoI, but I’m heartily sick of the Bolero.  Monday comes round and I’m writing some code, needing some music to listen to, and I end up on Spotify with a huge playlist of Garrett’s past albums.  Classical Pop/Rock is a bit hit and miss, so there’s definitely some cherry-picking needed to get the good stuff.  But you can do that!  You can choose which tracks you want, which you don’t.  Much, much better than buying a physical CD.

Example c.  The Kindle.  “Bugger,” thought I.  “Train journey tomorrow and I haven’t a thing to read!”  Along comes a blog post, a re-tweet via Twitter, IIRC, and suddenly I’ve a new author to follow and a techno-thriller to pass the hours between Edinburgh and York.  Spot-onski.  And it was how I discovered the excellent “Writing Therapy” by Tim Atkinson. (On the Amazon Kindle Store)

Example d.  Random advertising tweets.  You know how it goes on Twitter.  You mention “marmalade” once and suddenly you’re followed by half-a-dozen marmalade-themed bots and the British Marmalade Lovers Society is re-tweeting your stuff.  I made a comment to a friend, @RequestFriday, on Bute FM that he should get some more Prog Rock on his show, mentioning a couple of bands – Nightwish and Avantasia to be precise.  A few hours later I receive a tweet from @SilentFall, a French Prog Rock band, promoting their new album.  And it’s on Amazon for download.  An hour later, I’m out for a run listening to this excellent album.  If I hadn’t commented on Twitter, it could’ve been years before this band came on to my radar.  But mostly these random tweets just get blocked and reported for spam.

But it’s not just the near-instantaneous nature of the gratification, it’s the finding new stuff.  Thanks to Twitter, the Kindle, sites like Spotify which list related and similar artists, I now know of a whole host of new artists and writers to draw from.  It’s enriching my musical and literary world.  And there’s not many places you can say do that now!

If the internet were to shut down tonight, apart from wondering what to do with my HTML and PHP skills and how I’d fill the hours now that Twitter’s not there, I’d miss the exploration, the thrill of discovery, and the instant gratification of downloading a writer or musician’s entire back catalogue.  The internet truly is a wonderful resource.

So in the past month, I’ve discovered several new authors and albums by bands I’d never even heard of.  Without the Internet I would have lived in blissful ignorance of their existence.  Don’t get me wrong, I love browsing book stores.  I love the feel of a physical book in my hand, the smell of the paper, the very ambience of the store itself.  And if you find a bookshop like Cogito in Hexham  use them to the very limit of your wallet, they’re rare beasts indeed.

Over to you.  What has the internet delivered to you this last month?  Who or what have you discovered that you never knew you couldn’t live without before?

To reduce stress levels, just give up (gaming) #randomwednesday

I gave up on a computer game last year.  Just stopped playing.  I don’t know whether my fingers are losing their responsiveness now that I’m getting old, but I just could not get past the first boss fight.  And this was only about 5 minutes in to the game.  Fortunately, it was one I had borrowed so I could return it from whence it came and not worry about it any more.  If I’d stumped up cash for the damn thing, I might’ve tried a little harder.

Then I started playing Tomb Radier: Anniversary.  I’ve played the Tomb Raider games since the start, loved the thrill of exploration, the searching for secret areas, the wanton destruction of endangered species.  The series has had its high points – Tomb Raider itself, Tomb Raider 3 – and its low points – Tomb Raider 2 was too hard, the latest one too short on the PS2 – but I’ve stuck with it.  I’ve only missed out on playing one of the games, Angel of Darkness I think it was called, but I understand from reviews that I’ve not missed much.

Tomb Raider: Anniversary is a remake of the original game using the updated graphics of Tomb Raider: Legend.  Visually, it is a thing of beauty.  Puzzles that were simple “flick switches, run around and stomp pressure pads” became far more interesting.  And the environment?  Wow!  Gorgeous.  But they’d tweaked combat, introduced a bullet-time-esque special move that you could use to pull off a one-shot kill, and this is where my problems with the game started.  I could not, no matter what I tried, master this move.  Not an issue with the little beasties, the wolves and bears of the game, but when it came to the dinosaurs I started to find the combat a little tough even on the easiest difficulty.  I battled on, killed the dinos, progressed to the centaur mummy things with shields.

Back in the first few Tomb Raider games, before they started moving towards the unkillable monsters you just had to avoid, combat was simple:  Pump as many rounds of ammunition into the target as you could and it would die.  The bigger the bad, the more ammunition you needed.  You’d work your way through magnum, uze and shotgun rounds and end up running around whatever it was blasting away with your pistols – pistols that never, ever, needed reloading.  This bullet-time special move thing broke that.  I wouldn’t mind so much if it was a case of “pull off the special move and you’ll finish the combat much quicker”, but it wasn’t.  This move became required.  Somehow I managed to pull it off twice without dying and moved on to the aliens.  Then it was needed again and I’d lost my mojo.  Died many times in succession, got cross, nearly wrecked a controller.  And then I had a flashback to the previous year and just gave up.  I felt so much better.  I shelved the game, moved on to something far more fun, and haven’t gone back to it since.

There’s talk of another Tomb Raider game at the moment.  I don’t know if I’ll bother or not.  You changed too much last time, guys.  And if the “old” gamers don’t buy a game, the young gamers won’t because they don’t have the cash.

The take-home message from this post is this:  It’s your cash. You spent it on the game to have fun, not to raise your blood pressure and aim for that heart-attack. You could always trade it in for Lego Harry Potter.