Acres of time

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I’ve read this metaphor a few times in various books and blog posts. Literally and scientifically, it doesn’t make sense — “acres” is a unit for measuring the amount of land, based on what I assume is an old English tradition since the rest of the world used the metric system and words like hectares. Growing up in Texas and having spent time in the renewable energy industry barnstorming through West Texas, for me the word conjures up flat, endless expanses of dirt and scrub stretching to the horizon, sliced through by a ribbon of interstate.

It’s space, not time. If it’s smothered in grass, as in a meadow or golf course, I can lie down on it and hit Pause to my day, staying there nestled in the green and maybe dozing off a bit. (Well, assuming I don’t get driven off by a groundskeeper.)

The phrase always makes me stop reading for just a nanosecond, partly because in my mind’s ear it sounds a tiny bit awkward. There is no place in which to rest in time. It’s not a place. There is no pause. Nothing cuts across it. There is no horizon beyond.

Still, I stop partly too because I love the image it evokes. It’s as good a metaphor for eternity as any, and shimmering green grass and glowing yellow horizon makes me think that “acres of time” would be a great place to hang out for awhile.

Uncommon Type

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I don’t know what I’m going to do with two typewriters, but I can’t remember the last time I had one. Maybe in 1991, which may have been the last time I wrote a paper using one, back when you could actually turn in handwritten essays in blue books or notebook paper. I remember struggling to learn how to print out a paper for my Research Methods class over a year later, using our shared family dot-matrix, and ripping out the hole-filled margins carefully so as to not tear the sheets.

I also remember sitting in bed during high school, my manual typewriter on my lap, surrounded by what I recall may have been a couple dozen crumpled paper. My senior thesis for AP English. It was 8:30 am on a weekday, and my paper would have been due at 8:15.

My fingers are clearly out of shape, as I’m struggling again now, but not with the text itself or the ideas, but with the mere physical act of punching the keys hard enough to make a decent impression on the page. I guess I had more muscular, fitter fingers in college? Still, it only took minutes for my fingers to remember the natural rhythm unique to typing on the original keyboard. My friend had just half the story: part of the adventure is the typing itself.

Detours

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Sometimes life takes you into unexpected directions. And just as often, so does writing.

I originally started writing my war novel with the idea that the protagonist’s primary relationship would be with the stricken women with which he’s tasked to care for. (He’s a doctor in a war zone that eventually becomes occupied territory.) But after about a hundred pages in — god, what took so long? — I realized that the relationship that intrigued me the most was the one that was developing and expanding between him and the enemy. Specifically, the man from the enemy camp who is charged with taking care of him.

I’m in Day 11 of National Novel Writing Month, and rather than starting over with a new novel in keeping with NaNoWriMo tradition, I’ve opted to continue the same novel with an eye towards finally completing the first draft by the time I crawl across the finish line on November 30th. I’ve taken more detours in the draft as it’s grown and expanded over the last few years, and sometimes the detours have led me to other, new characters with whom my protagonist has struck up new friendships, but I’ve always found myself drawn back to that same thread that ties the protagonist and his primary opponent and captor to each other. The vision I originally had for the story hasn’t just evolved but has taken off into an entirely different trajectory. The biggest struggle I have now is to ensure that the women doesn’t become just a sideshow because that was the entire reason I was compelled to write the story in the first place. If anything, that’s the most compelling thing that draws the two men together.

My job now is to make sure the detour doesn’t take me too far off the path I’ve set for myself and get me lost. Being lost in a story can be a good thing, but losing the story itself would be a tragedy.

This is not what we look like

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…writers have looked like other people even when they write (though sometimes their lips move, and sometimes they stare into space longer, and more intently, than anything that isn’t a cat); but their words describe their real faces: the ones they wear underneath. This is why people who encounter writers of fantasy are rarely satisfied by the wholly inferior person that they meet.

“I thought you’d be taller, or older, or younger, or prettier, or wiser,” they tell us, in words or wordlessly.

“This is not what I look like,” I tell them. “This is not my face.”

— Neil Gaiman,
*The View from the Cheap Seats*

Listen to your mother

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As a senior in high school I needed one more elective to fill out my fall schedule. My mom suggested that I take a typing class.

Yuck. Typing class? Everyone else I knew was taking cool stuff like word processing. I’d been typing since she gave me a Fisher-Price typewriter when I was eight years old, so by that point I considered myself an expert, albeit an expert two-finger typist. Wouldn’t that be like taking a class on walking?

Her reasoning was that since I was a two-finger sight typist (i.e., as opposed to a touch typist), imagine how much better, faster I would be if I took a typing class and learned to use all 10 fingers and become a touch typist?

Since I’m a lazy person and didn’t want to think any more about my fall schedule, I went along and signed up for it. Monday to Friday, 8:00 am-8:50 am, IBM Selectric typewriters. I found out on my first day of class, when the teacher had us test our typing abilities, that I was a 35-wpm, two-finger sight typist, which apparently was pretty good.

By the end of the semester, I was clocking in at about 55 wpm and, as my mother promised, using all 10 of my fingers and typing without once looking at the keys. Nearly thirty years later, I’m at about 120 wpm and averaging no more than 2 errors. As it turned out, this is a damn useful skill when you’re a technology worker and a writer.

Thanks, mom!

Want

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It’s just a typewriter. But it’s also red, sleek, stylish, and did I mention it’s a typewriter? Just looking at it makes me want to take off for the weekend to Key West, hide under a shady tree in Hemingway’s yard, and not leave until I’ve finished at least a dozen short stories.

Art Matters, So It Shouldn’t Be Free

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In a previous life, I worked as a wind energy developer. It meant lots of long trips to exotic places where people are usually not (at least, not in great or even middling abundance): places like Sweetwater, TX; Minot, North Dakota; Ozona, TX; and Santa Rosa, NM. Don’t get me wrong — these are all lovely places with very kind, welcoming communities. But wherever there is plenty of wind to support industry-scale wind projects, there is typically not much in terms of population.

Anyway, I remember vividly one day trip I took to some North Texas county (I can’t remember which one anymore, but it was a very rural, remote area with a lot of trees and, as we soon figured out, not as much wind as we’d hoped) one spring day. The company I worked for had sent over a young intern named Adam from Irish HQ, so as an educational experience and for some company I took him with me.

During the long, two-hour drive to the meeting, we somehow got to chatting about artists (musicians in particular), creativity, and the bubbling tension between the need for these artists to make a living and the demand of their fans for free content. This was a post-Napster, pre-Spotify world, when Pandora was just starting to find its audience and YouTube was exploding with illegal uploads of both official and “unofficial,” fan-made music videos.

Adam believed that artists should make their work freely available on the Internet and suffered not an ounce of guilt from downloading copyrighted content without paying for it. He genuinely believed that because his generation (he was about 19, and this was the mid-2000s) had grown up accustomed to paying little or nothing for music, movies and books because of their wide availability on bootleg sites, they shouldn’t be expected to suddenly pony up for access to them. Sure, he was happy to pay a few hundred dollars for an iPod, but for the music and other content he would actually play on it and without which the iPod would just be an outrageously priced paperweight? Nada. When I asked him how in the world he expected these artists to survive and continue to create without compensation, he said, “They can get a full-time job and create in their spare time.”

Artists have always, always struggled for respect and an adequate income for their work. Distributing content without artist compensation is a longtime tradition — it’s why copyright law was invented in the first place. But with technology making it so incredibly easy to distribute any creative work on a mass, global scale, it’s become even harder for artists to control their work and earn a living wage from it. If even musicians with vast financial resources and the power and influence of corporate money behind them can’t make money solely from their creative output but must hustle to make themselves into a “brand”, is there much hope for the “independent artist” who would rather spend their time and energies actually making art and not shilling t-shirts and plastic wrist bands out of cramped apartments?

I could never convince Adam that artists deserve to be paid every single time their music is downloaded, their film is viewed, and their book is sold. But while the conversation happened nearly a decade ago, it stuck in my head and comes out periodically whenever I read articles like this one, which calls for basically an overhaul of society and more expansive public investment in artists and their art.

Despite what I just wrote above about the importance of compensating artists for their work, I’m of two minds about the idea of devoting public funds to support artists. The Depression-era programs put to work thousands of writers, photographers, filmmakers, and visual artists left an astounding legacy of documents, films, and artwork that serve as a rich repository of content about a particularly critical time in American history.

On the other hand, the content, while voluminous, wasn’t exactly created solely for the sake of art. As this article carefully points out, “Nothing was published that was not first approved by Washington and the entire process required that the author remain anonymous.” Government money is rarely offered without strings, even today, and while I consider myself fairly liberal, I hesitate to endorse any arts program or idea that relies so heavily on government largesse. Socialist art has rarely produced anything of lasting cultural value and more often than not serves as a propaganda tool. The artist should only ever be beholden to their creative impulse, never to an outside agency with its own agenda.

Still, I also don’t think that we can expect the “masses” (who my former political science prof often referred to as “asses”) to suddenly have a change of heart and refuse to download anything without ponying up a royalty to the artist. One program I find appealing is Ireland’s Artists Tax Exemption. Rather than requiring artists to submit exhaustive applications and compete with their peers for a limited amount of earmarked funds — a process ripe with bias and the stifling of free speech and creativity — the program offers a simple blanket benefit to all artists who make money from their work. It’s not a perfect program: the government is still the final arbiter of what it considers “of cultural merit” and thus eligible for tax exemption. But it does strike me as an easier and more liberal means of supporting artists by removing or at least minimizing the burden of supporting oneself through one’s art. Like everyone else in society, the artist must still organize her paperwork and receipts to prepare for filing the appropriate returns, but at least she’s not enduring the soul-sucking business of filling out reams of grant applications, writing one more goddamn essay about why her work should be funded, and gathering reference letters and budget forecasts.

I’ve not spoken to Adam since I left the company in 2006, but I wonder what he thinks now, a decade later and 10 years older, about the state of the music industry. Folks wanting unlimited free music have never had it better — I listen to Spotify all day long and have never paid for it. But as a writer who works hard for every word and every page, I’m terrified of what the future holds for creatives who want and deserve to be paid for doing what they love and doing it well.

Art Matters, So It Shouldn't Be Free

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In a previous life, I worked as a wind energy developer. It meant lots of long trips to exotic places where people are usually not (at least, not in great or even middling abundance): places like Sweetwater, TX; Minot, North Dakota; Ozona, TX; and Santa Rosa, NM. Don’t get me wrong — these are all lovely places with very kind, welcoming communities. But wherever there is plenty of wind to support industry-scale wind projects, there is typically not much in terms of population.

Anyway, I remember vividly one day trip I took to some North Texas county (I can’t remember which one anymore, but it was a very rural, remote area with a lot of trees and, as we soon figured out, not as much wind as we’d hoped) one spring day. The company I worked for had sent over a young intern named Adam from Irish HQ, so as an educational experience and for some company I took him with me.

During the long, two-hour drive to the meeting, we somehow got to chatting about artists (musicians in particular), creativity, and the bubbling tension between the need for these artists to make a living and the demand of their fans for free content. This was a post-Napster, pre-Spotify world, when Pandora was just starting to find its audience and YouTube was exploding with illegal uploads of both official and “unofficial,” fan-made music videos.

Adam believed that artists should make their work freely available on the Internet and suffered not an ounce of guilt from downloading copyrighted content without paying for it. He genuinely believed that because his generation (he was about 19, and this was the mid-2000s) had grown up accustomed to paying little or nothing for music, movies and books because of their wide availability on bootleg sites, they shouldn’t be expected to suddenly pony up for access to them. Sure, he was happy to pay a few hundred dollars for an iPod, but for the music and other content he would actually play on it and without which the iPod would just be an outrageously priced paperweight? Nada. When I asked him how in the world he expected these artists to survive and continue to create without compensation, he said, “They can get a full-time job and create in their spare time.”

Artists have always, always struggled for respect and an adequate income for their work. Distributing content without artist compensation is a longtime tradition — it’s why copyright law was invented in the first place. But with technology making it so incredibly easy to distribute any creative work on a mass, global scale, it’s become even harder for artists to control their work and earn a living wage from it. If even musicians with vast financial resources and the power and influence of corporate money behind them can’t make money solely from their creative output but must hustle to make themselves into a “brand”, is there much hope for the “independent artist” who would rather spend their time and energies actually making art and not shilling t-shirts and plastic wrist bands out of cramped apartments?

I could never convince Adam that artists deserve to be paid every single time their music is downloaded, their film is viewed, and their book is sold. But while the conversation happened nearly a decade ago, it stuck in my head and comes out periodically whenever I read articles like this one, which calls for basically an overhaul of society and more expansive public investment in artists and their art.

Despite what I just wrote above about the importance of compensating artists for their work, I’m of two minds about the idea of devoting public funds to support artists. The Depression-era programs put to work thousands of writers, photographers, filmmakers, and visual artists left an astounding legacy of documents, films, and artwork that serve as a rich repository of content about a particularly critical time in American history.

On the other hand, the content, while voluminous, wasn’t exactly created solely for the sake of art. As this article carefully points out, “Nothing was published that was not first approved by Washington and the entire process required that the author remain anonymous.” Government money is rarely offered without strings, even today, and while I consider myself fairly liberal, I hesitate to endorse any arts program or idea that relies so heavily on government largesse. Socialist art has rarely produced anything of lasting cultural value and more often than not serves as a propaganda tool. The artist should only ever be beholden to their creative impulse, never to an outside agency with its own agenda.

Still, I also don’t think that we can expect the “masses” (who my former political science prof often referred to as “asses”) to suddenly have a change of heart and refuse to download anything without ponying up a royalty to the artist. One program I find appealing is Ireland’s Artists Tax Exemption. Rather than requiring artists to submit exhaustive applications and compete with their peers for a limited amount of earmarked funds — a process ripe with bias and the stifling of free speech and creativity — the program offers a simple blanket benefit to all artists who make money from their work. It’s not a perfect program: the government is still the final arbiter of what it considers “of cultural merit” and thus eligible for tax exemption. But it does strike me as an easier and more liberal means of supporting artists by removing or at least minimizing the burden of supporting oneself through one’s art. Like everyone else in society, the artist must still organize her paperwork and receipts to prepare for filing the appropriate returns, but at least she’s not enduring the soul-sucking business of filling out reams of grant applications, writing one more goddamn essay about why her work should be funded, and gathering reference letters and budget forecasts.

I’ve not spoken to Adam since I left the company in 2006, but I wonder what he thinks now, a decade later and 10 years older, about the state of the music industry. Folks wanting unlimited free music have never had it better — I listen to Spotify all day long and have never paid for it. But as a writer who works hard for every word and every page, I’m terrified of what the future holds for creatives who want and deserve to be paid for doing what they love and doing it well.