Adam Savage’s Star Trek Captain’s Chair

This one merits a full-on blog post: Adam Savage and the Tested crew build a screen-accurate (99.9%) Captain Kirk captain’s chair from Star Trek: The Original Series.  This video encapsulates everything that it means to be a geek.

TL;DR (or watch): Go to the end of the video and check out the finished chair.  Any Star Trek fan will be drooling with envy.

Write a Letter.

GenCon Writer’s Symposium Slim on Self-Publishing Content

2014.Writers.LogoAuthor Blair MacGregor posted some great thoughts on this year’s GenCon Writer’s Symposium, which again features lackluster coverage of self-publishing in its panel and content line-up:

One presentation is called, “Self or Traditional: Pros and Cons of Each.” The other is, “Self-Publishing: Why It Works, Why It” (I’m assuming the cut-off word on the schedule is “Doesn’t).

Yes, in the year that SFWA — derided as so out-of-touch — at last opened its membership to income-earning self-published writers, the Writer’s Symposium believes the most pressing questions writers have about self-publishing is whether it’s good or bad.

There are no “Business of Self-Publishing” panels. Nothing on what tasks are involved in producing print and ebooks. Nothing on connecting with editing, art, and design professionals. Nothing at all on avoiding the numerous businesses out there intending to fleece writers. Yes, there are a couple general panels that could be of use to self-publishers. However, last year’s seemingly cross-applicable panels — such as the panel on seeking professional reviews — included direct “don’t bother if you’re self-published” references, so… yeah. Not hopeful about that.

SFWA’s change in membership requirements was a pleasant surprise, but con schedules like this one show that the traditional publishing establishment’s acceptance of self-publishing has a long way to go.

The 2015 GenCon Writers Symposium is happening this summer from July 30th to August 2nd at the Indianapolis Convention Center.  Who’s going?  Anyone having thoughts similar to Blair’s?  Anyone have any con experiences as a self-published or aspiring author they’d like to share?

Marginally Coherent Thoughts on Marginalia

I’m a bit indecisive when it comes to writing in books.  On one hand, I do love books as physical objects, and I prefer to see them well cared for.  On the other hand, there is something tremendously appealing about writing notes in the margins as you read; it makes the reading experience more interactive and therefore more memorable, leading, in my experience, to better retention and deeper consideration of the subject matter.  It’s also arguably important to history: some of history’s most memorable people wrote in their books, and it taught us a lot about them.

In an age where reading is undergoing major changes, the question of marginalia has come up a lot.  Does the rise of e-books make marginalia irrelevant?  Does it make it more or less acceptable?  Are physical books more or less sacrosanct now that so much of our data is stored electronically?

In a 2012 article for The New Yorker, Mark O’Connell references a series of articles by Sam Anderson, New York Times critic at large:

[Anderson] characterized writing in books as a way “not just to passively read but to fully enter a text, to collaborate with it, to mingle with an author on some kind of primary textual plane.” He also laid out his fantasy about how e-books might lead to a new golden age in marginalia, whereby readers could share their own electronic jottings and read those of others:

This, it seems to me, would be something like a readerly utopia. It could even (if we want to get all grand and optimistic) turn out to be a Gutenberg-style revolution—not for writing, this time, but for reading. Book readers have never had a mechanism for massively and easily sharing their responses to a text with other readers, right inside the text itself.

This enthusiasm for an underpraised form of writing is infectious, and he makes a compelling case for marginalia-sharing as a means of giving readers’ observations more currency in the literary exchange. But I think he underestimates the extent to which most readers value annotations precisely because they are a private exchange between themselves and whatever book they happen to be talking back to. Personally, I get slightly edgy when people pick paperbacks off my shelves and flick through them; there’s something slightly mortifying about anybody else reading these earnest or facetious marginal interjections (“V. interesting, this!,” “Austen can really write!,” or “Sure, whatever, Wittgenstein…”)

For me the value of marginalia is entirely personal, in the sense that it is reflective almost entirely of an individual’s own personality and the way his or her mind might have been working the day he or she read the noted passages.  It’s a look into both the past–the history of a person’s reading of a certain book–and the historical present–the immortal interplay between the author’s ideas and the reader’s written response to them.

It’s also a way to personalize one’s library: what better way to put your own personal stamp on a book than to note your thoughts in its margins, thus saving said thoughts for your own future use and for posterity.

Marginalia is a polarizing issue, in my experience: people either love it or hate it.  I’ve met more people who tend toward the latter: to these purists, marking up a book is an act of vandalism worthy of punitive measures.  But to others, including myself, the production of marginalia is the mark of a truly immersive reading experience, one so gripping that you simply had to memorialize your thoughts right then and there.  And not just contemporaneously: geographically.  Proximately.  One might argue that the alternative–keeping some sort of reading journal, in which one can write down one’s thoughts without recourse to marring the pristine page–is simply too tedious, and that therefore marginalists are simply lazy.  But to me the placement of notes right on the page in question makes the ideas presented all the more immediate and alive.

Both those who write in books and those who object to the practice have their flaws, of course: marginalists tend to be a bit pompous, whereas dissenters tend toward the precious.

That said, the e-book revolution certainly does present the opportunity for a marginalia renaissance: the ability to take notes quickly and effectively, anchored to individual words and lines in an electronic text, should make for a interesting canvas over the long term.  We’ll just have to wait and see if the experience is embraced.

For me I find that I usually overcome my inner OCD tendencies and end up jotting notes in the margins, happy to have read with passion, even if later perusal of said notes produces more winces than smiles.

Poetry and Potatoes

It’s hard to talk about liking poetry without coming off as an affected douchebag.  Unless, that is, you hang out at the type of parties I don’t get invited to.  But the truth is, there’s not a lot of love for poetry in the modern United States, an assertion I feel comfortable making given the evidence that it’s next to impossible to support yourself as a working poet.  Ask your average person what poetry is and you’ll likely get an answer lying somewhere on a spectrum between dirty limericks and the one Shakespearean sonnet their English teacher made them read in high school.

Mark Lawrence had some interesting things to say recently about the allegation (from a fan) that his writing was not poetic:

A well-known blogger who liked Prince of Thorns very much told me that he didn’t think my prose was at all poetic. It turns out that to him poetic prose is prose with lots of curls and twiddles, prose with endless description, flowers and clouds a la Wordsworth’s famous daffodils.

I do write poetic prose. No question about it. But I’m more of the Philip Larkin school. I also write actual poetry, but poetic prose is a different beast, it’s poetry diluted to taste.

Poetic prose, done right, is about wringing more out of a single line.

The idea that the adjective “poetic,” when referring to prose, might be meant as a criticism is enough to cork most English professors’ merlot.  But in the aforementioned blogger’s defense, that’s probably a common enough viewpoint these days.

I think the discord comes not from a genuine dislike of poetry, but from a popular misunderstanding of what good poetry is.  (Here’s where the affected douchebag bit comes in; as if I know better, right?)  I’m no expert, but speaking as someone who does occasionally read and write poetry, I feel like the major disconnect is due to the fact that those who don’t read or strongly dislike poetry think of poetry in terms of the worst Romantic frippery.  If you think of poetry in terms of Wordsworth and Shelley, it’s understandable why you’d think of “poetic prose” as being something purple and overdone.  You might not think of the sparseness of Hemingway or the bold economy of words in a Mark Lawrence novel as being poetic, but they are–in the best way.

One of my favorite poems is The Simple Truth by Philip Levine, written in 1995:

I bought a dollar and a half’s worth of small red potatoes,
took them home, boiled them in their jackets
and ate them for dinner with a little butter and salt.
Then I walked through the dried fields
on the edge of town. In middle June the light
hung on in the dark furrows at my feet,
and in the mountain oaks overhead the birds
were gathering for the night, the jays and mockers
squawking back and forth, the finches still darting
into the dusty light. The woman who sold me
the potatoes was from Poland; she was someone
out of my childhood in a pink spangled sweater and sunglasses
praising the perfection of all her fruits and vegetables
at the road-side stand and urging me to taste
even the pale, raw sweet corn trucked all the way,
she swore, from New Jersey. “Eat, eat” she said,
“Even if you don’t I’ll say you did.”
Some things
you know all your life. They are so simple and true
they must be said without elegance, meter and rhyme,
they must be laid on the table beside the salt shaker,
the glass of water, the absence of light gathering
in the shadows of picture frames, they must be
naked and alone, they must stand for themselves.
My friend Henri and I arrived at this together in 1965
before I went away, before he began to kill himself,
and the two of us to betray our love. Can you taste
what I’m saying? It is onions or potatoes, a pinch
of simple salt, the wealth of melting butter, it is obvious,
it stays in the back of your throat like a truth
you never uttered because the time was always wrong,
it stays there for the rest of your life, unspoken,
made of that dirt we call earth, the metal we call salt,
in a form we have no words for, and you live on it.

The irony is that the simple way of saying things has become poetry over the last century.  Upon first reading, a poem like the above might irk you–its simplicity is blatant, like an abstract expressionist painting.  But the power of the words and the story it tells, the feelings it evokes, stay with you.  That’s what art is, isn’t it?  Something that produces an emotional response?  If Levine had used flowery language and ornate metaphor, the impact would have been lost.  As it is we have a simple truth: beauty lies most often in restraint.