Monday, May 17, 2010

Looking Back...

Dear Reader,

This is not a travel blog, it is a blog dedicated to writing. I keep repeating this phrase to myself as I put pixel to paper. In the wake of a - less than pleasurable - travel experience, however, I felt like posting something on the subject. Rather than tossing around accusations and uncouth inferences I thought that I would roll about in the nostalgia patch until I got the stink of modernity off myself.

The Stratocruiser was a pre-jet age plane that provided trans-Atlantic and coast to coast service to air travellers between 1947 and 1963. It was big and graceless, with four droning piston-driven engines keeping it in the sky, but inside its polished aluminum skin existed a world that travellers might dream wistfully of today. I offer diagrams.

Oh for the days when an airplane offered private staterooms and a forward berth with an attached bedroom. Surely a luxury item beyond the pocketbook of a poor, struggling novelist but knowing the possibility existed means something. If you look at the "custom-designed cabin" you'll note - no more than two seats per row and they have space between them. One might not feel like a canned sardine in a cabin like that! One might feel human and be inclined to dress for travel instead of wearing pajamas and sweat pants. Then again, I imagine in days gone by a trip through security didn't have so many similarities to being abducted by aliens.

I'm intrigued by the lower deck "Hawaiian Lounge". A part of me wants to believe there were shows with guys in grass skirts twirling flaming batons. It wouldn't be wise but it would be thrilling. Then again it'd be thrilling to order a tiki drink at thirty thousand feet while sitting at a bar instead of having service consist of trying to juggle a laptop, napkin, and plastic cup on a tray-table with your knees shoved under your chin.

The British Speedbird included men's and women's dressing rooms, a hat and coat room, and a snack bar. Personally I'm intrigued by the spiral staircase. Somewhat less descriptive (or imaginative) cutaway here but still - look at the midships cabin. Notice two seats per row and space between? In the late forties and fifties people had elbows. When the seventies came they were surgically removed at birth to assist with neat stacking of passengers on increasingly crowded mass transit. By 2050 I'm told we won't have legs below the knees, that way there can be two floors of five seat rows on DC9's.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Farewell, Dear Friend

Dear Reader,

Last night I killed another pen. Well, “kill” is probably too strong a word – it ran out of ink. Still, as I sat staring at the drained writing instrument, I felt a slight pang of sadness for seeing it go. You see, I’m a writer who doesn’t compose everything on the virtual typewriter of a word processor. Occasionally I go through a period where words and ideas flow best from the tip of a pen.

This is especially true when I’m travelling. For some reason the vacuum of an airport draws ideas from my pen and at ten-thousand feet, while crammed in the window seat, I get pages of text. The same is true of hotel rooms. Something about the feelings of emptiness that come in a place that is meant to look like home but isn’t sparks my creativity. The pen is the vector through which this infection of ideas is transmitted to paper.

So it was with sadness I said goodbye to my Precise V5 fine point. Its blue ink saw the heroes of my latest novel from the doorstep of their homes to the gateway of the untamed wilderness. It was a trusty friend, a reliable antenna to the muse, and I will miss it.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Now on Twitter

Dear Reader,

I wanted to drop a quick note from the road. Presently, I’m in California tending to business but I had a bit of time to set up a Twitter account. Eventually I’ll manage to figure out how to connect Twitter to The Gentleman from Indiana Blog without blowing up the look of the blog – for the moment you can find me under the ID “yarn_spinner”.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Vanishing Words

Dear Reader,

I hope you will forgive my doing a rare blogging double-dip today. Generally I tend to space my posts out (it placates my inner laggard) but today the ideas wouldn't be satisfied with sitting in quietly the queue. Compartmentalization seemed the best course of action. Why not get as much mileage out of this productive spree as possible? So there are my excuses and justifications, take them as you will.

What I'm writing about is an episode of the radio program Radio Lab. Some of you may be familiar with the highly produced show out of New York's WNYC. The hosts excel at inducing mental lapses in me. If I tune in I soon find myself staring into the middle distance, totally engrossed in the tale that's pouring out of my headphones. Such is was the case with the recent piece entitled Vanishing Words.

I recommend you listen to this piece since my synopsis can't do it justice. The crux is this: Agatha Christie wrote a great deal of fiction during her long career and recently a scientist has started to analyze the substance of her writing. He has gotten what he believes may be a glimpse into things that the author herself may not have realized about herself. The words Christie used to compose her mysteries may indicate the author was developing Alzheimer's disease. As I said, I recommend you listen to the program, it's very thought provoking.

It's fascinating to think that in everything you write there is a hidden piece of yourself. Behind the biases, prejudices, and habits we all possess, behind our individual style and education, behind our regional tendencies, there are the fingerprints of our mind. There may be a day when biographers add another data source to their toolkit: forensic analysis of documents. A hundred years from now someone might be combing through published works, attempting to divine whether a particular author had a particular mental condition or the exact moment when their mental capacity to write began to decline.

A strange sadness accompanies that thought. In the past few days I've been ruminating on empty spaces and shadows and this idea of missing words creates a lonely trinity. It seems every time you walk through an empty room you leave some phantom of yourself behind. A pale shade of who you were lingers in every hallway you walked, every empty elevator you rode, and ever deserted parking lot you crossed. Our youth sits in disused classrooms and boarded up hotspots, listening to silent music and waiting.

National Teachers Day

Dear Reader,

In high school I had the good fortune of being able to take a creative writing class. The instructor was John Combs, and he was fantastic. I remember him as a man who passionately believed in writing and that every child in his classroom might, someday, become a writer. During the one hour a day I spent in Mr. Comb's class I felt special. I no longer was a mediocre student–just another kid from a blue-collar family who only could aspire to climbing one rung further up the corporate ladder than his parents. For an hour I became someone in the most mystical sense of that word. No other teacher had such a positive impact on my life. I owe Mr. Combs a debt of gratitude.

So, here's a belated National Teachers Day hats off to you, Mr. Combs–wherever you are. Hopefully you've written a wonderful story for yourself and you're busy living it right now.