Saturday, May 26, 2018

The Pleasure of Pens

Long ago—maybe it was ten years ago, actually—my husband and I went to some event in our daughter’s elementary school classroom. Her teacher talked about things they’d been doing, and remarked that recently she had tried setting out a large selection of pens for the kids to choose from for a writing assignment. She was surprised that getting to choose a pen had made them more enthusiastic about actually writing. I, in turn, was surprised that she was surprised.

Of course choosing a new pen would make them want to write with it! Or does it not work that way with other grown-ups, the way it worked with those kids?

Didn’t that teacher, when she bought a new pen, find herself writing nonsense notes on a nearby scrap of paper to try it out, followed perhaps by some more extended and coherent remarks that happened to pop into her head as she watched the words appear in clear black or bright blue or even a vivid red?

Well, maybe not. Maybe it’s just me (and some other pen enthusiasts.)

I love pens. I like pencils, too, but pens come in such a variety of colors and feels.

By “feels”, I mean the difference between a gel pen oozing out a generous stream of viscous ink, and a ballpoint, pressed firmly to paper and smoothly putting down a thin line. Or a felt-tip, rubbed lightly along the page and leaving a vivid line of dye that sinks into and sometimes through the paper, versus a fountain pen, whose metal nib is run over the paper with hardly any pressure, leaving an equally inky, though hopefully not quite as penetrating, mark.

The above description only applies to pens that aren’t running out of ink, of course, and to ballpoints that run smoothly. A pen that is drying up is a frustrating object and makes writing unpleasant. I think I have avoided certain kinds of pens—rollerballs, in particular—because I’ve had too many experiences with ones that were halfway dry. It isn’t fair to the rollerballs. When they are fresh and full of ink, they write very well.

So part of the pleasure of writing is the feel of the pen on the paper. Another is watching the words appear. It helps if you have an interest in handwriting or calligraphy, so that you like to play with their appearance. Neat and upright, or elegantly slanted. Round and curly, or sharply angled, or full of flourishes. CAPITALIZED FOR EMPHASIS, or underlined, or even in italics. But even simple printing has something appealing about it when it fills a notebook page.

Samples of different handwriting by the same person

There’s more to writing than physically putting words on paper, of course. For me, writing is a way to organize my thoughts. Writing them down allows me to see them all together and keep track of them, in a way that I can’t easily do in my head. It’s so important that during a time when wrist problems made it difficult for me to write, I found it difficult to think as well.

I read a very interesting book about writing a while ago, about the two very different problems of writer’s block and hypergraphia-- The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer’s Block, and the Creative Brain by Alice W. Flaherty. I’d like to quote two short segments from it on hypergraphia.

“…Scientists are never happy until they can assign a number to the phenomenon they are studying, and researchers soon invented a simple way to do that with hypergraphia. They mailed a short letter to their patients with epilepsy, asking them to describe the state of their health. The average answer of patients without hypergraphia was seventy-eight words. The patients thought to have hypergraphia averaged five thousand words.” (p. 19)
“Hypergraphic handwriting tends to have distinctive physical characteristics. Hypergraphics often use highly elaborate or stylized scripts, even mirror writing like that used by Leonardo da Vinci. For emphasis, they frequently write in all capitals or in colored inks. They may not confine themselves to the main text, but may add exuberant annotations, drawings in the margins, and illuminated initials. Lewis Carroll, who most likely had temporal lobe epilepsy, exhibited several of these peculiarities—including what he called looking-glass writing and an exclusive reliance on purple ink—in the 98,721 letters he wrote from his late twenties until his death at age sixty-five.” (p.26)

That’s a lot of letters.

While I don’t find myself compelled to write, and don’t write to anything like the extent she describes in her book, there is something about this description that strikes a chord. Colored inks, elaborate scripts—of course. Annotations and marginal drawings? How wonderful! In moderation, anyway.

But I was talking about pens earlier and now I’m talking about writing, which leads me to wonder—how do people with hypergraphia feel about pens? Do they love trying out new pens and rediscovering old ones, or does the implement they use not matter? The author’s comment about colored inks suggests that it isn’t entirely irrelevant, so now I’m curious.

I’m also wondering why Lewis Carroll relied exclusively on purple ink. His signature color, maybe? I think I’d get tired of writing in the same color all the time.

Till next post.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Diva's Challenge #364

This time the challenge was to take an earlier tile and redo it. Since I have only recently been doing the challenges, I picked a photo of a tile I made for a friend in 2015.

zentangle tile
Then I redid it, using a circle of gray cereal box cardboard, black pen, and black and white colored pencils. But the shading didn't seem to do much for it, so I tried doing another and shading it with other colors of pencil.

ZIA inspired by Diva's Challenge #364

Anyway, it was fun. I can't remember the name for the tangle that looks like a woven braid, though I've always been very fond of it. Does anyone else know?

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Diva's Challenge #363

Challenge #363

I didn't do all that much with the auras, but since I don't usually include auras at all, it was a change. I'm still messing around with black ink, black and white colored pencils, white gel pen, and circles cut from a cereal box. I also recently bought a pink opaque gel pen, which you see in three of the above.

Dissecting Mysteries--the many kinds of clues

Yesterday, I sat in a bookstore thinking about mysteries. Kids’ mysteries, particularly. How do they work?

Actually, they vary. Like adult mysteries, some are more about the adventure of solving a case. I’m thinking here of the traditional Nancy Drew mysteries (not the Nancy Drew Clue Book books). First, Nancy has to discover what the mystery is. Further problems occur as she pursues answers. (She often gets knocked over the head along the way—in real life, she would need to see a neurologist for the repeated concussions.) Eventually, in a dramatic chapter, she comes into direct conflict with the villain, triumphs, and the mystery is solved.

By contrast, short mysteries like the Encyclopedia Brown stories have a clear, quickly revealed mystery. It hinges on some particular fact or statement, and in the Encyclopedia Brown stories, the author breaks the story into two parts: the mystery, and the solution. The reader can “match wits” by figuring out how Encyclopedia Brown solved the case, then continue on to the solution to check herself.

Not all short mysteries separate the solution out so explicitly (the Nate the Great stories don’t), but they do generally turn on some one clue, so I started making a list of different kinds of clues.

Some clues link the suspect to the scene of the crime. Sometimes the suspect leaves traces on the crime scene (footprints, a pocketknife with his initials on it), and sometimes the crime scene leaves traces on the suspect (ink stains from the spilled bottle, red mud on his boots).

Some clues involve discovering a falsehood in the suspect’s story. Often the detective knows something that the suspect doesn’t. (Mules are sterile. Oil paintings aren’t framed under glass.) Alternatively, the suspect has forgotten a detail that makes her story impossible. (How did she buy an ice cream when she was in her swimsuit and her money was still in her shorts’ pocket?)

Things that undergo change over time or under special circumstances make good clues. (They also make good weapons in adult mysteries.) One way in which change can be a clue is when it indicates that the suspect is lying about time or about where he has been. (He can’t have been out on the warm porch sipping lemonade for the past hour, because the ice cubes in his glass are clearly fresh from the freezer.)

Another way that change provides a clue is by making something more detectable. (The missing lunch is discovered in someone’s closet because—phew, it’s gone moldy. Spilled lemonade brings out a message written in pH-sensitive ink.) The problem with this kind of clue is that it isn’t to the detective’s credit unless she is the one who correctly identifies the smell, or notices the partial markings and deliberately spills more lemonade to reveal the rest of the message.

I’m sure there are other categories I’ve missed. There’s the locked-room puzzle (how could someone have committed the crime?), as well as the “you had no way to know that unless you did it” categories.Some might be combinations. Something that becomes deadly as it changes over time, or that disappears over time, might be the key to solving the locked room puzzle.

Now that I’ve made this list, I need to come up with an interesting detective and a small world to set the mystery in. But that’s a problem for another day.

Till next post.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Diva's Challenge #362

zentangle (tm) diva's challenge #362

Black pen, black colored pencil, white colored pencil, white gel pen on paperboard from the back of a pad of paper. This was the best of several tries. I changed the concentric circles to gems because I like gems.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Making a Bag For a Folding Chair--NOT a how-to story

We've spent a lot of time recently sitting around outside during mountain bike races, generally on folding chairs that we bring with us. One of these chairs, an upholstered red chair, no longer has a carry bag. This makes it somewhat awkward to carry around.

Red upholstered folding chair.
The chair.

So I thought I'd make a bag for it before the next race. I went through various ideas. First, I thought I'd make a bag like the one that came with the orange chair (which is not upholstered, but is your basic take-to-a-game chair.) Then I thought I'd modify it--have a long zipper so we wouldn't have to wiggle the bag down over the chair. But a zipper could break under stress, not to mention adding a trip to the notions store and extra work to the project. I eventually decided to keep the drawstring at the end, and use ties so I could have a large opening and avoid the effort of squeezing a lumpy chair into a snug bag.

I still had some of the tulip-flowered sheet and plain canvas that I used for the grocery bag project. (Someday I will go back to that project and try again.) I measured, cut out the pieces I thought I needed, and got started.

Things I learned:

-Old poly-cotton percale and cotton canvas are very different weights. Using a thin fabric and a thick fabric (except when one is for a lining) makes for weird seam allowances and other problems. I already knew this, but discounted it when planning. I should pay more attention to things I "know."

-Measure carefully. I knew I'd forgotten to allow for the drawstring casing, but if I hadn't wrapped the partially sewn bag around the chair, I wouldn't have realized it was that much too short. So measure carefully and check against the model frequently.

Oops. Much too short.

-Maybe think more about the materials. Did I really need to use the tulip sheet? Granted, I got the two king size sheets at a thrift store years ago and I've been using that material for miscellaneous projects ever since, but it's pretty stuff and this bag really didn't need to be pretty. It's not as though it even goes with the chair. So... better the tulip sheet than buying new fabric or using my stash of quilting fabrics, but I could have gone to the attic for a holey white sheet or other rag. I guess I was being lazy.

-Think more about shortcuts. I didn't really need to sew the ties from tulip fabric. I could have used ribbon that I already have on hand and saved myself some time. I did realize (in time) that I didn't need to put a square bottom on the bag. Unlike other folding chairs whose feet meet in a neat square, this one folds up unevenly. Just sewing the bottom of the bag straight across was sufficient.

-I didn't pay much attention to the grain of the fabric because I didn't care that much what the bag looked like and it doesn't need to "hang" right. But it still leads to some weirdness when ironing seam allowances and folding over hems. Again, something I "knew" but discounted.

I'm not including "how to" steps in this post because (a) you probably don't have the same chair, (b) if you did have the same chair, you'd probably still have the bag it came with, and (c) I wouldn't recommend making your bag the same way I did.

I do like the large opening. It makes it easier to get the chair in. And having a bag with a strap will definitely be better than dragging the chair around without a bag.

Woman carrying folding chair in homemade flowered bag with strap.

One final side note: is it just that I've been watching too many mysteries, or does the chair end up looking a bit like a dead body wrapped in a sheet?

Till next post.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Trying the Diva's Challenge--Zentangle (TM) and ZIA on the internet

I love to browse through images of Zentangle (TM) and Zentangle Inspired Art. Earlier in the year, for instance, I was besotted with the use of "gems" in ZIA. Mandalas (Zendalas?) are also an interesting kind of ZIA. I can run through a lot of time just looking at all the pretty pictures online.

One thing that keeps coming up when I browse people's blogs is "the Diva's challenge." This comes from the popular blog "I Am the Diva". The Diva's weekly challenge is (generally) to do a tile with only one or two specified tangles, though some challenges don't restrict the tangles used and instead involve some other requirement.

Now, being challenged to make something while abiding by restrictions on what can be used is a great creative challenge, so I kept thinking, "Hmm, I should try that." This week, I decided to do so.

Challenge #361 was to celebrate Earth Day (a week ago last Sunday) by tangling on some recycled material. The Diva used the back of a frozen pizza carton. I used the back of a cracker box.

Turns out I really like the way things look in black and white on a tan background. I hadn't tried it before. I don't know whether I'll do more challenges or not, but it was definitely worth doing this one.

Tan square with Zentangle design in black ink with white accents
Here is the first one, with the sunshine string.

The Diva explained that in her house, Earth Day is called "Amanda Day" because her son thought the Earth should have a name. Since "Amanda" means "beloved" (or "worthy of love", both of which seem appropriate for the Earth) I decided to write that in the center of my second try. (I have also been messing around again with calligraphy recently.)

Tan circle with Zentangle design and word "Beloved" in black ink with white accents
Circles make things more interesting.

It's possible that some of this artistic enthusiasm stems from the problems my current writing project is giving me. I've had to toss most of the last couple of chapters. It's hard to tell myself that I'm making progress, even slow progress, when I've just given up many hours worth of work. Hopefully next week I will be able to look at it more positively.