Monday, February 18, 2019

Pen 15 Club: I DO like talking about my Flair

Pen 15 Club: I DO like talking about my Flair
riding writing the underground (swimming in sweat te-xt)

(Jennifer Aniston wants no part of this blog post.)

Not sure how this has happened, but here at Reviewiera, we seem to have embarked upon what some sane observers have dubbed "The Pen Cycle"—whilst yet leaving some reliable options uninterrogated. About one of these the hue and cry is easily quelled: The Pentel 205 has been used (and mentioned) but not analyzed because It Is Not in Fact a Pen. It is, however, a persistent delight. Get one.

A more pressing1 issue is that of the venerable Paper♥Mate® Flair. Its thus-far omission glares. I regret my failure; I resent it.

(A Paper♥Mate®Mate Flair pen resting comfortably, after use.)

There isn't a time I was aware but not aware of these pens. They were my dad's leisure-time go-to, first to be called come doodle time or in the face of writing his kid a letter. (Lot of overlap there, actually. His correspondence was usually pretty illustrated, if not illustrative, illuminated if not illuminating.) Later, the illustrious life model Blaster Al Ackerman5 made a positive genre out of his Flair-based portraiture. These pens are cemented into my understanding: an you should say "felt-tip pen" to me, these are what I will think of, 100% of the time4.

(One of Blaster Al Ackerman's "Are You Drunk" portraits, this one of "Some Old Goat".)

Perhaps intimidated by my progenitors6, I rarely used these. Maybe a red one for editing, here and there, but little else. Little else, that is, other than those times I want / need to write on graph paper.

One of our main discoveries seems thus far to have been that, penwise, paper and purpose matter. Daily notebook? I want to write small, so I need a fine, fine tip, and an ink that will last. To-do lists? Probably gonna ride around in pocket or rattle around in my bag, so I need dark lines that don't smudge, and something thick would do the trick. And when I see graph paper, what I want is a big, but tapered, shaft, a lightweight, easy-to-waggle body, and the flatly fun line left behind by the sizeable peak of the Flair. So when I seek to roll up a character, or make a list, or ... well, I don't use graph paper that that much anymore, but when I do, best believe, best beloved, what I want in my hand is one of those old Flair pens.

1 In that it is more deserving of press2
2 And also in that one could well be pressed against a permeable surface, thereby to activate capillary action3 extracting ink from reservoir onto and indeed into the permeable material—I shouldn't've said "surface", that was just wrong, as one of my chief plagues is over-coated glossy postcards on which basically no ink can be found that willn't smudge
3 Maybe? No idea, honestly
4 What I will then think of is this thing I read in Exquisite Corpse somewhere in the early/middle '90s, an extremely college-boy-humor riff using the tools of literary analysis to break down a piece of bathroom-wall graffiti, at one point noting "As this was written in marker, we can safely conclude of the author that he has, in fact, felt the tip"
Look, I'm not asking you to love the way my brain works. I certainly don't
5 More Ackerman here. His description of these, from The Blaster Al Omnibus: "I remember feeling seriously lightheaded as I sat at the table and did little Flair-pen drawings"
6 Also intimidated by this current user, because the second season of Love, which she wrote, was one of my favorite low-key watches of 2018

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Cyberpunk Meets Rock n Roll

Sin City (2005, Robert Rodriguez & Frank Miller) is the one truly great film Charlie¹ has made. Released before 300 (2006, Zack Snyder) both of these movies inaugurated the graphic novel as adapted into chroma key motion picture—shot almost entirely on a soundstage.

Technology moves so fast. Trends evolve so quickly. I indulge in any opportunity I have to bring up what a huge fan I am of George Lucas’ Star Wars prequel trilogy. I really am. The second decade of the new millennium was the end of 35mm being the dominant format to shoot mainstream motion pictures on². And Lucas shot a big studio movie on HD video before anyone else when he captured Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002, Lucas) on the CineAlta³. Then Charlie captured Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003, Rodriguez) on the CineAlta too.

I’m leaving Michael Mann out of this conversation because Lucas and Rodriguez used HD video as a rival to film, but Mann obviously shot on HD exploring some gritty grainy digital noise aesthetic—nothing against him, I love the look of Collateral (2004, Mann), Miami Vice (2006, Mann), and Public Enemies (2009, Mann).

So not only do I love Attack of the Clones and Sin City as movies, but in another way they’re historically groundbreaking CineAlta-shot VFX worlds of escapism that foreshadow the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And I’m a big fan of George Lucas and Robert Rodriguez going all in with the CineAlta at a time when everyone was saying video would never replace film.

Oh yeah and there’s Weta Digital—Peter Jackson’s VFX co. that sometime around Gollum became the foremost technical leaders in MoCap. Weta is responsible for Avatar (2009, James Cameron) and Avengers: Infinity War (2018, Anthony Russo & Joe Russo) among others.

Like Sin City, Charlie has adapted a graphic novel into something his own with Alita: Battle Angel (2019, Rodriguez); although Alita is a different kind of graphic novel—a manga. And it works. Also how characteristically manga is the premise of a middle-aged man finding a teenage cyborg girl in a garbage pile and restoring her back to life? DR. IDO (Christoph Waltz) is noble though. He wears glasses, repairs cyborgs, and matches meekness with altruism.

Alita gave me goosebumps and had me crying empathizing with the innocent girl born again, operating on my emotions and moving me with its fairytale of discarded humanity moral social class-conscious underdog journey all the way up unitl…

…that’s right, I forgot: hi-tech VFX action, battles, weapons, berserker suits, motorball, bountyhunters, and umm, a little parkour.

The plot weaves together an arc encompassing several of the supporting cast and their backstories wonderfully: Ido’s ex-wife CHIREN (Jennifer Connelly), her partner VECTOR (Mahershala Ali), and ALITA’s love interest, HUGO (Keean Johnson). And because Alita takes place in Iron City—much like Sin City—everyone is scheming, the streets are populated with criminals and lowlifes, and is “no place for innocent people.” You know like Neuromancer (thanks, Fat) or another James Cameron script he produced but didn’t direct, Strange Days (1995, Kathryn Bigelow), which was also produced by 20th Century Fox. Strange Days is so rad. The VFX world of Iron City is spectacular and mainly why I chose to see Alita in 3-D, but also because it was shot in 3-D and not post converted. Charlie had his directors monitors playback in 3-D on set. Iron City is the trash infested type of dystopia depicted in Idiocracy (2006, Mike Judge), Thor: Ragnarok (2017, Taika Waititi), and Ready Player One (2018, Steven Spielberg), but so much more detailed, imaginative, elaborate, and fun.

Also thanks to Weta, the VFX of inside Alita’s shell is so cool, especially her heart.

And man Jennifer Connelly is stunning, so gorgeous, serious Hollywood glamour and Nina Proctor’s costumes on her are sci-fi chic mostly monochromatic, her presence really elevates the whole thing.

I could go on praising Alita: Bill Pope’s camera moves, Charlie’s casting of his stock company of cool Mexicans like Eiza González and Michelle Rodriguez. But I have a few minor gripes. Like the deep voiced Centurions just reminded me too much of Idiocracy, I kept waiting for them to add after “wanted for the crime of murder,” “brought to you by Carl’s Jr.” I mean, yeah I realize from Forbidden Planet (1956, Fred M. Wilcox) to Lost in Space robots talk in that kind of deep voice though.

The motorball sequences didn’t really engage me with their action like the other fights did. Maybe because there were just too many different characters and I’d just never thought Rollerball was cool. Also with the cheesy sports announcer it felt basically like the podrace from The Phantom Menace.

And most of the time I was really into Alita, but times like the moment after she shows Hugo her heart and says, “that was intense, right?” with that childish laugh felt off—like NOMI from Showgirls (1995, Paul Verhoeven).

However, major gripes start with the Alita having a main character wail "nooooo" at the film's climax. That's the worst thing a movie can do, see Spider-Man 2 (2004, Sam Raimi) or Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (2005, Lucas) for other examples. And in addition, the film's ending is setup to launch the franchise built around a serialized cliffhanger. Another thing I love about the Star Wars prequel trilogy is that even though we know it's a trilogy, its installments are self contained and clearly resolved at their respective finales.

¹Robert Rodriguez’s nickname, I have no idea why.
²Since Skyfall (2012, Sam Mendes) most movies shoot on the Arri Alexa HD video camera.
³Sony’s HD cinema-quality motion picture camera.

  • Hugo's custom leather jacket and black bandanna/dewrag bear strong resemblance to what Charlie wears in real life. 
  • The bartender with the eyepatch is the film's stunt coordinator, Garret Warren, who was shot four times, including in his right eye, by a man hired by Warren's ex-wife in real life.

Magical death

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Making a One-Page Zine: A Guide Based on "Bay Area Biking Babe Issue #44: Bike Story", January 2019

Went to the sandwich shop the other day. To distract myself from the blaring Soul Coughing records, I sought around for objects, eventually landing on the latest number of the "Bay Area Biking Babe" zine. After you finish skimming this article, why not listen to this interview with the author of this rad zine?

The zine's always a good read at the sandwich shop, but this time around, I wasn't just enjoying flipping through it. My buddy Mike had just emailed me about notebooks and my thoughts on them, and had suggested I make my own notebooks, including an idea about building in a longer/wider fold-out style of page, to accommodate some of my special needs, so I already had ideas about manipulating paper bouncing around my head, and I ended up reading it as much for "Hey, I should make one of these, too" ideas as for "Let's see what's going on in this writer's world today". (Which latter moment is a little ungenerous, and I feel bad about that and will try to fix it.)

Anyway, here's a way to take an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper and turn it into a seven-page zine with a front cover.

Start with a piece of 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper in landscape orientation. Fold it in half lengthwise, with the fold at the top.

(Folded lengthwise, with the fold at the top.)

Fold it in half again, down the middle, with the fold away from you.

(Folded in half down the middle, with the fold away from you.)

Fold each half, left side and right side, in half down the middle, away from you (fold pointing toward you). From the top, this will now look like a capital W—or, anyway, it should. Flatten everything out, so you're looking at it in portrait, with two folds to the left, one to the right. Now you're seeing the cover!

(Cover and first two pages.)

You have eight panels to work with, and can put whatever you can fit in there on them, but there's one caveat: as the page is laid out unfolded, half the panels will have to be upside-down. Schematically, it looks like so.

(Diagram of the basic layout.)

It seems to me like it makes more sense to start with page one, rather than the cover. But I can see this being a matter of preference.

Once you're done, it will read like the above. Very fun, very cool, very simple!

What goes good with candy?

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Pen 15 Club: Pen Is in My Hand (and I'm Rubbing It on My Notebook)

Years back, somewhere around 2004 or so, I lifted from Tinzeroes the idea and practice of carrying around a small notebook, where I'd put everything I'd write. (I haven't always been consistent about this, and have lost a few things over the years that I had scribbled on scrap paper or whatever. Bummer.) As years passed, I started to layer ideation atop that key central thought, not just "put everything in here", but "structure the notebook so it's easy to put things down in it, and find them later, and make the down-put things easy to jog up against one another, which is where ideas come from".1 That is, one wants a system, one wants something working and workable.

Structuring the input requires a bit of attention to the notebook itself. Luckily, I used to do zines, so I have an amazing and incredibly high-tech way of mapping out how a notebook works. Basically, what I do is draw thumbnails of each page, then think about what might go on those pages.

The thumbnails look like so (diagrammatically, anyways: usually I just scribble on the back of an index card).

As I've worked on my notebooks, I've also worked on a few other things, like building good habits, keeping track of what I read and what I watch, making notes as the year grinds on of what HEAVY TUNES I may be particularly wallowing in, etc. So, for these stable projects, it makes some sense to devote specific areas of each notebook to them, after which I have blank pages to fill with what I will (which mainly turns into notes for episodes ofI Don't Even Own a Television: A Podcast About Bad Books, my current main artistic / productive activity, or notes for the renewed blogging activities you have no doubt noticed.

What that ends up looking like is something like this, again, diagrammatically.

This takes a little getting used to. Particularly jarring is that looking at a "spread" requires you to look at a left page and a right page and set the beginning to the left page, where most books start things on the right page. Moving to the specifics:

  1. Index: I number each page (by hand)2,3. As I fill each page, I mark across the top what generic bucket this page's contents go into: #Reviewiera, #Vim, #IDEOTVPod, etc. Then, on the index, I mark what page I started on and what bucket it was. This is more or less an analog version of Evernote, or a stripped-down, not-that-fussy approach to so-called bullet journaling.
  2. Habit Grid: every day, I'd like to do certain things: drink water; do pushups; read; drain the world's oceans to kill god; brush my teeth; and so on. A tool I have found useful is to make a list of those things, under a date, and mark them when I do them.
  3. Workout Log: On the habit grid, I mark a simple X to indicate a workout of one or another kind; on the Workout Log, I note what I did: was it 5BX?, or did I go for a run, or did I do TRX?
  4. Movie/Book Log: As I finish things, I write them down, with the date. Also shows go here, trips to the ballet, etc. I've recently been logging the Avs games I watch, but that's mostly just so I can shame myself for spending 25 yua a month to watch maybe one Avs game a week. (And as of tonight's 3-6 Columbus debacle, I suspect I will wean myself off this particular habit.)
  5. HEAVY TUNES Log: As I recognize myself falling for something, I make a quick note of it, or anyway I try to. This is particularly interesting at the end of the year, as I start to work on my HEAVY TUNES of the year, because usually by then I've forgotten like half of what I listened to in any given year. Plus if I do a half-decent job, I get a little bit of insight into my year qua year, like a little diary!
  6. First Free Page: Helpfully, this is a right-hand page, which keeps the cognitive dissonance (of starting something on a left-hand page) down. From here on to the end of the notebook, I can just use it as normal.

If I fill up one of those original pages I've set aside, I just go to the next blank page or spread and start again there, noting this in the index. This happens a lot when I'm not writing very much. During those times, the notebook is mostly just a set of various breadcrumb trails of long-term projects (the logs, the self-improvement, the sundry, the what have you), punctuated by notes for the podcast (which I record every two weeks).

This is pretty standardized for me now, and pretty polished. Which means, of course, that I am now completely bored with this as a format. I'm finishing the notebook I started January 5, and will do it again in a new Field Notes, but after that, I'm interested in trying something new in some new type of notebook, just for a change. I have a system, it's working, it's workable, but also one wants some novelty, for half the fun of working on a system is tweaking it. Thus I end up rotating new pens in and out, but now even that substantial jolt fails to thrill, and I'm going to need to seek out a new form factor, I fear. (All this, novelty and rotation and craving, I have touched on before.)

Also there are a few substantive reasons to seek improvement: First, the system described above was created and smoothed when I wasn't writing much, and in this system, I am reserving numbers of pages for month-plus spans of time: even in the as-streamlined-as-I-can-get-it version above, I'm reserving 7 out of my 48 pages, which is a lot to lose if I end up filling the other pages before I've filled those 7. (This was a worry, because this notebook was sketched to span 5jan2019 - 7feb2019, but by 27jan, I had only 2 pages left. Luckily (?) I didn't write anything for a few days, so the concern abated a bit, but not wholly. Second, as the year turned, I decided I wanted to knock out a few weekly goals. These will require their own charting system.

For weekly goals, I'm a huge fan of Bram Moolenaar's Vim desktop calendar. (It's how I scheduled Like a Shit Sandwich, and there's just something very congenial about it to me.) But Bram's calendar doesn't fit well in a Field Notes notebook, which makes it harder for me to chart the weekly blog / workout goals I've already identified as important for my 2019.

So what comes next: one more Field Notes, default writing implement my beloved Pentel 205 mechanical pencil. And after that? Something probably 6x9, that far I've gotten. But no farther. Yet.

1 My "notebook" is one instantiation of the idea of maintaining a "file", as described in the great C. Wright Mills book The Sociological Imagination, in the chapter entitled "On Intellectual Craftsmanship", which, n.b. if you use a search engine you can find in the convenient Portable Document Format, an activity I suggest, because it's an interesting, exciting, inspiring read:

[Y]ou must set up a file, which is, I suppose, a sociologist's way of saying: keep a journal. Many creative writers keep journals; the sociologist's need for systematic reflection demands it.

In such a file as I am going to describe, there is joined personal experience and professional activities, studies under way and studies planned. In this file, you, as an intellectual craftsman, will try to get together what you are doing intellectually and what you experiencing as a person. [...]

Under various topics in your file there are ideas, personal notes, excerpts from books, bibliographical items and outlines of projects. It is, I suppose, a matter of arbitrary habit, but I think you will find it well to sort all these items into a master file of 'projects', with many subdivisions. [...]

After making my crude outline I examined my entire file, not only those parts of it that obviously bore on my topic, but also those which seemed to have no relevance whatsoever. Imagination is often successfully invited by putting together hitherto isolated items, by finding unsuspected connections.

2 Yuck, yeah, for certain.

3 Mostly for the past couple years, I have used Field Notes notebooks. Their paper is pretty amazing, the size is good for most shirt pockets, for when it comes to that, and they're only 48 pages long, so the numbering process isn't too onerous. Plus, I was given a million of of them, and I love using them, so it's pretty much hustling from win to win fast and nimble and clean.

NOTE: this chronology is not comprehensive: I carried personal notebooks from probably Grade 7 on through the first couple years after high school; these are where I'd write my poetry, and the place I'd practice free-handing the AC/DC logo. At least one principle established all the way back then has carried through to present: a certain obsessive concern with chronological order. Also back then is when I discovered the problem where you jot something down on a page, but what do you do if you only have one line thus jotted, and no follow-ups emerge, did you just devote an entire page to this!? As so much Natalie Portman might chimeyelp, "CONUNDRUM!"