Archive for February 20, 2019

My probable sister’s dog, I’m just sort of posting this…

© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

Sometimes you get news that puts you on the floor. I even had to ask people if they were sitting down when I told them. Realizing how much fear attaches to that opener, I quickly added “in a good way.” A woman contacted me, she might be my biological sister curious to see how I turned out. WHAM! Kiss the floor, Ducky!

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t write about this big moment saving it for my memoirs. There are writing takeaways here so it counts. I’ve written semi-consciously about my adoption and the emotional needs it can create for years at this point, so landing on the floor forces me to acknowledge the pattern in my writing. I am slightly irked that I just validated every stereotypical psychoanalyst going “ah-ha!”

First, a hopefully short version of the narrative of the recent days. I get a Facebook friend request. It’s a woman. I give female accounts a few minutes going over mostly to filter out come ons for what I term “Russian Hooker Bride” sites. She passes this scrutiny, really just checking to see if she has other friends and something that looks like the verisimilitude of life. I accept the request.

Then we move over to Messenger. The lady in question sends a message leading with her email address and cell phone number. She explains that she believes she’s my biological sister. She gives enough detail in the close enough to allow for memory to go bad over time or maybe the record keeping at the hospital was slightly inaccurate category. Curious, I keep her texting.

Over the span of this discovery, pretty much she says enough things that largely jibe with the things my parents always told me. Young kids in school fighting their way through a serious PhD program unable to care for me. My parents thought UCLA, but USC and CalTech are close enough (memory can go slightly bad).

My presumed sister mentions Childrens Home Society, the adoption agency. She confirms Hollywood Community Hospital when I led with that tidbit (a more suspicious person might not want to do this). The date the parents remember versus the date on my birth certificate comes out as close enough. More importantly, we start trading photos.

I see enough resemblance to the father around the eyes. I fit the general pattern of my presumed younger brother that others assert more lookalike than I wanted to admit. I see more resemblance to my new friend and presumed sister once I get to see her real in the wild photos compared to her gussied up and totally adorable profile photo. It would take a cruel twist of the one in a thousand “worthy of the movie Laura” variety for the DNA to come back negative. But, we’re still doing the test; we both understand the Russian proverb hijacked by Reagan – “trust but verify.”

The reveal sparked a little need for hand holding on both ends of this family. My mom had a delayed freak out about me leaving her. My presumed sister’s parents gave her a little side eye over the fact that she started this rollercoaster. I got through my moment with Mom telling her, “You’d have to shoot my dog or something for me to even think like that.” My Maybe Sister (our current pet name appellation for each other until the test comes back) will comment on her blogs and pages how she handled her parents.

At this point, you, the average Dear Readers are twirling fingers, checking watches and maybe shouting, “get on with it!” The writer takeaway stems from me previously saying to my parents, “nah, I don’t really want to find my birth parents, it might be emotionally confusing.” A bald-faced lie of the self-deception variety.

How much did I lie to myself here? My recent writing wallows in repeated variations of the Separated Twins/Reunited Siblings tropes. I do mean repeated as in, “get on with it!”

Do you want to hear about the, now destroyed first version of Crimes Against Elves? The protagonist is whisked away to a fantasy realm where she defends the evil wizard in a war crimes trial. She has an older sister left behind betrothed to the king prosecuting the case. Love triangle results until the older sister reveals she much prefers to jump on the good wizard in the story.

The in progress newer version with gender switched characters to buy more goodwill from the reason why the first version had to go bye-bye deepens the sibling conflict. The fantasy queen whisked away to Earth while pregnant takes over from the now dead woman who is her local doppelgänger attempting to take over as step-mother to another boy. This older brother exists as a plot foil and tool of various antagonists to obstruct the war crimes trial until the truth reveals. Duh-duh-dun.

Or perhaps for your reading pleasure you like The Magellan Saga? A space emperor in the human areas of the Greater Magellanic Cloud fights for his people while often trading places with his long lost identical twin, really a body part clone allowed to escape into the wild. Much mayhem of a style that Shakespeare and Rafael Sabatini might approve ensues (FYI Shakespeare traded on sibling and twin switching several times in his plays, but he was trying to be funny and I’m not that overtly funny). Fitting since I pitch it as Julius Caesar meets The Corsican Brothers filtered through the lens of Star Wars.

And in the sort of similar diagonal bank shot types of stories let’s count on our fingers how many times I’ve busted out the diagonally related elements of clones finding a place among the world. Sex bots grown from unused fertility embryos grow into their womanhood and force actual ethics of how said sex bots are employed, almost a pro-union story in some respects. Other sex bots cloned from a woman captured by aliens that rise up to free their clone mother and themselves in the background behind a lethal cross country race. And a kill bot of unknown origin that falls in love with a widower and helps Earth fight off enemies it didn’t know existed.

Okay, the repetition gets a little thin in the later examples but a tiny element of needing to know about where I come from plays out though all these pitches likely to be novels…eventually. From this we…I, it’s my freakin’ story, have to understand that while I just landed on the floor, I did just acknowledge that sometimes we write from the place of our great need or core wound. Yes, I just validated a lot of psycho-babble “ah-ha,” but the ink landed on the page that way. Own it.

Of course, I’ve only touched on one element of my work. Other essays, if I decide to care, might highlight some of the conflicts that have nothing to do with adoptions or siblings. Another one would definitely analyze the use of cars in my work. Which brings us in a weird circle back to the subject of this post, the inevitable Luke and Leia jokes…

I made such jokes where Maybe Sister can see, but like many people I also found far more fun in Han Solo: cool, shot first and has the awesome car. But, never mind, this post is going on too long. I was adopted. I needed to write about it and now we go get lunch. That means you, Dear Reader. Go home!

© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

Inevitability and predictability rules the day on Facebook writers’ groups, especially when someone chooses to post a variation of – “help, I have a job/school/life, how do I find time to write?” Yet, another bucket of chum leading to a set of fairly predictable responses from the others in the group.

The choices: A) a recitation of past completed projects with the schedule adopted to make them happen, including getting up early, staying up late etc., B) modestly helpful advice like “write in short bursts stealing time from the slow moments between tasks that service the job/school/life,” C) a pious “if writing is important you make the time,” or from the Advanced Class, D) all of the above. I went with B.

We say these things because nothing pisses off a writer more than someone who’s all up in our writer grills wanting to write, but finds excuses not to. We know having been there spewing the same excuses that we’re lying with a side of hyperbole when we say “the thing wrote itself.” Only in the sense of employing a story structure and characters that makes the process of tapping keys actually fun. The writer still has to put words on the page no matter what and the Universe just won’t care if you don’t.

My version of B went like this – “steal your writing time from the hidden downtime at work because you’re just not productive every moment of a work day.” I asserted that most jobs have a rhythm and that the motivated writer finds those patterns to sneak in a few minutes at a time. I said this in addition to other similar advice from others about using up coffee and lunch breaks. You can, but if you don’t go out with work friends to a nice lunch on regular basis, you might miss out on the other eternal challenge writers face…having things to write about. A balancing act to be sure.

How does this work in practice? First off, let me say nothing here applies if your current job is at a McDonald’s or something. Fast food managers have a marked tendency to seek out malingering employees handing out mop buckets and instructions to change the liners in the trash cans at the slightest whim. An excellent reason when added to the wage scale to treat this kind of employment as either your first or last job. Use your breaks here and don’t screw around with Hell Boss.

But, for most of the rest of us that want to write it does make sense to ask “how much otherwise wasted time at work can be employed by me to get in writing time?” If a lawyer still gets paid by the billable hour waiting by the phone for clients to respond and isn’t expected to help the first years and paralegals do research, how much of that downtime should that lawyer steal putting down words for Alita Anderson, Monster Rights Litigator? Hopefully, that lawyer answers with “as much as I thought prudent at the time.” Certainly said writer will avoid snark from other writers.

Now, I’m not going to pretend I know very much about law offices other than what the TV presents by way of L.A. Law, The Guardian, The Good Wife and the spin-off The Good Fight. Just because I assert that there is quite a bit of downtime between tasks that serve the firm and the billable hours doesn’t mean you don’t have to discover these things for yourself. So let’s talk about the one job I do know something about that has tons of downtime: delivery/Uber/driving.

Speaking with only some hyperbole, I have to the eternal regret of my insurance carriers ended three delivery jobs with the accident that wiped out my car. The latest one about 16 years ago ended with an airbag detonation. The job lasted three years.

During that time, I waited at centrally located gas stations and later on at home as I got slightly arrogant at my job only to be slapped around by the dispatcher on the subject at least once. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Eating a donut. Waiting. And then the company cell phone with a built-in push to talk feature squawked and off I went to deliver stuff, sometimes to people whose names you’d recognize.

You’ll notice I put in about four repetitions of waiting. The writer I am today would absolutely not only bring the notebook that I have carried with me since college, but actually write in it too. As I remember that time, I wrote at least one horrible screenplay and started four others. But, I know I could’ve done more, so I really do get to lean in on some other writer with the “it must not be important to you if you don’t write” head trip.

That time also passed with journalism classes at night that required words on the page, so it wasn’t a total drought. But, I didn’t write as often in the car during downtime preferring to write at home after work as the older me wishes. But, I could have, that’s my point for this article. You’re not always on the clock and when you are you have dead moments where you can steal a paragraph or two. And you always have breaks, if used judiciously to balance the social elements of the day job with getting things done.

I have been on all sides of the chummed water created by this type of post. The been there done that old-timer. And the scared neophyte that didn’t mention a true case of Writers Block knowing the response would be “boo boo, it happens to everyone and maybe if you forced yourself to write even if it’s crap you might find the block ends when you aren’t looking.” And thanks to other things going good with my finances I get to be the “Ducky, I’m just a full time(ish) writer now.” Which means I have even fewer excuses now. We all have more time than we think.

© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

Writers aren’t doing their jobs correctly if they don’t collect huge sock drawers worth of stuff: pens, pencils, stencils and…fill in the blank. Sometimes we buy the swag. Sometimes relatives doing the best they can give us all kinds of interesting stuff for Christmas. Duh-duh-duh, *Law & Order voice* – “these are some of my choices.”

A good way to evaluate what to buy is probably why to buy. I pretty much need three writing tools, not counting my previous bloviating about the tool named Apple Pen (see post). I need a black (or blue if I have to) pen. I need a Red Pen of Editorial Doom (lurking in the swirling fog, I swear). I need a pencil.

Pencils first. One part of my collection is driven by things I think I want to do and haven’t fully expressed because the next 1,000 words grabbed me by the short and curlies. So thinking I’ll draw stuff (you can stop laughing now), I buy things like stencils and How to Draw books…and pencils. Color, check. Green and yellow Dixon-Ticonderogas, check. And quite a few .5mm and .7mm nib mechanicals, eventually settling on the cheap disposables…until recently, also check.

The Dixon-Ticos, I don’t use much largely because we all have those test taking nightmares decades after leaving school. I suppose if you don’t mind grinding off the wood to sharpen the graphite, go for it. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The color pencils also sit in my desk. If you don’t draw like you thought you would you, don’t need to color either. At least, I don’t have to replace them or add to the collection.

Mechanical pencils have pretty much pissed me off in almost every case. The non-disposable ones sometimes get nasty when you try to replace the graphite in the barrel. Are you supposed to shake the thing loading from the opened back? Or do you do the catheter type insertion (Ow!) from the front?

But, the most annoying thing about many mechanical pencils has been the ease with which the writer cracks the lead bearing down on the page. Scratch some words of great import and – SNAP! Plunge more lead out; write three more words and – SNAP! The disposables bought so you can cease to care about both the loading issue and cracking the lead are actually worse enough that you still throw the pencil across the room.

A word about usage. I might not draw like I thought, but I do have slightly more believable pretensions towards composing music. An art form where erasing that stubborn quarter note off the page lends itself to the eraser that comes with the pencil. But, years and years of just putting a line through wrong words written in my notebooks have trained me to just write with a pen saying, “cross-outs are part of the process.”

My artist friends went on and on about their pencils, specifically mechanicals made by RoTring. Knowing that my stalled music will need at least one limited duty tool, I take what I hope is my last venture into Pencil-Land. It’s an expensive object ($20 give or take on Amazon), but maybe that’s the point, that you get what you pay for.

I’ve had mine in .5mm (you’ll see a personal preference for fine nibs across the board) for a few weeks now. I have yet to attempt a reloading, but using the pencil to deliver notes on screenplays for no other reason than Just Because, I’ve gotten a generally smooth flow of words where nothing catches on the page.

Part of that smoothness must come from the fact that driven by wanting to save my elbow as long as possible, I put grips on everything or buy wide barreled tools (see picture). The makers hit on a hexagonal barrel to keep the pencil from rolling on a drawing board, but it’s still a thin object.

I wanted to say that I’ve found the lead unbreakable. In my hands, I haven’t cracked the lead, yet. But, I lent the pencil to a friend and he cracked the lead. Did I magically learn the technique that prevents this? Don’t know. A good to great tool in a field of poor to mediocre competitors.

Pens. The variety here is endless. Among writers you’ll get all kinds of tribalism as to the – Best. Pen. Ever. Worse than Star Trek v. Star Wars nerd wars. Fountain pens. No information. Don’t use them. Don’t do calligraphy and my signature comes out the way it comes out using a ballpoint or gel pen.

Ballpoint pens. I’ve long since abandoned most of the disposables in the ballpoint field. Usually, it’s the thin barrel on those ubiquitous Bics and Papermates that we used in school once we finished those dreaded pencil-driven Scantron tests. And few of these pens come in the .5mm nib that I like.

For a long while, I would compulsively buy packs and packs of Pilot G2 (see picture) pens that kind of count as sort of disposable even though you can unscrew the tops and put in new cartridges. The grip is a good idea, but now contemplating them after many months not using them even these stalwarts might be too thin for someone totally paranoid about his elbow.

What I don’t remember using these many pens lurking in the bottom of the drawer is how long the cartridges last. I kept switching out pens for one exactly like it and never really paid attention to when the reservoir dried up. I do remember that I liked the feel. The nib didn’t catch and I didn’t have cause to complain.

I have so many pens in my desk drawer in part because I learned the get what you pay for lesson in ballpoints, a while ago. My sister gave me a Cross ballpoint pen (see pictures) maybe ten, twelve years ago for my birthday. I lost it. Promptly bought another one that looked exactly like it, so I didn’t have to face explaining the loss to her. And then found the first pen.

This started an obsession with Cross ballpoint pens. I have about eight, I think. They all look different, but are mechanically the same inside…twist left to reveal the nib. I buy the thick barreled ones for the same reasons I humorously put grips on everything else…my elbow. I did try a few of the thin barreled examples (Ow!) and left them in my desk, except the one that has a touchscreen stylus. I keep that one as the ink cartridge I cannibalize into other pens first when I run dry.

I would give these pens medium to good marks writing across the page in terms of smoothness and not catching. But, the real draw to these expensive (a range of $12-$35) tools seems to be the ink cartridge, especially in black. The ink paste can dry out requiring a test swipe outside the writing area to prime the ball. Once you do, the pen seems to go forever, until it doesn’t and I change it out for the one in the stylus pen.

I’ve written at least two and a half years or more of journals with these tools. I stopped counting how many half and three quarter filled spiral notebooks I’ve chewed up with these Cross ballpoint pens. I use them a lot…Nuff said. And what happened to those first two pens? Ironically, each pen developed quirks where one part would slip free despite supposed to grip tight, so I cannibalized both pens to make one pen that gripped the parts correctly. Another pen used to be blue, but the lacquer wore off and now is brass. I’ve also blocked out one pen to handle my rare Red Pen of Editorial Doom needs, though I’m less sold on Cross’ red cartridges.

You’d think I’d quit; I have my pen. But, helpful relatives will still give you stuff and you still have to look like you appreciate the gift. The most recent one, my brother gives me a pack of Tul gel pens (see picture). He swears that all of his friends and associates tend to sticky finger these into pockets and he can’t keep enough of them on his desk. Okay, give me a couple weeks, I’ll let you know.

I hadn’t really ever done gel pens in my writing past. The closest I’ve come are an equally expensive flirtation with various disposable rollerball pens that use the same general type of ink, but run it through a ballpoint nib. Gel and rollerball ink comes out wet so you can sometimes smudge the words. I get started adding grips to the barrel and…

I see why my brother and his friends like these Tul pens so much. Smooth writing made smoother with my grips. A smudge or two when my fingers get too close before the words dry. I grind out a lot of pages using nothing else. I discover exactly how long it takes for one pen, designed like a marker, to run dry…six weeks give or take.

I have to take a couple points away from this worthy pen because to look good in the hand they made the plastic barrel opaque. You have to look closely at the strip in the middle to see how much ink you have. Of course the words I wrote gave me fair warning becoming progressively thin, but I’m hyper-focused on a word spree. I didn’t notice until the ink went bone dry and I switched out for the second one.

By no means is this an exhaustive list of the pens available to you, just what I use the most. Writers who get paid will free fall into the Consumer Reports article, about every 18 months or so. So with that the post is over. Go home!