The wake-up alarm I’ve chosen for my phone is the sound of various bird songs, as though in the forest. There’s a bird call on the phone that sounds identical to a species of bird I hear each morning outside my bedroom window. Sometimes I hear the live bird before my alarm goes off, and I think it’s the alarm. I open my eyes and realize it’s the bird outside in the tree, not the one in my phone, and I try to go back to sleep. Sometimes I can. Other times my mind starts to work on things. It starts to work on problems and tasks and events coming up. I lie in bed thinking, taking advantage of the time before full wakefulness when it feels like I’m made of mind only and can think without distractions. It’s the only time of day when that’s possible.
The dog hears the alarm and knows what it means and leaps onto the bed. If I don’t protect myself, he’ll lick my face and stomp all over me. I grab him and hug him, and he wags his tail. Most dogs would just as soon avoid being hugged by a human, but he likes it. I ask him if he wants to go outside, and he flies off the bed, crouches, wags, and waits for me to go out and open the back door. Then he launches himself on a high-speed yard patrol, in case a cat or a squirrel has infiltrated.
While the dog is tearing through the yard making his 45 pounds sound like a charging rhinoceros, I like to put my fingers on the keyboard and see what they do. I keep a Freewrite on the tall breakfast table, so I can go to it right out of bed, before my brain is fully awake. Look–I’m doing that now, looking into a literary mirror.
The nights are sometimes long and difficult. Everything is better when the sun is up and I’m moving again. The dog is no conversationalist, but he’s my friend, and he never says anything foolish or ignorant. His points of view are well known to me on a wide range of subjects, many of which I agree with. Raw carrots are tasty. A quick run through the neighborhood in the morning before the sun rises above the treetops is good. Walking in the evening is good. Yowling cats in heat on the fence outside the window at night are bad.
He and I disagree on minor points such as how one should behave in the presence of another dog’s excrement, whether it’s alright to hang one’s entire body out the window of a moving automobile, and the degree of sexual attractiveness of the human leg.
Each morning, by 8:30am, a murder of crows has occupied the top of the pine tree. They drop things into the yard. Chicken bones, egg shells, aluminum foil. The dog is interested, but seems to smell crow on these things and doesn’t try to eat them. The crows’ calls are less pleasant than the bird songs I hear before daybreak. They seem to be arguing among themselves or taunting the dog and me. I stand on the back patio, watching them watch me. I sip coffee. They turn their heads sideways and direct one shiny black eye on me at a time, as though their left eye provides one type of information, and the right another. Infrared, perhaps. I am slightly fascinated by crows, but I don’t imagine that they’re my friends. If I lie still long enough, I know one of them will eventually try to take one of my eyes.
If your eyes are open to beauty and meaning, you’ll find them.
In the hot, waning days of summer 2016, I visited the Abbey of Gethsemani in Trappist, Kentucky to walk the grounds with a friend. The world felt at peace, and my friend and I–both writers, both recently divorced, both mothers, both spiritual seekers–had some important catching up to do: after both of our decades-long marriages ended abruptly and painfully, we’d each found and been startled by new love.
It was a sweltering August day, not unlike my first visit to the abbey almost a decade prior. I wore a cotton tee shirt dress and she wore an old shirt and hiking pants. I had a stainless steel canteen of water and she carried a Diet Coke. We walked together and talked about our lives and our novels (hers, published, mine, not) and our failures and our joys.
We soon found ourselves at a place that historically has been forbidden to women at Gethsemani:…
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While applying for a marriage certificate in Lexington, Susan and I were asked to identify our race. We agreed we’re tired of that question on every government form everywhere, so we entered the word “Human.” The clerk was not having it and insisted that we properly categorize ourselves by skin color. We complied, yet it felt right to push back, just a bit, and peacefully, against an anachronistic regulation. If and when the government asks me to declare my religion, I’ll enter the word “Liberty.”
I’ve been writing freelance ads while Rome is burning.
Keep on playing’ the fiddle…
We’re looking more like ancient Rome than ever.
Yes, we are.
“History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes.” Attributed to Mark Twain, but who knows.
We may extinct ourselves before we’re able to destroy our governments. So that would be something we haven’t done before. I’m so cynical.
I’m trying to resist becoming cynical, but that just makes me angry at myself. I want to write words that burn peoples’ eyes.
Yes. I need to get myself together to write about it all. I feel helpless. As though my voice doesn’t matter. But that’s not right, right? We have to resist. We have to fight. However we can. If that’s then pen, then that’s what we have.
The pen is the first choice.
Wonder where the best place to live would be while our Republic falls.
It might not be all bad. Rome eventually became the capitol of one of the great western European states. Of course…they had to endure the Dark Ages first.
I mean, where can we get clean water, access to food, and be physically safe? Christ, I sound like a right-wing doomsday prepper from when Obama was elected.
That’s a shift. Now it’s us progressive-thinkers considering digging backyard bunkers.
All the wackos got from worrying about Obama was free health care and a stable economy and low gas prices and low unemployment. Haha! We are so screwed.
We’ll go down writing. Some of us may go down fighting.
Maybe love will prevail? Maybe we’ll get through it without the destruction of the whole country?
Let’s hope, but also work for it. What I’m most afraid of is that good people lose hope and completely withdraw from participation in the process.
It’s easier to step out of the fray.
I wonder if Democrats will bother to vote at all in the next election…if there is a next election.
Most people over 55 will be silent.
That’s the trouble with the left — in general, they’re soft and sensitive. In other words, “snowflakes.” The right is tough, mean, and organized. And they don’t care if they have to crack heads to make their version of progress. The law of the jungle doesn’t work in favor of compassionate thinking.
What do we do? Run for school board? I mean, seriously. I’m not a politician. Do we really have to become political writers? That feels out of my league. Then again, if an ignorant reality TV celebrity can be president of the United States, nothing’s out of anyone’s league.
People have to want civilization.
I want a peaceful society. Not a warring, angry one.
I want the same, but wars don’t care what people want. Societies have a will of their own that’s completely separate from the desires of individuals.
Keep your head and arms inside the vehicle, and enjoy the ride.
But if we lean to the left or right just a bit, without falling out of the car, maybe we can influence it just enough to keep it from flying off the rails.
I’ve now had my Freewrite for about six weeks. I’ve avoided writing a review until I had time to absorb all that this gadget is and does. Since it arrived, I’ve written about 5,000 words on it, so I’ve now had time to form some opinions.
Yes, it’s expensive. That’s why I dithered around for several months despite lusting after the device from the days of the Hemingwrite Kickstarter campaign.
At this point, it’s a simple matter to list pros and cons. The cons are few, so I’ll offer them first. There are three.
Con #1: I’m a bit embarrassed to mention the expense of the Freewrite because I’m not a wealthy man, and people I know may judge me for having bought one. But that’s neither here nor there. So, onward.
Ok, Astrohaus. I get it that a Cherry MX brown keyboard is worth at least $100, and I’ll give you another hundred for the bitchin’ aluminum case, and another hundred for the guts of the thing, which seem to me about the equivalent of an Amazon Kindle. So, $300-350 seems reasonable to me. $500 isn’t, and aside from weirdos like me who are willing to spend a lot on something because it’s beautiful (And the Freewrite is.), I don’t see you folks selling a lot of these things for half a grand apiece, plus another $30 for shipping within the United States.
Con #2*: You may think I’m going to mention the lack of arrow keys, but I’m not. Con #2, for me, is that Freewrite doesn’t dump my shitty first drafts directly into the word processor of my choice. Instead, text must be copied from Postbox , the Astrohaus cloud service, and pasted into a separate application such as Word or Scrivener. Mind you, this isn’t a big deal. But…why? Take the extra step, Astrohaus, of integrating the software into popular word processing applications. Why force the cut-and-paste drill? Give us a better option.
Con #3: Battery life and charging level indicator. The battery life isn’t great. My Kindle Paperwhite’s battery can last for weeks with the Wi-Fi on. Why shouldn’t the Freewrite’s battery last as long? There’s a lot of space inside this gadget for a bigger battery, so I suppose weight was a consideration, but couldn’t a software update eke a few more hours out of my battery?
I’d also like the ability to monitor the charge level. As it is, the device issues the warning, “Low battery. Please plug in charger.” I have no clue at this point how much operating time may remain. A minute? Another hour? It would be helpful to see a standard battery graph or charge percentage displayed, perhaps as one of the “special” key options to keep it out of sight until needed.
The pros are many. By far, the best thing about the Freewrite is the Cherry MX keyboard. It’s the best thing I’ve ever typed on, and I’m addicted to the sound and feel of it. I love it so much that I recently replaced my Apple keyboard, which I’ve always enjoyed using, with a Rosewill Cherry MX brown mechanical keyboard, because I want to have the same tactile experience while editing that I get while hammering out a draft on the Freewrite. The Freewrite’s keyboard has ruined me, and I expect to use mechanical keyboards for the rest of my life. This discovery alone, and the improvement in the experience of typing, makes the purchase worthwhile.
This thing is, as I’ve mentioned, a beautiful device. The retro look, combined with the sturdy (4 pounds) aluminum case, make it an instant conversation piece, which may be a good thing, or not. In my case, maybe ironically, an old Alphasmart Neo case when I’m carrying the Freewrite in public to avoid such attention. I don’t sit around in coffee shops with this thing, though if that’s where one writes, so be it. (It’s a bit flashy for me, and the keyboard might be noisy enough to irritate certain people.) Anyway, I like how it looks on my desk when I’m not using it.
Overall, the acquisition of a Freewrite has been a boon to my writing life, and if I accidentally dropped the thing into the bay today, I’d order another immediately.
*The inability to stop and edit is integral to the concept of the Freewrite, and it works. I’ve just about doubled my daily word count using this clunky, gorgeous monstrosity, and I’m thrilled. If I were constantly going back to edit myself, as I’ve had the bad habit of doing for so very long, I’d still be trundling along at the glacial pace at which I’ve always worked. This device enforces a damn-the-torpedoes approach that has increased my word count and the inability to delete ideas as I type them. It’s all there to edit later, and some of the ideas I would otherwise delete have turned out to be keepers.
20 January 2017 Update:
Adam from Astrohaus responded to this post on January 18th with the following thoughtful message. It addresses everything except the battery life, and he’s right. I may just love the Freewrite more now. I do hope Astrohaus can do something about the power management. Meanwhile, I’ll keep the power cable handy. Thanks, Adam.
From the review you just published, it sounds like you are loving the Freewrite! That’s awesome. But I may be able to get you to like it even more :)
Con 2 mentions that you have to copy and paste. May I suggest that you use Dropbox? It’s free and works extremely well. You will also find that once you connect it and have it running on your computer, there will be native word documents saved directly into the dropbox folder, i.e. no more copy and pasting. You can go from writing on the Freewrite to opening a docx file on your computer! You should also look into markdown formatting because it is an ultra simple way to get basic formatting into your document. http://support.getfreewrite.com/article/42-using-markdown-syntax-on-your-freewrite.
Regarding con 3, hold the spacebar to show the battery indicator (and alternate keyboard layout if you are using one). We don’t put this on the console screen because we don’t want people fixated on the battery life. Admittedly, we have still have work to do to optimize the power management.
Hope this helps!!
“In the midst of war and crisis nothing is as clear or as certain as it appears in hindsight”
― Barbara W. Tuchman, The Guns of August
America, where only one percent of the population has served in the armed forces, is sufficiently detached from the daily experience of war service members endure that I suspect most people can live weeks or months without considering the hardships and sacrifice of service members and their families.
Veterans Day has its roots in the deep grief that followed World War I — the “War to End All Wars,” as it was called in a more innocent time. In the bright light of over a century of hindsight, it’s easy to criticize the naïveté of leaders who hadn’t yet learned that technology always evolves more quickly than the tactics and policy used to manage it.
We, and the technology we wield today, are no different. The future will judge us harshly unless we learn to count the cost of war in lives, not dollars or barrels of oil. Veterans Day serves as an annual reminder of the human price of war, and that we’re never as prepared as we think we are to start a new one.
Tevor Leis (center) exercises his Ohio open carry rights in Public Square, Cleveland, on Tuesday (photo credit: Associated Press)
Micah Naziri (left) and Jaimes Campbell, advocates for open carry, patrol the streets of Cleveland (photo credit: Reuters)
In 1890, French writer Marcel Proust answered these 30 questions in his friend Antoinette’s English-language confession album entitled “An Album to Record Thoughts, Feelings, etc.” Vanity Fair has used similar lists of questions as interview material. Some of these require a bit of thought to answer honestly. Fiction writers might find it helpful to interrogate characters with them. How would you answer for yourself?
At the risk of revealing too much, and because the longer I live the less I give a damn, here are my own answers:
1. What is your greatest fear?
To be forgotten. I’ve had bouts with loneliness over the years, and what always got me through them was knowing someone was thinking of me, waiting for me. To be alone without that hope would be hell.
2. What is your current state of mind?
Optimistic discontent. Things aren’t exactly as I would like, but I have reason to believe my happiest years are yet to come.
3. What is your favorite occupation?(way of spending time)
Exploring a new place with someone I love. I like to hike, go to museums, climb things, ride bicycles, and I like these things best when I can share them. Shared experiences accumulate into the solid foundations of relationships.
4. What historical figure do you most identify with?
Alcibiades. He was a brilliant young general who gave everything he had to the glory of the Athenian Empire, but he was young and full of himself. He was selfish and partied too hard, and it cost him. But he was a resourceful bastard and lived by his wits for a long time. Eventually, the Spartans — people knew how to hold a grudge — convinced the Persians to murder Alcibiades. He went down fighting, in a hail of arrows. History isn’t kind to Alcibiades, and for good reason, but he never gave up.
5. Which living person do you most admire?
6. Who is your favorite fictional hero?
7. Who are your real-life heroes?
Martin Luther King, Jr.
8. What is your most treasured possession?
A healthy mind and body. Second to that is my 2008 Martin HD-35 guitar.
9. When and where were you happiest?
Today, right here–knowing what I know and hoping for better things in the future.
10. What is your most obvious characteristic?
11. What is the trait you most deplore (hate) in yourself?
12. What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Hate induced by ignorance and fear.
13. What is your greatest extravagance?
Eating and drinking well.
14. What is your favorite journey?
One on which I see and learn something new, and that ends with the beginning of another journey.
15. What do you most dislike about your appearance?
My teeth and aging skin.
16. What do you consider the most over-rated virtue?
17. On what occasion do you lie?
To avoid hurting someone, though I know this only makes it worse in the end.
18. Which words or phrases do you most over-use?
19. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I’d eliminate my need for sleep.
20. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Raising 2 sons. (in progress)
21. Where would you like to live?
Between the mountains and the sea, or anywhere with the person who is my true home.
22. What is the quality you most admire in a man?
Compassion for others, especially those not like himself.
23. What is the quality you most admire in a woman?
Courage to be herself in spite of what our culture expects.
24. What is it you most dislike?
Bigotry. Fascism.Willful ignorance.
25. What do you value most in your friends?
An active presence in my life, loyalty, and dependability.
26. How would you like to die?
If not saving another’s life, then in bed holding on to the hand of someone who loves me.
27. If you were to die and come back as a person or an animal, what do you think it would be?
A tree growing over my grave, a squirrel living in that tree, or a goat grazing on the cemetery grass.
28. If you could choose an object to come back as, what would you choose?
An interstellar comet!
29. What is your motto (words you live by or that mean a lot to you)?
Love more. Seek beauty. Find meaning. Work hard.
30. Who has been the greatest influence on you?
The image of the person I wish to become.