Camcorders and the quotidian

Two things my wife and I are really glad to have are a camcorder and a digital SLR camera.

We got both of them several years ago, the camera as a wedding gift and the camcorder from my mother-in-law. Mostly we wanted them to be able to document family get-togethers, trips, and our nieces growing up. But they became especially nice to have after our son arrived.

We could easily record his cute laughs and squeaks and developmental milestones on our smartphones, and often do. But keeping some high-definition clips in the simple SD card of the camcorder somehow feels a tad sturdier. It’s a self-contained archive that is built for one purpose, that isn’t connected to The Cloud or needing constant updates or competing for storage space with apps of questionable value. It does one job really well.

We look back at what we’ve recorded just as often as most people do with their smartphone recordings—which is to say, not very often. But that’s OK. The benefit of home videos is in their slow and steady accumulation.

Our own parents took hours and hours of home video of us as kids, first on tape and now converted to DVD. Some of it is the expected banner moments you’d expect parents to record: soccer games, concerts, holidays, graduations. The rest is the small, everyday stuff between those highlights that comprise most of one’s life: playing at home, playing at grandma’s house, running through the sprinkler in the summer. (At least this is what we did in the pre-internet era.)

All of it matters. And when you play it back, everything blends together into one stream, a confluence of the capstones and the quotidian. Such is life.

Advice for selling a typewriter

Here’s my advice for selling a typewriter: Don’t Google it before selling. Don’t see what it’s going for on eBay or Etsy. Especially if it’s a functional model of a popular and photogenic brand you’re just using for decoration and know nothing about. Just sell it to me at a ridiculously low price.

That is my advice for selling a typewriter.

OK, tongue-in-cheek aside—though by all means take it seriously—I was inspired to write this after my sister scouted an Olivetti Lettera 22 on Facebook Marketplace for $10. Surely it’s a junker, I thought. Nope. The sellers were moving and needed to clear out, stat, money be damned. She got it for $5.

Most people aren’t appraisers and can’t be expected to know the value of antiques. I’m sure I have donated or tossed things over the years I could have sold for a pretty penny. I’m just surprised when something as pretty and sleek as a blue Olivetti changes hands for nothing.

But hey, one man’s trash…

Four months old

The Boy just turned 4 months old and is absolutely perfect. He is starting to roll over, has recently discovered his own feet, and is super chubby and smiley.

So you can imagine my reaction when I read “The Youngest Child Separated From His Family at the Border Was 4 Months Old” in the New York Times:

Constantin was ultimately the youngest of thousands of children taken from their parents under a policy that was meant to deter families hoping to immigrate to the United States. It began nearly a year before the administration would acknowledge it publicly in May 2018, and the total number of those affected is still unknown. The government still has not told the Mutus why their son was taken from them, and officials from the Department of Homeland Security declined to comment for this story.

In Constantin’s case, it would be months before his parents saw him again. Before then, his father would be sent for psychiatric evaluation in a Texas immigration detention center because he couldn’t stop crying; his mother would be hospitalized with hypertension from stress. Constantin would become attached to a middle-class American family, having spent the majority of his life in their tri-level house on a tree-lined street in rural Michigan, and then be sent home.

Now more than a year and a half old, the baby still can’t walk on his own, and has not spoken.

The Trump administration and its sycophants are a cancer upon the republic.

Quotes from the Underland

I’ve only made it through the preface of Underland: A Deep Time Journey by Robert Macfarlane—an “epic exploration of the Earth’s underworlds as they exist in myth, literature, memory, and the land itself”—yet rich quotes abound:

“The same three tasks recur across cultures and epochs: to shelter what is precious, to yield what is valuable, and to dispose of what is harmful. Shelter (memories, precious matter, messages, fragile lives). Yield (information, wealth, metaphors, minerals, visions). Dispose (waste, trauma, poison, secrets). Into the underland we have long placed that which we fear and wish to lose, and that which we love and wish to save.”

“Force yourself to see more deeply.”

“The underland is vital to the material structures of contemporary existence, as well as our memories, myths and metaphors.”

“Our ‘flat perspectives’ feel increasingly inadequate to the deep worlds we inhabit, and to the deep time legacies we are leaving.”

“‘Deep time’ is the chronology of the underland. Deep time is the dizzying expanses of Earth history that stretch away from the present moment. Deep time is measured in units that humble the human instant: epochs and aeons, instead of minutes and years.”

“When viewed in deep time, things come alive that seemed inert. New responsibilities declare themselves. A conviviality of being leaps to mind and eye. The world becomes eerily various and vibrant again. Ice breathes. Rock has tides. Mountains ebb and flow. Stone pulses. We live on a restless Earth.”

This is my pocketknife

Part of the This Is My series.

When my grandpa died in 2007, I informally inherited several of his possessions. Nothing from an official will, mind you—just my grandma saying “You should take this” as we were clearing out his stuff. That’s how I got, among other things, his wallet, a few shirts, an old cufflinks case, and this pocketknife:

It’s very small. It’s grimy. It’s probably older than I am. But because I almost always have my keys with me, I’ve used this small, grimy, old pocketknife far more often than my bigger Swiss Army knife and fancy Gerber multi-tool. The file and bottle opener I could go without, but the knife reminds me of its utility over and over again.

It’s also fortunate. Several times I forgot to remove it from my key ring before flights, but it must have blended in with the keys enough to evade TSA’s detection. I wasn’t so lucky with another bigger multi-tool several years ago; I completely forgot it was still in my carry-on backpack until it got flagged at security and confiscated.

One day I’ll clean and sharpen the knife at least. Even if I don’t, it’ll probably outlive me in usefulness.

Scenes from another Evanston type-in

Putting on a type-in last year was a lot of fun, so I was happy to be asked by the Evanston Literary Festival to host one again. This year it was at my favorite secondhand bookstore in Evanston: Squeezebox Books & Music. Rather than setting the typewriters at a table together for a shared typing experience like a traditional type-in, I scattered them throughout the store. This fit the space better and gave people some privacy, while also encouraging them to browse the whole place.

Overall it was much more low-key and intimate than last year’s. (The pouring rain probably didn’t help the attendance.) But my main goal for any PDT (Public Display of Typewriters) is to make it fun and educational for novices. On that account it was a success. I got to show several kids and young people the basics, which I hope radicalized them into the Revolution.

My Smith-Corona Electra 12 set the tone near the entrance, impressing people with its style and snappiness:

With its futuristic curves and spaceship smoothness, my Hermes 3000 felt right at home among the outer space books:

My Olympia SM7 (of surprise acquisition fame) took advantage of the store’s typing table:

And my beloved Skyriter was kept company in the art books corner:

I also brought one to sell, another Skyriter my sister spotted online for $10:

It worked fine despite some scuffs and scratches, so I listed it for $80 hoping to get lucky. Squeezebox was kind enough to display it on their checkout counter. Towards the end of the type-in a young couple arrived toting a quirky, sticker-pummeled Sears portable and Remington Travel-Riter, not realizing the event wasn’t of the BYOTypewriter variety. But I was glad to talk shop with them, and even gladder when they bought the Skyriter. He uses typewriters for ASCII art and she’s an ESL instructor who likes to use them for class material, so it’ll be put to good use.

Finally, some snapshots from the day’s typings:

A lot of them were done by a pair of tween sisters who rotated through all the typing stations (hence the “weird dad” reference—perhaps they are Judge John Hodgman fans?):

The Electra 12: “It’s Electric!”

Media of the moment

An ongoing series on books, movies, and music I’ve encountered recently.

Klazz Brothers & Cuba Percussion. Their Mozart Meets Cuba and Classical Meets Cuba mashups are great for people who want to get into either classical or Latin/jazz.

What is the Bible? by Rob Bell. I much prefer Bell in audiobook form, where his engaging and grounded storytelling chops can really shine. This revisionist history is good for skeptics but better for entrenched believers.

Knock Down the House. The Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez origin story I didn’t know we needed.

Avengers: Endgame. Will need a rewatch to decide if it’s better than Infinity War, but my first instinct is that it isn’t.

All the Pieces Matter: The Inside Story of The Wire by Jonathan Abrams. Amazon Prime has the whole series on streaming, so I decided to watch the first episode again just for kicks. Cut to just now wrapping up season 4… This shiiiiiiiiiiiiiii is good.

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport. Good combination of cultural analysis and practical takeaways.

Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? Finally knocked this off my AFI 100 list. I’m pretty sure it was, shockingly, my first Elizabeth Taylor film. Mike Nichols directs it into something more artful than its “married couple argues the whole time” conceit.

Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick by Mallory O’Meara. The long-lost story of the female artist who designed the Creature in Creature from the Black Lagoon, alongside reflections on being a woman in Hollywood.

Recent Views

More photography here and on my Instagram.

My primary view lately:

More chubby baby:

My library shares a parking lot with a church (pictured with its wacky window placements), and the lot regularly floods due to crappy drainage. It’s annoying for parking but good for cool shots:

I liked the colors on the sign here matched with the sky:

Emo rain shot out my window:

Advice for parents

Generally I take a liberal stance towards unsolicited advice. You never know when you’ll get something worthwhile, and you can always just ignore the bad stuff.

We’ll see if that stance changes once people start chiming in about particular parenting choices. So far I haven’t had a problem.

In the meantime, Lifehacker’s Offspring parenting blog asked people for The Best Parenting Advice You’ve Ever Received. As I’m just 3 months into this parenting thing my capacity for advice giving is quite limited, but I appreciated hearing from more seasoned parents with maxims like:

  • “Survive and advance.”
  • “Your child isn’t giving you a hard time. They’re having a hard time.” (I’ve heard this in relation to the elderly or people with special needs, but certainly just as applicable with babies.)
  • “Pause.”
  • “Kids are just little people.”

More here.

This is his song

One day I was trying to soothe my fussy baby with some bouncing and singing. I faced him toward me and then out of nowhere started singing a melody that popped into my head. The combination of the song and how I swayed and bounced him calmed him right away, and even elicited a smile.

At first I couldn’t place the melody. But then I remembered: it was the “This Is My Song” ditty from the 1958 movie musical Tom Thumb, officially titled “Tom Thumb’s Tune”:

Here’s the film version, featuring the dance stylings of West Side Story and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers actor Russ Tamblyn. I remember loving that movie as a kid, but it’s been so long since I’ve seen it that perhaps it’s time for a rewatch.

The song-and-bounce routine has now become something of a family joke given how effective it is at soothing, if only temporarily. Funny how things can emerge from your brain at just the right time.