famous Canadian Science Fiction novelist
Mark A. Carter rants about the importance of writing
current ideas, by hand, in his journal, with his favorite
People who keep
journals are weird. At least everyone I encountered at university
who kept a journal was out there. And I mean way out there in
the mondo beyondo. I read a
few pages of a friend's journal once and was aghast at the banality.
She put anything and everything into her journal. Today people
merely blog about such nonsense. I saw my friend's journal as
an externalization of her neurotic personality.
And I saw the
act of journal writing as an obsessive compulsive behavior. For
the life of me, I could not understand why a writer would keep
a journal. I saw no purpose in it because back then I was a smart-ass
and utterly into literary theory as defined by
Northrop Frye. Literary theory was the
be-all and end-all
of my existence. To me, plot was everything. Ideas were everything.
Science Fiction was everything.
It was the only literature that I considered important. It was
my raison d'être. It
was the nitty gritty of literature
that I was interested in, not the writing of it, and most definitely
not the writer and what he recorded in his
journal infernal. I didn't
give a damn about what the writer felt when he wrote
his tome. It was outside of the literature itself, part of the
deus ex machina that should
remain unseen. Despite creative beginnings, I had no patience
for creative writing or creative writers. And I had no reason
to keep a journal myself.
My dad, who was
a precision grinder at General Motors,
kept a daily journal for years spread over a series of
little black books. And I wondered
what on Earth could be in them. Was it romantic poetry?
Was it observations about life? Was he a secret philosopher?
He would take me out for car rides on Saturdays, in the guise
of running errands, in his two-tone, two door,
Buick Skylark. He would always take me to the paint store
first and enter by the open service door out back, which I didn't
think at all odd, but should have. And I must admit that I was
mesmerized by the mechanical paint mixers. So, my dad got no
complaints out of me. And then it was out and about around town
and into the county to visit people that we never visited when
my dad took my mom.
He told me that
the men were my uncles and the women were my aunts. And I didn't
know the price of beans so
I took him at his word. And while I waited in the car, with the
windows rolled down, my dad would talk to the people. He would
pull something out of the breast pocket of his jacket and hand
it over. He would laugh. They would laugh. And the man would
hand back something to my dad. And inevitably my dad would pull
a little black book out of
his right rear pant pocket. He would scribble in it. Then my
dad would shake hands with the man and the woman. They would
stoop to smile and wave at me sitting like a mouse in the front
passenger seat. And I would smile and wave back. The ladies would
comment to my dad about how well behaved I was, which pleased
him to no end. Then we would drive to the next rendezvous. And
when our excursion was over, I always got an ice cream cone for
my patience. I was good with that. But, I mean, was I stupid?
No, I was just five years old, innocent, and trusting.
As it turned
out, dad had for years been supplementing his hourly factory
wage by illegally selling Irish Sweepstakes
tickets, back in the day before the government got into
the gaming business itself. And his
little black books were filled with an accounting of
addresses, names, payments, and ticket numbers. How disappointing
is that? He was a minor bookie
working for an American gangster
dressed in a navy blue, pinstriped, three piece suit who came
up from Buffalo, N.Y. through
the Falls on the
QEW twice a year to collect. He usually met with my dad
downtown at the Mansion House
on a designated Friday night. But he visited our home once, just
before Christmas, when I was
little. My dad handed over the haul.
And like some perverse Santa,
the made man took
rather than gave, except for a buck,
which he gave to me. As he passed by me, on his way toward
the front door, he looked me straight in the eye, and said,
"Merry Christmas, kid. Keep your nose clean."
Then he tossed me a silver dollar.
I'll never forget it.
I did technical
writing for years at university. But I didn't keep a journal.
I wrote papers in Psychology.
My favorite was The Effect of Acetylcholine
Esterase Inhibition on Synaptic Junctions. I wrote
English literature papers. I wrote a
Masters thesis entitled The
Doomsday Theme in Science Fiction. And I edited the
theses of foreign Masters
and Ph.D. candidates. My favorite
was The Roller Effect in Hydrodynamic
Engineering. I couldn't make this stuff up. I registered
for a one year M. Phil degree
at Waterloo but didn't attend. Instead my life took a left turn.
I met a group of unemployed post doctorates and became disillusioned
with becoming a professor. And my internal voice said, "Those
who can ... do." So, I dropped out of academia altogether
to write. Duh? But it was
years before I could write creatively as I had as a child. It
was as if I had to wait for the gobbledygook
desktop computing became available, I jumped at the chance
to use it for writing. I tried writing directly with an
Apple II, but at 1 MHz
it was too slow. And the word processing program called
Word Handler was so technical to use that it stood
in the way of creativity. Yet I did learn it. I used it to write
Psychology papers because
it was faster and more advanced than the
line processor on the university mainframe that we were
encouraged to use. Duh? Do
you remember the days of no wrap around?
I used an
Apple IIc after that. But at
2 MHz it was still too slow for anything larger than
a term paper. Plus, it had a nine
inch monochrome monitor, which was a step backwards,
and the keyboard was too small. The
Mac Classic operated at a blazing
16 MHz by comparison, but it was still too slow to leaf
through the pages of a book; plus, the screen was still monochrome
and too small. But the keyboard and mouse were great. By the
time I got my iMac 350 MHz Blueberry,
the first computer upon which I realistically could write
a novel, frustration and expediency had
devolved me, and I wrote long hand with a
fountain pen, as I had years before, into a journal of
sorts that looked surprisingly like a cardboard binder filled
with typewriter paper. I wrote long hand in the morning while
I was fresh. And in the afternoon, I transposed script into type
on the computer.
I went back to
writing with a fountain pen
because it was simple. I hadn't used one since
grade five when I was taught to write
cursively. My pen back then was navy blue with a silver
lever built into the side to suck up ink from a bottle. I still
love the smell of that ink. And I love the visceral sound of
the nib as it scratches over the paper surface. To me, ball point
pens run along the paper too fast. The ink varies as it is deposited.
And a day's worth of writing with a ball point gives me
graphospasm. That's writer's
cramp for those of you who only punch buttons. It was
sad to hear that cursive writing
will no longer be taught in the Ontario
Public School system. Anyway, I don't cramp when I write
with a fountain pen. It allows
me to write naturally and as lazily as I want while depositing
a dark, even coat of ink. Plus, it takes the technical aspect
out of writing so I can focus on the creative.
The only time
that things come to a screeching halt,
when writing with a fountain
pen, is when the pen runs out of ink. It is especially
distressing if it happens when I am deep within my thoughts and
the writing is pouring out of me. I have to scramble to take
out my depleted cartridge and replace it with a fresh one before
I lose my train of thought.
My only technical decision is which end of the cartridge goes
up. So, keep those fresh cartridges close by. I speak from experience
because I have lost my train of thought
entirely when forced to dig through the business box
in the storage closet for a fresh package of cartridges, and
then try to open the blister pack. You might as well just
give up and watch television.