Monday, May 27, 2013

Short Stories and Snapshots: Living in low-fi

I just wanted to break their fingers. I was dumbstruck and angry about the behavior. Every one of my students when I taught basic college skills at the Southwest Early College was completely glued to their cellphones. And this was in the good ol' days before ipads, tablets, iphones, smartphones and the dumb look everyone has when plugged into one. Most of my students learned very early on that I was not, under any circumstance, going to tolerate thumbs on phones during my class. Most complied. I suspect that some were relieved. And the ones who didn't got this question directly at them: “What are you going to do when the power goes out?” No response. No response from who received this question and no response from any classmates. In the silence that ensued I'd ask, “What can you do when the power goes out?” Only once did a student say: “Go outside and play.” It broke the spell. Outside it was a beautiful autumn day. “Good answer,” I said. “Let's get out of here, we're done for the day.”

I am not a Luddite. There is no way I would exist as a writer as a Luddite. But I also think there is a time and place for gadgets, devices and hell, the phone. In many ways I think technology is great. Bright shiny things are cool. The down side of it is that I do think it is way to easy to become anesthetized by it; perhaps that's the point.

That being said, I think there is a tremendous portion of the population that chooses purposefully to avoid technology. This is okay too. I recently read an article about a group of hipsters somewhere who prefer manual typewriters. I grew up with typewriters. I also read the counter article calling such people posers. Either way, there is no reason not to embrace the fast-paced-gotta-have-it world of devices, and there is no reason not to still use the low-fi.

I have a computer and I have a digital camera. Who doesn't nowadays? But, as I began this discussion of Short Stories and Snapshots, I didn't make a mention of technologically advanced tools. No, I started with the Holga 120N. I've even shared some of my snapshots. For those of you in the know, yes, this camera takes film, 120 film to be exact. And yes, I have digitized my photos as I can put them on my blog. This is a transposition of analog to digital. Needless to say, when it's just me and my camera, there is no electronics,
no batteries and no bling!bling!. It's my finger on the shutter and my eye to the viewfinder. Hell of an operation. I wonder how my students from so many years ago would have taken me serious with such an archaic piece of plastic?

It's all about the process. It's been about wandering the streets day and night looking for a composition worthy of a frame of film. A big part of this process, of course, is that it will be days, if not weeks, before I see the exposure. Old-fashioned right?

I vacillate in my writing process too. Sometimes I compose right on the computer. This has been the case for the last year or two. It does not save any time. I do not type any faster than I write, nor is the work I do on a screen more legible than what is written in my notebook. There have been many years, starting about 20 Wide Rule. 100 Sheets. 9.75” x 7.5” Composition Book. They're durable, a great size and familiar to me. They are very low-fi. With a pen, a notebook, a paperback and the illustrious Holga 120N, I can be out all day and not worry about a power source. It gives a freedom and flexibility to make any move, do anything and my mind can be filled with wonder about the nature of electricity rather than the worry of procuring it. Am I better off either way? Who knows? Furthermore, who cares?
years ago that I write the first draft, sometimes burying it, in the pages of a

This is about the process. I know I am not alone in the world of work-family balance. I am not alone in limited time, limited space and limited energy. I refuse to be limited intellectually or creatively. I will still find time to write. And the in between times, like the walk to and from work, I can find a creative process then too. Enter the Holga 120N.

I have been thinking about writing, because I am always thinking about writing. When time is limited, it makes me think differently. Oftentimes when I get a few minutes or even an hour to myself it's tough to get right to work. I just want to sit and be quiet. I don't want to write, and I don't want to think. If this goes on for too many days, then it gets exceedingly difficult to get back to writing. It makes me feel far from home.

I wrote in notebooks for so long that I have acquired a good many of them. Recently, I read someone's blog, or instructional manual, or a quote that said something along the lines of: “Never throw any scrap of your writing out, some day you may use it.” No truer words as I am discovering. Some of the work in my notebooks have not seen the light of day in twenty years. Reading it now, I feel like someone else wrote it. Taking old short stories, old poetry, old vignettes and transposing them from the analog (notebook) to the digital (computer) very nearly feels like plagiarism. I have assured myself that I will not sue.

What about the low-fi?

Composition Books are cool. Holga cameras are cool. But so is everything else. I bet ipads are cool too because they are both notebook and camera. Whatever you do, you just have to do it. Whatever the medium, whatever the vehicle, whatever tools are used, it doesn't really matter. Just make art. Use your time wisely. When I was a kid I was told by every adult to enjoy my youth because the years when you get older go by fast. This is not an altogether untrue statement. What they did not tell me is that my days would be so doggone long.

I'm still enjoying the Holga. And I still love the low-fi. If you are a modernized writer or photographer, I urge to try the old-fashioned methods. I bet you come up with different sensibilities. 

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