Olympia SM9

This was one of the first typewriters I ever bought, the second in fact. The case was rotted and had to be thrown away. The typewriter was well used and was covered and filled with dirt and grime. I remember sitting on my couch typing for the first time and over the years, after buying more typewriters, I had forgotten this small gem and let it collect dust as it had before. It sat for more than a year at an antique booth that I had and nobody bought it for the $30 I had it priced at. I pulled this guy out of the basement for the sake of this project and found that I had been overlooking one of the best portable typewriters that I own. The keyboard takes some getting used to with the backspace key located on the right-hand side instead of the left like so many others. Besides cleaning I never had to do anything to the machine except for switching the ribbon that had dried out.
I wrote a letter to a friend today for their birthday. Typing on the Olympia was no different from typing on a computer. The action was smooth and clean. Overall the machine was quiet without the rattling and thumping of other typewriters I have used over the years. I never understood until today why so many people are willing to dish out large amounts of cash for an Olympia. It might not be the colorful model from the sixties with a curvy case and chrome trim but it works like a charm and that is what I like something that is reliable and faithful. In a world of planned obsilesence these are traits you rarely find these days.

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The Harvard Classics revisited: Aeneid

I just finished reading Aeneid by Virgil the other day and it is fitting that the assigned reading for day 6 is also a section from this book. I read a post from another blog discussing the odyssey by homer and questioning why the Iliad was not also included in the classics? Aeneid is the same story, told in a different way, but if you were looking to diversify a set of books and two classics told the same tale why not pick the version by a different author. Perhaps this was regarded as the better version? In school, Homer was always discussed, but the Aeneid was either mentioned or forgotten entirely.
Aeneid reads like an old testament book of the bible with unfaithful fives, gods making deals with one another, and fight scenes that leave one on the edge of their seat. There were times when it would have been nice to have listened to a great courses lecture on the Aeneid first and know who certain characters were in the mythology. This is one tough aspect of reading old text, you didn’t grow up in the culture so the knowledge of these characters isn’t as powerful when they appear. Just about anyone could read a Christian text and understand certain references when they are brought up, we were raised with it. However, throw in a dead religion and a group of gods and goddesses that nobody learns about unless they take a college mythology class and it is easy to become lost. Don’t be surprised when I tell you that I had to pull the phone out and google different characters at times.
The most fascinating aspect of Aeneid to me was the mention of the Romans from time to time and how the Trojan culture survived through them. This was something I either forgot about in school or it was never brought up. The romans of course at one time defeated the Greeks and the power of the region was handed over. The Etruscans were also mentioned, regarded as a mysterious group in Greek history, I was surprised to see one mentioned and wondered how much I missed out on in school. Fortunately, there is a Great Courses lecture I can listen to discussing the Etruscans and their culture.
The Aeneid, like so many other books, is not one that you can only read once to get the whole story, and thankfully with the Harvard reading guide I am sure I will be coming back to it again in the future.

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The Harvard Classics Revisited: The Odyssey

I went beyond reading The Odyssey when I pulled this one off the shelf, wanting to understand it as I heard the story, I also downloaded a few of the Great Courses about the book. Whether or not Homer existed is still up for debate but one thing is clear, if he did exist, he was the first person to write down the tale of The Odyssey but he is not the first person to tell it. It was an oral history and handed down through oral story telling until pen touched paper.
The story is told in an odd way, starting out with Odysseus’ home and the situation with his wife and son. The king is gone and everyone wants to replace him. Once that scene is set, we go back to Odysseus where he is stuck on an island with a beautiful goddess and yet he wants to return home. The gods do not make it an easy trip for him and by the time he returns he has been gone for 20 years. Odysseus has to pretend to be a homeless beggar in his own home as he plots the bloodbath that will take place. This tale has been retold time and time again. Look at The Count of Monte Cristo or Oh Brother Where Art Thou for example. In these cases, the hero is gone from home and has to fight to return to his rightful place. The desire is home and it is here the reader learns what is important in life. Odysseus could remain on the island having sex for all eternity with a beautiful goddess that will never grow old but that is not the path of man. It may sound grand as a young man in your twenties but when you are older a little pillow talk is desirable.
There has been some talk about the Iliad being left out of the Harvard Classics and there is no record as to why that is. Even with Don Quixote it is published as part 1 and there is no part 2. Perhaps the Odyssey had the message that was desired and the whole story was not needed for the lesson to be learned. There have been several books written about Homer’s work and it would appear everyone took something different from the tale. There was an episode of Parts Unknown where Anthony Bourdain went to the Greek Isles and could see the places talked about in the classics. He made the statement “It was a tall tale. Something you would tell the wife when you have been gone for so long. Oh the sirens were hideous. All the women were ugly. I couldn’t wait to get back to you.” To which Tony’s host replied “you think he made it up?”
Is there any point in arguing if the Odyssey is true? I doubt the Greeks told the story because it was a history book. There is something more to be taken from the Odyssey and here is what I found. Duty comes at a cost. There is a difference between what is important in life and what life demands of you. Be careful who you are rude to. Slaughter your enemies until none are left standing. I’m sure there is much more to take from the text but this was just off the top of my head.
The odyssey is one of those stories I will likely go back to learning more about in the future. It seems to be one of those stories that always has more to tell. While I had interest in reading this book as a kid, I grew disinterested by high school and it wasn’t until recently that I thought about picking it up again. Like most books there is a time and place in one’s life to truly enjoy something and before now I don’t know if that would have happened. Like any tale I think it is filled with lies and half-truths. Was Odysseus riding around the seas with his men on constant booty calls. To the victors go the spoils and I think he was living it up, maybe too long. Of course, he is the hero of the tale and while we can speculate what was really going on, we will never know. The story is one to learn from, focus, stay the course, family first, don’t tempt the gods, and the list goes on. Should everyone read this? Yes, when they are ready. I find this is one of those books that people will not seek out but it will find you instead.

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Returning to the Harvard Classics

A few months ago, I bought an incomplete set of the Harvard Classics. This set of books includes 51 volumes and also has a second version The Harvard Classics of Fiction with an additional 20 volumes in that set. I was attracted to the set from the beginning knowing that most people who attend Harvard never touch any of these books. It is rare if anyone reads these days and even more rare if they pick up something regarded as a classic. The set was one volume away from being complete and I knew a place that was likely to have the missing link.
Lowry’s book store is outside of town in Three Rivers Michigan. Across the street is a brewery I like to visit once a month for their delicious beer and burger of the month. On a visit yesterday I rummaged through the shelves and continued to see complete sets of the five-foot stack, a nickname for the series, and eventually came to a place where random versions of sets were piled together and sold in individual volumes. Sitting in a pile, at the bottom of course, was volume 20, Dante’s Inferno. I am already familiar with this text, growing up catholic and hearing the story every year, Dante’s Inferno is nothing new to me but the set was complete. I could move ahead with reading the set and not worry about missing anything as it was intended on being read.
The set that I bought was the original 1909 publication of Dr Eliot’s five-foot shelf. Dr Eliot was the president of the University at the time and was challenged to put together the stack of books when he made claims that a liberal education could be attained by reading 15 minutes a day from certain books. Of course, the books had to be selected and a year later Eliot released his list and P. F. Collier and Son published the books selling 350,000 sets. Later the shelf of fiction would be added.
There is one other blog that has tackled the Harvard classics, Beer and Trembling completed 52 weeks of reading the classics in one year while also doing beer reviews at the same time. I don’t know how long this will take. I’m not sure I can keep up with the schedule of one week per book. Considering that some of them are longer like Wealth of Nations or The Voyage of the Beagle there will be larger gaps between entrees. Still, there are a few books that I have already read and while I will start this project with those books reading the rest of the series is a task that will take a good portion of my time.
Why even bother with it? What is the point? There is a long list of writers that I admire and while I can go on and on about how their books have influenced everything from my life to writing style I have to admit that they all have one thing in common. They all grew up reading or studying the classics at one time or another. Sure, they read each other’s works but for a certain time period the only thing they had available were the classics that came before. When this list was created Hemingway wasn’t known, Fitzgerald wouldn’t be published for another ten years, Hunter S. Thompson read the previous writers but he also grew up reading the classics.
I don’t know how much this will change anything, if reading the classics will make me into a better person or change my views on life, but it is worth a shot and you don’t learn anything by not trying something new.

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Typewriters: portables versus desktops

It is not everyday you hear someone try to argue the benefits of working on a desktop typewriter, the clunky, heavy, space demanding writing utensils that collect dust in the local antique shops, but I’m willing to give it a shot.
I have been writing on typewriters for a few years now and while I own both portables and desktops I have to say I prefer the desktops. These are a difficult thing to collect and an even harder thing to sell. The space taken is more than the series of carrying cases that neatly fit onto a shelf. One has to be careful when stacking desktop models because the return levers can break when thirty pounds is dropped onto them. The sheer weight of the machines is enough to turn anybody off considering that once you put the thing down you don’t ever want to move it again.
Now that we have all the complaints out of the way lets talk about the benefits of desktops shall we. I have come across most of the highly sought after typewriters in our subculture and typed on them all. While we look at the cross between visual appeal and function I will be concentrating on function. The best machine I ever typed on, and still own, is a 1947 Royal KMG. It was a machine well maintained for a typing class in a rural classroom. Under the paper shelf the dates of maintenance were written in crayon and the platen is still soft. After hours of work being done on this machine I have never had a problem with it. The keys never stick and I can type 70-80 words a minute without a problem.
The next machine on the list of desktops I enjoy would be the older sister, the later 1930s Royal KMM. The noticeable difference between these models is the round keys on the KMM instead of the tombstone keys and the KMM is black instead of grey. Other than those differences the machines work almost identical and when working on the KMM I also had no issues with the machine. The typeface is larger and therefore each line fits fewer works but I guess it all depends on what you are looking for in your manuscript.
My fondness has carried on in the Royal family. The HH and the FP came my way in the last year and while they are built internally much like their predecessors the outside bodies are much different. The HH has green plastic keys that you will usually find missing from machines out in the wild. While the bodies are durable the keys were not made as well. The FP on the other hand was more stylish and had color options for the paint. Gray is the usual color you will find these in and with the other changes made in design you will find square keys much like a computer keyboard. The action of a FP is similar to the KMG in the sense that it runs smooth and has no issues while typing.
These machines were built to be work horses. They took a pounding for decades and still keep going with little or no maintenance needed. To only issues I have ever come across is the use of correction ribbon and eraser bits jamming the comb and other parts. Like a car this is due more to operator error than a problem with the machine. I have come across machines that had bent rods and other issues that were easily fixed and had the machine working like new when the seller had a sign on it saying, For Parts Only. Nothing is made these days that works as well or is as loyal as a Royal. My last laptop computer lasted ten years before the hard drive burned out. My 1947 KMG will never stop working unless I run out of ribbon because it is no longer produced. I should probably stock up.
Some of my complaints about portable typewriters feed into my love of desktops. When I’m writing on my Hermes 3000 I hate how the machine turns and slides as I move the return lever over. Sure, it’s light weight and looks cool when you are at the local bar but I hate it when I have to readjust the machine to keep writing. With a desktop this isn’t an issue, it stays in place and doesn’t move. You and the machine are stuck in place only concentrating on the work.
The desktop makes your writing area into what it is. It won’t be moved. That place has one purpose and one purpose only. There is no other use for a typewriter. When you place a desktop on a table or a desk that space only has one purpose after that.
The desktop is a machine of power, it demands respect and attention. It is the muscle car of the typewriter world. It may not be small, light weight and fast like some Japanese rice burner. The almighty desktop, the heavy boat anchor that sits in the back of the antique shop, is the one machine that if treated properly will be your best friend for life. Some say that a dog is man’s best friend. I am allergic to dogs and while I am a writer I have found that the best substitute is a nice heavy desktop typewriter.

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The Myths of Self-Publishing

Before you go out and try to publish your first book there are few things that you should know. This shit is hard. There are people who will try to sell you things with adds that say they guarantee sales and that you will be able to leave your job in no time. My advice, do your homework. I came across an article about a self-publishing school that will teach you how to have a best seller. There were examples of how a college dropout became rich and now has several bestselling books on places like amazon. Curious, I went to amazon and looked up this man’s books. All of the titles were the same thing, how to become a best-selling author, how to become a successful author, how to make money writing short books, and the list went on and on. He didn’t write the great American novel, or go through the pain of writing a dozen novels in the hopes that one of them would take off, propelling him to stardom. He wrote a book on how to write a book about writing books.
Self-publishing has become a cesspool of predatory scammers who prey on the hopes and dreams of people that want a different life, taking their money with no guarantee of a return. If their system doesn’t work then you must have done something wrong. We have seen this before, the companies that would print your books but you have to sell them and put the work in. While you have boxes of books you were talked into buying, they have your money and eventually the books, like your dreams, rot away.
Sure, there is success. The people who put in the time, the ones that figured out how to build a fan base through other means. There are YouTube stars that are best selling authors now. Podcast host plug their book to an audience they built up over years. There is even a self-publishing podcast with two host, one traditional author and a new indie author that is still working on his first book, that explain how to be a successful author. The catch is the indie author will be a success, he built his fan base over several years and they will buy his book. They plug ideas about spending ungodly amounts of money on advertising, plugging sites you have to pay for to have your book seen, in the meantime the real selling point is the podcast itself.
Either road you take will be hard. You can spend years trying to find an agent or go the self-publishing route finding disappointment with only one or two readers here or there for your books, hi mom. In the meantime, watch out for the scam artist who make promises and try to make you think things are easier than they are.
There was a podcast I used to listen to. The woman had guests on that had become successful in self-publishing and over the years she learned, like her listeners, how to promote books and make a living at self-publishing. I had a conversation with her during a time she was trying to figure out how to monetize her podcast. I said the best way for her to sell a course on self-publishing was to do the work herself. Have a product that shows the process works. She stated that it was too hard, she already tried it and didn’t want to write another book only to be disappointed. Welcome to the world of the writer. Don’t try to sell something that you are unwilling to do yourself. I stopped listening to the show and it went through a renaming, podcasting overhaul, and as far as I know it no longer exist.
Everyone is jumping on this band wagon these days and having your book seen is even harder with a flood of people promised riches while unable to figure out how their world changing vampire manga serial killer romantic thriller isn’t being optioned by every studio on the planet. Here is a lesson for you, write your book for you, edit so that somebody else can read it, and in the end let the readers decide if it’s something they like. In the meantime, work on your next book. Most of the titles you will find on amazon are the only books that person wrote, leaving after their hopes were dashed with nobody lining up to buy it. Your competition is literally a bunch of losers that gave up. If you want to stand out keep on working.
I had some success with one of my first books. I made some money and kept writing. Since then nothing has happened. I have 18 books on amazon and while the majority of them remain unread I keep writing, not for the money or the hopes of becoming the next Hemingway, but because I enjoy it. If you think this is an easy way out of your current situation then get out now, go to Wallstreet, the writing world is not for you. Stay away from the money hungry leeches on the web and hang out with real like-minded people to keep going. Save your money because in this industry everyone is out to take the little that you have.

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Turning 40 and the new you

Forty minutes ago, I turned 40. It hasn’t really hit me yet and I don’t feel any different. The difference I have noticed is from the things I have been doing over the last year that have slowly changed my life. There is a series of things that I did that have added up and made things better in my life including this blog. It started with having my daughter. Things were tough that first year and while she remains a challenge in many ways, things have gotten better. Realizing I needed to be a better man, a better person for her and my wife I started with some little things.
1. Less TV. I have to agree with David Foster Wallace on this one. Television is an addiction and one that barely offers anything in return. I still enjoy the occasional movie but having anything good to watch is rare. If I spend more than five minutes trying to find something to watch I turn it off.
2. Write every morning. Only on the weekends do I lose the chance to write something. Otherwise I try to put down at least 1500-3000 words. Currently I am working on a new trilogy of novels so I try to write a chapter a day. I also stopped listening to music during this time and write with the sound of my daughter playing in the background.
3. I stopped watching the news. This was a big one and it serves many purposes. The news made me depressed and pissed off half the time. Once I cut that out, I had a better outlook on life. My mind was able to focus more on the important things instead of what was happening in places that really didn’t affect me. I had less stress and my productivity grew. This also created more time to focus on what I really wanted to be doing.
4. Jordan Peterson. In his 12 rules for life Peterson discussed ways to improve your life and move in a direction you wanted to go. The following things are a result of listening to his lectures and reading his book.
5. Make friends with people who want the best for you. I started becoming picky with who I spent my time with. If I left a place feeling worse afterwards the odds were, I didn’t want to spend time with them. Life is too short to hang out with crappy people and in the end, I started to spend more time with people who wanted to better their lives and the lives of those around them. This led to doors opening and opportunities being presented. My friend Steve has always been a guiding light and an inspiration. Ben teaches me to be okay with my trashy side and enjoy myself from time to time, without guilt. Tai Po encourages me to move ahead with following my dreams. Mustafa helps me question things that I never really thought about before.
6. Bear your responsibility. I don’t hesitate to get things done that need to be done anymore. These days if you want something done, not just right, you do it yourself and get it out of the way. This helps with stress and because of this I have accomplished more in the last few months than I have in the last two years. Nothing ever got done by putting it off.
7. Appreciate what you have. There was a good chance that my daughter wasn’t going to be with us for very long when she was born. I have a wife that loves and supports me. I know of people who have crappy cars and can’t keep a roof over their heads. Some people have massive amounts of debt and forget how they got it. I like my car. My wife and I own three houses. I could go to the store and buy this laptop. I have a job that pays well and I enjoy. Sure, I have other dreams am I am working my way towards them. Hell, I was even able to go out and buy podcasting equipment without worrying about how I was going to pay for it. Life is looking pretty good.
8. Enjoy the little things. I enjoy smoking a pipe. It gives me time to reflect and I have met some very interesting people along the way. My YouTube friends, you know who you are, are a wealth of entertainment and knowledge.
9. Read. I listen to audiobooks at work and have enjoyed the works of Jonathan Franzen, David Foster Wallace, Dave Eggers, Will Self and many more. There is more to learn about my craft and these people have helped greatly.
10. Set goals. In the coming month I have three books being released on Amazon. Daisy came out today. I didn’t plan or expect to put out so much in a short period of time but sometimes you have to go with the flow. I started a podcast with some friends and have a second one offering free serialized audiobooks to those who want to listen to them. I don’t know where this path is going to take me but so far, I am enjoying the ride.
11. Drink less. I don’t drink like I used to and for the most part I don’t miss it. The last time I really indulged was with a friend and it was a moment that wasn’t surrounded by the drink. These days I regard it as a celebration, one to enjoy with friends. I used to enjoy a glass of wine while writing or before bed but now it doesn’t have the same appeal and I feel much better for it.
My thirties were a roller coaster and thankfully they are ending on a good note. I have seen divorce and death. Saw the birth of my daughter and married a wonderful woman. My finances are no longer the struggle they once were. I have friends I enjoy spending time with that make me feel like a better person. My hobbies are simple and the only thing I wish I had more of these days is time. We all get the same amount of it in the beginning, a lifetime. How we use it is up to us and these days I want to get the most out of it that I can. I have reached that halfway point; some say its only downhill from here but I would like to thing that I’m moving up. The list of things I want to do is growing and so is the list of things I have accomplished.

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