Sunday, July 27, 2003

The Fountain

After six weeks, I have not adapted to being unemployed. I am adapting myself to job-hunting—quite a different thing, really. During the time between jobs, I’m doing my best to keep a steady, healthy, realistic self-image. I know I am not my job. I keep telling myself that. Despite personal loyalty to my company, despite my pride in doing good work, I am more than my job. (Say it three times; maybe I’ll believe it.)

I didn’t just lose a job. I lost my whole company. (Michele asks: Do you know where you might have set it down?) In some ways that makes the change easier; I’m not going through as much self-blaming as I otherwise would. (Enough, though.) But it also makes me feel like Arthur Dent, wandering the universe in his bathrobe.

One important step in keeping myself going is to keep writing, no matter what’s happening with resumes and recruiters. I’ve also found myself reclaiming a lost skill. For two decades, I’ve done virtually all my writing on a computer keyboard. Before that I usually wrote on a manual typewriter. Writing by hand has been limited to writing the occasional check or signing my name.

But I’ve felt an urge lately to take up fountain pen and paper and write in longhand. I’ve always loved beautiful pens and paper, but my good pens were packed until recently. Now I’m rediscovering the pleasures of writing with a smooth-nibbed pen on a flawless page.

What I savor about a good fountain pen is the sheer sensual and aesthetic experience of using a perfectly designed instrument. I prefer a slim but solid pen with a fine to medium nib. If I want to lose myself in writing, I use a keyboard; fountain pens, for me, are a way of enhancing awareness. It's not only the sensation of the ink sliding onto the paper, but also the weight in the hand, the play of light on the barrel, the texture of the paper, the thought formed and phrased in the mind before the hand moves to record it.

I’ve been playing with different weights, widths, and ink colors. The Cross fountain pen in matt black was my gift to myself for getting my MA; its fine black line is still smooth and clear. The old Waterman Diplomat, dignified in black lacquer, writes in forest green. I’ve bought a couple of new pens, too: the Pelikan Pharo, a slender brushed chrome barrel flaring to a trumpet cap, has a silky nib and turquoise ink. And the Lamy Vista is miraculously transparent, showing the deep plum ink inside, and it writes with ease.

The effect has been to slow down time as I write. I’m freshly aware of the weight and fit of words. Maybe I’ll even be able to write poetry again, something I haven’t done since I was 23 or so. I can’t write poetry on a keyboard, unless you count snarky haiku, a specialized form invented by a friend.

I’m still using the computer for most writing: email, this blog, fiction, essays, even daily task lists. (Thank God for Palm Desktop, which is keeping me better organized than the awkward Excel lists I used at work.) Yet I’m taking pleasure from occasional journal entries written by hand. Moreover, the fountain pen is a cure for writer’s block: a phrase that’s intractable on the keyboard often flows when written by hand.

Using the fountain pen, the plain but good paper, reminds me again who I am. Lynn Kendall, writer. Have pen, will travel.

Friday, July 18, 2003

Monday, July 14, 2003

Life, Work, Career

I had to write an autobiography for my Career and Life Planning Class. With minor modifications, I'm posting it here. The structure was dictated by the professor; the content revealed some things even I wasn't fully aware of.

Yes, I am now posting my homework. Deal.


We always had books. Money, food, attention might all be scarce, but the books were dependable. The tall, unsteady shelves my father built were crammed with my mother’s poetry books and nursing texts, my father’s histories of war. Each of my three sisters and I had our own small library, first Little Golden Books, then books given at Christmas and on birthdays. On her evenings off, my mother read bedtime stories to us, or recited the poems she had learned from her Aunt Mabel.

When I was six, my mother handed me her own copy of Little Women with the words, “This is about a family of girls just like you and your sisters.” This tacit permission to live vicariously through the printed word changed my life. Stories gave me freedom when I felt trapped in our violent household, friends when I was lonely, hope when I despaired. The characters in novels became my secret family, role models for the kind of life I couldn’t find in any other way. Jane Eyre survived neglect and abuse; I could adopt her staunch sense of self-respect. Jo March of Little Women grew up poor, the second of four daughters, yet she lived out her dream of becoming a writer. I could see her path and try to follow it.

Already I knew I wanted to write. Words on paper transcended their physical circumstances. In one sense, books were just smears of ink on sodden rags and wood pulp, glued or stitched together. The materials had little intrinsic value, yet the printed word could reach across the globe through centuries to link the minds of the reader and writer. The better, clearer, truer the words, the more powerful the story and the book became. Reading let me learn without being mocked or insulted. Someday writing would give me a chance to speak the truth and to liberate others who were isolated, abused, imprisoned.

I can’t say I never wanted to be anything but a writer. I wanted to be a nun, an opera singer, a ballet dancer, a doctor, and Granny Clampett from the Beverly Hillbillies. (I watched TV, too.) But other careers were passing fancies. Whatever else I did, I always wanted to write.


My first day of school I wandered from one first-grade classroom to the other. Although my mother had registered me, I wasn’t listed among either teacher’s students. Though the administrative error was eventually ironed out, that experience prefigured my career in the public schools: I was there, drifting around the edges, never quite in the right place. I got through courses by virtue of a good memory and a fluent pen, but most of the time I was daydreaming or reading my way through class.

School was as big a disappointment as the Brownies. When I was younger, I used to play heroine. Garbed in a hand-me-down Brownie uniform three sizes too big, I went forth to rescue the helpless and save my country. I thought Brownies were a cross between Joan of Arc and Robin Hood. When I joined at last and discovered that they never rescued anyone, I lost interest. Making paper baskets out of construction paper was too great a comedown from my dreams.

I longed to go to school. I wanted to be as tall and free and glamorous as the ninth-grade girls who lived down our block. I was prepared for excitement and challenge. What I got was a lot of undecipherable marks on the blackboard (nobody realized yet that I couldn’t see), plus storybooks that extolled the ordinary life of Dick and Jane, which made even less sense than the writing on the board. My home life was nothing like the world of those pink-cheeked, unworried children in their idealized suburbia. Their lives puzzled and bored me.

In eighth grade the guidance counselor suggested I skip a grade. For the next few years, I was allowed to take independent study for almost all my courses. It was sheer heaven from my perspective. I worked in the library and learned what I wanted. At 16 I graduated and left home. From now on I would be working, supporting myself, making all my own decisions.

My first three years of college were joyous. At last I wasn’t the only one reading Shakespeare. Then I decided to take some time off. After a couple of years of intensive reading while working a series of dead-end jobs, I went back to school, this time at Temple University in Philadelphia.


My first professional job was as a proofreader in a type house. I’d worked a dozen low-wage jobs already—I’d been a missionary, a janitor, a waitress at Dunkin’ Donuts, a file clerk for the IRS, a telephone survey taker, and more. Although this job was a temporary position, I gained enough experience to get a student job at Temple University Press, where I learned to be a book production editor.

After I graduated, I couldn’t continue working at the press, though I did do some freelance editing and indexing for them. I found a job as a technical writer for a monthly information service. I came into the position with no knowledge of computers; on my first day I had to ask what a mainframe was. Within months I had taught myself a great deal about telecommunications and what was then called office automation. I loved doing the research, generating new topics, and reshaping a raw article into a clear and elegant whole.

From there I went to work as an inhouse editor and ghostwriter for a consultant. The work was similar in many ways, but the position felt quite different. My job was to improve the consultant’s work, and he resented the idea that his words were not perfect the first time around. After six months I left and went back to editing academic books.

All this time I was writing my own stories as well as editing others’ books. I was also falling in love and getting married. From the first, my husband wanted to give me time to write. A year after we married, we had to move for the sake of his work. Unfortunately, the move meant I had to leave my job as an editor. So I took a year off to write. By the end of the year, I had half a novel written, plus a contract for a nonfiction book. I finished the nonfiction manuscript and started on the next book.

From the spring of 1986 to the spring of 2000, I did freelance editing, wrote a series of nonfiction books and a Regency romance novel, and ran a small publishing company from home, all while keeping the house going and being a supportive wife. I also taught remedial writing while I earned my MA in English/Creative Writing, as well as doing some private tutoring and public speaking to writers’ groups.

When my marriage ended, I had to rejoin the nine-to-five workforce. I started with a temp job as a secretary in a pipe factory, then went on to write marketing copy for a local publishing company. After two years, I came to California to live with friends. My first permanent job out here was writing technical and marketing copy for a dot-com—a job I held until the company assets were sold and the workforce laid off. My time with the transition team ended last month.


Through all the years, my goals have been clear: I want to write, and I want to rescue people. I’m trying to find work that will allow me to achieve these goals.

My favorite jobs have all been in publishing. Books saved me when I was young, so any part of the publishing process is a sacred task for me. Moreover, I love the creative process of transforming a raw manuscript into a bound book. A hundred years from now, books I edited will still be read; that’s an achievement. Although I liked my colleagues at the dot-com and I believed in the product, what I was writing was too unimportant and too ephemeral to satisfy me.

Another reason editing books is so fulfilling is that publishing offers endless chances to learn new things. I’m happy in any job as long as I’m learning. Another is that editors are not usually in competition with each other; the focus is not on office politics or getting ahead but on cooperating with the author, copyeditor, designer, and typesetter to create something beautiful.

I’ve also seriously considered turning my skills toward becoming a therapist. I’ve spent years reading psychology and working with therapists on my own issues, and I know that understanding the past is another way to construct a story. In narrative psychology, the therapist and client look the stories embedded in the client’s life and learn to retell them in new and empowering ways. Psychotherapy, too, is noncompetitive. Though any job has to entail personal conflict, I prefer positions where that element is kept to a minimum.

Teaching, too, is a noncompetitive, creative field that transforms lives, encourages writing, and demands ongoing learning. I’ve always loved teaching, and I’m well qualified to encourage new writers to find their own voices, while teaching them the grammar and composition skills they need to express their ideas more effectively.

Friday, July 11, 2003

One of the Great 404s

Go to
Type "weapons of mass destruction" in the search box.
Don't press Search!
Instead, click the "I'm feeling lucky" button.
Read the error message.

Thursday, July 10, 2003

Newspaper File Not Found?

Find out why.

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

Attack of the Rubber Duckies

They're coming! The rubber duckies are almost here!

From the article:

Duckies now call the ocean their bathtub

Any day now, five-centimetre-high plastic ducks may start washing ashore in New England, on the United States east coast, 11 years after a container filled with 29,000 bathtub toys toppled from a cargo ship's deck into the north Pacific.

Beachcombers may find a special place in their heart for the ducks, but the toys represent a little-known danger. . . .

Sunday, July 06, 2003

When the User's Away . . .

The icons will play.

Saturday, July 05, 2003

The Job Hunt: Not That Desperate Yet, Thanks

Gee, I could make $8 an hour in an exciting new career! I found this listing on Craig's List.

What does the job require?

Successful applicants should have excellent written and verbal skills. Must follow written and verbal instruction exactly every time. Legible handwriting is necessary for filling out necessary paperwork.

Any special dress code?

Applicants will be professional, conservatively clean cut in appearance, prompt in arrival, and work well with the public. Should be able to pass a background check, if required.

Work attire consists of black dress slacks, white dress shirt, conservative tie and black or navy sport coat. Any tattoos will be covered and piercings should be hidden or removed. Hair color should appear natural.

I can do all those things, but these might be a problem:
  • Heavy lifting.
  • Must be local resident located in the San Francisco, Oakland, or Hayward areas.
  • Demonstrable bay area knowledge and driving experience. Should be able to read Thomas Brothers Guide (provided by employer) and arrive on premises quickly and safely

Then there's the real deal-breaker:

Some situations may involve intense emotional or physical circumstances. Need to properly handle remains in various positions and locations, though most are in a bed.

So I'll never have a thrilling career as a Mortuary Service Transport Technician, AKA Removal Driver or First Call Driver.

Maybe this addendum is unnecessary. But it's late, and my brain is not at its perkiest.

I'm not making fun of the people who do this difficult job. They have to be calm, professional, and helpful in circumstances that range from unpleasant to traumatic, and for utterly pitiful on-call pay. A good driver is going to make the whole experience more bearable for the bereaved family, assuming someone died at home. A bad one could make it appalling beyond words. I bet these guys end up with a fair bit of PTSD, too. Imagine scooping up the remains of a murdered toddler, say.

I am mocking the pay, and I am mocking myself. Right now I'm looking at every job on earth as a possibility, no matter how inappropriate. Also, I'm trying to introduce a note of grim humor into the job-hunting process. When corpses can liven up your life, you know you're in trouble.

Thursday, July 03, 2003

Hallowed Ground

One hundred forty years ago, the broken remnants of Lee's army were streaming southward. Some of them, at least, weren't barefoot now; they had taken the shoes of dead Union soldiers.

What can I say about Gettysburg that touches the awe and grief and pain of that place for me?

It's beautiful now, and it was beautiful in June of 1863. (Also in 2001, when these pictures were taken.) The first few days of July 1863 made it a reeking slaughterhouse.




Remembering Pickett's Charge

Later I'll do a thoughtful post on Gettysburg. In the meantime, take a look at this high-tech version of the Gettysburg Address.