Elegy for Paper

I was reflecting recently on how the business of writing, like so much else, has changed drastically over the past couple decades. I thought it might be fun to set down on this electronic page some memories I have of a world that has vanished.

I came of age as a writer in that brief day of the word processor. Does anyone remember that? It wasn’t a computer, yet it blew typewriters out of the water. It was a bulky machine that covered half the desktop, with a screen that swung up from its closed position against the keyboard to show about eight or ten lines of text — dark green against light green or dark gray against light gray, depending on how bright the environment was. It had one font unless you changed the plastic snap-in print wheel. I think I had two or three of those; but there was no way to get, for example, one word in a line to be in a different font (like this).

Still, I thought it was the greatest invention ever! I’d used a manual typewriter as a kid, an electric typewriter through college, and this machine was WAY better than those — I could correct typos or revise without once committing the text to a printed page, and when I printed, the manuscript would be glorious! I could store documents to be printed again — yes, to be printed all over again, without re-typing them! It sounds so laughable now. But then, these were miracles of technology. The tools of the writer had taken a quantum leap forward, and we could focus on the writing, not on the physical chores. We wondered how Tolkien, Dickens, and others had managed without these things.

There’s a quote from Mark Twain that gets reprinted now and then in the trade magazines. He’s waxing enthusiastic about the marvelous new device that allows you to get your words onto the paper as fast as you can think them. It sounds for all the world like he’s talking about a computer — or a word processor, if you read the reprint back in the eighties — but the machine he’s raving about is the new-fangled manual typewriter.

I wonder if the document survives in which some long-ago scribe is singing the praises of the miraculous new ball-point pen . . . or the fountain pen, the quill, or the hammer-and-chisel.

But back to my reminiscences: in that word-processor “era,” I was convinced that I would never need a computer. They were fine for the math and science people, but for those who wanted to write, the word processor was clearly superior. The WP produced documents that looked nice, as if they’d come from a typewriter; the computer, on the other hand, spewed ugly dot-matrix printouts, faint and rudimentary, with holes along the sides of the paper. Bleah! What serious writer would ever need a computer?

But as wonderful an electronic gadget as the WP was, we were still standing firmly in the world of paper documents. The function of the WP, remember, was to produce beautiful typewritten pages. Real pages. Paper pages. The WP didn’t connect to an invisible, interconnected world — for that matter, neither did computers quite yet.

I remember that one day my mom couldn’t get the document she was working on to save onto the diskette. (There was no hard drive: any saving you did was onto a little disk. I didn’t know you could save things onto a computer’s hard drive until several years after I’d started using one.) That was a moment of techno-glory for me, because I figured out the problem and solved it. The paper label that came inside the slipcase with every diskette had gone into the disk drive with the diskette but not come out again. The label was forming a physical barrier between the diskette and the drive’s reader. I discovered the paper in there, fished it out, and boy, was I proud of myself!

Paper . . . and my mom . . . Mom was a great conserver of paper. She would go through every piece of junk mail and save any sheet, large or small, that had a blank side. These would go into her stack of scratch paper beside her elbow at the kitchen table. They became her notepads for jotting ideas and rough drafts of stories or articles, usually early in the morning or late at night, when she had the kitchen to herself. Regulation-sized scratch paper, such as the blank backs of outdated manuscripts, occupied a drawer in her office, and would become the tablet for new, typed rough drafts.

And envelopes! Mom would save envelopes that came in the mail, too. Why, all they needed was a scratching-out of the old addresses, and they could serve again. All through college and my Japan years, I received weekly letters from home, invariably in second-service envelopes. For Christmas or her birthday, I would often give Mom boxes of brand-new business-sized or manila envelopes (a great present for a writer, and she loved getting them) — but I could probably count on one hand the times she used a new envelope out of the box. I’m sure it felt horrible to her, like shooting a buffalo and taking its skin, leaving the carcass to rot.

Mom even used recycled manila envelopes for story submissions to editors. Once a Cricket editor complimented her on her recycling.

The value was certainly passed along to me; that’s the way I did things, too. When it was time to submit a story to a magazine, I’d go to the cabinet, which was chock-full of used envelopes of every size. I’d look for two cleanish, respectable ones, make sure the old addresses were obliterated, and dutifully make my self-addressed stamped envelope to go inside my outbound submission. SASE . . . I wonder if writers younger than thirty have even heard that term? There was IRC, too, after I went to Japan: international reply coupon.

How did you find places to submit stories in the pre-Internet world? Well, you scanned the Markets sections in Writer’s Digest and The Writer. You made trips to the library and paged through Writer’s Market and Literary Marketplace. That last one is where I located the address for Arkham House, and Dragonfly finally found a home.

I loved printing out and signing those cover letters. I loved the heft of the hard-copy story and the taste of envelope glue (previously licked by who knows whom). I loved the drive to the post office and the satisfaction of plunking down a little money and watching the postmaster drop the story into the outbound bin.

But even more, I love how that era made us appreciate the mail. When stories were out on submission, I’d go to the mailbox with such anticipation, just waiting for that response from an editor. I guess the memory is colored by the fact of how young I was, dwelling in that magical time when I had yet to receive a single acceptance, and any day, the mail might change my life forever. The fondness is tied up with childhood and youth, checking a mailbox in the shade of great oak trees, with dogs around my feet, on halcyon summer days when my parents were hale and the world stretched limitless and kind before me.

To discover a heavy manila envelope in the box was bittersweet: you knew at once that the editor had returned the manuscript, but there might be an encouraging note inside, a request to try the magazine again with something else, and that took away much of the sting.

Better by far was a small, light envelope from the magazine’s office . . . not a recycled SASE in your own handwriting, but a new, crisp envelope, some pristine thing never before glimpsed, perhaps fallen from Heaven — because such an envelope couldn’t possibly contain your manuscript. It could only hold a letter saying “We here at *** have all read and loved your story, and we would be delighted to publish it.”

Ah, the age of paper! It was slower; it taught us patience. Yet patience is a quality that, as a writer, I’m glad I learned.

A writer friend of mine made the point not long ago that in a few hundred years, no one will be able to access the electronic data that we in the present are producing. Who among us now could go home and play back the music on an eight-track tape, watch a movie on a Beta cassette, or recover my first novel from those Smith Corona Power Word Processor diskettes? If our descendants don’t have the exact hardware we’re using today, where will our data be? And what’s the life expectancy of hardware these days?

For his epitaph, John Keats wrote, “Here lies one whose name was writ in water.” Brothers and sisters, we are writing our legacy in water. It is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.

Even now I save pieces of junk mail for memos. Still it hurts me to print on clean, new paper without a Very Good Reason. Still I don’t sleep well unless a manuscript — or even a manuscript-in-progress — is printed out (on scratch paper until it’s ready to go out and make good impressions). Here in the gentle light of my workspace, there will always be a place for paper. He is an old friend; and old friendships, as they say, are golden.

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43 Responses to “Elegy for Paper”

  1. Barb Says:

    I’m destroying my brand new laser printer with all the print-outs… I learned to type with 10 fingers on an electric typewriter… and I do have a printed version of all my typed manuscripts (lots are still handwritten on notebooks…) after I lost a novel to a failing floppy disk… Yes, I bough a Kindle, but I still love paper (maybe because I’m also an artist, and the pencil drawing still needs to be on paper, I can’t draw on a digital white sheet! ;-))…
    Long live paper and snail mail!

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      That same thing happened to me with my first computer. I had not yet learned the value of storing things on a hard drive; I was used to diskettes from the word processor. So I would store my writing on at least two disks, thinking it was safe. But the disk writer inside my computer went bad, so when I hit “save,” the computer rendered the disk unreadable. By the time I figured out what was going on, I had lost many weeks of electronic work on a novel. (Fortunately, it existed on paper. If it weren’t for printouts, that material would have been irretrievably lost.)

  2. John Niendorf Says:

    Paper is just so heavy – I like my Kindel and keep all my documents backed up on an external drive as well as off site.

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Nowadays I like flash memory sticks or “thumb drives” for backup. They seem safer to me than CDs, but it could be superstition left over from my diskette disaster.

  3. John Says:

    I know exactly what you mean. As I encounter family pictures and documents from nigh a hundred years ago, I wonder if we shouldn’t be making paper backups for our future historians. Even if they didn’t want to save them, it would at least make for interesting scratch paper.

  4. tandemcat Says:

    Mmm… I still use paper, and wince every time I have to buy a ream or an ink cartridge. For some things, it does a far better job, and it won’t break if you drop it! :)

    But on the other side of the coin, I have often been among the earlier adopters of new technology. When Fred was typing papers on his IBM Selectric in college, stopping to switch typefaces physically, in mid-sentence, I was on the other side of the room inserting codes before and after italicized words in files I typed into my second computer, which I had bought specially for entering college for the second time, shortly before age 40, to get my teaching degree. I saved the files on audio cassettes. I thought the fonts on my dot-matrix printer looked “different,” not “bad.” The monitor for my computer was a small black-and-white TV set, which is currently playing in my kitchen–that’s right–I bought it 27 years ago, and it still works just fine–it gets used about 16 hours a day to entertain my cats, two of which have passed away since I bought it.

    And I’m typing this on a BlackBerry, which has become my tool of choice for writing–I wrote my second book–100,000 words–mostly on it, plus some at the beginning on a Jornada 560 (similar but bigger) and a few other odd assorted computers. I also use the BlackBerry for listening to music (by far my device of choice), taking pictures (decent, but I prefer more sophisticated [digital] cameras), showing pictures (supremely handy), displaying videos, doing simple arithmetic, e-mail (another “best”), organizing my life, waking myself up in the morning, looking up maps, browsing the Internet, writing code and posting items to my Web site… oh, yes–I also use it for making telephone calls!

    But I still love paper (I’m negotiating to acquire a Xerox Phaser printer), and books. I was commenting to Fred the other day about how both my dad and I, like him, have so many books that we don’t possibly have time to read! Notwithstanding, I found myself unable to put one down the other night until I had finished it: The Last Unicorn.

    • Daylily Says:

      You have a T.V. which kills cats? Maybe you need a different T.V.! Or maybe try a different channel. Maybe the cats died from the horror of what they had seen on the tube . . .

      • fsdthreshold Says:

        That’s certainly what it sounded like! That TV just entertains cats to death! :-)

        It’s true: as college roommates, Tandemcat and I were at opposite ends of the technology spectrum. One incident that sticks in my memory is that I had a cheap, ramshackle pair of headphones that only provided sound to one ear. Tandemcat couldn’t stand the thought of my listening to music that way, so he gave me a set of his older ones. I still remember the bliss of hearing music in both ears, and I used those headphones for a long time!

        Tandemcat, I’m delighted that you enjoyed The Last Unicorn!

    • Chris Says:

      Xerox Phaser, that’s one that melts the colored wax to produce the image, right? YOu load those up with blocks of colored wax as I recall. Am I thinking of the right thing here?

  5. I am Mr Brown Snowflake Says:

    On behalf of the Arbor Day Foundation I would like to pass along our deepest gratitude to a great lady and conservator, the dearly-missed Mary Ann Durbin (a.k.a. MADDOG) and her son, the esteemed Frederic S. Durbin, for their part in saving an entire grove of pines.
    (Is it weird that, for some silly reason, I still have, in my desk, two pre-stamped No. 10 envelopes with 16-cent first class stamps on them?)

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Thanks, Mr. Brown Snowflake! (For anyone confused–have we ever explained this?–my mom was the Director of Gifted Education in our school system, so her initials, with the title appended, spelled out M.A.D.D.O.G.!)

      • fsdthreshold Says:

        In a similar story, when I was in college, I was an international resident assistant in the dormitory, so the nameplate on my door read: “Fred Durbin, I.R.A.” I had more than one international student look at me with fear flickering in his eyes, wondering if I might firebomb him.

    • Chris Says:

      While conservation is a good thing by definition, I must also stress that of all the stuff we use: paper is at least a _renewable resource_ and many paper mills produce from “tree farms” which are managed resources.

      Of course making new paper does cost energy, but in some cases the paper mills can burn some of their waste material to generate energy for other parts of the process.

      It’s pretty amazing technology for something that is as old as, well, paper.

  6. Daylily Says:

    I remember word processors from my secretarial days. Yes, a big advance over electric typewriters. Now one could easily send the same letter to several people without retyping it each time. Who could have predicted that this many years later, one would be able to send the same e-mail to dozens of people by pressing one electronic button?

    I keep my compositions on my hard drive, back them up on two different thumb drives, and also print out hard copies.

  7. Kate Gladstone Says:

    Scribes’ praises of (very) early fountain pens:

  8. Chris Says:

    In light of this essay, tomorrow I am flying to Belgium to attend a production event of 40 tons of coated paper at a mill. No joke. It’s my job.

  9. tandemcat Says:

    Not sure if the threading is working right on this end, but in response to the question about the Xerox Phaser, yes–it is the one that uses blocks of colored wax. I probably wouldn’t be interested otherwise, but my brother is a printer service technician, and has nabbed some for free–”outdated and out the door.” Actually getting one depends on his making it work correctly first. Then there’s the matter of transporting the 78-pound monster over a distance of 500 miles.

  10. tandemcat Says:

    Still not sure about the threading, but the TV didn’t kill the cats. It has so far lived for 27 years, while the cats died at 16 and 18 respectively–in either case, a ripe old age for a cat. FWIW, the TV is a Quasar, and clearly not designed for planned obsolescence, although of course it now requires a converter box. Any bets that the TV will still outlast the converter box (which I bought only a few years ago, when TV went digital)?

  11. Chris Says:

    The reality of paper: Just spent 2 12-14 hour days in the papermill here in Lanaken, Belgium. It’s amazing to see how paper is made. The scale of the machines is beyond compare and it is absolutely amazing. The two PM’s (Paper machines) they have here produce rolls 24 hours a day. The “small” machine produces 24 ton rolls and then there’s what sounds like a massive explosion as the old roll is pulled off and a new one started. It doesn’t stop the machine, just one giant 24 ton roll (about 14 feet in length and 7-8 feet in diameter) rolls away down the line. It’s truly amazing.

    The place is as noisy and appears as grungy as you might expect from a massive industrial facility.

    The part I’m working on is the coated paper end of things. They take the paper that is made on the giant paper machines and thread it on a nearly equally giant coating machine. They use some incredible technology to measure the thickness of the paper (using radioactive materials that fire radiation through the paper and read the thickness and ash content of the coated paper. You can see if you are adequately applying your coating which is often less than 10 microns thickness/side.

    Occasionally in such a system there are “web-breaks” which, if you think about a 14′ wide roll of paper threaded through a machine about 150feet long running at several hundred to a thousand meters/minute that when a “webbreak” occurs it is a very LOUD sound. Again, a big explosion and paper goes flipping all over. But these guys are so used to it that it barely phases them. THe machines automatically shut down and the guys go in and clear out the mess and start it all up again. It’s like it never happened.

    Then the papers go over to what is called a “supercalender” (no I didn’t misspell that, calenders in paper making are the “irons” that smooth out and gloss up your paper and they are spelled with an “e”).

    It’s a stack of giant metal rollers about 20 to 25 feet tall through wich they thread the paper and apply pressure and temperature to achieve a set gloss.

    Then you want rolls of that paper? But you don’t want a 14foot wide roll? Well it goes to a “slitter” where the paper flies through a set of blades and rolls it all up into nice rolls about 30″ wide and 30″ diameters. Almost flawlessly perfectly flat on both sides.

    Think about how hard it is to wind a roll of paper into a roll such that it is flat on both sides. Now do it at several hundred feet/minute speed.

    It’s generally incredible to witness. It’s noisy, grimy and loud all the time with occasional explosions going off across the facility as paper breaks at high speed.

    BUt in the end you get your paper so you can quietly and in the cleanliness off your “writing space” put your pen to paper and write something. Or print it out from your printer.

    Oh yeah, and for those who remember the awful smell of the paper mill in Taylorville: I haven’t smelled that here yet. I don’t believe they use the same sulfur-related process for treating their pulp as Taylorville’s mill used. There are different ways of making paper from pulp and different chemistry used.

  12. morwenna Says:

    Thank you, Chris! You’re an intrepid roving reporter. What perfect timing for your paper-mill tour!

  13. Chris Says:

    I didn’t sign up to work in the paper industry originally. I kind of wound up here and I’m glad I only have to occasionally go to the mills. But the science and the technology are absolutely amazing. AND the fun part for me is that the mills _I_ get to go to are in exotic places like Belgium rather than Wisconsin (sorry any Wisconsinites, but I’ll take Maastricht and Lanaken over Osh Kosh and Combined Locks any day).

    The paper mills are truly amazing places and the science behind paper is far more complex than one would think. I have only actively been on this project for about a year and a half and I feel like I’m drinking from the firehose. The terminology they use (basis weight, etc.) are mindboggling.

    For those of you using 20# bond paper many of you may use has a specific meaning. It means that 500 17″x22″ sheets will weight 20 lbs, but it is different for different grades of paper. Book paper has a different basis weight like 70# which means it is the weight of 500 sheets of _25″x38″_. So it’s fundamentally different.

    So if someone says they have 20# basis weight paper _you have to know the grade_ in order to tell what the real heft and weight of the paper would be! It’s a ridiculously antiquated system.

    Thankfully the Europeans use what is called “grammage”. Grams/square meter (gsm). This is the same basic sheet measurement for all papers.

    So if you know the gsm you know exactly how much a square meter will weigh

    Today I am in Paris where I will take some of the paper we made earlier this week in Belgium and print it on a webpress printer. Hopefully it will print well, but I’m not keeping my fingers crossed.

    The best that will happen this week is if I make it out of the print shop without the customer more angry at me and I can get some time to hit the Louvre and Notre Dame!

    ALternately our paper will run perfectly in the press and it will be “C’est bon papier! Et merci graisses yankee!”

  14. Chris Says:

    Oh, btw, artsy-folks, please let me know when I’ve completely sapped the “magic” of paper from this thread by deep dives into the technology of how paper is made. At that point I will have achieved my goal.

    My next post can, if you like, be about “fiber orientation”, “squareness”, Mullen Burst testing, paper formation, twin-wire extruders and jet coating.

    Just let me know when I’m getting close.

    • Daylily Says:

      Fiber orientation! That sounds interesting. Let’s hear about that!

      • Chris Says:

        Oh yeah! When paper is made it is “jetted out” onto a wire that is moving. At it’s beginning paper is more than about 90% water. The rest is wood fibers, mineral fillers and some other added chemical goodness. As the fibers jet out onto the moving web they get oriented. In addition the type of wood used results in either long fibers or short fibers (Softwood fibers are usually longer, hardwood shorter) and they orient in different ways. This can affect the strength of the paper, how easily it is torn in one direction or another, or how the paper curls with additional moisture.

        You can impact the orientation of the fibers to some extent by the rate of jetting from the “headbox” onto the “wire” (the headbox is where the watery slurry of fiber starts off, and the “wire” is where it is jetted onto to form the paper sheet).

        The slurry on the wire quickly “dewaters” and then is further pressed and post-treated.

  15. Marquee Movies Says:

    Chris, this insider’s look at how how paper is made is fascinating! So excited you’re in Paris – let us know how the printing went, and if you did get sightseeing time while there. Fred, another great post, as usual. When you spoke of that old printer paper with the holes on the side, I was reminded of those silly banners that we used to make in our computer classes back in the 80′s. I was a teacher’s aide in summer school, and time and again, I’d see teachers printing out these long, long, long banners that took FOREVER to print out….the printer “bbzzzzzzzzttt” – move forward 1/8 of an inch – “bbzzzzzzzzttt” – move forward 1/8 of an inch….
    It would take so long, and then we’d tape it up above the bulletin board, something like “Have a great summer!” or “Happy Birthday, Aidan!” – often something that had a shelf life of just one or two days. But – we thought it was cool for a while!
    Fred, I’m really looking forward to October’s blogs – can’t wait to read some Halloween stories!

    • Chris Says:

      THe old “dot matrix printers” and associated paper (often with alternating green and light green stripes along with the holes on the side) were indeed “amazing at the time” and I remember how happy I was when printers started using regular paper!

      (Oh yeah, in case you are curious, I know people who specialize in making sure the frictional features of paper are such that the little wheels in your printer actually “pick up one sheet at a time”…yes it’s a real area of study. There’s a thing called “Pick Error” in printer technology. Just an FYI that I can make ANYTHING on this thread infinitely more boring with little effort, so you better be nice to me or I will unlease my powers of DULLNESS on you.)

      As for the printing in Paris, well it went well, but it was one of my rare “customer visits” and let’s just say I’m not in marketting and sales for many reasons, sometimes customers have some bones to pick with a company and when you are the lowly chemist who makes the coating on the paper and the customer wants to know RIGHT NOW why the press itself is acting funny some of them don’t accept the excuse of “but my job is just formulating the paper coating”. When I tried that yesterday I had a senior manager in his best French accent (because he’s French, they do it very well) say “Yes, yes, I know about your _job_” (stress on the “job” rendering it about the same as if he were talking about something unpleasant).

      But the best part is we are supposed to go back on Monday to spend another quality day basking in the lurv of this. At least our paper coating kicked some a** and I felt that at least my part of the print run went well! (but then I would…it’s my _job_).

  16. I am Mr Brown Snowflake Says:

    Chris is in the City of Light. Please tell me you will visit Notre Dame … it is a dream of mine to follow in my mother’s footsteps and attend mass there. (sigh)

    • Chris Says:

      Brown, even though I am a raving atheist one of my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE things to do in Europe is visit the old cathedrals and churches. In fact it is usually the first place I hit. In Turku I made sure to visit the medieval cathedral there. Went to St. Olaf’s church in Norway, The Koln Cathedral last year (you can see most of the stuff I’ve hit on my Picassa web page this past year of trips to Europe here: https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/myphotos

      So you can BET YOUR BOTTOM DOLLAR that today’s “tourist” day in Paris has listed two sites: The Louvre and Notre Dame. Even if I don’t get to anything else (owing to such short time here) those were at the top of my list.

      Now, granted,I probably won’t do mass, just for fear of God sending down a lightning bolt because I’m an atheist and not a Catholic, but hanging with my wife these 22 years I’ve learned quite a few of the gestures so I could probably “pass”. :)

      I’m waiting for the sun to come up, just had breakfast, and going to waddle down to the Metro station and attempt to make my way into downtown.

  17. fsdthreshold Says:

    Chris, these are indeed fascinating reports on paper production! I’m amazed and truly honored that our blog has a globetrotting roving reporter! I am really curious to hear what you saw at the Louvre. Did you get a glimpse of the Mona Lisa? People are usually surprised by how small the painting is. I know when I saw a traveling exhibit in Tokyo of William Blake’s paintings and prints, I was startled by how small the plates for Songs of Innocence and of Experience were. They were about the size of a mass-market paperback book. I’d expected them to be about two feet square!

    Speaking of Notre Dame — Mr. Brown, did I ever tell you that my mom went to the Vatican? While there, she bought some crucifixes for her Catholic friends and held them up for the Holy Father to bless. And also, on my wall here beside me, I have a crucifix that came from the Vatican and was blessed by the Pope. It’s been with me for many years, both in the States and in Japan, and was given to me by a mutual friend of ours, a fellow graduate of our elementary school. At my previous apartment it hung on my bedroom wall; now it hangs on the wall of the room I work in.

  18. Chris Says:

    Just got back from my day in Paris. Obviously one day is hardly sufficient to even scratch the surface. I hit Notre Dame early (very cool!) and the hiked over to the Louvre.

    The Mona Lisa _was_ a lot smaller than I assumed it would be. It was one of the most crowded rooms of the various halls. I was looking for some good Flemish stuff from the 14th century but could find almost none! They had a lot of 17th century Dutch and some 15th and 16th century German.

    Saw the _Greatest Statue of the Emperor Trajan_ known to mankind! The guy looked like a “pin head”. It was hard not to look at this statue and laugh. And presumably it was not made as a joke or anything!

    Got to see the “Code of Hamurabbi” (the Louvre actually has the stone itself). Then I walked all the way down to the Arc d’Triomphe and was blown away by how HUMONGOUS it was! Honestly I never had any idea it was so huge.

    Overall hiked about 6 miles all over that part of Paris. Had lunch at the Louvre with a grea view over the courtyard. DId not, however, make it to the Eiffel Tower, but I could see it from various points. I have to save _something_ for when I drag Rita here.

    Overall the French have been very nice to me (with the possibile exception of the customer we are dealing with work-wise, but that’s not because I’m American it’s because they are frustrated by some print issues). So there goes that idea that the French treat Americans badly.

    I’m loading up my Paris pics here in Picassa as we speak.

  19. I am Mr Brown Snowflake Says:

    Well, thanks to the reports from both Chris and Fred, I have several more reasons to be envious of both!

  20. Chris Says:

    Hidden treasure in Paris Suburbs: Yesterday I was thinking of going back into Paris when I realized I was about a 10 minute walk from the Basilique Saint-Denis! This didn’t mean much to me until I realized that every french king but 3 are buried there! It’s in a rough part of a suburb here in Paris but it houses the tombs of French kings going back to Dagobert (in the 400′s AD) through Clovis I, up to Louis XIV (sun king), Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette! It’s got some of the most fantastic stained glass and some of the most interesting grave artwork.

    Now here’s your FUN WORD OF THE DAY:

    St Denis is the patron saint of France. He was the first bishop of Paris and was martyred by having his head chopped off on Montmartre. Whereupon he picked up his severed head and wlked the 6 miles to the current site of Basilique Saint-Denis preaching a sermon all the way! So you often see him depicted holding his head. In fact there’s a term in “hagiology” in reference to saints who are depicted holding their severed heads (a sign of martydom by beheading). They are called “CEPHALOPHORES”.

    Pictures from Basilique St-Denis: https://picasaweb.google.com/101511554251686571193/SaintDenis2011?authkey=Gv1sRgCPfUjaG0j5-pPQ#

    Pictures from Paris (Notre Dame, the Louvre and Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile): https://picasaweb.google.com/101511554251686571193/Paris2011?authkey=Gv1sRgCMrryuj0hK6iMg#

    The french so far have been actually quite kind and put up with my english-only (well I can say a couple french words like “merci”, “oui”, “Non” et “bonjour!” but that’s it).

  21. I am Mr Brown Snowflake Says:

    Chris: Thanks for sharing all those great pics! I showed them off to a co-worker whose family is Dutch and who will traveling to The Netherlands for Christmas. She and her husband are often in France, but had not been to Basiligue St-Denis …. but just added it to their travel plans thanks to your pics!

  22. Catherine Says:

    Hey, speaking of paper . . . Fred, you’re in my college library! I was nosing around our children’s literature section, and there in the periodicals were bound sets of Cricket magazines, from 1982 on to Star Shard times! How cool is that?

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Catherine, thanks for telling me that! That is amazing news! More libraries should do that! So that means you have access to hard copies of every single one of my CRICKET stories, from “The Fool Who Fished for a King” on up through “The Star Shard”! (If you ever want to look them all up, there’s a bibliography on my web site that lists all the months in which the stories appeared.)

      I just heard from Morwenna that CRICKET has reprinted “Star” in their October issue! The one that’s on newsstands now! I’m really curious to know whether it appears with the original artwork, or if a new artist has done new illustrations. Does anyone know?

  23. morwenna Says:

    Fred, it is Part 1 of “Star,” so the story will continue in the combined Nov/Dec 2011 issue of CRICKET. Congrats!

  24. Elizabeth Says:

    I teach world history from “the beginning of time” to the 1500s C.E. I always teach and try to create inquiry experiences involving archaeology. Your quote from Keats is apropos. We are going to be a lost generation. Nearly everything we create will be gone, unreachable and unknowable for future descendants. They will know more about the people who came before us than they will know about us. I have this vision of archaeologists wandering through server farms: decaying buildings in which the servers are black and sleek and dead, giant hard drives with plenty of wires, microchips and plastic, but no information any more. *We are writ in water.* The sad thing is that 95% or more of my students don’t care when I bring up things like this.

  25. tandemcat Says:

    It’s another sign that our world will no longer exist for anyone to wonder or dig these things up.

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