Friday, March 19, 2010

Know the tools of the poet's craft: Printer Edition

It goes without saying that any venture you're going to invest a considerable amount of money in deserves the same kind of special attention you give your car, or your home. But I never hear writers talk about these kinds of things; it's always about art, or the struggle, or even the business (that is, trying to land gigs or teaching jobs), but rarely the more technical side.

I'm talking about the things that can save us a ton of money, like management of resources on road trips, or filing for taxes as an artist, or in this case, getting a printer.

A while back, when I had some cash burning a hole in my pocket, I made the somewhat drastic decision to buy a new printer. Don't let this precursor dissuade you from doing the same, because it turned out to be an excellent decision, but I'm not going to act as if a ton of planning went into this; I had an old printer I hated, and I wanted a new one.

But my inability to look before I leaped is to your benefit. First things first.

Should I buy a new printer?

Good question, self. The answer to this depends entirely on what you plan on using your printer for. If you are only going to print black and white (or all text), I'd say yes, definitely. Even if you print photos or other color documents, if you are serious about printing out copies for submissions to literary journals, or copies of your novel or poetry for work shopping, I'd get a second printer just for that purpose.

See, I had a color ink jet printer. And for much the same reason that a lot of people get cell phone cameras; it was listed as a cool option, and I wanted that cool option without thinking for a second what I'd use it for.

What ended up happening was that in a 2 year period, I only needed about 2 color copies of anything. Ink jet ink dries out, so at about 45 dollars a pop for ink, those two copies cost me 90 dollars. I don't think I need a chart to explain why it's better for me to take my color documents to Kinkos, even if they DO charge far too much considering what it costs them.

What are my options?

Simply put, there are only about three options you're going to want to look into unless you have very specific (or unique) printing needs.

Ink Jet Printer

These are popular because they run so cheap. A quick Google shows me that Walmart is selling one right now for less than 30 dollars.

An ink jet printer essentially operates by spraying tiny droplets of ink on the paper, which allows for crisp and colorful options. If you're doing anything creative, this is the choice for you, because you can't do those printer-friendly iron on t-shirt transfers, color documents, or photo-quality pictures any other way.

But the downsides are many. Ink jet ink costs from 17-25 dollars, and you'll need both a black and a color if you want to take advantage of printing text for your writing, and the photo options.

What's more, ink jets dry out. If you have that color cartridge in your printer, and wait a few months before you print something in color, it is as good as dead, and it's off to the store to buy another 16 dollars worth of ink.

It literally may be cheaper just to buy a new printer every time you need to refill your ink, which is making mother earth cry as I type this, or to try to refill your cartridges (and void your warranty) yourself, which sounds like such a messy nightmare that I don't know why anyone would do it.


A laser printer operates by laying ink on a paper and using heat to burn the ink to the paper. A laser printer, which is more expensive than an ink jet uses an ink drum, which is usually more expensive than ink jet ink. But not by much. On, right now, I can buy ink for my printer, a Brother HL-2140, for 35 dollars.

So how long does it last?

Well, more on this later, but while I used to swap ink in my ink jet every 1 to 2 months (and this is before I REALLY began to print things out), I haven't had to change my drum since I bought my printer, and that was a year ago. If I'm conservative, and say that I ONLY changed my ink jet ink every two months, and that I also ONLY changed the black ink cartridge and not both, I save over 96 dollars a year in ink. Assuming that I run out of ink right this second.

And while I don't keep great track of how much paper I run through, I think it's safe to say that I run through around 20-50 sheets on an average month, and many more depending on what I am submitting or how much I'm work shopping. And for you environmentalists, I use both sides of the paper when I can. I wish our neighborhood offered recycling, and I'm not sure I actually help the environment by driving all the way down to the plant.

Multi-Function Printer

I will leave it to you, gentle reader, as to whether this is another feasible option for your needs.

A multi-function printer offers two or more services a 'normal' printer doesn't offer, such as a scanner/printer or scanner/fax/printer. This can save you money and room if you're in need of these gadgets, but on a personal level, I've always hated multi-function anythings. You know what happened when, back in the day, you bought a TV with a video cassette slot in it? When the VHS broke, you had to go out and buy a new VHS and sit it on top of your huge, ugly television set.

The same thing can happen with a multi-function printer. If the scanner breaks, you will either have to buy a completely new multi-function printer(and they're more expensive than any other kind of printer, as you might imagine), or buy a separate scanner and sit it next to your giant scanner printer which only prints.

And I know that times have changed, and the multi-function printers are actually sometimes smaller than other single-function printers. But I stand by my opinion that it's silly to have an item with extra, unworking parts for any reason. Plus, any engineer will tell you that the more moving parts a machine has, the more likely it is for something to go wrong.

So what next?

Next, familiarize yourself with the product, either before (suggested) or after you buy it. Google it, find out if people are having problems on Amazon's comment system. Really, spend about a day at this before you make an expensive investment.

When, after about 5 months, my printer said it was out of ink, I Googled it. It had lasted me more than twice as long as my old printer's ink, but I was curious about whether this was a normal period of time before replacement was necessary.

Turns out that the sensor for my brand of printer goes off way early. This is kind of shifty of Brother; I suspect that the company will claim it only wants the 'absolute best printing quality' and therefore tells you to change early. But there's not even an option to print anyway. It's flashing red light, and out to buy a new cartridge.

That is, unless you read up on it. Turns out, if I taped over the censor (which I promptly did), the printer would continue to print, oblivious to the fact that it was 'out of ink.' 7 months later, and I finally begin to see some wear and tear. The paper is splotchy with ink. So I open it up, study the parts some, and figure out what to clean, and voila. Good as new.

What's more, my printer offers a 'high-yield' ink. Whether or not this is worth the extra money, I don't know. But you can bet that when this ink finally runs out, I'll do my research.

Oh, and one last thing: both ink jets and laser printers often have an option to 'print quickly' or a 'low quality' option. This uses much less ink, and a lot of times, doesn't obviously detract from the quality of the print.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Split this Rock Finale

This day is a blur. I woke up incredibly early (7 is incredibly early to me on a regular day, but today, that meant like 3-4 hours of sleep. Who's counting?). Plus, it was raining.

First workshop. Write from the Source: Breath, Gesture, Word. Janet E. Aalfs lead this workshop, and as I told the class, I chose to attend precisely because I didn't know anything about the topic. It turned out to be sort of a writing workshop meets eastern/martial arts philosophy meets exercise in breathing and motion awareness. It was illuminating, and as someone mentioned at the end of the class, Janet's ability to make the class comfortable enough to freely try the large gestures and movements that we practiced is worth special mention. She noted that at one time in her life, before martial arts, she would have ran scared to think she'd have to speak in front of people. This was my story as well, so I'm glad that coupled with the workshop yesterday in which I performed, I was able to get behind me a few instances of my ability to, for just a moment, to completely forget my past inhibitions with the stage.

Problems happen, and the second workshop I was awaiting was canceled due to the instructor never showing up. I won't name any names, but yeah, that kinda sucked. But I moved to another workshop I had starred in my giant book of things to do, and ended up at a large panel about the Poet as a Historian. Martha Collins didn't even read her poetry, but it was so interesting a discussion on the history behind it that I was almost willing to buy her book sight unseen, and Kim Roberts' poetry has me hooked as well.

For the rest of the day, Regan and I power-sight-saw (see how tired I am?) and went to the Folger Shakespeare Library (I got to see a first folio up close and personal! It was a religious experience), the African Art branch of the Smithsonian, and.... the mall.

At the end of the night, I attended the last official literary event of the festival, a reading featuring poets Sinan Antoon, Chris Abani, Toni Asante Lightfoot (what a speaking voice!), and Martha Collins. And yes. I am definitely going to buy her book at some point. Not tonight. Ran out of money.

All in all, I greatly enjoyed Split This Rock. I attended more a lot of workshops that surprised and informed me in ways I'd never experienced. A lot of cross disciplinary things which I normally wouldn't have attended, but which I decided to give a try given the nature of the event and the suggestion of Co-Director Sarah Browning. Plus, I got to go to a ton of workshops even in the time between sight seeing. Which, by the way, was its own source of illumination. I never knew how little I knew about DC until I lived here for a few days.

I'm sure there's more to say, but perhaps in some kind of recap tomorrow. Because tonight? Nothing but sleep.

Well. After I write something, and then read.

But THEN. Sleep.

Split this Rock, the Affrilachian panels

First, let me get this out of the way. So many things went wrong today that I sorta wished more than a few times that I could just throw in the towel. I'm gonna quickly list them:

1. Woke up late due to tiredness, and therefore missed the early panels I wanted to attend.
2. Thought I could just catch the first Affrilachian panel (which I wasn't formally a part of) by driving into Washington. Long story short. Nope.
3. Driving to Washington in the early morning was horrific. And later, driving back was just as bad.
4. I forgot some not quite necessary random items back at the hotel, which nevertheless sorta threw me off my game.
5. All in all, tons of schedule conflicts, and me carrying a big stack of chapbooks etc because I don't have anything to carry them in.

But the reading itself went pretty well. It was in the Thurgood Marshall Center (which houses the former brief living quarters of Langston Hughes, which I took photos of). It was a cozy, living room style room that was filled to capacity by the end of our set. It was Ellen Hagan, Frank X. Walker, Mitch Douglas, and me performing, and I think that after all was said and done, and we had answered everyone's questions, we actually went a little over our time. I read a lot of my more overtly political stuff, which I haven't done in quite some time. Plus, I got Ellen's new book.

Oh, and I got to participate in Ellen's workshop Poetic Exploration, which was about crossing the boundaries of art. There were three groups which connected themselves to poetry; dance, theatre, and visual mediums, and I ended up in the theatre group. It was pretty awesome, actually, we each wrote some free writing from a quote or picture, then chose from that writing one or two lines. We then decided, by switching around in line, which lines would create a good poem, then created a performance based on that, using a blanket which could represent any one thing. I've never really been into the acting part of theatre, so it was a drastically new experience for me.

Oh, and I got to eat Ethiopian food for the first time. Lamb Wot. It was fantastic.

Finally, at the end of the night, I got a book signed by Patricia Smith, who I caught as she was walking out of the building where a poetry reading done by Jeffrey McDaniel, Natalie E. Illu, Jan Beatty, and Quincy Troupe was happening. I especially loved Jeffrey McDaniel's poems, and Jan Beatty.

My favorite thing about this all, besides my rapidly expanding collection of signed books, is the sheer number of performances I get to see. It's introducing me to whole new worlds of poetry and expression. Well worth the entry price.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Split this Rock day... whatever it is.

I am, in some ways, inspired by passion more than anything else, and so it's of little surprise that I was invigorated and motivated to start teaching by Adriana Sanchez and Xelena Gonzalez's Workshop: "Let Us Work Together - A Practical Guide and Discussion on Creating Community-based Writing Projects." I chose it based on a suggestion I got yesterday to attend an event I would never normally attend. I do this with food all the time; order something new. But rarely with workshops. So I tried it.

There was so much information, and so much real impact that these two women were doing in their communities that yes, I sorta feel like a tool by not doing much at all. And they handed out just about the nicest book of workshop ideas I think I've ever seen. It's so nice that I feel bad for having not paid for it.

I decided to skip the next round of workshops for the guided tour of the Capitol building which Regan had set up. It was amazing. Got about 6 poem ideas.

From there, I had intended on going to the demonstration. But anyone who knows me knows I am terrible with directions, and while my navigation has been splendid so far, I got very confused with a set of street names, and ended up wandering around for about an hour before I gave up and went to the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. I hadn't been since I was a pre-teen. More poems.

And I wrapped the night up, exhausted, at a reading featuring Francisco Aragon, Lillian Allen, Nancy Morejon, and Mark Nowak. I enjoyed it, and even bought Lillian Allen's book (and it's awesome. I'm so happy I did, because I enjoyed the hell out of the Metro ride back to the hotel reading it). But I was so tired that the further into the two hours the reading got, the harder it was for me to focus properly. Next time, I'm napping before a 2 hour long poetry reading. haha.

Tomorrow, I meet up with the Affrilachian Poets. And then, it's my turn.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

First day of Split This Rock

I know that I said that I'd go into much more detail about my role in Split This Rock today, but first, I'm not sure that there IS much more to say; I'm going to be reading as a part of a festival which was born out of, I think, a feeling of despair during the Bush administration and which still feels a certain sense of loss at the continuing war. In any case, I'm not sure how political I want to get when it's my turn to read, but tonight's not the night for that. I am far too tired.

I spent the day running about the Metro and D.C. in general with Regan and her sister, who are half accompanying me, and half having their own vacation (they don't do the poetry specific things). We spent a lot of the day at the zoo. It's been forever since I've been to any zoo, so it was fun. We also visited China Town, and Busboys and Poets for me to pick up my registration information. I was totally excited, and the venue itself was awesome. It had a giant wall of books (the old fashioned kind with the rolling ladders), a cafe, a bar, and a stage. The kind of place I'd love to hang out around, if I lived in the area.

When 8 o' clock rolled around, and we went or separate ways. I went to the first official performance of the festival. Long story short, after hearing them read, I bought Cornelius Eady's "You Don't Miss Your Water," and Andrea Gibson's "Pole Dancing to Gospel Hymns." Got them both signed. And spent a lot of money I shouldn't be spending.

Two small notes, however. First, I am glad to have finally met Cornelius, even if it was only for a moment. Many of the Affrilachian Poets are Cave Canem fellows, so they speak highly of him, and often. Second, Andrea Gibson's book is a Write Bloody book, at least the second, or possibly third, book by that publisher which I have read. Just a strange coincidence, although I KNOW I have heard her perform before, though I've never seen her. I think from one of the poetry journals I read online.

Anyway, I have some reading to finish before I go to sleep for a few hours before I get out there and attend some workshops. I foresee some serious tiredness.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

In Washington D.C. - Split this Rock

I will go into this in much more detail tomorrow. But I'm here in Washington D.C. after what amounted to 12 hours on the road. Of course, some of those hours were spent napping at a gas station. But in my defense, I worked from 3 to 11 p.m. and left without so much as a nap after I had gathered my things.

But to tide everyone over, here's the rundown of what's about to go down. The Affrilachian Poets are representing at two different events within Split this Rock; both at a workshop called "Raising Radical Poets," and at a reading. I will only be performing at the reading, but I'm excited about it nevertheless. Especially since I wrote the initial proposal. For the poetry reading, that is.

There's more details at the Split This Rock 2010 page. For now, I gotta get my stuff done so I can sleep. Got some sight seeing to do.