Saturday, February 25, 2006

Technology En Masse

I spent Christmas vacation convincing our College Girl to treasure her individuality and not succumb to the latest all-hands fad. Resist the pod invasion, I said.

About a week ago, Apple lowered prices on the low-end iPods, and, you know, who can resist a good sale?

Traitor, cried the College Girl. Baa, I replied.

Some of the advertising for the iPod says, your life deserves a soundtrack. I thought about this the first time I drove around town plugged in to the little white stick with the music in my head loud enough to drown out everything else.

A soundtrack makes me the star of my own movie. Ok, I like that. Of course, that relegates the rest of the people in town to being merely extras. As long as they stay out of my light and eye line, I won’t worry about them. They’re not carrying any major beats or plot points.

Is it a good thing to be able to put the world on IGNORE? Sometimes, I suppose.

Is it disconcerting to be walking through an airport or across a college campus and see everyone tuned in to their own soundtrack? Yes. Especially now you realize you're just an extra in someone else's movie.

Am I turning into one of those old grumps who proclaim the next generation is going to hell in a hand basket?

Not today.


Monday, February 20, 2006

Monkeys, Infinity, the Net and Obsession or Aren't We All A Little Odd

I think I’m sophisticated because I’m living my life like a good homo sapien.

Originally attributed to mathematician Émile Borel, the Infinite Monkey Theorem states that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter will eventually type every book in France's National Library.

Which had something to do with probability and nothing to do with actual monkeys, works of literature or real writers.

English majors got involved replacing France’s National Library in the equation with the entire works of Shakespeare or perhaps just Hamlet.

In 2003, scientists conducted a test in which they put a computer in a cage with six monkeys and found that all the monkeys would do was type a bunch of “Ss” and poop on the keyboard.

I’ve had days like that.

Sometime later Robert Wilenski said, the Internet proves the Infinite Monkey Theorem is wrong.

If the Net isn’t contributing to a replication of great works of literature, what is it doing?

Glad you asked.

I’m sitting home, snug in my eccentricities, convinced, in all the world and God’s creation, I am the only one.


Years ago, the company that made my favorite pencil quit making them. BLACK VELVET pencils came in numbered qualities like 2 or 2.5. They’re matte black with gold writing. They’re round. They’re smooth. They’re perfect. They are no more.

Since obsession seeks to creep upon us, not spring full-force over night, I had been buying an extra box now and then, so when the supply failed, I had a small stock. I’ve hoarded them ever since.

I’ve also tried to find a new perfect pencil. Cruising the Net to that end, imagine my surprise to discover there exists a community of Desperate Pencil Seekers who, deprived of their favorite pencil, now circle cyberspace and stationers seeking the perfect pencil replacement.

Here, here, here, and here. Who would have thought there was anyone left still using a pencil?

And, they never do, really, find the perfect replacement. Which says something about the human heart.

It didn’t cheer me up any to learn that even my obsessions are average.

That’s what the Net does.

We are not alone.

What a monkey might do equipped with the perfect pencil, is anybody’s guess.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Being A Writer

Here's a quote from The Writer's Almanac:

From novelist and travel writer Pico Iyer, "The less conscious one is of being 'a writer,' the better the writing. And though reading is the best school of writing, school is the worst place for reading. Writing should ... be as spontaneous and urgent as a letter to a lover, or a message to a friend who has just lost a parent ... and writing is, in the end, that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger."

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


Happy dance at my house -- >

Current Project Status
Western Script


Sunday, February 12, 2006

That's Entertainment

Today I saw CAPOTE. Well-made. Beautifully acted. Left me feeling like crap. Movie before this, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. Beautifully made. Exquisitely acted. Ditto.

The last time I had fun at the movies was SERENITY. Last movie I loved, and I love most of them, this article to the contrary, was UNFINISHED LIFE which bombed.

Either I --
  • Am out of touch with the mainstream.
  • Have appalling taste in film.
  • Don't know anything.
All completely possible.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Tá Gaeilga agam

I got the Irish on me, all right.

Actually, that means I speak Gaelic. A more accurate account of my ability might be: Nil moran Gaeilge agam or Tá cupla focail Gaeilge agam.

Either way, I have some Irish.

I began studying Gaelic in my drive to be the most obsessive researcher in the history of writing.

I had an idea for a story set in Ireland and while I was reading old Irish literature for background, I came across a snarky comment by some ancient translator along the lines of -- you can’t believe anything in Gaelic because they’re all a bunch of liars. I thought, to better understand Ireland, maybe I should learn Gaelic.

Which is kind of like thinking, I wonder what’s the name of that star; maybe I should fly to the moon.

I signed up for a night class at the local college and for one semester had conjugated prepositions and simple conversations pounded into my head by a Native Son of the Old Sod. By semester’s end, Tá cupla focail Gaeilge agam.

But when that teacher moved away for a better position at a bigger college, my Gaelic education was reduced to finding phrases and translations on the Net. Which can be interesting, but the phrases were never the ones I thought might come in handy.

Like –

Do you have Guinness on tap?

Then I decided I’d read something originally written in Gaelic, and learn by reading which is how I learned everything else. For this little project I chose, An Béal Bocht by Flann O’Brien. He’s hysterical in both languages and I’m insane. I needed something at the level of See Spot Run and ended up with great Irish satire. Lucky for me and the rest of the non-Gaelic speaking world, all of O’Brien’s work is available in English. (One reviewer commented that An Béal Bocht was written in Gaelic just to be contrary.)

Last weekend, I attended an Irish language immersion weekend with teachers supplied by these folks sponsored by the Montana Gaelic Society. I learned some grammar rules, more phrases (still, alas, not Do you have Guinness on tap) and traveled back in time.

The workshop was held in a Catholic elementary school. As I walked into the Girl’s Room, I felt the strangest sensation. Not déjà vu exactly or fragment of memory but – I was there. I am here. I’m still there. There is still with me.

The good Sisters of my earliest education seemed to brush by me. I could almost hear the swish of habits. The clunk of those thick shoes. Their gentle but dogmatic insistence I learn my prayers. How much of me formed then? What they taught, what I decided, my earliest rebellion rushed back to me in the moment I stood transfixed in the doorway of the fifth grade girl’s bathroom. Time is a funny old concept.

Not all of the Gaelic students last weekend were Catholic, but enough were that there existed the camaraderie of shared experience. We went to different schools together. Each person’s unique story, bound with common experiences, made for an interesting and comforting community.

Which is what language does in the first place.

Or, as anthropologists believe, we didn’t get together until one of us said, “Hey you!”

In the meantime,

Ar mhaith leat beori.

Conas a déarfá Do you have Guinness on tap as Gaeilge?


Foclóir -- Vocabulary

Nil moran Gaeilge agam – I don’t have much Irish.
Tá cupla focail Gaeilge agam – I have a couple of words of Irish.
An Béal Bocht – The Poor Mouth.
Ar mhaith leat beori – I want a beer.
Conas a déarfá -- as Gaeilge? – How do you say - in Irish?
Slainte – health.