Saturday, January 28, 2012

Mindless Meandering


January has nearly run its course, and winter has yet to produce a notable snowstorm in northeast Ohio. Our good fortune might end today. Then again, it might not. It has been snowing for three hours, but to this point the result has been about an inch. Ten minutes ago, the snow had all but stopped, apparently to allow the weather gods to catch their breath. Now they are back at it, and if they can maintain this pace, there might be a foot or more by the time the sun goes down. Not that the sun has shown its face this morning. Still, these overcast winter days are getting longer. Even on the dreariest afternoons, there is lingering daylight in the west at five-thirty.
   And so I sit here, watching it snow and giving thanks for the computer. Except when the computer frustrates me. Like now, for instance. The computer is telling me that, “And so I sit here, watching it snow and giving thanks for the computer” is a fragment and I should consider revising it. I think the fragment is a figment of its imagination. “I” is the subject, “sit” is the verb, and “watching” and “thanking” are gerunds or participles or something. But, if I put a comma between “so” and “I,” the computer is happy. If that’s the case, the error is a comma fault. And if the computer is going to get all smarty-pants with me, it ought to know the difference. Then again, maybe the computer is right, and I spent too much time in English class having impure thoughts about the girl across the aisle from me.
   But the computer is the gateway to the Internet and oceans of information: some useful, some informative, some entertaining and some disturbing.  I was disturbed a moment ago when I put this aside and went to the Prairie Home Companion website. One of the items there was a letter from Melissa Steinmetz, who is working on her Ph.D. at Kent State and having difficulty writing her dissertation. “In other words,” she concludes, “how do you make peace with the omnipresent potential for mediocrity?” Garrison Keillor then dispenses his advice, which includes this gem: “Writing on a computer is an exercise in mediocrity, if you ask me.” I didn’t ask him and went back to this exercise in mediocrity.
   After composing a few sentences, or perhaps they were fragments, my mind wondered again, this time taking me to a book I recently downloaded, Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain. When I was a teenager, I went to the high school library one day with intention of borrowing that very book. It was after English class and my mind was full of impure thoughts. One of those thoughts was that the title of Twain’s book was Innocence: A Broad. It has taken nearly fifty years to overcome my disappointment.
   In any event, in a portion of his discussion of Italy, Twain imagines what an Italian man just back from a visit to the United State might tell his friends.  “There is really not much use in being rich, there [in America],” Twain has the man say. “ Not much use as far as the other world is concerned, but much, very much use, as concerns this; because there, if a man be rich, he is very greatly honored, and can become a legislator, a governor, a general, a senator, no matter how ignorant an ass he is …”
   Well over a century later, nothing has changed. But in the last hour the snow has stopped. Maybe for good, maybe not.

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