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why bother…

In the spider-web of facts, many a truth is strangled. ~Paul Eldridge

I’m standing in the reservations line of the campus library.
Behind me are two undergrads involved in a cracking-conversation.

The first one, who is wearing leggings-as-pants, is asking the second one (who is also wearing leggings-as-pants) how she is doing at Uni. The second Ms-leggings-as-pants laughs and says to the first Ms-leggings-as-pants:

Well… I’m just scraping the bottom of the barrel (oh, I think to myself, with metaphors like that I’m not surprised dearie…) but I don’t care, she continues, as long as I just pass.

The first Ms-leggings-as-pants thinks this is hysterical and laughs loudly. One of the librarians shushes her, as only a librarian can do, and I think the other one may have suppressed a snort, but I’m not sure because I get beckoned to the counter and become engrossed in flashing my ID card at a nice young lad, who toddles off to fetch my book.

The book is Sol Stein’s: Stein on writing, and as the librarian places it in my hand I catch a whiff of library air… or rather, odour.

It’s a heady mix of old paper and unwashed socks… with a bottom note of, something… hmmm what is that aroma… ? I sniff deeply… oh… yeah… it’s weed.

Paper and things-unwashed and pot… it’s a smell most particular to University Libraries. And as I maneuver my way into the slipstream of students heading to classes, I take a deep breath of fresh air and I examine the book I’ve just received.

I feel the weight of it in my hands. It’s impressively library-like.
The old, black hard-back cover is greying on the corners. There’s no title on the front, the look-at-me dust-jacket has been discarded long ago. I rest the spine in my hand and allow it to fall open to a random page.

“…Let’s be sure we understand each other… A flashback must illuminate the present story in an important way. Otherwise, why bother?…”

Cue: wavy, shimmery flashback effect from any 70’s tv show…

My little Miss has a homework assignment.

She yells from her room, Muuuuummmm I need a dictionary.
I yell back… it’s in your brother’s roooooooom.
She replies: Can yooouuuuuuu get it?
I say… Noooooooo get it yourself (and, to be fair, I may or may not have tacked on the words ‘lazeeeee-butt-cheeks’ to the end of that sentence… I’ll leave it up to you to decide.)

A minute later I hear a very muffled:
Muuuuuuuuummmmm I can’t find it.

I’m not surprised.

More often than not I’m positive yellow-crime-scene-tape over big brother’s door would not at all look out of place.

I venture in, step over a nike runner, the guts of a hard drive that he has pulled apart *juscos I wanna see what’s inside* and a box that contains semi-precious stones (otherwise known as rocks from the garden) and I have a poke around his book shelves.
But, I concur- I cannot see the dictionary with its clunky green spine anywhere.

I look at the little Miss and she looks at me.
Then she shrugs and says… don’t worry mum I’ll use the online one.

Fabbo! Problem Solved! I think as I head back to the blank monitor I’ve been staring at for the past hour.

I’m trying to write.
Trying being the operative word.

I’ve convinced myself that if I sit looking at the whiter-than-white-whiteness of the monitor for just a few more minutes the words will come… any second now… I say to myself… soon… maybe…
wait-a-tic >insertsoundofscreechingbrakeshere< “the online one”? What?

I go to Miss 9’s bedroom and there she is expertly clacking away on her laptop “looking up” words via an internet dictionary. She looks like she knows exactly what she is doing.

I say to myself, most convincingly, this proves that the internetz is quite the convenient answer to many daily problemz.

But really what I’m thinking is hang on… is convenience really the priority here?

Cue: wavy, shimmery flash-forward to current day effect from any 70’s tv show…

As I open the door to the Uni lecture room I’m debating with myself the value of online dictionaries and the love-hate relationship I have with the *check spelling* and auto-correct feature of word processors.

They are so freakin’ handy, but I’m alarmed at the rising trend of poor spelling. I’m quite convinced text-slang and spell-checkers are assisting this sad turn of events. However, I remind myself philosophically, language changes over time, ‘tis verily the nature of thine world and the natural process of social evolution… and as I’m pondering the thought of whether there is merit in deleting the question mark from the pages of punctuation books forever, I realise that my fellow post-grads are having a lively discussion of their own.

It’s that old chestnut: online learning vs. on campus learning.

One student, a shiny-sweet undergrad who has gone straight into her Master’s degree, has just denounced professor whatshisface for having a strict no-interaction policy with his online students.
As I write professor whatshisface’s name on my notepad I say loudly… this is just to remind me not to select his subject! The group laughs then the girl looks at me earnestly, helpfully and says… aha… but if you want an easy subject his assignments are basic…
I stop, a little too quickly, and say,
But I’m not here for easy.

There is a thickness in the air.

Then I laugh.
The tension is broken. The group chuckles. I hope she was joking they think collectively.

But, truth is, I wasn’t.

As I walk to my car after class, I have one of those doh-moments-of-clarity.

Online dictionaries do not require you to know that-
el comes before emenoh-pee.

I beep my car open, toss Sol Stein onto the seat and fossick around in my bag for my iphone.
I finger-flick past the page that has my dictionary and thesaurus apps searching for the voice recorder.

I press record.
And I say:

Mental note:
tomorrow go and buy the little Miss her very own dictionary.

Stein, S 1995, Stein On Writing A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques and Strategies, St Martin’s Press, New York, p 144.

7 Responses to “why bother…”

  1. izonu says:

    Yes the good old dictionary also brings me back.
    Remember hard copy encyclopaedias sold door to door each couple of years to keep them up to date? The internet has made all this obsolete- with ease and accessibility. I do wonder what would happen if we as a society lost this commodity… as in “The book of Eli”. How would the new generation cope?
    Going to school and actually learning something… well that is just good old fashioned appreciation. You don’t get it until you have worked a few years and truly appreciate knowledge is power in the real world.
    I’ve missed your blogs keep them coming.

  2. Carla says:

    From what I’ve experienced at this return to Uni… undergrads should really do everything within their power to go and “experience the world” before tackling their Master’s Degree.
    They are a bright, articulate bunch… but they’d bring so much more to the party if they did. For themselves as well as to the “communal learning field” that Post Grad Uni should be.

    Of course I do recognise that this is an overt generalisation. But quite simply it’s my, albeit subjective, observation so far.

  3. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Carla Delvex. Carla Delvex said: 10% Fiction http://bit.ly/9Dc1U7 tis bout online dictionaries n'the smell of uni libraries n'the true value of easy [...]

  4. Quadelle says:

    Second time around at uni is definitely different – I was proud to be part of the front-row-mature-age-student crowd instead of the back-row-note-passers. I read books on the topic for fun instead of under duress.

    Great to have you back. Looking forward to more. :)

  5. John1623 says:

    Very nice site!

  6. izonu says:

    When do we get more? Stop being a tease

  7. Laureen says:

    I remember hard copy encyclopaedia. Yeah that makes me old.
    I was in tears when last year on a visit to our local tip their was a full set thrown away and lying in a puddle of water – how could any one do that to any book? They were ruined other wise I would have taken them home.
    I love the internet and have done for more years then I care to say. I could say I was there at the start, but nothing can take way the feeling of a book in your hand .
    I am happy you got your daughter a dictionary

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