Nostalgia: Y2K

It’s been ten years since we all laid in supplies of water, batteries and canned ravioli. Ten years since we all prepared to descend into medieval chaos, a world lit only by fire. Or at least a world lit only by battery-operated lanterns.

Remember Y2K?

I recall one of my students telling me before winter break that we wouldn’t be back to school in January, because everything was going to stop working.

I picked up my Latin book, opened it, closed it, and said, “See? Still works. Don’t worry, we’ll still be reading about the Gallic Wars in 2000.”

It was disappointing, really, a huge let-down to watch the ball descend in Times Square, thinking that darkness would fall on the world, and instead hearing Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians playing Auld Lang Syne.

When I think about how this event could have changed humanity, I am nostalgic. But I am a medieval person. I like bathing in cold water and eating ravioli out of the can.

Has everyone forgotten how we avoided a cosmic meltdown, and nobody could explain why?

Shrugging Off Failure

I confess: I’m not a resolution maker.

I used to be, but I’ve given in to my pessimistic, fatalistic nature — the birthright of all Norwegians. I don’t set goals, or chart my progress. It doesn’t help me to look at the long run, or the big picture.

Let me be clear: I am not saying, “I’m going to fail anyway, so why pretend I’m going to do this?”

The Norwegian pessimist says (to quote Garrison Keillor), ”Don’t think you’re special, because you’re not.“ In other words, ”Do it, and stop whining about how hard it is. Don’t make a big deal out of it.“

Norwegians

My entire family is Scandinavian. Most of my grandparents were born here, but you wouldn’t know it to hear them talk. I don’t pretend to know what people in Norway think about New Year’s Resolutions, but my Minnesota relatives didn’t believe in making a fuss about things.

They didn’t make resolutions. They just decided to do what needed to be done, and tried to do it as well as they could. Why do we need a special day to remind us of what we ought to be doing?

Self-esteem? It wouldn’t occur to them to worry about this. Self-esteem is a 20th century American invention.

There is a Norse folk-belief that you should tell a joke as you face death, because it shows Death that you are not afraid. That sounds like a Viking attitude, but I think it has more to do with living in a land that is dark half the year, and never gives in abundance. We take what we get, and don’t complain.

If we face Death with a joke, perhaps Failure ought to be met with a shrug. Get over it. Try again. The people who merit scorn aren’t the ones who try and fail, but the ones who can’t stop talking about it.

What matters is not a list of ”This year I will…“ resolutions. What matters is how we face up to the fate we’re handed. We can’t control what happens; we can only control what we do. So we just do it.

Tonight I will think about what I ought to be doing. Tomorrow I will wake up and start doing it.

Ugly on the Internet

blank avatarI don’t see a lot of ugly people on the internet. I see cute avatars and funny cartoons and beautiful images. Human beings are wired to judge what they see; it’s a survival mechanism. We make assumptions about people we meet, even without meaning to or realizing it. It’s discriminatory, but discrimination is built into us for a reason. How do we decide whom to trust, if we can’t use appearance as a factor? We shouldn’t give the benefit of the doubt to people who take care of our children or come into our homes. That would be naive.

How do we judge appearances on the internet, when its very nature disarms our visual defenses?There are no faces on here, just avatars and user pix. We talk to one another, but you have no way to judge whether I’m joking, lying, being sarcastic, or just stupid. Emoticons and text-message shorthand (smileys and lol’s) may help your intent come across when you’re texting with a person you know in real life, but a stranger’s smileys are no more trustworthy than their profile.

Is everyone equal on the internet? If we aren’t fat or thin, ugly or beautiful, if we don’t have scars or handicaps or irritating voices, are we all the same? More

Ghosts

Cally liked being the first one downstairs on Christmas morning. If she tiptoed down the stairs quietly enough, she might catch a glimpse of Santa. But no matter how early she got up, she never did. There were crumbs on the cookie plate, and the milk was gone, and once he even left behind a sleigh bell. She found it when she went outside to look for reindeer tracks in the snow. There never were any hoofprints. Her father wouldn’t let her up on the roof to check for boot prints, so she had to take his word that they were there. But that was scant evidence. Still, she wrote Santa a letter each year and burned it in the fireplace. “That’s how Santa gets mail,” her father explained.

One Christmas Santa brought Cally and her sister hats. They were berets, presumably crocheted by Santa’s elves; Cally got a red one and Nancy got a green one.

As soon as she saw her hat, Nancy started whining that she didn’t like green. “It looks like a girl scout beanie,” she said.

Then something happened that changed everything. More

Sitting in Church

He had gotten over the feeling that someone was always watching him. He told lies without blinking, but sometimes hated the awful things he wished.

I have sinned against you in thought

Prayer always felt more like a group exercise than communication with the ineffable divine. The minister hawked the book, blessed everyone’s messes. Tell God what’s on your mind.

He wondered, does God really make decisions based on what we say to him?

As far as he could tell, God had always ignored him, or perhaps listened to him the way his wife did, nodding but thinking of something else.

Time Is Slowing Down

A few months after we got our first microwave, I realized that something had happened to me. The microwave was counting down three minutes, the time it took to boil a cup of water for tea. As I watched the digital display measure the seconds, I was impatiently casting about for something to occupy me, but there was nothing to do. The paper hadn’t arrived yet, the dishes were all done, and it was too early to call anyone.

When did seconds become so slow? When I was a child, my father taught me to count seconds: one-one thousand, two-one thousand… Back then, we had to slow seconds down. We boiled water on a stove, in a kettle that whistled when the water came to a boil. That whistle always seemed to interrupt me just when I was getting absorbed in something. Time zipped by.

Microwave ovens have slowed down time.

I am not making this up. Scientists have observed the same thing, though they have not yet made the connection to appliances. They postulate (a word that roughly means ‘guess’ if you’re a scientist) that it has to do with string theory, accelerating expansion, and something called dark energy. (Dark energy is also why small children keep getting out of bed at night. Parents have no dark energy; children have a lot.) More

Super Cards

Downloading trial versions of programs and playing with them is a little hobby of mine. Every time I hear about a new one, I have to check it out. In this way I’ve found many useful writing programs: Scrivener, VoodooPad, Macjournal. I’ve also wasted a lot of time when I could have been writing.

I need a program that will taunt me into writing. It would look like the Paperclip Guy in Microsoft Word 97. When I pull out Chapter 1 for the eleventh time, the Paperclip Guy would say, “It looks like you’re trying to revise this again. Would you like me to kick your ass into Chapter 2?” When my characters decide to go on a quest to find the magic-thingy so they can stop the evil wizard from destroying the world, it would say, “It looks like you’ve run out of original ideas. Would you like some advice? a) Give up writing; b) you’re a loser.”

A while ago I wrote about Scrivener, one of the very best writing programs out there. Unfortunately non-mac users can’t take advantage of it. A good enough reason to convert to mac, as I see it, but I will keep my religious views to myself.

Recently I found another program, less well-known than Scrivener, but doing many of the same things — and it has a Windows version. It’s called SuperNotecards, by Mindola (www.mindola.com). At $29 it’s a bit cheaper than Scrivener, and provides some different tools.

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