June 9, 2010


Tuesday, my computer guru dropped by to exchange my ergonomic keyboard for an old fashioned one. He’d decided my fancy device was causing me problems. In his mind, the best fix was to take me a step backward, electronically.

I admit I have difficulty with all creatures mechanical or electronic. For one thing, I’m intimidated by the language one must know to use them. I bought a manual for Window 7, for example. It was supposed to be simpler than Dummies because it had lots of pictures. Graphics notwithstanding, I found it confusing.

I console myself with the thought that if I really had time to sit down with the instructions, I could figure them out. But I don’t have time, so usually I peck at my machine and wait for something to happen; most often when it does, it’s bad. Yesterday, I spent a considerable period on my hands and knees — not praying to my machine which I probably should try — but plugging and unplugging the computer from the wall, which I’m told can solve problems. It did.

I wish someone would explain the magic of plugging and unplugging electronic equipment. When my TV converter went crazy, I had to unplug that, too, to get my picture back.

I know I’m not alone in these experiences because in  restaurants, I’ve been known to eavesdropped on other people’s conversations, usually women’s, and have heard the same complaint. That doesn’t mean the average man understands these mysteries any more than the average woman. It means that men are less inclined to admit their confusion.

Still when I think of the days before computers, I cringe. In olden times, if I wanted a piece of information, I’d head for the library or call a reference librarian. To avoid these interruptions, I stuck to subjects that didn’t require research. The strategy was limiting, naturally.  

Happily, search engines have freed me. Today, I write on subjects I know nothing about and do so with complete confidence. When I was writing Heart Land, for example, I needed to know if corn could be harvested in the Midwest as late as November. My first question was where to find the answer. I could go to the library, call a reference librarian or use my search engine. I was anxious but decided to try the search engine. If the wizard inside deemed my question stupid and spit out a rude message or if it caused my computer to go blank, I knew what to do. I’d unplug the machine to show it who was boss.

The search wizard accepted my question but found no match, as I feared — not for Ohio; but what did arise from the electronic soup was a memoir by an Iowa farmer. In it, he recalled his boyhood, working with his family in the frosty days of November to bring in the last crop of corn.  Eureka! I let out a whoop and saved the article to my computer.

I am certain that someday, somewhere, when I’m on a book tour, some skeptic will challenge me on the probability of harvesting corn in November. That’s when I’ll e-mail him the memoir. I may never have been a farm girl in Iowa or Ohio, but a person had better not mess with Google.