A Vestigial Archaic Spandrel


I write on my iPad. I use a Logitech keyboard that has a pretty good touch and is close enough to standard in size so that I don’t feel like I’m doing this (hunches shoulders, shoves hands together and wiggles fingers uselessly in a small space).

But copy and paste? It unnerves me.

I ask you: when you copy text on your tablet by selecting the text with your finger on the touch screen, doesn’t it feel like the pasted text is in the end of your finger?

I use the word “feel” deliberately. Because it DOES feel like that chunk o’ text is held oh so delicately in the pad of my fingertip and that I better be careful what I touch next. If I touch the top of my desk, I’ll loose the text, right? If I pick up my coffee cup before I paste the text, then my words will vanish into the ether, right?

So I know that this is not the case. Logic dictates otherwise.

But what do you call this curious notion? Is it magical thinking? Phantom pain? Hence the title of this blog post: my text-storing finger obsession seems sort-of-not-quite explained by one of these words:

Your appendix is vestigial. So are those horse-head hitching posts with a ring through the mouth that people used to put in the front yard long after the age of hitching horses was past. So are the laces in slip-on tennis shoes.

Archaic is like that time I plighted my troth to thee, my chick.

Spandrel is the thing you get by accident when you’re building something else. In architecture, it’s the triangular bit between two arches. If you have a series of arches, like in a Romanesque structure, then you have a series of spandrels. They’re a nice spot to add a bit of heraldic stuff or something.

I think spandrel is closest – an unintended result of the technology, the result being my sense of unease in that moment between the copy and the paste, where disaster lurks.

(The name of my next band: Disaster Spandrel.)

But it’s also phantom pain because I want to touch my finger to the screen of the desktop and have that text paste to my open Word document.

Such a technology would render much archaic indeed. The computer mouse would be an archaic affectation (oooo!) in the future for those who wanted to be retro.
And all of us finger-pad text-holders will be seen as visionaries.

(Image is from Dover clip art. It looks like a toaster oven/slot machine/dispenser.)

Six ways to write a story


When we see the word “story”, we think fiction. That’s good. Studies show that reading novels will increase our empathy for others. So stories and fiction are not a waste of time. Anyone tells you different? Ignore them. You’re welcome.

One way to write non-fiction is to write it as fiction. This isn’t news to writers, but many people lately are using the phrase “story-telling” like Papa’s got a brand-new bag. Papa does not have a brand-new bag. It’s the same bag and a darn good one.

Does this mean we all have to start our personality profile or white paper or case study with “It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly, a shot rang out. A maid screamed and a door slammed”? If it gets you through your first draft, then by all means yes! In the meantime, here are some other ideas.

One: Your protagonist is being chased by bears. Get him up a tree to relative safety, and then throw rocks at him once he’s up there. Get him back down the tree and back home without being eaten by bears.

Two: Use a story generator. This one is based on the work of Soviet folklorist Vladimir Propp. Propp identified 31 narratives units of Russian folktales. You can check a familiar story on the right-hand side of the linked page, such as Hansel & Gretel, click “generate” below the box in the middle of the page and behold! a Hansel & Gretel unlike any other (Wayback Machine, I love you).

Three: Draw a line that goes like this:


Now put some words on the line that correspond to the line’s direction as read left to right.

Four: Describe a problem. Describe the solution. Or a solution. Or some that don’t work and then one that does.

Five: Here’s a silly plot generator for when you are having trouble writing anything.

Six: Write about a person who does something and experiences a change. Do not write about a person thinking. A person thinking is not a story unless it’s a very creepy person like the character Cecy in Ray Bradbury’s short story The Homecoming.

You don’t want Cecy. Trust me. Write a different story.


Get out your handkerchief!



This morning, it happened again. I interviewed someone with a great story and started to choke up. It starts with a prickling in my eyes and then it threatens to turn into tears. If I’m face-to -face with the person, I’m going to have to blow my nose. Sorry.

I’ve had the privilege of talking to some people for whom modern medicine has made a real difference. Today, it was a man whose cancer was arrested early, while he was in his 30s. He went from assuming the news meant death to a life that opened back out into limitless possibilities for his family, his career, and for those he is now able to help.

Another time, I talked to a woman whose Parkinson’s was made immensely more tolerable with a brain implantation. The surgeons mapped out her brain and then, on a future visit, put the technology in place. Not only does she not shake, but she looks up and looks people in the eye, walks with confidence and has her life back.

The two that moved me the most, however, when my eyes filled up and I had to wipe them fast so that tears didn’t spill (Dammit, Jim! I’m the interviewer, not the interviewee!) were the interviews I had with two adult men who had their hearing restored after childhood, their adolescent years and even parenthood. They both had soft and gentle voices and were the kindest, most humble gentlemen. They suffered from isolation their whole lives – not around the circle near the fire, as one man described it, but just outside the circle. The other had been an excellent student but as his hearing deteriorated, his choice of jobs whittled down to nothing and his future narrowed.

But now the world was opening for them. They had agency and self-determination and could hear birds and the voices of grandchildren and laughter and …

No, I’m fine, really. Just got something in my eye.