Monday 14 October 2013

Thought Picnic: For the stories yet untold

Little time for the story
Some 21 years ago, my partner took me to see a friend of his who had recently returned from France having been given a compassionate pardon to go home for his last days.
He was racing against time as AIDS was ravaging his body, the pills brought horrific side effects and there were good days, but too many bad days.
He had a story to tell and all the drafts on papers strewn across the room had facts, detail, tales and much else, but he did not know whether that story would ever be told.
Tortured days
My job was to look at his computer and help setup Microsoft Word for Windows 1.1 to accept text and formatting – for all my computer precociousness and curiousness, this word processor was atrocious and unbelievably un-user-friendly, it was created to torment the tormented.
I earned my stripes on WordStar 3.0, 4.0, 5.0 & 5.5 and WordPerfect 5.0 & 5.1 doing styles, tagging, formatting and porting to desktop publishing software as Xerox Ventura Publisher, I knew what you could get word-processing software to do; the right one I mean. None of these applications made a good crossover to Microsoft Windows; in fact, they recoded Word for Windows from scratch for version 2.0.
The plan was to visit him again, sadly, I never did, his condition got worse and eventually that story never was told.
To story and the tool
Two news stories excite the memory of this man, on an island nation called Iceland where I would so love to visit, we learn that 1 in 10 people publish a book; they are an island of storytellers, following a tradition of old called Icelandic sagas.
Elsewhere, I read a Jeremiad advocating why Microsoft Word must die. We cannot rewrite history, the once unusable Microsoft Word that flirted with ignominy in the Microsoft Word 2007 incarnation is kind of the word-processing landscape, in fact, and it does tricks one never thought word-processing software would ever attempt decades ago.
Its death would only come with the death of the host, the desktop, the laptop or any other trendy device that can accommodate its bloated code.
Finished before departure
Then again, I remember James Andersen, a very good friend who finished his own book, The Complete Dictionary of Opera & Operetta in 1993, we all gathered in 1994 for what was his last birthday, one of the authoritative opera buffs of a generation, snatched away by AIDS.
Many friends with stories of life and others of the work they do have come and gone, many completing their work but few surviving long after they had blazed that trail.
Dick van Galen Last before he died in 2010 was the authority on the conscription of African soldiers by the French in World War I (In Dutch), he was gone within two weeks of his defending his PhD, his voice trailing off as he stood the rigour of discourse and questions before he succumbed to lymphoma.
If we must, we should
This all reads like a dirge, but we have here, the desire, the project, the completion and the demise. For the desire to tell stories abounds, the project is rarely clearly defined if we are running against time on variables almost beyond our control like failing health, the completion leaves a mark and then rest is whatever life one has left to live.
I cherish the memories off all these people, the story, the tool and the product they strove with daily to meet schedules and deadlines. For those who never got to finish what they started, it is not a lost tale, and though I am saddened others never lived to enjoy the fruits of their amazing labours of scholarship and excellence, they will not be forgotten.

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