My life: 1995-1998

Pictures to accompany this topic

I began this period of my life, which we’ll call the “journal period,” after several years working as a technical writer and in a relationship somewhat longer. Although my writing career had superseded the abortive translation career, I was still relatively active in the world of translators, as I continued to serve on the board of the Northwest Translators and Interpreters Society (NOTIS), and helped folks in those fledgling days of computers. I remember running a BBS (back before the days of the Internet), which I had started much earlier but had by then converted to mostly supporting translators. I think mostly it was used to provide practice for these people—relatively new to computers—to deal with online communications. Working with modems was much, much more difficult than anything similar today, and I like to think that those often ad hoc sessions helped a translator or two.

That activity probably prompted Courtney Searls-Ridge to ask me to create and teach a technology portion of the certificate program she was developing for training translators. Eventually, this became part of Bellevue College, but I know we didn’t start there—physically. It was fun to create the curriculum for that class, and I was close enough to the world of translation to match the not-yet-sophisticated world of personal computer technology to translation. Eventually, that technology would develop far past anything of which I had experience (no longer working in the translation field), but for the three years I taught the course (through 1997), I stayed enough ahead of the technological progress to offer at least some help to would-be translators.

One teaching incident deserves recording. In those old days, a computer operator needed to know more about how computers work than one needs to know these days. Mostly, this was because computers didn’t always work, and you needed to figure out how to remedy the situation. This was especially true with communications equipment. I wanted the students to understand a bit stream, such as what enabled modem communications.

In the late 1950s, I lived in Mountain View, California—part of what we now call “Silicon Valley.” In 7th grade, some researchers from nearby Stanford came to our school, and illustrated different number systems in an interesting way. For example, with what we now called “binary arithmetic,” there are only two values: 1 and 0. All numbers must be created from combinations of these two values. A bit stream is a chain of these values, which can only have meaning when the stream is understood as chunks of a specific length. I used the now old concept of ‘byte’, which was understood in the 1990s as comprising 8 consecutive bits. The Stanford folks had us stand in a group of 8 and then showed how that group could represent numbers from 0 to 255 by raising our hands (each person having a value of 0 or 1). Evidently, this activity made a big impression on me, and I brought this dynamic illustration to the Translation Technology class. Eventually, they got it, and seemed as excited about the discovery as I had been some 40 years before.

After that class, I began a relationship with one of the students, and she joined me in teaching the next two years. We changed the class material each year, to reflect the ongoing changes in technology, and that lesson on bit technology was no longer necessary, computers having advanced enough to perform communication without assistance from operators. Bit streams are still every bit as important as always, but only computer scientists need to understand them.

Melissa was a great traveler, and in that year of 1995 convinced me to go to France with her. The notion of keeping a journal had not yet entered my mind, but a description of some aspects of the trip in a subsequent email must have created enough interest that “journaling” occurred to me as an interesting activity. That email is now lost but aspects of the trip were memory-producing enough to retain record of some events.

Melissa had gone ahead, and therefore met me in Paris as I landed. Long familiar with France, where she had lived at some point in her young life, she had booked a small room in a centrally located hotel. Although the reason for the trip was to see the estate purchased by her good friend Marie-Pierre after her retirement from Microsoft, aspects of that transaction had developed snags, and we were to wait in Paris until the deal had been done. No problem, as Melissa knows Paris well, and took me around via Metro. I saw many of the traditional sights, and frequented more than a couple cafes. Yes, the French know how to live in a city. A couple memories deserve recording.

It has been long noted, at least by men with whom I’ve worked, that women in cities are different. From our point of view, they are more beautiful than women outside cities. Absurd, of course, but the observation (made several times since) would seem to have something to do with putting a lot of people together in one relatively small spot. Perhaps feelings of competition surface and many of these lovely creatures do their best to show their best selves. Whatever.

Melissa loves the color green, and one day passing an accessories shop near our hotel, she saw some green leather object, and wanted to explore the store. The clerk who served us was named Sophie (more recently, my favorite French name), and she was everything one (a man, anyway) imagines when thinking of what French women are like. I never got personally involved with Sophie but loved watching her and, especially, how she fit into her (momentarily, our) situation. She spoke to Melissa in French (a requirement), and to me in English (also a requirement). She quickly learned Melissa’s buttons (an appreciated effort), as well—I’m sure—as mine. I was just looking but she knew that and played her part well. Both of us were delighted with the little shop near the hotel, and we entered any time we passed while it was open. I noticed that two middle-aged women who did not look at all like Sophie also worked at the store, but Sophie had clearly staked her territory, and everyone being French understood what was involved.

Another event was a one-time thing. Melissa had a Leica purchased in the United States. It had developed some problem, and she wanted to have the camera sent to Germany for servicing. We entered a Paris camera shop, and the adventure began. Picture any contrary Frenchman you’ve seen in the movies, and that is what Melissa encountered in her request for service. I went outside after a few minutes, but the scene continued inside for many minutes. Roger Ebert once wrote that—in summary—French folks prefer talking over, say, taking action, and the conversation (in French) between Melissa and this store owner could have been the French equivalent of My Dinner with Andre (a famous movie comprising two guys talking over dinner, and that’s all). As I recall, some arrangement was reached, and her camera went off to Germany, but it didn’t happen in ten minutes, that’s for sure.

We skipped the Louvre (Melissa assured me that with the three days we’d scheduled for Paris there was no time for that place) but did visit Musée d'Orsay, where I discovered a guy named Van Gogh. Oh, and Camille Pissarro, too.

Eventually, it was time to visit Marie-Pierre in her Brittany location. But the deal soon fell through again, and it was decided that we would spend a night or two at the home of Marie-Pierre’s family. Her dad had died years before, but mom and MP’s brother and niece and baby-momma all lived there, too. Only I spoke no French and only MP spoke English, but I enjoyed watching everyone interacting and of course we toured the area with our native guide. A sweater I wore just yesterday was purchased in a Brittany castle—in July, as I attempted to keep from freezing to death.

After a night or two, the deal finally closed. I had only one more night in France so MP got permission from the now former estate owner for the three of us to stay that night in the estate building (plenty large enough to accommodate any number more than that group). We even had a party, sort of. MP bought some champagne, stopped with corks, and asked me to open the bottles. When the kitchen corkscrew broke upon that attempt, I pulled out my handy Swiss Army knife and did the honors for the evening. Once again, my lack of French kept me from the activities in front of me but I loved playing waiter and observing.

Now former owner was a guy about my age (well, probably older then) who had a family nearby (we met a son the next day) but who had abandoned all that to hang out with a hot babe artist (he ran a gallery in Paris). Said babe had by now produced a baby, and her ambitions required more cash than gallery owner could come up with; therefore, the estate sale. I learned that she left him for a younger guy about a year later. Ah, the French. Just like the rest of us.

One discovery while in Brittany (besides the fact that Brittany is, evidently, not Paris) was what I think was called ‘gateau’. I described my discovery in that lost trip report as “butter with just enough flour and sugar to keep it standing up.” Pure heaven. A couple years later, Melissa would send me one by express mail.

The rest of 1995 was spent on such activities as partner dancing. This had been an understanding from the beginning of our relationship, as Melissa had taken up dancing a couple years before and did not want that to end. I was game, and very much enjoyed the approximately three years over which time I was a student at Seattle’s Living Traditions.

1996

The first journal to survive is the Christmas letter of 1996, looking back on that year. Not exactly a journal, it at least records some of our activities.

1997

I can’t recall when I agreed to accompany Melissa on her relocation to the east coast, but it was probably early in the year. We sponsored a Jammix session led by Richard Powers, and then began work on readying the Seattle house for sale. I left my job at the end of June, and the rest of the time until we left town was spent working on the house or dealing with its sale.

We left Seattle in November, and that’s probably when the occasional emails about our travels evolved into an actual journal.

1998

We used email to broadcast occasional reports on things we’d seen while in the east coast.

1999

By this time, our time together had come to an end. The matter of journals would soon transform into a blog, which I’ve kept since 2003.