Wednesday, May 5

lyle grayson, billings, montana

Transcription, turning a spoken document into a written one, is an extended exercise in frustration. It has its compensations, though. For one thing, you can't buy a better demonstration that speech isn't writing isn't speech.

There was a rancher - and the thing we never knew was how these people ever made their living. They had a nice grove of trees, and in my youth we used to go there at the close of school for family pic- or community picnic. Well anyway, in the early days, back up... There was a big barn. They had a nice house, and this grove of trees. And back of the barn, which is typical of a lot of different areas, this coulee had a spring, way up in the coulee. And of course in a spring area, where it runs down in there's potholes, there's bogs. Well the Feds got in there, and destroyed stills. And of course that booze ran down into that swamp, and the bull got into there. And the bull got drunk. All he could do is sit on his hind end and beller. Well they got a stone boat, and they loaded him up and hauled him back to the barn to get him all sobered up.

I thought about changing the formatting, giving it structure that simple blocks of text don't have. It's still a difficult thing to catch the rhythms of words like these. There's this danger you're going to add something that's not there, give it a false weight or emphasis.

I can't put a year on it -
probably thirty-five, nineteen thirty-six
dry, dry, dry
people would plant their grain
and it would dry out

and I remember the days would be similar
to what we have here this morning, you know
clear blue sky
by afternoon there would be a cloud
that would form in the west
and you'd think
maybe it's gonna rain

it was a dust cloud,
and when that baby hit,
that dust infiltered
everything.

I remember Betty Helgren, a secretary at the high school, always using a transcription machine when I was kicked out of class and cooling my heels in the office. It's an odd detail to have lodged in my mind. One random piece of secretarial labor looks a lot like any other to most bored and angry junior high kids, but it must have held my attention somehow, because when I sat down with a transcription machine for the first time last week, I instantly got that sense of having put one of life's minor background pieces in place. So that's what was going on, you tell yourself when the knowledge takes effect. It's like an infinitely more trivial version of finally reading some great novel after years of almost-caught references, or discovering why it is that every1 love scene ever written trades on some image of electricity or gravity or fire.

1Hyperbole, n.
A figure of speech in which the expression is an evident exaggeration of the meaning intended to be conveyed, or by which things are represented as much greater or less, better or worse, than they really are; a statement exaggerated fancifully, through excitement, or for effect.