A valuable lesson today: Almost any detour you take at this place, even one you didn’t particularly want to take, turns out to be worth the trip. Today, for instance, the screenwriting Fellows were told to attend the Paul Schrader master class on "Writing the Antihero." Turned out the antihero wasn’t really even mentioned, but we did get a pretty good introduction to finding powerful themes for your stories. (Tip: Write down what you’re most afraid of.) But alas, the class ran from 3 to 5 and the Fellows must fall out at 4:30 every Thursday afternoon for seminar, and this is our priority No. 1.

Really. It’s one of a mere three rules you agree to when you come here, but it’s unbreakable for most things short of spontaneous combustion, and certainly for master classes. So.

I have to say, I left the class reluctantly. The seminar was a tour of something called the Media Union, and given a choice, I’d rather have heard Schrader talk about how he conceived "Taxi Driver."

OK, but we went. And it turns out it was worth the trip. In a nutshell, the U of M Media Union is a vast building crammed with state-of-the-art technology, all available to anyone with an M-Card, and, as they told us over and over and over, "It’s all yours! And it’s all free!"

You can, among a thousand other things, use the state-of-the-art audio studio; record your own CD; compose electronic music; mount a performance and record the whole thing; edit the performance tapes; capture video in all formats and transfer it to any other format); scan photos, negatives or slides; print a poster; play around with 3D imaging, design and software; mess around in the virtual reality cave, even print out your 3D creations — in 3D.

Yes, a 3D printer. I saw the thing work. You model your action figure, ball bearing, high-tech sneaker insole or architectural design, hit "print" and the machine spits out a model of it, in gypsum. If I hadn’t seen it myself I wouldn’t have believed it. The lab was working on a for-profit job, "printing" — it still seems weird to think of this as printing — 200 identical miniature railings for an architectural model, for a client in Las Vegas. In case you’re wondering how long it takes: 45 minutes per vertical inch. Amazing.

So, Bob, I guess I won’t need you to scan those slides for me. I’ll take them over to the Media Union. Oh, and one more thing? It’s open 24 hours.

I’m going to take training there in Final Cut Pro. What the hell, it’s for me! And it’s free!

This tour was the next to last of our get-to-know-the-university sessions, and the lesson is pretty clear by now: If there’s something you want to do, you can do it here. You have world enough, and time. At least some time, anyway. Enough to get a good start. Enough to get some new ideas. Which I’m starting to get.

The bad news: As we finished up, I started to get the telltale tickle in the back of my throat that says: You’re next, Mom. We were already having a schedule conflict over Alan’s Thursday-night class, my "Taxi Driver" screening and our sitter’s pledge to be home by 9. So I took the fall and made a date to watch "Taxi Driver" at home, on DVD. (Schrader’s doing another class tomorrow, so if I have any questions, I guess I can ask him then.) I picked it up last weekend, when Border’s had a tent sale in a parking lot nearby. They were selling previously played CDs, DVDs and books for practically nothing, and I got the collector’s edition. For six bucks.

I tell you: Even the shopping’s better here.

Bloggage: Carolyn wants me to link to the Edna Buchanan profile on the New Yorker site, a Calvin Trillin classic she still has in her files, in hard copy. I think they put that up because Trillin has another reporter profile in the current issue, on R.W. Apple Jr., aka Johnny Apple, who was at our food conference last week. There was much … discussion about some of the things he said. In the interest of diplomacy I won’t repeat them, but only note: Trillin seemed to a good job capturing the whole man. And that ain’t easy, it seems.

Have a swell weekend. See you Monday.

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