Some days I sit at the keyboard, and (despite my truly dismal typing skills) my fingers fly. Words appear on the electronic screen; they jostle and play, multiply and grow; they form a mass, sometimes a monolith, a thing that occasionally pleases or amuses me…at least for that moment of composition.
Some days the right thing to do is to tap out an email, reaching out to a friend or touching base with a colleague, making sure a family member knows I remembered the significance of this date–that, today of all days, I am thinking of him.
There are days when I want to share something with a broad range of friends and family; those days only FaceBook will do. So I post the picture of my granddaughter, face soft with amazement, feeding a spine of romaine lettuce to a loppy-lipped giraffe. And I know some folks who will appreciate my cell phone shots of calmly curious mama deer and her spotted fawn, parked in front of the neighbor’s bronze-colored Chevy Cruze, enjoying a nice hosta nosh of an evening.
And some writing I need to think through carefully, typing on my IPad keyboard–an essay, a story, a poem, a little shard of memoir–a thing that pushes up insistently. It needs to be aired, but it needs, also, to be carefully crafted, kneaded, gentled into a structure before putting it onto my WordPress blog. When I finally hit ‘publish’, I think I am sending out a missile into unknown lands, a missile loaded with questions: Have you felt this way? Do you know what I mean? Can you relate to this?
Sometimes those missiles land in just the right place and my IPhone trills and I see a response: “Exactly! I feel exactly the same way about treadle sewing machines! Here’s a post I wrote about them last month…” And I follow the link and–oh, my–this person started where I started, but went down the path a little further, turned in a whole new direction. I ponder her words. I learn. My tightly bounded universe loosens and expands.
Sometimes, though, I have a need to push the technology away. I ignore the flat insistent donks signaling newly arrived email, vow to check my blog responses LATER. I pick up a pen, pull a sheet of blue-lined notebook paper toward me, and I begin to write.
In the best times, noises fade to background humming, and my hand races. If I am quick enough, if I am focused enough, the persistent Inner Critic subsides, pouting, and words tumble out, unedited, joyful or angst-ridden, thoughtful or raucous,–the words that need to be, that day, loosed and acknowledged.
I think of scenes from old movies I remember, of lumberjacks pushing a saw back and forth through an enormously thick tree trunk. My mind is one lumberjack; my hand is the other. Together they push on, back and forth, back and forth, diligent and cooperative. Together, they try hard to get the job done.
In a grad course called “The Teaching of Thinking” I learned, and in richly written books about the art of personal journaling, experts remind me, that there is a connection between the thinking mind and the scripting hand–a loop not always completed with keyboard strokes. Writing, with hand-held pen on sheets of paper, unlocks the stiffened and reticent places in my mind.
The pen matters. To try to use a cheap pen, or an old one, a pen with ink that sputters and stops, forces me, in all my obsessive perfectionist glory, to go back and round out my ‘a’, to fill in the connector line between my ‘p’ and my ‘l’, to completely finish the saucy, pointing arm of a final ‘w’. This quenches and quells the whole process. I need my ink in a continuous, reliable flow. Here’s a place where it really does pay to buy the brand name–store brand pens, in my experience, often being stop-and-starters.
I started out, early on, leaning toward Bic Stics and Flair pens; I have explored pens, abandoned pens, and adopted, then discarded, pens. Now, I use Pentel RSVP’s; and for truly special, thoughtful writes, I indulge myself with Uniball Vision Needles. Once I tried costly pens, fountain and ball point, the kinds requiring frequent refills from a specialty store. They scared me, those pens; they were haughty and demanding. They wanted every word to be fraught with both meaning and melody, worthy of their illustrious ink. I put them away, only bringing them out for solemn jobs,–the writing of a sympathy note, inking a firm, bold signature on a resignation letter. And I went back, coupons in hand, to the supermarket school supply section. I hunted down a crisp cellophane bag of ten stick pens, a cardboard packet with two Uniballs in their fitted plastic bubble. Those give me ink for months, and it’s ink that never judges.
I buy reams of notebook paper and I set aside a binder, and that becomes my journal. I keep it all in the dining room, behind the lefthand door of the sideboard, close to hand. I write in the morning, in a little bubble of time when pen and brain can shake hands, engage.
I write letters, even to those people who are easily reached via electronic connections. The different medium changes that connection, deepens it. The time lapse between my pen and her eyes seems important.
I take notes.
I make lists.
I draw goofy pictures, and I scribe borders around chunks of foolish, frivolous, free form, cursively-delivered, prose.
Sometimes, in the pen-to-paper odyssey, I excavate what I need to pluck out and address in an electronic medium.
Sometimes I set the writing aside and return to it later, when I discover something–I realize what the name of that pebble is that’s been rolling around the empty shoebox of my mind, rattling and irritating. I name the issue that I must address before that rattling gains complete dominance. Or I feel a hot blush creep from neck to hairline: I am mortified that I indulged myself in thought and emotion so petty, so resentful, unkind, or shallow. I grab the handle, lever open the trap door, jettison the garbage out into free space.
And sometimes, the writing is just a good vigorous sweep–the bony corners of my thinking space have grown cobwebs, gathered dusty piles of debris. The stuff gets in the way of clear thought, of pure feeling. The only housecleaning method that works for me is to handwrite it all away.
It amazes me afresh each week, as I walk through my living room, straightening. I scoop up IPhones to charge them. I relocate laptops to move their long trailing cords from high traffic areas. I return my IPad to its dock, put my Surface back on my desk. I may be a Luddite, but I’m a Luddite with typing technology. I value and appreciate its uses and its ease.
I remember reading, in a book on handwriting analysis, about a woman who lost the use of her right hand. When she mastered writing with her other hand, her left handwriting was identical to the way she used to write, right-handed–all the loops and slants and dots: the very same. If she learned to write with her toes, or with a pen gripped in her teeth, the author said, her own unique script would still emerge, so that those who knew her would say with certainty, “Oh, Annie wrote that.” Whatever appendage holds the pen, the brain is what’s revealed.
What an amazing, mysterious, powerful, connection. Thank heavens, for sure, for my keyboards and my keypads–the time they save, the eyes they reach. But let me never lose the itch to grab my stick pen and scrawl some words, to connect my waking thoughts with those that slumber, waiting to be discovered. The power of that pen, held in hand, accessing mind, sustains, regains, illuminates.