This is well trod ground as topics go. However, I’m not afraid to boldly tread where better men have trod before!
It might be the dullest post you’ve ever kept your eyes open for, but some of you may feel me on this one.
As for the rest of you [INSERT RASPBERRY HERE]
… and I ain’t talkin’ about no damned fruit, neither!
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I used to write. I was in college. I kept a journal with a great pen. It was a hand-made fountain pen, a block of golden oak turned into a wonderfully balanced muse with ink. I found it in a little woodworking shop in the mountains of northern Georgia. I was on the first “big trip” with a girlfriend, hiking the many mountain woods, looking for the waterfalls common in the area. (This girlfriend later became my wife..) It was more than just a wonderful pen, but a collection of fond memories I could hold in my hand. I poured my hopes, fears, anxieties, and joys through the exquisite, rounded tip of that glorious pen.
It’s still my favorite. I say this without hesitation, reservation, or second gestation.
There’s just no way around it. You can’t force “guess” to rhyme with “reservation.” Although, I may have stumbled on to something with “gestation.” I just hope I don’t fall down.
And yet, I gave it up for word processing years ago.
Some people feel paper is more permanent, something they can touch, that is of this world. It’s like a really small, uncomfortable security blanket. Unless you’ve got a lot of pages and some really good adhesive – then it could be a great big, uncomfortable security blanket. Computers and their file systems are a mystery to many, their contents disappearing into the ether. The act of “saving” or “opening” becomes a leap of blind faith. But paper – people feel comfort knowing they can put it someplace where they will always find it: right where they left it.
My dad ushered me into the electronic age early in life, relative to my peers. My father taught me all the important lessons: save often and back up everything. Still, I had my share of lapses and mishaps. I had to re-type a paper on Woodrow Wilson in middle school.
Woody (I get away with it only because we were tight at Princeton) was a pretty good President, but I’m still bitter. It was a maddening chore writing about him twice, and I’m convinced the first version would have been good for an easy A.
Today, batteries back up my computers’ power. A local network drive, in addition to an offsite server, back up the data. The backups are instant and unnoticed.
I know where I can find my writing too – right where I left it – in three different places. (Beat that, you slaves to paper and touch!) Up to this point, I think at least a few folks who write for a living might agree. In fact, I humbly submit my typed words are more secure than someone’s inked wood pulp.
I know what you’re thinking:
He’s not being humble at all! I smell sarcasm!
To prove my humility I’ll admit computers have an Achilles’ heel: the keyboard. For all the advantages of word processing, most keyboards can’t match the feel of a good pen gliding across the page. Keyboards lack soul. Sometimes they’re noisy distractions. Writing with pen and paper can be an art itself, as well as an inspiration. I can lose myself in the rhythm of writing and it’s tactile feedback. Give me a good pen with paper to match, and I could write things I’d never wrestle from most keyboards.
However, like pens, not all keyboards are created the same. Some are so terrible, I can’t do any writing. Many others are so-so. My fingers can feel more like they’re engaged in a chore than a rewarding hobby.
I am not easy to please when it comes to my lettered keys. I am a keyboard snob. I loved the first computer I bought with my own money – a Mac Plus with a mind boggling 40MB external hard-drive. However, keyboards in the 80’s were an abomination. A common trait was an unnecessarily large enclosure. They built them like the U.S. auto industry wanted to build cars.
If only those damn commie bastards hadn’t ruined the battleship era of the automobile with un-American, gas mileage standards, we might never have been subjected to compensating in other product lines.
With an abundance of empty space, keyboards sounded like a funky percussion instrument. The result was a noisy, echoing disaster.
I was in college at the time. It was the age of the fountain pen.
My second and third keyboards each got better than the one before it. The second was still so-so, an Apple model some have gushed over, but I was on the fence. The third came with my first iMac. I created my first web site on that first iMac Apple made. It even served up my site to the world from home for a while. (Until MySQL drove me to drink.) It was the launch pad for my blog, in every meaningful way.
A lot of folks hated that miniaturized keyboard, but it was the first that got my fingers galloping on keys.
An iBook (one of the early “iceBooks”) was my first laptop, ushering in the golden age of writing. I’ve done most of my writing on a portable since.
My PowerBook, MacBook, Aluminum iMac (with its thin, laptop like keys), and Apple Bluetooth keyboard made me almost forget about pen and paper. Now my fingers fly, almost unconsciously. Thoughts become characters on a screen (or page) almost as fast as I can dream them up. Now pen and paper feel like an obstacle. Words come, go, and are lost before my pen touches paper.
Still, I feel like I’m missing something. Typing is a skill, one that can be quite impressive, but I wonder if it will ever quite match the feel of writing.
Somehow I felt more connected to the words when I wrote them down, despite my terrible handwriting.
And yet, my lonely pen sits, it’s cap undisturbed.