Sunday, January 21, 2018

On Writing

"I don’t like to write, I like to have written." I don’t know where I heard that phrase, but I’ve thought of it ever since. Whether I agree with it entirely is a matter yet undecided. I know this sounds odd, but I think a lot about writing. Not just the words themselves, the language or the thoughts. But the act of pen on paper. The scratchy sound it makes. The flow of the ink and the shape of the characters. Curving line upon line of cursive script or stacking solid block print in rows and regiments. Even when what I’m writing is just a work-related list or some notes for a lesson, the penmanship can’t be too precise.

And the pen can’t be too perfect. Never mind those jewelry store status symbols, the true artist knows a good brush from an art store tourist’s souvenir. Some pens have the fluidity of a fleeting memory - they glide through the long strokes with aplomb and dive up into a crest as if caught by the wind. Some pens have an almost intimidating precision - they demand in their efficiency and consistency that you sit up straight while you write and order your thoughts with active verbs. Some pens have peculiar personality. The fountain nib that goes down and left like a washing ocean wave, but buckles and shakes when asked for anything else. Or the chain hotel monogrammed ballpoint that surprises you with its lust for the open page and boldness in the curves.

I also think about keyboards. The way the fingers can glide and dance over the keys. The clicking and tapping. The almost dangerous clacking of the mechanical keyboard. The barely perceptible ticking of the low-profile laptop. When I go into an electronics store I have to try the keyboards. I try the ones corded to the desktops, and I test the ones attached to the laptops, and I definitely take a turn on the display models hooked-up to nothing but the shelf. I have a sentence that I always type with only slight variations. That phrase is for me to know, but it’s nothing mystical or important. It’s like that quick-fox-brown-dog thing mixed with the spinning top from Inception - I know how a keyboard should feel.

When someone writes or types on TV I perk up and attend. I notice the housewife scrawling the thank you note with near calligraphy. I adore the antique scribe jotting with quill and well. I observe the technician on the generic keys pecking in some random corporate keystrokes. I relish the sights and sounds of the movie hacker cascading code and cryptic command-line sequences. I have favorite scenes from TV and movies simply for their depictions of letter formation and data entry.

So when the phrase states “I don't like to write,” I obviously don’t agree with that part. But I make a winking category error here. That’s not the kind of writing that is meant. I know that. That kind of writing - this kind of writing - is not as pleasurable. It is exhibitionism. One who writes like this with even the slightest chance that another may read takes an enormous risk. I can form a “j” in several ways, but I can only think a thought the way I know it. If you recognize the shape I make is an “a” then we communicate. But even if you see my idea as such, then you may yet reject it. I know how to spell and I know how to scroll the tail of an “o” into the waist of a “k,” but I don’t know the way to crop a thought so that it will bind in the mind of my reader.

I’ve decided then. I like to write, but I don’t like to have written. This explains all of my works merely begun and volumes closely held. Marvel at the curl of my “q,” but don’t think that I will invite you to turn up your nose at my notions.


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