My part of the world near the southeastern US coast finally got its first real taste of winter last week with an Arctic blast and nasty ice storm. I know, I know! We’ve been luckier than other parts of the world enduring record-breaking wintry weather. Part of me was rooting for a stay-at-home kind of snow day; the other part dreading a possible loss of electricity that so often accompanies ice storms in the south.
Adding to my distress: I just finished reading Emily St. John Mandel’s luminous 2014 National Book Award Finalist novel, Station Eleven, which takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where electricity and modern conveniences are wiped out. I was already imagining how hard it would be to live like her characters, without electronics and climate-controlling devices, when this real-life weather threat appeared.
Luckily, we dodged the bullet on this storm. Never lost lights or heat. I worked away on my laptop through wife-connected, cloud-storaged files. However, our winter storm and Station Eleven got me thinking of a time when I didn’t have tablet, laptop, smartphone, ad infinitum, all connected to the great server in the sky. Hard to imagine how I wrote without them. But I did.
My first stories, starting in fourth grade and continuing through middle school, were all lovingly handwritten. Sharpened pencil was preferred because it was easy to erase and edit. I penned romantic sagas about the old west, or handsome rogues sailing the high seas, before scribbling about adolescent angst in the privacy of my diary. I still have the yellowed and dog-eared pages. When I re-read those long-ago passages, I see hints of the adult I am today taking shape. They’re a treasure of childhood memories, the minutiae of my every day life, that could’ve been lost had I not taken time to put pencil to paper.
Fast-forward to high school. Did you take typing class? I did because I wanted to learn how to keyboard. Also, Mama was lightening fast at it, and I wanted to be just like her. However, the guys avoided it like the plague because typing was a ‘girl thing.’ Instead, most of them took ‘manly’ courses, like shop or woodworking.
I hated those clunky, manual typewriters. In college, I typed my thesis on one, using whiteout to fix my many errors. Correcting footnotes sent me screaming and pulling out my hair. Each evening, I placed the latest draft of my paper in the refrigerator, so my research wouldn’t be lost in case of fire. Don’t laugh. It could happen, and then I’d be completely hosed. These were days before copy machines were commonplace affordable for a cash-strapped student.
After college and a stint as a special educator, I worked for an international telecom company as a training and communications manager.
I happily wrote away on my then state-of-the art IBM Selectric (with its annoying little font ball) in my office adrift in a sea of cubicles. We heard rumors about upgrading from Selectrics, but I didn’t pay attention.
Then one morning I arrived to see, plunked on my desk, a teeny screen peeking out of a tan box attached to a keyboard and something called a mouse. No instructions from anyone on how to use it. We knew it was an Apple product, and it could’ve been a Macintosh Lisa computer that offered Apple’s first graphical user interface, but I can’t say for certain.
Once I figured out how to use the Mac, as we called it, life was sweet. It was a huge learning curve made easier since everyone was trying to figure it out. We even came up with phrases like, “Let’s Mac it up,” to indicate composing on computer and printing out lovely formatted documents. I was thankful for my high-school typing class and felt a bit smug as my male colleagues, who struggled with hunt-and-peck keyboarding, finally admitted there was value for all in knowing to manage the keys.
After loving my Mac for writing articles and designing workshops, my firm switched to a Windows operating system, the prevalent business standard even today. I learned a whole new writing platform. But life has a way of coming full circle. Two years ago when I decided to jump off the 9-5 grind and write Kid Lit, I chucked my PC for a MacBook, and life is sweet again.
Be it Apple or Microsoft, I would never go back to writing stories by hand. I even scribble notes on a tablet or smart phone when I’m out, and then upload them to my laptop. (Although I admit I’m addicted to those yellow sticky notes.) How lucky we are to live in an age where writers can serve up blogs, dash out chapters, and edit with a few keystrokes. I’m grateful to a novel about a traveling symphony in a world without electricity, and a late season ice storm, for reminding me of just that.
Please join the conversation in the comment section.
Authors, do you write your tales by hand? Compose on a computer?
Readers, do you prefer keyboarding or handwriting for general use?
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