A Keyboard of One’s Own

Is it still considered a ‘blog’ if written on paper with a pen?

There is something incredibly soothing and reassuring about sitting down at your own computer to write, about creating words on a keyboard that has become, over the years, as familiar as the back of your own hand — well, no, more familiar… I mean who actually knows the back of their hand like they know their keyboard? Not I.

For any writer (who uses a computer) the keyboard is the instrument through which the divine melody is channelled, through which the intention becomes the written word. Without it we have to resort to these inky sticks (beautiful in themselves, but another art-form altogether), or — and I have to admit this really gives me a sick feeling — using someone else’s machine… which is something akin to sticking someone else’s toothbrush in your mouth. It just feels wrong!

For a writer to write she needs “a room of her own,” and, in my opinion, (and I speak here without any desire to compare myself to the inimitable Virginia Woolf), a keyboard of her own — be it attached to a desktop or a laptop, or even a tablet. But without her own keyboard, I believe a writer is halved. Halved in her creativity, halved in her ability to focus on the work at hand, halved in her ability to physically put the words on the screen.

The pen-and-paper approach is, of course, one solution, but my experiments in this usually end up looking like the bedroom of a hung-over teenage boy (see above). The other option is a borrowed keyboard — which is a bit like eating an under-cooked cake: it seems like a good idea until you bite into it and it goos everywhere and you realise there is no way you can eat this mess.

So last month, when my trusty old dinosaur, on which I had written a 140,000 word novel as well as countless articles, poems, short stories, film scripts, and plays, died (or, rather, was brutally murdered — but more about that later), it signalled the end of an era for me: I’m finally having to suck it up and come home from India.

As I type this I am sitting in Brisbane International Airport, waiting to board the last of the three flights that will take me back to the Land of the Long White Cloud — Aotearoa, New Zealand.

Wait. Back up a minute. How am I writing this? Well, dear reader, this may come as a bit of a shock, but this fussy, pretentious writer is not only writing in a public place (a pet hate that I’m going to have to overcome if I ever want to ascend to the ranks of cool writers who look cool whilst writing cool things in cool cafes found on the cool streets of cool cities like NY, or Wellington, or London), she is also writing on a tablet, using a touch-screen (#@$%!) keyboard — if you don’t understand how awkward and annoying and difficult that is, try brushing your teeth with someone else’s munched-up toothbrush while at the same time eating an apple.

This is, in fact, a rewrite. The first draft of this, my first ever blog, was written on A4 note paper, with a pen. Does that disqualify it from being a blog? Does the fact that it was always intended for the web override its primitive conception stage? I’m not sure. I know nothing of these things.

You may, by now, be wondering who the hell I am and why I am offloading my murdered-laptop keyboardless blues to you… and fair enough. So, without revealing too much this early in our relationship, I will tell you a little about myself — just what’s appropriate for a first-time reader to know. Later, I’m sure, we will have the chance to become much more intimate.

I have just read an article by Isaac Morehouse here on Medium which encourages new acquaintances to share their ‘story’ as opposed to their ‘status’ — meaning he wants to know what drives you, rather than what your qualifications and hobbies are. I couldn’t agree more. And so I am going to share some of my Story with you. But be advised: I am a storyteller, and a writer of fiction, and it is very likely that not all of what I tell you is strictly true.

So: Hello. My name’s Eddie, and I write. I write in order to tell stories. One Story in particular has become preeminent in my repertoire over the years. I am a character in it. In fact, I am all the characters in it. (How could it be otherwise? How could one write anything but one’s own experiences, opinions, and reactions to the world? Even when writing from a viewpoint contrary to my own, it is my own understanding or version of that viewpoint… but I digress. )

I have always been a storyteller. As a little child I discovered fairylands and fantasy worlds whose inhabitants I befriended and interacted with. I fancied myself a sort of Anne of Green Gables and began to mentally chronicle the events of my life (which mostly consisted of picking wildflowers and playing by the creek). It wasn’t until I was eight that I actually put pen to paper and produced a written work. What I wrote was, surprisingly, not a series of autobiographical novels, but a poem. Heavily influenced by my love for Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, it was entitled Evening on the Moor, and I somehow, to this day, recall every word of it.

I was praised for this contribution to the world of juvenile poetry and, encouraged, I continued to write, winning awards throughout primary and intermediate school for short stories and works of fiction. My father brought it to my attention just the other day that one of my stories was disqualified from a national children’s writing competition because it was obviously not written by a child under 12. Anyway. The point of telling you this is not to blow some imaginary trumpet that I think I might have, but to illustrate that I was always, even at a young age, a writer.

And… then I forgot all about it.

At high school I wanted to be a fighter pilot, or an astronaut, but realising that this was an impossible dream for a girl not blessed with 20/20 vision and an abhorrence for maths, I decided I would become an actor and explore space through the medium of film. However, I soon tired of being in front of the camera (though never of being on stage) and, leaving school early, I moved to Wellington to study film and television production.

All this time I had small writing projects on the go, but I never thought of myself as a writer nor entertained the dream of producing literary works that others might read. Perhaps this was because I had not yet written something that I believed was worthy of an audience. Or maybe it was because I was busy being distracted by boys. At any rate, it wasn’t until after I graduated from film school in 2002 that the story that was to become my life’s work began to take shape.

It started as a fear…

And I promise my next article will be all about how that fear grew into an epic tale that has been developing and evolving these last 12 years. But for the meantime I’m going to stick to the topic at hand.

During those 12 years, I too have evolved. I became a journalist, an editor, a literature and music reviewer; I wrote and directed a short film… and somewhere along the way I decided I wanted to become a translator and moved to northern India to study Tibetan language and philosophy, as you do.

I moved to India in 2012, soon after completing the first draft of the first book of the Story. The intention was to put it into hibernation for the two years that I would be studying, and then write the first draft of Book II. That done, I would go back and re-write/brutally edit Book I and get it ready for publication. All was going more or less to plan, although I was running a little behind schedule, when my laptop died.

Which brings us back to the reason I am moving back to NZ. Essentially, I need to make money. After three years without a job, and burdened by a student loan that is crippling me and making further study outside NZ impossible, my old love, my Compaq Presario (built, I think, circa 462BC), finally carked it. The connection pin for the charger was loose, or broken, or something, and the poor thing stopped charging. With about five minutes staying power in the battery, I found myself one morning hurriedly backing up everything up on my external drive before the old dear finally shut down, forever.

I wasn’t too worried about it at that stage: I knew it was just the connection point. I would take it to an electrician and have the part replaced. Might cost a bit, maybe a few hundred rupees (which is a pittance, unless you don’t have a job or any savings, like me), and then all would be good again. I rang a friend who was the source of all knowledge and information about Dharamsala and everything and everyone in the area, and asked for her advice. She recommended I take my laptop to a guy in lower Dharamsala — a hole-in-the-wall that looked more like a very small graveyard for appliances than an electrician’s shop. This guy had apparently fixed laptop hardware for her in the past and was very competent. I trusted. I shouldn’t have.

He quickly (and unnecessarily) pulled the entire laptop apart, replaced the faulty pin, and reported that I had a problem with my display. I informed him that the display had been working perfectly that morning. He told me that it was probably moisture damage from the monsoon and he couldn’t fix it. ‘You’ve fixed what I asked you to fix,’ i said. ‘There’s no problem with the screen, unless you’ve caused it. So if you’d kindly put my laptop back together, I’d be much obliged.’

But this he could not do. After five days he finally admitted that he couldn’t reassemble it. Essentially, it was a matter of laziness — which I discovered when I picked it up and the CD drive fell out onto the ground. He hadn’t even bothered to screw any of the parts back in. Ah, India!

I hold no ill-feelings toward my friend, because she really, genuinely believed the guy was a decent electrician — in her experience he had been. And, also, in keeping with her Polish-Australian temperament, she really, genuinely was ready to go down to his shop and smash the shit out of it (and probably him) with a baseball bat. Thankfully, she was too busy leaving the country to actually follow through with that intention.

So in short, the story is this: right when I had finally found the time and the place to settle down and write my second book (a Buddhist nunnery in Dharamsala, Himachel Pradesh), I lost the ability to write altogether. Which meant The End. The End of my life in India; The End of my roaming around like an unemployed vagabond. The End of avoiding the hard reality of my situation: there is no place to hide from a NZ Government student loan. Reality struck. Hard. I had to return to NZ, and get a job.

As Virginia Woolf says in her essay A Room of One’s Own, “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” I had a room — one in which I couldn’t sing or talk (or scream, for that matter) due to an imposed rule of silence in the residence blocks of the nunnery… But it was a room nonetheless. And in that room I wrote 40,000 words of my second book. I was on a roll. I was on fire. I had a scene list with 134 scenes laid out. I could pick and choose what I wrote when I wanted to. I was in heaven. Quietly going mad, but in heaven. And now… well, I’m in Brisbane International Airport, waiting for a plane.

From this experience I have deduced that it is, in reality, the first half of Ms. Woolf’s advice that is most pertinent. Of course, a room of one’s own is ideal — but I wrote the first draft of my first book at a makeshift desk in my father’s living room, and now I plan to do the same with the second book, only at my mother’s house.

It is the money that one really cannot do without. Without money, a writer has to work. She has to house and feed and clothe herself. She has to find a job that is not mentally or creatively draining, in order to keep writing. She needs to work where she is stimulated by people, in order to keep her characters alive and breathing. But not so stimulated, mind, that she wants to spend her spare time with her new workmates instead of with her real friends — the people in her books. But primarily, she needs a job that is going to pay her enough that she can quickly buy a new laptop, with a keyboard she can slowly grow accustomed to and make her own.

It is money, therefore, and not a room of one’s own, that is of paramount importance. But it is far more romantic and aesthetic to focus on the aspect of the room, as opposed to the financial independence of the writer. Though the need for an income or a trust fund is a truth that I have sadly been forced to acknowledge, one wouldn’t really want to call an essay on women in literature “Must Have Money” now, would one?