Of All The Things I Remember…
Being a writer, is at the top of my list.
That sounds a little pretentious I know, but let me start off with a memory.
I was four or five. I don’t know if most kids remember taking paper and trying to draw out the words we started seeing on a daily basis. I remember it pretty vividly in some instances.
I had a small chair and a toy box that was the right height. I watched my mother scribble notes on paper a lot. I had words, but I had things I wanted to write down. I NEEDED to write them down. I remember being very frustrated with letters and not understanding why the words I saw I couldn’t manage to get on the paper. I remember thinking, this is horrible, these scribbles I’m making, they make no sense. If an adult would have looked at them they looked like large cursive L’s and small e’s in a continuous line.
I kept writing l’s and e’s until I filled up one page, and then another, and then another. The pencil was awkward in my hand. The hope in my head was that eventually these loops would mean something to me or to someone else and they would be able to read all the words I wanted to pour out onto paper and show people. I had so many words in my head, but no way to get them out. I often wonder if other kids had the same realization at four, or five.
Most kids know the alphabet by that age and know how to write it these days. I remember knowing words, but no one had really stopped to teach me what they looked like, except Electric Company and Sesame Street. I remember learning more words and what they looked like when I finally went to school. I was six. I loved it instantly.
Computers Were My Thing Before I Knew It Myself
In fifth grade, our school had a day they would call Exchange City. I remembered that it happened every two years and you either attended as a sixth or fifth grader. We learned about cash registers, checkbooks, and paychecks. We learned about jobs, and industry, and the economy. Every kid looked forward to it. We even voted for mayor and did job interviews.
I interviewed for Radio DJ. There was a newspaper, a radio station, a local diner, a bank, and a factory. The highest paying job was Bank Manager. The next highest was Data Entry for the bank.
I remember the interview pretty clearly. I didn’t have experience. I had a resume, but it didn’t say much. I had a pleasant conversation with the fellow who interviewed me, but he didn’t give me the impression one way or another that I was going to get the job. Lots of kids were interviewing for DJ, and I mostly did it because I liked music. When I got my job assignment, I was bummed. I was a Data Entry person. I consoled myself with the fact that it would be using a computer terminal. At least that part was cool, even if my “job” wasn’t all that great.
Even then, teachers knew more about my career than I did.
In middle school, we had papers we occasionally had to write. The dreaded words of “double spaced and typed” became all too familiar to me, and so did my mother’s electric typewriter.
I hated that typewriter. It made an electric whirling noise that I didn’t like much. I was constantly misspelling things. I was annoyed with myself and with the dictionary I used to figure out what spelling I really needed for a word. It is more obvious, thinking back, that I was fighting with dyslexia of a kind. My brain wasn’t helping me with the words. The typewriter wasn’t helping me. It was like fighting a war on two fronts.
The war went from occasional skirmishes to threatening a full scale attack. I was facing a year of Typing Class. Two semesters of it. 1988. I was horrified. It was like being thrown to the wolves, with your peers watching. I had moments of panic about it. I felt somewhat like a doomed person on a ship, watching the storm knowing it was going to wreck your vessel. Slow and steady. There was no way around this beast.
Then the elective class list was published.
Computer class. I honestly don’t remember what the name of the class was called, but I remembered the caveat the class description had listed.
‘One semester of computer class would equal two semesters of typing.’
I signed up immediately. It was as if someone pardoned me. I had an idea about computers. I’d seen pictures. I’d used terminals at the library to search for articles and books. If someone was going to let me play with a computer for a semester instead of embarrass myself with typing. I was in.
Embarrassed In Completely New Ways
You didn’t have to know programming to take the class. I was the only girl in the class. I was also the only kid who hadn’t been programming since the age of 4. All the boys in the class knew Basic already while I had spent my precious computer time at school playing Oregon Trail. They would whip through assignments and play with the MUD games that were loaded on the Apple IIe’s. I would struggle to get the most simple syntax. I struggled with typing mistakes which would have me wiping out large portions of the program I was writing to correct them.
Some days the green cursor would stare at me, blinking, unwavering and I would stare back at it and feel like the world was waiting on the other side of that blinking block, if I could only figure it out.
The teacher was cool though. She let us help each other. Tests were mostly on computer facts and things she would show us about the computers. Floppy Discs and hard drives. Memory capacity and the number of color bits.
There was one color Apple IIe we all had to share. Before the end of the semester, she got the latest Macintosh from Apple. A little black and white screen with 1 MB of memory. It used smaller floppy discs, which were in a hard case. From our point of view, it was better engineered than the larger ones for sure. The struggle not to crinkle those big, five inch floppies was real.
It’s compact box made the IIe’s look like yesterday’s news. We were all delighted with it, but weren’t allowed to use it. For teacher’s use only.
Forms Of Expression
I think everyone in high school probably trudges through some form of reinvention. For me it was music and photography. I had taken both in middle school, and then they pretty much enveloped my world for three years.
My mother bought a computer my first year of high school, (though in Kansas it was junior high — 9th graders were tracked like high school kids for academic purposes, but kept with the 7th & 8th graders) with a daisy wheel printer! No more using the electric typewriter. No more playing Atari video games on the systems we’d check out from the school library. We had a PC. It wasn’t a Mac. Those were too expensive. The PC wasn’t cheap, but it was cheaper.
My brother planted his flag on the system. He would camp out at the computer if he was allowed. He would play video games while I watched.
School work was the only thing I could use to get him off of the computer. He would huff and then move. I would open the word processor, start typing, save the file to disc (it didn’t have a hard drive for storage) then switch to a game of my choice.
Later, I would write term papers, essays, and a few short stories. I went to college, the home computer slowly became a paperweight. This was when I finally got a laptop.
It’s also when writing became a THING for me. I would write bits and pieces in files and save them. I’d write in notebooks with plans to move my writings to the computer. I’d write my class notes and then translate them over to computer files. So many files. So many notes.
The computer and writing became synonymous. I no longer thought of only writing in a notebook. Writing happened. Mostly it happened on a computer.
Now I have four blogs, notebooks, tools, and various computer files spread across at least four devices. Sometimes I get enough time and momentum to pair down, clean up, or clean out where all these things live and move them onto one space. By one space I mean an external terabyte hard drive and then cloud storage as a backup.
I’m organized in my methods, though I’m sure people looking from outside-in might think I’m a bit messy about it.
Now, for the most part, the words make sense. The loops and scribbles mean something to me, and to my audience - the readers. I still struggle with creating a solid meaning or context for my words at times, but I think any writer will tell you, that’s part of what makes writing so enjoyable and fun; making the loops and scribbles matter.