October 25, 2008


Have you ever really paid attention, just paid attention to the way your fingers fly across the keyboard? To the way the words just appear upon the screen, crawling across letter by letter from left to right? Have you ever felt the depression of key after key beneath your finger pads and the swift pressure of the space bar on the edge of your thumb? I always press the spacebar with my right thumb, never my left. Why is that? Is it because I’m right handed? Or is it just some fluke? Is it genetic? The same way some people can role their tongue and others can’t without ever knowing why – only that it is something that can be neither taught nor learned? Have you ever listened to the soothing tap tap tap of the keys? The soft sounds they make, the rhythm in time with your thoughts, the same rhythm of language? I wonder if when people type in other languages if the rhythm of their hands on the keyboard conforms to the rhythm of their spoken words. I would assume it does. Have you ever been picky about your keyboard? Have you ever discarded this one because the tactile sensation wasn’t just right? Because the keys required too much or too little pressure? Have you ever chosen this other one because you liked the clicking noise it makes? Have you ever enjoyed the simplicity of a paired down keyboard over the complication of those fancy ergonomic ones with the tilted keeps and thumb ball mice and squishy wrist pad? Have you ever taken sensual pleasure in using one you like and disdained all others? Have you ever derided the handheld writing device as crude and far too slow? Far too slow to keep up with swiftly flowing thoughts. Far too slow to move at the speed of the mind, to move at the speed of language, of speech, of conversation? Have you ever lamented the invention of the mouse? Keyboard shortcuts are so much faster. The mouse wastes unnecessary time by forcing the hand to move from the keyboard to the mouse and back again. All of six inches. Have you ever derided GUI interfaces and wished for the simplicity of DOS based codes which let your fingers fly? Have you ever felt the ache in the tendons of the index finger of your right hand from click after click of that inefficient mouse? Have you ever worked your keyboard until certain keys come unglued and pop off, to go flying into the dark recesses beneath the desk, breaking your concentration with a moment of startling humorous irony? I’m always loosing the letter V. Have you ever figured out the little trick and wiggle to put the keys in place again? Have you ever missed the rattle of a trusty old dot matrix printer? Which would never send you nasty little messages to change the toner when the printing looked perfect? The kind of printer that would keep printing even when the ribbon had run dry just because you told it to and for no other reason? Do you keep and old word processor in your closet because you like the tactile sensation and the satisfying thwap thwap thwap of the typewriter keys striking paper, actual paper, as you scrawl word after word? Do you like winding that paper in and pulling it out again and seeing your words stark black on the white paper which you can hold in your hand? Which you can crumple up and throw? Which you can light on fire and watch burn and smell the ink as it melts? And then start all over again? Do you like knowing your words have a physical presence, that they can be created or destroyed, that they aren’t just some nebulous bit of zero’s and one’s floating in a computer monitor and disappearing into cyberspace? I do, which is why I save my word processor for special occasions. I like to type letters on it. It feels like a gift. Like I am making something tangible, something of myself, something special and wrapping it up in a little bit of paper and sending it off. Like a child drawing a picture or making a bad pottery bowl for their grandma because they know she’ll like it. I even pick pretty stamps which I think they’d like. Have you ever read your own words over and over? Fallen in love with them? Hated them? Forgotten them? Rediscovered them? Cried for them? Laughed for them? Gotten angry at them? Gotten turned on by them? Have you ever looked at the words on paper and have them look like chicken scratches? Like Greek? Like nothing intelligible at all and wondered how these marks on paper can have so much power? Can convey so much meaning? Have you ever looked down at the marks on the keyboard, which spell no words, which come in no order that our eyes can discern, which have no meaning and seen the entirety of human history summed up in this apparatus which we have created for no other reason than to write the summation of human history? This bizarre little contraption which feels so good beneath our flying fingers which we use to talk to one another when spoken words will not do? When distance and context separates us? When we can’t bear to see the other’s face? Bear to hear the other’s voice? Bear to know the other’s opinion? But when we desperately feel the need to spread our own? To record it for posterity? To know that it was there? Have you ever felt the bones and joints in your fingers flexing and taken that as proof of your existence? Proof that you’re alive? Proof that you matter and that you have something to say even if you don’t know what that something is? Have you ever sat down to type with nothing on your mind and let everything pour out through your hands all the while concentrating on nothing but the feeling of your fingers moving? No guidance. No preplanning. Just observation. Watching all the myriad twists and turns without hope or judgement. It is meditation this. My cushion is a desk chair. My shrine is a glowing screen. My meditation room is a darkened office, lit by streetlights from outside. My bell is the rhythmic click. My breath is the flexing of those fingers, and my thoughts, my never ending, never minding, always flowing, always watching, always being watched thoughts are pouring out on to the paper which has no more substance than they do. Which is no more real than they are. Which will exist both infinitely longer and infinitely less time than they do. The words on the paper may stop. My concentration on the flexing of my fingers may waver, then return, then wander, then return again. The words on the paper will stop, but my thoughts will go on and the words will remain fixed, while my thoughts never will. The words are not me, because I changed, and I am not them because they remained the same. The same words, different meanings, because they aren’t my words anymore. They belong to the person on the other side of the glowing screen, reading them now. A person who may just go off and find an actual cushion and feel their actual breath and watch their own thoughts flow, like words across paper as imaginary as this. Have you ever really paid attention to the sensation of typing?


Amy said...

Beautiful post.

It reminded me a bit of this, from Plato:

Socrates: "Yes, because there's something odd about writing,
Phaedrus, which makes it exactly like painting. The off-
spring of painting stand there as if alive, but if you ask them a
question they maintain an aloof silence. It's the same with
written words: you might think they were speaking as if they
had some intelligence, but if you ask them about it, they
just go on and on forever giving the same single piece of
information. Once any account has been written down, you
find it all over the place, hobnobbing with completely
inappropriate people no less than with those understand it,
and completely failing to know who it should and shouldn't
talk to. And faced with rudeness and unfair abuse it always
needs its father to come to its assistance, since it is incapable
of defending or helping itself.
-- Plato, Phaedrus, 275d

(I wonder what he would have thought of blogging?)

Monica said...

Amy, great quote! Thanks! I love that! If I ever manage to take another philosophy class, I'll have to put that to my prof.