Better Late than Never

What follows is an impromptu essay I wrote one year, 10 months, and 22 days ago—the day my typewriter was delivered. It more or less explains why this site has seen so few posts.

For as long as I have been tasked with writing, and especially over the course of the last two years, I have had a tendency to become lost somewhere between conception and creation. Rather than simply being at a loss for words or structure, I have been plagued by an inescapable compulsion to “edit in place.” I gave the page a status of ultimate finality, for which few of my constructions were worthy.

In an abstract way, I lost my feeling for that which I was crafting. Words had meaning, but the piece had no spirit that I could detect. Absent a fundamental connection to the meaning of my work, articulation became little more than a logic problem: exercise for the mind symbolically representing reality. My writing process at the time resembled object-oriented programming far more than any sort of artistic expression: words were chosen according to function, sentences were formulas designed to return specific results, and paragraphs were containing classes whose sole purpose was to group these like results and allow for a smooth transition to the next phase of the program. The program was complete when all aspects of a position had been accurately described. There was no craftsmanship here, only the sort of bland engineering found in the worst of software user manuals.

Once I finally managed to unload my verbiage onto the page, this process of engineering continued—albeit in a different form. The next phase of construction was editing for punctuation which, tellingly, was my favorite part. Technical mastery was all that mattered, and there was perverse pleasure in utilizing the oft-neglected semicolon. Concept flow (e.g. the location of paragraphs) was almost always perfect, owing to the fact that the paragraphs had been designed as logical machines rather than expressive missives. The end result of all this was a technically sound document, for which I held no passions, which had taken at least twice as long to write as it would have were I to have written from my heart rather than my brain.

A few months ago, I decided to take a break from writing and consider how I had come to be in this situation. I soon realized that, for several reasons, the entire scenario was the result of my composing using a computer. “Of course I program my writings,” I thought, “I have spent the last six months writing Python and C++ programs with this same keyboard!” “It is no wonder I can’t focus on articulation,” I continued, “I automatically associate sitting in this chair with doing three things at once!” It suddenly became clear to me, how I had come to forget the value of my words: I had unconsciously labeled them as yet more meaningless electrons being carried on the wires of my computer’s circuitry, none distinct from its neighbors.

That discovery made clear to me other problems which stemmed from my use, and knowledge, of a computer in my writing process. For the most part, I never finished pieces whose composition was interrupted. This was a direct result of my not valuing my words; I failed to see any advantage to adding to that which was worthless. Still worse, I never printed the pieces I did manage to complete; and I never read them onscreen because they didn’t feel “real” (a manifestation of the “meaningless electrons” paradigm). These problems combined to produce the feeling that I had never actually produced anything in spite of the sometimes enormous effort I expended. Uncovering the root causes of that feeling, which had threatened to end my writing career before it began, gave rise to the reasoning which resulted in this very document.

I surmised that what I needed most was something to inject a sense of permanence into my writing. “Surely,” I thought, “an instantaneous permanent record of what I have written will eliminate both my ‘in place editing’ and my negligence with regard to reading what I have written; the page will lose its status of finality because filling it is the measure of progress, not the result.” The simplest (and most obvious) way to satisfy this need would be, of course, writing by hand. This was not a valid option for me, however, due to my spasticity and the awful writer’s cramp it quickly generates. It took almost no time at all for me to realize that a typewriter was the next best thing to writing by hand, and within a week I had won an eBay auction for the Olympia Report de Luxe (featured in You’ve Got Mail as the typewriter model with which Greg Kinnear’s character was obsessed) that I am presently using to write this. I specifically wanted a typewriter (instead of the more recently developed word processor) because it seemed possible that I might use the pre-printing display of a word processor as a means to “edit in place.”

The $60 cost of this machine has proved to be money well spent, as I have felt a real connection to the words typed from the moment I first tested its functioning. Case in point, I am confident that I could never have managed to write this piece using my computer. Somewhere in the feeling of the keys’ resistance to my fingers’ imposition and the seemingly thunderous noise of the page being struck, there is a spiritual connection made between my living brain and the slaughtered trees upon which I expound my musings…a connection the likes of which I doubt any author could write without.

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