*originally published 1/31/03*
A friend asked me recently, “What should I do with this unwieldy, hulking terabyte of archived emails from my ex?” He was torn between the “Your mailbox size has exceeded its limits” warning that threatened to cut him off from his precious virtual network, and the desire to relive his memories of Love Lost from time to time over a strong cocktail.
I told him: written words are photographs of our mind, capturing an odd moment here and there, a wink in space-time never to be repeated. They afford visual and sensory affiliation, for those so inclined, and hint at the moments and moods that came both before and after. I save the emails that move me, shock me, inspire me, or make me pee my pants a little from laughing. I re-read them, over and over and over, exploring the nuance and placement of each word in each line. I am an email voyeur; message me with care.
But while email may be the pen-and-ink of the new millennia and I its adoring slave, I believe the handwritten word is an art-form to be preserved, not an archaic or antiquated “technology”. Strange thoughts for a blog – I’m aware of the irony. But I love the eager release of a rollerball pen against newsprint when I do the Sunday crosssword. I sketch my costume visions with a sharp, soft-leaded pencil on the back of envelopes and other random scraps of paper found lying around the house. Every Christmas card is painstakingly addressed by hand, and those pre-printed Unicef address labels are the first thing in the recycling bin when I sort my mail. This is what we did, before word processors and PCs took over our lives. I used to write on every other line of my ruled grey paper, leaving ample room for the endless additions, deletions and changes of heart that characterized my fifth-grade essays. I could see every edit in those smeary pencil shadows covered with dingy Pink Pearl crumbs. My mistakes surrounded me like ghosts, gut-wrenching evidence of my imperfect prose.
A handwriting analyst would think I was schizophrenic, all lazy slanted loops one day and uptight angular print the next. At some point I realized I needed to enforce a standard signature, one that would transcend the unpredictable ebbs and flows of my fickle right hand, if the bank was ever going to let me withdraw money from my accounts. While the resulting scribble bears little resemblance to the shape of my actual name, I’ve managed to commit the experience of writing it to sense memory well enough that it’s reliably repeatable, and I have yet to be arrested for fraud.
At the tender age of nine, I received a portable electric typewriter for Christmas, and it was a brave new world! I vascillated for days: Pica or Elite? Which one would a real writer choose? True to form, I ran out of correction tape long before the ink cartridge could empty itself onto my pregnant page. Other girls sold Thin Mint cookies and fantasized about Barbie+Ken’s Dream Wedding; I developed a devastating addiction to my dog-eared, kelly-green Webster’s Thesaurus. And I wrote, and wrote and wrote and wrote… Short stories for the local writing contests. Haiku extolling the virtues of dry California summers and the joys of reading. Poems for the unfortunate souls in the local children’s hospital. Eventually my subjects became dark and tantalizing: the history of LSD, satan worship in Contra Costa county, the death of my dearest, poetic hallucinogenic meanderings, miserably unrequited lust for a punk rock pop star. Teachers called parents, aghast at my seeming descent into unrecoverable teen angst. Couldn’t they see? Didn’t they know? I was never in danger – I was a WRITER. It’s all just self-indulgent worship at the feet of the Language Gods.
These days, I get my Thesaurus fix online through my wireless LAN, while my fingers tickle the ebonies of my trusty laptop. My mistakes are mine alone to grieve, whether through the careless flick of a pinkie or a self-conscious trigger of keystrokes that summon the all-forgiving UNDO. It will mislead me, the passage of time that fades immeasurable edits and revisions, and I’ll wonder if I really was the prodigal daughter when I typed the last period.
This is a blog. We will never know the truth.