Someone once told me that court reporters each have a unique short hand that only they can completely translate. I was told that this keeps important files relating to legal cases completely confidential. I don’t actually know if that is true but it certainly got me thinking about stenography.
I was also taught that writing is one of the most powerful expressions of the human condition. Writing, I was told, creates a mote of commonality and a spark of connectivity so few other efforts in this life are able to accomplish. I was told that writing can save you and it can save the people around you … it can silence the deafening screech of beasts in the darkest midnight hour of your mind. I was also told that writing can create a shorthand that only you can translate.
I used to be more interested in that former function of writing. Not too long ago I cared if what I wrote was legible. articulate. grammatically sound. functional. interesting. moving. connective. legible.
I’ve written for a newspaper for the last two years, and in that time learned how to really give a shit about what people thought of my writing. Before this job I would have drowned in embarrassment at the thought of someone reading the shit I write.
For over two-thirds of my life I kept a meticulously crappy and illiterate journal of thoughts and complaints, recipes, bad stand-up jokes, and Gandhi quotes I would steal from inspirational posters in the locker room. Basically, it was a poorly kept recycling bin for my brain. But hol-e-y shit did I love what I wrote.
And then a day came when I started to care about what other people … a lot of other people … thought of my writing. Was it too edgy? Engaging? Spicy? Did you like it? Hate it? Bueller? Bueller?
And I altogether stopped contributing to those personal recycling bins.
And the time has come to pay the piper.
This week I learned that I should no longer write by hand. For all intents and purposes I no longer have writing hands. Sure, they’re attached to my wrists and they move and hold pens and feel heat and drop the popcorn down my bra instead of into my mouth. They still look like hands. But a disease has them turning inward … balled up, knotted, painful, and unmovable by knife, radiation therapy, injections, or feverish wishing. My disease is a progressive and nasty divorce from functionality.
I was told on Monday by the specialist to end all specialists that nothing short of amputation of the affected digits would be useful, which he wasn’t willing to do at this point. I was told to start using a dictation service. A microphone and 300 dollar software will now be the writers.
So I no longer care about results or whether or not people find my writing pithy or edgy or interesting.
"You’re still a writer," is a mantra I’m now having to tell my brain to believe and absorb, but it doesn’t stick to the walls quite yet.
Because a cold machine and a set of plastic headphones may make my writing for me, but they will not make me a writer.
My hands do that.
But I’m slowly starting to think the life of a stenographer is still the life of a writer. In fact it’s the life of a recycling bin.
Their work isn’t about popularity or reception. It’s about capturing something important before all of it is over and the judge drops the gavel.
Like the rise and fall of the cat’s belly under my hand.
Like the feeling of a baseball glove melting around my wrist in the summer time.
Like the weight of a pilot pen on a fresh sheet of Moleskin.
Like the electricity that runs through my fingers when my girlfriend reaches for my hands in a quiet movie theater or a busy city street.
Like the feeling of clapping it out at a rock concert.
Like the feeling of holding my favorite face in the palms of my hands.
I plan on using my new shorthand for every moment of this funny life I’ve got. I will always be a writer then. And I’ll let you in on a bit of my newly created stenographer’s code: It doesn’t matter if they like it. It doesn’t matter if they read it. Write it, write it, write it.