Monday, October 19, 2020

Blue Ink

 Over the weekend I was touched by the obituary of a type-face designer who passed away.  His fonts and graphic 'eye' are well integrated in our every-day visuals.  The musical metaphors he offered, the way letters and printed words 'speak' to some of us... these people are part of media obsolescence.  I find myself mourning the disappearance of them as though they are family.  They are part of the soul and material of my life.  I miss them; I miss the reality to which they belonged-- the priorities and signposts. “The most beautiful thing in the world,” the Times quoted him as saying,“is a blank piece of paper.”


My neighbor is a well-known older writer.  When we met, years ago, he exclusively worked on an odd and dated version of a dedicated word processing machine.  One night he called me-- panicky-- because it was malfunctioning and any self-respecting computer repair man declined to service this.  I offered him my 'transition' typewriter-- the kind that memorized a line at a time and then printed it out on a page via plastic ribbon.  I held onto these things as souvenirs, and for just such literary emergencies.  It distracted him, but it was wrong.  Ebay, I suggested... and sure enough he was able to find a replacement.  

Meanwhile, I remember thinking how far I'd come-- writing my first novel in Word Perfect, on a Dell PC I'd been gifted, to replace my used  8 MHz IBM PS  which prompted me to install DOS by floppy disk every time I turned the machine on.  From my first ancient Royal on which I'd typed my Princeton thesis (with carbons), to an electric Smith Corona, and onward.  My friends know I'm still using a telephone land-line; I've resisted change/technology along the way.   I am uncomfortable with these systems that seem to accelerate my process until I don't recognize myself.  I need the heartbeat and material of sentence-building, of story-telling.  

The cross-outs and inserts of manuscript writing are part and parcel of understanding a writer's process.  Songwriters, poets... their doodles and marginalia enhance value-- provide clues to the creative path, to private distractions and passions--  a bit of humor.  In the late sixties when I applied to college the applications were hand-written.   On one of them, instead of attaching the passport-sized photo requested, I asked one of my friends to draw me.  I maneuvered questions and embellished things-- gave them what they didn't ask but maybe wanted.  Today the 'common' app most universities use are just that; they leave little room for variety or humor.  My little portrait would have been missed by any computer.  

I wake during the night and scrawl lyrics on paper scraps-- have a supply of writing utensils among piles of books on my nightstand.  Far beyond recalling inspiration now, I still shun middle-of-the-night technology, as though the bright blue light threatens poetry.  Last night I thought about summer camp.  I hated being sent away and from the age of eight spent a full two months in a cabin full of girls with no privacy.  Besides my rag doll, I brought a small stack of paperback books my Mom approved, and a white pad of stationary paper with a blue ball-point pen.  It was the first time I was allowed to use ink.  I can still remember the way it glided along the paper, the sweetish candy smell of the ink, and the halo of my flashlight underneath the covers.  It was during those nights that I think I became a writer.

In this era of backlit news, texts and emails which spread or shrink across screens, I still take my coffee black and my reading material in print, bound and paged.  The way the words flow in linear formations-- the serifs and italics, dots and lines-- these are essential.  They comfort me when I am sleepless, sing to me when I am alone.  The hours and nights of this pandemic have run one into another-- my solitude provides little punctuation, but the near-endless supply of well-written sentences in my old books, the familiar patterns of verse and chorus-- have provided some comfort, like the homesick summer nights of white paper and blue ink.

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Blogger Dave Ace said...

I get it...

October 20, 2020 at 10:03 AM  
Blogger Bo Reilly said...

Hemingway said that carpentry is the perfect metaphor for writing. Thinking about your narrative, I think he had a point.

I've framed probably a hundred houses, and also worked as a copywriter. Sap from Douglas Fir lumber and the flow of blue ballpoint ink are cousins.

In the end it's all a little heartbreaking unless you know about the fun part.

October 29, 2020 at 1:42 PM  

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