Wednesday, July 28, 2021

paper, ink, keyboard

One day, I seemed to wake up and was composing poems entirely on the screen..  One day I was sitting in in the library, at home, or sometimes, even on a train or bus drafting on notebook paper or other scraps and the next, I was solely using the keyboard.  My first poems were scribbled on whatever paper was around--mostly decorative stationery I'd squirreled away for pen pal letters.  Sometime, I'd use three ring binder paper.from my school supply . At 16-17, I didn't have a typewriter, much less a computer, so they never made it beyond hand written.  I still have some in my files, some in the blue lock diary started when I was 15. When I needed to type something--term papers, contest essays--I'd use my aunt's electric in her basement underneath a large Elvis poster. My graduation money was used to purchase my own machine, which I would use the entirety of college, which only in my last couple of semesters did I move to the bank of beige computers in the labs. I was still writing poems by hand--then again on whatever paper I had at hand--spiral notebook pages, lecture programs, old triplicate files from the student government office. I still have some of these drafts, which I would then type up later on wafer thin typing paper dotted with correction fluid to send out to magazines in which the consensus was of course a resounding no (outside of more vanity operations.)

When I went into my MA in Lit program and got my first student loan funds, I bought a word processor at Sears, which had tiny hard disks, and since I was still too poor to get a computer (which were all pricey in 1999) I used this mostly to type up my school work--essays on romantic poets and victorian novels--but also poems, which I was beginning to write more frequently and a bit better. I have some of these too, mostly on notebook paper and with lots of scratching and restarting, usually drafted a few times until I got a more neatly written "final" version I would then type up. My first book manuscript pulled together at 25  lived on one of these discs and thankfully never saw the light of day. Post degree, I spent a year and half with little computer access and a failing word processor, but little was happening in the poetry dept.  I did write stories--stories that are tucked away in spiral notebooks, written out by hand, that I worked on before I moved back to the city.

When I started working at the library and  had computer access at work, I would still write things out by hand--on paper,, in the b&w marbled journals I'd kept for years, on spare library catalog cards & scrap paper. At first, since not all the computers had MS Word on them, I would just type and save them in my campus e-mail whenever I was on the circ desk at night. I had discovered the world on online journals, so outside of prints for my own records, mostly they existed digitally--where they'd live as drafts in my e-mail and then in the journals that published them. I still composed in handwriting though--and would carry a specific smallish notebook around with ideas and snippets in it that would eventually become poems. 

The shift was so gradual I don't even remember when it happened.  For a while I would compose in word docs, sometimes in private blogs.  By the time I was in my MFA I was doing a lot on screen just to save myself having to then transcribe on the keyboard, so it may have happened sometimes in those years.  By the time I was writing full-force again after a couple years of faltering, it was all onscreen. The benefits were obvious--I am a terrible typist--fast but also inaccurate--so transcribing things from the page means a lot of errors--more than if I am looking at the keyboard. Also, I was just in front of screen more..I got my first home computer/laptop in 2005. Spent my days in front of my desk or the service desk PC's. My life was just more onscreen than it had been.  This blog, for example, meant I was doing a considerable amount of composing other writing-things by keyboard  I also feel like it helps in the early stages when their would be much more scribbling and cross-outs to be able to erase and restart. To not have the page be a mess of black ink everywhere. For awhile, I still kept a small notebook for ideas and things I wanted to put in poems (and still do--though these are now  more loose things tucked into my sketchbook organizer).  But the actual poeming always happens on the keyboard. I still keep private blogs or even just blog pages for projects since I am always logged in with my google account (and this loads much faster than a google doc).  They live here in draft form until I firm them up and put them in a regular document., usually when it's time to start pulling strings together or submitting.  

What's crazy is I am not sure I could even write by hand anymore. I make lists with a pen, sometimes outlines for complex  work projects I then type up. Jot down words and phrases and titles. But I'm not sure that poems would happen in that space anymore. A few years ago, I wrote my unusual creatures pieces in an orange spiral notebook when I was visiting my parents and only had my tablet with me. It was not only the pieces, but a bunch of research and auxilary notes. It was a long time to get back to type it up, during which my interest had waned and a lot of things had pulled my attention away. Eventually, I digested what was there into a shorter series of poems created (you guessed it) on the screen.  

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