by David King
Am I still writing when I have to dictate? I have no used a pencil for years...
I have always loved to write. I have notebooks full of penciled words and started a novel when I was seven. It is true I never finished it and it began with the phrase “There was a rustle in the leaves…”, but I did love writing.
I saw it primarily as a physical activity especially after I learned to type on a manual typewriter at the important age of thirteen. And I could type pretty well. Without looking at the machine, I could bang out page after page of my most intimate feelings. I will not lay claim to quality, but there was a close connection between what I would have called my “self” and the texts I wrote.
How many feelings did I only really understand when I had expressed them with my fingers? Somehow, the words that emerged from my typewriter were more real to me than much of what I saw around me.
It was already a major shock to use an electric typewriter. I could see that one could write faster, but the physical connection with the typewriter was different. And the machine had a different character too. I could see the manual typewriter as depending on me for its motion, for transforming it from a silent lump of metal into a noisy, expressive partner. But the electric typewriter seemed to be alive on its own. It made constant noise and vibrated annoyingly. I had to tolerate it if I was going to use it and had to be ready to service its constant aches and pains. I had to be ready at any moment to get any necessary repairs looked into and if the power went out, I could not write at all. But there were advantages and I did not resist the switch to electric servility for long. The physical act of writing changed for me. I won’t say if it was for better or for worse on balance. My thoughts could pour out quicker when the machine was letting me write at all. When it worked it was wonderful, but I was dependent on the world around me to an extent I had never known with the manual. I had changed and once I used electric typewriters I could not go back.
And it all changed again with the computer. I could change what I wrote now. I did not have to write linearly for beginning to end as I had before. If I did not like a word that had come out, I could simply delete it and write another. I could copy texts, move them around, search them, and count the words, anything.
But I was still writing. My fingers still raced across keys. I still felt the keyboard as my interface that I could caress or attack.
I have lost many things to this disease over the past 15 years. And now has taken my fingers, my eager itching fingers. I can no longer write with a pen or type on a keyboard. Writing has become dictation, dictation to a computer program that sometimes pays attention to what I say and sometimes writes something completely different as I have to look on helplessly. I no longer touch the tool I use to write. My words appear magically on a computer screen and do not seem mine, indeed often are not what I had really said.
Is this just another step in the development of my relationship to writing? Will I one day look on a keyboard as something just as primitive and alien as a pencil or manual typewriter? Will I ever feel physical exhilaration as I dictate a story? The dictation program has so many of its own alien expectations and characteristics. Will I ever be able to feel safely alone and concentrate wholly on what I myself feel? Will the dictation program ever feel like an extension of my own body as my keyboards did?