Tag Archives: modern living

Typing 101

I start my day with a wellspring of words that somehow fill my brain overnight. Stimulated by morning coffee and newspapers, I approach my desk primed to put words in the mouths of characters, or if I’m lucky, produce a small jewel of an essay. I say lucky, because an essay can be finished in a day, while novel writing… takes longer. It was an essay by Garrison Keillor in today’s news that made me remember an episode from his personal story. Enamored with all things Scandinavian, he left his native land and moved to Norway. Back in the US he was considered a rustic intellectual, an original wit, a man who could fill a weekly radio spot with his own mellifluous voice and wry observations from Lake Woebegone. Transported and stripped of language, Garrison Keillor found himself being talked at as if he were a moron. Of course, even Norwegian morons can complete a sentence.

I always said that my own love affair with words erupted spontaneously, like wisdom teeth. My work as a property manager bored me. At my desk on the 8th floor of the 500,000 sf building I was supposed to be managing, I began scribbling out word combinations that gave me a peculiar satisfaction. The pad and paper went with me everywhere. There was a particular bottleneck on my drive to work that produced many a fine sentence.

When my secretary wasn’t on the “word processor”–our term for the first personal computer, a thing so bulky it had its own room–I would slip in and compose even longer chunks of verbiage. I loved seeing my sentences lit up on the computer screen, the letters made up of glowing green dots in those days. Eventually I quit my good-paying job to make no money at all and I was much happier. I never could get those monthly balance thingies. My staff gave me a Thesaurus and a box of pencils for a going-away present.

When I ventured beyond the academic world, white male managers who could not type were the norm. I got my first job in business because of my fast accurate typing, not to mention that I could correct my boss’s spelling errors, and improve his clumsy sentence structure. Ironically, my ability to type made me too valuable to send into the management program. There were only a few women managers at Gerald Hines at the time. To get ahead, I had to quit that job and go to a company run by a younger and more progressive man than Mr. Hines.

Back in high school, I took typing from Mrs. Minnie Jesson. I still remember the speed drills, the exact placement of fingers on the QWERTY keyboard, the typing book that formed its own stand, the towering manual typewriters built to withstand the abuse of adolescent hands, and how I asked for and got a Smith-Corona portable typewriter for Christmas that year. Typing class drew few boys. No one foresaw a time when the human population would carry tiny keyboards with them everywhere. A few years later I stood in front of my own classroom teaching reading and writing skills. Our inner-city junior high was outfitted with one typing classroom and I was asked to fill a 40-minute time slot. It was the only class I ever taught that no one asked why they had to take it.


Skip forward to my business years. Sometimes an obstreperous tenant required an exquisitely crafted letter. My bosses had always dictated theirs, or written them out in long-hand for me to type. As a boss myself, as a former typing and English teacher, I composed my letters on the computer and left them for my secretary to format and print. Back for a visit, I watched my old boss laboriously peck out an email with two fingers on the laptop that was now standard equipment on every executive desk. He probably felt like Garrison Keillor in the land of smart Norwegians.


A Curmudgeon’s Lament

I’m not a happy camper. I’m not even a good sport. I’m at the high end of high-maintenance. Others accept the rigors of travel and inconveniences of life with a stiff upper lip. Not me.  I hate discomfort and place no value in stoicism. Once I was with some hikers cast onto an island with a seriously out-of-scale map. We ate our picnic at the first bend in the road, thinking that around the next bend we would find the boat waiting to take us back to the mainland. Four hours later we met a group coming from the other direction and, comparing notes, discovered to our mutual horror, that we had all traveled about the same distance. The sun was getting low in the sky when we finally arrived at the pier. Other groups had somehow found the energy to finish not only our trail but several others as well. I hate them.

I wish I could say that I stayed positive and optimistic for my fellow travelers that afternoon. I wanted water. I wanted more lunch. I wanted different shoes. I wanted to call a taxi. And I would have, had there been cell service on the island. Or taxis. My companions put more and more distance between us. I forgive them because they carried the empty picnic hamper.

I could give you other examples. One that springs to mind was a recent flight into Austin the night of the big storm. You know the storm I mean. It brought Lester Holt and NBC News to the shores of the Blanco River and caused classmates I hadn’t heard from in 40 years to call to see if I was all right. No, I wasn’t all right. I nearly died in a plane crash. I was the only one on the plane who realized the danger we were in and had the sense to scream about it.

I don’t know how people learn the skill of being a non-complainer, silent about their fears and non-complaining about their discomforts. I inherited complaining on my maternal side. My mother spent her later years minutely calibrating her comfort. I’m on track to be just like her. Near to hand: tissues, floss, lip gloss, nail file, paper and pencil, passwords, gum, iced tea, a candy or two. I can’t go on vacation without serious packing. No spur of the moment, devil-may-care adventuring for me.

After my neighbor discovered a rattlesnake in her entryway, I look under my patio chair before sitting down. I hate and dread ringing phones, doorbells, and going to the mailbox. I’m sure there will be a letter from the IRS.

You wouldn’t think, to look at me, that I carry more than my share of fear and dread. I appear to have a sunny disposition, to be someone who welcomes novelty, invitations. New acquaintances take me at face value and are surprised when I don’t want to go hear live music. They shake their heads in disbelief when they learn that I don’t like driving after dark, or riding with a driver who has consumed more than a glass of wine. And why won’t I dip my body in a pool full of other people’s germs? Or watch any kind of sporting event you can name?

I know I should be embarrassed about myself, that I should strive to get over my distrust of small children and dogs. I should not love to such a degree my new  leather lounge chair with the motor mechanism. I’ll be sorry someday that I’m not out ruining my knees pounding the jogging trail, not at the fitness center right this minute doing weight-bearing exercises. Truly, sometimes I feel like the last sane person on earth.