Learning to Type

29 May

pay phoneA few weeks after Kelly and I started dating, on the 45-minute drive between her home and mine, I decided I needed a mobile phone — to stay connected with the people in my life. Before Kelly, I talked with friends every night from my home phone — you know, the one that plugged into the wall. Nearly every lunchtime, I chatted from the office phone, too, or from the pay phone downstairs in the quick-stop market next to a machine that every thirty seconds announced, “Create-a-Card!”

Now, twelve years later, I text. Silently. Briefly.

While I was in high school, my dad spent long hours on the computer at night. It upset my mom, who wanted him around while she ironed and watched her shows. She wanted him to come to bed before she fell asleep. She wanted to see him, talk with him, be with him. Never mind that she was lesbian. That didn’t come to light for a long, long time and by then, I had decided technology was the enemy, keeping people apart, stealing our attentions, lighting up our lives in unnatural ways. I wanted nothing to do with computers. I didn’t even want to learn to type.

I’m not saying this line of reasoning was wrong.

But I remember earlier, a younger me sitting in a room on campus, where I’d go sometimes with my professor dad. I remember drawing or writing or reading or waiting while the computer spit out green and white striped pages, connected and perforated. The computers were enormous and loud. I loved their racket all around me. I loved their rhythms and their beeps and their hums. I loved knowing my dad was nearby, and understood these big brilliant things. No one else I knew had seen a room like this. No one I knew had any inkling what these tall, touch-the-ceiling computers with their dot matrix and binary codes would eventually become. No one I knew had any clue, except my dad.

He was thrilled by them.

Eventually, I learned to type because I wanted to act. My parents required it. You want to act? You’ll learn to type. I hated having a back-up plan. I wanted to succeed on the stage.

I would have, too, if I’d been willing to wander around the country for a long, long while, never settling in one place, never knowing how long a given gig would last. I would have made enough money to scrape by, to sleep under some roof, to eat. I would have. Probably.

I acted for a long time. I supported myself. I dug into Chicago. I built a life. I tried to wait tables and failed. I signed with a temp agency, learned some word processing, formatted documents, changed colors and fonts. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote and I wrote, and now, to support myself and contribute to the family income, I write mostly for the worldwide web. By typing. At a computer. Every. Single. Day.

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