Typewriters and other machines


I dreamed my Norwegian grandmother had left me a manual typewriter.  Two typewriters, actually.  One of them was so old you had to place the letters that you wanted to type into the machinery that pressed into the paper.  The other one was black, with silver keys.  She said, “It’s a Price-Waterman,” or perhaps it was a “Warner.”  Whatever.  The name was important, but I have forgotten it.  Maybe “Smith and Weston.”  But that would make it both a writing instrument and a gun, something to shoot with, a weapon.  I like to type.  I had messy handwriting as a child.  But I find I learn things about myself when I set pen to paper.  The physicality of the act, the impression into the soft page, the wax, the earth, is known to me as an ancient craft, a way of linking to deeper layers of the brain, regions shaped not just by experience but also genetics.

I was careening down a steep hill on my bike, screaming with joy.  At the bottom, where the light was,  I swerved widely right just as the traffic was starting across the intersection.  A cop car.  I pedaled viciously up the hill and got away.

There is an art happening. It is called “name the room.”  The one with the most imaginative name will get to create the room.  I stop my bike and pedal back to where the slips of paper are being handed out by a man and a woman in the street.  I know.  Mine will be called, “Zenobia, Queen of the Night.”  I worry I am riffing off Hawthorne.

At other times I can hardly move the bike forward because my knees were too close to my face.  The bike had a banana seat and was too small.  I took it home to change the seat but couldn’t find a lock to keep it safe while I searched.

I am so happy I could weep.  My mothers and my grandmothers are back with me briefly after so long a mourning for them.

It’s a $1500 bike, I say, exasperated, to my mother.  No way are we leaving it out here on the street without a lock.  I am going to spend this morning with her because I am so happy to see her again.  But I am also conscious of my time running short.  I need to get off, alone, to the beach on the east side of town, the one with the long, white strips of sand, where the wind blows.

I am asking Solveig, my mother’s mother, to tell me the names of the Norwegian people I don’t recognize in the old photo album.  While we are turning the pages, the typewriters appear, covered carefully with a cloth, in the center of the book, perfectly preserved.  She had saved them for me.

So if I don’t …


So if I don’t get this out today, it won’t get out, and then I’ll be even more behind.  The truth is, I’ve wanted to post for a long time.  I’ve been so busy!  New boyfriend who lives half an hour from me. These not-very-long-distance relationships take up an enormous amount of one’s conscious and unconscious life.

At any rate, I’ve been doing other things, teaching yoga, volunteering with the elderly, and, best of all, starting up the motor on the book boat.  It will launch.  Just give me a bit of time to get her sea-worthy.

What I want to talk about is–are– the seniors I’ve been working with.  I love them.  It feels weird to me to call them “seniors,” as though they belonged to a separate species or something.  They are women and men, aged about 70 to 87, and I love them.  Each one of them is a beautiful human being, each one of them has taught me an enormous amount about my life and myself.  What will I do without them?

I ask the question because the program I’m leading, called “Brain Builders” at the Pittsburgh Jewish Children and Family Services, lasts for only eight weeks, and we are just starting week 7.  I spend three hours with them every Tuesday and Thursday, teaching them creative writing, yoga, and computer skills.  I’ve gotten them all started on writing their autobiographies. Or so I like to think.  My belief is that they have important stories to tell, and what they put on paper now will be an incredible gift to their descendants.  This is my approach to the realizing the aims of the course, which are to stimulate and foster the cognitive, physical, and emotional health of people who are getting older.

They are eight in number and their names are Sibyl, Shirley, Bill, Jerry, Barry, David, Betty, Louise, and Vera.  We begin at 9:30, although lately Shirley and Louise have been coming later and later each time.  I suspect them of meeting for coffee beforehand and losing track of time.  They must be Vata.  The PItta in me is irked by this laziness but the Kapha side of me totally understands.

We start the day with one or more of them reading from the work they wrote in the period before.  They have usually responded to a topic that I have suggested.  In my next posts, I will be sharing their stories.

The Author on her Book


I have just thrown away an entire dumpster full of notes and essays related to the book that I’ve been working on for more than 10 years and that I am having some trouble giving up. I have carted these papers around -from Arlington, Virginia to St. Louis, Missouri, and then on to Pittsburgh and then to Washington, DC, and then to Los Angeles and London. Many papers came back with me from the British Library, where I spent eight hours a day for three months going quietly mad.  These flew home with me to Pittsburgh and some came out to Santa Barbara the summer after my father died and I had to clean up the estate while crawling out of darkness.  I tossed whole chapters, whole years, into the bin.

I feel somewhat as though I’ve just had a miscarriage, or as though I’ve just forced myself to accept that the fetus was dead and I no longer even wanted the child.  I’ve been carrying it, mostly formed, around inside of me for so long, and I’m finally coming to terms with the truth that it has stunted my intellectual, professional, and emotional growth.   It has been a permanent dis-ease, a burden I could not put down, an illness I could not give up.

I put everything else aside–my painting, my political activism, my genealogy hobby, my cooking, my gardening, my social life, my health–in order to “focus on the book.”  For  years after I stopped believing that anyone would ever read it, I’d say to myself: I will do that when the book is done.   But it was never finished!  I didn’t particularly burn to write it, either.  I’m not sure I ever did, but maybe I have forgotten.   It was simply what I had to do, the hoop I had to jump through, in order to get to the next level in my profession.

No book no tenure no job no income no respect no self-esteem no identity no self no thing.

Or so the chain of associations seemed to go.  My entire self-image became fixated, frozen, limited, fetishized, like a shrunken head. It hung leadenly around my neck and bent my back.  I should be rejoicing, not grieving, for I am like Christian at the gate to the Delectable Mountains.

Writing a book and getting tenure are both very fine goals, especially if one is writing a book that one passionately wants to publish, and if one feels well-supported and nourished, in all possible ways, at the tenure-granting institution.  In my experience most people write books because they must, not because they have an important message to share, and spend most of their lives in a state of self-aggrandizement and anxious paranoia.

Still, I am melancholy.  My book was my art for many years, and I am very fond of it.  I think lots of it is very, very good, and innovative, and interesting, and I do burn to share it.  But I do not know quite how, just yet.  I haven’t thrown out all the notes–I’m far too much of a packrat and a historian and a collector to do that.  Perhaps I’ll share it with you here, in pieces, as poems.  Or I’ll publish it privately.  Or send it down a well, or create a massive collage and hang it in my living room.  Or have it compressed and made into a bench.  Or shred it with cheese and make omelets.  Or beads.  Or stepping stones to the next destination.