So I’m here in the back seat of my friend Bob’s car, writing.
Let me describe it for you. I have my Bluetooth keyboard on my lap, and my iPhone between my knees. I have my Scrivener app fired up, and though my position on the keyboard is a bit cramped, I can still get the words out.
This, I guess, is dedication.
If you care about something enough, you find a way to do it. I used to write in notebooks, and when I was in a car, there were plenty of times that I wrote jagged entries, my pen skidding across the page with every bump, but I always managed to get something out there.
There’a something I enjoy about essays like these, where I write a dispatch in circumstances that are decidedly hostile to the creation of such things. And unlike my handwritten journal entries from back in the day, I can post them after I write them, as if I’m serving a loaf of bread fresh from the oven.
It isn’t easy. The phone slips, the keyboard shifts around, and sometimes I get a touch of car sickness. Often, my fingers hit the shift key, so that I unintentionally type in a word that’s all capital letters. Then I have to go back, erase when I’ve written, and write the word correctly.
It always makes me think that however I create the words, they get to the reader in the same way. The reader takes them in, unaware of the hostile circumstances in which I wrote them. This in turn makes me think of all the times that others wrote words in which the logistics where a lot more daunting than a shifting iPhone and keyboard.
Of course there’s Stephen Hawking’s agonizingly slow endeavor of writing his books a few mouse clicks at a time in the 80’s, which has now given way, as his conditioned worsened, to a device that targets the movement of his eye, and translates it to letters. There’a also “Under the Eye of The Clock,” a memoir in which the writer, Christopher Nolan (not to be confused with the filmmaker), who suffers from paralytic cerebral palsy, typed out the book by holding a pencil between his teeth.
The grand champion of this sort of thing, however, has to be Jean-Dominique Bauby’s “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.” Bauby, the French editor of Vogue, suffered a brain stem stroke when he was 43. In much the same way that ALS has reduced Hawking’s motion to his eye, Bauby’s stroke removed his ability to move any part of his body…except for his left eyelid.
With nothing but this last remaining bit of motion, he communicated and dictated his memoir, one letter at a time. Unlike Hawking, however, Bauby did not have the benefit of current technology to track the movement of his eye. Consequently, he communicated in a way that is not only remarkable, but downright heroic.
It went like this: someone would stand next to him, and recite a modified order of the alphabet in which the more common letters, such as E, came first. When the person got to the letter Bauby wanted, he would blink, and the person would write the letter down.
Bauby mentions, in his memoir, how he enjoyed "talking" to crossword puzzle fans, because they would figure out the words he was trying to dictate. Of course there were countless false dictations, all, no doubt, accompanied by the silent scream of frustration as Bauby thought “no, no no…not ‘blissful'…'blister!’”
How Bauby was able to create a 120 page memoir and stay sane is a mystery to me. The whole thing makes my complaint about mild car sickness seem like childish whining.
If Bauby could write a memoir one eyeblink at a time, I can certainly put up with the occasional bump that causes my iPhone to slip to the floor. If this is what I indeed must do, folks such as Hawking, Nolan, and especially Bauby gently tell me that there’a no excuse for not doing it.