Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Recording words. . . with ink

I recently attended a professional conference. In one of the last sessions, even though the speaker was interesting, my attention was drawn to a young woman sitting one row ahead of me and a few seats to the right.

She is young, probably mid-twenties. Her long brown hair is pulled up in a pony with a black stretchy elastic. Small gold hoops thread through her ears. Large glasses with red frames are perched about half-way down her nose so that she can both look through them and over them. She has a large journal on her lap--about 14 inches tall and 9-10 inches wide--with a black fabric cover and a red binding. (I'm beginning to think the glasses, outfit, and journal are selected for the pleasing color coordination!).

Instead of filling a page at a time, she writes across the two-page spread, words running down into the center seam and then rising out again onto the facing page. She doesn't write ON the line, but slightly above so that all the rows of writing seem to float between the lines printed on the page. With a pen of fine point blue ink, she writes very neatly. And constantly. I mean it. Her hand rarely stops!

As she writes, she keeps her head up. Her eyes glance down at the page from time to time, but she keeps her head up, facing the speaker. And all the while she wears a slight smile, as though the act of sitting in this large hall and writing every word (it has to be every word being said--either that or she's composing a novel in the midst of all of this) is a pleasant experience she wants to savor. That's the look. Enjoyment savored.

While I've watched, she has filled almost two pages with text--which means four large pages. So much writing! I can't imagine that it is all about the session, especially when I look at my sparse notes (okay--yes I have been a little distracted by the puzzle of this woman writing constantly and with such pleasure in front of me, but still!). What is she writing? I am writing notes. She is writing talk. Content. The Great American Novel. I don't know. But I wonder. And, when the session ends and I sit forward to get a peek--maybe I can get a better sense of what she is writing--I see . . . shorthand! What young person knows shorthand today? She is making a transcript? I can't fathom it, and yet it fascinates me. This anachronism. I have to think about the implications.

As I wander away, I think about how I am aware that I walk by surveillance cameras many times a day. My car gets pictures taken of it as I drive through stop lights. It's possible that someone with a smart phone will take a photo or movie of me doing something when I am unaware that I am being recorded. And yet, I've come to pretty much accept these aspects of modern life. What puzzles me is my wonderment at having words recorded in this traditional way. Somehow, it seems more intimate. Why is that?


  1. I think it's because we have become so used to hearing the clicking of keyboards and writing, with a ballpoint pen, is smooth and quiet. I find smooth way more friendly and intimate when compared to electronic whirring and clicking.

  2. Shorthand seems to be a lost art. I took it in high school so I would be able to take note in college. I remember so little of it. Sad.
    Your description is so clear, I was totally interested in this girl too. You put me in the seat next to you watching her. That's skillful writing!