Losing it

Used to be I could write by hand for ninety minutes at a stretch. My first attempt at a novel, a quarter century ago, I wrote two drafts out longhand, sometimes squatting on my haunches in the African bush, copybook resting on my thigh. I wrote physically as much as mentally (that story, a shoddy novella read by two dear friends, proves the point).

My writing process has changed much since then. I can no longer grip a pen the way I used to do. I don’t know exactly how this fundamental shift effects the result, but I do sense a vital relationship between the head and the hand and the page. Lacking that, I am losing my grip.

I self-diagnose the problem to be what my grandmother called, like it was a neighbor or the county clerk, Arthur Itis. I used to literally grip my pencil, much to the horror of my first grade teacher Mrs. W__, whose name I just now realize rhymes with pencil. She insisted I adopt the customary pencil-holding technique of thumb and index finger.

That dainty purchase was not for me. If I was going to commit ink or lead to page, dammit, I would do it with the force of my full hand! I needed to wrap all four fingers and a thumb around that instrument and squeeze.

It worked well for the past few decades. I wrote so much that a deep well and callous formed on my little finger (the “pinkie”). I pumped out two novels and enough other BS to fill a hole six feet deep and eight by two-point-five, which is pretty much where it all belongs.

Today, however, I hold my pen like every other Tom, Dick, and Harry with an opposable thumb. Feels more like holding a teacup, and my relationship to it is slow and tentative.

My hand is stiff. My brain is numb. Even my back reacts poorly when I sit for too long. A dog is barking and the groundskeeper’s leaf-blower howls nearby.



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