So, this happened.
Of course, it didn't quite just "happen": like I woke up from some bender with a typewriter on my arm.
But it happened, in the sense that I walked into San Francisco’s Black Heart Tattoo on Valencia with one idea — a sailor heart with “MOM” on the banner — and ended up with this instead. But that’s sometimes how these things go: all the planning, all the analysis, and then you find yourself in the chair, being inked with an image that came to you in a flash and that you knew, immediately, was completely right. Or at least close enough.
My dad worked for IBM when I was a kid, and one of the highlights of visiting his Vancouver office in the early 80s was getting to call my Toronto friends long-distance on the company dime. The other was typing for hours on the heavy, humming IBM Selectrics that populated the office, crunching out words and sentences in analog before we even knew what that was.
I wanted one of those machines, desperately, but they were out of my price range even with the family discount, and so when I was 13 I plunked down, on a whim, $300 for a lesser-quality electric typewriter at Woolworth’s. That machine — more specifically, seeing my words in type — gave me such a sense of power: what a rush, to press a key and have a machine respond so immediately, so eagerly, to my touch, to feel the speed and the weight of metal keys striking real paper, nothing between them but ink.
I don’t remember what I wrote on that typewriter, nor do I know what became of it — our family acquired a PC and a dot-matrix printer shortly thereafter, and that’s what I begin using for school assignments, letters, stories. My dad got me my very own PC when I started my undergrad degree, and it was on that computer’s internal modem that I first hooked up to the Internet sometime in the mid-90s. (“Guess how many e-mails I got today?” I once remember my friend Kim asking excitedly: “Twelve!”)
And the rest, you might say, is history: from e-mailing and primitive online chat to Facebook and Twitter, Facebook, blogging, Instagram, all of which I participate in fully, knowingly, even as I no longer actually type — three-quarters of a lifetime on keyboards and mice long ago blew out my forearms and wrists, and so now I dictate into my computer and my words and images appear magically on the screen, all over the world, with the silent push of a button and who knows what kind of behind-the-scenes machinations.
“What do you all do?” asked Cody, my taciturn tattoo artist, inking in the keys. (Everyone in the place was taciturn, not quite unfriendly but definitely not going to give me the benefit of the doubt — just another fortysomething walking in off the street without a clear vision and mostly virgin skin. The resplendently tattooed Farrah Braniff, who was with me and took all these photos, was determined to warm them up with a steady stream of Texan charm and tattoo cred, and eventually Cody got talking and laughing.)
"Um, I’m a writer,” I said, gesturing to the stencil of the typewriter on my right bicep. He asked what kind of writing I did, and I explained: magazine, essays, blogs—
“Hey — there’s a blogging conference going on in San Jose!” he said, and we laughed, because that’s where we had just come from: BlogHer 2014. “A couple ladies came in last week were going to that.” And so we put two and two together and midway through my tattoo I was Twitter DMing, one-handed, with Tiffany and Christine, whom I’d met at the conference, and who now sported Cody’s seahorse and butterflies respectively. And of course I was fielding Facebook chat about the process, all the while Instagramming the ink, as Farrah took and shared photos.
Funny, isn’t it? The way these two worlds have merged? I spent a week in California, three days deep in Silicon Valley, discussing new paradigms for publishing, the increasingly visible Web, live-tweeting everything, texting and DMing and Facebook sharing privately and with the world so many of the details.
And yet, as always, what the conference was really about was direct connection: conversations over lunch and brunch and dinner, a quick coffee grabbed between sessions (thanks, Liz — and now I’m noticing sentence fragments everywhere, including the ones in this post), stealing away with my roommate/blog girlfriend for blog-girlfriend conversation the midst of it all, all the dozens of micro and macro connections made in real time, the way you can meet someone for the first time instantly know she’ll be your favourite.
And, as always, the best conversations and moments are probably the ones we don’t necessarily Tweet right away, or ever. Instead, they inform our writing, our work, our perspectives, get distilled into the words and the art, the bigger picture, keep us thinking, help keep us focused on the next project or adventure even when we can’t quite see how it will turn out.
I didn’t bring my computer to the conference — one more thing to weigh me down when I already have baggage about carrying too much — but after a week in California without making time to journal, I wrote eleven (yes, eleven) longhand notebook pages on the plane, taking up the better part of two hours just getting down thoughts and impressions, barely any analysis.
I didn’t take enough photos, don’t have the energy to write out all eleven pages’ worth of details here, and even if I did you wouldn’t want to read them all. But what I came away with from the conference is that, for me, blogging is still about the writing. Even if writing is no longer only about ink on paper. I led a session with Meiko Patton on self-editing at the conference, and when people asked about things like SEO, I just shrugged my shoulders. It’s not that I don’t care about the numbers, about visibility. Of course I want my posts to pop up first in searches, to reach a wide audience. But mostly, I want to play with words, write headlines that will make me happy, even while the blinking light in my SEO indicator stays firmly in the red. I don’t care if it goes green — I just hit publish when the words are ready (enough) to go.
In a world where so much is digital, it’s good to remind myself of that. It’s good to come away from the epicentre of technology reconfirmed in what I’ve almost always known: what I want most is to get the words out, to get them down, indelible. What I need most in this loopy, hybrid, digital/analog world are the words, as immediate as possible. Pen on paper, metal keys striking through the fabric ribbon, or my voice transmuted through microphone onto a blank page — that’s what that typewriter reminds me of, Cody’s hands etching it into me, metal needle on skin, nothing between the two but ink.