Thanks to My 7th Grade Typing Teacher!

A writer-photographer mentor and friend has urged me not to post my photo-stories on my “Julie’s Blog” until after they are published. “But then what do I blog about?” I asked. “Write about writing,” he said.

But I don’t WANT to write about writing!

Writing about writing seems to be engaging in the exercise of some type of self-analysis (writing-wise) or self-conscious reflection that I’ve been trying to get away from. The Pendulum swings: When I was growing up in Berkeley in the 1960’s, folks were pushing the Pendulum across the arc to the side of self-awareness, the very valid theory being that self-awareness leads to self-healing leads to re-enabling one to experience the JOY of living! But the Pendulum has to swing to the end of the arc before coming back and stabilizing in a more centered, balanced place. It became too much analysis, too much self- conscious thinking, to the point where I couldn’t just be.

So I don’t want to write about writing! I just want to write! I want to tell stories, often silly stories, and let the meandering stream of words, like a gentle crystal river, flow and sparkle and splash in its own natural, unanticipated way.

But, as long as I’m on this: I COULD talk about writer’s tools! How about that? After all, what’s my favorite writing tool in the world? Sit down, you youngsters, and listen close to a campfire tale of the Old Days: Do you know what a typewriter is? TYPEWRITERS!!! There’s a reason there’s a 1927 Smith-Corona typewriter in the banner of this blog. TYPEWRITERS!!! I just LOVE to type! And how does that relate to writing? Life is too cool: things unfold in the most unexpected ways . . .

When I was in 7th grade (my junior high school was Garfield then; now it’s Martin Luther King Jr. High), I signed up for typing. But then, a few weeks into the semester, I got accepted into the band because I played the flute. So I dropped typing that fall and signed up again in the spring. So now I was in the spring typing class, but I’d already had several weeks of typing lessons from the fall: I was way ahead of the class. Perhaps because of playing the flute and the violin, my manual dexterity was pretty good, anyway. So I showed up for class every day and obediently typed all the lessons. And I was always done at least 15 or 20 minutes early. I didn’t want the teacher to know – what would have happened? She might have given me something else to do that I didn’t want to do – so I just kept typing.

Now . . . I COULD have typed more slowly and learned to be an accurate typist. But it was far easier to just hit the backspace and strike over the mistake. For you youngsters, that means backing up the carriage (what’s a carriage ???) and typing hyphens OVER the letters I had mistakenly typed. (As with all progress, some things were easier to do in the Old Days: I’m not even sure how to do a strike-over on a laptop keyboard today. Think of the fun that’s been lost!) Well, I can’t imagine what I was thinking. We got graded on strike-overs. Didn’t I think the teacher would notice? And, by the way, have I mentioned these were manual typewriters? For you youngsters, again: we’re talking “MANUAL” here: nothing powered by electricity; all mechanical and powered by human effort. And could those typists’ fingers fly! Youngsters, listen up:  Anecdotally, the world record on a manual typewriter is 176 words per minute! (I’ve clocked 130 wpm without errors on a computer keyboard, but that’s easy.)

So, there I was, faced with 15 to 20 minutes of free typing every day in typing class. And the writing flow – the meandering river of stories and ideas – began. It started with simple sentences like, “Well, here I am in typing class.  I’ve finished my typing lesson already.” And I just kept typing. I wonder if I have those papers somewhere, stored in a box? I’d sure like to remember what I wrote. I have a feeling it included stories I would make up about cats or other animals. I probably told stories about Arsenic Alligator, who robbed banks (but never shot anyone!) and used the money to help rescue endangered alligators in Florida. His side-kick – not surprisingly – was a little brown cat named Busht Casually. (smile)

Imagine the workload of these poor, under-appreciated teachers! Every day we would come to class, and our typing teacher would return what we had typed the day before, with comments and corrections. Every day she wrote on my typing papers, “Watch those strike-overs” or “No more strike-overs, please!” How many days are there in a semester? Every day, EVERY single day, she begged, entreated, and cajoled me NOT to make any more strike-overs. Did I listen?

As the semester progressed and my typing skills got faster, the stories got longer. It was the early 1970’s in Berkeley (!), a time of social protest, equal rights struggles (African-Americans, Native Americans, Female-Americans), marches begging for peace with the threat of nuclear war hanging over us, and cutting class to help rescue and clean up the wild birds covered with gunk from a recent oil spill in the S.F. Bay. Who knows what I wrote about in those typing stories?!!!

Finally, it was the last day of typing class. Before I left class, I stopped to say hello and thank the teacher and pick up my grade. Incredibly, with all those strike-overs, she gave me an ‘A.’ And, as I was leaving, this very nice typing teacher kindly said, “Good luck, Julie. I’ve really enjoyed reading your stories!”

I have never forgotten that moment. It must be great to be a kid: It had NEVER occurred to me that she would notice or read all those stories I turned in day after day. And, by the way, I regret that I don’t remember this typing teacher’s name. If anyone ever reads this blog and figures out who she is, I hope they’ll tell her hello for me. One of the kindest and most supportive things a teacher ever inadvertently did for me was this typing teacher letting me sit and type my stories for 15 to 20 minutes every day.

And now, having shared all this, could it be that my writer-photographer friend got what he wanted? Despite my best efforts, it appears that today I wrote about writing after all!

In the words of Tommy Lee Jones’ character at the end of the awesome movie, “The Fugitive”:  “Don’t tell anybody; OK?”

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