Wednesday 17 June 2015


The Sound of Typing

In a poem I wrote a decade or two ago, a bison appears to me in a dream, and gives me a short, facetious resumé of my writing career, dwelling mainly on the development of the technical aspects:

A sentence now, a sentence then;
a pencil, ruler and a pen;
a page to score a verbal goal on;
comma, full-stop and semi-colon.
Then Appleworks and Microsoft:
up from the basement to the loft
of technological expertise,
forgetting intermediaries....

One of the ‘intermediaries’ which the bison neglects to mention is a typewriter by the name of Brother. One day, I was typing what would now be called an ‘active document’:  something that I was making up as I went along, rather than a completed piece that I was simply transferring from handwriting to print. I know that I must have been in the throes of composition, as opposed to transcription, because there were long pauses without any sound of typing.

I wasn’t really aware of those long pauses, although my attention was finally drawn to them because of a distraction. I had retired to that clinical mind-space into which the environment intrudes only as distraction. A long-lost friend of mine once expressed, very neatly and ironically, the paradoxical attitude writers often display in their dealings with reality: Don’t bother me now. I want to write a poem about how much I care for you. 

Some writers are acutely aware of this paradox, but it doesn’t deter them in the least; they incorporate it into their work. The ancient Latin author, Petronius, in his Satyricon, has a poet sitting on a rock after a shipwreck, writing about the tragedy of it, while people are drowning all around him.

That day, I worked on and on, totally absorbed by whatever I was typing. Gradually, a noise began to insinuate itself into my mind; a sound that had originally been insignificant, part of the excluded environment: a repeated word. There was a voice coming at me that said Again. And then, after another while, Again.

I knew, of course, at some level of awareness, that the voice was my son’s. He was one and a bit at the time, and was in the next room, resting in his buggy. And for some reason, he kept saying Again. A mystery began to grow and grow, opening a sizeable gap in my concentration. Again what? 

Eventually, my wife arrived down from upstairs, laughing.

‘What’s so funny?’ I asked, annoyed by the conviction that the game was up for this particular piece of writing; it would be lost to the world.

‘He wants you to keep typing,’ she said. ‘He likes the sound of it.’

It was a humbling moment. There I was, irritable, fastidious, writing a piece that wouldn’t resolve itself into the simplicity I wanted, while outside my mental exclusion zone, the world was being created anew.  And one of its first sounds was the tapping of my typewriter. 

©Ciaran O'Driscoll