My handwriting is terrible. Even when I try. Even when I slow down. Even on a good surface. It’s one of the reasons I did not want to write directly in the oral history book my niece sent me. Now that I’m back to working on a major project, it’s the cause of much wailing and gnashing of teeth. That’s because back when I started this project, I wrote down all the initial drafts and notes on legal pads or in notebooks or on other oddments of paper. Now I’m confronted with the necessity of transcribing them all into Word. I puzzle over unidentifiable scrawls. I try to capture my thoughts by the context of the surrounding words, or by remembering what mood I was in when I wrote them several years ago. I try out different possibilities. What could this word conceivably have been? Point? Print? Pout? I get up and walk around, hoping the break will be enough of a refreshment to bring it all back. Sometimes that even works.
Here’s the thing. This bad habit has created problems for me my whole life. I jot things down in the most haphazard way, because I overestimate my ability to interpret them later. I’m glib about my brain’s talent for recall. I’m quite sure “I’ll remember what I mean.” Or, “a key work or two is all I need.” Worst of all, “I’ll be typing this up shortly, while it’s still fresh in my mind.” No, no and no. Stray words that at one time encapsulated the next brilliant story, essay or poem, somehow show up later, lacking all memory of what triggered them. What on earth did I mean by “ballpoint” or “fitted sheet” or “pigeonhole.”
Every time I’m faced with this pattern and the distress it causes, I vow to change. To take more care to flesh out thoughts when I have them. To glance back at what words I’ve dashed down and quickly re-write any that are already illegible two seconds after I’ve written them. So far, I’ve never learned. So, back to my tedious, frustrating, and perhaps inaccurate transcription. I can only have faith that in the end, the effort will be worth it.