In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Pens and Pencils.”
I first learned to type in the TV newsroom on an Adler manual. I really had no business working there; I had been plucked from a community college classroom where I was a radio and TV student and thrust into a temporary job at a Portland, Oregon ABC affiliate station. I had no idea what I was doing. When I put my fingers on the typewriter keyboard, that fact was obvious.
The year was 1979, and I was 26 years old. Already divorced. No college degree. And, as I mentioned, I couldn’t type. I initially started at the station as a production assistant for a morning show. I was “hired” for two months to take over for a woman who was having surgery. Miraculously, I ended up staying at that station, in various capacities, for 10 years.
When my two month stint was up, some kind soul at the station found me another temporary gig in the traffic department. Now this isn’t what it sounds like; the traffic department kept track of every show and ad that was aired. Everything was entered on a big, clunky computer. My job was to do data entry on what was called the “log.” That way, if somebody wanted to go back and see what was on TV, they could look it up. Supposedly this was to keep things fair. Advertisers could be sure their commercials were run, the station could keep a record of public service programming, that sort of thing. This was one of my first experiences with data entry, and it didn’t help that I couldn’t type.
Not long after this, a permanent job came up in the newsroom. It was as assistant to the newsroom secretary, whose job was to answer the phones (which were always ringing) and to generally babysit the producers and reporters and camera people and editors. The assistant needed to type letters for the news director and oversee the scheduling. A perfect job for someone who couldn’t type! I was hired. The only reason I can think of that I got that job is that I happened to be at the right place at the right time. Oh, also because of my winning personality. As I recall it, nobody even asked me about my educational background. Can you imagine this happening now?
God, how I remember trying to type mistake-free letters for the news director. Bless him, he was so patient with me. I was absolutely terrified those first few months. Talk about a hotbed of intellects and egos and tempers! It was loud and busy and scary. I loved it.
After a few months, I had made a few friends, and one of them began to teach me to write news stories. I’d come in on the weekends and she’d give me some wire copy to rewrite. By this time, I’d begun to do a little more than hunt-and-peck at the typewriter, but I was still slow. My hands are relatively small, so that pesky “a” key was a tough one on a manual. But I kept at it, and eventually I could write a story. We used eight-ply carbon paper in those days, and the scripts would have to be typed in a narrow column in the middle of the page so the words could be read from a teleprompter. I shudder to think of how much of that paper I wasted with typos. I learned to neatly black out some of the mistakes so the anchor could still read the copy.
Gradually I got better. Writing and typing. We graduated to electric typewriters. I graduated to the assignment desk and became a part-time news writer. That job had the steepest learning curve I’ve ever experienced, and consequently, it was the most rewarding of jobs. After a couple of years, the editors began sending me out on stories, and the final seven years of my stint at the station I was an on-air news reporter. Looking back, it still amazes me that I was able to accomplish that. It was like getting a college degree from a newsroom.
Now I’m actually a really fast typist, and I can’t write a word if it’s not from a keyboard. I have a memory of sitting at the old Adler at my desk, cigarette between my fingers. I’d lean back in my chair, take a puff, think of the next line of the news story, set the cigarette down in the ashtray and type. Then I’d pick up the butt again and do the same thing over again. A few years after I became a news writer/reporter, they banned smoking in the newsroom. I couldn’t write a news story without a cigarette in my hand, so I’d join the old guys in the smoker’s room under the stairs by Studio A and write my story longhand. Then I’d go back to my desk and type it up. I’m amazed my co-workers didn’t complain about how much of a time suck that was. Well, maybe they did. I haven’t had a cigarette since 1988, so I can’t imagine it now.
Recently I took a writing workshop, and one of our assignments was to write three pages a day by hand. No computer keyboards. Cartoonist Linda Barry claims that’s the best way to be creative; to use your hand-to-brain connection with an actual pen on actual paper. I guess there’s something to that, maybe more so for visual artists like Linda Barry. But for me, thumb joints stiffening with arthritis, gliding my fingers along a keyboard is a pain-free and powerful connection. I don’t need a cigarette to make it happen, either.