Okay, here’s a thing. It’s 5am and I’m at my desk. I know that I will spend at least the next twelve hours here, possibly fifteen. I will make myself take a lunch break, but the odds are that I’ll spend it eating right where I am, watching or reading something on this Mac. There will also be many, many and indeed yes thrice many tea breaks. But I’ll bet money that while I’m boiling the kettle, I’ll be reading a book or looking up news on my phone.
So every moment of the day will look ridiculously identical. I told my mother yesterday that I’d passed a certain significant word count on a project and she asked if I’d had to press the buttons on my keyboard all that number of times. Yes, I said. “And the rest,” I thought, as I decided not to tell her that I’d written and thrown away about as much again. It was rather a lot of words and she was thinking about RSI, but there was also this element that from her perspective, the job was sitting on this chair, pressing these buttons and that’s all.
That is about all. And saying this to you now, I can see why she didn’t exactly rush to start writing herself. I can see why this work might not appeal to you if you long to spend your days outside in the sun.
But from here, from this perspective, from my perspective, I’m not going to be looking at a screen at all. I’m not going to be typing all day. I’m certainly not going to be using a computer. Instead, I’m going to be writing a really difficult section of a book: my head will be in facts and sources and interviews and transcribing and describing and keeping an eye on whether any of it is libellous. I’m going to be designing a different book this afternoon. Then I’m preparing for a teleseminar I’m giving tomorrow.
And I’m going to be talking to you.
Here I am, there you are, what’s not to enjoy about that?
I just worked this out because I’m curious and it was starting to bug me: today I only have to work on three projects but I will almost certainly use 26 software applications to do it. I’ve already used 9. Each one needed these keys, this screen, but it all feels so different. I didn’t sit down at 5am thinking that I must switch on a computer. I sat down thinking I can’t remember who I am or why I get up this early. Lit up by this rather huge screen, I just spent some time wondering where you were and what my name is.
Tea helped with that.
But even when I was fully caffeined-up and you had finally got out of bed so I didn’t have to keep tiptoeing around, I didn’t think the word ‘computer’. Didn’t consciously think that I must now open Evernote, Safari, Mail, Word, iTunes, InDesign, Muse, Photoshop, 1Password, Transcription, OmniFocus, OmniOutliner, iBooks Author, TextEdit, Pages, Preview, Reeder, Numbers and Excel. I just reached for that note I made yesterday, that thing I was going to tell you. I reached for a Suzanne Vega album. I did also grab for my headphones when I remembered that it’s a bit early and I’ve got neighbours. That may be the fastest I move all day.
But while I don’t think of this as using a computer and I sure as all certain hellfire do not think of anything I do as work, I do think a lot about the way my life goes through these 102 keys. I think about their cute QWERTY layout and why we have that, why French writers have AZERTY instead. I think about how Windows has a keyboard shortcut that lets you switch from QWERTY to AZERTY by accident and would then let you switch right back except the new layout means the bloody keys are not where they were and you cannot find the shortcut.
It fascinates me that while I’m looking at this blank screen, my fingers are typing away and all these words appear. It deeply, deeply fascinates me that the moving finger writes and occasionally holds down shift. I love that we have shift keys that no longer shift anything, they don’t physically move the whole keyboard assembly up an inch so that it’s a capital letter that strikes the page. I love that I’m kneading the keys, needing the keys, and in the moment that I pause, I’m unthinkingly pressing Apple-S. How the same key that put the letter S on the screen is, when pressed at the same time as one other key, the way that I save what I’m doing. Maybe I wouldn’t feel all this if I had to hunt-and-peck at the keys to write but I touch-type so it’s like there isn’t a keyboard here at all, there’s just the writing.
Bear with me a sec, I think I might actually be reaching for a philosophical point here.
Life is a keyboard with 102 keys. Cor. Everything we breathe goes through this small, simple life and everything we do looks physically exactly the same from moment to moment. Yet what we do with what we’ve got is infinitely different. And we can do anything we like, so.
As I say, I think about this a lot. I don’t often think about the 12 or 15 hours ahead of me, at least I don’t think of it as 12 or 15 hours and was a bit surprised when I worked it out to tell you. Instead, I think it is a thrill that I’ll get to work on these projects today. I admit that I do also think it’s going to be a bit of a chore doing some other bits like tax returns later, but then it’s terrific that I’ll get back to all this. Today’s a straight writing day, up to about 2pm when I’m going to be using InDesign. But other days I’ll be writing one minute, editing video or audio the next, then reading or watching something. Given that I do little but express how much I enjoy this lark, I’m going to tell you that it is inexpressibly great.
And that life is 102 keys. Official.
Call it 103. Because, freakily, that Suzanne Vega album – Songs in Red and Gray – has this very moment finished and I think that means it’s time to go press the key on my kettle. And read some news, obviously.