The Postscript

Sharing a story

Carrie Classon

My nephew, Beau, keeps me on my toes.

Keeping on my toes is a good way to develop balance and agility. It is also a good way to fall on my face and embarrass myself. But since I don’t spend a lot of time with teenagers – and not nearly enough with Beau –I am trying.

Right now, he’s trying to convince me that I need a mechanical keyboard for my computer. I am old enough to remember typing class in high school. The “thunk, thunk, thunk!” sound of hitting keys is not a pleasant memory. My parents gave me a state-of-the-art typewriter when I left for college, and it had (wonder of wonders!) a self-correcting function, which was a huge improvement over the machines from high school, but it was still messy and time-consuming.

Then I didn’t write anything for years and, by the time I wrote again, I was using a wireless keyboard and wireless mouse with a great big monitor. Now, when I see typewriters, rather than experiencing a pleasant nostalgia, I feel something closer to dread. But Beau is trying to tell me that a mechanical keyboard is the way to go, and I am trying to keep an open mind.

“It’s really easy to use,” he assures me. “And it will last much longer than a membrane keyboard.”

“Hmmm.”

“And you can adjust it to any touch you want.”

“Uh-huh.”

In addition to his interest in computer peripherals, Beau is also a voracious reader. I gave him a book over Christmas, and he texted me a few days later saying he wanted to discuss it with me. The problem was, I hadn’t read it. (I had no idea I was expected to actually read the books I gave to him at Christmas.) So I went back to my local bookstore to buy a copy. As I approached the front desk, I saw a collection of books and a sign that read “Signed Copies.” I then realized one of the books on the table was the meditations of Marcus Aurelius, who died in A.D. 180.

“I guess you wouldn’t have a signed copy of Marcus Aurelius,” I said to Patrick, who works the front desk.

“Well, we wouldn’t have three for sure!” Patrick replied. Patrick is a smart aleck.

Also displayed in front was an old typewriter, much older than any I was forced to use. “I feel lucky to be writing now,” I told Patrick. “I bet we would have three more novels by Charles Dickens if he’d had word processing.”

“A lot of writers back then had their wives transcribe their manuscripts!” Patrick noted, disapprovingly.

“I’ve heard he read his books to his daughter,” I told him.

“You can tell,” Patrick said. “His writing sounds like a story you would tell aloud.”

I left the bookstore with the book I gave Beau and a copy of Marcus Aurelius. I thought how fortunate I was to be able to buy a book so easily and to have all these tools that make writing so effortless.

But as different as it all seems, I know that reading and writing have not really changed all that much. Whether the story was written with a quill pen or on a fancy computer, whether it was read off a stone tablet or an electronic one, it is still just someone sharing a story.

I’m going to give Beau’s mechanical keyboard a try. It will keep me on my toes. And it will remind me – once again – that there is no one right way to tell a story.

 

Making progress

“Perfection is the enemy of progress,” according to Winston Churchill.

It’s the time of year when we try to do too much, change too quickly. Already expectations are lowering, and reality is setting in. The sky is gray, the temperatures cold, and I am coming to grips with the fact that I cannot eat toffee every day. (At least, not a lot of toffee every day.)

It’s the mid-January new year letdown.

More people die this time of year than on average. I imagine they make it through the holidays, finish off the toffee, take down the tree, look out at the gray weather, decide the New Year is not looking significantly better than the previous one and give up the effort to keep on living.

I spoke with my grouchy friend yesterday. This is the same grouchy friend who has cursed my cheerfulness in the past – and is a source of unflagging pessimism – so I should have known what was coming. He says there is no cause for rejoicing in the new year. He says the days are growing longer, and that means intolerable heat is around the corner. He says any promises he makes to himself will be broken. “I gave up goals and dreams in the summer of 1971,” he says.

He thinks I am a fool. I think he’s right. And I believe this may be one of my best qualities.

Because the older I get, the less seriously I take myself. I used to obsess over not looking my best, walking around with spinach in my teeth or toilet paper on my shoe or a tag hanging out the back of my shirt. I used to beat myself up (usually hours later, while doing the dishes or trying to fall asleep) for some dumb thing I said – something that someone could have taken the wrong way.

“Ack!” I’d yell aloud while washing my vegetable steamer. “Why did I say that?!”

Accepting that I’m foolish removes this burden. If I don’t take myself too seriously, I can’t expect anyone else to. If I accept that I am imperfect and just treat myself with love, I can hope folks will follow suit. I might wonder (as I did last night), what I am doing in the kitchen at 1 o’clock in the morning eating the last of my sister’s homemade toffee.

“Should I really be doing this?” I might ask myself.

But now I answer, “Who wants to know?” And there is silence.

It turns out that no one cares if I stay up too late eating toffee. There is no editorial committee reviewing my statements from the previous day, informing me of how they might have been more clever or less embarrassing.

As a result, I feel a lot more free.

I can make that phone call, not knowing what I will say until I say it. I can have a conversation with a stranger – not caring so much about what they think of me, but letting them know that I am interested in them. But the key to all of this – to any of this –is action. I have to forgive my gaffes and blunders in advance and do something rather than nothing. I have to do something imperfectly if I am to make any progress at all.

Today, I am doing situps. I can only do a few. My form is terrible. I cannot see how this will ever make me stronger. But I’m doing them anyway. And, while it’s much too early to tell, it’s possible that I’m making progress.

Till next time,

Carrie

Carrie Classon

is a nationally syndicated columnist, author, and performer. She champions the idea that it is never too late to reinvent oneself in unexpected and fulfilling ways. Learn more about Carrie and her memoir, “Blue Yarn,” at CarrieClasson.com.

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