How do I write?
I don’t ever allow myself to think that I cannot do something. So in my opinion, I can write – but not in the conventional way like you do – not with a pen and not on paper, but still.
Since childhood, I have always had a real fascination with paper and ink. As a young girl I used to collect writing paper of various designs and prints. I would spend hours on end paging through them with the girls at school – touching, feeling, admiring, comparing and swapping them out.
I was also privileged to have an English teacher at school who was passionate about writing, encouraging us to write letters to children all around the world. I will never forget the joy of the very first letter I crafted and posted to a pen-pal – and the excitement of getting a reply, nearly six weeks later, all the way from America.
As a teenager I would spend hours in my room (supposedly studying) listening to music, fantasizing and writing love-letters to my “boyfriend” in the Army – decorated creatively with brightly-coloured-ink-pens and an intimate spray of perfume. Never mind the fact that I had never even bloody-well kissed the guy! *laugh*
“I think the whole romanticisation of the paper artefact is somewhat exaggerated.”
I admitted, maybe a little defensively, that I am a true romantic. Books, pretty paper and ink have all the charm I need to whisk me off to magical dream world. Written words – books, pens and paper just do it for me! And a handwritten love letter is the ultimate! *sigh*
Not too long after my accident, I was presented with my very first computer. Desperate to help, my friends, my colleagues and the children of Nelspruit Primary School collected the money in order to buy a top-range computer with voice activated software. I was touched by their kindness and generosity. But, to be honest I was scared beyond words. I did not even know how to switch this freaking thing on. I’d had very little contact with a computer. I grew up in an era where I was not exposed to computers at school. Lift your jaw, I am not that old! *laugh*
After it was set up, I hardly had the strength, physically and emotionally, to go near the darn thing. So it spent another few months gathering dust. At the time, very few – if any – of my friends knew how to operate a computer. Besides not knowing who to ask for help, I was still trying to deal with the devastating changes in my life. And, there was more to come.
One of the worst days of my life was the day I was expected to sign my divorce papers. I think that was the day it really dawned on me – that I could no longer hold a pen in my hand and sign my signature – ever again. Another part of my identity – gone!
As a teacher, I spent my life signing my signature on reports and in the children’s books. It was just something I did – without thinking about it – every single day. Why oh why had I ever complained about marking books? If only… *sob*
I felt sick to my stomach! I was terrified of the future that lay ahead – paralyzed from the neck down, divorced and alone. Hell, I didn’t even want this divorce. In my mind, I naïvely hoped that my husband would now be forced to keep me because I couldn’t sign the papers. A part of me desperately wanted to believe that. But I was intelligent enough to know better. Denial is a strange thing – it can be both healing and destructive at the same time. Denial is a place I don’t ever want to go to again.
Anyway, I needed a commissioner of oaths to witness and verify that I had “signed” the divorce document. My parents took me to the police station, which is in the centre of town. But, there was no way for me to access the building in my wheelchair. There were tons of people milling about. My dad dashed into the building, anxiously seeking some help, leaving Mom and I on the pavement. A few minutes later, we were approached by two burly policemen, who were clearly bewildered by my circumstances. Dad patiently tried to explain the situation to them. Assuring us that they would be back soon, they walked away briskly and disappeared into the building. Eventually, they came back with an ink pad and a stamp. By now, I could feel the curious eyes of many bystanders focused on me. All I wanted to do was to get up and run away.
In broken English, the policemen gently tried to explain how the process would be done. I was fighting back tears. I felt incredibly vulnerable as one of these strange men picked up my hand, by the thumb, and rolled it back and forth on the ink pad. Then he placed it on the document leaving my thumbprint just above the line I was supposed put my signature on. He put his official stamp and signature right alongside it. He showed it to me but everything was a blur. The tears were streaming down my cheeks. I felt so humiliated. By then, I was truly numb – not only in body, but in heart, mind and soul.
My parents were given official power of attorney after that, to sign all documents on my behalf. Suddenly, it felt as if I needed permission to spend money or to buy something. Every time I needed to pay a bill or write a cheque, I needed Mom to do it. It was awful! Although I was grateful for their support, I found it terribly degrading. My independent nature made it so difficult for me to accept that this is how I would need to live the rest of my life.
Defiantly, I tried to learn to take a pen in my mouth and practiced signing my signature. It was so frustrating and I failed dismally. Every time I attempted to talk the pen fell out of my mouth. Not only did I struggle to gain control of the pen, but I didn’t enjoy the drool and dribble that went along with it. Yuck! Besides, I still needed somebody to put the pen into my mouth. I realized that I was going to become a freak show every time I went out shopping and got to the cashier and needed to sign a cheque.
My determined spirit forced me to think of ways that I could become more independent. That is when I noticed the computer in the corner of the room. I began to think that perhaps this was the answer after all. Besides, I had nothing much else to do with my time. And believe me, the days were long. Excruciatingly long.
So I began my tech-journey learning to use a computer with voice activated software called Dragon NaturallySpeaking v 3.5. It took hours of training for the computer to even remotely recognize my voice. It was a slow and agonizing process. I still remember the picture on the box – a man sitting with his feet up on a desk with the catchphrase “Real men don’t type”. Yeah right! I’ve heard of many people who tried voice activated software and eventually gave up in frustration because it was really not that accurate. I persevered, not only because it filled a big part of my day, but I simply had no other choice.
With time Dragon NaturallySpeaking software really improved and as I grew in confidence – and dependency – I began using a laptop which gives me the privilege of more freedom and mobility, allowing me to sit wherever I like or even lie in bed to do some writing.
At present I’m using Dragon NaturallySpeaking Preferred v10 which is a vast improvement. It is claimed that it is 99% accurate but don’t you believe it. It often misunderstands, leaving me to exclaim “Where the hell did that come from?” Unless, of course, my accent is more “Souf Effrikan” than I care to admit. It tends to be most responsive to an American accent. And, if I have a slightly scratchy throat I can forget about getting anything done. It has obviously been programmed to avoid a sexy, husky voice at all costs. *husky laugh*
However, I am grateful for the technology that allows me to be in control of certain aspects of my life thus diminishing the sense of total dependency. It brings a great sense of freedom and a welcome relief to my feelings of isolation, idleness and boredom. Ironically, the technology I was initially so terrified of , now prevents me from going completely insane!
I’m very proud to say that everything I have learned to do on the computer has been self-taught, with a few tips from many kindhearted souls along the way. I’m familiar with most Microsoft office programs and I can do the usual – e-mail, Internet banking, surfing the net and engage on social networking sites like Facebook, Skype and Twitter. So basically I can do just about anything you can do on a computer by simply using my voice. You cannot imagine the difference it has made my life.
My good friend Chris Yelland of EE Publishers encouraged me to start writing a blog – something I have always wanted to do but never had the confidence to go ahead and try. With his dedication, expertise and guidance he helped me to set up a blog and got me going on Twitter. He introduced me to a whole new world of social media which I am really excited about and thoroughly enjoying.
I know that I have a powerful positive message to share through my writings. But I am not a writer. I guess I’ve always believed that I needed a qualification of sorts to entitle me to write publicly. I get anxious and I stress about all the grammar errors and spelling mistakes. My voice program spells the words in American English which irritates me sometimes. Ideas will always flood my mind in the middle of the night when I cannot get up and quickly write them down. Needless to say, by the time I am back in front of my laptop I can barely remember the thoughts from the night before. I often struggle to find the words to express myself. I am slow and it can take me hours to write a post like this. But here I am sharing my life with whomever cares – or dares to read it.
Much like reading, writing is cathartic and it has the potential to whisk me off into another world. Although writing allows me to dream and hope, it brings many challenges like forcing me to face my reality in order for me to share it with you.
I will always long to sign my signature, just one more time. I will always wish to be able to pick up a pen in my hand and write a handwritten note. But in the meantime this is how I write. Talking into a microphone linked to my computer. Hey, at least I can speak Dragon and I don’t get sore hands and fingers from typing ! And for all of this I am grateful !
Next time … How Do I Get Around?