Coffee Stains, Smudged Lipstick and Beer Rings (A Trip Down Nostalgia Lane)

I am a little disillusioned with the world I’ve found myself in, as I dictate the first draft of this post onto my iPhone. I don’t know when exactly I adopted all of this new technology, darlings (I mean, I supposed I could check with the adoption agency, or else dig through my receipts) but I fondly remember scribbling notes on beer mats, on the backs of receipts, on anything available. I remember writing out entire first drafts of things by hand, with asterisks and circles and arrows, indicating where another entire passage (which might have been written on the back of a Perkins place mat, where, at one o’clock in the morning, after a post-bar meal of pancakes and sausage, I came up with the brilliant addition) was to be inserted.

I remember pockets full of napkins covered with drafts or doodles or ideas or phone numbers.

I remember crying when they accidentally went through the wash and came out mashed and pulpy.

I remember desperately trying to pull them apart and decipher the lost treasures.

I used to have entire dresser drawers filled with handwritten stories covered in coffee stains, smudged lipstick and beer rings, and the smell of paper and old stale coffee or beer was like a time machine for my senses. I would hold the pages to my face and breath in the memories of where I was when I wrote each silly word in a script that is uniquely my own. I could relive the days sitting under a tree in a park in the middle of the city. I remembered my first day spent wandering around under the skyscrapers, overwhelmed by it all, and taking refuge in a park I stumbled upon.

There is a sensual richness to those memories that cannot be matched by old computer files that stay the same no matter how old they are. They don’t sit in a drawer and age, they don’t dry out or fade. Digitally we may be able to be more precise or efficient or effective and productive, but are those qualities we want to ascribe to art, or does that not sound like words you’d find in a commercial for a new automobile? Precision German Engineering and blah blah blah…

In adopting all this technology and machinery are we, in fact, becoming more machine-like, and less spontaneous, less organic, less accepting of foibles and mistakes that add character. Have we actually adopted the auto-tuning approach to every aspect of our creative process? Does everything really need to be homogenized and framed into 11 point Garamond font?

Very soon we will live in a world where no one knows how to write cursive anymore, and ‘handwriting’ will be resigned to an archaic font on your computer.

Call me an old romantic, but I miss my collection of notes and doodles. Some of my best ideas originated on napkins or beer mats, and I have never had to Photoshop coffee stains on my old photos or postcards — I came by mine honestly.

15 comments on “Coffee Stains, Smudged Lipstick and Beer Rings (A Trip Down Nostalgia Lane)

  1. Reblogged this on Being the Memoirs of Helena Hann-Basquiat, Dilettante. and commented:
    Things Hemmingway never said: I’m worried I might spill my beer on my laptop. Do you think Starbucks is still open. I’ve had too much to drink.
    Things Emily Dickinson never said: I’m worried my poetry isn’t commercial enough. Do you think this is too depressing? I’m going to post a video of me twerking on YouTube.
    Things Lenny Bruce never said: Do you think I can get away with saying this? Oh, that’s not very politically correct, is it? I think I should clean up my act.

  2. Depends on the person. One who is truly into writing will always have something handwritten even in note form. Sometimes it takes a few computer crashes and lost ideas to get the idea that a physical backup is essential. It isn’t about one style taking over the other, but finding a balance between the two. The technology makes some things easier and has its own risks. Use the old ways to counteract or minimize those risks.

    As for cursive, I’m 33 and I have never used it for more than signing my name. So, I don’t know what use it would have beyond that. Even handwritten items are done in print instead of cursive these days.

    • I wasn’t looking to start a debate — I was merely lamenting the fact that we feel the need make writing “more efficient” — you nailed it when you said ” I don’t know what use it would have beyond that.” — as if everything has to have a use, as if everything is a tool. Can’t cursive be appreciated as something beautiful? Organic handwriting is one of the things that distinguishes us from lower primates.
      I was lamenting the fact that you can’t go to a coffee shop without seeing a dozen laptops; I was remarking on how cold a computer is; how impersonal.

  3. Miss it? Rekindle it! Make me feel like a less alone madman drowning in heaps of papers (my parent’s maid used to call it “trash”)
    It is very sad about the cursive, if I write with it on papers, there are constant complaints that it is too hard to read.

  4. If you’re an old romantic, then so I am 🙂 Even when using the font Lucinda Handwriting to make my emails or printed letters seem more personal, I know I fail. There once was an art of handwriting. You could tell a lot about a person by their handwriting ( I probably come across as someone with multiple personalities). All the emoticons in the world cannot reveal as much as about a person as their handwriting. I look at my old journals and can easily pick out those times when I was hesitant and unsure of myself, those times when I felt confident and strong. It gives an added dimension to my writing. The stained pages, the smudges, the tears bring back not just the memory of writing, but also where I wrote, maybe even why I wrote.

  5. My handwriting is a bastard child of script and print, and it’s all mine. I agree with you on your point about its magic, but as you said, my hand can no longer keep up with my ideas. I love handwriting for slow nighttime journaling, but for pouring out stories, the keyboard just keeps pace better. (Much as I hate to admit it, my writing process is less romance-under-a-tree and more little-ferret-huddled-over-a-desk.)

  6. Very funny post! There is something wonderful in finding the old scraps of paper where you jot down those ideas that demand to be written. Although last week, inspiration struck me while I was waiting at a bus stop on a busy highway after work, and I started typing the first sentence of a new story into my iPhone! (I didn’t miss the bus 🙂 )

  7. I’ve written a whole book about this, Helena. About how we’re losing tangible connections to long-gone people because of the conversion to technology. I agree with you. I still have to handwrite something to think it through. I just finished doing that.

  8. Tell you how bad off I am. I miss being able to see the forms as I fill them out on the old Turbo Tax. The new “cloud” version only lets you do that after all is said and done. I know I know who gives a crap about Turbo Tax, but it is part of the fading of the new technology for even newer.

  9. […] Helena Hann-Basquait + Community Storyboard = fantabulous […]

  10. You forgot the scullery maid!
    Lovely post, cherie, I was transported back to the stacks of notebooks filled with childish scrawl, margins overflowing with doodles where I wrote my first epic (read: total rubbish) fantasy stories. I still take notes in class by hand and the margins are still filled with doodles. But you’re right, there is something about writing something by hand that a computer will never be able to capture. They need some sort of iPhone app where you scan the handwritten page and it turns it into 11 point Garamond with paragraphs in all the correct places.

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