In Austin in 1995, when I was twenty-four, I knew a vivacious young woman with black hair and black eyes, L., who was the object of many a crush. You either were crushed on her or resented her, or both (I was of the first party). It was also at this time that I carried on a strange flirtation with a curly-headed blond guy named M. who was in a relationship with another girl. Hard as it is to believe now, I was ignorant of the politics of relationships and didn’t know things were going to get complicated.
One night I was talking on the phone to M. (because that was what we did back then, talked on the phone), and I told him something L. had recently confided in me. She’d said she kept a journal but that she could no longer write in it because her fountain pen was broken. M., who was not an intellectual sort of dude, said at once, “I understand. Her bridge was gapped.” He meant that the fountain pen had been the bridge between what was in her mind and what she put on the page. When it broke, her bridge was gapped.
A few years afterwards I moved to Boston and went to work at the Harvard Book Store. Again, this was so long ago that Harvard itself hadn’t thought to buy up harvard.com (they were pretty mad that Frank Kramer had gotten it instead) and the store’s e-mail address was firstname.lastname@example.org. I worked in the special-order office, from which I sometimes had to ship books. One fateful day I was filling out a FedEx mailing label that read “Press hard, you are making six copies.” My right hand was never the same. For many years it ached whenever I wrote more than a page in my journal, and then gradually it started to ache after half a page, a paragraph, a sentence. This spring I came a cropper in Dudley Square while running for a bus in the rain, and I landed on my right hand (also on my face, leading a client to introduce me a few days later with the immortal words “Our bookkeeper doesn’t usually have two black eyes”). Then I couldn’t even type without pain. I went to see an occupational therapist and learned some exercises and got some neat therapy putty. But it still hurts to write anything more than a few carefully formed letters in my datebook.
Now, when I’m midway through an aeropress and take out my journal to record some coffee-inspired insight, it’s with a sense of dread. I don’t know how much of the thought I can get down before I get distracted by the pain in my hand. Before this problem got so much worse, I had the most adorbs handwriting. I used a black Pilot Precise extra-fine pen and my script was so tidy that people often commented on it; Eben even went some way towards making it into a font (though my hand hurt too much to finish all the sample sentences he gave me). Now I have to write with a pencil in order to keep going for more than a few seconds, and when I try to write with a pen the results are atrocious. That hurts my vanity. But I worry most about my bridge being gapped, about no longer being able to put thoughts down on a physical page at a time when physical handwriting is becoming less and less necessary. At the age of seventeen I had a hard oval callus on the side of my right index finger from gripping writing implements. I guess that’s another thing I have to let slip into the past.