On Passionate Transcription


Before I had a mobile phone I could write with, I always carried around those little subscription cards that come with (and fall out of) The New Yorker and Harper’s magazine. I used them to take notes on what I was reading, and scribble down ideas for pieces, poems, groceries, and whatever else. I always used a felt-tipped pen, and part of the fun was working with the rather limited blank space, fitting my writing around the address and pre-paid postage print already stamped on the cards. At any given time I had a bunch of cards full of my scribbles lying around, waiting for me to revisit them and transcribe some of their contents into computer files.

I don’t know if one remembers something better when one writes it by hand rather than types it, but I suspect that the flowing labor and artistic qualities of writing interact with our perception in ways tapping the rigid screen of an iPhone does not. Anyway, one thing about writing those notes is how few words fit onto the cards. Even with a self-imposed tiny font size—a hundred words per card, tops—there was only enough space for the good stuff. Transcribing quotes by hand was passionate scribe practice, a way to internalize any Deep Thoughts that tumbled from the magazines the same way the cards did. My hope was that if I wrote down enough maybe the process of reflecting and echoing ideas from the page would change me in a lasting way.

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