Writing and The Body

Writing on a keyboard has become a natural gesture of many modern humans. Not a gesture but a motion; not a motion but a manner of being; more like eating or making love, a mode with us; as an apprentice woodworker would, years ago, have carved a dove from a pine knot in the off hours, thus we pour ourselves into a digital engagement.

It is fashionable to condemn typing. The hand is lost, people say. But we are still wonderfully articulate animals with our thinking hands. The pinkie playfully trolls over the outlying keys or carves out space through pressing return. The workmanlike front fingers find their way through the territory that belongs to them like dowsers looking for water; right and left negotiate with each other, cooperate to reach what they can when they can. We don’t know what they know; looking down and not moving, can you tell which of your hands owns “G”? What letters do your hands share? What words drive them into each other’s fields — the right crossing over the top of the left while the left reaches low and under? This is an engagement mostly beyond the conscious, a play we only feel in result.

But is this interaction digital only — the tips of the fingers skimming over keys? Do we write with one hand or two hands or even an arm, or with the eyes or with a circular embrace like ballet first position? No: we write with the whole body just as we lift a heavy object with the whole body. And as with lifting a weight, you can employ the whole body unwillingly (clinching in the chest, shoulders rising into the ears) or mindfully. Sit high and roll your hips forward, and then you can write with the spine upright and responsively swaying like a sundew or a charmer’s dozy adder.

To write is to navigate a landscape — like, perhaps, an airline pilot; like a drone pilot; like a woman floating over her childhood home in a hang glider, maybe; like a musician playing the theremin; like a rider guiding a mount through a waist-high field; like a swimmer deflecting and dividing the water before her; like a dancer, of course.

The landscape is imaginary but we sense it, which is to say that it’s like the rest of the world.

Three Dances for Keyboard:

  1. Consider simultaneity and the nature of the visual field. Is it because we think in words that we find decentered spectacles (a dance, not in unison, that occupies an entire stage) difficult? We must make decisions and we often feel a consequent regret. Words and writing give the impression we can see, know, trace it all. How could we, in writing, indicate a more fleeting reality? How is typing different than writing by hand, in this respect?
  2. Obstruct your screen with a page. Blinded, I find it very hard to write. The letters have a reality for me only if I can see them; they are my players, who I orchestrate. Or perhaps the words are the players, or maybe it is actually my hands that are unpredictable; at any rate, I feel myself to be in collaboration with something. I try and see how it turns out. What do you look at your writing for? What are you watching?
  3. Consider the metaphor of the keyboard. As best I can tell, the oldest meaning of key is a piece of metal that opens a lock. The musical sense is perhaps a translation of clef, unrelated but attracted to key by sound similarity; nevertheless, it suggests a secret, a code that unlocks a score. The keyboard, then, is full of music and full of secrets. It is arcane. To play the keyboard is to be a magician. To type is to open doors.
Lightsey Darst writes, dances, writes about dance and other arts, and teaches. Her books are Find the Girl and the forthcoming DANCE (both Coffee House Press). Her poetic work appears in Typo, Spork, and Diagram. Her criticism is online at mnartists.org, The Huffington Post, and Bookslut.