Nonfiction: Helena Writes #47--On mother-son writing and following your thoughts

Helena Writes, Helena Clare Pittman's monthly Center column on her writing life
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Helena Clare Pittman, one of the Center’s most dedicated teachers, has written, painted, and taught her entire life. In her monthly Helena Writes series, she shares a lifetime of wisdom, one pearl at a time.

In her 47th post, Helena offers a short piece of writing by her adult son, an example of stream of consciousness-style writing, plus a call to try it yourself. Enjoy!

Dreams, nonfiction by Galen Pittman

I was....actually, it's hard to remember and describe. Nothing that big or fancy. Something about food from the day before being on the ground near me. There was a hamburger, some grilled chicken patties half eaten. I figured the hamburger would still be good. I didn't know, but I took a bite anyway. It still tasted good.

I think I was on the floor by something resembling a tanning machine. We were putting stuff in the back of a station wagon. Shirts, etc. I had the burger in one hand, no bun, just the meat. I was having second thoughts about wheather it would sit well in my stomach or not. I still am not sure about the spelling of "wheather.” It looks wrong to me. I know it's not "weather." I think? The tablet I'm writing on has a "spell predictor", but no "spell check." So if I fully spell out a word one time, it will recognize it and predict it the next time I attempt to spell the same word, even if I misspelled it the first time I typed it and thought it was correct. The tablets and phones can be pretty tough to write on in general so if it predicts a long word like "Supercalofragolisticexpialodotious”—it didn't predict that one at all. I'm pretty sure I spelled it completely wrong, but the program will now recognize it if I try to spell it again and predict my incorrect spelling of the word for my convenience.

But I was trying to make a point. Like punctuation is really annoying on tablets and phones, so sometimes, or mostly all the time when I start spelling a word that has an apostrophe (it predicted that word and I took it)! Like the word "I'm." If I type the letter "I" then "M" with no apostrophe, it will give me a little window with "I'm" at the top and I can just press it. It's (just did it there) so much faster than holding down a letter that also has the punctuation mark you need, or spelling the word "punctuation." I mean, I'm not trying to impress anyone with my typing skills. No one is recording me while I write. I think? And if they were, they'd be quite impressed because I'm using two styluses ( I had to spell "styluses" for the first time, now the program will recognize it the next time I start to spell it), one in each hand, to type. In fact, I just reached over with my right hand to grab my cup of coffee, picked it up and took a sip, and put it back down while typing the previous sentence with my left hand (or stylus) without any pause. This type of thing (no pun...type) has become a regular occurrence in my writing which I think would really impress anyone who is watching through video surveillance, if they are.... I did just use the spell predictor for the word "Occurrence." I didn't know if it was spelled with an "A" or an "E", so I typed the letters o c c u r....then paused to think. I typed the letter "A" and nothing happened. At this point I had narrowed it down by process of elimination to the letter "E." I typed it and voila! The word "occurrence" appeared in the little window above on my keyboard. Just like the word "Voila" appeared when I typed the letters v o i l.

I can be pretty clumsy on this thing which is why all those built in tools really help. The people that designed these devices probably know how tricky they are to type on which is why I think they added all these helpful features.

I used to write in a notebook with, that's right, an actual pen. But, over time, I started to develop a pain in the knuckle of my middle and pointer finger on my right hand, which I depend on for several things, including my studies of the piano, drums, and guitar. Which are invaluable to me. Also, the notebooks take up a lot of physical space and cost money. Not much money. About two dollars (American) every couple of months.

I just realized that I've been thinking and typing in a proper English accent for the last while. Moving on.

So all these factors added up to the thought that I should devise another method of writing every day to hopefully eradicate my new and steadily increasing knuckle pain. Well, the tablet seemed to make perfect sense. Text takes up literally no space memory-wise. Kilobytes, my dear boy. Months and months of writing adding up to, say, around eleven megabytes. There are after all some nice things about the future, I do say.

So the point is, my dear fellow, there is no problem that does not have a solution. Now I just have to solve my back pain from all the sitting while I write.

A writing exercise

This writing, by Galen Pittman, my son, amazed me. I wanted to present it here. We are both artists. The only way I could give it a concept was to say to him, "Escher." Meaning the artist, M.C. Esher. The piece is self referential, moves right into the present moment, like Escher's hands, drawing in graphite on a picture plane—drawing themselves. Galen knew what I meant. If you know Escher's work you may see why I use that drawing as a reference.

Galen and I have become an informal writing group. We share a lot of the things we write. This is something new. Galen began writing every day at the beginning of the pandemic, the shutdown. He spent hours writing. I always felt he would write someday, he is from a family of writers, both sides, going back generations.

I think the form of this piece would make a good exercise, if you are up for trying it. Writing everything that is going on, on the page, in your mind, every thought, movement, feeling. Maybe there is a term for this kind of writing. I am a painter. Painting taught me to write. So if there is a name to this form, please comment! And if you try to write, in the moment, referring only to what is happening as you write, I hope you have fun with it.

Stream of consciousness, free writing, automatic writing, or whatever you want to call it, Galen’s story is a great template for an exercise. Will you try it? What did you think of Helena’s latest offering? Share with us in the comments.

Related reading: Helena Writes

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