Apr 02, 2024, 06:24AM

Shorthand, Shorthand. Oh, If Only…

My old-style dream, that of being a true writer-to-be and not a forlorn jerkoff, centered on being productive, resilient, and disciplined.

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When I daydream about my missing life, the one I could have had if I’d done things differently, I find that shorthand’s a feature. It made its first appearance a few years ago. Before that I’d always imagine my 12-year-old self sitting down and squaring himself to the task of writing. Getting that habit, putting in the time during my formative years, and when college arrives I’m somebody. People respect and admire me, I shine socially, and everything is different. Or I’m not even in college, I’m in New York and making a living already, a young man and his pen out to dazzle the world. Such was my earlier edition of the fantasy, and I’m not sure how shorthand got into the mix. But once arrived it proved central. I could see myself up in my room, practicing, or sitting in class or the lunch yard, my head down and my skills growing as I took down the teacher’s lecture, the kids’ remarks, who did what to whom—everything. The sharpened skills would be manifold: an ear for dialogue, an ability to pin down events and follow their sequence, a knack for filling up pages as fast as my thoughts. And I’d be writing, of course, stories and so on. I would’ve acquired the habit, if I’d learned shorthand.

So goes the sad song, as plaintive as its old edition. But a dream of shorthand, as opposed to the simple dream of just writing, highlights an element in my makeup. When you sit with your head bent in your room and write, you’re just a devoted artist and diligent self-improver. When you do the same and practice shorthand, you seem a bit autistic, and even more so if you do your shorthand in class, courtyard, etc. Always with his head down, always closed and inner. Which is how I was, only I had a book in front of me and read it (or told myself I was reading it; during my late high school years I zoned out more often than not). But a nonstop reader’s a bookworm, a grind maybe, probably a drag but somebody who can be slotted easily. Always head down and writing shorthand? That’s weird. What’s he writing, why’s he doing it?

So we find that my daydreams had shifted a bit. After decades of dreaming about being normal and a success, late in life I made a change. Now my daydream self would be  abnormal—or somewhat—and a success. I don’t know what brought that on. When the shift occurred I was still years from being told I was autistic, and there’d be more years before I’d accept the news. Until this acceptance I didn’t even see my daydream self’s resemblance to autism. But the goals involved in the daydream were autistic.

My old-style dream, that of being a true writer-to-be and not a forlorn jerkoff, centered on being productive, resilient, and disciplined. The new-style dream downplayed these a bit in favor of compulsion but added a new goal, that of keeping track. Finally I’d be able to hear what people said as they said it, and to follow events as they happened. I’d do this by jotting it all down; otherwise I’d be lost, as indeed I often am. My daydream self would sit among others and transcribe their goings-on and thereby keep up, though he could do so only as long his head was down and he scribbled. This makes keeping up a goal in itself, as opposed to keeping up so you can be in step with others and join in the life, so remote, that they’re all conducting together. Get old enough and perhaps your daydreams find their true shape. All I know is I should have learned shorthand.


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