I remember our first family computer as a mauve, clunky, fascinating piece of machinery with a pixilated Windows logo on the screen. And on the other side of that screen was a world of opportunity limited only by imagination.
My father would show me this world, a world he learned the language of by teaching it how to play games as simple as Pong or as complex as Tomb Raider.
Then, my mother showed me the worlds hidden behind words and song. In particular, she showed me Bible verses and hymns jumping off the printed papers.
“Can I borrow this?” I asked her, holding out the pamphlet of the day’s planned sermons and songs, tucked in the pew.
“Borrow it? What for?”
“I want to copy these,” I said, and set it on the computer desk at home with the large, mechanical keys under my fingers.
“Okay, but you have to bring it back.”
The first strokes were deliberate punching of the keys, over time growing more confident but still slow as I craned my neck and swivelled it back and forth from the open booklet to the keys, then up to the screen to check that it was all correct. A glaring white background on a rounded screen like a great glass bubble, with letters printing the passages.
I returned the book on the second Sunday after I borrowed it, for the moment content with what I’d done and ready to wait for the next Catholic calendar year’s release.
But I always felt drawn to the clacking of keys, the sound and the feeling; though perhaps I was more interested in the way that the action of typing out letters in a series left a distinguishable mark that I had put something down. The security of something belonging to me, outside of myself, but that came from within.
Often, I found myself sitting in front of the computer with my childhood fingers hovering over the buttons and nervously fidgeting with them, eager for some reason to press them.
I started with short ideas, quick stories about the characters in my life that I knew: the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, myself, my parents, the Little Ponies, Spyro. Over time, as my interests grew, so, too, did the characters I wrote about and fantasized with. Inuyasha, Kingdom Hearts, role-plays online. Eventually, my own characters took up stock amongst the ranks, and I found friends with similar interests. Clover. Garnet. The Kodaly Bear.
They were accessible only through pen and pencil, and their stories came through in printed word shared through emails and collaborative social media forums we made together.
Our family computer upgraded to something sleeker, with a black tower and a thinner screen with a flat, softer surface.
With the practice I got on the quieter, black keyboard with white symbols, I learned the orientation of the letters and their punctuations, the positions of numbers and the buttons for formatting and interaction between paragraphs and words.
I started with a few words at a time, simple and short ones, before I looked down from the screen. I would type in sprints without looking up from the keys and erasing nothing until I had fewer and fewer mistakes.
Then I combined these skills. And I took a typing class offered in my middle school to cement this skill, which would lead me to tell more and more stories. A skill that led me to pursue a college education in creative writing. One that taught me how to craft a finely worded message for any purpose I could dream.
Thanks to a clunky, mauve keyboard and borrowed church literature.