Thursday, March 15, 2012


The Blind Method

I am going to Academias Pitman to learn how to type.  It is December 1968, summer in Buenos Aires, Argentina and I have just graduated from high school.  At this point, mother doesn’t have a lot of faith in my secondary education and believes it will be useful to know typing.  You can always be a secretary if you can’t get into college, she says and enrolls me in a three-month class to learn “the blind method.”
            Academias Pitman is a secretarial school where young women learn shorthand, bookkeeping, typing, and other useful skills.  My class meets every weekday morning, from 9 to 12.  On the first day of class we are given a handbook with instructions and told to take our seats at a long wooden table where manual typewriters are placed every few feet.  The high ceilings and white walls of the room remind me of the hospital where I spent several years during my childhood.  Despite the unpleasant memories I eventually come to enjoy being in this big room where, surrounded by other young women, we learn how to type on big, bulky machines, black and silver, with keys that stand high.  I type each letter for several pages before going on to the next one.  The “a”s and “z”s and “q”s make the little finger on my left hand hurt.  But I persevere. 
            After a few weeks father brings home a used typewriter for me to practice.  And when 1969 rolls around I write my first poem on the typewriter: “Poema No. 1.”
            I am sitting at the kitchen table, next to a long wall of windows, typing.  It is very hot in that room because the sun shines in all day and air conditioners are a foreign luxury.  I am so focused on what I’m doing however, that I barely feel the heat.  In this way I spend my summer afternoons practicing typing and writing poems.  After “Poema No. 1” comes “Poema No. 2”, then “Poema No. 3”, and so on.  I keep the poems in a manila folder, certain that no one will ever read them.  They are one page in length, as long as the sheets of paper I have: my self-imposed limit.  They describe the world around me, my house, my neighbors, but mostly, how I feel and what I want out of life.  At age 18 everything should be possible yet my poems speak of loneliness, alienation, an existential sadness difficult to explain.  They also speak about flowers and trees, the stars and the moon, music, love, and about other poems. 
            For the last five years I have been keeping a journal with poems I like.  Since I cannot afford to buy all the books I would like to own, I borrow them from friends and libraries and copy down my favorite poems in the notebook.  Then I illustrate its margins with drawings of peace signs, flowers, and photographs from newspapers and magazines depicting hippies, anti-war demonstrations, race riots, rock concerts.  When I am lonely or bored I read these poems out loud in my room in front of the mirror.  Such a simple pleasure!  And when I write my own poems, these other verses flood my mind and spill themselves in bits and pieces on the paper.  In the warm kitchen my fingers press down hard on the typewriter keys while mother sits outside, on the stoop, with the neighbors, trying to catch a cool breeze.  Father is not at home.  Most days he comes late in the evening and leaves early in the morning.  On the rare occasions when he is home, he sits in the bedroom watching television, the oscillating fan murmuring noisily.  He doesn’t like to mingle with our neighbors and their chatty gossip.  My poems include everybody: father’s moods, mother’s complaints, the neighbors’ funny ways.  I fancy myself a chronicler of this place and this time:  the end of 1968, the beginning of 1969, Buenos Aires, the world. 
It is March, 1969.  Typing class has ended.  It is time to find a job.  College can wait , mother says.  In the mornings I fill out applications, take typing tests, and go on interviews.  In the afternoons I come home, to the kitchen no longer unbearably warm, and write poems until suppertime. 
Thirty years later I am still writing poems.  Some are longer than one page, some shorter, most of them in English now, poems that speak of this new world I live in: Chicago, the United States, the end of the century.  And, although they sound and look different, a certain melancholia still envelops them, a sadness understandable to those familiar with the nostalgia of the home left behind.  I realize that writing poems is like having a friend who never leaves you, a friend who is always there when you need her.  And that is how I started to write and why. 

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