In every interview, every place where I venture out with my notebook, there’s a moment. It goes something like this…
Interview subject/Curious bystander: Oh my God! Is that shorthand?
Me (looking at my notebook): No. No it’s not.
IS/CB: You can READ that? That’s your handwriting?
At this point, you’re going to need the visual.
Yeah. I know. My handwriting stinks. Can we rub it in a little more?
In all honesty, I’ve never had the world’s neatest handwriting. I’m a lefty, a fact which caused my elementary school teachers no end of grief when it came time to teach me cursive writing. They would fuss over me at my desk, tilting the paper this way and that as my right-handed classmates stared at what clearly was a devil-child in their midst. Sometimes they would ask me to try to write with my right hand, like it had never occurred to me to attempt that for myself. Had they never seen a lefty before? Why was this such a shock for teacher after teacher?
Nevertheless, I ended up a writer. My left hand, stained with blue ink from being dragged across the page, would fly through page after page of my journal with incredible ease. Later, I took up writing on a typewriter and, even later than that, graduated to a computer. These days, I do my thinking through my fingers in a way that doesn’t even require ink at all.
Except when I’m reporting. I’m a lefty who has spent the last 20-odd years of her life writing down what other people say in narrow notebooks. I haven’t always had the luxury of a interviewing someone who speaks at a decent pace or, for that matter, the luxury of taking notes when seated at a table. I’ve taken notes at press conferences, in the rain, discreetly in the back of a church packed for a funeral.
“Why don’t you use a tape recorder?” ask the well-meaning.
A recorder, I explain, doesn’t capture everything. My notes speak of tone, of color, of context. And who wants to follow up a 2-hour meeting with four hours of transcription, most of which would never get used?
“You can READ that?”
Of course I can. Can’t you?