I recently came across the dictation function on my computer, a find that, initially, gave rise to much excitement. My excitement was dashed, however, when I set about using it and realised it was hard of hearing. What other reason could there be for how appallingly it transcribed my flowing, spoken words? My rolling Northern Irish accent – I hear you say – that could have been the reason, it didn’t understand you! Quite likely. Whatever the reason, by the time I tried to decipher the gobbledegook it had made of my crystalline thoughts, the butchery it had done to my carefully carved sentences, I had forgotten the point I was making, I had given up on what I thought I wanted to say. I could tell myself that the block of disordered words it presented me with were predominantly down to accent. However, if I am to honest with myself, the reason is, I have mushy thoughts. I’ve long-since known about my mushy thoughts; known about them since I began using the voice-to-text function on my phone (which is more skilled at transcribing than the computer). I use it when I am out walking and as soon as I get home, I tidy it up, lest I forget my fanciful thought excursions. The technology, yet again, will have mangled some of my words, but the majority of the mess will be down to me alone; attributable solely to my scruffy and scrappy thinking, to disarrayed and disorganised ideas that disappoint me once I see the jumble in type. Does this clutter of clauses really reflect what’s going on up there? Turns out my sublime ideas are a tangled muddle, fishing line snagged in the weeds, knotted and messed.
Chiefly, therefore, I type or write on the page, which suits me better. I don’t think in whole sentences, at least not elegant ones, I think in fragments, in broken ideas that require me to write them down so I can begin to piece them together. They are two different skills, speaking and writing, which is why, when I hear someone like Barak Obama speak, that I forget to listen to what he is saying and marvel instead at how his words flow like the Orinoco without so much as an ‘ah’, ‘um’, ‘like’, ‘you know’ to be heard. I don’t mean his speeches – I understand that public addresses can be autocued or learned by heart – I mean his interviews, his off-the-cuff chat. I admire those rare people with an ability to speak with fluency and clarity, no hitting rocks in the river, no rapids where they lose buoyancy, tip, sink and splutter for air. I’m amazed by those who bear a course artfully, pick a destination and move towards it. Rivers are fluent, easy, and graceful in their flow, they adapt to changes, carve out new courses, meander, but ultimately, they bear a course to the sea. They have a point to which they are bound and, after a few twists and turns, they get there. Which is what I try to do I when I write: aim for a point, move from it occasionally, return again, shuffle off when something of interest calls me, but not forget my purpose, my destination, remember where I’m going. With the written word, I try to find my way.