The Sensory Side of Reading and Writing by da-AL

Reading and writing have always meant more to me than simple marks to decipher. Even before I was literate, reading and writing has always been sensual.

WikimediaCommons photo by John O’Neill

Before I learned to read, my ears taught me what writing was. My father drove the family car, with my mother riding beside him. I was squished in the back seat, between my two older brothers. Passing signs, they would holler, “Yield!” and “Stop!” and “Hollywood and Vine!”

My father took care of the family money decisions, handyman stuff, and ‘babysat.’ My mother cleaned, cooked, and tended us kids. Outside of home, she worked as a secretary.

Homemaking, mothering, and working didn’t interest me.

Young woman puts paper into a typewriter.
WikimediaCommons photo by Infrogmation of New Orleans

My mom’s secretarial accoutrements, however, enthralled me due to their close proximity to reading and writing. Her spiral-bound green steno pads and click pens symbolized scholarly elegance.  Her table-top reel-to-reel tape recorder was a whispery spooler and boisterous repeater of dictation. That it was off limits to children enhanced its appeal. The scents of pencils and ball point pens took close smelling to appreciate their wood and plastic scents.

And paper! Bonded sheets for business letters, was fabric-thick and textured to accommodate removal of errors. Tissue-thin onionskin saved on international postage.

And her portable typewriter, all ten pounds of it, made music! There was the clacking of alphabet keys to paper, the errp-errp-errp of sheets rolling in and out of the cylindrical platen, and the slap-ding of carriage returns. Nights after I hammered at the smooth plastic buttons, my fingers twitched percussion to my dreams.

Typewriter Eraser at Olympic Sculpture Park Seattle, Washington; Seattle Art Museum.
Thanks, WikimediaCommons

When my mother leaned into her typing, her brows knit, new wonders were brought forth. The top desk drawer held a cigar box full of erasers! Once rectangular Pink Pearls were worn oblong. Round wheels, gritty hard like pumice, were lead stained, their attached jabby white bristles a tangle of frustrations. A pencil version of the same was equally mangled. A sweetish putty that had started off square was a dusty, inky wad. Truly awful typos called for alcohol scented white paint.

Thanks again, WikiMediaCommons


Before I learned to read, my father took me to the library. We passed through front doors taller than our home lobby’s, entered hushed rooms larger than our apartment. Sun streamed through picture windows onto antique bindings. Readers sat with bowed heads at long tables.

In all of these ways, reading and writing continues to influence my experience of the world.

6 thoughts on “The Sensory Side of Reading and Writing by da-AL

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