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Peterson: Irrational fear of keyboard finger fumbling

Published: Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013 11:49 p.m. CDT

I know it is an irrational fear, but nearly every time I sit down to type, I am afraid that my fingers are going to forget where the letters are on the keyboard.

But by some fluke of nature, or sheer repetition nearly every day for more than 35 years, my fingers automatically know where to find z, one of the least used letters of the alphabet.

I got through high school without taking a typing class. And I really should have, but at that time, typing was mostly for girls who were hoping for jobs as secretaries. I wasn’t a chauvinist; I wouldn’t have fit in. More so, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the girls whose slender fingers seemed to fit the keyboard. I wasn’t up for the challenge, the truth be told.

As a matter of fact, I had my own typewriter. I worked for the student newspaper, which was really a bulletin board with your typed stories stapled to the corkboard, so your raw typing was there for one and all to see. There was no hiding behind a typesetting machine, which is an ancestor of the word processor.

I taught myself how to type, although not nearly as fast as the girls in Future Business Leaders of America. I managed to get by.

The typewriter was unyielding in its demand for perfection. Type in a wrong letter, and you were doomed were it not for Liquid Paper that painted over your mistake. If I could have bought it by the gallon, I would have.

The computer keyboard changed everything. If you make a mistake now, you just back up the cursor and type it correctly. The touch of the keyboard is light; you barely have to strike the key to get the letter you want.

The manual typewriters made you work for each letter, pounding out copy and strengthening your fingers, which could come in handy were you to stumble into a finger fight or need a steady trigger finger.

I realized the errors of my ways after I left high school and entered college, and my first foray was short-lived; I didn’t complete the first year. Typing wasn’t to blame for my premature withdrawal; I could bang out papers and news stories with the most mediocre of them.

One of the things I did was enroll in a summer typing class at Southeastern Community College in Keokuk, Iowa. I lasted two weeks, when a better opportunity appeared: Evelyn Wood Reading Dynamics.

I didn’t need to learn how to type fast. I needed to learn how to read fast, which would serve me much better. Friend David Koller told me about the class, we paid our fee and joined the class at the nicest motel in Keokuk. I needed to read 500 to 600 words a minute, four times faster than I could normally read.

And I thought I had the skill mastered, but that was on the final read when I would cruise through pages at quickening speeds. But all of the preparation that went into the final read probably had me reading on average quite a bit less than 600 words a minute, probably closer to 125 words a minute.

It was too good to be true, at least for this 19-year-old student, but I do have a lifetime membership to Evelyn Wood Reading Dynamics, and I can pick up where I left off any time. But I haven’t seen many, or any, advertisements for the class.

I would have been better served by sticking with Typing 101 and really learning the keyboard the proper way.

I hit backspace often enough because my fingers often miss the right key and hit the next one over. But I know exactly where the backspace is, and I can correct myself without the indignity of Wite-Out.

But I do have this irrational fear that my fingers will lose their place on the keyboard. And, instead of writing a perfectly comprehensible sentence, it will come out as “s owtdrvyly xpnoejwmankw armysmvr” (translation: a perfectly comprehensible sentence).

I think about it frequently when I am typing, but I try to stuff it deep into my unconscious and keep it buried there. My problem is overthinking. If I do what comes naturally, which I typed with my eyes closed, I won’t have any problem. I need to meld to the keyboard, watch the monitor and let my fingers do the walking. Fairly skipping along, actually, something not even my feet can do.

• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental-health advocate, a freelance writer and a former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. He can be contacted at dickpeterson76@gmail.com.

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