Sunday, January 6, 2013

Sir Isaac Pitman's Shorthand

She was the watcher of her mother’s short-term memory.  And while she was watching it, the mother was attempting to learn Sir Isaac Pitman’s Shorthand.

At that time the youth were getting high and/or contemplating overthrowing the establishment or the powers-that-be.  But she was, first of all, unaware unconsciously of her mother’s condition.  Then she was aware, painfully consciously, of her mother’s condition.

Then the songsters sang songs mocking the dupes who live in houses made of something called “ticky tacky”.   Then she was in one of those houses.  Then she was getting up to go to work.  At 5:30 a.m. she would join her father in the kitchen.  He had prepared tea and Sunny Boy Cereal porridge.  They would breakfast and chat before she left for her 7:00 a.m shift at “business school”, and he went to his work as a janitor at the downtown department store.

In those days, “business school” did not mean Harvard or an MBA.  In those days it meant a place where young women were trained in the trade-skill of keeping the daily work life of those MBA’s organized.  Pretend that the MBA is able to think, theorize and hustle.  The trained woman does the work.

Business school was manual typing, filing, reading, writing, bookkeeping, learning how to be a valet (receptionist, seamstress of buttons, shopper for wive’s gifts, server of tea and coffee, good listener, waterer of plants, greeter of loud fat guys with cigars, compiler of documents, letter writer, dialer of phone calls, rememberer of numbers and taker of dictation).  It was a trade-skill because they made them master manual touch-typing before they allowed them access to the sophisticated electric “IBM” typewriter.  All this is true.

Dictation was taken down with the wonderful and intriguingly simple and elegant tool of Pitman Shorthand, the gloriously phonetic, invention of the linguist and Swedenborgian, Sir Isaac Pitman.  Then, she was small, while the giants of the past, the men of renown, such as Sir Pitman, were big.  Then, how terrible was her mother’s condition within which the mother also attempted to learn Sir Isaac Pitman’s shorthand.

Her mother was suffering a dark and deep depression.  She would come home from work and shut herself into her bedroom.  The daughter formed an image called “My Mother’s Bedroom Door” because that is where her mother went at the end of each day into  a black and limitless void.  People can’t survive in a deep, dark depression.

Then, what was the solution to this passive rebellion?  Then, why of course, it was Electro Convulsive Therapy!  Buzz the bejesus out of the frontal lobes to forget the worries of today and yesterday  and glide through with dreams of walking in a garden in the past, not keeping up to your mother, who is gone, never to return.

Her mother’s doctor had the cure, that is, ECT at the psychiatric ward at the top solarium floor of Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops, BC, Canada.  That’s where the mother started her working life, learning nursing work in the 1930’s.  That’s where she ended it in the 1960’s, sitting in a bed with her short term memory erased.

The shift at the secretary school was 7:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. so the daughter was free to visit her mother at the solarium in the afternoon.  She could even take her mother out for a painfully slow walk, which is another story.

  Presumably her mother never really gave up because, when she heard her daughter wax on about the elegant simplicity of Sir Isaac Pitman’s shorthand, she had a flicker of inspiration and decided to try it too.  If she could no longer work as a hard-labouring nurse, which, in those pre-union days, meant nurses did everything; make beds, serve up meds, massage, dress, clean up, serve meals, all of it, she could perhaps learn shorthand, typing, filing and combine that with her knowledge of medicine to work in something less physically demanding, such as medical records.

Every day the mother would learn her shorthand lesson.  This required rote learning as well as insight and understanding.  Every evening, Dr. Shrink Mengele would zap her lobes electrically to produce the desired accepting state of stasis.  The downside of stopping someone from habitual worrying with electric currents to the frontal lobes, is stopping all remembering that requires the kind of short term repetitiveness used to learn something like Sir Isaac Pitman’s shorthand.  So her mother would say to her, each afternoon, “I am so stupid.  I can’t remember any of the shorthand I learned yesterday!”  Dr. Shrink Mengele’s compassion did not extend to letting her know about the short term memory erasing side effects of “ECT”.  The daughter was dutiful to the extent that it went right over her head.  It was one of those things when a person says, a day later, “Oh, why didn’t I think of that?”

Proud activists dismissed and pooh-poohed such things.  They didn’t have time to be depressed!  They were busy with truly important things like proletarian revolution and/or smashing the state.  They didn’t need to learn a skill that could help allay the tedium of daily survival.  They could afford to wear fatigues and carry a Dream Automatic and maybe even get so far as to praise the Leader Addicted To Heroin.  Smash, instead, the state!  Overthrow, instead, the bourgeoisie!  Prepare, instead, for proletarian revolution! Go to San Francisco with flowers in your hair!

At least one of them had the decency to quote Captain Bligh, “We are civilized people!”  Above all, don’t tell your friends your parents are crazy!