The medium and the message


Aged b&w shot of portable typewriter. Photo credit: Su Leslie, 2016

Broken typewriter. Image: Su Leslie, 2016. Edited with Snapseed and Stackables.

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there”

LP Hartley, The Go-Between

For the last twenty-odd years, in the little space on forms labelled Occupation, I’ve almost unthinkingly put the word “writer” .

But the truth is, while crafting words still forms a large part of my paying (and more often, non-paying) work, I’m no longer asked to deliver a defined volume of words (measured in column inches or recorded minutes) to be set in a visual (or aural) space by someone else.

These days I’m a more content creator than copy-writer. And while the well-paid agency gigs of the 1990s are a distant (and lovely) memory, I enjoy having control over how my words look as well as how they read.

Note the “as well as.”

For when words are no longer crafted as a separate entity, but become a “text as image” adjunct, they can become devalued. I’m noticing that as communication becomes more and more visual, a lot of writing — even that created by those paid to do so — is sloppy, confused, sometimes barely literate. Perhaps audiences have become sloppy readers.


B&W close-up shot of portable typewriter keys. Photo credit: Su Leslie, 2016

“I just sit at a typewriter and curse a bit.” — P. G. Wodehouse. Image: Su Leslie, 2016. Edited with Snapseed and Stackables.

The typewriter is an apt symbol of this shift. The physical reality of the keys determined the shape of the letters, the words, the page. Emphasis came from CAPS, underlining, or   s  p  a  c  i  n  g   out the letters. There were no visual distractions;  no place to hide. If the words weren’t powerful enough to grab readers, you lost them.

I don’t miss typewriters, with their inability to forgive mistakes. Before I started putting “writer” on my forms, I was a student. Before that a secretary. In those roles, I typed and re-typed pages to produce error-free documents for my lecturers and bosses.

Or replacement documents. When the Health Inspector for whom I’d spent hours typing Notifiable Disease reports let them slip from his hand in a high wind, I was reloading the Remington with blank forms (in triplicate) even as my morning’s work fluttered wetly around the office car park.

I like working with visual media. I like learning to craft images the way I have learned to craft words; to attract attention,  shape moods and to tell stories. When I get it right, words and pictures are in harmony. Sometimes I feel I’ll never leave the rehearsal room; other times, I’m happy to busk.

This post was written for Sally D’s Mobile Photography Challenge at Lens and Pens by Sally.


A thousand thank yous


This little message popped up in my feed last night and I’m pretty chuffed!

ZimmerBitch started out last September as a bit of a giggle – a side-project from my family history blog Shaking the Tree. I wrote a couple of posts then forgot about it until earlier this year.

But thanks to you – visitors, readers, likers and comment-leavers – ZimmerBitch has become really important to me. It’s become my space to think through and get feedback on issues that matter to me (like learning to parent my teenage son). Your generosity in reading my musings and offering thoughtful, funny and helpful comments is humbling.

And – quite unexpectedly – ZimmerBitch has re-awoken my interest in photography. The weekly challenges posed by The Daily Post, Lens and Pens By Sally, Where’s my Backpack and A Word in Your Ear have all inspired me to dust off my camera or whip out my iphone and pay more attention to the world I live in. Not only am I taking more photos, I’m also editing them (especially those from my phone) to create images that I am proud of.

So thank you all – my blogosphere whanau*. A thousand thank yous in fact.

su for blog

*Whanau is a Maori word that means family, but not merely or necessarily in a biological sense. It’s about the communities of care that we build, and I feel very connected to this community.

Daily Prompt: Million Dollar Question


Why do I blog?

1. I’ve got a fidgety brain.  I need to write because it seems to be the only way to channel the fidgeting; to get the ideas that won’t shape themselves in my head somewhere I can see them and construct some sort of sense. It’s cerebral knitting. And yes, I do the actual kind too to stop myself grinching fabric and picking at my fingernails.

2. I’m basically sociable. I like talking to new people; having them become part of the narrative I’m constructing. And more importantly, I love sharing in other people’s stories. My mum can go for a bus ride into town and come home with eight strangers’ life stories. I used to both marvel at that and be slightly freaked out by it. But you know what? I’m becoming my mother – only I’m riding the cyber-bus.

3. I like technology. I used to keep a journal which got filled with photos and newspaper clippings, but with a blog I can have video and links to other writers’ and ideas and all sorts of cool stuff. It’s way more exciting to produce, and a much more interesting reader experience. I’ve worked as a writer/document designer and I feel really strongly that (kind of like how we eat with our eyes first) we read pages as a whole visual thing. Text is increasingly image and the more I can make those images appealing, the better.

Nuff said!