In the film Crocodile Dundee, the journalist is about to take a photo of Dundee’s Aboriginal friend. The friend, Neville, interrupts her. “You can’t take my picture,” he says. “Oh,” the journalist answers, all PC sensitivity: “You’re afraid that it will steal your soul.”
“No,” Neville sweetly replies, “you’ve got the lens cap on.”
I have an equally dualistic feeling about the little tape recorder in which I record notes in bed and in the car. The thing I often find still gripped in my hand when I wake. The thing I remember to take with me, even when I forget my cellphone.
This little, inexpensive, analog recorder is the carrier of my soul.
How do I explain this? Even at a time in my life when I am notoriously unsentimental about material things, the little silver critter has magic in it. Were I to lose it, I would panic. If I forget to bring it to my bed, I am uneasy until I’ve gone to get it. If Moe knocks it to the floor in his excitement over his nightstand birdwatching, I am anxious. If it is not in the between-seats catchall well in the car, I’ll pull over until I’ve installed it in its place.
Notetaking by recorder has an immediacy and truth to it. The ideas placed there for safekeeping have nuance and subtlety and raw power. Often, they are elegant and eloquent, with not an umm or uhhhh to be heard. Occasionally, they thud like a bag of mud dropped from a tall building. Either way, they are there. Captured.
Whether the notes were made in car or from bed I can judge the success of the enterprise, the fecundity of my imagination, by the numbers added to the zeroed-out counter. The creaky, crackly sound from the utilitarian little mic is the medium through which I judge the worthiness of the work in my readbacks. As the little silver guy waits for me to transcribe its burden, it glows warm and inviting, a welcome I thought possible only in the tactile pleasures of a good notebook.
Unlike one of my beloved friends—or one of the kitties—if the recorder were to die I wouldn’t spend a minute in mourning…. Okay, I lie. I’d give it maybe a minute, or even five…but I wouldn’t bury it under a favorite tree or send it down the river aflame in a Viking funeral. I mean, it’s a tape recorder, you know? Geez….
The tape recorder. The notes it bears so willingly. The anticipation of claiming the rich thoughts that the night would have stolen from me. When it comes to this little instrument, I am breathing flesh possessed of a mechanical soul.