Rheya Tanner

Nowadays, I spend the majority of my time looking at a screen. At work, I look at my Big Screen and frown, and at home I look at my Little Screen and honestly also frown. But while I am technically considered a “digital native,” I wasn’t born with a keyboard under my thumbs.

I grew up in that tender transitional era of technology, back when it was all a crapshoot. Back when our only virtual assistant was Clippy and we still had to type www. at the front of everything like troglodytes. Back when figuring stuff out on paper was still more efficient than waiting until you could get to a computer and log into CompuServe.

So, I spent most of my formative years holding a pencil in my hand. (Pencil, not pen; I’m not ready for that kind of commitment.) Even after I learned to type, I preferred taking notes the old-fashioned way; somehow it made the information feel more “real.” More importantly, you can’t doodle in the margins of Word.

And let me tell you, I was a prolific doodler; I lined the margins of notebooks and handouts with flowers and cows and robots and those cool ‘S’ things from the ’00s and comic strips featuring Steev the Mutant-Lizard-Dragon-Gecko (original character do not steal). It made my pages a little crowded, but I always did well on my assignments, and that’s all teachers really cared about at the end of the day.

Hah! Just kidding. If there’s one thing teachers hate more than bad handwriting — every grade, every subject — it’s doodling. I stopped hearing a word about my handwriting by seventh grade. But doodle-shaming? That followed me through college.

Looking back, I think it was a coping mechanism. I was able to focus better and stop getting lost in daydreams when I had a pencil to paper. Ironic, because the only thing my teachers saw was evidence that I wasn’t paying attention. And some of them took that shit personally, sometimes going out of their way to discourage me.

God, I’ll never forget this one day in fifth grade. We were out at recess when my teacher came across my doodle journal. I’d left it open on my desk. He looked through the many pages, years of drawings — and promptly tore out every last one.

When I got back from the playground, I found them stapled together on my desk, along with a note: If he saw even one more drawing in his classroom, I would find myself in the principal’s office. I was 12.

He made sure I knew what a nuisance my art was to him. I was devastated. But I was not deterred.

And look at me now, right? I do this stuff for a living. All that doodling was preparing me for adulthood way more than Earth/Space Science ever could.

Nowadays, my entire livelihood takes place on a screen, but I still do all my scrawling and sketching the old-fashioned way, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. But who knows? Maybe someday, Google Docs will finally open their margins up to me.

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