What I’m doing this instant is a miracle. I push down on a square plastic button, hear a clicky sound and instantly a black symbol shows up on a white screen in front of me. I can even make weird symbols like &, ‡, ¿, Ï and my favorite . Amazing, right? And so much easier than those poor scribes in Mesopotamia.
They needed good clay. That and a good stiff reed with a pointy wedged end to tell the gory tale of a great ruler beheading his daughter’s suitor. You just had to know the Cuneiform writing system. Dampen the clay, pat it out flat and press in the reed in different ways. Let it dry and stash the clay plate somewhere so archeologists would find it a few millennia later They take it back to a dusty lab in England and translate the cunei scratches to reveal, “Never did like that boy.”
Just this past Tuesday I spent a couple of hours with eight others in a Writers’ Forum. These writers, (and I call myself one) Zoom in together once a month to talk about, learn more about, and share about the art, craft, joy and misery of writing. Not knowing them I first asked “When did you first call yourself a writer?” Easy to ask, tough to answer. Marv said he wasn’t a writer just a story teller. I had to think on that a bit until I saw that he and I do much the same thing with words. We write not so much to be read as to be heard. We write for the ear. We want you to hear our words being said even though you are “listening” with your eyes. Does that make any sense? Hope so.
Then we considered who do we write for? It varies. Most all of us admitted that at one time or another we were writing for a readership of one. Ourselves. In several cases this “Dear Me” correspondence was written under the shadow of death and grief. Judith wrote to herself when she was in that room with her mate of 28 years and deeply wondered as she wrote,
“Sunlight filters through golden leaves outside your window. Your hand in mine,
I savor the warmth that is fading. No, you can’t go yet.
The machine glows red. The clock grows louder.
Each tick draws us closer to the end.
The monitor beeps, slows, and stops.
Who will I be when you leave?”
It made us in the group ponder the distinctions between simple sounds and eternal echoes, time as momentary pauses or as eternal silence. Words to the self should best be tender and supportive. Others enough there are to hurl the sticks and stones.
But each of us writers could come up with an image, name, or small group of readers we wrote for. One phrased it, “I’d like to hear back from NN because I really wanted them to hear what I had to say. If that happened I would know I did what I wanted to do.”
Related to that to whom issue was that of the why of our writing. We go to all that effort, secluded off on our own, juggling words — some very weighty — to some great or even minor end. We each are feeling something when we write so isn’t it fair to want to move someone to feel something, as well? One of us wanted to create some joy and happiness in a reader’s life, if only for a few moments. How about anger? Yes, anger is good. Another, Laura the poet, worked with the intensity needed to portray social injustice in a way that would strike for attention without bringing on retaliation but an increase of understanding.
Most of us put poets on a separate but slightly higher pedestal. At least I do. I am in awe at how a poet can made even short words overly long in portrayal, a spare phrase be full to bursting with intent and meaning. Poets deal with emotion. We narrators describe what those emotions produce. Or something like that. I’m not a poet and have just proven my point.
Writers, as workers, have it easy. We are topic scroungers. There is nothing in our whole wide worlds that is free from our grasp or theft of thought. Some of us carry note pads and jot down ideas when they hit us. One of us said she pulls off the road to jot down a title and has to wait to get home to write what follows. Another one is a scrapbooker pasting in quips and quotes, pictures and images that later are scraped off and spread out on a page like pie dough under pressure of the rolling pin. We are not averse to using bad analogies either.
Writers have it easy in that all we need are ideas and a way to place them out and share with others. I was pressed by a friend, “When’s your book coming out?” Made me think of a title. Best I could come up with was “30 Acres and a MacBook Pro: Thursday Thoughts overlooking a pretty place.” Relax, I’ve not even started the intro.
Writers are given the tools they need to do their work. Words. They are the anvils, tongues and hammers of the wordsmith. They are free floating by the hundreds of thousands in the air we think. We are especially fortunate when we are using English words, or so we believe. We can take most any word stick an -ly or an -ish or just a -y to the end of it and wah-lah we have a new word like “curvy-windy’ (short eye) or such like. A lot of other professions don’t allow for such makeuppery, take the law for instance or engineering.
Writers are an odd lot. If totally honest we love to write and love more to be read. We are not in it for the money. For the vast, vast lot of us if we do get paid it comes out to about a third of a cent a word or is it by paragraph? Not enough to pay for the ink likely. So why do we do it, this writing thing?
I can not speak for everyone in our little Forum group last Tuesday. Though we did learn that one of us started writing to deal with a great pain. Another does it to help others write better. Another seeks to answer her own questions. There is the story teller giving voice to little things in his world. For the others there are abundant reasons as well.
I do it largely to keep my brain cells awake. I once thought that upon my ordination I was downloaded a certain tonnage of words to use during my career. I don’t believe that any more. If I did I would have run out a few years back and I’d be sitting here on the couch punching keys randomly with the white screen before me remaining unblemished with fluff and nonsense.
No, I’m going to keep on writing until they pull my cold dead hands from my keyboard revealing that the last thing I wrote was a plea to Keep the Faith, Do the Job and Ask for Help.
By the way, these are my own thoughts and do not necessarily represent 1st Presbyterian Church of PaolI or its members and friends. Some do agree. Sometimes. Sometimes not.