Friday, April 3, 2009

Giants on the Horizon

We now live in the early part of an age for which the meaning of print culture is becoming as alien as the meaning of manuscript culture was to the eighteenth century.
--Marshall McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy

Interesting that as I was thinking of how to justify these journal entries as more than mere detritus in the vast expanse of an open ocean of words, a good friend and mentor was writing to explain why she does not read them. Quite naturally, she has no interest in the minutiae of my life, and both Readers of this journal know well that there is no end of that in these 'pages', but precisely because I have to put the word 'pages' between quotes, I feel strongly that there is something fundamentally different between my admittedly still-clumsy style and the writing I would be able to do if it were not for this medium.

As I tried to express in my earlier essay about being a journalist, I feel that I am part of a generation of writers that has not two but three worlds in which to live. Practically speaking this is what I mean by that.

First, I live in the manuscript world. I love to write by hand. I have since it since I learned to write, and, despite an endemic laziness that renders the script almost illegible even to me at times, it remains one of my favorite things to do. Of course some people loathe writing, or simply find it so difficult that this seems strange, even perverse to them, but to me it is nothing short of vital, in the sense that if I do not do it, I will not live. Well, live on I do, but not in the same way, as I found when I basically retreated from the pen for about twenty years.

The recently awakened desire--no, compulsion--to write has emerged from the grief over Pierre's death, and daily I seek to relieve the pressure of the words that build up in my hands. To that end, I keep a handwritten journal--several actually--to record my thoughts and ideas for writing larger pieces. While this works well to keep me from losing those thoughts and ideas to the daily maelstrom that is life, somehow they are trapped, like ants in amber, visible but hard to get to. If, when I find something 'worth' writing down in my head, it is slightly annoying to think that I cannot 're-use' those words without transcribing them first, and that turns out to be a simple but almost impossible task to complete. After all, the last thing I want to do after I write something is to type it out all over again.

Second, thus, is the typographic world. Born literally at the very end of the typographic era, it stands to reason that given my natural tendency towards words and the desire for self-expression, I would be happy to have the typewriter as a tool for improving the efficiency of that self-expression, and indeed, I was.

I took typing as a sophomore--two years 'early' in those days, when only senior girls took the class--and my parents bought me a typewriter as a reward. Never did Lynda learn that I actually cheated in typing class and looked at my fingers--a practice that continues even as I write this--because it really doesn't matter whether or not you can touch type when all I really want to do--have ever wanted to do, for that matter-- is bang on the keys as furiously as my fingers will go till all the words spill out. They bought me a royal portable, which I kept till I left college the second time, and which served as a wonderful contrast to the heavy old black Royals that we used in Journalism class and to put out the paper when I was a senior in high school. Later, when visiting my sister in New York, I discovered the IBM selectric typewriter, which, could I but have my wish, would be one of my tools today. The sheer power of the machines was awesome, but it was the ability to edit--to go back and erase with a ribbon--that was really impressive.

Just as the difficulty of getting words out of the manuscript into a typescript is enough to make it something not done often enough, so too the difficulty of fixing tiny little mistakes on a manual typewriter made it an exercise in frustration. Xing things out and erasers and white-out are all very unsatisfying ways to edit words and punctuation, so again it is simply a natural desire on my part to want the ease and fluidity that has come with the introduction of the electronic medium into my life as a writer.

So, third, then, is the world of the 'electric field'. At first, it has resembled nothing so much as a giant electronic typewriter, with allowances for eventual elimination all the annoyances that plagued my attempts to write in the past. Having a computer with a word processing program should have opened the door to this flood of words that has merged from my hands in the past two years, but it did not. Just being able to write and edit electronically did not in and of itself do anything to my desire to be a writer. To be sure, I actually wrote the shell of a novel while working as a receptionist, but the absence of inspiration is why it languishes today. When I saw a copy of The Amber Room--written by someone else, of course--in the supermarket last year, I knew that inspiration would never come, but thankfully, I need it not.

That sounds a lot like sour grapes, but honestly I have my eye on the horizon. I believe that the reason I have no desire now to write a novel because I am convinced that it is not at the cutting edge of writing as an art form. I am not saying that this journal is on that edge, but there is nothing to keep it from being there either. After all, it is the first place I have ever found where I can write without repression, where though my words are 'published' they are still ready fresh and malleable enough to be re-worked into the larger whole I see on that horizon.

What is that on the horizon, a windmill or a giant? And what, pray, shall I do with it?

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