October 7, 2013

An Essay on Writing. ~ Sharon Watts

No value is placed anymore on handwriting, if you believe what you read.

I roll it around in my mind and on my tongue, tumbling and tasting it from all angles. Fingers twitch, wanting to place it into the perfect setting; I am a jeweler cradling a diamond in the rough.

What I have here is, simply, a word. It will embellish or provide keystone support to an idea, a descriptive passage, a conversation. It is guided by intuition. My process rests not on a Ph.D. in English Lit, but, rather, my own peculiar divining rod that susses out what I want to say, and how I want to say it.

Actually, I mean, write it. Really, physically Write. I believe words deserve to be written—in florid, italic calligraphy with a bottle of ink and a hand-dipped pen, in bold block letters with a fresh, fume-y magic marker, with the broad stroke of a sumi brush, with a Number 2 pencil and all the ghosts of grade school.

Or, in my case, now, with a cheap ballpoint pen and lined notebook. No longer using a bevel-sided Bic, I have caved to these newer neon models with their built-in rubber bumpers to cushion and prevent that badge of honor I brandish: a writer’s bump.

My sometimes cursive, sometimes printed, sometimes hybrid action repeats itself over and over, partly subconscious and partly with full intent. Writing without a net, I fill up each line in my notepad. No eraser. No delete key. Every train of thought leaves a trail of ink across the paper. My effort’s history is not captured in Word Doc, but in torn-out pages of revisions. I am captured in the fallout of ragged perforations from spiral bindings. Giant asterisks and arrows rearrange the paragraphs, providing a maze of detours for me to navigate in future drafts. No cut and paste—that invasive surgery that will come much later, if at all.

Why am I putting so much effort here into describing how I write? Am I documenting a process as I know it, now in its death throes? Or revolting against a world that careens away from what I remember and cherish: a time when we embraced the art of voluptuous forced deliberation, contemplation, execution?

When our hands sculpted our words as much as our thoughts did.

No value is placed anymore on handwriting, if you believe what you read. (And someone did write these opinions—though I’ll bet money, not on a legal pad!). I am in despair that cursive is cursed, dismissed, kicked to the curb of Dinosaur Alley. Let’s take a moment to consider penmanship: even the word is beautiful—a waltz! I love its quirky characters, its reflective spirit and personality.

It has even been in the analyst’s chair. I refuse to talk about penmanship in the past tense, even as I cringe to see texting dealing blows that have it staggering, down, but hopefully not out.

When I start to write, my mind is in throttle position, my hand hovers over the pad. Black wings of words circle and swoop down onto the page, find their places with much squawking, or in silent chirping satisfaction. Some fly off to parts unknown, others mate and nest.

My notepad, my journal, even my grocery list becomes intricate with intent, as tactile as any starling nest.

By the time I shuffle my stack of pages together, I finally acknowledge the 21st Century. Ninety-nine percent of my effort is signed, sealed, and delivered. The other one percent will get into scuffles with spell-check and filibusters with font choices. I will curry favor with the cut-and-paste tabs, because I can only “undo” an action so many times before I am as lost in Word Doc. as an astronaut drifting in space.

When I finally, metaphorically type “The End” it is done on a 1936 Remington, my hand then grabbing the sheet of paper from the roll in a celebratory flourish.

So, you still think hitting “save” is as rewarding as all this? I’ll keep doing it my way, if you don’t mind. I owe it to my writer’s bump.

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Assistant Ed: Danny Garcia/Ed: Bryonie Wise

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