A Piece of Writing
On several occasions, recently, I have been asked “Can you write?” …
I have been reflecting on this. My conclusion: I can elucidate my thoughts on paper as opposed to a verbal delivery. But is that even valid in this electronic age when many an email or blog will never have contact with anything organic? Perhaps! Let me unpack this a little more…
Thanks to the education system (or maybe not) I can place marks/letters/symbols on a flat surface with a tool in such a way that another may interpret them. Firstly, I used a finger in sand, then chalk on a blackboard; graduating through crayon, pencil and pen on paper and now increasingly by pressing buttons already inscribed with said mark. But is this writing? I could equally be describing drawing, mapping or text for example.
Do these marks articulate my thoughts in such a way, that they are read with similar meaning to that with which they were made? Here in begins the discussion (written not verbal).
The phrase ‘write me a picture’ comes to mind. I first saw this in the “Chart” Exhibition catalogue 1 where they went on to talk about ‘mud maps’. These are an archaic device, often on a scrap of paper or in the sand, used for finding your way, now, superseded by the GPS – ‘pls turn back now’ and the electronic UBD. But, perhaps the mud map is making a comeback. Thanks to Google Street View it may now, once again, be useful to give directions like …2nd left past the bus stop on the bend, then the blue house 3rd on the right after the deli (Do delis still exist?). I digress…
Certainly, gone are the days when I wrote long rambling, pen on paper missives to my grandmother as I lay sweating on my blankets. Sometimes, they were forgotten or lost before the truck came. Those that were mailed were carefully kept (often with English corrected) and later returned to me by an aunt. My grandmother set aside time, after lunch, every day to write. In a fine hand, and precise English on monogrammed paper, she faithfully and promptly dispensed her own brand of wisdom to all correspondents. To her, I tried to ‘write a picture’ of the places and conditions I worked in and the encounters that I had had, that she would not experience. I never really gauged the level of my success. However, rereading those dispatches, years later, transported me easily back to the scenes of their penmanship albeit through the slightly tilted lens of memory.
Thanks for your letter. It is hot and dusty here today (again). Only two days ‘til the supply truck so I’ll scribble a little of my thoughts while the genset chugs through the last of the diesel…
I have written! Letters to the government/editors that were never acknowledged, let alone published, job and grant applications that vanished in the ether… Then, there were the essays and assignments, the exams to get into university and out again, piece of paper in hand. One wonders, was the piece of paper an endorsement that I could write or that I could function in the system. Occasionally, the comment ‘well written’ was scrawled across a type written page, I concluded it was not my penmanship that elicited that comment. I often wondered how the thousands of letters I wrote could be translated into one symbol.
This ‘mark’ e.g. ‘B’, is it a key to the code, a succinct translation of my thoughts or an acknowledgement that I could write? That, I could articulate my thoughts in a way that has meaning for others, also taking into account spelling, structure and the ability to copy and reference other writers’ words and convincingly make them my own. Have I written a picture – multicoloured hues of nuance and flowing lines or just filled in the blanks to a prescribed formula – a complicated form if you like?
Does ‘Can you write?’ really mean, have you been published? The thought just occurred to me! Why, yes! In high school journals and once at the end of a long line of …et.al; the odd committee meeting minutes – it seemed like a good idea at the time. Is that ok? However, blogs and the internet, now mean that anyone can be published, referenced, quoted… but can they write?
Even though, the girl at the checkout no longer asks for my autograph- a written symbol, meaning me, on a piece of paper. She just says “PIN and OK pls” ; my written signature still carries weight judging by the forms/cheques sent back when left ‘unsigned’ and the frowns of bureaucrats. Are they asking, by implication, ‘can I write?’
Can I write? Certainly and I may even do so! I can scribble random thoughts and directions on the back on an envelope. I can even reply in code to the teenager who needs a lift home from the station. I have been successful in securing what I asked for by written proposal (albeit supported by visual and tactile material – so perhaps that doesn’t count) and supported by my signature. Rereading letters I have written, illustrates a picture of memories, recalled scenes and reminiscences. Essays I have written, come back translated into a ‘mark’ (well… usually several including ‘??’). I have been published electronically and in ‘hard copy’ on paper and my signature is valued in ‘blue or black ink only’.
Yes. I can write… but what is it that you are asking me to do!!
1 Chart Exhbition Catalogue John Curtin Gallery 6 October – 8 December 2006