Monday, September 13, 2010

Feeling like a writer without ink and paper, chisel and stone

My entire life I have wanted to keep a journal. I've elected to use "journal" only because people often cringe at any mention of diaries. Someone once said "Dear Diary" and that was the end of that. It's not that I was prevented in keeping a journal. In fact, at many points of my life I was a routine journaller. In elementary school, I was so hyped about my journals, I even had coloured smiley faces as a system of categorization - the colour of the smiley face denoted the mood or overall feeling of the entry.

That's right, even in Grade 5 I was keenly self-conscious of the fact that there's no such thing as writing entirely, absolutely for oneself. At every moment that we put words on paper, physical or virtual, we are thinking of the reader, the addressee, the audience. That's what has always made journalling so difficult for me. I have been unable to completely, irrefutably dismiss the non-existent reader and just write what I want to write. The reason has to be that without the idea or concept of the reader, I don't want to write at all.

Maybe it was all just practice for when my best friend stole my diary in Grade 8 and read it out to people over the phone (I still called it a diary then).

I value journalling for anyone who chooses to be a writer. I mean, everyone's a writer in some sense. Some are just more writerly, writerish than others. Like most things, there's a continuum. Everyone participates in the great experiment of the Written Word but some do so more consciously than others. That's what has gotten me thinking about journals and diaries - what I'm doing now, this new endeavour, this making a cyber diary. I want a space to put my thoughts that don't belong anywhere else. I've been thinking about writing and how fleeting and transient most of our written expressions are. My virtual, lost word count is enormous and irretrievable. It's all out there in the netherworld, all the e-mails and MSN conversations and Facebook conversations, statuses, and wall posts.

When I write, I fantasize about timelessness. As though I'm expressing something not rooted in my own circumstances and present tense. But I just blew that by mentioning Facebook. How can anyone write in the year 2010 without consideration for all the media that have transformed our understanding of communication. That's not even a question; I won't even give it a question mark.

I started thinking about authenticity when I decided I would start writing letters. It was because of two very important friends who moved away for graduate school, who both happen to have blogs and are thus, in some way, responsible for my deciding to finally start my own, or something. It occurred to me that communication is too easy, too immediate, too instantly gratifying. Forget e-mail and MSN as aides to long distance virtual communication - Facebook has revolutionized the revolution. My friends away don't even have to virtually communicate with me directly anymore. They can post their thoughts and feelings and observations in an indirect, semi public way and I believe we've had a conversation. With this in mind, now it seems unthinkable to have to write a personal e-mail to someone in order to stay in touch with them. Or chat with them on MSN messenger in real time. That's how I know it's too easy.

Imagine when the post was the only way, the only effective means of writing to someone far away (for the purposes of this, the telephone is out - I want written communication only). The effort, the care, the attention span - to this day, nothing delights me more than the (post) mail. Even when it's not a personal letter, it's still thrilling. E-mail isn't a commitment - it can be one line and brief. But no one goes through the trouble of buying stamps and copying out addresses and putting an envelope in the mail for one line. A letter has to be worth it.

I sat down to write the first snail mail letter I had attempted in a few years since my pen pal, letter writing and receiving craze circa 2003 to 2005 (three years of seven-week long cadet camps contributed to this postal revival). I felt as thought I was undertaking some divine mission, a sacred rekindling, a pilgrimage. Something about taking a pen in hand to write to a person - not a  card (there's an occasion), not school notes (there's a purpose), but a letter to person across the country, who I could easily and immediately access by e-mail, Facebook, even text message (definitely an important new facet of the World of Writing) felt sublime.

It also felt hard. I'm much faster writing on a computer now than by hand. I don't think there's much difference in the mechanics. I think what's startling with writing by hand is the discovery of the intimacy of it. No matter what my words say on this computer, the letters all look the same. Uniformity. The meaning is in the content - the easily mistake-fixed content - and not in the formation of the letters, the neatness or sloppiness, the (literally) personal touch.

In typically nostalgic form, I long for the really written word.