In these times, when there is no shortage of information, why bother to write? Put simply, writing is a time capsule. The only way that two people can communicate if separated by time and space. Though the script on the modest clay Sumerian tablet is 4,000 years old, we can still understand the emotion behind its words.
“Bridegroom, dear to my heart, Goodly is your beauty, honeysweet…You have captivated me, let me stand trembling before you; Bridegroom, I would be taken to the bedchamber…Bridegroom, you have taken your pleasure of me…Tell my mother, she will give you delicacies; my father, he will give you gifts."
These lines may be one of the earliest recorded love poems in the world. We might be separated form the writer in time by an unthinkable number of human lifetimes. However, in these words we can share a brief moment of their worldview, however incomplete. We can also see how we are different. We can read these ancient lines and contrast them with a more modern perception of love.
“To get the full value of joy you must have someone to divide it with." (Mark Twain)
Words trigger the imagination and whole worlds spring to life in the mind. In this way, writing is collaborative. It starts with the writer and ends with the reader. If readers are inspired to produce more writing we can see our ideas can change, extend or grow.
Yet, writing didn’t start for love. Many of the ancient cave paintings were possibly created for the purpose of tracking the seasons and to predict the arrival and departure of herds of animals suitable for hunting. The first symbolic writing was likely used to record land ownership and early trading. Writing hasn’t kept to that purpose though. It has spread out and become the underpinning technology of the modern world.
Even in our age of multimedia, writing stands as one of the most powerful forces in the world. It can inspire both hope and fear in a reader. It can change minds and inspire new ideas. Some ideas, expressed in writing, are so powerful they trigger real world revolutions in society. Martin Luther’s ninety-five theses split the Catholic Church in two.
Principia Mathematica by Newton changed the way we thought about ourselves in the universe. Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin, enriched our ideas about where we come from. Novels can reshape our understand of who we are. Like To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee, which challenged inequality and 1984 by George Orwell that introduced us (or prompted) the modern dystopia.
Many of the writings already mentioned are considered ‘great works.’ Few of us may produce a great work, but I don’t think that matters. What matters is writing with meaning. This doesn’t necessarily mean writing a lot. It means writing in a way that connects to something inside us, something we’ve seen that moves us, something that we’ve noticed that makes us curious.
We may be in an information paradox, where we generate more information but understand less. This might seem an argument in favour of each of us producing less. But perhaps we should produce fewer inane comments, quick judgements, hateful or hurtful rants. Less effortless and friction free re-sharing of someone else's ideas. Less attention seeking filler. Paradoxically, instead of all that, I think every single one of us should write. Write deeply, meaningfully and clearly. The late Oliver Sacks said it best,
“The most we can do is write — intelligently, creatively, critically, evocatively — about what it is like living in the world at this time.” (Oliver Sacks, 22 April 2015).
Arsu, Sebnem (2006) The Oldest Line in the World. From: https://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/14/world/europe/the-oldest-line-in-the-world.html
Dowley, D. & Williamson, C. (2007) The World of the Book, The Miegunyah Press.
Hayes, Bill (2017) Insomniac City - New York, Oliver Sacks and Me. Bloomsbury: USA.
Watson, P (2005) Ideas. Harper Collins: New York.
Typwriter Text Photo Copyright 2019 Christopher Roosen.