Friday, May 2, 2008

A Writer's Mark

The photo here is of mason’s marks that I recently found cut into the stone of a church in Kielce, Poland. I am not exactly sure of the year. Mason’s marks essentially identified the journeyman who had set the stone in order for their work to be quantified and paid. Compare this to Dickens, who did not have a computer or a typewriter being paid by the word and thus stretching out his word count by hand. Compare this to Richard Kostelanetz publishing a large X wherever large Xs will appear. In the case of the mason’s mark it was the cut of the stone set that required a chisel, along with physical effort to make their literary impression, as minimalist as it appears. This marking in stone is similar, but different, to marriage marks in timber framing.

I had a recent experience riding on the train and writing in my notebook a flash about the woman sitting next to me and made a point to write it out rather terribly lest she look and notice that I was writing about her. I later had trouble transcribing the text onto the computer. My eyesight and handwriting, particularly when I want to be illegible, and to be illegible to my neighbor I need to make sure that I am illegible to myself, seem to compete in their rate of deterioration.

I have multiple notebooks, and multiple pens... not fixated so much on any one of them but wanting to have them available to grab when needed. I follow a similar policy of at-hand to grab anywhere profusion of reading glasses scattered around the house. It is one thing to enjoy the physical process of writing by hand, another to be able to see it.

If I attend a meeting, or have a business phone call I tend to write notes during the entire communication process. I like to use different pads for different purposes and I identify them as objects associated with their use by their differences in shape, color, size, covers or weight. Currently for phone calls I like to use a small 5x8" pad with graph squares on it. I used to use letter size pads and it made a difference to me, to how I felt for as long as the pad would last, if I was using yellow, white or green. I have years of phone conversations writ down... I rarely if ever look at them after I have written them. I tend to remember what I have written down by hand, either long script or most often in a crude architectural block print. Choice of style does depend if I want to be able to later understand what I wrote. I have learned to have active conversations and write at the same time. These days I tend after a month or so to burn the notes. There is way too much paper behind me and it has become a life management problem to deal with not letting go of it. I push toward a paperless ideal and scan paper for filing on the computer. The effort to scan and file placing a practical value on what it is that I bother or get around to store. As I remarked recently, I store my older paperwork in the basement where it floods in spring and slowly the ink and the paper dissolves and floats away into the sump, into the earth beneath me.

My preference in pen is currently 0.5 mm needle tip ball liquid gel in black ink. I am extremely fussy about writing instruments though not fixated on having just one of one type, but multiples for multiple uses and intentions. A mechanical pencil, certainly for marking up construction drawings. And then all the fun color markers. And we need to keep in mind the special uses of red ink. I have never been one much for fountain pens. I have certainly played with them and quill pens dipped in the ink over the years. I would never, excepting for Jim Murdoch bringing it to my attention, consider to write a novel or a short story by long hand. I am used to not having the paper handy, not too easy to use a pad and pen while driving, and tend to compose in my head and then go direct to the computer. Then again, I can see that taking a text that I have put on the computer then writing it out in longhand may be a manner in which to by-pass blockages that occur where the brain goes dead.

I have been fascinated over the thinking as to if one should sign their name in black or blue ink. There seem to be arguments, some of them stridently held, as to either color being the most appropriate.

I am reading a book by Samuel Ray Delany, Jr., he has me caught, where in an essay on para-literary canon he remarks on the advent of typing that made possible more writers, combined with linotype that made access to publication more prevalent, and how the sudden surge of texts produced required that some literary genres be partitioned off into their own zones, such as sci-fi, romance, mystery, horror etc. and now we find ourselves in the midst of a blossoming of computer enabled text with internet distribution... it will be interesting for someone to see what compartmentalization occurs in an attempt to rationalize and manage a profusion of spontaneously generated text... many of them rather short and vapid.

Recently also I have been networking with two non-writer friends that know Wendell Berry with a vague idea on my part that I would like to eventually meet him. There are not too many writers that I actually want to go talk with in person, he is one of them. Usually I go and listen, sit in the corner and listen. There is an argument that writing is a separation from the human interface of dialog, of two humans taking the time to be in the same place on earth at the same time. In the case of Wendell Berry I would like to be able to say, “Hi.”

“I am not going to use a computer because I don't want to deny myself the pleasure of bodily involvement in my work. In using computers writers are flirting with a radical separation of mind and body, the elimination of the work of the body from the work of the mind. The text on the computer screen, and the computer printout too, has a sterile, untouched, factory made look... The body does not do work like that. The body characterizes everything it touches. What it makes it traces over with the marks of its pulses and breathings, its excitements, hesitations, flaws and mistakes... And to those of us who love and honor the life of the body in this world, these marks are precious things, necessities of life.”

Though I very much, with a stone masonry background, appreciate the tactile intelligence of hand to pen to paper I do believe that there is a transcendence of perspective that does not need to inhibit one as a writer from a quality and interest or depth of emotional context for text composed direct to computer.

What I do believe though is that if a writer is intent on slowing down, as seems to be a valid argument for not using a computer, then they should consider a habit to work their words in stone by hand, I mean, nowadays even stone masons fabricate with computer driven carving machines that tend to erase their involvement and identity as human individuals.