“Being self-employed will always make for a precarious life; these days, it is more uncertain than ever, especially since my tools of choice, written words, are coming to seem like accessories to images.”
This line comes from a thoughtful essay by Pico Iyer called The Joy of Less. It’s a wonderful essay on living simply, but it was the line above, which is rather tangential to the essay’s theme, that made me catch my breath, like something had appeared from nowhere around a corner.
Are words really coming to seem like accessories to images? The thought saddens and terrifies me, the same way yet another local indie bookstore closure does.
I’m constantly chiding myself, when posting to this blog, for being too long-winded. People want pretty pictures I tell myself. And they want just a little inspiring text to go with them, to take along after they click away. I read several blogs like that, and am often charmed by them. They read like poetry.
But as much as I love and admire and learn from poetry, I’m not a poet. I think of myself as an essayist. And essayists are wordy. They stalk their subjects, like Annie Dillard with her muskrats. They let paragraphs build with rhythm and surprise like Joan Didion. They circle around what’s transitory in life and try to trap it for a moment, like E.B. White.
But I worry, like Iyer, that we’re losing our patience for such carefully crafted writing. Or at least we’re setting it apart as something different, something to read in a book now and then. I worry about how the internet is changing writing. We can say so much to so many so easily. We don’t craft our words–we let them tumble out of us and then we hit publish.
The effect this is having, I fear, is that we’re becoming a society of skimmers. There’s so much blather out there that we don’t have time to linger over words. We tack across paragraphs looking for what matters and move on. And often it’s only the accompanying photograph that stops us and makes us pause. Precisely Iyer’s point.
And I’m like anyone else: I click on my blog list and I skim and I tack. I envy the blogs with pretty photos and pithy posts–and large readerships. And I kick myself for being wordy here and wish I wouldn’t care so much when the horizontal line on my blog stat graph looks more like foothills than Alps.
But then I look at the tagline at the top of my blog and I remember why I started writing here: where a mother tries to cultivate creativity and a sense of wonder in her kids–and does a whole lot of wondering herself in the process. A whole lot of wondering. That’s what I’d always planned. And wondering isn’t pithy and pretty: it’s a path with many forks and turns and a final destination not immediately visible. The hope, I suppose, is that I’ll find a few readers with the patience to wander that path with me. And those readers will talk with me as we wander, and make the trip entirely worth it.
So if you’re amongst the handful of readers who have made it down to the bottom of this post, I thank you humbly. If something stopped you from skimming and you went back and read paragraphs word-by-word, I wish I could give you a hug. There may not be many of you, but I’m deeply grateful for my little handful. And grateful that there are people in this world who think of words as more than mere accessories, more than dangly earrings or platform shoes for images.
P.S. I realize that the title of this post isn’t entirely accurate. This isn’t an image-less post, it’s a photo-less post. There are a few images here, but they’re rendered in grey font, and require the reader’s attention to animate them. If you saw them dear reader, once again, thank you.