a post without an image

June 24, 2009

“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.

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Emily June 24, 2009 at 9:59 am

I love your words. Your point is so true so true. I wish wish wish I had more hours in the day, less overhead breathing down my neck. I miss writing. I actually resent professional blogging b/c it takes so much time and if I don’t do it my public persona of my job suffers. I wish I had more time to put into my daughter’s baby book, visit with friends, read and write.

I miss writing. I miss longhand. But I try to embrace new things. I try to remember that what is new and frustratingly cutting edge now will be long gone the way of the dinosaur before even the time my daughter is an adult with thoughts of her own to publish. I hope she wants to keep a longhand journal. I hope I don’t push too hard for her to love writing.

I wish as a society we valued writers more. But that would be meaning we value our teachers more. And that might be too much to ask of a reality-tv-watching, capitalist society that can’t see past the present.

Sigh.

Keep writing. I don’t care how long the post is. I trust you don’t care how long the comment is either.

Let’s make pizza again soon.

Love, Emily

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patricia June 24, 2009 at 12:05 pm

You trust that I don’t care how long the comment is? Oh, but I do care, so very much. I’ll take the short comments, surely, and I’ll cherish them too–but oh my dear, bring on the long ones! They really do make my day. They make me feel like I’m having that conversation on the path with a friend. Feedback from reader-friends is the reason I bother to do this!

And find a way to write longhand sometimes. Let R. see you do it. (That’s something I forget to do myself.) You won’t have to push her if she sees how you delight in what she writes–which you do already–and she sees how much your writing means to you.

I suppose we can’t hope our society will value writers more, but we can make sure there are wordlovers like us on the fringe, keeping the written word alive.

Now can someone tell me how to say long live words in Latin?

(And long live pizza-making too.)

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Emily June 24, 2009 at 3:42 pm

perduro compareo conscriptio…

It’s not an exact translation, but I *think* it’s a command for the continuing existence of writing/composition, though my conjugation is assuredly sophmorphic, and my word order may be off as well.

As for “pizza”, alas, there is no latin word. Poor Romans…

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patricia June 24, 2009 at 5:04 pm

Yay! Perduro compareo conscriptio!

And I don’t feel too bad for those Romans. I believe they ate a flat bread with olive oil that was a precursor to pizza.

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Kristin June 25, 2009 at 8:51 am

I appreciate your reminder to write for the reasons we like to write; let us all do more of what we want to do instead of what we think we should be doing–in all aspects of our lives.

I often cringe that my long posts are demanding too much time from readers and I feel like I need to make them short and sweet in order to save other people time. (That’s ridiculous.)

I often feel compelled to post something weekly and that supersedes the amount of time I work on something to the full extent I’d like.

Also, it seems that blogs are supposed to be a daily diary; a quick regurgitation of a “blogworthy” event–but I don’t choose to blog that way.

When we look at our own purpose for writing a blog, as you did, it provides guidance and reassurance that what we are doing is what we set out to do.

That works for awhile…

But why does guilt or detrimental judgment to oneself always have to re-enter our minds?

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patricia June 26, 2009 at 7:07 am

I suppose that when we’re doing something differently than most, we’re bound to question it.

And then too, there’s nothing wrong with considering your readers as you write. The poet Billy Collins said, “Not to be aware of the reader’s presence is sort of like being in a room with somebody and ignoring them, which I don’t think is an acceptable way of behaving in life or in literature.”

I love that.

I think doubt and questioning are a natural part of writing, especially when you’re going with your gut and taking chances. If writing is easy and raises few questions, we’re probably not pushing ourselves hard enough.

Keep doing it your way, friend! You wouldn’t be the Kristin that I know and love if you did anything less!

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susan June 25, 2009 at 11:21 am

I love your images…words as dangly earrings and platform shoes for images, your blog stats as foothills and Alps, and I love the way you start and end this post. With a title that you subvert in the text, and a post script that eloquently makes the point that good writing is full of images.

I do think the danger you speak of is real. It is one that I had fallen into for a while. I, a lifelong voracious reader, a grad school drop out in Russian Literature, had stopped reading long fiction for several years. Was it the internet? In part. It was also that my young kids didn’t let me sit down long enough to get involved in a good book. But after a while it simply became a habit. One that was rather easy to break once I became aware of it because good writing is so good!

I always enjoy your posts. The longer the better.

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patricia June 26, 2009 at 7:15 am

Susan, I know I can always count on you to read my posts with care and catch the nuances. And that makes a difference when I write them–knowing that there will be at least a few people out there who will take the time and connect with the words. Precisely what I mean when I say I’m grateful for my little handful!

“Good writing is so good!” Yes! My point exactly.

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Kathy June 25, 2009 at 11:26 am

I am totally guilty of skimming. But, not here. 🙂

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patricia June 25, 2009 at 11:03 pm

A few words that mean so much. Thanks, Kathy.

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Nicole June 26, 2009 at 5:11 am

I just discovered your blog (rabbit-holed via SouleMama, some other site, then yours). Thank you so much for this post. I also enjoy some photo driven blogs (like SouleMama) but I often want MORE. I put off blogging on my own site, sadly, because I want to do more than just throw up a photo and a line or two. There is TOO MUCH left unsaid.
Writing a good post is tricky business, and I appreciate the time you have taken to put together this one.

You are officially bookmarked. 😉

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patricia June 26, 2009 at 7:21 am

Thanks so much for stopping by, Nicole, and taking the time to leave a comment.

Taking the time to write posts is all the more worth it when readers take the time to respond. And being “officially bookmarked”? That really makes my day! Thanks!

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TheOrganicSister June 28, 2009 at 12:50 pm

I just started reading your blog and loved this post. I’ll admit I have a tendency to skim; not because I don’t want to read but because in order to have time to sit too long in front of this screen, I have to limit myself on what I’m able to do. But I’m a writer. I could babble on and on and like you, I hope I’m not losing attention spans. I’d love to have the short, sweet blog posts that so many have – but then that wouldn’t be the authentic me. I have to constantly remind myself I don’t want to write for readership, I want to write for me.

I don’t think it’s all bad. I think there is a place and a need for all of it – the longhand or the keyboard, the slow meandering thru words or the skimming. In the end we’ll all get exactly what we needed out of it anyway. 🙂

~Tara

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patricia June 29, 2009 at 10:38 pm

Hi Tara! I just found your blog too, via your homeschooling recipe, and I had a great time poking around there. You’ve made so many fascinating life choices as a family. Very inspiring. I look forward to reading more.

I think you’re right–there’s a place for all manner of reading and writing. I just hope we can keep the art of writing–and an appreciation for good writing–alive.

Thanks for taking the time to comment!

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melissa s. June 29, 2009 at 8:59 pm

I find that the personality and voice that comes through is what attracts me to the blogs that I follow. The better the writing, the more appreciative I am and more apt to feel a connection with the writer. Pretty pictures are fun, but an exciting and interesting plot always wins me over 😉

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patricia June 29, 2009 at 10:42 pm

Melissa, I started reading your blog because you were my second commenter ever. But I kept reading precisely because your own personality and voice come across on your blog, so well!

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