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QUINTESSENCE

Duality

The beauty of the world has two edges, one of laughter, one of anguish, cutting the heart asunder.
- Virginia Woolf, "A Room of One's Own"

At a recent workshop on writing, a young woman asked me how I came to write my memoir, in fact how I came to write at all. I was surprised by the question, as writing as been a part of my life since I realized the penmanship lessons in grade school were in fact, keys to a cipher, the code to a secret, world-shaping power. And more than that, a code to Me: what I thought, how I thought, what sense I made of the world. A way to make a friend of the never-silent voice within my head. As we talked, the young student confessed she'd been a journal keeper since middle school, but then the advent of social media - texting and My Space, Facebook and Twitter - somehow meant less time for actual writing. I thought she meant she was now admitting to becoming a citizen of the "text bite" world, life experience condensed to smile icons and a bland, perhaps cryptic one-liner. But no, she meant actually writing. The art of putting a pen to paper. Of somehow channeling her thoughts through the tip of her pencil, finding herself in her own unexpected words on the page.

The connection between the movement of the hand and the mind has long been well established: we learn by movement. Writing things out by hand can be the best way to lay down learning in long-term memory; and later, to recall rote responses in emergencies, or crack open the brain to creative cross-overs when pondering problems or navigating the groundwork of creativity. But I never thought of the act of writing as the synthesis of the duality between the inner and outer self. The voice within connected to the life lived. Our words are modern pictographs written large on the world. My soul was here, our words say.

So what lies ahead for this generation that lives in instantaneous exclamation points? In a world of chatty interjections and quickly forgotten interactions? Where will reflection find its shadow in this evolving environment of 140 character expressions of human content? Everything about us has become instant and disposable and yet, this meaninglessness is accompanied by a cutting edge: our jibbering toss-offs are cataloged forever in web space. That game of beer pong in college will live on until even your grandchildren get tired of laughing at you; the love affair once so important it changed your life disappears, lost in a stream of text messages erased from one day to the next. I feel we must reclaim our right to make something more meaningful than a "tweet" of our everyday moments. To use language to draw bigger, more vivid pictures of our lives. A Facebook scrawl might be personal graffiti. But the letter written to a daughter on the day she is born will travel with her through time.

I handed the young woman at the workshop my favorite red pencil, a token received speaking at the Wordstock Book Festival in Portland, Oregon. The pencil sports the slogan, "Let's make slang." I smiled at the young writer. "So who are you? "

It's all in the pencil.
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