Friday, May 5, 2017

Put it in writing!

       When I was in high school, I was an AFS foreign exchange student to Australia. ("Oz" wasn't my first - or second, or even third - choice! I had wanted to learn another language. Mostly, in the linguistic arena, I learned a new set of slang--not to mention a cool accent!) For a year I lived out in farming country (not in the "Outback" *), learning to drive a tractor, tend sheep and arc-weld. Of course, I was a foreign exchange student, so I DID go to school as well, along with my host brother, Mark. We were quite different from one another in SO many ways, and what we could learn from each other was quite varied. One of the things I noticed when we started school was that he was writing with a fountain pen -- taking notes, writing papers, etc. I'd seen fountain pens before, of course, but I'd never seen a class-mate using one. Of course, I asked him about it, and he told me his teachers require it of him, because it slowed him down and made his writing legible.** I hadn't thought about that, and tried it with his pen, and, it was true! It did slow me down.       For reasons unrelated to legibility, my son has become enamored with using a quill pen. He tells me that the process of dipping the pen into ink, and then writing, is a whole lot different than using a ballpoint pen, or a pencil.  He semi-inspired me to pick up MY fountain pen again; it is a different process, a different mindset. And, I think I may have written about this before in a prior musing here, but when I write sermons, I do it with a #2 Ticonderoga pencil. Yes, I certainly could use a computer, but my experience has been that using a pencil slows down the process (especially when using a hand sharpener), making me think a little more carefully (and it's still correctable!).
      These memories and associations came to me while listening to the
story of two women who met in a spiritual writing workshop, and who started a multi-year process of writing letters to each other EVERY DAY. They chose to hand-write real letters, rather than just send emails, because they wanted the practice to have some gravity. As they wrote, they both realized it had become a sort of spiritual practice. It had become so ingrained that, when a tragic event occurred to one of them and they stopped sending the letters, they didn't stop writing them. It was only when they decided to collect their letters and publish them that they learned that they had both kept up the practice.       The two didn't say whether they used a pen (fountain or otherwise) or a pencil in their writing practice; in some ways, I suppose, it doesn't make a difference. But what DID make a difference to me was the suggestion of hand-writing as a spiritual practice. We have become so accustomed to typing ("keyboarding"?), or reducing even that to acronyms (LOL, ROFL, etc), or yet more recently to using emoji's (did you know there's an official emoji-approval agency?), that the process of putting a writing implement to paper is becoming increasingly rare (unless it's jotting down a quick phone number or last-minute shopping list). Similarly rare is slowing down for almost anything!       I am certainly not suggesting that it works for everyone, but the re-discovery of the slowed-down writing with a fountain pen (or a #2 pencil) has been a good practice for me in many spiritual, and non-spiritual, ways. It may be less efficient for mass-communication (like this newsletter), but more insightful for self-communication.


*  And never once did I "throw a shrimp on the barby".
** An interesting discussion about this theory/practice can be found

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