It is an incredible thing to be able to write. Just the act of it, the sheer practice, is astounding, and something that is all too easy to take for granted, to lose sight of the vast historical trajectories that have made it possible. Being caught up in the modern world of digi-madness and pop culture “gimme gimme gimme” whinge for celebri-esque status too readily masks this, and so this week I want to take a step back from it all, breathe deeply, and just say “thank you”.

If you look up the history of writing you’ll find that through the haze certain definites appear: cuneiform being an early or maybe the earliest type, straight lines on clay tablets used for keeping records of goods and trade, quantities and accounting. Some pictograph alphabets – if such can be so labelled – arose independently and anciently too though, in the Near East and in Mesoamerica. Simple pictures of things that were, externals in the perceived world. But not only that, for unlike what might be their forebears in prehistory’s so-called cave art these pictures contained symbolic depth beyond mere representation: they had abstractions lying within. These varying networks played themselves out, giving rise to such systems as hieroglyphs, characters, and lettering groups. Each unique in function and form, each having strengths and weaknesses, each allowing for very peculiar mental interactions in environments geographical, biological, psychological, and social. And each very much only for the born elite.

Time passed, trends evolved, abilities spread – slowly, slowly, slowly, and then with the right ideas suddenly in roaring torrents. Mass education, children crammed into rooms and screamed at to hold their pencils properly and make the right strokes in the right way to keep it all nice and legible. (Well, perhaps not screamed at, my own teachers probably should have been a bit stricter with me given how horrid my handwritten chicken scratches have turned out in later life.)

More time and lo and behold the keyboard; specifically the Qwerty keyboard, more classes now to make those fingers automatically recall which key is where, ingrained muscle memory. Such works, and works wonderfully, unless you happen to be like my father and insist on only using the pointer finger of each hand to hack out your messages. But then he grew up only as the typewriter was growing up, so you can’t really blame him. Generational changes.

And now here we are. I can sit at a computer and push a series of buttons and through what must be called the highest of magical incantations (at least if you subscribe to Clarke’s “law” about sufficiently advanced technology being inseparable from magic – conceptually speaking, of course) my words and my thoughts become visible to anyone wishing to find them, or even accidentally discovering them, anywhere on the wired and connected planet. Miraculous.

But much more than the reader aspect of all this, what I am so grateful for is the act: for being able to express my thoughts, to give shape and form to my feelings, musings, dreams. I can bring out that which is within in far more subtlety, precision, and care than I personally can the spoken word. It is this, and the fact that others can do this too – to which I also have access or potential access – that I think we must see as a purely unbridled treasure. Each syllable is a gem, each sentence a crown, each text a vault filled to brimming with language’s grace and the fullness of humanity. Taking a pen or pencil in hand, sitting down before a keyboard, or even a clay tablet, we engage with thousands of years past and connect with millennium of burgeoning futures. We stand in a long line and contribute our own tiny etchings, onwards and forwards, from inwards to outwards. Words, written.


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