It always amuses me when non-writers think about writers. In the same way it amuses me when “literary” writers talk about writing. I amuses me even more when people much younger than I decry the evils of internet communication and roll on the floor moaning about language degradation and other such stuff.
So, you understand, ladies and gentlemen, that this David Swindle piece was like getting my own comedy show bright and early in the morning. You see, I was stuck for something to write about and lo and behold my friend Kate sent me this.
Swindle amuses me, in general, because he seems to have got a job writing for a conservative website and decided that “conservative” means “fuddy duddy.” It’s like he never met a conservative in real life, doesn’t get that the term is completely out of synch with what these people actually believe (by and large. There are, of course, SOME fuddy duddys) and thinks they’re sort of like the dad in 50s sitcoms. Therefore, like the idiot shooter carrying a chick-fil-a bag to fit in, he puts on his mental sweater and takes his “the world is coming to the end because of those d*mn whipper snappers doing doughnuts on my lawn” attitude. And he thinks he sounds conservative, instead of odd, clueless and definitely young.
Yes, David, the world is coming to an end. What’s more, it’s always been. And yep, language as we know it is ending, ending, I say. Your friends worrying about it are SO totally right. Because language as each generation knows it ends every twenty five years or so and the accumulation of changes means that Shakespeare is now hard to read for most people. Which means that we can no longer of course express ourselves with any richness of feeling, any thought, any depth.
Let me interject here, that I grew up in Portugal in an era when people were JUST starting to get phones into their houses. The normal arrangement when I was three or four was for the nearest shop to take calls for everyone around. And when you got called to the phone it was BAD. By the time I was six, we all had phones and people called their friends a propos not much. (Mom had EPIC gossip sessions.) This meant we were inundated by articles about the gentle art of letter writing being lost, and this leading to a time of darkness when people didn’t know how to write.
This is what this piece reminded me of.
I am the mother of two kids who grew up in the internet age. Yep, they know all the texting abbreviations, and they have AIMed with friends since they were four or so. Their language on the phone when talking to friends is half foreign dialect that I have to think to understand. Eh. So was ours. Yes, my older son says “Lols” when amused, but only when he’s in a very informal situation. In a non-informal situation he can write rings around most people, including dear old mom who makes her living with words. So, incidentally, can his younger brother. Depth of feeling? Language levels? Oh, please. As in any other era, what in heavens name does fast communication have to do with the more literate, feeling-filled one? Do you really think Shakespeare ordered fish pie in iambic pentameter? (You might, for all I know.)
If “kids these days” can’t express themselves coherently in writing – and I’ll give you most of them can’t. I’ve read them – it has to do with two things: first, the ability to express oneself coherently in writing is like the ability to draw something that remotely resembles the model. There is training of course, but there has to be natural ability. In various countries and over the last half century, I’ve come to the conclusion most people’s use of language is like most people drawing stick figures. And it’s always been. (I wouldn’t kick too hard. It’s what allows some of us to make a living.)
Second even innate ability needs training. You need to know the proper form of the language you’re writing in. Your vocabulary must be large enough. You must have read widely enough to KNOW the “tricks of the trade.” Well – I know that’s where you think the internet fails you. You are wrong. This has been going down hill since I was in school. It’s the schools, the schools suck. They try to teach the kids they can’t learn and learning is “hard” – seriously, the way they go about teaching anything language related is backwards and sideways and amounts to playing keep away. Instead of teaching the kids to sound out words, they want them to treat words like ideograms. Instead of teaching them grammar rules, they want them to stumble on them by try-fail. Etc. Most current pedagogical theory is IN FACT a blockade in the way of learning. On top of that, the schools – apparently under the impression someone died and made them the arbiters of taste – select only “worthy” books, full of victimhood and Marxism. Most kids hate these books and never tumble on to the fact that not all books are like that. (And to be honest, until recently, if they went by bookstores, they might be confirmed in their fears.)
In fact, to the extent the internet is affecting this trend at all, the effect is positive. The kids mostly interface via typing and reading – so they have to learn to read which makes books more accessible to them. And before you say they only learn to read texting – no. From the sample I see, these kids eventually start to read news, political blogs, recipes, and A LOT of fan fiction. Fan fiction is a mixed lot. Anything without a gate keeper is. There is fan fiction that makes you want to cry and pluck your eyes out. HOWEVER some of it is more than publishable quality. And ALL but the very bottom of the barrel expresses emotion, and delves into whatever it was your la-di-da friends thought kids had lost the ability to talk about: the secret recesses of the deceitful human heart, or whatever the heck it was. They might punt the occasional pronoun (like, who doesn’t?) their grammar rules having been taught by people who believe in “environmental grammar” and “cultural correctness” might be shaky, but from what I’ve seen, the feeling, the sweep and the story telling is there.
So, stop fearing internet will rob the future. It might very well save it.
As for the method one uses to write. My kids love moleskine planners. I buy moleskine art notebooks – mostly because they make a nice pocket sized one I can take in my purse if there’s something I want to sketch. I would love to buy their notebooks for jotting notes like when I suddenly find myself in the middle of a news event I didn’t see coming. But they’re really expensive, and I usually end up using hotel pads.
The whole thing about using notebooks to get the depth of feeling or what not, reminded me of when I was buying the house before last and the realtor told me that the enclosed back porch facing the mountains was “perfect to keep you inspired to write.” I sort of blinked at her and didn’t say anything. Since I wasn’t writing about mountains, and since writing means looking at the screen not the view, I thought she was out of her rocking mind. But I also knew it’s a common misconception of people who AREN’T writers and who view what I do as a sort of romantic affliction, like consumption in the 19th century. They think we roam around aching, just aching with sensibility, instead of having our heads invaded by a cavalcade of zanies who want their stories told.
Yes, perhaps moleskine is too good for me. I prefer a computer with a fast processor and a decent monitor. I’ve written when I’m inspired. I’ve written when I’m not inspired. I’ve written while happy, while bored, while ill, while tired. I once dragged myself up after childbirth and crawled on hands and knees (I was on morphine for a raging uterine infection and it affected my sense of balance) to the computer to write a story. Took me the whole day to type, but hey, it was an honorable mention in best fantasy and horror for 1994.
Now – do I sometimes hit a wall and have to write by hand? Of course. Interestingly, this is usually for OUTLINES. This is where I need to think before every line and not be beguiled by my own word-bullshit that papers over stuff not thought through. So sometimes I take the notebook. The same thing when I’m struggling with the opening of a novel and trying to nail down the voice. But once things start flowing I need to go to the keyboard.
You see, slinging words is what I do for a living. It’s just as if I made pots for a living. The artisan taking a class at the local continuing education center might choose to do without a wheel. He/she might see great value in the lumpy pot this produces. But even a craft-level potter who lives from it will use a wheel. It’s a tool that makes the work easier.
That’s what computers are. I’ve written with quills. I’ve written with ball point pens. I’ve written with typewriters. I’ve written with computers. In general the more advanced tool and the easier to use the more I like it. It makes it more immediate and easier to put my words into stories and the stories into the readers’ hands.
The older, artistic implements that make the work harder? That’s for people who mistake themselves for nineteenth century poets with a vaguely romantic affliction.
I don’t write to feel superior to the illiterate hoi polloi, so putting on airs doesn’t interest me. Producing good work (defined as what sells) does. I’m less interested in decrying the democratization of writing, and more in praising the renaissance of reading. You see, I work for a living…