Musing on Slow Words
I bought new stationary today. Colorful painted birds on bright white paper made from cotton rags. My intention – to start writing letters again to my old friends, the ones who knew me before the Internet existed. Don’t get me wrong. I love typing on my computer. I probably would not be a writer if the machine did not synchronize my mind and hands. For me, the process of putting pen to page is laborious, a test of will more than a joy.
Yet now that I am squarely in middle age, at a point where I know the truth that life is short, I am willing to join the slow word movement. I want to take the time to savor the right sound or meaning, to match the flavor of my expression with the taste of my reader.
This is a professional decision too. The process of writing a letter invites the mind to search those hidden caverns of thoughts and feelings. The exercise demands a certain precision and clarity of meaning. Before the age of modern media, people were required to speak their minds on paper – and they were good at it.
For example, imagine that you are Sarah, the wife of Sullivan Ballou, the Major made famous in Ken Burn’s documentary, The Civil War. You have just been handed this letter found in his trunk, and given to you after he died at the Battle of Bull Run. He writes:
Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me to you with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on with all these chains to the battlefield. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
In the documentary, a professional actor reads these words as a violin plays. But Sarah did not need the plaintive notes of a love song to grasp her husband’s devotion. Ballou’s ardor for both her and his country are crystal clear.
If you don’t write letters of the pen and ink kind already, perhaps you might try one or two in the coming weeks. What to talk about? The spring’s frisson, late season maple sap, the Supreme Court and gay marriage – check your computer for more topics than you can ever fit in one missive.
Or write us here at Straw Dog. Tell us what you think about anything literary. We’ll write you back.
Virtual Clubhouse Editor and Founding Member Missy Wick