This article was written as sort of a weekly column for the Jefferson Times on Thursday, March 3, 1983. I was a staff reporter at the time and my column was called “Just Common” after a local Ashe County, NC phrase in response to the question, “How are you today?” I will reprint these as I find them. This one seems to be almost prophetic in nature IMHO. Remember, this was long before the internet and Facebook and Twitter.
Just about everybody, at one time or another, has probably said, “I wish I could play the piano.” I know I have and with that particular thought the fantasies that accompany it.
Like becoming a renowned Bach interpreter in the mold of Glenn Gould or a famous jazz pianist like Thelonious Monk; both of whom have recently passed from this scene.
Well, apparently many people have also expressed the desire to learn to write and produce a best-seller, almost as if it can be learned in ten easy lessons like the popular ads in Mechanics Illustrated claim.
Yet Hugh Kenner, in a recent magazine article, says that “Writing is an abnormal act in today’s electronic world.”
He says, and rightly so, that eople do less writing today than they did fifty years ago when people used to write invitations to come to lunch and received responses in kind. So picking up a pen was not abnormal then.
However, the telephone changed all that; so that now it would indeed be the “rare bird” among us who would write and invitation for supper and take the time to put a 20 cent stamp on it and make sure it got to the mailbox…while within a minute of two, at a very basic monthly charge, he or she can call and extend the same invitation.
Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou?
Anyway, Kenner says that it’s difficult to teach children to write in this day and age, because many children can’t see when they will ever have to use the skill. Therefore, there is no desire to attain it in the first place, much less master it.
I can only assume it is something like me and geometry; the teacher said I had the ability to understand the concepts involved and do the work, but I lacked the desire because I couldn’t see how it was going to affect my life. It was this attitude that no doubt produced the consistent C-minus grades in math.
Now I am not saying that I would be adverse to having my teacher sit down with me at this point in my life and show me how I might have used that geometrical knowledge; but, I have to admit, I’ve not needed it.
That’s probably the reason that I am writing for the TIMES rather than out surveying property; even though at one time I was employed by an engineering firm for just that purpose.
What Kenner says is that we used to get nearly all of our information from reading. At that time writing was a visible communication form and people were accustomed to interpreting it and utilizing it.
But now we get the majority of our information from looking and listening, rather than reading, so writing has become a subsidiary skill.
So, how do we learn to write in the first place?
A great deal is learned by watching one’s mental process while reading. In other words, you learn to write by watching yourself read.
And right he is. You may not notice that comma that dropped off my last front page story, but I did; because I had a reason for putting it there in the first place.
Therefore, if you don’t read that much, the urge to write is probably a result of the pizza that you had last night.
Kenner is afraid that because kids don’t read or write as much they will grow up with the television anchorman as a role model for speech patterns, patterns that are not normal everyday inflections but simply words read from a script.
And what about those great lines that come across on the soaps?
Suffice it to say, those that do write will have conferred on them a certain authority, deserved or not, over what is written.
Pictures are already replacing what words at one time used to portray.
And if this continues, are we really that far away from a type of “NewSpeak” that is written about in Orwell’s ” “1984”, where we don’t add to our vocabulary every year, but rather subtract from it.
I C D B. Do U 2.