It has been a couple of weeks since I’ve written anything more than a long Facebook post. It seems as though anything longer than a Twitter-length post is viewed as a long – too long – Facebook post, but that says more about the average social media consumer’s attention span than it does about social media itself. Maybe it’s the word, “post,” that predisposes all things categorically post-like to abbreviated info-bites designed for drive-through consumption… but I digress. This is not that even if it does find its way to both platforms. Indeed, this is about the polar opposite of satisfying our incessant and growing appetite for instant, easy and shallow discourse. This is about writing at length – real writing – taking the care, the thought and the time needed to compose words and punctuation into complex, multifaceted, textured and nuanced ideas that actually go somewhere. I’m talking about essays, short stories, books, poetry and even other nondiscursive artforms that communicate much more than filling a 280-character-size-box ever could.
I am not an English professor, I do not teach reading or writing, per se. But as a communication studies professor, I do assign (and read) quite a lot of student writing. One of my classes is designated a “writing intensive” course and, as such, the students are required to write several longer works throughout the semester. This, for many, is a challenge. Our students come from vastly different backgrounds; not all have had the same degree or quality of prior instruction and many have had to deal with outside issues that interfered with their studies. Oddly enough, it could be that those students are better prepared to deal with the outside issue we are all dealing with right now. As a “state school,” we accept virtually “anyone” and I make it my business to do everything I can to help every “anyone” in my class be a better writer when the semester is over. If a “writing intensive” class is to make any sense, that writing quantity must have a qualitative purpose.
Short editorial: I had to take a “writing intensive” class to attain my BA, too. It was absolutely pointless. It had no other purpose other than to produce pabulum, five-paragraph essays with frosting and a cream filling. It was a stupid, bullshit class that must have been designed to get students past this requirement with the least amount of effort. It was offered under the “Recreation and Leisure Studies” department.
I like to write. I know I have some kind of “natural talent” for it and I know that, through the kind of practice that only those who practice their art to ridiculous extremes would understand, I have honed that talent to a fine edge. I am also acutely aware that I am not the “rock-star” writer I aspire to be. There are those who can write circles around me – I will never be that good. But I don’t have to be. My point is that art in general, and the art of writing deeply, thoughtfully, and soundly, is being shoved aside for the fast-food of writing, sometimes with bacon, and a frosty. What’s worse is that it isn’t just the artistry that is being shoved aside, along with the beauty, we are losing the truth. The truth comes from thinking deeply, and that depth comes from not only writing that takes more than 280 characters, but people willing to take the time to read it.
I know I’m preaching to the choir. We are now nearly 600 words – more than 3,300 characters in – and you’re still reading. And I feel like I’ve said all this before, in some way or another. I was going to say, “I’m not even sure what inspired this.” But that’s not true. I know what it was. It has nothing to do with the sorry state of social media, it has nothing to do with my job or my students, it has nothing to do with artistry, beauty or truth (although, that linkage between beauty and truth, I must admit, I did not see coming). And it has nothing to do with imploring others to read or write more deeply. I felt an urge to write – not necessarily this – but to write something. I started to explore my book archives looking for something I wrote a few months ago about a viral apocalypse and who the survivors were, how they survived and what this new world was like. It’s nothing but a prologue and a sketch, but it is eerily similar to what’s happening now. I don’t mean that in a prophetic way – I didn’t know or feel anything, it was just an idea – but one that could be adapted to COVID-19, I think.
As many times as I have started to, I have not yet produced a book – not as one contiguous work, anyway. I have enough work to compile into a book – likely more than one – but I have not yet written one entire, single book with one beginning and one ending. I also have never published any fiction, which this last book idea certainly would be (at the very least, creative non-fiction, but that genre feels like a creative non-genre, I’m not going there). I was feeling a need to breakout this old-school keyboard and two-finger clickety-clack out some words and those words were really supposed to go that way, not this way. But this is where we are.
Summer break is about four weeks away. The stay-at-home directives will, hopefully, be eased up by then. In the summers I usually ride my Harley a lot, and far away – I want to do that. I want to write that book and I can see myself doing that on some lonely backroad sitting on the porch of some rundown motel with my iPad or my MacBook Pro on my lap, cigar smoke winding it’s way up towards the trees, a gentle breeze blowing and the only sound will be that of an occasional bird and the soft tapping of my keys as I write my novel of how Covid-19 changed everything. Maybe it will be prophetic. Maybe I will be the next George Orwell. Maybe I’ll just gain a little peace, think a little deeper and if I get lucky, leave some words behind that might inspire someone else.