Books, journals, folders and notebooks, pens, pencils, paints and pastels. These are all tools of communication. Essentials to the inspired. Of utmost importance in the business of conveying thoughts. They are a means to an end, allowing the Divine to share her story through words, imagery and imagination. With these powerful tools, anything can be achieved, any insight or idea captured, any vision articulated. Inevitably, the thoughts of the greatest minds and the emotions of the most creative have been poured out and scribbled upon the pages of an inconspicuous notebook. Cubism, the little black dress, and the first drafts of the I Have a Dream speech became real when ideas found their way to paper. And, in some cases, the very souls of men and women have been lucky enough to be expressed in the pages of a book, forever archived, forever available for the world to enjoy.
These tools matter only to the extent they reflect the soul. Communicating from the soul often takes time, and perhaps, that is why some of our analogue tools lend themselves so well to expression and provide the most accurate reflections of our humanness. And while Powerpoint slides accompany our notebooks, paints, and pencil boxes, and we often opt for digital versions of our once paper bag covered books, there remains something thoughtful and real about slow communication. I remember, for example, when a person in the throes of dating thought long and hard about what they were going to say, how they might say it, and what the other person’s response might be long before ever placing a phone call. The nervousness, the stammering, the messy humanness of the subsequent exchange somehow added to the would-be couple’s romantic dance in much the same way the rose of Antoine de Saint Exupéry’s Little Prince became a beloved rose because of all of his dedication to it. We can swap some of that messiness for the polish typical of a text message or of a friend request devoid of messaging altogether; or we can quickly add an emoticon rather than articulate the breath of our feelings as we once did in a postcard or letter. It is not to say that our new school toys can’t get the job done. I’m simply suggesting the onus is on us to remember what makes communication so very special. We have an opportunity to preserve the wonder of it all regardless of the medium we choose.
Yes, I am a bit nostalgic. Perhaps it’s because I’m a romantic or perhaps it’s because I add a tell-tale senior quality every year (I’m now in bed before 10pm on most nights). Or maybe it goes deeper than that. I’m told that as a baby, I fell in love with the feel of a pencil the moment I held it in my chubby hand. Before I could match coherent sounds with meaning, I studied conversationalists most closely. I looked to and fro, at my mother and father, as they engaged in riveting discussions I couldn’t yet understand. I anticipated when one person was supposed to speak and looked, bright-eyed and eager, at the next person when it was her turn. I learned the rhythm of the words long before I could comprehend their meaning. All the while, I made secret soliloquies in my own tiny mind, waiting for the time I would be able to share them.
There was no greater euphoria than that which came from school supply shopping. I was completely bewitched and looked forward to the annual trip like some kids look forward to summer vacation. I strolled the paper aisle at Ames (if you’re much younger than me, look that up) with purpose, assessing the various colors and styles of notebooks and folders. I took care to choose those that best represented my uniqueness and some of my favorite smelled of leather or captured dreamy Parisian scenes on their covers. I studied the array of pencils and pens, making sure to choose those that would write with ease and grace across a sheet of paper. I was enthusiastic about crayons, markers and paint, and the ever useful post-it note.
Somewhere along the way, I got a diary as a Christmas or birthday present, I can’t quite remember which. It was sky blue with a pair of pink ballerina slippers on the cover and a little gold lock on the side. I didn’t dance but it was pretty which made me happy, and, on some level, I understood the importance of each lined page inside. I wrote my elementary thoughts down with fervor and commitment until the last page was complete. That little prized possession followed me, stored in the packing boxes bound for the college dorm, the apartment blitz of graduate school, and even to the high-rise near my first job, until I lost it sometime in my mid-twenties. Let us pause for a brief moment of silence.
Equally as enthusiastic about sending messages as I was about receiving them, I found the library and the bookstore like havens. These places housed books. The End. No, seriously, books helped me understand myself and the world. I knew, even then, these tiny rectangular objects with their many pages collectively held the wealth of human knowledge and something about that spoke to me.
To some degree, I always understood communication cements our human interactions. How wonderfully human it is to prepare and present thoughts and ideas as a chef would a beautiful dish of food or to receive ideas prepared in the same vein. It is no wonder that we have cared so deeply about the presentation of our beautiful communication. Our prehistoric ancestors drew images of the animals they saw in the Lascaux caves of France. Slaves, forbidden to write, felt compelled not only to learn but to write using the formal conventions of the day to the best of their ability; and their successors commonly tailor how they speak according to particular audiences. Women wrote letters on delicate stationary and scented them with perfume hoping to infuse them with some semblance of their sentiments. Italian humanists, in their quest to showcase life as being about more than just utility, developed cursive writing, with its open and elegant letters. Today, we micro-manage our language and the delivery of our messages. It is even in this spirit, that we’ve added all manner of fun and fancy to our text messaging.
Our communication is, and has always been, about much more than talking (or writing or drawing) and listening. It’s about having an opportunity to physically express our most elevated selves and to receive the same kind of expression from others. We are here. We are alive. And through our expression, we herald the importance of developing ideas, based on particular and idiosyncratic experiences of life that will never again occur, and taking the time to communicate them with care. Let us revel in and reflect on our beautiful interactions. Let us preserve our humanness. Let us remember our souls. And always, let us communicate.
Love in all things,