Friday, May 9, 2008

An Ode to Turning Off the Computer

For me, writing and reading will always reside in the material world, not the digital one. I once had a creative writing teacher who said a writer must get in physical shape, train actual muscles to be the medium for ideas that can course quickly (or stutter pathetically) onto the page.

And then there's the page itself, that beautiful landscape, blank or cluttered, receptive or unyielding, infinite with potential, but finite in dimension. Always an artifact of intimacy. This physical page is a much better vessel for the wandering brain - a place to sketch, not linearly plot a course by the flash of a blinking cursor.

Don't get me wrong, the computer is a godsend for writers (spell-checks, revisions, archiving, copying & pasting), not to mention anyone interested in blogging or self-promotion. Believe me, Future Weather has not come this far with a fountain pen by candlelight.

But it's positively nerve-wracking to sit at the computer for the thirteenth hour of the day reading from the densely-packed electric light of an LCD monitor that threatens to pull your neck and eye muscles taut as a slingshot. And it's so delicious to turn it off, pick up your pen and take a meandering scratch across the pages of a notebook, datebook, calendar, post-it note, napkin or newspaper margin; or open a book, the act of turning pages a rhythmic literature in and of itself; or, one of life's sweetest pleasures, cross something off your list.

For some brains, there must be an aspect of reading comprehension that correlates to spatial perception, because I find a paper edit far more productive than editing from whatever word processor I'm using. I also find that the older I get, structural thinking and complex organization is much easier when working from a physical page as opposed to a virtual one.

None of this, however, is in any way meant to justify an unchecked use of paper. But as Kemper suggests, though writers and readers should find more ways to reduce their use of paper (and insist on using 100% post-consumer recycled paper when they do use it), we will not be able to give up pen and paper entirely. Unless we're forced to return to the caves.

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