On being a dinosaur

Florida Polytechic Bookless Library, image by Santiago Calatrava Dezeen Ban

Florida Polytechic Bookless Library, image by Santiago Calatrava Dezeen Ban

I scribbled a note on the crumpled envelope beside the keyboard, revelling in the feel of the pen on the paper. It is a nice pen. Cheap, nothing special to look at, but the ink glides over the virgin white in a way I can only call sensuous… an entirely physical flow that encourages the written word to take on the form and quality of art. My handwriting doesn’t usually look that good. I like this pen.

I have, like most people, several styles of handwriting that come completely spontaneously and seem to depend upon what I am writing and where… as well as the mood. There is the scrawl, almost illegible even to me, which covers pages of notebooks with strange ideas and concepts; sometimes simple, sometimes embellished ‘artistically’ with the kind of swirls and loops that would have any graphologist rolling their sleeves up and sharpening the metaphorical scalpel. There is the neat hand with which I write lists and information (I’m a Virgo, what do you expect?), or copy longhand the texts of borrowed books that I want to fix in memory. Scanning things into a computer doesn’t do that and you cannot ponder each word and phrase as you go. The cramped, rapid script that manages to fit huge amounts of stuff on the back of an envelope or scrap of whatever is to hand, and the letter-writing version I developed in self-defence after yet another ‘handwriting messy’ on an early school report. It still is, but at least I tried. It was an honest failure.

I scribble a lot...

I scribble a lot…

But of course, the art of letter writing… actual pen and paper stuff… has gone the way of most hand-drawn documents and joined the diplodocus and the brontosaurus over the past decade or so. Emails are easier, cleaner, cheaper, faster… and you get to keep a copy. On the other hand a generation of teenagers have already grown up without that thrill of mysterious acronyms on the seal of a letter that will live under the pillow and be read until it fades. They will not know the long, breathless wait for a response to their own heartfelt missive, nor look back in decades to come with a fond smile of memory when a carefully preserved note is discovered, long forgotten. Instead they will, if the SIM card survives and is readable, have a mere “K CU L8R x”.

An old notebook

An old notebook

Okay, that is generalising a bit. You can get a perfectly good love-letter by email. But you can’t stuff a computer under your pillow or see the tremor in the hand that wrote it, or the marks where the ink washed away with your tears. Yes, I know… but I never said I wasn’t romantic… I can melt with the best of them. In the same way those handwritten notes carry something of the personality of loved ones no longer around, more, perhaps, than a photograph. The image simply looks at a person… the letter is something they themselves touched and it carries a little bit of them, and us with it, into a future in which we ourselves will be no more than memories.

A letter from Grandad and poems twenty years apart from my mother.

A letter from Grandad and poems twenty years apart from my mother.

Growing up there were always my mother’s manuscripts lying around. One, in particular, a notebook of poems, showed the transition from child to woman in the way the handwriting changed. It was as if a little bit of her soul was caught in the beautiful handwriting I so envied and sought, unsuccessfully, to emulate. Those manuscripts I am slowly transcribing into digital documents that I can make into books. Proper books. With pages, and that smell of paper. Books that can be passed to future generations, preserving that little bit of my mother’s soul and it was that image, of small children snuggled up to with parents and a storybook at bedtime that had really set me thinking. I had read an article by Chris McMullen that had been reblogged by Chris the story reading ape. It detailed the new advances in Kindle for Kids and, although I can see all the practical possibilities of a Kindle, snuggling up with an electronic book at bedtime doesn’t seem quite right. There is a magic in a book that the ebook doesn’t capture for me, though no doubt paper books will one day go the way of the handwritten letter. It has, in fact, already begun, with bookless libraries being opened. Good for research and the environment no doubt, but not my cup of tea, though doubtless one day, only the dinosaurs like me will know that particular, fusty, utterly unique smell of an old and well thumbed book.

One of my mother's books for the family bookshelf

One of my mother’s books for the family bookshelf

About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She writes alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. Find out more at France and Vincent. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at scvincent.com and on Twitter @SCVincent. Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email: findme@scvincent.com.
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22 Responses to On being a dinosaur

  1. Just wait. The future generation will attach a small device to their ears, which connects to their brains much the way jump drive works, and the entire media experience (books, videos, audio, learning, you name it) will be conveyed that way. 🙂

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  2. I bought my little pirate princess a Samsung child’s tablet about a month ago. And since that time I’ve bought her about 7 soft cover books. 😉 I need to learn to commit. 😀 but the book books we can take turns reading a page and both see the book at the same time. Soooooo. ..

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  3. sknicholls says:

    As things are now, they just stopped teaching cursive writing in schools here, manuscript only. I’m like you. I have a few different styles that suit my mood. I never, however, write in Manuscript.

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  4. esse636 says:

    Great post. I love handwriting- writing it and receiving it. I also have a highly variable script- writing just for me is often illegible to others, but can also be very tidy and beautiful. I find others’ handwriting quite intriguing.

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  5. Eliza Waters says:

    I’m with you – I love handwritten notes and good, solid books. There is a bit of one’s ‘soul’ in handwriting and I cherish the odd bits I have of my mother’s fluent hand.
    As to bringing a kindle to bed, there are plenty of studies that tell us that the lighted screen disrupts sleep patterns and for that reason I hope books are not going the way of corded phone.

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    • Sue Vincent says:

      I think they will be around for a while yet, but I imagine it won’t be too much longer before we all use e-readers. I know I love mine for travelling… a library and bookstore at my fingertips. But there are times when only an old fashioned book will do.

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  6. Pete Hulme says:

    Great stuff! Long live the book and pen. There are things I don’t think I can think without a pen in my hand – and I mean a fountain pen if the ideas are really to flow.

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    • Sue Vincent says:

      I love fountain pens… always had an ambition to own a really good one with a smooth flowing nib. You’re right though, some thoughts need a pen. And you can’t chew the end of a computer either!

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  7. Éilis Niamh says:

    Great points, Sue. Personally I am torn on this one. I agree with you that letter writing and email are not the same, and it’s regretable that teenagers and others generally speaking abbreviate memories in texts and emails and such (I can’t stand text speech, it’s not real English, and it’s devoid of emotion for me.) I happen to listen to a lot of music about letters and their importance and value in keeping memories which you beautifully wrote about here. It is like being a fish listening to tales of the sky. I have tremendous gratitude for computers, email, texting, the internet, and all other technology which allows a person like me without sight to communicate with the rest of the world through reading and writing. Still, if I am honest I am sometimes jealous of those who can glance at a photograph or see the shaky handwriting of a loved one. Only a little jealous: I am truly blessed with the gifts in my life I have instead. But I do find it hard from my position to completely mourn the loss of printed material… it means freedom for me.

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    • Sue Vincent says:

      You make a perfect point, Éilis. My son also, with damaged and limited sight and coordination uses electronic means to communicate and to him also it means freedom. There are always two sides to every story.
      Even mine… I am now so grateful for instantaneous communication with friends worldwide that I wouldn’t change that aspect for the world! Quite apart from the fact that the books would take years to write without that communication.
      On the other hand, there are letters, fragmentary memories of those other worlds we have lived in as we age and grow, that remain now in faded letters, notes in margins and scribbled silliness and for those I am grateful.

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  8. Garry and I courted for 9 years between Israel and the US. When I came back, I found he had saved every letter I had written him. It was a lot of letters. I don’t think he has written another letter since then.

    K CU L8R x – I finally deciphered it. I’m so proud of me! How romantic!

    I love email for a lot of reasons, but there was something very special about a letter you could tuck in your purse and read over and over until it fell apart.

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    • Sue Vincent says:

      I still have a suitcase full of letters…just memories, of course, but ones that have meant a great deal over the years.

      I too love the electronic means of instant communcation, they mean the world to me with friends across the globe, but even so, those bits of paper have a special magic.

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  9. jenanita01 says:

    modern communication is a wonderful thing, something we do need, but we must preserve the old arts. Nothing compares to a handwritten letter or a real book…

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    • Sue Vincent says:

      I agree with you, it would be a true crime to lose the letters altogether. I used to look forward to the mail every day, these days it brings only bills and junk. But the inboxes are where the communication happens most of the time.

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