How I Make Words Real

English: Cover of The Velveteen Rabbit.

The following is an excerpt from a freewrite dated February 18, 2007. No real reason for sharing, I just think its lovely and true. Particularly about the weight and reality of typed words vs. handwritten ones. 

Alone in the quiet of my house, my mind rattling with too many thoughts to begin anywhere or to touch on any one of them, instead choosing at random the tiniest perception – like catching sight of snowflakes in the air shimmering white and fleeting against a pine tree. In Atlanta, that’s how you see snow. Like a mirage.

Slowly, slowly, I stretch into my heart as if my words were an extension of a gentle yoga position. Slowly, slowly, I ease myself into first one line of text, then the next. It’s hard to know anything beyond that my dog is pacing the floor watching for stray cats out every window. I’m craving a cup of hot tea – which makes sense. It’s the visceral memory I associate with writing.

The pressure is different when I’m writing on the computer than when I’m just clambering away in journal after journal.  The journal is meant to be banal, imprecise and whiny. It’s supposed to have 98% crap and 2% of fool’s gold shimmering at the bottom of the stream of consciousness. I’ve been rereading my journals, drawing out the significant bits. The trains of thought I am obsessed with. The images that haunt my verbiage over and over again. I can’t spell worth a damn in writing. I always mix up i’s and e’s and which comes first unless I’ve got a mnemonic device for it like “Friends ’til the end“….

When I type, things are simultaneously more and less real for me. When it’s in my hands, a sensory act of drawing a fast pen across a page, feeling the page smooth to my touch, but ridged enough to capture the ink;  ripples and wrinkles and holes in the paper, stains and drips and texture all the story of the book itself. My cat Pagan sliding down the pages clawing for purchase to land in my lap. The rumple and wear of being carted around in my backpack, bungee-corded to the cargo rack of my bike, and slapped on any diner, coffee shop, library table I can find a few minutes to write in.  Some of my journals bear the brunt of rain, surprise sprinkler attacks, or having been thrown across the room in a fit of rage. Some of them are scribbled all over, drawn in, used once, set aside and picked up and filled in years later. Each speaks with its own voice, it handles its own span of my life in time. “Oh, yes, I remember, that happened during volume 12… ”

When I type, the words are fast and easy. They don’t bear weight, I don’t even have to spell them recognizably. I can type about 20 times faster than I can write longhand, and it’s worth about that much less to me. It’s impermanent. A draft is only a draft until it’s been re-worked. And then it’s something worth saving as a name. If its real enough to me, eventually it will get transcribed long hand into the pages of a journal. My journals are like love to the Velveteen Rabbit – they make the poetry Real. But I refuse to write fiction in my journals. My fiction is not real. It’s fiction, and it’s not worthy the pagespace it takes up when I’m just throwing out ideas, snippets of dialogue, thoughts of what would be interesting to read. I don’t mind generating in the journals, but I don’t like drafting there. It’s too important for other work.  And that’s what the computer is for.

Most of what people blog, I use my journals for. And that’s nobody’s business. Most of what I post on the website has been tweaked about 5 times over because it’s a story I found worth telling. It was something I decided to email my mom. And then a friend. And they found it worth reading. So then I send it to a friend or two more. My website writing is communicative ranting more than anything else.  Storytelling.  Practice for the real stuff that I am doing all the time.

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