Writing is as much a part of who I am as painting is to an artist or music is to a composer. It is the creative forces that live inside of us that yearn to escape and express themselves, compelling the writer to craft words into something coherent, engaging, meaningful and expressive of the human spirit. My essays, articles and stories are my foray into the world of creative writing and like the painter who covers the canvas with bright and vivid colors to express one visual or with dark and muted colors to convey another, words are the paint that I use to inform, to emphasize, to reflect and to leave behind a small piece of who I am, what I see, what I feel and what I think about the life around me.
I realized today that it has been over a year since I wrote my first online essay, an article about growing up around the family barbecue restaurant and even occasionally working there when I didn’t have much choice in the matter. In fact, it was March 3rd when I published that article and then waited anxiously to see if anyone would actually read it. Writing the article was easy; pressing the “publish” button was a lot harder and waiting for feedback was even more difficult. When a few comments trickled in, I was encouraged to push forward and see where writing could take me. “Growing Up with Barbecue” was a good first article to start with because I was writing about a subject I knew well and it included some strong family memories about working there with my grandfather, my father and others and it could, at times, be humorous. Soon afterwards, in April, another article followed about Southern cemeteries and how important they are to the people in my region of the country, how they are cared for and kept intact and how I used to go with my grandmother to visit and care for them as I grew up. I think in many ways, that article was more about my grandmother than it was about the cemeteries we used to rake, weed and clear of debris. She was still living then and it was a lot easier to write about her when she was just a short drive away than it would have been after she passed away. Much of what I said in that article I used again when I spoke at her funeral just four months after it was published and I realized that having written about her the way I knew her, I had better prepared myself for that difficult day and I didn’t find it to be as sad an occasion as it might have been otherwise. I wrote that piece on Easter Sunday afternoon last year and today just happens to be another Easter Sunday afternoon as I work to write my fifty-fifth article and get it ready to go out on WordPress on Monday.
When I started writing, I posted my articles as notes to my Facebook page I use for community information but soon felt I needed it to be something that was set apart from my community work. I registered with a blogging provider so that I could move away from the Facebook page and more towards a true writing venue. I tried one mainstream blogging host for a few months but found them to be lacking several key features. Many of the writers I was discovering were using WordPress and I liked what it had in terms of tools and customization. I moved my blog there last August and brought over all my archived writings with me.
So I had a blog, a few articles under my belt and a head full of ideas that needed to be organized and no idea where to go from there. Instinct told me to follow it and keep on writing and that is what I did, picking up a blog title, a logo and a true web domain along the way. I chose the name, “The Literate Pen” because I liked the flow of those words and the meaning behind them. “Literate”, defined, is the ability to read and write; a literate person. Literacy is the foundation of knowledge, the cornerstone of our education and it has to be mastered before the door to learning is opened for you. Once those foundations of learning are strong and secure, the rest will more or less fall into place. If you can’t read, you can’t assimilate new knowledge beyond what you can hear or see and you will end up as a limited person instead of a literate one. Obviously, if one can’t read, one can’t write and the ability to express themselves is limited to just those who can hear what you say. Writing gives your thoughts and words a platform that can travel beyond your physical location and it also can give them immortality in some cases. I had every advantage that education could offer to me but I did not appreciate it until I was older and it is one of the reasons much of my community work has been in some way geared towards the advocacy of education. I’m glad many of my old teachers are still around to see me come that realization.
“Pen” of course is easy to understand but there is much power behind that word because the pen is the instrument through which thought translates into the written word. Human beings have long sought permanence to their words by committing them, first to stone walls in caves, then papyrus and its offspring, paper and now the monitor. The instrument to do this with evolved from a chisel and paint to a quill, a fountain pen, a typewriter and now a word processor. The pen itself is now on the endangered species list but I couldn’t bring myself to call my blog “The Literate Keyboard” and I still carry a pen daily. As long as you have the basics on hand, you can still get the job done if you need to. In the hands of a fool, the pen can be as dangerous as a loaded gun to a child, for all it takes is a signature on a document whose terms you neither know nor understand to put you on the road to financial ruin. In the hands of a politician or a journalist, it can sway opinion on a variety of matters, given that the author has the ability to strike a chord with the reader that hooks them and draws them in. In the hands of a master, it can paint a story that resonates within the reader and can leave impressions that last a lifetime. Depending on the person who wields it, the pen can cut like a razor, comfort like a pacifier, spread truth like a gospel and spin lies like a propagandist. In choosing the title, I wanted to convey the pen as the instrument and all the literate ability that is needed to move it in whatever direction my thoughts might carry it.
So what could I write about that might possibly be interesting to read? The things I enjoy come to mind. I enjoy my family and the impact my ancestors have made on me, from the lessons they taught me and the examples they gave me to the history they lived and the humor they demonstrated. I enjoy my son and he is a teacher to my wife and me, giving us things to ponder and even to marvel at. I grew up in and still live in a small Georgia town that manages to thrive in the shadow of Atlanta, a small town with a rich backdrop of history and a cast of characters as diverse and unique as the variety of trees that grow in this region. I am a descendent of rebellious people who first broke free from the United Kingdom and later from the United States, even if the former ultimately succeeded and the latter ultimately failed. I am also a descendent of loyal people who fought in Germany, France, Italy and Africa to make the world safe for democracy.
I enjoy good food, church worship in the traditional style, reading books and listening to great storytellers spin their tall tales that grow faster than kudzu up a tree. I love the South and being a Southerner for all the right reasons and hopefully none of the wrong ones. I want the world to accept us as the intellectual equals that many of us are and to acknowledge that without the rednecks, we wouldn’t be nearly as much fun, that we embrace our accents that are “liquid of vowels, kind to consonants” as part of who we are and we have no desire to change it. I enjoy a great many things and from this rich treasure chest, I still have much to draw inspiration from, to form that inspiration into words and to craft those words into sentences that bring all that I see and feel to the world outside of my mind. I told myself that I wanted to write and that I would see if I could make it for a year and before I knew it, I had run past the goal like Forrest Gump running for a touchdown and I have no intention to stop at this point. To those that read my articles and those that have commented on them and given me advice, encouragement and insight, you have no idea how much that is appreciated. For anyone that writes, draws, paints, builds, composes or creates, finding an audience who likes what they see is usually all the encouragement one needs to keep pressing forward and your comments give me the fuel to do that. The drive to do so comes from somewhere else though, a place inside that pushes me to write. One of the writers I follow had a teacher that told her once that “if you are truly a writer, you can’t not write” and while the sentence may be grammatically incorrect, the thought behind it is so true. So those are my thoughts on writing, why I enjoy it and why I’ll continue pursuing it.
Cogito Ergo Scribo. I think, therefore I write.