I like to write. I haven’t published much, so I wouldn’t call myself a “writer,” certainly not a poet, though I started writing things when I wrote poems to cope in junior high. They were cheesy love poems for my first or second crush. Rejected, I wrote more poetry, either sighed a lot, or (more likely) bingewatched Video JukeBox until Green Jelly’s “Three Little Pigs” or Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” or Dr. Dre and Snoop Dog’s “Nothin but a G Thang” came on (YouTube it all, folks), or (just as likely) gorged myself on Super Nintendo or Genesis games to prepare for my first year in high school.
I don’t have those poems anymore. Don’t ask.
I wrote those poems on paper because it wasn’t until my second year in high school that I learned how to type on a computer and format a document.
I still write on paper whenever I can: poems, drafts of short stories, character sketches, ideas for novels, dreams, parts of an academic essay. I didn’t write this post on paper, I admit, but I tend toward paper, because writing on paper helps me remember what I wrote, what I changed.
My last writing: I wrote a poem for an Advent booklet distributed through Iona’s Office of Mission and Ministry. I started it on paper. Take a look at a section of an early draft.
See how messy it gets? I cut here, squeezed there, interrupted myself twice. I look back and flinch at some of my early word choices, like “numbing cold,” (like really, I could have done something else there, I mean, there was no need for me to even write that phrase down).
When I write on Word or Google Docs, I lose a history of those edits, those lessons in real-time, those signs that I was really thinking hard, really struggling to find meaning in an image, to find meaning at all. (I could just use “Track Changes,” but all the colors and lines seem too messy for me to untangle).
I don’t keep all drafts of all my writings. I’ve scrapped drafts of articles that have been published, or early, terrible versions of dissertation chapters that took my advisor hours to edit. I don’t feel the need to hold onto that history.
The poems, though, and the short stories, and the ideas for stories, and any drafts of unfinished scholarly articles demand that I document the changes, in the body of the writing or in the margins.
I want a written record of those changes.
I don’t want to tap “Backspace” or “Delete” to erase the history of my thought-process, my habits of mind, my search for meaning in art and my search for art in meaning.
Those writings demand that I take stock of my work, that I study the documents of their past, that I learn from those documents what I thought, felt, or thought I felt.
I need to write on paper to remember.
I can still write on Word and still make the final version permanent, but I find myself in the quirks of the drafts. Without a record, I don’t have a way to remember the quirks I changed, even if I can notice in the permanent version those quirks I can’t change. Take, for example, the final version of my advent poem:
You fear what the dark means,
or might, you don’t know enough
to know why the holly, why the pine,
why four candles on a wreath
when coal for boys and girls
gone bad, born to the bad they know,
they know not, they know not what
Round and round
trace a bruise around an eye or wrist,
purples wrenched from pinks,
hope numbed cold.
Round and round loop the yarn by a lamp
near a hearth into stockings empty for more
quick picks, scratch offs, Crayola wax
to waste on stick-figure-family smiles
and North Pole lists next to Guida and Oreos
on the oak veneer table.
Round and round the barrel bomb
in Aleppo once, twice, more than three,
smote your peace.
Your hara feels what the dark means,
what excretes through pancreatic ducts
toward your right, your core—
call it your duodenum—
for food that feeds your life for more
than round and round until aground.
A square of candles, vertices on a circle of pine.
Light one, two, the third, four the sum.
Purples into a pink to purple,
you see in flickers—
dawn rays through dew on hydrangeas,
there is a peony—
the halo like a white oak
aspiring from winter’s ground
to rival the snow: I will green again.
Wax melts and puddles and sets
into the wounds of the world.
The wreath, the pine,
the wicks aflame,
the mess below,
or nest, a womb, dark aglow,
you know you know
you hope you know
See? Nothing I can change there, even in stanzas 2 and 3, which really need work. And stanza 1…
Well, I could edit this blog post, I suppose—take a screenshot of before and after or something. But that just sounds like so much work, you know?