fountain pen on spiral book

I write down a lot of ideas. I’m forever tapping something on my phone or creating a new ‘ideas for writing’ file on my laptop. Lately, while I’m at work, I’ve taken to using yellow post-it notes to remind me of things I need to put down.

For example, lately I wrote: ‘not enough doctors or beds for the medicalization of life today.’ ‘The low hanging fruit of Christianity.’ ‘Typing, my best and most useful high school class,’ and ‘night shift a nursery for ideas.’

I also wrote, oddly, ‘people should write down stories.’ But this is because I have and I do.

For years I have written down little notes, little memories of our family life. These may or may not interest anyone outside the family, but that’s not really who they’re for.

I always imagined that it would be so magnificent, so precious to have a small book of stories from an ancestor, say 500 years ago. I like to think it might include snippets of conversations, descriptions of days spent with husbands, wives, children and parents. The book might brush on the great events of the day. But then it would always return to the things that mattered most to the people who were my forbears.

What if it had a child’s favorite game? Perhaps it might include a poem or story told around the fire at night. Maybe it would say something to me, a bit of wisdom cast forward into the dark night of the future, in hopes that it would erupt on the dawn of some future child. That would be far more precious than any trinket, any bit of tarnished jewelry or pitted blade, or long irrelevant currency.

My home has many small notebooks, some full, some begun and forgotten. And there are stories. There are memories. There is love, poured out in words.

Photos are grand and make no mistake we have untold numbers. Probably too many, enabled by the remarkable technology of the smart-phone. With that device, there is no cost to develop and so we do not ration the images we snap as we did when we put film cartridges into instamatics or Polaroids. Pity perhaps. It makes us careless and teaches us not to think about what scenes matter the very most.

Still, I’m glad we have them. And we can make notes on photos filed on our computers; we can separate them into dates and albums. Unlike the vast boxes that inhabit many of our parents’ homes. Those are often cardboard vaults with the sleeping stories of faces unknown to us. Once our parents or uncles or aunts pass away, those faces are buried even deeper in the past as we usually have no way to discover the stories or names, however happy they look or however vaguely the setting reminds us of that trip, that time, somewhere with some people…

But notes! Ah, notes are glorious. Like paintings they forces us to focus on what matters. We cannot yet make notes the way we make endless photos. We are forced into an economy of language. Notes are both telescope and microscope and lead us to see wider stories at times, but more often the small details that matter.

Those of us who are writers sometimes try to imagine hitting it big. What if we become the next great columnist, the next great author? How do we leverage every imaginable social media so that clicks and viral fame follow?

It is likely that most of us will never face the elation and burden of such events. But we can write things ultimately far more important. We can be the historians of our lives and of our loved ones. We can leave, in paper and even in the catacombs of the Internet, tales of lives otherwise lost to history in a few generations. We can send messages forward to friends, future family or even strangers and give them a sense that there are stories at least as important as what we write in hopes of ever elusive fame.

The tales of our brief lives and loves are treasures. We should write them and share them (even if on hidden tablets in safe deposit boxes, or handed to children or grandchildren) because we found them wonderful, moving and worth sharing. Some of them we may only share with ourselves, but the act of writing makes them come into greater clarity.

So many stories are lost to us. Any cemetery should be a sharp reminder of that. Far more stories are lost than are saved. But there’s no reason for us not to press back against that. No reason we cannot hold onto what matters.

Maybe it’s time we worry less about what bit of furniture remains, or who gets the jewelry. Maybe it’s time we stop hoarding things and start hoarding ideas and memories.

So get that pen you love and a small notebook. Carry it around and jot down your memories, your events, your loves and struggles. Or make an electronic file. Or do both. There’s more than enough time when we stop streaming, stop caring about what trends or who influences or who is on trial. Stop wringing our hands over political and cultural battles. There’s plenty of time once we stop wasting our own precious time, stop pretending (even as writers) that what matters most is more clicks and realize that what matters far more are the people we are writing to, when they are people we love. Or at least, those we wish we could live long enough to love.

An editor of mine, Mr. Tom Inman of the Greenville News, used to ask ‘Ed, what are you writing for you?’

I think I know the answer now.

As much as I can. And I encourage all my readers to do the same.





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