Last fall, I spoke to the Society of Adventist Philosophers about how the Adventist community handles “the word” and how our commitments to literacy and logos influence our approach to informing, persuading, and communicating.
Working on that paper sent me trekking through the library of Plato, especially the Phaedrus dialogues where Socrates and his interlocutors explore what the new art of writing might mean for older forms of rhetoric and other arts, like memory.
Socrates here is a writing skeptic, and we know this only because his student Plato frames him as such in writing. Because of Plato, we get to enjoy Socrates, even if our dear teacher once thought we’re not “the right sort of people” because we write:
In the garden of letters, [he who knows the just and good and honourable] will sow and plant, but only for the sake of recreation and amusement; he will write [thoughts] down as memorials to be treasured against the forgetfulness of old age, by himself, or by any other old man who is treading the same path. He will rejoice in beholding their tender growth; and while others are refreshing their souls with banqueting and the like, this will be the pastime in which his days are spent.” —The Phaedrus
Thousands of years post-Plato, we’re still writing things.
More: I’m writing. A descendant of a people once explicitly barred from writing and other language arts is writing. I’m writing a lot, stretching my ability, testing my discipline, hoping that I improve in the process, trusting that the people who most need the Word behind the word will catch it in these words.
I write for so many reasons.
At the top of the list: I write because I can. I’m feeling a rush of gratitude to my parents who conspired to teach us writing for information and writing as craft. My mother made Mummy Writes What I Remember journals for my siblings and me, and she sat with each of us almost daily, recording what we could recall until we were old enough to train our attention and write our memories for ourselves.
Mum’s diligence meant that I was writing well before I went to school: no later than the age of four. A decade later, my father let me loose on his calligraphy set, reviewing my attempts to form pretty letters. I didn’t train long enough to master the art, but it hasn’t stopped me from seeing writing as a craft and not a mere utility. Thanks, Mum. Thanks, Dad.
Next on the list: I write because I should. Writing has been part of almost every job and trainee role I’ve ever held: legal assistant, opinion writer, editor, teaching assistant, parliamentarian, editor again, graduate assistant, policy writer, grant writer, rhetorician, technical communicator, still-an-editor, researcher, contractor, fundraiser, program manager, writer-who-speaks-too, consultant and business owner, communications coordinator, and program director.
Writing is the tool I use to cast visions and reshape organizational matter at the levels of the work unit and the funding request. I use it to articulate what my colleagues and I are all about, to imagine what more we can become together, and to connect us with the communities around us.
Writing is also the tool I use to recover from organizations behaving badly. Whether I write privately or publicly, writing is my means of making sense of the insensible and nonsensical so I can still show up at the common table open-hearted. I don’t mail every letter or send every email—thank God—but I still write!
And finally: I write because I must. About a month ago, I shared with one of my communities how societal silences shaped my early sense of who I was and how I fit into my ethnic, religious, and national cultures. I wrote about growing up not seeing my whole self in the mirror of these cultures; I wrote about what it has meant for me to discover affinity communities as an adult through fictional and nonfictional literature. Writing, others’ writing, allowed me to encounter them and therefore encounter myself.
Today, writing is how I carve my own reflection into my cultural mirrors. Writing is the way that I reshape that early story and make new endings out of it. Writing is what I offer the world, no matter what, in the hope that young ones as young as I once was will have at least one more reflection in their mirrors, one more token of their peer group and the communities beyond the kin they can touch.
I write because some of you still want to read. I also write regardless of whether any of you ever want to read.
But I’m glad that you do read.