The Joy of Writing
A few months ago, my son received a birthday card—his first ever via post. It was accompanied by some paper gifts made by his cousin, Julian. As I read the birthday greeting and the letter my sister wrote him, I could feel my son’s imagination reaching out towards this mysterious part of the world he has come to know only through their stories. He stood in our kitchen still as could be with an expression that said he had entered his own private world. I sensed all kinds of feelings going through him, each one a brush stroke creating his own picture of the world my sister had written about. It was precious.
I realized then how important it is to keep this tradition alive in our families, especially for our children who are growing up too quickly in this crazy, cold electronic age. We can all remember writing letters by hand, choosing the stationery on which to write, sitting at a desk and carving out the time to hold someone in our thoughts as we carefully laid ink on paper. There is something so personal about that ritual. When you receive a handwritten letter, note or postcard, you know that it was held by a human hand, rested on a wooden desk or greasy kitchen table, might have been narrowly missed by a drop of coffee and was part of a living environment only days before it reached your own hands. You hold that letter gratefully, knowing you were consciously held in someone’s thoughts and feelings not just in the writing, but from the planning and putting together, to the time the coat and boots were put on, the envelope pocketed and walked to the mailbox for the final drop-off. Imagine that. The intimacy and warmth of the handwritten letter and the hidden stories that accompany them from friends and family far away must be part of our children’s lives, too. We must make the effort to keep it going.
There was a time when I couldn’t write anything directly on the computer. I wrote everything on a yellow pad, making little notations everywhere about which sentence or paragraph would be inserted where. Then I would haul out my manual typewriter and pound away, sometimes extricating imprecise fingers from between the keys and using that nasty thing called white-out or snowpake to go over my mistakes. All the stopping and starting, changing of paper, getting ink and goo on my hands, the pile of crumpled newsprint in the trash were part of my total writing experience. But that was before the age of email and motherhood. Somewhere in between I told myself to get real. Now I type directly on my keyboard with ease but with less pleasure and ceremony. I have friends who say they still cannot write directly on the computer and write everything by hand first. What a luxury!
A few years ago, during a particularly difficult time, I was breaking out into hives all over my body and had tried every remedy and therapy available. One morning I brought out an old-style fountain pen and a bottle of ink and went to work on my journal. I was hive-free and at peace for hours. It dawned on me that it wasn’t just the holding together of thoughts but the physical writing of it that had brought me to that place of much needed quiet. Writing by hand brings in a special consciousness to our thoughts. This is what makes it priceless.
At the recent Kolisko Conference for parents and educators, we were reminded of the importance of a “humanizing education”, where children are lovingly supported in their development as human beings each with body, soul and spirit. This education ensures that children remain children. We believe that early exposure to media and computers brings them into the world of materialism and impinges on the healthy development of their imagination. Waldorf Educator and school mentor, Horst Hellmann, writes, “For to understand the world the child needs true and real perceptions and first- hand-experiences of touching things, tasting an apple, smelling the rotten wood, hearing sounds, seeing beautiful colors, feeling the water. Experience becomes knowledge. The computer is always artificial second- hand-experience. The child is deceived by the machine because he cannot distinguish between the real and the virtual world. Little children take everything that comes to their senses and imagination as real. The imagination of a child is a creative power that at first is based on true sense perceptions and a great variety of experiences. When a child is active and engaged in the creative process himself, something new arises that has never happened before. This is possible because they take in everything with great interest and sympathy; they connect and mix and create. Also the neurobiological research finds evidence that a healthy and differentiated forming process of the brain is based on real experiences. “Only by touching water I can learn what it means that water is wet. At the same time I hear the drops, see the waves and reflections, smell the sea or the grass and reed and so I get a whole impression which leads to a complex and differentiated representation of what water is like.”(Spitzer) When I don’t have this experience even the most colorful pictures and exciting sounds from the computer cannot give me an understanding.”
When a child holds a handwritten letter, he touches something that has literally passed through human hands, from those of his faraway aunt to those of the postman and the whole human network in between. Right there is a little story the child will enjoy, of how so many people across the world made sure this postcard would reach him on his special day. A picture of humanity helping one another, giving, taking, giving, forms in his healthy imagination—something that an electronic note simply cannot give. It is our task to make sure our children learn that personal correspondence is still best done by hand. This tradition adds layers of unwritten stories and impressions to every letter that no computer screen can. What nourishment for the developing soul!
I’m lucky that my kids have Steiner/Waldorf Education, which is precisely a “humanized education”, but I know this theme must also be brought to life at home. When I think of what else I can do to help this process along, the tradition of letter writing comes up, as does story-telling from one’s own childhood memories and experiences, lighting a candle for prayer and other similar rituals. There are many simple but profound things we can bring back into our children’s lives to counter the too rapid explosion of technology and materialism. By bringing back the human touch in all possible areas, we are raising them to be fully human–ready to face the challenges of life and the hardening of the world with inner strength, warmth, imagination, will and love.