Writing about writing

What is it to write? Writing is the act of putting words down on a page. To “mark on a surface” whether by pen and ink on paper, or the, less magical use, of a word processing tool. At heart writing is as surprisingly simple as it sounds. And yet, what one person considers to be “writing” may not be what the next thinks is worthy of the title.

I write my shopping list. My shopping list is a piece of writing. However inappropriate it feels, it is just as much a piece of writing as War and Peace. I have a strong suspicion that my shopping list will not be sat in the hallowed halls of great literature in years to come. Maybe it should be. After all, what is wrong with my shopping list? It is, as they say, “of it’s time”. It expresses the needs of a family in this current age (I wonder what we will be called by future generations; goodness only knows what generation they’ll be called, triple x perhaps?) and it fully defines a fixed moment in time. It tells a story, of sorts, and reveals something of a life otherwise unknown. It gives a clear indication of the social status of the author (green olives, anyone?) and the fact that a list exists at all means that the author must be fairly organised.

What else can be uncovered from a mere shopping list? Take, for example, the uncertainty of a question mark after the word “bananas”. Does it mean “do I want to buy bananas”, “do I need to buy bananas”, “should I buy bananas” or “remember to consider buying a bananaman costume”. From the most simple of queries comes a plethora of possibilities.

My list may contain the words “card for x” (let’s call ‘x’ Joan to avoid her getting a complex). This might mean I have a friend called Joan. Joan might be celebrating a birthday, a new baby, a divorce, a new house, an engagement, passing an exam, etc. She might be unwell and I simply want to send her get well wishes. She may have lost a loved one and my card will be bought to send consolations and love to dear Joan in her hour of great need. From my list alone you cannot be sure. It lends an air of mystery. Who is this Joan? What is her relationship to the owner of “The List”?

To close, my argument is that my shopping list is writing in its truest sense, and also worthy of its title even when the parameters are those of the heart. If it looks like writing, feels like writing and smells like writing, it probably is writing.

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1 Response to Writing about writing

  1. steaders says:

    As a family historian, to find something simply signed by someone from an earlier generation is wonderful, to actually find something written by them is truly exciting. Even something as ordinary as a shopping list from a previous generation would be considered gold dust, and cast a light on their lives that no other document could.

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