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Writers Talking

I spoke to two cousins on the telephone this week. What a treat to have long conversations, to hear their voices, and then to follow-up with a real correspondence using long, descriptive sentences—not just snippet thought- bytes and sentence fragments. I write my letters in Word files with the email off, and then send them as attachments, or paste them into the body of the email. The computer has a pulse and it quickens us. It’s time to slow down.

Both of my cousins live on the west coast, one in Seattle, the other on Gabriola Island off the coast of Vancouver. Apart from family lore and gossip, shared memories and anecdotes, two of us are writers, the third has started writing poetry and is contemplating a memoir workshop. And though there was a lot to discuss, I found myself becoming impatient and wanting to get off the phone. Not good. I had picked up the phone ready to talk, to tell my stories and listen to theirs. If I hadn’t wanted to talk, I should have let the phone go into voice mail. But I didn’t. It is as though I had momentarily lost the habit of conversing.

It’s our mandate as writers to resist the electronic “pidgin” English we’ve developed to communicate quickly and virtually. I believe that it erodes our language and is not good for any of us, writers in particular. I know it’s not good for me. I’m as glued to my iPhone as anyone, addicted to Facebook and text. But I also resist. I resist by writing long texts in full sentences and using the Facebook status as an opportunity to weave a mini-story. When I went off Facebook for a couple of weeks a while back, and announced that I was doing so, my “friends” objected. I was touched that they were enjoying my stories, but I also wanted to talk to all of them and to meet at a cafe for a chat over a coffee, totally impractical in our trans-national lives. And so I am grateful that our timelines bring us closer.

I always suggest to my students to make calls to friends and family on their cells after 9 p.m. when minutes are free and they can spin their stories. Or to have “talking” dinner parties around a table with a few selected friends. Ten, twenty, thirty minutes of oral story-telling and listening every day is gold bullion for the writer. Our minds clarify, the words glisten, and our solitary writing lives return to balance.
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