When my son was a toddler he was happy to sit at the coffee table for hours, contentedly drawing pictures. He had a colorful imagination. One rainy afternoon he was drawing vertical lines in felt pen on the stack of copy paper I gave him. Several slam-dunked, paper wads later he carefully arranged his creations in a nice display on the table. His uncle showed up and took great uncle-like interest in Jeffrey’s project. Studying the handiwork—much to the delight of his nephew—he said something like, “Jeffrey, what did you draw? Is it the rain?” Jeffrey shook his head. “No, silly. Can’t you see? These are lines on paper.” Oh, how I loved that simple statement. It said it all. No need to attribute more meaning.
I’m always looking for deeper meaning in things that were meant to be simple. I over-analyze. Pick apart words. Yes, they wrote this or that. But what did they really mean? They said this, but did that. What is the significance? Remember answering machines, and the anticipation of a blinking red light? I do. And I remember how certain messages could cause me to spin out—an unexpected call from a doctor, or when I was dating, a low voice confirming or canceling a date. Stop. Rewind. Play. Again and again, looking for a nuance in the voice to reveal what was really behind the words—trying to manipulate the rewind button so the message said exactly what I wanted to hear. Your pregnancy test is positive. Your cancer antigen test is negative. The dinner date? Of course it is still on. I often go into auto-denial before I can absorb what is clearly stated. Before I can take things on faith. Before I accept the words said, results mailed, messages left, texts written, lines drawn, are exactly as the person intended.
Manipulation in my own writing can be cause for pause as well. It used to be my cursive writing took time to flow across the parchment page. One misspelled word and it was a start over project. Plus, trying to make my not-so-pretty handwriting legible forced me to slow down, ruminate, and figure out what I wanted to write. Now, with words flying across the screen faster than I can believe, it makes sense to choose words wisely and allow them to marinate a bit before pressing the “send” button, but this is a balancing act between overworked and words that flow. As a writer, I want my words to be descriptive, elegant and tied together in beautiful phrases. When I strive for this perfection the opposite happens, the words smack of a writer who’s pen has pressed too hard, leaving an overworked mess on the page—as I fear just happened in the preceding paragraph!
For me, the secret is to not thinketh too much, but not sendeth too fast. The best stuff is the stuff that isn’t over-processed, over-marinated, scripted, or formulaic. When perfect simplicity finds its way to the page.
The simplicity of lines on paper.