Sunday, October 16, 2011

Materials May Shape the Message

Materials we use to write may shape our results. My current journal has soft brown recycled paper pages, slightly crinkled and earthy feeling. My pen has the slightest bit of drag, creating a sense of connection with nature. Perhaps this earthy setting prompted an unusual recent experience.

My hand had stopped moving while my thoughts followed a tangent.  When I noticed this, I resumed writing, picking up in the  middle of my abandoned sentence. After writing a few words, I was visually transported into a forest, walking along a brown, fern-edged path shaded by leafy green boughs. The path stretched ahead only a couple of hundred feet before disappearing around a bend. I had no idea where it led.

The message of this metaphoric vision was crystal clear: my journal pages are a path that guides my thoughts toward their destination, even when I get sidetracked with juicy distractions. The path may begin with a sense of purposeful exploration lacking specific destination, and it usually heads into uncharted territory. The page is the path to my purpose, channeling diversely roaming thought into a stream of focused words.

Returning once again to the page with a heightened sense of adventure, I continued to write along the path, and a few lines later, I rounded a figurative bend. I gasped with wonder at the virtual vista that appeared. It had only a tenuous connection with the topic I was exploring. It was not a new concept. I’ve heard it for ages, but never fully understood. Now it stood out in sharp focus, with splendor rivaled only by the Grand Canyon. This was a major perspective-shifting moment, shimmering and glorious. Once again my hand stopped moving, and I sat in awe and gratitude. I had reached the place of great silence beyond all the words.

I don’t actually believe this revelation was caused by that particular paper — after all, I’ve been using that journal for over two months without such a powerful epiphany. But still, that paper, that volume, does feel liberating. I’m delighted at the connection, but more likely it’s a combination of process and timing. This was the right time for it to happen. The page may have helped it occur more easily or dramatically.

Whatever paper I use, allowing free associations to run loops along the path of the page works wonders for me. This process has upended piles of core beliefs. For example, I finally realized that three or four key memories had been casting a dark cloud over many years of my life. While journaling about them, I realized that these memories were of isolated events. The rest of the time I was basically happy and optimistic, doing what I most enjoyed doing, and generally enjoying life. Likewise, I’ve come to realize that decades I’ve often thought of as wheel-spinning years were preparation for more satisfying recent ones.

I’m partial to the power of my hand-written journal, and I especially favor blank pages. My very favorite volumes are ones I make myself, such as the one I described above, but I do occasionally buy one. I don’t get the same sense of path from writing on a computer.

The backs of oversized envelopes are my favorite place to brainstorm or gather my thoughts for a project. I’ve never figured it out, but they open a fire hydrant of creativity. I seldom write coherent paragraphs of narrative there — they are for bullet lists and choppy chunks of text, usually written at odd angles and often connected with arrows and lines. For composing final documents, nothing can beat the keyboard!

Magic or not, I do believe our materials affect our results.

Write now: ponder the power of the paper you use. Does one form feel “juicier” than another? Recall various journals you’ve used, or try writing on different types of paper to determine if your results vary with materials. If you avoid paper like the plague, consider other variations you may use at the keyboard. Leave a comment about your thoughts and experience with this.

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