I like to write. It helps me process thoughts; refine abstract concepts that sometimes, though not always, become clearer, word-by-word. At times, muses inspire and sentences form like dew drops on petals and patterns emerge and facts feel like art.
Most recently writing has become a bit of a challenge – with a lot of writing tasks that I’ve taken on – chosen or required by school, work, and life.
Academic writing is its own beast: just the right balance of tone and opinion. In the past month I’ve written over 10 extensive papers required for my graduate-rabbinical school studies. Writing a 10-20 page footnoted masterpiece for one set of eyes is a fascinating and at times frustrating challenge.
Then there’s blogs: this weekly one, which is a pleasure, and the PREPENT blog I’m in the middle of, with 26 daily posts to go that help me get ready for the year ahead. And then the writing of the High Holidays materials – preparing sermons and classes and promotional materials, and so on.
Oh, and emails, txts, small talk in transit. Waiting, on back burner, are the books and scripts I long to write.
Maybe just a bit too much? Perhaps, but hopefully not yet too much to handle, Although I admit that some days, like today, I long for days in which no writing tasks are anywhere in sight. (Biking has been helpful – though I write in my head sometimes, my body is busy balancing gravity, not grammar.)
Today I thought: has all this word exchange between us gone too far? It’s very likely that our literacy-heavy culture has gotten us sharing more words with each other than any previous generation, and I wonder how our brains are handling the influx. What’s the psychic price?
Is there some limit to how many written/read words a person can handle daily with a toll on soul when limits are reached? Would we live our lives with more calm and attention to detail if we were not bombarded by words, just like this one, from the moment we open our eyes every day?
Imagine a world where the written word is a rare commodity: where each word is sacrosanct. Interesting wish for the new year…
One of my favorite books is ‘ The Alphabet Vs. the Goddess.‘ Written by the late physicist and artist Leonard Shlain, it is a breathtaking tour through human history, examining what each civilization gained and lost with the advance of literacy. Cultures, Just like each of us growing up, lost innocence, magic and contact with nature as language took over, with tools of logic and order and solid structures, a-z. Shlain proves how words replaced images in our sacred systems as patriarchal hierarchy replaced the matriarchal culture and the letter of the law dominated simpler and perhaps more peaceful ways of life.
This week’s Torah Text, Ki Tavo, describes exactly this historical transition. Moses prepares the people to cross over into Canaan and instructs them to build monuments from rocks and ‘write upon them the words of the Torah.’ Dvarim 27
The Torah doesn’t specify which words are to be written, or how many.
But the written rocks presumably serve as art installation or giant billboard on the borders to the land. Their purpose is not fully explained but we can only imagine that they are the first signs of a culture rooted in the alphabet of logic and the word as a gesture of divine command: inscribed on our doorposts, our arms, hearts and minds.
After writing this I’ll shut off my screen, and head out biking and not stop to check emails and read or respond even once. With all the love of the words that connect us so wisely, it’s also our duty to know when to stop.
(And on the topic of biking and writing: If you’ve enjoyed reading WORD this past year, even an episode or two, I want to invite you to honor the writing by supporting my biking: In just ten days I’ll be doing the HAZON bike ride – 60 miles to support environmental education and a better world. I’ve pledged to raise $4,000 and I’m half way there! Any gift will mean a lot and is tax free. Click here . Thank you!)
Amichai Lau-Lavie is the Spiritual Leader of Lab/Shul and Founder and Executive Director of Storahtelling, Inc. creating sustainable solutions for life-long Jewish Learning since 1999. storahtelling.org, www.labshul.org