When’s the last time you took an actual pen to actual paper for a time-consuming writing task, as opposed to tapping your fingers rhythmically on your computer’s keyboard? For so many of us, writing our lofty prose or mundane work tasks in longhand, whether with an inexpensive ballpoint pen, a mechanical pencil, or a luxury fountain pen, is a thing of the past – a painstaking process that began when ancient Sumerians and Babylonians used styluses to write in soft clay tablets, and when the scribes of Ancient Egypt created writing instruments from a single reed straw. But for some, what we gain in minutes saved and efficiency by digitizing our writing, we’ve lost as a form of fine art, a slower, more deliberate process that invites the kind of precision and careful reflection that, for many, has become elusive. Let’s hear the wistful reflections of Mike Fink.
I believe in newspapers, small and local. First thing I turn to is the obits. I find a life I touched, that touched mine. Next page, that brightens my mood--the funnies. I like the new ones, like Zits and the "classic" oldies like Blondie. I miss the satire of Li'l Abner and the slow, pleasant soap operas like Rex Morgan. I'm tired of Doonesbury: it's too political.
I did boyhood columns in the Bishop Bugle, and then the Hope Log. So, when I came to RISD, the Rhode Island School of Design, as an instructor-- actually in 1957!--my boss asked me to serve as faculty advisor to our weekly, called "Blockprint." I encouraged my students, from the "slow" section, to contribute their photographs of our zoos, and simple pages from daily logs and sketchbooks. I published a collection of their work I called "Drawing with Words."
Now, I describe my memories with a few snapshots from personal pilgrimages, nearby, in East Providence, or South County----or westward, Johnston, or northbound, Woonsocket. I freelanced for the then-regional issues of our ProJo. Our Writing Center asked me to offer a travelogue from a sabbatical, and to advise our grad students. I proclaimed: aim LOW! That is, entertain a thought, give words to your dreams, disappointments, dilemmas, find some neighborhood newsletter that will edit, or quietly accept, your story. You will sharpen perceptions and make a new friend--or foe--if you get a name wrong or put pen to something tactless or heedless.
This I believe: We craft community when we write. Especially by hand, not machine. Not via tech devices, where errors get corrected, or created, by "spell-check" and you have no need to proof your first draft, but just blurt and babble. Your personal spelling has charm and your effort wins acclaim.
Poetry itself is journalism, the salute to the day, the nod of your head as you look at a weed kindly, or speak gently to a stranger. My current favorite monthly is "Street Sights" about the homeless. I am proud that its editor reads me respectfully though I am safe in my house. I write for the Summit Neighborhood page. I try to save a copy or two, but inevitably they vanish...in flood or fire, or get lost among my garage hoarding piles. Nothing is forever (except Shakespeare), but there is momentary immortality, something childish, also something Victorian, about works on paper, not online.
Mike Fink is a professor at the Rhode Island School of Design.