The act of writing, or drawing for that matter — of making fast those ephemeral thoughts, impressions, ideas, emotions, visions, hopes, yearning that flit across our minds over the course of our waking and dreaming life – is what I believe distinguishes human intelligence from any other kind of intelligence on this earth. How setting pictographs or alphabets on stone, clay, or plant-based sheets came about is the stuff of myth in many cultures — gifts from various gods, from Zeus’ daughter, from the Hebrew God to Moses, from the Egyptian god Thoth, the Babylonian god Nabu, from Brahma, Odin, and so forth. And when I think about the process of ascribing meaning and/or sound to these symbols – let’s imagine this scenario for a moment and say it’s one person waking up one day and yelling “Eureka!” and convincing other people to accept these symbols and their embedded meanings or sounds — I am inclined to agree that writing systems are more than likely to have been divinely inspired, if not bestowed outright.
More realistically though, I think it would’ve been several and not just one person creating such a system. And the process would not have been anything like spontaneous generation: it would have been exceedingly laborious and complex. It would’ve taken a group of people years to agree on such a system of conveying meaning and sounds, of seemingly “magicking” the real world’s tangible objects and intangible concepts into the condensed and abstract forms of a written language. We do have a contemporary example of one person creating a modern language — one that is widely spoken today as a first language, and I don’t mean Esperanto. That exceptional person is Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, often regarded as the resuscitator of Hebrew from the dead in the early 1900s, who transformed it from its purely liturgical use into a vibrant language spoken and written by 9 million people today. To achieve that, he had to have been such an absolute single-minded tyrant, beginning with forbidding his wife and children from speaking anything else but his newly minted language. The transformation could not have been instantaneous – far from it. To encourage neighbours to learn the new language and drop Yiddish or Ladino (whichever language of the Jewish Diaspora they were accustomed to), apparently Ben-Yehuda’s wife, Hemda (born Paula Bella Jonas), went around to sweeten the linguistic transformation with her own unique contribution – her home-made cakes. Come to think of it, perhaps the cakes may have stimulated the language-learning more readily than stern Eliezer’s strictures. Which begs the thought — how many wives or other female collaborators throughout the ages have contributed, directly or indirectly, to men’s creations and gone unrecognized? Or perhaps hidden their own achievements thus? More than we shall ever know, that’s for sure. More on Hemda Ben-Yehuda in a later post: a journalist and writer whose first language was Russian, she mastered basic Hebrew in six months.
Back to writing and my thoughts on writing my life’s journey in this grace journal (the words “journal” and “journey,” both stemming from “day” in French: “jour”). As Vita Sackville-West (1892-1962) once said, “It is necessary to write, if the days are not to slip emptily by.” I’ve never sustained regular, almost daily, writing before, but have now gotten into the habit of blogging upon waking. Not everyday, but oftener than once a week. Occasionally I may read the Wei Wu Wei Archives or the Wisdom Blog first to get my brain cells primed to be in the moment, to be aware, though more often than not, whatever I write is sparked by photographs I’d taken the previous day. “How else, indeed, to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment?” Sackville-West continues: “For the moment passes, it is forgotten, the mood is gone; life itself is gone.”
And that is indeed why I continue to write. Not only to record the ever-changing landscape inside and outside my mind and share it, but as Sackville-West has done, “to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment.”