"In order to make art, we must first make an artful life, a life rich enough and diverse enough to give us fuel." --Julia Cameron, The Sound of Paper
In this digital age we've developed less and less of a relationship to paper compared to our relationship to a digital screen. But what sound can match the swoosh of envelopes pushed through the mail slot, the thrill of anticipation as you gather up the pile? Today, most communication is accomplished via email but to a writer, the sound of paper is a promise. It's the promise of an idea about to take form on the page. The promise of a check that might mysteriously appear from a forgotten debtor, just in time to pay the rent. Or the promise of an acceptance letter from one of the many agents you sent your manuscript. Even a rejection letter holds promise, because it means you are a writer, broadcasting your pages like seeds in a windstorm, knowing one of them will eventually burrow itself into the heart of a receptive reader and take hold.
I wrote my first poem at the age of nine. It was simply titled, Mother. I have no recollection of the words anymore, only the sound of my pencil scratching a clumsy message of love into a lined notebook. It was written for the woman who lay in her bed, moaning in pain from degenerative disk disease. I thought my poem would help her get well. It didn't. But writing it helped me. Over the next several months, I wrote that pencil down to a stub. And many more pencils after that.
The title of Julia Cameron's book got me to thinking, what is the sound of paper? I t
ook out my journal opened a Word document and tunneled back in time to when the sound of paper meant more than the hum of a computer coming to life on my lap, more than the click-clack of a keyboard. And I remembered...
The sound of candy wrappers unfolding, my tongue sweating with sweet anticipation.
Dad shaking out the Muskegon Chronicle after supper as he sat in his leatherette recliner, shoes off, tie loosened.
The last flimsy square on the roll peeling from the cardboard cylinder, me shuffling to the closet with underpants around my ankles, cursing my sisters for their lack of consideration.
A dentist pinning a stiff paper napkin around my neck to catch my blood but not my screams as he yanked a tooth we couldn't afford to fill with silver.
A note uncrinkling on its own after being passed under bubblegum-painted desks. Do you like me? Circle Yes or No. (Yes.)
Red and green Christmas paper, peppered with dried needles, my name on the tag. Tearing, not caring. Because it's for me.
Unfolding a wrinkly blue learner's permit, exchanging it for the real thing, although I'd been driving since I was twelve.
Antiseptic white paper sheet unrolled, the width of my bottom, scooch down, Honey. A little further. A little further.
Wet signatures dancing across a marriage license, that we traded in for a thick ream of divorce papers almost before the ink was dry.
Fat markers squeaking bloody prayers on poster board, carried on a stick, nobody hearing the sound of peace marching past closed windows as we protested the wars.
Words written on lined paper. Dear Mom. I wrote this poem for you...
What about you? What does paper sound like? What memory or image comes to mind when you close your eyes and listen?
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