Saturday, 11 December 2010
Three thoughts - Leila Rasheed
The world is changing and so is my brain. When I was a teenager, I used to saturate myself in Dickens or Austen and go about narrating my life to myself in the voice of their novels. This evening I was struggling to light our apathetic fire and found myself narrating my life to myself in a Facebook status. Leila Rasheed Is: playing with fire. Language shrinkage. I’ve just finished the first draft of a novel, and I’m convinced that I’ve written it a hundred times more badly than I would have five or ten years ago. My brain has curled up like a hedgehog and no matter how much I poke it with sticks, it doesn’t want to move.
I think I can solve it. The first step is making space for a book, turning off the computer. Reading does for the brain what water does to those magic towels I coveted when I was a child; it causes it to expand and become far more interesting. There are microbes that lie around in a state of dehydration for years just waiting for the rain to bring them back to life. My brain can live again!
We need computers. We probably even need Facebook. But we need real books, too. This is why it is so sad that libraries are under threat. The internet scrunches language up small, it dehydrates it. Books, novels, well-written books of all kind, allow language to flourish. And language is thought.
Spell checkers have their own happy logic. Sometimes when I am typing away, I’ll mis-hit a key, and the program will adjust what I typed to what it thinks I meant to type. So what I intended as more becomes moiré. Now I have never, to my knowledge, intentionally typed the word moiré until this blog post. How often does the average Microsoft user use the word moiré? How often does anyone use the word moiré? I imagine the computer, blind and deaf as it is, imagines itself used by an elegant lady with strings of pearls and a chignon (another word I have never to the best of my knowledge typed before). Such a lady would use the word moiré. Such a lady would have a less apathetic fire than mine, and a small dog to sit in front of it.
Over in Italy, we buy firewood that fruit farmers have trimmed from their trees and we stack it outside to dry. It is proper wood, with knots and gnarls and bark and splinters. We also collect driftwood; big nubbly olive roots stripped of bark, bits of door, that kind of thing. When dried out this burns in witchy colours because of the salt. It usually leaves behind stubborn bits that won’t burn, and old nails and so forth.
Here in England we buy sacks of smokeless fuel shaped into perfect pebbles as light as pumice, and ‘Blaze’ logs, which are formed of sawdust into a regular cuboid with a perfect hole down the middle, packed neatly into plastic. They are the same brown all over. They burn entirely and leave vast amounts of fine, clean white ash.
On the one hand, a functional, Facebook sort of a language, perfectly cuboid, uniformly brown. On the other, a gnarly, splintery, waterlogged sort of a language that needs stacking in the head and leaving to dry for a while before it can burn, and burn, and burn.