I shall live badly if I do not write, and I shall write badly if I do not live.’ Francoise Sagan

Monday, 15 August 2011

Looking back…

Since creating my blog in March of this year, I have discovered that writing has given a new sense of purpose and direction to my life; at times, it has also been like a welcome balm for a troubled spirit. When things have been difficult in my personal or professional life, writing has given me a platform for self-expression and a means of connecting with the outside world.  It does not matter that those who read these words are mostly unknown to me; just knowing that you are there - reading these posts - gives me a sense of connectedness to you.  For me, the joy of writing is that it has allowed me to create something greater than myself – to step outside my own small, confined world and share my thoughts, ideas and experiences.

My writing has evolved over the course of the last few months to convey a vision of the world that is gradually becoming less personalised and localised and more expansive and inclusive; this feels to me like quite a natural progression. Although the themes of my recent posts are still determined by my unique experiences and reflect a subjective perception of the world, I have become increasingly interested in exploring the intersection between my world and the world, between the personal and the universal. Consequently, when I write about my experiences as a 41 year old woman living on the south west coast of England, what increasingly fires my imagination is how my little corner of the universe forms part of a greater whole; and, how I can use the written word as a bridge - connecting the personal with the universal and the local with the global. There is no doubt that we are all moulded by the society, culture, and family in which we grew up and that we all filter reality through eyes that have been conditioned by our earliest experiences. Yet, despite the huge differences between people, what unites us far outweighs any divisions of class, gender or nationality. After all, we all have to grow up and find our way in the world; we will all experience heartache at some time or another; and, if we live long enough, we will all grow old and come face to face with our own mortality.

I have frequently observed that the most gifted writers are those who have a talent for vividly recreating a picture of a world they know and situating it within a wider framework that reflects the commonality of human experience. In this way, The God of Small Things transcends the local reality of Kerala, India with its rigidly hierarchical cast system and speaks of greater universal truths about division and exclusion. Similarly, on one level, One Hundred Years of Solitude recounts the tale of the lives of successive generations of the same family in a remote part of Colombia; yet the novel also contains a metanarrative that speaks of the nature of time and memory and Man’s struggle to break free from the shackles of the past. In this way, Garcia Marquez’s prize winning bestseller transcends a localised sense of time and place to touch on universal truths that extend beyond Colombian borders.

I would like to think that I have achieved something similar in my own writing - albeit on a much smaller scale than these great authors; and that, in the process, I have reached beyond the confines of my own finite existence in time and space to create something of universal relevance and enduring value. I also hope that anyone that reads these blog posts can relate on some level to their content - no matter what corner of the world they inhabit and no matter how dissimilar their life experiences have been from my own. It would be gratifying to know that my readers in Russia gain as much from my blog posts as those in Dorset!

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Communication in a Digital Age

No doubt, most of you are familiar with the expression, “a rose by any other name is just as sweet”, but I for one, beg to differ with the sentiment of this old adage. I suppose that it is unsurprising, given my love of words and writing, that I like things to be called by their proper name but my feelings on this subject go deeper than this: the fact of the matter is that I utterly abhor the current all too common bastardisation of the English language. Sadly, the misuse – or perhaps, should I say the abuse - of our language has become all the more prevalent since the invention of “text talk” with its convenient shortening of words. This unfortunate tendency, combined with the fact that we now have a young population who read far less than in previous generations, is turning us into a nation of people with a limited vocabulary and only the vagueness of notions of correct punctuation and spelling.

In fact, it is precisely because of my love of words – both their meaning and their sound- that I gave a lot of thought to the names of my children. Unfortunately, at the time, it did not occur to me that the beautiful Russian Princess name of my daughter would morph from Tatiana to Tat; although I probably should have realised that Christian Eduardo would become Chris – fortunately, I decided to make Eduardo his middle and not his first name, otherwise he would now be known as Ed. As for me, I am Claire-Louise (with a hyphen), not Claire and not Louise but Claire-Louise. It is no doubt a sign of the times that I am almost apologetic when I point this out to people, but I sometimes wonder why I should feel this way, after all, I am not being pedantic - this is my name! Of course, I realise that, unlike the French, the English do not really have a tradition for hyphenated first names, but it is not difficult to get your tongue around Claire-Louise so there is not really much excuse for getting it wrong.

This brings me back to my original point about the misuse of language. I think it fair to say that there is a growing tendency among the younger population of this country to be lazy or careless in their use of language; and, since the dawn of the era of digital communications - and with it text messaging and other forms of instant messaging - this laziness is becoming ever more pronounced. Furthermore, it seems to me that an increasing overreliance, if not downright dependency, on such mediums of communication is significantly diminishing the quality of personal interactions between people everywhere. However, before you accuse me of being old-fashioned and contemptuous of modern technology, I hasten to point out that I have nothing against such mediums per se – text messages are fine for sending short messages: for example, letting people know your whereabouts or telling your other half not to forget to pick up some fish for dinner. However, text messaging is not a good medium for communications of a more personal nature or as a substitute for a face-to-face conversation; and, whilst it can be fun for flirting and playful banter, in the context of more serious conversations it presents far too many opportunities for error or misunderstanding.

To give an example that some of you may relate to, it can be dangerously, and almost seductively easy, to get into an argument by text. Words fly back and forth with the velocity of a ping-pong game, making this an excellent medium for delivering verbal blows conveniently, thoughtlessly and effortlessly by a quick touch of the key pad. Then, before you know it, you find yourself embroiled in a text war!  The same is true of email although, unless you are having a chat via Instant Messenger, the time delay between the sending and receiving of a message makes it less likely for an argument to escalate with the same kind of out of control velocity. This misuse of a medium not well designed for such serious and personal communications has resulted in a growing number of people succumbing to the temptation of terminating their relationships by text! No doubt, in such cases the sender imagines that they have saved themselves considerable time and effort, in addition to having avoided a potentially painful confrontation. Yet, in some instances there is no substitute for face-to-face communication, particularly when two people are in conflict with one another, and if at such times we are tempted to communicate remotely instead of actually talking to each other and making eye contact, the outcome is unlikely to be positive.

A similar scenario would be unlikely to occur if we had to express ourselves in longhand by letter: for one thing, we would have more time to reflect, so our words would probably be more measured and moderate once we had allowed ourselves the chance to calm down. Secondly, it is possible that the cramp in our hand brought about by writing under the influence of blind anger or the effort involved in buying a stamp and taking our “missile” to the post box would be enough to deter us from sending it in the first place! Similarly, if such an exchange were to take place face-to-face, body language and eye contact would allow us to attribute meaning more accurately to words and misunderstandings would be less likely to occur.

It is the sheer ease and convenience of the many forms of instant messaging currently available that pose the greatest threat to the nature and quality of our interactions. This brings me onto the subject of text messaging whilst under the influence of alcohol – apparently an increasingly common phenomenon – and, suffice it to say, that something similar applies i.e. greater ease of communication=greater likelihood for making errors= potentially huge embarrassment.

The reality is that there are a significant number of people who have been so seduced by the idea of constant, and almost instantaneous communication, that they think it perfectly acceptable (normal even) to send text messages when having dinner, driving their cars or even in the midst of a conversation with someone else. I sometimes cannot help but wonder if these people were actually born with their mobiles attached to the umbilical cord connecting them to their mothers! Unfortunately, this observation does not exclusively apply to those who are still young – I have seen parents who are too busy writing text messages to engage properly with their children.

My feelings on this topic tend to reach boiling point when one particular family member comes to visit. It often seems that we are barely able to exchange two words before her phone alerts her to a new text or BBM (BlackBerry instant messaging for those of you not in the know). Once that happens, there might as well be a hologram in front of me rather than a real human being! Whilst my beloved relation lends half an ear - and probably less than a quarter of her brain - to our conversation, there is a discreet but unmistakeable tapping sound in the background as her fingers conduct a parallel conversation under the table!

I realise that those of you who do not know me might assume that the writer of these lines is a woman of a certain age, giving vent to her frustrations with modern life; you know the type - the kind of person who likes to bemoan the passing of the good old days and the loss of traditional values. Well, up to a point, you would be right because, make no mistake about it; I do lament the loss of certain things associated with a past era. Yet, the fact of the matter is that I have always been a purist when it comes to language, I have never understood why some people prefer to substitute good conversation over dinner with the drone of the T.V. and I have long lamented the decline of certain forms of communication - such as the ancient art of letter writing. I think I first noticed this when I was in my mid to late twenties and email communications gradually started to replace hand written letters. It may be that I am more a product of my upbringing than my generation, but either way, it seems clear to me that modernity and “progress” are not necessarily synonymous. We have created a society in which everything can be done faster and where geographical distances have shrunk to the point of being almost irrelevant (at least in terms of communications) but what is more questionable is whether in the process we have actually improved the quality of human relations.

On a final note, I would like to add that I still have every love letter that I have ever received, stored away in a couple of boxes under my bed. To me these objects are of inestimable value – not only because of the poetic beauty of their content – but also because of the obvious thought, time and effort that went into writing them. Of course, there is no doubt that the same sentiments could have been conveyed more economically and easily by text, but luv u babe would not have won my heart or given me a lifetime of memories to look back on.