from January 5, 2007
When writing my last blog, I remembered the following short piece that I wrote back in 2002. Some of you may have already read it. I originally wrote this while I was supposed to be doing something else entirely in Deb Freeman’s New York City Writing Project. It later resurfaced in Raphael Sugarman’s “journalism class.” Some of you will remember that as the class where I was sexually harassed by a beret-wearing Canadian.
So who says that we have to write in the “King’s English”? Long after language was invented, yet long before either the King or his English was born, people managed to communicate.
Think about it. Where would the ancient Sumerians be today if they couldn’t carve “Danger: Lion!” on a piece of bark? Or how many marriages would have ended if wives couldn’t etch “bring home a quart of milk” on a note in their husband’s stone-age briefcases? OK, bad example.
Anyway, who would really like to write like a Sumerian or a Babylonian? All their words looked like little flags fluttering in a strong wind, and today semaphore is a lost art. Unless you are landing an F-16 on the deck of a carrier, and then you’d better watch your pitch or you’ll wind up in the drink and end up like those Sumerians.
The Egyptians had it right. They combined art and language in a way no other culture before or since has done. Look at any Egyptian tablet: Soaring eagles, one-eyed dancing girls, and pictures of owls perched in trees. All that just to say “men’s room.” What more could you want? Really, the best writers in Egypt had to be the best artists too. I imagine that whole wars must have started over whether Set drew an eagle or a phoenix, thus insulting the Pharaoh’s daughter when all he wanted was directions to the next oasis. Think of it- we say a picture is worth a thousand words but they have us beat. Sure, Hemmingway wrote The Sun Also Rises, but Amon-Ra and Tet actually showed the sun rising! But who studies them in college?
Fear not- the Pharaoh lives! Maybe not in all of his Sphinx-like splendor, but his influence continues. The trend in popular culture is, again, to show it, not write it. Why else do we have song titles like “4 love of $”? And what about those smiling emoticons that let geeks see each other smiling or laughing without ever having to actually see them smiling or laughing? I may not know what an eagle-headed god followed by a scroll represents, but I sure know that a colon and a close- parenthesis is a smiley face.
All that is missing is the artistry. I’m sure that somebody will work it back in. Add some hair to the smiley face. Create a montage of images. Say goodbye to words and hello to hieroglyphics. So I’ll just sign off now.