Just by looking at the title, Letters to X made me think of two things: one of my Creative Nonfiction assignments from last semester (letters to a stranger), and algebra. I’ll admit that it mostly made me think of that letters to a stranger assignment, but the addition of the variable just gives off an almost bittersweet vibe– the concrete nature of most math is black-and-white, almost a comfort, and a reflection of what truth really is. But then there’s also the variable. The variables, in this case, are the collaborators and the people in their lives.
What’s most interesting to me isn’t the generative nature of this piece, surprisingly. I really loved that the Blackout Poetry Tool allows readers to create a piece from the piece last week, and loved that about this one as well. What did catch my attention was if you wanted to, you could layer every piece on top of one another, scans with the blacked-out words for blank spaces and pieces you could fill in for yourself alike. It looks like a blob when you do layer everything on top of each other, but I think that’s significant regardless of whether or not this was intentional on the part of the author, Jessica Barness.
From that simple detail, it serves as a reminder to me that the world will throw so many words at you and say so many things– good and bad. It all becomes this big mess of static after a while, especially considering the natural tendency for our minds to remember the bad whether consciously or subconsciously. But here’s the thing about all that: even though it might still hurt to think about or hear those things, it doesn’t matter when there’s a Word that never changes and recognizes you where you’re at but still speaks life over you and encourages you and tells you how to be better. There’s hardly ever been a more valuable lesson that I’ve learned than that.
And based on the project notes tab, it seems that the white-noise-ish nature of language as of late is part of the point– especially as it relates to technology and social media. We put so much out and replicate so many ideas so easily and in so many ways that it’s either sensory overload or it’s mind-numbing.
We are writing more now than we ever have, yet screen correspondence as an everyday social activity may not effectively relay deeper emotions that were once historically expressed on paper.project notes, Letters to X, Jessica Barness
And because of that, I’d agree with Barness that there is an emotional disconnect with most writing (or really, typing) of things using technology with a screen. With a screen, we don’t get the added emotional texture of words scribbled out instead of backspaced, handwriting versus font, or sometimes ink that looks like watercolor where tears might have fallen in the process of writing rather than the reader never knowing those tears fell on the keyboard. Sure, typing things on a computer may make reading the text itself easier, but I do wonder: does it carry the same weight it was meant to or that it could if it was handwritten?
The handwriting looks a lot like mine when I’m writing something reflective. Considering the title of this piece, I decided to play around with it and found that, aside from adding words into the blanks you could also navigate through the pre-typed words and add or remove from everything else. That didn’t feel right to me, given that these letters to X were personal and profound as they were, but I went with it for the sake of going through the piece my own way.
And putting the handwritten and typed ones side by side (since I realized you can move each piece so both are visible at once) I realized that not all of the blanks on the typed piece were blacked out in the original. I didn’t type in the words I noticed myself, but I admit I was driven by them (and the podcast episode I listened to this morning about the perspective we take in the deepest valleys of our lives).
My handwriting when I’m hurting more than reminiscent is a bit taller and sharper than the one above, and though most similar to this letter, the letters flow together a bit more. While I used to love to draw as well, that was something that used to come out more when I was hurting as well. I don’t do it much anymore. I wish I’d kept it up though, because there is a lot that our words sometimes can’t express.
And I think it’s interesting how this particular one uses flowers. Plants are commonly used throughout the Bible not only as a reminder of our mortality, but also as a means of reminding us how important it is where we choose to plant ourselves (think 1 Peter 1:24-25, Job 14:7-12, Matthew 13, Jeremiah 17:7-8, etc…) That’s been something that I’ve tried to remind my brother of whenever I am fortunate enough to hear from him. Where are you planting yourself, if you’re planting yourself anywhere at all?
I try to encourage myself a lot in any writing, and the things that I might pull-quote in a blog post or highlight somehow in my journal are also written in handwriting much like this letter. So that’s what I did with this letter– I tried to encourage myself, even though I wouldn’t say I need it at the moment. You just never know when you need to go back to stuff like this.
I remember this guy in the young adults bible study I go to on Wednesday nights saying something like this:
As Christians, we too often get stuck in one extreme or the other: either we’re too caught up in how we are made righteous by the blood of Jesus and that somehow, apparently makes us “better” when we aren’t. OR the other (more common) extreme is that we get too caught up in how unworthy, undeserving, and sinful we are that we forget we are made righteous and given grace only through the blood of Jesus. Yes, we need to recognize where we’re at to become better still, but we too often sit in the guilt and shame that Jesus already defeated when He died and rose again.Nate (kind of, it’s paraphrased)
So being able to edit a piece like this took patience (since you can’t move the cursor to the pre-typed words you want to edit with a click), but it was so worth it. And because of the commentary that Barness intends through the methods of navigation and the layering of the typed text over the handwriting (especially for me, since my handwriting changes based on my own state of mind) just added such a texture to it that I definitely loved and appreciated more than even the Blackout Poetry Tool. More of this piece becomes the reader’s, but there’s a limit to that. There’s still this texture that comes from the handwriting of someone else and their own thoughts and meanings.