Over the last few months I’ve been thinking more about the act of writing. Where does it all start? I suppose before school when someone, likely Mum, stuck a pencil in my hand and insisted I write my name before I headed off to big school. Having a name that includes a tricky letter like S resulted in the predictable error:
When I was younger, stories were oral as well as written. My grandparents were wonderful oral storytellers. OK, let’s be honest, a lot of Pop’s stories came under the “bullshit” category but they were designed for entertainment. Equally, Dad told stories either in the form of long winded jokes or giving a rendition of some event he’d witnessed.
At school, to teach us to write, we were encouraged to create stories. Sometimes it was a telling of what we got up to on the weekend. And I guess that capturing of events led into letter writing.
If you’re born after 1980, it’s likely you never wrote a letter in your life. What a shame. Writing to friends and family in far flung places, which might be 100km up the road and receiving a letter back was the source of excitement and fun for young Sharon.
I used to write to girls I met on holidays or on school trips to an eisteddfod (well, only 1 girl I met at an eisteddfod – I was in a folk choir). I also wrote to my cousin Jacquii who moved all over Australia as part of an Army family. Our letters were 20 pages of rambling. Stories of school and home and love and humour.
My grandmother had a penpal for 70 years or thereabouts. They turned out to be the best of friends after they met in real life.
Times change though, don’t they? Letters are no more. Unless you exchange a Christmas letter with friends/family of course.
Emails took over. No stamp required and it was relatively instant. The personal nature was also lost. I could no longer see the handwriting of my friends. And the endless p.s, p.p.s, p.p.p.s turned into new emails. Nowhere near as much fun.
But emails, like letters, were still hubs of storytelling. Relating events into a narrative for entertainment and updates.
Along came social media and stories became shorter and shorter. Updates and entertainment has to be contained in a smaller space. Our attention spans aren’t what they used to be in the days of those 20 page letters.
I can’t knock social media too much, or the short stories we tell in that medium. I’ve come to know and meet in person with some wonderful people via Twitter, Facebook groups and Meetup. And when we meet, oral storytelling comes to life again.
And me and cousin Jacquii? Nowadays, we communicate in text messages. Best mates with a friendship that has grown from letter writing and storytelling.