On Paper

What is so important about paper? Why do writers make such a big deal about pen and paper if it’s the words that really affect people? But paper, perhaps, is something we need if we’re to write anything useful. Not that we can’t all exchange electronic files. Why keep paper around? Paper books, paper magazines, paper newspapers? What’s the point? I’m not sure I can answer that, though I suppose since I posed a hypothetical question, I should at least try to answer it.

Paper comes in packs, shrink-wrapped in flimsy plastic, packed as reams in boxes, sold conveniently by our local Dunder-Mifflin branches. We receive such paper blank and white as the Mumford and Sons song would suggest. In the beginning, they’re not much. Very thin slices of trees, perhaps, but nothing more. Perhaps merely potential.

Potential to be origami-folded into anything, perhaps. Airplanes and hats, cranes, and place mats. Cups and boats, Santa Claus and cutthroats. Well, maybe not anything, but even a seasoned paper-airplane pilot might be surprised by the variations with which paper can be folded.

Or will this paper be written on, as supposedly intended, with words that are supposedly a language and not made-up symbols? Not so much like a spelling test from a 3rd grader or an essay on how ancient sewage systems worked or several games of Hangman.

Instead, the black page is a nuclear warhead. The lines are fuses waiting to be lit. The ink leaks from a pen light as frozen smoke. The words warp within a forge, beaten by savage hammer blows until they can be discerned as something more than raw metal, untempered language. Not just a nebulous form but something sharp and useful, potentially even deadly. Words must become more than their origin, which in the sense of languages, are as discernible as embryos in the womb. Not just in the sense that animals cannot be told apart, but neither humans either. No, these words are merely potential in the beginning just as the white page is merely potential, though able to explode given the right ignition.

The words spill out like plutonium. We handle pens, or rather should, with rubber gloves. Even the antiquated words threaten to explode like aged, unstable dynamite. The new-fangled words look pristine but contain many edges on which to cut yourself, as unseen as a firewall. So, you write and write, and bleed, and that blood becomes words. And those words transform the paper into something much more.

Once your weapon is assembled, leave it in public as if in an act of literary terrorism against boredom and indifference and wasted trees.

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About Derek Berry

Derek Berry is a novelist and spoken word poet. Derek is the author of Heathens and Liars of Lickskillet County (PRA Publishing, 2016). He co-founded and organizes The Unspoken Word, a literary non-profit based out of Charleston, SC, which provides an intendent home for the poetic arts through regular readings, workshops, and community fundraisers. He is on the Executive Board of the Charleston Poetry Festival, the inaugural production of which will be Fall 2017. His work has appeared in The Southern Tablet, Cattywampus, Charleston Currents, Illuminations, RiverSedge, and other journals.He has performed in venues across the United States and Germany. He has worked as a photographer’s assistant, busboy, and bookseller. He currently works at a curation facility for Cold War History.

Posted on March 28, 2012, in Blogging, books, Language, Poetry, writer, Writing, writing advice and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I see your point about the trees and I do my best not to print until I’ve edited all I can on screen, but I read differently on paper. I see my words differently and catch things I don’t see on the screen. It’s like my brain fills things in on the screen for me and doesn’t on paper. Maybe it the physicality of paper. I don’t know. I just know I need to see my work on paper.

    Sorry trees. 😦

    • I understand. I can read a book on my Nook, but I certainly edit better on paper. Which means a lot of wasted paper.

    • I think a lot of it has to do with seeing your words in a different format. No matter how many times I go through a blog post, it’s always easier to spot the mistakes once it’s posted. Also, one thing I do is send my writing documents to my kindle, and read it on there as if it were an e-book. The mistakes usually stand out right away!

      That being said, I will still edit a final draft on paper! I even write a lot of my first drafts by hand, because I love the physical act of writing. 🙂

  2. I am really mad at paper right now… I got 7 paper cuts in the last two days. AND, I get so irate when I see a ream of paper at a time spitting out of inept office equipment! 🙂

  1. Pingback: The Importance of Carrying a Notebook « Word Salad

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