anopisthographic adj. having writing or printing on one side only
“The only thing that makes one an artist is making art. And that requires the precise opposite of hanging out; a deeply lonely and unglamorous task of tolerating oneself long enough to push something out.”
― David Rackoff, Half Empty
I have to admit that lately I haven’t been scouring the OED as much to find words. I cheat a bit here and there and look at sites on the web that list strange or rarely used words. Anopisthographic is one such word that was found in this manner. When I found this word, it made me recall what it was like to physically write on paper with a pen…for pages and pages…and how I rarely, if ever, do that any longer. It is in the physical “pen in hand” practice of writing that I feel I am working the hardest at creating something. Typing just doesn’t match up. If you are writing with a pen and you make a mistake, you have to work to remove it. You really have to think about what you are going to put down on the paper as it isn’t very easy to remove or rearrange it. In a way, you physically live your story. If you want to move a paragraph, you have to cut the paper and move it. If you misspell a word, you have to scratch it out or erase it. It leaves a mark as a reminder of your mistake. If your pencil breaks or your pen runs out you have to sharpen or find a new one. I often think about the fact that I rarely physically write and if I did that it might strengthen my words that same way exercise strengthens my muscles, gives me stamina.
The act of writing on paper is also quite therapeutic. About a year ago I started “The Artist’s Way” because I was suffering from a creative block and just general malaise caused by being a stay at home suburban mom. The first thing you do when you start the Artist’s Way is wake up and write. You basically rise from a dead sleep, open a notebook and just write whatever it is that comes to mind. They are called “morning pages.” At first it starts out as gibberish and doesn’t make a lot of sense. If you keep thinking of the same word over and over again, then you just write it. You’re not supposed to judge it. It’s supposed to be a sort of cleansing of your “artist soul.” Sometimes it felt like a continuation of my dream and I would start in one place and end up in another. Other times, it was a struggle and made me angry. Rarely, a phrase or sentence would happen and start the creative journey. I haven’t gone back to read what I wrote in some time and I probably should. I didn’t get through the entire process of the Artists Way. I never created a masterpiece.
When I wrote my morning pages I filled up both sides of the page. Not writing on the other side felt wasteful and this has always been my feeling about writing on paper in general. I suppose it comes from a desire to fill up a page or pages the same way I do so many things in my life – my fridge, my closet, my brain. Having all of the pages embossed with lines of penmanship makes me feel accomplished, like I reached my creative quota, tangible proof that I made something. I love pressing hard enough on the page so that the lines create a relief map on the other side and crinkle the paper, making it look worked over.
This word also makes me think about the old wooden school desks we used to write on when I was in elementary school. Every student was assigned their own, permanent desk each year and they were quite old. Each was like a time capsule from all of the other students who had sat at that desk before. Despite the constant warnings from teachers not to vandalize them, we still did. We had to leave our own mark. Random carvings on the wooden tops, crusty dried up bubble gum caked along the underside that looked like little upside down mountain ranges when you stuck your head under and looked up. Secret messages and love notes scribbled in permanent marker, sometimes in hidden places. We’d always have to write on top of workbooks or stacks of loose leaf to avoid inadvertent impressions on our vocabulary exercises. The surface of the desk was almost like the other side of the page coming through the one we were writing on. Like secret messages the desk was sending us about its history, its life story.
It makes me sad to think that my son won’t know a desk in the same way. That a white screen with buttons will be his most familiar definition of a page. It is up to me to ensure he experiences the physical act of writing on paper despite the fact that the world we live in is making it obsolete. I want him to know and understand the meaning of “page” outside of an LCD screen. I want him to know how to create them in his own hand and have his own style of handwriting the way I have mine. I want him to have both sides to write on.