Yoga is like a drug sometimes. We have to hold certain positions for what seems to be a long time. The body is frozen and feels pain. I regulate my breathing, resisting the urge to fight against the position and I resist the urge to hold my breath. The mind wanders. A woman flits in and out of my mind and the position changes. Hold. I’m facing the back wall and there are shadows cast by the trees outside, silhouetted by the sun. The shadows look like characters in some alien alphabet.
Writing is the best human invention, ever, at least until we realize it wasn’t an invention but more of a discovery. This is something we will not realize until we meet aliens and find out they were writing in their ancient history too. I know, I know, I’m predicating on sight based creatures but that’s okay; I’m a writer.
The shadows change and I wonder what would happen if I sat there the entire day and recorded the images. Each passing moment would be a letter, or some hieroglyph and the passing of time would be spelled out in each image. Is this the tale of the sun or the shadows? Are there two characters in each one; a symbol for light and another for darkness? Look at the letters before you! Could you read black on black or white on white script? It takes both, yes, I see that now, and oops. I missed the cue for a Downward Facing Dog.
The sun sinks lower and the story ends before I can begin it. There was little light left for the writing of the Sun’s Tale of the Shadows and I feel as if I walked into a movie near the end. You know movies, don’t you, that combination of moving light and shadow that tells a story? The symbols change over time but each change gives new meaning. Suddenly, you’re thinking that my original thesis wasn’t some torture induced illusion, I hope.
The instructor has to notice my lapses. I wonder what it looks like from where other people are seeing, this man whose focus seems to wander around at strange times. We wonder what cats are looking at when they stare intently at nothing and maybe they see writing we do not. Maybe in cat vision there are symbols with feline meaning that we humans cannot, or will not, see. No one else saw the images I saw and thought my thoughts. Will you see alien alphabet in shadows now? Will you be able to read what isn’t there?
This, these words, pass by a cat’s sight and those who are illiterate might know something is here, in this writing, but be as deaf to it as I am to Arabic. I know what Arabic looks like, but I could not recognize a single phrase. I’ve seen the Dead Sea Scrolls. I have seen images of the tablets of Ugarit. I have found pottery with drawings left by the native people who once lived here; what are they trying to say?
And you have to wonder about it really. The people who finally break the code of a language, cross reference ancient tablets and cruciform markings, do they really get the feel for the writer? Have they ever come across something that seems to have been written by someone whose passion is to write, maybe about writing, and how the ancient writers might have thought about a craft that was in its infancy, but must have been seen as cutting edge at the time? What would it be like to see a reflection, an echo as it were, of thoughts written out four thousand years ago?
This medium you see before you, these symbols and curiously formed shapes that speak in your mind, have you ever wondered what it might have been like to have witnessed writing’s birth? I can remember the first desktop computer I saw as well as the first word processing program I ever operated. Corel World Perfect came in a box the size of a family bible with fourteen 5.25 disks. There is a microchip the size of a child’s fingernail with that much memory in my cell phone. What will writing look like in four thousand years? What would happen if this very essay made it to the future and someone trying to decipher my words discovered I was writing about the very subject?
Years ago I had a dream of a tent in the desert. There were many men inside of the tent, and I was one of them, but much younger than most there. This was a meeting, a secret meeting, and guards had been posted around the tent. Our oil lamps were nestled in depressions dug in the sand on which the tented rested, and the wind whipped the shadows around madly. I was there because I had been taught to write. It was one thing to copy scrolls and to merely reproduce what was before my eyes, but I had listened and I had learned and I knew what it meant to write.
The debate raged, and raged is the perfect word here, as to whether or not to teach writing, to allow other than those of our order to learn what it meant and to allow them to pass it on and forward. Some said no and demanded that the knowledge be kept safely under control and hidden. Other bid the older men to release the seeds into the wind and allow this thing to spread like stars in the sky. I knew, really knew, when I looked up and saw one of the older men staring at me what he was thinking. “Say nothing” his gaze bid me, “and no matter what they say this cannot be stopped.” In my dream I felt deep inside of me the truth of this man’s words.
I feel that truth now, sitting here before you, getting all of this down in letters, I feel the truth that writing cannot be stopped. We have become readers those of us not writers, and our species needs this thing. I do not say this because I write, but rather I write because I believe it to be true. Just as my job in the desert was to pull water up from a deep well, so is my job here, I hope, to pull writing from its source, ever it may be, and allow it to flow, like the stars in the sky.