Writing: The World’s Oldest Profession?

“When I look on you a moment, then I can speak no more, but my tongue falls silent, and at once a delicate flame courses beneath my skin, and with my eyes I see nothing, and my ears hum, and a wet sweat bathes me, and a trembling seizes me all over.” Sappho, Ancient Greek poet, 610-580BC

Despite the beauty of the words, what struck me first about this quote as I first saw it were the dates during which this poet lived. Nearly 2,500 years ago. There was written language. Like this.

Forgive me for being terribly consumed by the age in which I live – the age of high speed internet and bluetooth cellular capability and routine air travel via jumbo jet. When I look back at my own life (nearly forty years long) and realize that most of these things haven’t been around that long – heck I started out life with rotary dial phones and didn’t get my first computer until I was a junior in college – I am astonished at what remains. In the last hundred years, automobiles were invented, rail travel was perfected, the telegraph came in to being. I often take for granted that our world changes drastically in small increments from generation to generation. I have seen movies go from reel-to-reel to beta to VHS tape to DVD. Phones go from rotary dial to push-button to cordless to cellular to smart phones. I will not be surprised in the least to look back on my life from my 80s to discover that something I thought impossible as a child has come to fruition.

But to be struck with the notion that over thousands and thousands of years, one thing in particular has remained for humankind, I truly did feel shocked. Communication. From the beginning of humankind, we have felt the need to converse with each other, tell each other stories, find a way to express ourselves. Before written language, there were oral histories, songs, musical instruments, sign language. And although written language has changed dramatically, from handwritten letters between two individuals to digitized e-books, the ultimate purpose remains. Communication. Sharing our ideas and needs and knowledge with each other.

Families with non-verbal members have long struggled to find ways to communicate among themselves. Technology has afforded many of these families with the ability to better understand each other, by circumventing the spoken language with keyboards and iPads.

Upon completing my first manuscript, I began to worry that the publishing industry would go the way of the dodo and I would be left scrambling to find a way to share my work. I needn’t have broken a sweat. The simple fact is, human beings are who we are because of our need to communicate with each other. We will always find ways to accomplish this – radio, blogs, ebooks, rallies, pamphlets, songs, things I am sure I haven’t yet considered. As a writer, I am heartened to realize that what I do fulfills such an integral need of humanity. Not everyone will read my words, and not all who read them will agree on their accuracy or importance, but the simple knowledge that language and discourse has stood the test of time and will find its way through like a weed in the sidewalk grounds me.
11 replies
  1. Michael Ann
    Michael Ann says:

    You're right….the need to communicate and express ourselves is a very strong one. Be it writing, music, art, dance….it's all expression and communication. Interesting to think about. Some may say today that FB and email and the internet aren't "real" communication, that they actually separate us more because we substitute it for face-to-face communication. I don't agree. It's all relative to how we live now. Very thought-provoking post!

  2. Annie Boreson
    Annie Boreson says:

    This is wonderful! I like thinking that communication will remain no matter what takes place around us. Wild to think of all the changes that we've been through in a relative short period of time.

    Best line goes to (drum roll)… "Not everyone will read my words, and not all who read them will agree on their accuracy or importance, but the simple knowledge that language and discourse has stood the test of time and will find its way through like a weed in the sidewalk grounds me."

  3. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    I'm always amazed at how we reach out with our words and, like Sappho over centuries, write our love and desires each in our own way.

    That quote is my favorite too–language and discourse has stood the test of time and will find its way through like a weed in the sidewalk–yes!

  4. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth says:

    Beautiful essay —

    I had a communication breakthrough just yesterday with my own non-verbal daughter and wrote about it on my own blog —

  5. Dee Ready
    Dee Ready says:

    And the wonder is that across centuries our story can touch the heart and mind and life of another human being.

    And also that our story, written in English, can be translated into any other language in which a person writes and thinks and speaks. Then understanding spans the distance between us and the seeming language barrier is broken.

    We do write to communicate and to seek out, as the poet Frost said, "the desert places" within one another.

    There is, for me, a Oneness here of all creation.

    Thank you, Kario, for this thought-provoking posting and also for your comment on my blog. I think your decision about your daughters is a wise one.


  6. Sandi
    Sandi says:

    I love the title of this post! And the idea that communication is the reason/purpose for why we write. I am reminded of the boxes of journals I have on shelves in my house, that no one has read. Who was I communicating with? Myself!

    I also had the sweet pleasure of having my oldest daughter (at age 22) discover my journals of her babyhood, and she became so enthralled that she sat on the floor of my sewing room (as I sewed her "birthday" dress) and read for hours. That was something I didn't expect while I was still alive, and it was so sweetly fulfilling for me.

    You also made me think about "new" communicating, IM, facebook, etc. It certainly is making connections, and that is a good thing!

  7. Laura@Catharsis
    Laura@Catharsis says:

    Ahh, what a great post. I love that you've pointed out the transcendence of words. It matters not in what form they travel. They are essential to communication, to connection, to life, really. I enjoyed this, most certainly.

  8. Nichole L. Reber
    Nichole L. Reber says:

    I really enjoy your literary voice. Additionally our sentence structure and length delight! I'm always getting chastised by people who critique my work for my varied sentence structure and length, so it's nice to see someone else unafraid of a 20-word sentence! Additionally the content is divine. It does appear sometimes that it's a time when no one communicates, when in fact, we communicate more than ever. It's depth of communication that's lacking.


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