“I don’t like to write.” My student looks up at me from the blank screen. A blinking cursor reminding her over and over of her incapacity. Her failure. “Well, I know you have things to say. So let’s start there.” I close the screen.
What does it mean to “write”? The <wr> in write denotes a sense of twisting and turning. She wrestles with her ideas. She wrings her hands and writhes in her chair at the absence of words on the page. But even further back, we find more about this beautiful family that reminds us of what we are and from where we’ve come.
Before an alphabet was birthed, there were pictures. <Hieroglyphic> is a compound denoting “holy” and “carving”. Carving. I imagine Egyptians digging into stone to leave a mark. A story. Recently I saw some petroglyphs in Arizona. Beautiful works of early writing, “carved” into “stone”. <Petr> a Latin ancestor adopted from Greek, meaning stone, like <petroleum>, or “rock oil”.
My student and I begin to discuss some theoretical Proto-Indo European roots that lead to modern English words. *gleubh- “to cleave”, *skribh “to cut”, *writan “tear or scratch”. Perhaps very early cousins before or while writing began. We begin to see <scribble>, <scribe> and <script>. We see the <-glyph> in petroglyph and <-graph> in <graphics> and <pictograph>. We see <write>. She shows me what it must be like to carve into wood or stone. Making our thoughts physical by typing seems so far away from our ancestors. Still, writing in itself links us to them. Language. It makes us what we are. It’s uniquely, beautifully, human.
“Should we carve out your ideas before you start?” I say. She smiles. She gets my word nerd joke. “Sure.”