By Sam Taylor, Intern
At the time of this writing, my father — a man who prides himself on having read fewer than a dozen books in his lifetime — has just started his next book series. He’s indulging in fiction for the first time ever, and has selected the Percy Jackson & The Olympians books, by Rick Riordan, to be his first exposure to the genre. I’m proud of him, myself having read more books over the years than I care to count, but another half of his excitement makes my heart sore. All of his ‘reading’ is done through audiobooks.
Of course, it is not that he never reads. The man has been a salesman for 30 years and is entirely dependent on daily journals to keep his quarterly numbers up, but outside of this, his true love for the written word is nonexistent. He lacks the time to read so he listens as he drives. I lack the time to read so I viciously carve out chunks of my day to indulge in the activity. It is in this disjunction that I find myself reflecting on my own life. I entered into college a few years ago as an engineering major, having seen the $70k-a-year starting salary and not feeling I could turn it away with parents already wary of me attending a university. I tried engineering, and my body rejected it. I crumbled in the world of STEM quickly, within a month, and cautiously related to my parents that I wanted to work with words. We settled on journalism eventually, due to the fact that “English degrees can’t pay back loans” and “college needs to have a point,” but even with my parental doubts, I was ecstatic to be working with the English language.
In my journalism education, the ways of AP Style were drilled into my head like the fervent burrowing of woodpeckers. My hands resisted structured writing for a while, but they eventually relented, allowing me to write in two different mental languages, interchangeable with the flip of a figmental switch. I felt fluent. From there, it was my only true fixation. I added minors in English, creative writing, technical writing, business writing, and poetry all to just give my fingers more to work with. All for more switches to flip. I spent summers working under mountains out West, for minimum wage, and lived in small, dilapidated housing. It was content. It was people and stories. In the evenings after serving or janitorial work all day, I would return to my tiny room and write poems about what I had thought while working; what I had seen on a homestead in the middle of nowhere.
No one reads anymore. At least, it seems that way. In journalism, we’re taught to write in an ‘inverted pyramid’ form, where the content of the story in question is presented from the most important information to the least important. The story is also typically prefaced by a ‘nut graf’ which is a short paragraph that is meant to entirely summarize the content of the article or news story before it even begins. We streamline and condense and abhor the adverb. People don’t have time for beautiful writing anymore.
Until they need it.
The engineering friends I made the first month of my college education come to me to dream up taglines for their newest inventions or projects. They pitch me their takes on what the themes of their project are, and I dish back consonants that cut hard and alliterations that make it easily digestible. They love it. I’m working now with Rasor Marketing and companies come to them to personalize their presence and cultivate them an image. I sit down with the writers mentoring me to have meetings over what words feel human, which ones demand respect, and which ones will best help to establish companies. It’s magnificent. It’s a process.
For the first time in my life, the work that I do has forced me to see how important writers are. The world’s largest companies hire writers to make their every published word feel cared for and intentional. Programming companies and animators — having the function but not the form — hire writers to be their storytellers, entirely reliant on the imagination of these creative individuals to dream up the content for their mediums to take place in. It is an imperative art form, but it often lies dormant. It hides like no other career.
We seem a STEM society now, universities allocating millions of dollars to build new engineering and scientific centers, but what will they do once they start producing product? What will they do when they start pushing it for public purchase? They’ll realize they need the messaging that connects the product to their audience.
The work you do matters. Yes, there is no $70K sticker price. Yes, your parents may not be happy about your career choice. But the need is there, and it will always be there. So, know that your poems matter, your reading matters, your writing is indeed a skill, and no, I do not know why I feel so compelled to do this work either. Maybe it’s for the love of the art, or maybe, it’s all for a faraway dream; where my dad finally picks up something I wrote, and breaks the one dozen mark.