By ALBERT MEIJER
The first word I ever wrote was my sister’s name. She was practicing writing with my grandmother, and with big eyes I watched them write their symbols on the papers. I must have already been aware that the world was built on letters, overflowing from the bookshelves of my parents, the subtitles on tv, the scribbles on food packaging, the clothes of the children on the playground. And here my sister was getting the power to control them – and I wanted in on the action.
The handwriting of my grandmother was cursive and clear, hard lines caught in soft shapes. My favourite letters were her e’s and l’s – with the l’s being outstretched versions of her e’s. I took a red pencil and started looping it across the paper. At random intervals, like zeroes and ones in a computer, my l’s and e’s danced in front of my eyes.
Hidden in this dancing code was, more than once, the combination e e l. Eel. Short for Eelkje. My sister’s name, inherited from the same grandmother who was teaching her the full extent of our alphabet, all 26 luscious letters of it, right there at the kitchen table. Imagine all the combinations you could make with them!
My fascination never went away. Of all the objects in the world, none has had a bigger impact in my life than the pen (or its cousins: the pencil, the typewriter, the keyboard, the touchscreen). I took full advantage of the code by writing articles for the school paper, and later for other magazines, websites, publications. I wrote articles, interviews, poems, post-it notes, essays, songs, shopping lists, stories, book chapters, out-of-office messages, love letters, Facebook posts, travel blogs. It got me jobs that I would never have imagined possible – interviewing writers, musicians, politicians, reporting from events as far as Belgium, Sweden, Singapore, Myanmar. I would write regardless of these bonuses – but the job does come with some great perks!
Still I am amazed every time someone tells me they read something that I wrote – whether they like it or not. Because the truth is, most letters stay hidden in my journals for over. Notes, quotes and ideas that I will never use fill a good deal of my bookshelves at home.
If you share my fascination with the world of letters, then my only advise to you is to just do it. Pen and paper are a tiny investment – and whether you’re rewarded by money, trips or honour at the end doesn’t matter. Writing is creating structure in a messy world. It’s decluttering your messy brain. It is making sense of absurdity, or making absurdity out of sense. It is communicating your emotions, ideas, thoughts or wishes to someone else. It is connecting the dots, it is storing your memories, it is dancing on paper. So pick up that pen, open up your laptop, and write write write. Even if it’s just e’s and l’s.
Albert Meijer (The Netherlands, 1986) combines an office job in the cultural field with freelance writing, teaching and making music. He lives in Brussels.