“Snapchat lets you easily talk with friends … Life’s more fun when you live in the moment! (Snapchat) lets users exchange pictures and videos (called snaps) that are meant to disappear after they’re viewed.”
Reverence. Deep respect for someone or something. One something for which I feel deep reverence is the conscientious effort creative individuals are willing to expend in personal expression. For writers, painters, woodworkers, sculptors, seamstresses, composers, performers—all manner of serious artists—their efforts can feel almost sacred at times when one considers what they have created. Unlike anyone else, artists are willing to expose pieces of themselves to scrutiny; yes, even Granny—who has spent hours planning and completing that luxurious cashmere sweater you pull from a wrapped present on your birthday—holds her breath as you examine this product of her skill, this outcome of hours of conscientious and very personal effort, this piece of herself served up as evidence of her love for you.
Like many men who have grown up Boomer and spend a disproportionate amount of time yelling at the TV, there are qualities of our current culture that are difficult for me to swallow. The leading excerpt from Snapchat highlights one of those unpalatable qualities: what seems to be an unspoken denigration of reverence for conscientious effort applied to personal expression, something I cannot help but read in the Snapchat blurb.
Snapchat is based on the premise that a person will snatch a willy-nilly moment of reality on their cellphone and send it off into cyberspace, only to have it disappear from existence after it’s viewed. A snap may have wide and immediate exposure—I do understand the appeal—but it is ephemeral by design, nothing more than a shout—Hey world! It’s me, still here in this immense and often unfeeling world!—which lasts as long as, well, a shout blown away by gales of indifference. How different is a personal letter—not an eight sentence email or 10-word text—but a communication imbued with a kind of reverence that implies there is something you are reading that is significant because it took some effort to organize and “write” a document worthy of being preserved and revisited long after the letter had first been read. One such letter has left an indelible impression upon me because it represents the conscientious efforts of 10-year-old John Quincy Adams (the 6th US President) to his father:
DEAR SIR, I love to receive letters very well; much better than I love to write them. I make but a poor figure at composition, my head is too fickle, my thoughts are running after birds eggs play and trifles, till I get vexed with myself. Mamma has a troublesome task to keep me steady, and I own I am ashamed of myself. I have but just entered the third volume of Smollett, tho’ I had designed to have got it half through by this time. I have determined this week to be more diligent, as Mr. Thaxter will be absent at Court, and I cannot pursue my other studies. I have Set myself a Stent and determine to read the 3rd volume Half out. If I can but keep my resolution, I will write again at the end of the week and give a better account of myself. I wish, Sir, you would give me some instructions, with regard to my time, and advise me how to proportion my Studies and my Play, in writing, and I will keep them by me, and endeavor to follow them. I am, dear Sir, with a present determination of growing better, yours.
P. S. Sir, if you will be so good as to favor me with a Blank Book, I will transcribe the most remarkable occurrences I meet with in my reading, which will serve to fix them upon my mind.
How many of us have received a letter (or email) from one of our children (of any age) that reflects the conscientious effort of this 10-year-old? How many of your friends have bemoaned the fact that if they didn’t contact their children, it was possible they might never hear from them? I’m not suggesting that we never receive communications from others that represent a piece of what they value, what they’re feeling, a piece of who they are; I’m asking rhetorically about how frequently we encounter those examples of conscientious effort.
The hypocrite alarm rings in my head when I write “conscientious efforts applied to personal expression” because, unlike the author in this post’s featured image who is typing her thoughts onto a piece of paper using a mechanical typewriter, perhaps with carbon paper and erasers at the ready, I use a laptop application that has so many bells and whistles that it would blow a 19th Century typesetter’s mind. And I often remember that Charles Dickens (and so many others) did his voluminous compositions in longhand. I suppose what “conscientious efforts applied to personal expression” entails comes down to how each of us feels when we encounter it, if we even deign to open our minds to look for it. And then, using the typewriter—or laptop—is merely a tool that a writer uses to document the efforts of countless hours of inspiration and deliberation and application of learned skills in composition.
Which leaves me thinking that conscientious effort is really a matter of personal perspective, isn’t it? For example, here are images by Johannes Vermeer and Pablo Picasso that represent artistic effort:
If you want to have an interesting conversation among friends, pose the question: Does each of these images reveal the same conscientious effort applied to personal expression? (Important: make sure you have a few bottles of good wine handy prior to asking.) I’m hoping that there will be a few responses to this question (that can be entered in the “Leave a Reply” box at the end of the post), which may reflect readers’ conscientious efforts applied to personal expression. Could be interesting.
There is much about technology of which I avail myself without apology: email, texts, atm’s, shopping by mail, search engines, WordPress … the list is long. All of the things on that list have greatly diminished the effort and energy required of me to live my life, but my embracing of these things should not be understood as an endorsement of what seems to be an obsessive commitment by our modern culture to reduce everything to the push of a button or the click of a link.
Shouldn’t we still have a reverence for conscientious effort and what we learn and produce as a result of it, especially those things that come from having expended a portion of one’s life-allotted energy to convey something of oneself to fellow travelers on this earth? When you and I encounter those things that represent the products of those conscientious efforts, what we are seeing or reading or listening to has been produced by folks who have committed themselves to creating something they believe has been worthy of the effort required, something that they hope will be lasting and revisited, and not something that will disappear after a one-time, fleeting appearance, but something that deserves at least a modicum of reverence on our part.
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