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The Writer's Atmosphere
An ethnography of the Writer's Festival
Although Salisbury is the suburb I have lived practically all my life, I rarely looked at the local events held. When it was first mentioned in class that there would be a writer’s festival in the Salisbury area, I was surprised. I assumed that it would be held in the library, and headed there first on the designated day with a friend.
The day was wet and cold – or at least it was when we arrived. We wandered aimlessly within the library only to realize that it wasn’t the right place. After wearing lost looks on our faces for a few minutes, we finally went up to a librarian on duty and asked for directions. She was a cheery personality and gladly gave us the information needed. We were eyeing the pamphlets stuck on a pinup board, and I think she noticed. Without warning, she reached over and pulled them off the board gently and handed them over. We thanked her politely and it was then that we realized that were an hour early.
With little effort, we managed to pass the time and arrived at the Salisbury City Council. Walking through the automated entrance doors made me feel a little nostalgic, and I remembered how I used to be part of the Youth Advisory Council of Salisbury while I was back in high school. Although the place was the same, the faces behind the desks had changed. Nothing significant had changed about the interior – there was still a heavy varnished wood theme which I always felt to be welcoming yet had an air of sophistication. There were various posters and flyers pinned in front of desks, on the walls and standing in racks, as if they were waiting patiently for someone to take them. They added a splash of colour to the décor, though I’m not quite sure how often people actually paid attention to them.
We entered the gallery through the side entrance and saw that everyone was already seated, ready to start. I took a seat somewhere near the middle, but more or less towards the back. I took a glance around me and saw a fair few familiar faces from class.
A man, whose name I didn’t catch, opened the event and introduced the program. His voice was filled with excitement, and a hint of nervousness, but he did not spark my interest. I sat in a daze for a little while, watching the people around me – some were there as support for friends and family, while others attended of their own accord. It was not until the writing groups started to present themselves that my mind started to awake.
There was one sentence in particular that was spoken that caught my attention: "Words are the oil of society." I stopped and thought for a moment about how true that small statement was, for majority of our daily lives circles around words. Whether we are holding a simple conversation with friends or discussing more formal matters with your boss at work, the very essence that we run on are words. How many of us realize the importance of these sounds that come out of our mouths, write on paper or type on a computer? For most part, it is something that many of us don’t think twice about and take for granted. We can do so many wondrous things with words – we can tell stories, create laws, give reports of all kinds; we can even sing.
The first group called themselves “Writing for Pleasure” as that is what they simply did – they wrote for the pure pleasure of writing. They described the type of activities that they did in their group, and I wondered if anyone was noting it down – I sure was. I wanted to have a go at them myself with my own friends afterwards.
Something which caught my attention about those present at the writer’s festival was that majority of the people participating were female. I wondered if this was something common throughout writing communities – most of the people whom I know that are writers are female. Is there something that I’m missing? I know about the assumption that women are more creative, but I don’t like to go with generalizations often. Perhaps, there is some truth behind it though, judging from the turnout of the crowd.
Many read out their work, and I found the many who shared their poetry seemed a little nervous. I always saw poetry as something personal – like a letter written straight from the heart. There were even a few who were too nervous to share their work and requested other people in their group to read aloud for them. During these times, the creator of the work seemed to fiddle nervously, constantly looking down at the table before them.
I must admit, my mind tuned out at various times throughout the event, but there was one particular stand-out to me on the day. It was a poem about the lost art of letters written by a middle-aged lady – her voice was soft and comforting, like a warm mink blanket. She had an aura about her which put my heart at ease. As she spoke, I closed my eyes and focused on her words. The way she spoke, and the way she wrote was so pure – I could tell that this was something which came from the bottom of her heart. The more I listened, the more I couldn’t help but find myself in agreement with her.
Letters are rapidly fading away along with other traditions – now that we have the internet and mobile phones which we can take anywhere with us, what is the need for such slow communication? They take up so much effort to write by hand, and we have to pay for postage. These are the common thoughts and opinions about handwritten letters in this modern age. But, what about the simple beauty that a letter contains? The amount of thought which goes into the process, wondering what you should write before pen touches paper; the careful art of writing each letter in perfect stroke, making sure that you spell each word correctly so you don’t have to use and correction fluid and leave unsightly marks on the beautiful stationery selected.
As she finished reading out her poem aloud, I took a glance at her face – she had a glint in her eye that seemed to say that she was glad she was able to share that small thought of hers to a larger group of people. I made a side note on my page: “Write a letter to Georgina!” She was my childhood penpal even though she only lived a few suburbs away. My heart smiled as I remembered the stack of letters I received, laying in my drawer at home. I could definitely relate to the poem. These little things were slowly fading away into the darkness, slowly replaced with technology and modernity. Perhaps one day, handwriting will become a thing of the past. Looking back at the older handwritten scripts, there’s already so much that has been lost over the years. Will there be any way to preserve the old ways? I hope there will be, even if it’s just to keep these arts barely lit, like the wavering flame on a candle.
Before I knew it, I had gotten carried away with my own thoughts and quickly went back to scribing notes. I looked around me and saw the other people from my class scribbling away in their notepads - I wondered what they were going to write about. I turned to my right, trying not to shuffle and make any noise and had a peek at the notes my friend had taken down – she seemed to have observed many different aspects of the small gathering compared to what I had down. As for the rest of the audience, they seemed to be quite captivated with the storytellers on the stage. Many of the women wore smiles on their faces, others had their eyes closed, wearing expressions of calm as if they had been hypnotized by the words which were spoken. I smiled to myself, feeling quite at home amongst all these writers. Listening to the work of all these people was like a fresh IV of inspiration through my veins.
I walked out that day feeling rejuvenated – I was filled with inspiration and joy. I always love being surrounded with those who have an appreciation and passion for writing and literature – it is during these times where I truly feel that I have found my calling. Working with the essence of society, and turning it into a form of art is something which allows us all to look at the world with a different perspective; this is what I call ‘The Writer’s Atmosphere’ – a plane which exists on our earth which gives us a broader view on life.
What can you see whilst suspended in the atmosphere?