- In Defense of Print:A Manifesto of Stories
"I want someone, maybe my grandchild, to find my work one day, a long time from now, in the attic, pick it up, and learn something about her great-great grandmother, get a glimpse of how she lived her life and what mattered to her." Stephanie Parker, a senior English major, said this to me when I asked her whom she wanted as the audience of her thesis project.
"You'll want to get it printed then," I said. "Probably bound, with a resilient cover. Make it something that will last. Make several copies."
Nine months later, she completed a compelling work of creative nonfiction, interweaving carefully wrought scenes from her grandmother's life with the story of her decline from a rare form of dementia that robbed her of speech prior to memory. After writing, discussing revising, editing, formatting, and spending time at a local print shop choosing binding options, Parker completed And That Is That: How My Grandmother's Battle with Dementia Taught Me to Speak Without Words, an honors-winning project that included 77 pages of writing and over 20,000 words. She included this as the conclusion of her introduction:
I wrote the following pages as much for my family (both the living and those yet to be born) as for myself. It is a chronicle of an amazing woman with an arguably ordinary life, as seen through the eyes of someone who knew her for a relatively short time, yet felt inexplicably familiar with the workings and motivations of her heart. Imagine if such insights existed for all the relatives lost to us, particularly those we were born too late to meet? It is, perhaps, a thought powerful enough to encourage even the most reticent hand to pick up a pen or a laptop and give voice to the stories waiting to be told.
That thesis project was completed seven years ago, but the power of Stephanie's motivations, her writing, and her commitment to sturdy-print format remain with me. I recently emailed Stephanie to ask her about this project and her reflections several years on. She's now a lawyer in the Boston area and this work of nonfiction sits on a shelf in her home.
I asked her about the life of her project after completing it. Her immediate family was her first audience: "I gave a copy to my grandfather right after I wrote it (he passed away about a year later), and I think his copy ended up back with me.… Print format was definitely important for sharing with my grandfather, since he was not adept at using the computer (plus, hard copy is just easier to read than on a screen)." [End Page 23]
Stephanie's mother has her own copy of the project, which she considered sharing with some of her closest friends. "I'm not sure if she ever ended up doing that," Stephanie wrote. In that sense, the copy remains her mother's—intimate, detailed writing about her own mother—that she can share or withhold selectively, carefully.
An online version of this thesis also exists, archived among other English Department thesis projects at Boston College, and Stephanie admits to having looked at both the digital and print form. Her reflection about the uses and limitations of print and digital are worth sharing in detail:
In today's world, the amount of digital content we are hit with and have to absorb on a daily basis is enormous. We have so many emails, so many attachments to emails, so many saved "favorite" websites, that I think it actually becomes that much harder to really "save" anything in a meaningful sense. If we forget we have something, or can't easily pull it up, do we really even have it? I think physical copies of important possessions, like family memoirs, are easier to keep track of and, assuming they aren't stuffed in a remote corner of the attic, stay more present in our minds because our eyes land on them from time to time. I believe that I think about my memoir (and, by extension...