Tuesday, April 3, 2012


Chalk on the sidewalk
writin' on the wall
everybody knows it
I love Paul.  ~ Annette With The Afterbeats, "Tall Paul" 


First, there were words. Then, there was language.  

Then clay, and papyrus, and paper for recording ideas. Then Johnnes Gutenberg's movable type, and finally the computer. Communication comes in many forms.

Despite using a computer for much of my communication, I still have this fondness for fountain pen, and ink, and paper. It's almost antique, but it is what I like.

And I recall even more simple communication form — chalk on sidewalks.  "Johnny Loves Sue." Or  Hopscotch Designs — the perennial children's game. An invitation to play, perhaps.

I recall a couple of other uses of chalk on sidewalks. 

One was during the rise of the "Occupy" movement a year ago. Chalk messages on sidewalks were easy ways to tell the world about why Occupations were taking place. Some were cryptic; some, more literary.

The other was with the death of Canadian politician Jack Layton.

Layton, the son of a Conservative cabinet minister, had become the leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP) — Canada's Social Democratic political party. A significant political leap.

The federal election of 2011 saw a political transformation. For generations the NDP has been the "Third Party" in Canada, always well behind the Conservatives and the Liberals (the so-called natural governing party).

But when the election was over, the NDP, led by Layton, was the second party, well ahead of the Liberals.

Layton, recently recovered from cancer, and a broken hip, had led his party into new political territory.

But almost immediately after the election, a new cancer invaded Layton's life. And it killed him, less the four months after the election.

When he died, the whole country seemed to go into mourning. The nation had lost a Great Canadian. Layton, despite his Ph.D. in politics, was very much an "ordinary Canadian." He had the "common touch." While people may not have agreed with him, many felt an attachment to Jack Layton.

The Prime Minister even allowed a full state funeral for this political foe.

But aside the formalities, there was an opportunity for Ordinary Canadians to share in the public grief. Sidewalk chalk. On the square before Toronto's city hall. The city hall in which Layton had served as a municipal politician years before. And so the place was slowly covered with heart-felt messages from people, many strangers, who felt a heart-to-heart connection with the amazing politician.

More than Mechanics

The late Roy Currie, veteran broadcaster and teacher of broadcasters put it this way, "First you make sense, then you make sounds." Meaning, have something to say before you say something (or anything). 

At it's heart, communication is the sharing of ideas, a "meeting of meanings" (to quote Reuel Howe, in his book The Miracle of Dialogue). Indeed, the Latin word communicare means "to share."

While we might be caught up in the technology of communication — particularly of television advertising — there is an underlying story that is being told, being shared. 

Blogging the Story

Bloggers are communicators. Pure and simple. But instead of chalk on sidewalks, we use pixels on screens. Pixels on screens tell our stories.

But we still face the question: What are we saying when we blog? What are we sharing? Is it what way we want to share, what we intend to share? Or something else?


What am I communicating with my blog?  Ultimately, that is the question we need to ask ourselves.

The A - Z Challenge offers us a chance to do some analysis of our work, in comparison to the writing of others. Don't ask the question "Am I as good as other writers"? Ask the question "How are other writers telling their stories"? "What can I learn from them"?


DJan said...

Here in Bellingham, every summer we have a Chalk Festival and people draw beautiful pictures in chalk for us to enjoy for a few days. Communication through blogging is new in the world, and we are still learning, aren't we? :-)

Manzanita said...

WOW Bear, this post is really chock full of priceless nuggets. A lot I didn't know. (Well, of course) I love fountain pens but it's difficult to find the ink these days. Have to start keep pet squids.

Rob-bear said...

® DJan: A chalk festival! That would be such fun! Blogging is indeed a new world. Lots of us are still trying to figure it out.

® Manzanita: The problem with pet squids is that they give you only black ink. What of the greens, the reds, the turquoise, and lavender? I'll have to send you a note about all that.

Glad I could edify you so early in the morning.

Rubye Jack said...

This is nice Rob. Some food for thought with regard to what I communicate on my blog. I like the analogy of communicating with chalk vs that of our computers.

The Broad said...

Great post and lovely topic for 'C'-- I love chalk -- the feel of it, the sound it makes -- even the fact that it's so temporary.

Inger said...

I didn't know about Leyton. We don't get much news about Canada here in the US and of course I don't read a daily paper any longer. So many interesting thoughts here, I really enjoyed this post dear Bear.


Blog writing is like banging a drum in the woods. If no one hears it (or reads it) we're just entertaining ourselves. I love the fact you have gained so many readers.

The Blog Fodder said...

Always liked fountain pens, just because they are CLASS. Someday I want a $1000 pen just because. In the mean time $1 ballpoints work just fine.

Stephanie V said...

Where to start? So much going on in this post. I do appreciate a busy mind.

My preferred writing tool is an HB pencil...nice and sharp. I love the feel of the graphite smoothly gliding over the paper. But when I was a kid in school one of the biggest treats was being allowed to write on the chalkboard.

Hopscotch squares? All us little girls used sharp rocks to draw lines on the sidewalk. It worked quite well.

Rob-bear said...

® Rubye Jack: Glad my thoughts were useful. Chalk it up as a good experience. And using chalk vs. using computers — very different ways of communicating, both of which are valuable in their time and place. Thanks.

® The Broad: Interesting how different experiences appeal to different people. Something that brings back good memories is fun. I am always fascinated by what tickles peoples' fancies.

® Inger: Jack (everyone called him Jack except on very formal occasions) was a prince among men.

Take time with the thoughts. Yeah, lots of stuff to read in A - Z month. You can always come back later.

® Beau's Mom: There are lots of sayings or questions about what is hears, or doesn't hear, in the forest.

I'm not quite sure where all the followers have come from. It's nice that so many have joined. Having them come to visit regularly is even more fun.

nutschell said...

I do love good old ink and paper as well and I try to use them for journaling. For more important docs however, and for writing--I use the computer because my handwriting sucks :)
Great A-Z post!

Rob-bear said...

® Da Blog Fodder: May you some day have your $1,000 fountain pen. (I can tell you where to look.) But in the meantime, use what you've got. (I've never liked ballpoints; prefer rollerballs or gels — they're more like fountain pens in their writing.)

® Stephanie V: Yes, the post is a bit busy. The hop scotch squares I recall were invariably chalk. Perhaps done with chalk purloined from a classroom, or donated by an understanding teacher. But rocks would rock is there were no chalk. (Poetry?) Thanks.

Hilary said...

I used to love my peacock blue ink cartridges for my nib pens back in my early school days. I felt my penmanship was better with that beautiful colour.

Jack Layton was indeed a special man. You communicated that well.

Golden Eagle said...

How sad about Jack Layton. I'd heard that he died, but I didn't know about the NDP.

Rob-bear said...

® nutschell: Sorry to hear of your handwriting challenges. My writing is so bad I've been reduced to printing. Sigh.

Thanks for visiting.

A thought about your name. In a world as squirrelly as ours, it takes a lot of courage to be a nut.

® HIlary: I so remember peacock blue! I loved that colour. I think I have the last bottle left in all creation sitting in my desk. I think colours are such fun!

And, yes, Jack was special.

® The Golden Eagle: The NDP is why some uneducated people think we are socialists up here in Canada. But then, a lot of people would think even our Conservatives are socialists, because they support our national health care plan. Funny world.

Amber T. Smith said...

Love the chalk messages on the sidewalk...

I learn lots from reading other blogs. Mostly I've learned that my own blogging is more about having agiggle than sharing anything profound. Life needs a little lightness. :)

Rob-bear said...

® Tundiel: So, it's OK to make light of things. Thanks for the confirmation. Bears are Far Too Serious to do anything for a giggle. Usually.

cheshire wife said...

I still have the fountain pen that was bought for my 21st birthday and I do still use it, sometimes, for letter writing, but ink is not so easy to come by now.

Rob-bear said...

® Cheshire: Fountain pens do maintain some of their mystique (for lack of a better word). I still have the one I used through high school and university. And it still works.

For ink, have you tried Birks? I think they sell Waterman pens, and can still get ink in a variety of colours. I know (at least here in the colony) most stores selling business supplies will sell basic blue and black ink. Usually Parker, which is fairly good ink.

Irene said...

When I was a child, I was never the proud owner of a piece of chalk. It was for the school blackboard and nobody dared steal a piece. We were such obedient children and hated to be caught red handed. Our parents didn't buy it for us. I learned to write with pen and ink and how not to be messy. That dates me, doesn't it? Or my school system. xox

Rob-bear said...

Pen. Ink. Not messy. I remember those days. For me, early post-WW2. Some were allowed to use a ballpoint, but was frowned upon. So I developed a life-long love of pen and ink. Still do quite a bit of work with pen and ink. But the paper is so thin now, that the ink hardly sets in/on it.

ReformingGeek said...

Wow. As a child, I remember stationery being a big deal.

I may still still have some.

Now, I'm glued to my computer.

Rob-bear said...

® ReformingGeek: The time will come when children, when you talk about stationary, will ask, "What's that?" How life changes from generation to generation!

One of the ironies was that, when computers were first created, the idea was that businesses would need less paper. Right now, it seems we are using more. However, there is a big push toward holding paperless meetings. Everything is done on computer. Everyone has the same documents, on computers.

Diana said...

Well I certainly didn't expect all of that from "Chalk" but it certainly got me to thinking. Especially about communication over the years. Particularly symbols as my grandchildren love to draw pictures on there grandma's driveway with chalk!
This brings to mind the universal symbol of the Fish and it's meaning.
Computers are great as is blogging but one still should know certain symbols.
Gee Bear, thanks for actually making my brain move today!!
Love Di ♥

Patricia Stoltey said...

An old dear friend and I have returned to writing real letters...yes, the kind that require paper, pen, envelopes and stamps. It's very special, although tempting to get on Facebook to tell her how much I enjoyed the letter I just received. :D

Patricia Stoltey

Rob-bear said...

® Patricia Stoltey: With the onset of computers, I think writing letters became a lost art. When my parents were still living, and were a half continent away from me, we used to write letters. When I e-mail to friends, I really try to make it look like a letter.

Thanks for sharing!.

David Robinson said...

Like others, my handwriting ahs suffered with advancing arthritis, ad I'm reduced to the keyboard like it or don't.

As a post WW2 baby-boomer, I was in school before the ballpoint came along and I too crafted early words with a fountain pen and good supply of ink.

Chalk? Mother taught me to read and write before I went to school and she used a little blackboard and sticks of coloured chalk. Fond memories.

Rob-bear said...

® Diana: Glad to make your brain move. Thoughts are good things. Symbols, likewise.

Blessings and Bear hugs.

® DW96: Welcome to one of the Bear's blogs. So glad you stopped by!

Sorry to hear of your arthritis — a real nuisance if ever there was one. Reduced to a keyboard or not, you still think and write well. Thanks for sharing your stories of growing up!

In my mind, a picture of a man tied to a chair; in front of him, a typewriter (pre-computer). He sent out his message by punching the keys with his nose.