March 5, 2008

scriba, scribere, scrivener

A lot of thought went into naming this blog. I identify with and fancifully embrace elements of Bohemia, I aspire to and strive for reverence, and archetypically speaking and deep down in my soul, I think I'm a scribe. I don't intend to convey with the words "scribbles and scripts" a careless smattering of stuff - though sometimes it may be - but rather an endless and instinctive jotting and recording.

I came to understand a scribe's job as an adult. I am sure I heard the word in 6th grade history class, but it didn't have meaning to me then. Somehow, the job of recording and copying seemed like a job for a young boy, a "nothing job" at least compared to knights, kings, castles and fiefdoms, and I passed it over as an ancient job that had lost its relevance.

I have always kept a journal and aspired to meaningful writing, but in my early twenties I actually got my first job as a scribe. I didn't really get it then, either, but how much does one really get in their twenties? My grandfather, a lifelong student of the Bible, asked me to transcribe the notes in his Bible to a new, larger type Bible. If you're flipping through your Bible right now thinking eh, that wouldn't be too bad, here's a glimpse of his:

This is a lot of writing. Imagine how long a single page took! Some of the pages look like this, some have a little less writing and only 3 or 4 in his entire Bible do not have any notes at all. I did this job late at night at the dining room table while my parents and sister were asleep, after my waitress job, which was after my nutritionist job. I wore white cotton gloves because my hands sweat when I concentrate. I never did finish the entire job. I did most of it, but Pop Pop couldn't stand being without it any longer and paid me and took it home and finished it himself. He later gave it to me as a gift.

To some, this might look like boring work, but I really like work that involves writing. I used to copy my notes in school over and over and write endless notes from the text. I don't think it actually helped the learning process much, but it served to give the impression that I was making a good effort, while doing something I enjoyed - writing.

So, what exactly is a scribe? My curiosity piqued, I googled the word and found all kinds of interesting sites. There are many bloggers who, in their title, call themselves scribes. There's the Hesitant Scribe, The Daily Scribe, The Surrendered Scribe, The Wandering Scribe. (I may have to link a couple of these, they looked great.) There are modern day scribes who work in emergency rooms, taking notes and documenting. These are primarily pre-med students who are serious about pursuing a career in medicine. There are scribes that work in colleges and take notes and write for students who are incapable of writing. Whatever a scribe records, it must be impartial and meticulous. Scribes notate life.

When I was younger, my mom got a home based job as a music copyist. She made written copies of musical scores. She was excellent at it, but found herself longing for adult interaction, so she resumed teaching. I have a feeling this scribe-thing is in my blood. As a child, I loved to hang out in my uncle's bedroom while he was away at college. He had drawers full of writing utensils, instruments, paper. I'd write him letters and draw him pictures and leave them in the room for his return. I couldn't wait until I was old enough to fill a room with such things.

When I was a bit older, 21 to be exact, a pen and a scrap of paper changed the course of my life. It was a hot, summer day and one of my sillier girlfriends and I decided we were going to write down a list of things we wanted in a husband. I can't remember all the things on my list now, I wish I still had it. The following September, I met my future husband. I wasn't expecting or looking to at all, but within 24 hours of our meeting I was suddenly struck, the list reverberating like a gong in my mind. He fit my list to perfection! His last name was even the same word as the job I had fancied for my future husband and his actual profession was even more interesting and perfect. Years later, I read a book called Write it Down, Make it Happen and - I believe!

Today I have all kinds of evidence of my scribatious love of scribbery. I have a sizable collection of quotes, both on paper and online, that strike my fancy. All kinds of scribbled-on paper is jammed into my accordian file, stories half finished, letters, information from books that I want to remember. There are boxes of cards and letters from friends and family on my shelves. I have the letters I sent my grandmother as a child and a few I sent my parents from college. I have all types of scribe tools and materials, journals, writing utensils, a beautiful leather pen and pencil pouch, and above is a picture of a journal I've been filling with notes from every chapter of the Bible. That's only half of the Old Testament there. I have three more empty ones just like it, waiting.

Here's how one author, Caroline Myss, describes the scribe archetype:

The Scribe differs from Author or Artist in one significant way: scribes
copy existing works rather than create new ones. The Hebrew scribes were
originally secretaries who wrote down the preachings of the prophets, but
evolved into a priestly class charged with writing and maintaining the laws and
records, copying previous scrolls, and committing oral traditions to paper.
Medieval Christian scribes copied manuscripts and helped preserve learning. In
India, the sages who compiled the Vedas are known as vyasa, a Sanskrit word that
means "collector" but could be translated as "scribe." We can expand the
definition to cover modern journalists, who also record the existing knowledge
and information of their day and uncover secrets (investigative reporters). And
we would also have to include that largely anonymous horde of copiers who are
busy uploading everything imaginable onto the Internet in the hope of preserving
it by distributing it to millions. What makes the Internet the modern equivalent
of the medieval scriptorum is that so much information is transcribed onto it
not for personal gain but for the sheer joy of preserving and sharing these
artifacts with the rest of the world.

I don't know exactly what it would look like to be a modern day scribe -know any scribes?? I'd love to be able to answer the question, "So, what do you do?" with, "I'm a scribe!"


rosemary said...

The first word that came to me was editor, but they correct the written/typed word so that's out. What patience you must have jennie....I'd be thru with that job in an instant. I do know when I was actually writing nurses notes my handwriting was not legible. I also know that doctors were famous for long squiggles at the end of words they didn't know how to spell!! Most hospitals are computerized now.....I would have hated to work in Medical Records where the "scribes" had to make heads or tails literally out of those notes!!! You continue to amaze accordion file of notes. I have kept all of the letters my grandmother wrote to me and my mother had kept them.

Paul said...

This is very interesting. You've managed to romanticize an ancient and abandoned craft. And yet I can identify in an instant with it. I'm transcribing my Dad's Diaries right now--50 year's worth. It is not an easy task, but I'm enjoying it; even enjoying the actual typing. Inconsistency and spelling are the major hurdles. (Do you know how many ways there are to write 8:30 am - 5:00 pm? A lot! I'm gonna blog about it one of these days.)

And about that list that identified your future husband. I believe in doing that. Gimme the chance and I'll go into every Church Youth Group and preach it. I have told individual kids that and they actually take it to heart. You're right: it works. It works completely. I've seen it happen.

So thanks for this post. You're a good author, too.