The Power of the Written Word

…and its limitations.

Shannon Page


Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

I have always been a strong believer in the power of the written word. I’ve been a devout reader since age four, and a dedicated writer almost that long. We were back-to-the-land hippies with almost zero possessions, yet somehow the corners of my little sleeping cubby were stuffed with books — the Chronicles of Narnia, Winnie-the-Pooh, the Lord of the Rings trilogy (long before I was old enough to grasp the story). And of course an ever-rotating supply of library books.

When I got to college in the fall of 1984 and found myself shunted into Rhetoric 1A instead of the English 1A class I was trying for, I was deeply disappointed. English had always been my best subject in school. What in the world was rhetoric? It sounded faintly disreputable; I didn’t even know how to pronounce it. “I’m in rhe-TOR-ic,” I sighed, much to my parents’ amusement.

My disappointment didn’t even survive that first week of classes, where I learned what the study of rhetoric actually entails: argumentative and persuasive writing. Creating it, analyzing it — studying what makes a piece of writing work, in order to hone one’s own skills as both reader and writer.

It was amazing. I ended up majoring in rhetoric.

In my freshman year, I didn’t yet know that, though I eagerly signed up for Rhetoric 1B at the end of the fall semester. I was learning astonishing new skills, and having a great time doing it. Reading amazing works of both fiction and nonfiction. Taking ordinary words and building sentences of power out of them.

Making an argument.

So, way back then in early 1985, when I decided to move in with my boyfriend — let’s call him “Sam” — I knew that the way to break the news to my mom was to write her a letter.

Photo by Álvaro Serrano on Unsplash

I’d been sending her letters since I got to college, all those months earlier. Long-distance phone calls were expensive; going home for a visit only happened a couple times a year. So I wrote her once a week, posting chatty, entertaining letters full of the daily news and trivia of my exciting new life at college.



Shannon Page

Writer, editor, thinker of things, living on Orcas Island, Washington state.