letter-writing

at regular intervals (for example jeff, here), people comment on the use of lower case in my writing on this blog. here, finally, is an explanation:

i started using lower case when i was 14, in my first love letter to my first boyfriend. at that point, my main goal in using only lower cases was to impress him.

i found right away, though, that i really enjoyed using only lower case letters. this was in german, a language which uses more upper case letters than english. i am still amused that the majority of my teachers didn’t even notice i was forsaking upper cases, whereas the rest of them was dismayed.

soon i realized that i had to be somewhat judicious in my capitalization. business correspondence, obviously, could not be carried out in lower case letters. but in everything that concerned me personally, i really did not enjoy using mixed-case – i would either use lower case only or, when handwriting short notes, i would print upper case only.

it dawned on me that the desire to write this way was not only because of my apparently hard-wired need to do most things differently than anyone else.

here is what i wrote in the introduction to my tea table book:

writing is a type of pattern-making. this explains, to some degree, why, much to the chagrin of some of my readers, i keep insisting on writing in small letters.

of course there is the appealing visual flow of using no-caps, and my fantasy that this way of writing places me at least somewhere in the vicinity of ee cummings.

more importantly, though, is that this democratic use of letters, without the aristocracy of nouns, proper names and the like, invites the reader to consider each word equally. there is no hopping from one “important” (capitalized) word to the next. each word has equal value. this interrupts our familiar way of reading and makes way, i hope, for new patterns.

i have made the decision to be judicious about my use of capitalization. where i feel that my writing is mostly about my very own voice as a person and as a writer, i want to keep using lower case. it wouldn’t feel like “me” to me if i didn’t.

at the same time, i am very aware of the fact that some people simply find it too cumbersome to read lower case only.

do you, dear readers, have any suggestions as to how to solve this conundrum here on this blog, which is definitely an expression of my voice?

isabella mori
counselling in vancouver

9 thoughts on “letter-writing

  1. Matt Charron

    Isabella,

    Hello there! I bet most people find lower case difficult only because scanning sentences they look for caps at the start of the next sentence. W/O caps the flow becomes slippery and a feeling of out of control ensues?

    Maybe you could experiment with a sentence separate for instance the “|” located above the backward slash.

  2. Matt Charron

    Isabella,

    Hello there! I bet most people find lower case difficult only because scanning sentences they look for caps at the start of the next sentence. W/O caps the flow becomes slippery and a feeling of out of control ensues?

    Maybe you could experiment with a sentence separate for instance the “|” located above the backward slash.

  3. Terra

    ooh, that’s a good suggestion. similarly, i use only lower case in any non-professional spectrum. in fact, if i’ve used capitals, it’s to extremely emphasize something. my reasons include not wanting to give importance over any other words and i also started doing it in a love letter, of sorts, when in grade 8. so, this post is actually quite funny to me. it’s like you’re in my head, lady.

  4. Terra

    ooh, that’s a good suggestion. similarly, i use only lower case in any non-professional spectrum. in fact, if i’ve used capitals, it’s to extremely emphasize something. my reasons include not wanting to give importance over any other words and i also started doing it in a love letter, of sorts, when in grade 8. so, this post is actually quite funny to me. it’s like you’re in my head, lady.

  5. MJ Ankenman

    I actually didn’t noticed that you din’t use capitals until you mentioned it. But I do know that I have always enjoyed your words…so I guess it works for me.

  6. MJ Ankenman

    I actually didn’t noticed that you din’t use capitals until you mentioned it. But I do know that I have always enjoyed your words…so I guess it works for me.

  7. Nancy

    I find it visually appealing, for sure. But. I would go bonkers trying to read an entire book that way. I’m not sure how much of it is ‘aristocracy’ versus it simply provides markers or guideposts along the way. The fact is, some words *are* more crucial than others and demarcating that helps the eye. – although as I write that, I realize the words (eg. subject/verb/object) that are more crucial (eg. than modifiers, conjunctives etc) aren’t capitalized. There goes that theory.

  8. Nancy

    I find it visually appealing, for sure. But. I would go bonkers trying to read an entire book that way. I’m not sure how much of it is ‘aristocracy’ versus it simply provides markers or guideposts along the way. The fact is, some words *are* more crucial than others and demarcating that helps the eye. – although as I write that, I realize the words (eg. subject/verb/object) that are more crucial (eg. than modifiers, conjunctives etc) aren’t capitalized. There goes that theory.

  9. Jan Karlsbjerg

    OK, I’ll be the boring, old fashioned guy (again), then. 🙂

    I fully understand the need for individualism and standing out and “personal voice” and so on. And I think it’s fine to include all-lower-case texts as elements in a blog. For example a quote or a poem presented in a text box. But not the whole text, please. It reduces readability and has other side consequences too.

    You’re not 14 anymore, this blog is not a love letter to a local boy, rather it’s a part of your professional / business persona.

    Anyone who notices the unusual typography will make their own assumptions as to why. Has Isabella joined an Internet fad? Is she being hip with the MySpace crowd? Is this trying to match the writing style of potential clients (in that case, do I fit in as a potential client or should I look elsewhere)?

    I saw this quote somewhere yesterday about blog writing: It doesn’t matter what you write – it only matters what they (visitors to the site) read.

    If your favorite colors were red and black, would you have a business site that was dark red text on black background (so as better to reflect your personality) readability be damned?

  10. Jan Karlsbjerg

    OK, I’ll be the boring, old fashioned guy (again), then. 🙂

    I fully understand the need for individualism and standing out and “personal voice” and so on. And I think it’s fine to include all-lower-case texts as elements in a blog. For example a quote or a poem presented in a text box. But not the whole text, please. It reduces readability and has other side consequences too.

    You’re not 14 anymore, this blog is not a love letter to a local boy, rather it’s a part of your professional / business persona.

    Anyone who notices the unusual typography will make their own assumptions as to why. Has Isabella joined an Internet fad? Is she being hip with the MySpace crowd? Is this trying to match the writing style of potential clients (in that case, do I fit in as a potential client or should I look elsewhere)?

    I saw this quote somewhere yesterday about blog writing: It doesn’t matter what you write – it only matters what they (visitors to the site) read.

    If your favorite colors were red and black, would you have a business site that was dark red text on black background (so as better to reflect your personality) readability be damned?

  11. isabella mori

    thanks matt, terra, nancy, MJ and jan

    what’s interesting is that your responses are so varied.

    terra, of course i’m tickled that you feel the same way!

    and yes, matt, it’s the feeling out of control that happens because there are no “posts”. which is exactly what i’m trying to achieve. | not the “out of control” part but the “no post” part. so that every word is considered equally.

    does that mean that *i * want to be in control? hm, i’ll have to think about that.

    nancy, of course you’d go bonkers if you had to read a whole book like that. | i guess that’s ok in a book of poetry but i can assure you that my next book, which will be non-fiction, will not be written in lower case.

    if i ever DO get around to writing a novel, i’ll have to see what to do …

    your comment, jan, about raising questions with readers, is very well taken, and i think about it a lot. | i guess one point is that i WOULD like to attract readers who find this way of writing interesting. | does that mean you will never use my services? : )

    yes, it is important to think of readers (although of course, not at all costs – if only because if you have more than one reader, you have more than one opinion).

    one of the things i’m trying to do to make it easier for readers is to have many paragraph breaks. | another thing i think i’ll start, once i investigate how to do it easily, is to increase my font size. | that’s partly thanks to our conversation about that at the bloggers meetup the other day, especially with pete from adult add strengths.

    (so, guys, how did you like the use of the “|” to separate sentences?)

  12. isabella mori

    thanks matt, terra, nancy, MJ and jan

    what’s interesting is that your responses are so varied.

    terra, of course i’m tickled that you feel the same way!

    and yes, matt, it’s the feeling out of control that happens because there are no “posts”. which is exactly what i’m trying to achieve. | not the “out of control” part but the “no post” part. so that every word is considered equally.

    does that mean that *i * want to be in control? hm, i’ll have to think about that.

    nancy, of course you’d go bonkers if you had to read a whole book like that. | i guess that’s ok in a book of poetry but i can assure you that my next book, which will be non-fiction, will not be written in lower case.

    if i ever DO get around to writing a novel, i’ll have to see what to do …

    your comment, jan, about raising questions with readers, is very well taken, and i think about it a lot. | i guess one point is that i WOULD like to attract readers who find this way of writing interesting. | does that mean you will never use my services? : )

    yes, it is important to think of readers (although of course, not at all costs – if only because if you have more than one reader, you have more than one opinion).

    one of the things i’m trying to do to make it easier for readers is to have many paragraph breaks. | another thing i think i’ll start, once i investigate how to do it easily, is to increase my font size. | that’s partly thanks to our conversation about that at the bloggers meetup the other day, especially with pete from adult add strengths.

    (so, guys, how did you like the use of the “|” to separate sentences?)

  13. jeffy

    The pipe as separator doesn’t help for me, it just adds more obstacles to reading your sentences.

    You’ve said a couple of times “each word has equal value”. In a poetry setting I could maybe get behind that, but in prose it’s manifestly not true (and your continued use of punctuation implies that you’re not totally on board with that concept either ;-).

    I submit that prose isn’t about words, it’s about sentences. When you write prose you aren’t saying “look at these pretty words”, you’re saying “look at this cool thought I thunk”. Words in isolation have beautiful ambiguity, but sentences are trying to communicate a specific message. And in English, capitalization is an essential way in which we demarcate these thought transmissions.

    All that said, I personally don’t feel that strongly about the issue. There’s a continuum of feeling here as with most things. My dad probably wouldn’t notice that you’re doing anything different. My wife basically can’t read your posts. I’m somewhere in the middle. For you the question is how broad a portion of this spectrum of text sticklers you can stand to lose as readers.

    It’d be cool if there were a plugin that would dynamically re-capitalized your posts for poeple who need their text to look more standard. Give your readers a button that says “capitalize this!” I couldn’t find one in a quick search and I can’t bring myself to write one with all the other stuff on the todo list 😉

    I didn’t even get into the proper nouns. You’ll notice that this comment shows up as from “jeffy”, not “Jeffy”. I do that because “Jeffy” is not my real name. “jeffy” has been my email address since I first had one (in about 1987) and up until recently that name was much more visible to my social sphere than my real name. More people still call me “jeffy” than “Jeff”. This is an extreme case, but it points out that “jeffy” actually is a different word than “Jeffy”. One is my online handle, the other is the name of a saccharin comic character. English is a language or a nationality, english is spin. Pat is a person, pat is what you do to their back.

    Sorry to write so damn much, I’m mostly just avoiding work.

  14. jeffy

    The pipe as separator doesn’t help for me, it just adds more obstacles to reading your sentences.

    You’ve said a couple of times “each word has equal value”. In a poetry setting I could maybe get behind that, but in prose it’s manifestly not true (and your continued use of punctuation implies that you’re not totally on board with that concept either ;-).

    I submit that prose isn’t about words, it’s about sentences. When you write prose you aren’t saying “look at these pretty words”, you’re saying “look at this cool thought I thunk”. Words in isolation have beautiful ambiguity, but sentences are trying to communicate a specific message. And in English, capitalization is an essential way in which we demarcate these thought transmissions.

    All that said, I personally don’t feel that strongly about the issue. There’s a continuum of feeling here as with most things. My dad probably wouldn’t notice that you’re doing anything different. My wife basically can’t read your posts. I’m somewhere in the middle. For you the question is how broad a portion of this spectrum of text sticklers you can stand to lose as readers.

    It’d be cool if there were a plugin that would dynamically re-capitalized your posts for poeple who need their text to look more standard. Give your readers a button that says “capitalize this!” I couldn’t find one in a quick search and I can’t bring myself to write one with all the other stuff on the todo list 😉

    I didn’t even get into the proper nouns. You’ll notice that this comment shows up as from “jeffy”, not “Jeffy”. I do that because “Jeffy” is not my real name. “jeffy” has been my email address since I first had one (in about 1987) and up until recently that name was much more visible to my social sphere than my real name. More people still call me “jeffy” than “Jeff”. This is an extreme case, but it points out that “jeffy” actually is a different word than “Jeffy”. One is my online handle, the other is the name of a saccharin comic character. English is a language or a nationality, english is spin. Pat is a person, pat is what you do to their back.

    Sorry to write so damn much, I’m mostly just avoiding work.

  15. eeabee

    I would be sad if you started capitalizing. It does sound like some readers have a real processing issue, which does matter, but on the other hand standardizing would be a loss, because it does work with your voice and seems to fit with your approach and purposes. That’s what matters, I think (purpose and context and audience–and audience is tricky because we vary).

    It strikes me as a bit funny that I’m arguing against “correcting” because my job is teaching writing and literature. But on the other hand, I do that because I love language and I love the variation and creativity that are possible in it.

    eeabee’s last blog post..Taking Grief Peacemeal?It?s Not Like it?s Going Anywhere

  16. eeabee

    I would be sad if you started capitalizing. It does sound like some readers have a real processing issue, which does matter, but on the other hand standardizing would be a loss, because it does work with your voice and seems to fit with your approach and purposes. That’s what matters, I think (purpose and context and audience–and audience is tricky because we vary).

    It strikes me as a bit funny that I’m arguing against “correcting” because my job is teaching writing and literature. But on the other hand, I do that because I love language and I love the variation and creativity that are possible in it.

    eeabee’s last blog post..Taking Grief Peacemeal?It?s Not Like it?s Going Anywhere

  17. A. Decker

    Such varied opinions! It really doesn’t bother me. Just makes me curious. Well, come to think of it, it does kinda distract me from the content, but just initially. If I care about what’s being said, that goes away, quickly. I stick to standard (as well as I can:D , I guess ’cause I don’t really have a feeling about it. That’s not true. Standard capitalization feels cozy. I guess I’m tryin’ to say, I may not agree, but I’ll stand up for your right to dissent! lol, lol!

    A. Decker’s last blog post..“Two birds…”

  18. A. Decker

    Such varied opinions! It really doesn’t bother me. Just makes me curious. Well, come to think of it, it does kinda distract me from the content, but just initially. If I care about what’s being said, that goes away, quickly. I stick to standard (as well as I can:D , I guess ’cause I don’t really have a feeling about it. That’s not true. Standard capitalization feels cozy. I guess I’m tryin’ to say, I may not agree, but I’ll stand up for your right to dissent! lol, lol!

    A. Decker’s last blog post..“Two birds…”

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