A Word About Scribblement

Journaling in the camper at Balsamea

For decades I called the dictionary my favorite book, until Wiktionary, which I now adore as much.  Just the same, I’m keeping my 1995 Webster’s Collegiate 10th Ed. and my 1962 Roget’s Thesaurus 3rd Ed.  I may need a word when the lights are out, or when the satellite web connection goes away at a critical moment, or when unregulated hypergobalcapitalizm (masquerading as democracy) gets lethal immunodeficiency, and the web collapses.

You may have noticed the tagline on this blog, Scribblements from Balsamea.  I started using scribblement in 2008 to describe a two-year-long series of many hand-written long letters, accompanied by many photographs, usually with captions written on the backs — on the originals and six copies — and lovingly mailed to a handful of victims.  I called these scribblements The Balsamea Letters.    .

In my mind, they were like scribbling because they had little purpose or value but to satisfy my need to write them.  They also freely rambled, because I gave them permission.  Still, they were more than scribbling, firmer, meant to last.  The -ment suffix fit nicely, a baggy firmament.

That period, May 2008 – June 2010, was my Thoreauvian period: living off-the-grid, no electricity, no running water, no phone, no pool, one 70-pound pet.  I suppose that this unusual lifestyle choice, being largely the cause of the letters, could give the letters more meaning than if I wrote them from a walk-up flat in the burbs, on a computer, with C-SPAN on the tube and a frozen pizza in the oven.  I could offer such meaning as a justification for the -ment suffix.

I had a cell phone, thanks to the car charger adapter.  Three times or more per day during my forest saunters (Thoreau liked that word) I reached those positions where AT&T could hear me at a strength of one or two bars.  Those signal hot spots were about 1,500 feet from home base.  On those three occasions every day, I checked for voice mail messages, except when I forgot to bring the phone.

Otherwise, as I did when returning calls to three people with whom the conversations typically ran long, I drove the car four miles for a good signal.  At $0.40 to $0.50 per mile, that adds substantially to the cost of a phone call, especially when it’s 12 or 85 Fahrenheit and you leave the car running for A/C or heat while gabbing.  (According to Consumer Reports, the total cost of ownership, operation, and maintenance of my car over five years is $0.44/mile.  It is a subcompact, tiny, and gets 34-40 miles per gallon.)

After having used scribblement, thinking myself clever for coming up with it on my own, I pulled out the Webster’s just to make sure I had invented something.  (You didn’t think I would go two years in the woods without a dictionary, did you?)  Page 1050.  Scribal, scribble, scribbler, scribe … no scribblement!  Yay!  Then, I flattened my bubble under the authoritative weight of the public library’s giant dictionary.  Scribblement was a word in the Webster’s of 1913.  Its definition was, and is “a scribble.”  Authorities say the word is dated, but not archaic or obsolete.

English: Portrait by Benjamin D. Maxham (dague...

Thoreau portrait, 1856 daguerreotype by Benjamin D. Maxham

Original title page of Walden featuring a pict...

Original title page of Walden featuring a picture drawn by Thoreau’s sister Sophia

If a scribblement is a scribble, you may ask, why not just call the letters scribbles?  Scribblers scribble scribbles, don’t they?  Well, what do you call a 20-page scribble on two sides of loose-leaf paper, photocopied half a dozen times, the original stored in a loose-leaf binder, placed with annotated photos into 9×11 envelopes, and mailed to people in Wisconsin, New York and Connecticut?  Add to those long letters nine volumes (Marble-type composition books) of personal journals, or writing yoga, done partly from feeling obligated because Thoreau got a book out of his stunt and he didn’t even stay through the winters at Walden — or so I’ve heard.

THAT is making scribblements, not scribbles.

This blog is an outgrowth, or continuation (with changes, such as an audience) of those scribblements, and I’d feel silly calling it Scribbles from Balsamea.

1906 painting by Carl Larsson, “Model Writing Postcards.” Some people really know how to do their scribbling: on the job, between modeling assignments, in costume. Click for better view.

But why “scribble” instead of “write?”  Isn’t it writing?

Oh, puh-leeze!  Writement?  Not even I would invent a dopey word like that (not to imply you’re a dope if you asked the question).  And it would imply that I think myself a writer.  If I am, it is probably not a good idea to pat myself on the back for it.

Isn’t “scribble,” with or without “-ment,” diminutive, even self-derogatory?  Seriously (if that is possible in this post), I can explain farther, but it would take too long, and double your boredom.  So I’ll leave you there.