“That’s a heady area to tread through and brings up issues like writer safety and our commitment to that.”
Let’s play a game. I’ll say a phrase and you raise your hand if it applies to you.
Never have I ever written so much as a word to change the world. Show of hands.
I don’t write “important” things often. I mean, I do, because I write from my soul; all these scratchings are part of my insides, and if there’s any value to my insides then everything I write has some inherent importance. But I don’t, because I almost exclusively indulge in navel-gazing of some kind or another, where I try to divine the nature of the human condition by examining my experience of it.
I find it edifying to know that sometimes I strike on universalities that speak to people, since that’s my point and purpose, in the end: to connect with people and maybe lend a paw in helping people connect with each other. We’re all in this long haul in separate little universes, and we’re all trying to find each other. Maybe I can help sometimes. Maybe I can’t. I write from my marrow, though, and that’s what I can do. Once I have written then the result passes out of my control.
I may believe that someday, when I am wise.
This process follows on from a most liberating intimacy: the privacy of one mind and an infinity of blank paper. I sit here alone with nothing but my thoughts and a welcoming vessel, waiting for whatever form I give it. The headiness of it sometimes makes me feel like God, looking into the void and choosing what word first to say.
Which might be why a lot of writers come across as elitist humbugs, doing things like slinging around the word “humbug” like it ain’t no thing, even though it has no effect except to encourage people to roll their eyes. Good, bad, or guilty of everything, writing has a seductive power inherent to it that, I think, beckons to all reasoning animals in some way.
I think we all feel the draw of this medium wherewith we can spread our minds around and make our thoughts into real things.
Which, you know, never causes much of problem, this power, if someone like me holds it. I am a calm, quiet, reserved person, with a relatively calm history and home life, and, ostensibly, nothing more to overcome than never quite fitting in. I write from my depths, certainly, but my depths have never confronted the hardship of being an Irish immigrant in Brooklyn in the late 1800s. My depths have never been a lesbian in Saudi Arabia. My depths have never been so afraid that I needed to live a perpetual lie to survive.
Let’s play a game. Never have I ever been forced to choose between my beliefs and my life.
Show of hands.
Never have I ever.
But what if I had?
Now, getting to it, it used to be that to publish anything represented a somewhat significant investment of time and manpower. It was expensive, and so the people in charge of it had to make hard-assed decisions about what they thought people would keep coming back to read. Publishers have always had to consider the impact of the written thing before setting out the time and manpower to get that thing printed.
Which didn’t mean that nothing controversial ever got printed. The success of the publishing industry probably owes a great deal to controversial subject matter. Gets people talking? Gets people getting more pamphlets and magazines and books? Print more and more!
Okay, but what about the writers? Because there they are over there, reaching down their own throats to extract pieces of their souls to finger paint for your pleasure.
Time was, writing had a slowness and a smallness. The world only went as far as things could physically travel, and things out there needed to deal with constrictions of time and space and travel to get at you. The pieces of my written soul would spread based on physical restrictions. Only so many copies could be made, and they could only be taken to so many places. How many and how far depended on how many people got involved. And any recoil I might inflict on myself would be subject to the same physical restrictions.
Due to the nature of matter, the whole process would be slower and smaller, and I would be able to take some refuge among the vast crowd between me and those who might hate me for what I have to say.
My book would appear in a book store, and the bookseller might get complaints for carrying it, and the retaliation might stop there.
But it might not, and the printer might hear about it, and the retaliation might stop there.
But it might not, and my editor might hear about it, and the retaliation from the world might stop there.
But it might not. And maybe I’ll hear about it.
That was then.
The world has grown bigger and smaller and simpler and more complicated. It no longer takes a hundred people to see my words distributed to the hundred thousand people, some of whom may hate my words enough to trace me through those crowds to tell me where I can get off.
It no longer needs to be me and an army against the world.
Now it grows daily more possible that a legitimate publishing process might involve myself, and one other person who decides when to press a button and expose my bloodied finger paintings to all the world. Suddenly I have a billion best friends, one in a hundred of which would have no greater satisfaction than putting me into my place seeing as I am clearly so audacious as to talk about something that they don’t like.
Which is no big deal if you’re like me and you have nothing important to say.
Never have I ever tried to change the world.
But what if I had? What if I grew up in a refugee camp, or a religious colony, or under a despotic regimen, where I had to deal with deceit with every waking breath, and now that I have emerged from that place I have a chance to help those left behind by telling my story?
It isn’t a pretty story, or a pleasant one. I may hardly know how to write. I may have no sense of style. Maybe I do. Maybe I don’t. But I have a story. An icky, hard, heart-breaking story too full of life and far short on fun. It’s a dreadful story, but it’s the only thing I have that I can use to help a world that I have seen grow up in pain. It’s a pain I probably still feel. I may feel afraid at the thought of it, alone with only my own thoughts, far from the retributive nature of my fellow man, so eager, I have always seen, to quibble and kibitz and “sympathize,” whatever that means.
Here am I, alone with my thoughts and an infinity of blank paper, inviting my intimacy. I have a story about pain to write, and a piece of my soul to share, and the promise of a billion new best friends. If I am lucky, only one in a hundred of them will be only too happy to tell me what I can do with my sob story.
Let’s play a game.
Never have I ever been too afraid to speak.
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