Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Grateful Writer

It's Chrristmas and the writing is going slowly, with so much else to do. But the thinking goes on full tilt. And the reading -- what follows comes from encountering a slim volume used on Amazon, wherein lay the following treasured remarks. They remind me that this is a great time to take stiock and counbt our blessings, and I for one feel particularly fortunate right now -- and many of you contribute to the reasons why I feel that way as I struggle, mostly with myself, to do the work.

If you can read this, consider yourself loved, fortunate, and skilled.

My all time vavorite author, Kurt Vonnegut, said the following in an interview in 1999 that became "Like Shaking Hands With God, a Conversation about Writing," with Vonnegut and Lee Stringer. I needed to read these words, to remind myself that what I am and what I do is a blessing. He said:

"And it's important to retreat from the hoopla on television, and what television says matters and what we're all supposed to talk about. And of course literature is the only art that requires our audience o be performers, You need to able to read and you have to be able to read awfully well. You have to read so well that you get irony! I'll say one thing meaning another, and you'll get it. Expcting a large number of people to be literate is like expecting everybody to play the French horn. It is extremely difficult . . . when we think about what reading is . . . it's impossible. Literature is idiocyncratic arrangements in horizontal lines of only twenty-six phonetic symbols, ten Arabic numbers, and about eight punctuation marks. And yet there are people like you who can look at the printed page and put shows on in your head--the Battle of Waterloo, for God's sake. The New York Times says that there are forty million people in the United States who can't read well enough to fill out an application for a driver's license. So our audience cannot be large, becaused we need a highly skilled audience, unbelievably skilled.. . . . Thank you for learning to do this virtually impossible thing."

The point to me is that writing is something the writer does not for an audience, exactly, but for himself. Lee Stringer added:

"More and more these days I find that people want to boil things down to something simple, something you can grab in a second. I also see that today people are very result oriented. We don't do anything because it's the right thing to do, or for the sake of art, or for the sake of anything unless we can prove that down the road, e, y, or z is going to happen. I guess in that kind of environment it is difficult for what we call literature to exist because a book is not all that practical in short term. It's probably infinitely practical in the long term. But you're not going to pick Timequake (Vonnegut's last novel) off the shelf and learn how to scamble eggs tomorrow. So, in that context, writing is a struggle to preserve our right to be not so practical."

I am learning every day. I am learning a sad truth, but an important one. I won't change the world by writing Ghost Music. I know this; so do you. All I can do is write it, or not, and to be honest, or not, is not a choice.

But I will be read. And for that I thank you. Merry Christmas!

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