Saturday, June 10, 2006

A Flimsy Film of Change and Difference


Of all the questions I’ve gotten in public, none is as vexing as “Why do you write?” I’ve learned some of the flip answers like “because I have to” or “the Muse just makes me do it,” and that usually satisfies an audience, especially those who know that it’s something of an impossible question to begin with.

But it is a good question. The writer puts words to paper (or disk) and they might be serious, funny, factual, imaginative; they may be in diary or journal form, a newspaper column, a spy thriller, a letter to Aunt Eulalia, an autobiography, a soul-probing and sparkling piece of literary fiction, a piece of chick-lit that will surely sell, a short story that surely won’t, or (my favorite): “I know I have a novel in me. Can you tell me how to write it?”

So, sure, it’s an odd thing the writer does – such a compulsive and unnecessary thing, particularly today where we are so immersed in aural/oral modes of communication that the assumption that some words ought to be permanent seems almost quaint. Even blogs that began with the passionate, written rants of the rationality-challenged are now peppered with audio and video inserts.

Yet – our lives are filled with holes. We look back two-thousand years and the entirety of our history would fit in a small room. Come forward two-thousand years and I have trouble remembering what I had for lunch yesterday. I heard my parents fought a war. What was that about? What war? That World Trade Center thing – what day of the week was that on? Who won the Best Picture Oscar last year? Who won the NCAA Final Four championship this year? What’s seventy-six times forty-four? On what date did I first have sex with a girl? What was my third grade teacher’s name? What’s my favorite book of all time? Movie? Album? Ice cream? Did I ever have chicken pox? Was I ever punched in the face? How many dogs have I had? What was the Gulf of Tonkin resolution?

So many things call my mind home that I regularly turn away, often indiscriminately, whole masses of worthy things seeking entry. We do it, we live it, we see it, we feel it – and then it’s gone as though it had never happened. Which brings the writer onto the scene: observer, witness, occasionally critic.

How were the flowers this spring? Who remembers when St. John’s Lutheran Church burned down? I notice they didn’t just patch our main drag, they ripped it right down to fossils and rebuilt it. I’m not sure what to think about the West Nile virus, but I’ve noticed we haven’t had any crows in a good two, maybe three years. Just down the street a neighbor is stuck with one of the great automotive design follies in history: the Aztec. Yes, this year and for several years now we’ve endured a president who has horribly divided the country, but I also notice few motorcyclists around here ever wear helmets. Whenever I see my neighbor and her boyfriend go off on his motorcycle I want to say, “I guess if you become brain damaged no one will notice the difference anyway.”

Small things – the record. I guess it’s almost always about the record, that flimsy film of change and difference.

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