Quite a bold statement isn’t it? Yes. It’s meant to be. Frankly, it’s the type of statement that gives me pause. Why? It begs for opposing argument.
This confession aside, let’s ‘play like’ my title represents life’s two-sided coin. Either you wither or you write.
We’ve all heard, and mostly understood, the word wither. In its non-plant context, it means, “cease to flourish; fall into decay or decline.” Its not a real life scenario any normal person would choose.
Let me regress a little. I almost chose as my title, “Life: Cotton Candy or Sweet Potatoes?” This certainly would have hooked you. Right? So, what was my intent?
Let’s talk slang. Cotton candy: “something that is attractive but inconsequential” (Google search). Do you, do I, want to be beautiful but lacking worth or importance? Again, I suspect most normal people would answer ‘no.’
Now to a better choice. And, to more slang. Sweet potatoes: “sweet potato in Korean is used to describe someone who is frustrating or slow to catch on with the conversation” (Google search). I lied didn’t I. This isn’t better. Actually, it’s worse. Here, I bet you and I both had rather be beautiful than this sweet potato dope.
It now seems my alternate title wasn’t anything like my two-side coin title. In fact, both cotton candy and sweet potatoes makes us wish for a better alternative.
Now, we’re almost back to where I was headed after defining ‘wither.’ But, let me first share a real live example. “I don’t use Walmart’s self-checkout because it cost too many jobs.” I heard this yesterday. It was said in a casual conversation, so casual I don’t remember the context.
Now, let me be clear. I don’t know if the claim is accurate. I do know it’s the type of statement I avoid like the plague. The reason(s) I suspect is that I’m a writer. And, a lawyer. So, it’s my background and training. Notice, I didn’t say “because I am so smart.” FYI, I’m just an average Joe.
You see, many (most?) folks aren’t great talkers. They spout out claims as though they’ve been scientifically proved.
I’m sorry to be so pedantic but the Walmart claim prompted me to pursue some cursory research.
At Quora (okay, okay, hold your taters) A.C. responds to the self-checkout system, “Initially, probably quite a few. But since self-checkout became prevalent, companies have opened many new stores, partly because they know they won’t have to employ as many checkers as before.
This is similar to how the number of bank tellers and the amount they are paid has actually gone up due to ATMs. Banks have said specifically that they open many more branches because they don’t have to employ as many tellers, resulting in a net gain of tellers jobs.”
And to the same question, J.M. (yes, from Quora) says, “I get a lot of people telling me they don’t like self check outs because it takes away jobs. I still have my job as a cashier. From my experience it hasn’t affected any of the cashiers. None of us have had to move to different departments because of self check out. I have been saying this to many people. There’s enough people who don’t want to scan their own stuff to still keep the cashiers doing their jobs. So no they aren’t taking away jobs.”
Okay, sorry. Yes, I admit A.C. and J.M. could be wrong. My point is, at least what I want it to be, is that life and issues aren’t so simple. Most of us know so very little we have very little right to make such broad claims.
Then why do I do the opposite, “Wither or write, you decide?” Please don’t be such a sweet potato. The answer is, writing reveals life isn’t black and white. It lets you explore the possible, pealing back the masks we all wear.
Let’s see about that.
Free advice: You should be reading Brain Pickings, Maria Popova’s online journal. In her own words, “Brain Pickings [includes] a free Sunday digest of the week’s most interesting and inspiring articles across art, science, philosophy, creativity, children’s books, and other strands of our search for truth, beauty, and meaning.
Remember, reading is vitally important for many reasons, like being a good antidote for having a cotton candy or sweet potato mind. As Stephen King declares, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Mark Twain spoke to the value of reading: “A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read.”
Returning to Brain Pickings. Yesterday, Maria posted, “The Unbearable Lightness of Being Opaque to Ourselves: Milan Kundera on Writing and the Key to Great Storytelling.”
You and I can learn a lot about writing, particularly novel writing. And, Maria’s words (and quotes) seem to support my title, “Wither or write, your choice.”
Maria: ” … the novel, the story, the poem, the song are each a model, an imagistic impression of the world not as it is but as the maker pictures it to be, inviting us to step into this imaginary world in order to better understand the real, including ourselves.”
Our imaginations, in story form at least, helps us understand reality.
Maria quoting Kundera: “Every novel says to the reader, ‘Things are not as simple as they seem.’ That is the novel’s eternal truth, but it grows steadily harder to hear amid the din of easy, quick answers that come faster than the question and block it off.”
Does this remind you of, “I don’t use Walmart’s self-checkout because it cost too many jobs.” Things are not simple, even the statements that appear so. Things are far from black and white. If anything, the world, reality, life, is a landscape of gray. And, don’t miss Kundera’s later point. If we live on the surface we will constantly be bombarded with “easy, quick answers.” We’ll grow deaf. And dumb. Sorry for my embellishment but it seems reasonably implied.
Let’s look at another Kundera quote: “A novel examines not reality but existence. And existence is not what has occurred, existence is the realm of human possibilities, everything that man can become, everything he’s capable of. Novelists draw up the map of existence by discovering this or that human possibility. But… to exist means ‘being-in-the-world.’ Thus both the character and his world must be understood as possibilities… [Novels] thereby make us see what we are, and what we are capable of.”
In four words, what is a novel? A work of fiction. It’s made up, wholly from the imagination. So, what good is it since it doesn’t explore reality?
It’s good because it explores existence, what could happen in the future. As Kundera says, “existence is the realm of human possibilities.” So, why is this important? Fiction writing, novel writing, offers solutions to future problems. How Billy Character mentally responded and physically reacted to the imagined scene presents value to us in the real world.
At a minimum, novel writing and novel reading makes you and me more empathetic (btw, that’s pretty much a proved fact; do your own research).
Let’s say you choose to write a novel. The protagonist is a doctor. He works for an organization that delivers needed medical care around the world, specifically inside those third world, war torn countries where poverty is widespread and spreading like a cancer.
Here’s a short snippet from your writing.
“Doctor, this way.” Claudia the head nurse led me inside a tent. I could hear what sounded like firecrackers or bombs bursting on the mountaintop beyond the river. If I didn’t know better, I’d think I was with Susie in Hyde Park watching a Fourth of July fireworks celebration taking part over Lake Michigan.
“How bad is it?” I said as the weary nurse walked faster toward the exam room.
“Five kids die every minute.”
“Uh? I responded in disbelief.”
Claudia stopped, turned, and looked into my eyes, a tear rolling down her right cheek. “Not just here in Yemen, but around the world. Five innocent kids die every minute from malnourishment.” I made a mental note to explore her statistic and other opportunities to make a difference.
Let’s step back. Could Kundera be right? “[Novels] thereby make us see what we are, and what we are capable of.”
My hypothesis: I’ll never know the full extent of what I am or what I’m capable of until I see the possibilities, through the eyes of someone else, someone wholly the product of the writer’s imagination.
I choose to write. Do you?