Thursday, March 19, 2009
Yesterday afternoon, my son arrived home from Dartmouth, standing at least two inches taller and looking every bit the newly-turned nineteen-year-old he was. My girls having returned from prep school on the thirteenth, I was already finding the transition from Empty Nest to Full House both daunting and delightful; nevertheless, as I sat on one of the cold, wooden benches of the Union Street train station, I found myself struggling to make sense of the fact that my son was, at this point, the age I was when I became a mother.
Of course, I found myself skipping yet another writer's workshop.
Today, I sit fuming and determined to gripe!
The question of the day is: why does everyone who can write a complete sentence feel it appropriate to call himself or herself a writer? This I ask several weeks after a rather infuriating incident which occurred while dining out with friends. Having just returned from poetry reading with a very kind couple, I found myself seated at a table in an over-priced, quite pretentious restaurant within walking distance of the auditorium. Unprepared for the setting, having assumed from the description that the establishment was something of a local pub, the couple was somewhat uncomfortable. That our "waitress" was openly disdainful of our rag-tag little crew of literary enthusiasts only exacerbated the unease, leading to a rather stilted conversation over our basket of bread sticks.
Because I had been decidedly underwhelmed by the opening poet (and as the feature poet gave her reading in the original Central American Spanish--which I, even after four years of high school and two terms of collegiate level Spanish classes, found difficult to follow), my contribution was minimal. Thus, I sat listening to references to Tennyson and Williams, trying my best to match their enthusiasm to some degree...all the while marveling that they could have been so completely impressed by what I thought to be mediocre offerings at best. Still, the atmosphere had been congenial, the night out quite pleasant (there-to-fore); ergo, I kept my opinions to myself (for a change!), opting to instead sit back and listen to the gentle rise and swell of conversation as is flowed steadily--soothingly in many ways--around me.
The conversation turned to work, as my friend had just emerged from the harrowing ordeal of finding employment in the precarious market born of our present economy. With great empathy and respect for both her courage and fortitude, I listened as she vented (mildly spurred by the effects of her martini) about the frustrations of her current position as well as the unique conflicts faced when working in both the non-profit and theological fields. As she spoke, I tried to be quietly (for those who know me, I later realized I was nursing unawares the imminent cold and fever which would soon leave me incapacitated) supportive while she itemized the list of nightmarish jobs in which she had found herself since leaving the seminary.
Then, it happened.
My friend turned to her husband and disgustedly announced, "Instead of telling people I'm a member of the clergy or that I work in the non-profit arena, maybe I should just call myself a writer."
Of course, I inwardly flinched, sure the effrontery--the unqualified indignation--all but blazed from my expression. On the contrary, without missing a beat, the husband replied, "Yes, honey. You do write all the time."
From there, the volley of exchange consisted of listing then classifying all the media in which her "writing" could be validated. There were all the usual assertions: I write on my job; I keep a journal; in college I wrote poetry; do you remember, honey, that poetry class in undergrad; I write everything, man so what am I going to write a short story about for this anthology the poet mentioned when I bought a copy of her book.
Neither one of them noticed how utterly, completely, and clearly insulted I was.
It has never failed. No matter where I have gone, in no matter what company I have found myself, nearly every person included--be that individual an engineer, civil servant, doctor, lawyer, mechanic, or educator--has announced to me that he or she, too, is a writer. When younger, I found it mildly annoying. As, however, I have grown older (and, as a result, somewhat crotchety) this trend has come to really irk and annoy me. You see, it is my belief that many of our great modern writers go undiscovered because of the sheer volume of self-proclaimed writers glutting the markets.
Don't get me wrong: many people who are not writers, who would never consider themselves writers deserve to be heard, published, even celebrated. I have alwayys been of the opinion that there are (and always have been) two distinct categories in the writing world: those who write and those who are writers. Many people have stories which need to be told, not all of them being, necessarily, "writers" There are those who are wonderful storytellers. Some have an awe-inspiring mastery of the language. Others have an uncanny ability to construct intriguing plots or master that fine art of believably seamless dialog.
Then there are the "artists": those who are as qualified to bear the title as the Picassos and Monets of the "visual"world. It is they to which poor little literary "hacks" like me struggle and sweat, labor and study, in short aspire to somehow--if only one in a lifetime--to rival. Those who write because they have no choice, because they could not conceive of doing otherwise; who construct their sentences with painstaking care, fighting the tides of alliteration and analogy, language and imagery; who study each rhyme scheme, count every line of prose for lyricism, rhythm, and "flow"; who are lost without dictionary and thesaurus, pencil, paper, and laptop on hand nearly twenty-four hours a day; those who are "writers" because they were born to write are minimized by the endless assertions by others that they, too, are "writers." And, I have often wondered to what extent the literary world has suffered under this new concept of as "writing" being little more than the desire to commit any thought, any idea, any thing to paper.