Writing A Group in Motion by Tim Clark
I really believe to write you need to read. If you don’t love words marching across a page, dragging thoughts, ideas, plots, and whole worlds, past, present and future across the page, you are probably not going to love writing. And if you don’t love it, why bother.
Words have to have a meaning outside the narrow dictionary description, a magic hidden beyond the meaning. I like Bob Dylan, a lot. He has a way with words. In the song Up To Me, a tormented poem of loss, regret, and the fear of failure he is talking about meeting someone new, how she might be perfect for the protagonist (ostensibly Dylan himself) and he sings “it frightens me the awful truth of how sweet life can be.” In that one sentence he has written all you need to know about life, about love, about relationships, about pain. I am still awed by how much those twelve words say, succinct, powerful, poignant, painful, it’s all there.
When I was young we moved quite a bit. And I never really made any lasting relationships. I spent too much time looking and watching. Adults, older kids, families, manipulating situations, all working their own angles, all trying to reach the brass ring, it made me a little cynical. I learned to lose myself in books. It is still a curse, or a blessing.
At sixteen I read Catch 22 by Joseph Heller. It changed my life. Here was a description of every awful thing mankind was rolling around in, all the deceit, greed, incompetence, hate, bigotry, lust packaged in 453 pages (according to Wikipedia) told in a way that made it seem almost innocent. As if humanity was powerless to control its basest instincts. I began, with Heller’s tutelage, to accept life for what it was, people for who they were. It wasn’t my imagination and it certainly wasn’t just the people I knew, it was our species.
I learned to prowl thrift stores, yard sales, Salvation Army stores, looking for books. I found, by accident, Gwynne Dyer, a historian, who reaches into the past, distant and near to extrapolate possible futures. I had seen his PBS series “War” and was enthralled with his matter of fact oratory skills. He could talk about a bleak future, a world destroyed by an uncontrolled nuclear war, with the cold precise language of a doctor diagnosing and describing an ulcer. It made it even more terrifying. And his written work has a keen edge, a sharp, matter of fact dryness. It is a sterile, clinical beauty, art in a test tube. More than any other thing his words, his ideas, his terrifying predictions made me want to write, to warn people.
Amazon is an abyss. I wander in, and I am trapped. Book sellers with ridiculous inventories, selling classic art for small change, sometimes only a dollar. Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, The Armies of the Night by Norman Mailer, March to Folly by Barbara Tuchman, a writer whose style and intellect are so keen it almost has to be fiction, Dispatches by Michael Herr. For Kindle, yes I am learning to read on a device, We Were Soldiers Once, and Young, by Hal Moore. A few dollars, books, words, pages of thoughts and memories, and imagination, given gladly, freely, words strung together by strangers you almost view as friends because of this shared experience.
Writing is tonic, medicinal, it eases the pain. Writing can almost be antiseptic, even antibiotic, easing old infections before they can spread and worsen, drag down the spirit, darken the soul. Writing can stop and sometimes reverse the decay of life. But, it is never solitary and it is never performed in a vacuum. We write to share, we read to share, it is symbiotic act, both give and both receive. Remember, next time you stop to put words on a page think of the people you are writing to, it is the reason for the act, and remember the people whose words moved you. You will be glad you did, both, we are in the same big boat.