Is anybody out there?
It is four a.m. and I am up writing because I’ve promised a friend and sister writer I’ll be part of this southern writers blog. At four a.m., however, when the world outside my bay window is dark and not even a night bird is calling, I have to wonder who is going to wake up in the morning and seriously care about anything I have to say.
That is one prong of the eternal writer’s dilemma: is anybody out there listening?
The second prong is equally important: if somebody is listening, am I saying anything worth listening to?
The Internet has not made our society more profound, merely more prolific. Three times this week I have been invited to sign up for Facebook so I can be a “friend” to somebody who wants to fill me in on the day-to-day happenings of her life. One of those people was a total stranger. The other two are casual acquaintances, not people I already keep in touch with. Do they think I need or want an hour-by-hour update on what they are doing? Do they imagine that reading other people's journals is the way communication happens and relationships are formed?
As a society, we seem to be forgetting how to forge lasting friendships, yet desperate to be constantly connected with other people--as if by shouting into the void we can convince ourselves that we not only exist, but we matter. Why else do folks blog? Or fill up every vacant moment with text messages, cell phone calls, and the Internet? We are a society who is substituting chatter for content.
Which brings me back to the writer’s dilemma, and my own. I have finally realized why I have such a problem blogging. Blogging is supposed to fill you in what I am doing and what I am thinking, but I find both of those things too trivial to talk about. Do you really want to know about my grandchildren, as cute as they are? Do you need a report on my dad's recent gallbladder operation, or the fact that my latest haircut was less than a success?
We writers deal with Story, not minutiae of daily life. Robert McKee in his book Story says that facts are truth with a small “t,” but story is Truth with a capital “T.” The task of writers is to take the stuff of life and squeeze out the whey, reduce it to the essentials of universal truth. We spend our lives not shouting into the void, but listening to the void from which story comes. Otherwise we write books and articles that are “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
“But significance is relative,” says the voice of post-modernism. “One person’s triviality is another’s truth.”
Maybe so. But back in the late sixties a wise writer named Peter Berger anticipated where society was heading and wrote a book in which he asked a profound question: Given that all things are relative, which of them is true? The illustration he used, I believe, was that of a desert traveler, who must discern which among the mirages is the real oasis. Perhaps that is the task of everyone who seeks to navigate our current political, economic, and social world. It would certainly seem to be the task of anyone who claims to be a writer.
My latest book, Daughter of Deceit, which came out last month, deals with the issue of truth, and how the discovery of a web of lies in her own family changes the life of Bara Holcomb Weidenauer. I could tell you about it, but I’d far rather you bought the book--and let me know what you think about it.
At four a.m. in the stark light of my computer screen, I find myself facing the hard questions: Amid all the chatter on the Internet and the triviality of much of what passes for contemporary literature, do I have anything to say that is really worth reading? Amid all the words I have written, will any survive a hundred years because they speak Truth to subsequent generations?
Amid all the stuff in my fridge and pantry, is anything likely to put me back to sleep now that I’ve finished this blog?