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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Gift...

I will start with the biggest statement I can make. The greatest gift a writer can give to language is himself. His sincerity and his best effort. And the greatest gift language will give him back is all of us, at our best. Think of language as a great pond receiving rain from above, and we are the rain drops, each of us. In another way, the millions of words that make up our language are like a data stream of the collective unconscious, alphabetized and stuck in a dictionary. All the words we have come up with, saved over time, or changed come as close to putting a tangible place for the human soul as we can imagine it. Hate. Fear. Love. They're all rolled up in language like concrete mixed with dirt, mixed with flowers.

In writing, unlike in speaking, we have time to get it right. We cannot easily stand on a corner and tell our story. We miss thoughts, say the same ones too many times, sound strange, gushy, angry; we get weird, glance around, fuss with our hair. Message lost. Instead, we live in the best age to write. Computers are magical. We can nix sentences and move paragraphs around as if by a magic wand. I get pumped up by the chance to improve my words, because I know that with each pass of my eyes over my sentences, I’m getting closer to arcing my message across some great mystical transom and into the readers' heart. There can be no better spelled-out intimacy than writing to a reader and having your message keenly known inside. It's heart on heart.

Fiction in particular gives us a chance to right wrongs. Wouldn't it be great to tell a story about a horseshoe-shaped magnet flying low over our earth, drawing out through the chimneys of every house from Minneapolis to Madagascar the guns and knives poisoning our society? Would it be wonderful to invent a President with a scholar's mind and doctor's soul? Or a teacher who decides to give everyone A's because he has scientific proof that the shape of the letter A is hypnotic and will entrance any student receiving it to perform like an A student?

Bookstores and libraries are our treasure houses of language, yes, but they're also the writer's funhouse of mirrors: No image cast by another's book quite gets you right. Some come close, but close like an amusement park's mirror, maybe making you fat and wiggly, skinny and long, or hourglass-shaped and ghoulish. True books are like fingerprints. No two alike. So there's always room waiting for yours, mine, everybody’s.