Whenever I start writing my blog, the week it’s my turn, it starts out political. I justify this by considering it my hobby to save the world. But it tends to focus on the absurdities perpetrated in the name of stuff I believe in, given that the Bible tells us to pluck the fat slug out of your own eye before you claim 20/20 vision, or something like that.
But this tends to have all the practical effect of telling your kid, “Don’t put beans in your nose!” It falls on dead ears or stuffed noses.
Yet by Sunday I stop fulminating over the national pig manure. I flounder for some other subject worth the time it takes to write and to read. Which leads inevitably to the question, “So why write this?” Which leads on to “Why write?”
That’s one of those riddles like that posed to Oedipus by the Sphinx. His cleverness got him the kingship, a city’s plague, an Oedipus complex, and blindness. Unwise to be too clever when the Sphinx poses a gotcha.
But you can’t ignore the question. The usual answer re. any and all motives is, “To make money.” But while it’s made us a living from our dramatic writing, the novels make nickels for catfood and the blog not a cent. So there must be some other excuse. Other possibilities:
To save humanity. That takes many forms. Political impact? Hardly. Humanizing folks? Well, some may dig it, some may feel that my humor is a meat-ax. Those who prefer a whodunit or a screamer or a hot-panter or star wars have other options. We’ve had some plaudits but no hard evidence of spiritual uplift on a continental scale. At heart I guess I’m a satirist. Like a good dentist, I go at every cavity with vehement intent. But however much dentists fill a real need, they don’t feed the starving masses. Nor do words.
To gain immortality. A quick trip to the local library cures you of that. Thousnds of books on the shelves, hundreds in the 50-cent bin, millions being chugged out every year. We manage modest sales, a few dozen giveaways, and fifty-odd copies of each book in storage, awaiting our kids to puzzle out, at our demise, “What do we do with these?”
To escape Council Bluffs. In my adolescence I’d go to the library, read Saturday Review or The New Yorker, scan the shelves for anything that sounded Russian or weird, and fantasize that literature might be the bus ticket out of my two-bit Iowa town. I imagined critics in ravenous search for genius, elegant parties with deep conversations and free food, anything to lift me out of my little coop in the working-class end of Council Bluffs. I did get East and then farther East, and I found a profession—theatre—that took me beyond the cornfields, and sometimes even offered free food. But I’ve never quite—in my own head—escaped my Midwestern adolescence, and I fear I’ll never hop a psychological copter outta there.
To self-actualize. Maybe so. I don’t much admire my Essential Self, so it’s not what I want to empower. But it is self-exploration of another self whom I desire to grow into being. I guess I only write about stuff that’s part of my soul, for better or worse, and I’d like it to be for the better. It’s starting to be, and before I croak I hope it will.
And yet, all that said—
For whatever reason, I want to speak truth, and I want that truth-grapple to enter the collective human soul. I want to express the sweet beauty and hope in that climb up the beanstalk. I want to cry or exult or bitch or cavort with my characters—every one of whom are as precious to me as brother or sister. I don’t want to live in the fantasy worlds I project, yet I feel an inexplicable need to walk through them and smell the geraniums. My grandma had geraniums, and they’ve always been kind of a floral joke to me, but for her, I believe, they were her one spot of beauty. We must honor those spots of beauty.