Friday, October 23, 2009

Nought but grief and pain for promised joy

Your first stop in the various branches of the library you frequented were the fiction shelves, therein to see if there were new titles in the various types of fiction you read.  Finding some or any, you would scoop them up before heading to the next step, which was the reference section, that comforting zone of shelves with sturdily bound volume after volume, often broken down by letters, A-B, or some similar recognition device.  

There was stored wisdom, information you could consult to find if not complete answers then at least enough information to provide a picture of a concept.  They were reference works of various disciplines, but they had in common the fact of some governing board, some collective assessment of rigorous standard.  Nothing, you believed, got into the Encyclopedia Britannica until The Committee examined it and passed on its accuracy.  Even reference works related to myth or folk lore gave some kind of attribution that spoke to the possible limits of the application of the information herein.  It was in such a circumstance that you learned that Homer may in fact not have been Homer or, more likely, that Homer was a generic name for a number of regional storytellers, not all of whom spoke the same language.  It was here you learned of regionalisms and transcriptions, of scribes and their penmanship and their local accents as opposed to Xerox machines and scanners and, of course, flatbed and rotary presses.

Now there is Google and, happily, other search engines that list sources which exist not in shelves but in servers, large electronic storage units that feed into The Internet.

You are of an age and, more appropriately, The Age in which information is as available as a pandemic.  With the right receptor tools, an iPhone, for instance, or a small laptop with a specific receptor card, you could from the depths of the Sahara or the remoteness of the Marquesas, access these sources of information, could, if you chose, become an electronic version of the autodidact, the man or woman who gained education from the library as opposed to the university.  You might even have the cynic's attitude that all the university did was teach you how to use the library and drink beer.

The point of this brief apercu of electronic and search-engine history is the reminder that you do not have to include in your fiction or your nonfiction the things easily found in search engines.  You do not have to educate your reader in that sense of mind stretching.  You have to educate the reader in terms of things the reader could not readily find on The Internet.  Your job is to make the reader curious then concerned, then briefly satisfied or disturbed to the point where the reader, having finished with you, will go onto investigate on his or her own, using inner resources and experiences as opposed to Internet or Google or library experiences.

Don't tell the reader what the reader already knows or can readily find out from Google.  Lead the reader instead to the discovery of how the human condition works, how to survive, how to appreciate and enjoy, how to accommodate to the droughts and floods and famine of the external world with the droughts and floods and famine of the internal world.

You have often observed how difficult it is to successfully portray and depict sarcasm, which you still consider to be a prime observation.  You are now growing prepared to take on the task of trying to demonstrate how compelling a study is the study of grief, the major experience confronted on some regular basis by the entire human condition.  The individual who has not lost through carelessness, stupidity, random chance, or the mere fact of having survived yet another day is not yet a person who has undergone the major rite of passage of the human race.  We lose loved ones, skin cells, teeth, friends, acuteness of hearing, acuteness of vision; we lose that most precious facility--memory.  We lose body mass or at least muscle tone.  We lose mementos and resolve and sleep and purpose.  We lose our way, we may even lose ourself.  How is it ever possible to endure under such weighty losses?  It is up to the writer, the artist, the musician, the dancer, the sculptor, the actor to show us how.

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