Sunday, September 8, 2013

Immortality, Story—and Those Who Write Them

Here’s a possibility. Write as if you know that death is inevitable. But live as though you can defy it. Why the melodrama? Because of Dustin Hoffman’s amazing treatment of art, aging (and ageism), time, love, and immortality in the movie “Quartet.” If these subjects have ever crossed your mind, you might want to see this movie. Like the laughter it prompts, “Quartet” is a powerful inoculation against the virus of despair.

The movie insists that you’re as young as you feel inside, that it’s never too late, that if you have your wits about you (even some of them), you ought to continue raising a bit of hell.  And if you’re a writer? Write hanging tight to the hope that your words will let you—and whatever you love—live forever.

Madisonian Bob (Buzz) Humke recently published “The Logging Road Gang.” The novel he worked on for many years not only pays tribute to the town where he grew up and the parents who raised him; his novel lets that era, the changes that era brought, and the people who engineered them—survive for everyone who reads his book or even hears about it. That’s what novels do. That’s the power they have.

Of course we write them partly for that reason. Is it too lofty to call art not only the enemy of time, but of death itself? John Donne’s sonnet warns, “Death be not proud”; you’re less “mighty and dreadfull” (sic) than you think. Donne bases this on faith that after death we “wake eternally.” But this inspiration doesn’t reach us through salvation; it comes from the enduring power of his sonnet.

You can’t know the fate of their writing, and not knowing, you can generate lots of negativity. Some of us mastered the “art” of worrying and complicating years ago but enjoy staying in practice. This “art” can quickly become a self-destructive habit. Maybe you won’t be good enough. Maybe your tank is getting low. Maybe so and so is better, or so and so already said it. Or who cares if anyone says it.

What if you never publish. Does it matter? Not necessarily. Friends and family (not to mention Facebook) let your words live on.

“Creating is the closest thing to being immortal,” said African philosopher Mokokoma Mokhonoana. If you have something to say, that’s a gift. If you have the style and energy to get it out there, why waste that gift? Maybe your words will survive you.

William Shakespeare insisted that his love’s “beauty shall in these black lines be seen/
And they shall live, and he in them still green.” Forever young. The sonnet, too.

Tip: What are you waiting for? Stop reading this. Go write something.

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