Oh, that I might touch you,
And share with you
The images of my consciousness.
Instead, I grope for words.
Writers are often asked why they write, and whether writing matters. Such simple questions belie often difficult answers, ones so deeply hidden that for as long as pens have known paper, early graves have been dug for writers who’ve suffered their bodies to ill health searching desperately to find them.
But we should be especially curious, in this the Age of Image, why writers nonetheless go on writing, why they still spend so much of their spare time conceiving ideas, nourishing them and helping them grow, and laboring to deliver them as words that few others will ever see when put to paper or screen.
Words, even the most beautifully arranged words, words that can liberate, possess, bewilder and intoxicate, are struggling in our time to compete against the ubiquity of new media. Thoughtful writing has been reduced to drops of ink in an ocean of mindless information and imagery, an ocean that every day grows wider, and more shallow. And for that, we all suffer.
For who could not admit that a few sweet words can sometimes serve as well as music or drink to calm the soul and ease the troubles of the mind? For who has not picked up a pen at one time to set to paper an experience, an idea, a thought? For who, having done so, has not wanted to share?
Writers are artists of words, and art lets us remember, lest we forget, how magnificent we humans can be. Which is why writing matters. If at last all thoughtful writing were to finally drown in our electronic ocean, we would all be left less magnificent.
But why do writers write? Why especially today do they persist in swimming against the tide of our vast informational effluent?
Perhaps writing today is more a form of rebellion, or of protest, a writer’s manner of throwing popcorn at the screen.
Perhaps writers are modern day Noah’s, coaxing words two by two and line by line onto paper arks to be kept safe in our libraries, and away from the rising electronic flood that threatens to drown all original thought.
Perhaps writers want nothing more than to sensitize the desensitized, to fling thoughts on the unthinking, populations large and still growing. The writer in their discontent hopes to shine the light of words on the darkness of fear and ignorance, a darkness all too often deepened by words those in power have perverted.
Or, most disconcertingly, perhaps writing has come to be little more than a dwindling and desperate effort to continue an art form destined to soon go the way of the cave painting. Unlikely though it may seem, we should all hope such is not the fate of written words.