June 22, 2010

Music of the Heart

Of the people I met on my book tour all but two identified themselves as writers.  That degree of interest in the craft would warm the heart of any one-time English teacher. But what was the source of this calling? Some began their practice when they were young; others gave no thought to expression until an event changed their lives. My guess is that young or old there is a river running through our species that compels us to communicate. The first palm print on the first prehistoric cave is evidence of this truth.

Sometimes the longing can be fierce, like that of the woman in Christmas Valley, who said she had something to say and intended to say it whether she garnered an audience or not. I admired her spirit but thought she was fooling herself a little. Every writer wants an audience. We send out our words like sonic bursts in search of a target. “Are you there?  Are you listening? 

The message doesn’t have to be pleasing. Great literature can shock us. But the message has to be true even if extraordinary. It should open eyes, touch hearts, lay bare what is human. Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystic succeeded because she awakened in millions of women their desire for a destiny wider than society provided. Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight trilogy feeds a hunger for romantic love, a longing the sexual revolution might have devalued. Opposing messages; both are true.  

The human spirit is complex and because of it, literature tolerates multiple worlds, real or imagined. What’s required of the writer is that he does more than tell a story or vomit personal feelings. A writer mines the psyche to find the universal. A river runs through all of us. But as a writer matures, the music of the river changes. The quest for the universal teaches that what matters is not the singer but the song.