Impressions of Expression: An Essay on Writing

We like to divide the world into pieces.  This half can sing, while that half cannot.  One portion can dance, while another portion (in which I include myself) cannot.  I’m not sure what this accomplishes, but I know that it’s worth saying that while a certain slice of the pie can express themselves, many are mute.  I am not one of the mute ones.  Though I’m not eloquent in speech, though I am unable to play an instrument and though I can’t sing very well, I can write, and I can write to make men weep.

Well, maybe that’s overstating things.  But I’m a better writer than I usually give myself credit for (I will say, in a rare moment of false arrogance), and it’s a gift that I used to take lightly.  However, since I’ve come to the realization that a large portion of the world is mute, I’ve decided that the literacy and voice I wield should be used with purpose and not simply to mutter meandering tales that only I would enjoy.  That’s not to say that I must cater to the whims of the reading public; no, I mean that I must write to be read, because art is meant to be enjoyed.  And before my words are misinterpreted and I am shot for my foolishness, what I mean by “art should be enjoyed” is not that art should cause bright and happy feelings.  I mean, rather, that art should evoke emotion and not be bland, banal, and boring.  Enjoyment is broader than you realize—you might not exit the tragic theater feeling uplifted, but you will have had your emotions wrenched, and you will have been reminded that you are alive, just as a roller coaster will terrify and invigorate you.

If my writing does not play with your emotions, my art is dead.  And since I end each day of writing praying that my writing will glorify God, I strive to ensure that my art will be enjoyed, both by God and by others.  And here I’m not saying that I hope to engage in an overstated vaudeville to make you laugh or a soap opera to make you cry.  Emotions, contrary to popular belief, are not baser than the things of the mind.  The two engage to make perfect art.  Someone once accused me, when I was in despair, of trusting my emotions and not my thoughts, as if my thoughts were right and good and my emotions were untrustworthy and evil.  I am here to tell you that emotion and thought are functions of the same body, no more separable than the brain and the heart, and no one more or less corrupt than the other.  They are both corrupt.  They are both sanctified.

My writing will engage your heart and your mind.  It might not make you weep, and it might not give you epiphanies, but if it does not make you feel and think, I will have failed as a writer.  Are you steadfast, stalwart, and strong?  I will make you afraid.  Are you terrified?  I will calm your fears.  I come bearing paradoxes, the truths that even the ugly can be beautiful, that God can be three and one, that light can be a particle and a wave.  And I swear on my honor that I will always tell the truth—it might not be the whole truth, because some things need to remain hidden, but it will be the truth.

And I say the truth because truth is immutable and each truth is the only truth in the universe.  Truth is not agreed upon or settled into.  God truly exists and I truly existed from the moment I began.  I don’t have a monopoly on truth, but if you don’t believe what is real, then you are sorely mistaken.  I will tell the truth; it won’t be what is true for me—it will simply be the truth.

What is the truth?  Here is one:  The world is full of stories.  Some are lies and some are not, and some appear to be lies but are in fact truths, and vice versa.  Even novels can tell the truth, and even biographies can lie.  I’m interested in telling the true stories, those which have some bearing on reality and are not simply pointless adventures in wonderlands far from home, though I have enjoyed those stories too.  You might not think you have a story (I never did), but you have one all the same.  Maybe someday you’ll tell it to me.  If you are mute, you can recount it to me in your equivalent of sign language, be it stumbling words or crudely scribbled text, and I will distill the beauty from it.  I will not make your story a falsehood by making it beautiful.  Every story is beautiful, because God makes good things out of even the darkest stories.  After all, even in his own story the main character died.  It was beautiful because he didn’t stay dead, and more so because he brought himself back to life, not dependent on necromancers or mediums or even some power he had left behind to draw himself back into life on the third day.  The drowning man became his own life raft—beaten beyond recognition and crucified so thoroughly that his strength was gone, he still rolled back the stone.  I love twist endings.

Now, some stories are fairly straightforward, and some have many twists, but even the “boring” stories are actually quite thrilling, once you realize that there’s a plot and a purpose.  Even a “day in the life” vignette reveals some theme of death and damnation or grace and redemption, or maybe both.  The themes are there, the framework holding up all the special effects and window dressing (the thrill, the violence and sex, the waking up and lying down and birth and death and fear and hope and even the teeth brushing and menial tasks that make up the average day.)  I learned to sense the value in stories during class, and on my free time I learned to draw out value in the stories I tell.  I’m still learning now, even as I write this piece.  It might not be a story per se, but if it tells who I am as a writer, then it tells a story of sorts.  This ink-on-a-page describes who I want to be when I grow up.  Isn’t that a story any child could tell?  When I grow up, I intend to write, and to write well.

Greg Kull ended a prose-poem on writing with the line “Someday I will be a writer,” an ironic statement that I’ve adopted as my motto when I wear my writing hat.  Is promising myself in writing that I will someday be a writer modesty?  Mere irony?  Or is it modesty of a falser variety?  After all, what defines a writer?  The word denotes one who writes, but we wouldn’t call the high school dreamer a writer.  So is a writer one who makes a living off of writing?  I refuse to believe that, because some great writers never made a living off their work, and some people who make a living off of writing are not writers.  I suppose a writer is one who writes with great skill, but that makes the term so slippery that it’s unusable.  What defines greatness?  But terms like “art” are equally slippery and yet they function, and after all, are all artists required to have skill in what they create?  I’d like to think so, popular music (and most Christian “art”) notwithstanding.

On the other hand, I’ve been told (and I like to think) that I already do write with great skill.  I’ve already said as much in this bit of writing that you now hold in your hands (or on your computer screen, or what you will.)  My sentences tend to be too long, and I tend to overuse the parenthetical statement, the dash, and the ellipsis … but what of that?  I can write!  So I ask again, is it false or misplaced modesty to say “someday I will be a writer”?  Yes, as long as I can escape using words like “insofar,” “aforementioned,” and “notwithstanding” and simply be honest with my writing and, well, write!  There’s a difference between being pretentious and being aware that I’m good at what I do.  And perhaps it’s an inverted kind of pride to deny my own skill and be who I’m not.

I am a writer.  I write because I want to, and I’m not afraid to let people read it.  That alone doesn’t differentiate me from the millions of bloggers (and many published authors) in this world, but then there’s the question of skill … and I write well.  So I will write, and I won’t let anyone stop me.  Not even I can stop me.

And someday, someday I may finish something I write—my magnum opus, maybe—and then I will put down my figurative pen, and content with a job well done, write something else.  And I will enjoy every moment of it, because I am a writer, and that’s what writers do.

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About Joel Wilcox

I'm a writer, photographer, visual artist, and world traveler who is also currently an academic slave (read: Graduate student). I put the (de) in the fine lines.
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