Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Good Morning Jack...

Letter to my Son
Wednesday, 9 October


Happy Birthday Jack!

Sixteen is a milestone.  Enjoy the moment.  Make sure someone captures you in a photo.  At some point during this day sit down and make a journal entry.  Hold onto it like it is a time capsule.  It will make for an interesting reference point.  Buckle up.  Your life only speeds up from here.

It has been too many years since we last talked.  You were very young.  Now your life is mostly mystery to me.  But I still know you, in the intuitive way any Dad feels he knows his kids.  So let me say this - you were meant to express your thoughts in writing.  I don’t say this because I necessarily believe you’re destined to be an author of books.  That may well come to pass but it isn’t necessary.  As I well remember, you have wonderful ideas and you show a talent for expressing your thoughts with potent words and clear phrase.

The process of living is what occupies the writer with something particularly worthy to say.  One’s own personal experience is center-most to understanding the lives of those around you.  You can’t run from the joys and pains of love, for starts.  Reward yourself by experiencing all the human feelings granted to us in life.  It gives us our needed point of view.  There’s always conflict involved in finding one’s own perspective.  Examine all that it is you feel.  Carefully note your own difficulties and involuntary thoughts when lost in emotions of love, anger, loss, irritation, triumph.  You name it.  You’ll have plenty of opportunity to give all of it expression.  If you’re parched in the desert you can douse your thirst the first chance you get or you can first fumble with the canteen cap.  This detail of impatience better tells the reader what he needs to know.  If you depict experience with honesty you enable them to be in your place or that of your character.  They don’t want to read about a dead body being discovered.  They want to experience stumbling across the body themselves.  Often, while reading compelling prose, I find myself thinking, “God, I know how you feel.  Now what do you do?  Really!”  Either I relate to what happens next or I’m surprised, but hopefully not disbelieving.  You don’t want to remind me you’re concocting a story.

Sounds like fiction writing, doesn't it?  It doesn't have to be.  So long as you’re not authoring a legal contract you can let your reader know there is a human being behind these words, no matter the topic.  If you thoroughly understand your subject you can even weave the principles of chemistry into a compelling narrative.  That sounds like a stretch but the activities of people always has the potential for an interesting story.  So why aren't textbooks more fascinating?  This is a special case.  Textbooks aren't about being popular.  Their success requires not offending the greatest number of people in order to meet the approval of school boards from Kansas to Texas to California.  If you write something of interest it is bound to offend someone.  You might say the same thing about truth.  Truth will set you free or really set you off.  Schools have enough challenge teaching kids without having to deal with a raucous gathering of inflamed parents.  School book truth is safe truth or it doesn't see the light of day, if at all possible.  It takes real talent to be equally dull to everyone.

I considered taking up writing but it required something I spent too many years running from – life itself.  What is it one can write that is of interest to anyone while playing it safe?  OK, I’m sure there are a few stories that are both clever and innocuous but let’s say I’m interested in reaching an audience that’s lived a few years.  How do I hold the interest of people faced with the challenges of their own complicated lives?  I’d better know something of what I’m talking about.  Even a story wrapped in fantasy requires authenticity in the characters portrayed.  I can’t depict believable reactions involved in human conflict if I've carefully avoided stressful situations in my own life.  Living life fully is one that involves taking risks; and risk necessarily involves familiarity with failure and disappointment as well as celebrating the occasional reward.  We take on a full plate of experiences knowing that we’re going to have to consume it all as best we can.  If I’m at all finicky about this then I give up on writing and settle for witnessing the interesting lives others lead on TV.

So now you've turned sixteen.  The truly engrossing aspects of being human are just now being made available to you.  Keep yourself open to possibility.  Have fun.  Be brave… and have pen and paper at the ready.  Happy Birthday!


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