We Owe Those Who Came before Us

Posted: June 2, 2013 in World On The Edge

Getting up before dawn has become usual for me, a time when the house is still and the light unfolds in ever-brightening increments. One can contemplate the possibilities in a day that has never before been lived; and for the writer, a story that has never been written.  I don’t miss the sleep. Over the last ten years, my routine has allowed the completion of four novels, a novella, and many short stories; but I’d like to perfect them, and I’d like to write more. This will take study of those writers who have gone before, their stories, themes, and craft– and then, more contemplation!

T.S. Eliot says in Sacred Wood, a collection of essays on poetry and criticisms, “No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists. You cannot value him alone; you must set him, for contrast and comparison, among the dead.” Later, in his essay, Eliot admits that someone called him on that. “Someone,” says Eliot,”proffered that the dead writers are remote from us because we know so much more than they did.”

“Precisely,” Eliot returned. “And they are that which we know.”

Furthering my own writing means further study of writers I value: Flannery O’Connor, who called herself a “hillbilly Thomist,” and who read Aquinas for twenty minutes every night before going to bed.  William Gay, a self-taught novelist from rural Tennessee who emerged from obscurity in his late 50s with critically praised books in the Southern Gothic style. And I do love “Mariette in Ecstasy” by Ron Hansen, winner of both The National Book Award and the Pen/Faulkner Award, who admits he considers himself, “in a minor way, an evangelist.”

Even my insignificant writing does not have its “complete meaning alone.” Everyone who raised me was a story-teller, from my grandfather who went to school in turns with his brother because their father had died and their mother couldn’t run a farm alone; to my grandmother who raised and sold some type of strange, red hen during the Great Depression to keep food on the table and a little money in her pocket, to my father who survived being shot through the heart in the Pacific arena of World War II, and to my mother, who on her last days in the hospital, looked out of the window and said, “It’s a beautiful world, but there sure is a lot of meanness in it.”  My writing wouldn’t exist if not for them.

One of my novels begins, “Youth worries little about memory, but age herds into the heart all that has gone before, expecting contemplation, even mending.”  Ultimately, what writing means to me is in that first sentence of my novel.  Writing is an opportunity to look into the human hearts of our past and present world, and in doing so, look into my own.  I’d like my writing to affect even a few people, but at this time in my life, I have no illusion that I can  change the world. I leave that to God.

But hey, maybe He could use me a little to do something good? Cool

Do you feel as if you’re called to something good?

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