One can learn much from one's avatar. In my case, Lisa Simpson. In last night's episode, Lisa discovered the 19th-century diary of her ancestor Eliza Simpson. That diary was Eliza's vehicle: In it she wrote all the things that she could not say aloud in a day when "women should be seen and not heard." In Eliza's case, that meant she was writing about the runaway slave, Virgil, who Eliza and her mother Mabel helped to escape to Canada... Mabel eventually married him, of course, making Lisa 1/64th black. She was proud.
Eliza's diary provided critical historic information in a turbulent time in American history. That's one reason to write.
Last week, I read an article by Mark Edmundson, titled "Narcissus Reads a Book" in The Chronicle of Higher Education. The article bemoaned the loss of the reader who reads for entertainment, rather than edification and edu-ma-cation. Blasphemy! Edmundson wrote, "Common readers—which is to say the great majority of people who continue to read—read for one purpose and one purpose only. They read for pleasure. They read to be entertained. They read to be diverted, assuaged, comforted, and tickled." Oh, you naughty readers, you.
Entertainment! That's another reason to write.
By inference, this means that most writers today are writing to entertain, not to edify. Commoners! The special ones (like me) who write the academic books... well, we reap our own reward. Our benefits come in the form of annual checks from University Press, totaling appx. $28.42 a year. So smug. So poor.
Which brings me back to Fox. Let's talk about Seinfeld, the long-running television show whose tag line read, "The Show About Nothing." What's it about? Nothing. And I love it.
And that's another reason to write. It's fun.
Sitting down before a blank screen can be daunting. Some mornings, you have wonderful ideas. Big thoughts. Poignant experiences to share. Other mornings, you don't feel like you have anything to say, and the blank page becomes a Rubix Cube, a New York Times crossword, an episode of Iron Chef. "Here, you have one sea urchin, a little saffron, three spears of asparagus, a small turnip, and a garlic scape. Now go make a feast. In front of a live studio audience."
The Stone Soup is what makes writing so fun. Something out of nothing, and a great way to crank up the brain's engine and get it puttering off to its first quotidian destination.
Good morning, brain!