Once upon a time, something mentioned in one of my Comparative Literature classes quite possibly changed my life. This is not an entirely unusual event, but this particular instance has had a profound impact on the way I conceive of the relationship between writing and life.
"Things get created by writing them down. For all intents and purposes, things only exist as they are articulated, or written. We write to create and to secure eternity for our lives."
Thank you Professor Peer, life-changer extraordinaire. To be honest, this idea really sent my brain reeling initially because I realized, with horror, how little of my life and thoughts are actually documented somewhere. Since coming to college, my journaling skills have gone into sharp decline. (Eight-year-old Richelle would be so disappointed.) I needn't draw attention to the fact that this blog is little more than a series of weak, sporadic attempts to project myself into the virtual stratosphere. What does this all mean? That I may as well not exist? Will my life become fleeting and forgotten as a result of my carelessness?
Heavenly Father has his own take on this issue. In 3 Nephi 23, the Savior tells Nephi to bring Him the record he had kept of Samuel's prophecy and its fulfillment. Apparently, the record of this event was sparse, or perhaps missing altogether. At this point, Christ asks the disciples:
"How be it that ye have not written this thing?"
What of the day when He asks me to account for my own life and times? I will shyly approach Him with a stack of books and haphazard papers, maybe a thumb-drive of computer files for good measure. Flipping the pages, I will realize everything that's missing: the rock collection I used to keep in a pink plastic bin, comprised of little treasures Dad would bring home from work each day; the countless hours spent exploring and catching frogs in the woods behind my childhood home in Michigan; the little corner of the beach on Otsego Lake where I used to write my name in the sand, only to see it fade and wash away with the tide; the first time I read Whitman's "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd" and realized that poetry would have a ceaseless grip on my heartstrings; my first kiss—a warm soul exchange on a crisp autumn night.
Yet. "How be it that ye have not written these things?"
I have asked myself this question, actually. And I think I discovered a piece of the answer in my French class this morning. In the 19th century, French writer Flaubert criticized the modern decline of meaningful communication. He felt that conversation has been reduced to an exchange of clichés that gives an illusion of communication or meaning without actually exploring the depths of real human thought or interaction. Quite frankly, I couldn't agree more. Look no further than the trite musings of a Hallmark card, the vapid professions of love (/lust?) made in pop song lyrics, or the hollow "dialogue" (I'm being generous here) that characterizes contemporary television programs and movies. No one even really knows what they are saying to each other anymore because they haven't thought about it for more than a nanosecond.
My problem? I think about it too much. Perhaps my fear of falling into a cliché paralyzes my own expression. Brother Fenn calls this "the paralysis of analysis." Ahem. Yes. That is my predicament. Guilty as charged. I have spent a lot of my life believing that complexity is characteristic of the divine. But is there something to be said for simplicity as well? Then again, it was an overhaul of simplicity that led to the banality of modern expression. So, how do we fix this? Well. There are no clear answers. I think, as always, the beauty lies in the balance.
As the overly analytic side of me rears its ugly head, you are probably asking: Why does this matter?
Allow me a literary example. In Eric Fottorino's novel Baisers de cinéma, the main character is on a self-journey to make sense of his life by way of understanding the past: his roots, his heritage, his origins. Part of the problem is that he doesn't know who his mother is and his father has recently passed away, leaving Gilles with a host of unaswered questions. At one point, he reflects on his father's habit of storytelling. Gilles refers to it as "telling lies." He explains that this "art suprême" is "une manière de respirer, d'exister encore un peu, de se sauver."
Telling stories is a way to breathe, to exist again (a little), to save yourself.
Maybe all I'm really doing when I write is telling stories. Lies, even. Yet somewhere in those stories—or in the process of writing them down—you and I will find salvation.