In this age of technology during this reign of science, artists--for me, more specifically, writers--are the true heroes of our time.
The reason being, a storyteller is the keeper of the flame of a culture, the moral compass for a community, the one who sacrifices their own safety in anonymity by putting themselves out there. Stare at your smartphone all you want and relish in its computing capability but it will tell you absolutely nothing about yourself or what your life means. Writers look for the meaning of things and we look to them to tell us about ourselves.
Writers create characters that resonate with us for decades and sometimes for centuries. Hamlet, Maggie "The Cat," David Copperfield, Gatsby, and Jane Eyre are just a handful and all of them are the product of a writer's imagination.
Writing is and always will be a vocation. Writers are born and spend their formative years learning the craft with an apprenticeship at the canvas of experience. Science is all about trial and error and never examines what things mean where writers do the opposite - they strive to answer that question by telling the story of a character. They leave it up to us to make sense out of it. And writers dedicate themselves to the complexity of language the one thing that separates us from everything else.
In my new novel, The Writers Afterlife [Three Rooms Press, $16.95], Tom Chillo is a dedicated artist. He writes scripts for movie and TV just so that it can afford him the time to write what he truly wants to write, which are novels and plays where the author owns the work both legally (as in the copyright law) and artistically. However, in my novel Tom dies suddenly at the age of 44 consequently the same age Shakespeare started writing his own great dramas.
Right after his death Tom finds himself in the Writers Afterlife where he must reside in the Valley of the Those on the Verge. It is a sort of limbo where writers wait for all eternity, if it takes that long, for their work to be recognized so that they might dwell on the hill with the Eternals who include Shakespeare, Ibsen, Tolstoy, Jane Austin and the other greats. Who else would spend a lifetime hoping to be recognized? Some inventors, some explorers but in general writers do.
I like writing about artists . I've written about Caravaggio, Machiavelli the playwright and in my contemporary work most of my heroes are writers Why? Because writing is what I do, it's what I have done for all of my adult life. I write movies, plays, teleplays, television shows, poems and novels and in the end, just like Tom, it's all the same. And in the end most writers are the same no matter who they are -- men, women, young and old. Every writer has to approach the blank space in front of them or the blank piece of paper the same way. A writer needs to overcome his own own insecurities and fill the page.
The hard part is always the beginning, the middle and the end. Writers have to wake up, look around, at the world, their friends and themselves and find stories. They then have to figure if those stories are worth telling and then how to tell those they believe are worth telling. And that is only half the battle. After the writing is completed, then they have to wait and see if anyone outside of themselves cares and finds value in what they have spent sometimes years creating.
And writing never ends, meaning writers are always writing even when they are not doing it physically. Their entire being is directed toward working out in their minds and in their hearts the story they want to tell.
In the end, yes, we do know some statesmen, scientist and money makers of the past but when you really dig deep in the annals of human existence, it's the poets who we know. The writers who told us about the people they were and who their people were. We read them to know about ourselves. That is why they are as relevant as if they wrote today. Smart phones may be new but human nature probably hasn't changed one iota.
The wonderful writer William Manchester once wrote that heroism is not based on a single moment when a soldier throws himself on a grenade to save his comrades, but acting heroically is the dedication to a purpose through a lifetime. That is my perfect definition of a writer; someone who dedicates his or her life to searching for the meaning of that life and the lives of others through the marvelous and mysterious gift of storytelling.