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Thoreau, and Coolio

A friend of mine who blogs under the name Lydia E Winters recently posed a question: Which do you really like, being a writer or actually writing? I’ve talked about this here before, tongue in cheek. It’s nice, being a writer, that and two bucks will get you a cup of coffee. And doing the work of writing, a lot of the time, is kind of like digging a ditch. But my real answer to Lydia’s question is, none of the above.

Henry David Thoreau is justifiably famous, but not for ‘On Walden Pond,’ regardless of what your English teacher might have told you. This ode to one man’s occupation of another man’s cabin is tedious, boring, and no one reads it now unless they’re forced, or enjoy self-flagellation. Really, Thoreau is remembered for his sound-bites. ‘Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.’ And, ‘Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed, and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions…’ With those few lines, Thoreau achieved immortality and left us all a mark to shoot at.

Coolio, in ‘Gangsta’s Paradise,’ came close. Why? Because he had the balls, the soul and the artistic talent to record the unvarnished truth about the way too many young black men die in American cities, sparing us the hype and the bull in the process. He will be remembered long after Boyz 2 Men and all that other sappy mess has been consigned to the remainder bins.

Emily Dickinson wrote a lot of stuff, but she also wrote: ‘Because I could not stop for Death, he kindly stopped for me…’ God, I got chills rereading it just now. She may be gone but that one luminous bit will live forever.

Abraham Lincoln, a man as fully human, as flawed as any of us, wrote The Gettysburg Address. If you can read it now and not be affected, you are a cretin, sir, you are a toad, you have a paving stone for a heart. It is a gem, it is perfect, it cannot be improved in any way.

Other examples abound, and if you are a reader, I’m sure you have your own favorite passages. So how is this relevant to Ms. Winters’ question? I think each of us, in our secret heart, each writer, each painter, sculptor, musician, singer, actor, woodcarver and baseball player, each of us is after that same thing, we’re after that one incandescent moment, that one flawless image, that one transcendent page.

That’s why I’m still digging ditches.





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