Saturday, June 6, 2009

Why did God Invent Writers?

The reader knows that the author in his memoir, The Tender Bar, is in fact going to become, not an attorney, but a writer, so it makes the conversation he records with a priest on the Amtrak stand out as a turning point for him.
"Can I tell you something?" the priest asked. "Do you know why God invented writers? Because He loves a good story. And He doesn't give a damn about words. Words are the curtain we've hung between Him and our true selves. Try not to think about the words. Don't strain for the perfect sentence. There's no such thing. Writing is guess work. Every sentence is an educated guess, the reader's as much as yours. Think about that the next time you curl a piece of paper into your typewriter."
(p. 225 The Tender Bar by J.R. Moehringer 2006 Hyperion N.Y.)

Unfortunately the author also tells us a few pages later that "The inspiration I took from my talk with Father AMTRAK wore off as quickly as the scotch." ( ibid p. 226)

I am feeling something similar about reading this 416 page tome. While it's inspiring in style, and well crafted, I can't wait for this guy to get into rehab! I suppose that means the author, whose voice is quite likable, has engaged me and that there is enough insight in his narrative voice as he recounts difficult events and his frequently misplaced hope and admiration, for me to trust that he will do more than survive the bar, his doomed lusty first love and the self defeating behaviors he documents so well. He's got me concerned for him, but I'm not yet fully convinced the tale is worth recommending.

This is what being in a book group does....gets you to read books you may not have otherwise encountered and finish them before you pick up any of the others you have stacked up and ready to read.

But this little word from Father AMTRAK also caught my eye because for just a moment it made me miss my typewriter..."curl a piece of paper into a typewriter..." I can hear the ratchet sound as I roll the wheel. ~~~~~~~~~~~


Mark said...

Funny how a phrase like that can take you right back to a place that, not only has our current day left behind, but, many of a slightly younger generation will have no first-hand memory of. The "~~~~~~~~~~" is a good 'sound effect'.
But what the priest says about writing must perforce apply also to what he speaks... "try not to think about the words" and "he doesn't give a damn about the words". I must strongly disagree, while yet agreeing that words are guesswork, an approximation. But they do fact they make all the difference, because they exist in their own right and have inherent meaning, and if God loves a good story, that story is dependent on specific words. This is why story writing is an art. For me, words are not a curtain so much as a window, meant not to conceal, but to reveal, though they always represent a barrier to the raw reality they attempt to transmit, as is any and every medium devised to express the story of which we are a part.
Being in a bookgroup also means you get to grapple with the frustration of likely never being able to hammer out all these qualifiers and exceptions you might take with the author and the others in the group, but, because the words DO matter, some bit of an even better story may unfold as you pull back the curtains. Actually, words can also be like a curtain, making obscure the good story, fogging the view, thickening the plot...but if there aren't also words that penetrate the fog, the story will lose potency and I can't imagine God is that interested in a story lost in the fog or the scotch.

Jeannette said...

Thank you for your comment above. You explore issues in my post that I had barely begun to highlight. I like your understanding and images about words as windows and your enlarging of the words as curtain analogy. I agree with you that foggy stories are not of interest "on high." But I know you would also agree with me that people lost in the fog (as we all often are) and people lost in scotch (scotch comes in many forms) are of great interest to the "Most High."
Having read more of the book, it isn't one that I recommend. I was recently encouraged that others in the book group also have reservations about the whole process, from selection of books to focus as a group, so perhaps we will get into gear together yet.

Your "reading of me" is, as always, invaluable.