Words are clunky things, and stringing them together in a seamless stretch is far more difficult than one can imagine. Our thoughts are free; unregulated in time and space and thus they need no form or fashion to make absolute sense within our minds. But to pluck them from the mental ether and pin them to paper almost always removes their luster and vibrancy, reducing them to dusty moths and frail ribbons at the county fair.
This is why writing is so difficult- no writer is satisfied with their work, in that their work can never be satisfactory. We can cover the corpses with make-up, pose them and pretend that they breathe, but they do not. We have the breath of God within us, it would seem, but something is lost when we breathe out.
Our only hope, then, is that the words that fumble from our minds retain their shape enough to be revived by the reader- thus the dusty moths become freeze-dried, waiting for the day when a reader’s experience relights them with a fire never known by the author. Thus a new thought is formed in the reader’s mind, as alive and quick as the words used to be. Words are forever dead, but in their death they can create new life- this is the power of writing. And then the cycle continues.
It is in our connectivity that the magic happens- an unread story means nothing; an story read lazily with leaden eyes might just mean less. There is nothing in halfway- no glory, no memory, no satisfaction.
Stories are merely exercises in exploring the distance between two points, those invisible expanses that define everything and anything in this universe. Take a boy and his dog- the story is not in the boy, nor in the dog, but in how they interact, grow, and learn together. Can you capture that relationship in a bottle and clearly define it? Not without the boy or the dog, but the boy and the dog are ancillary to the subject. So how does one carve from the ether an invisible statute that is clearly there but impossible to see?
There is yet another problem. The best writers cannot merely say what they see, because then stories would be but one sentence long. If I were to say, “The boy loved the dog,” that may be technically correct but the heart of it is gone, and therefore does not do justice to the tale. That love had a birth, perhaps a death, and a great many things in between. It is a hallmark of becoming an adult that one realizes that not all love is the same.
However, if I were to relate how the boy placed food out for the dog every night, and occasionally snuck him into bed to sleep beneath the threadbare sheets when the wind howled- because the dog feared it so- then a picture emerges. Even then, though, this picture only points at a possible love. It is a reaction or reflection of the love itself, because the love can never be seen. A writer must attempt to define the relationship through these interactions, because that is all the writer has.
And then- one day, if the writer is lucky- a reader stumbles across the story and remembers a childhood pet they had and the story disappears for the briefest of moments and becomes transubstantiated in the reader’s mind. The emotions well and for a second the reader is twenty years in the past, playing fetch with a long-lost friend. The weights of daily life are lifted- worries such as the mortgage, money and all the riff-raff that accompanies human breath evaporate, and the reader finds joy. That is where words find their glory- not on the paper, but in the minds of a reader. What writers create- the best writers, at least- is the opportunity for the reader to create something themselves.
We are not the flame, but the tinder.