I think the major responsibility of authentic writers is to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Of course, it’s just their truth, but nonetheless, one must tell the truth without fear of judgment, rejection, or reprisal. Writers don’t write afternoon tea-cakes of politeness and political correctness; they write rowdy rum cakes soaked with truth. This is why writing is so hard. It requires a courage and fearlessness to be truthful that’s too much for many people. Writing holds the same secret as baseball. In the movie A League of Their Own, Tom Hanks explained the secret of baseball to Geena Davis, “Baseball is supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everybody would do it. The hardness makes it great.”
Writing challenges us to question everything. Writing demands that we not settle into complacency. Writers are spiritual warriors, in that they are willing to confront their demons, and also find their ecstasies. One of our great American poets, Allen Ginsberg, wrote, “The censorship of language is the censorship of consciousness.” Writers can’t afford to censor their words, because they would be censoring their consciousness — which would be artistic and spiritual suicide.
Writers can’t be afraid of what they hear inside themselves; they can’t be afraid of saying anything. Of course, the line between personal freedom and respect for others (social responsibility) must be walked carefully. I am not talking about adolescent freedom, which is a kind of instant self-gratification, but expressive, artistic, and spiritual freedom. We, as writers and as human beings, must tell the truth — we must find out what that sounds like, what that feels like, what that tastes like. We must develop a language of truth, a syntax that challenges corruption, and one with a compelling tone of clarity and clear mindedness. I hate fuzzy thinking.
Truth is tricky business, isn’t it? Most people have their hand on some book of truth, or have their tongue wrapped around a “this is how it is” lollipop. I’m not talking about truth as a noun, but as a verb. The difference is vast. It is the difference between “ultimate truth” and “whoa, would you look at that! Ammaaaazzzziiiiinnnnng.” Truth is the nonstop exploration and excavation and excitement of existence.
I like this notion of truth never-ending, like the universe itself, continuously expanding from we don’t know where to we don’t have a clue. Truth is thus a relationship to life that involves openness, curiosity, courage, and a willingness to hold found truths lightly, always ready to let them go for the sake of newer, fresher, and more vital truths. In this regard, we must always avoid the fixed point of view. Life is dynamic, and truth is a verb. For those of you who think in terms of the “ego,” we can say the ego is just a fixed point of view. Any fixed point of view. Especially the “I’ve experienced ultimate truth” point of view.
“Ultimate” is a category the mind creates, to give our ego-fixed-point-of-view what it most wants: unimpeachable certitude to ward off the heebie-jeebies of existential angst which comes from sensing that oh my God, this whole thing is just tooooo big for anyone to get. Something in me, and I think it is God, starts shouting and throwing plates against the wall when I hear people treat truth as a noun, as a cosmic goal line one can cross and get the big score and win the game. I want to throw them from airplanes and see what they say on the way down.
I admire any writers who are fearless and tell the truth. I admire the writers who are unafraid to break with tradition and the social conventions of their day. I lived for a time in Paris, where I hung out in cafes reading the French symbolist poets like Baudelaire and Rimbaud, because they used language that was unique and startling, and they made me think of new things. They, like other fearless writers, invite the reader into new and wondrous worlds of possibilities. They constantly ask the reader to grow beyond what they already know, and dare to imagine great new things. I loved Kurt Vonnegut because his mind was just so ironic and original. I also liked to read the mystics from around the world. I loved the Sufi poet Rumi and others whose whole purpose in writing, or singing, was to discover and express more and more truth and shake the fixed-point-of-view people awake.
That’s why he said, “However you think it is, it’s different than that.”
Here it is: to be a successful writer, to be a real human being, you’ve got to tell the truth. That’s a wild ride. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. Just life and ain’t it a beauty. And if none of this makes sense, okay, just ignore everything and head on out to the center of some as-yet-un-named and un-tamed universe and call it your own.
(author: Robert Rabbin)