Sunday, May 20, 2018

Affrighted

     As I wrote yesterday, change is upon me. I’m going to try to reduce the amount of blathering I do about political subjects, to make room for others. It seems appropriate that that should start today, Pentecost Sunday 2018, the anniversary of the birthday of Christ’s Church. If my Gentle Readers should decide that the new balance of material is not for them, I’ll understand.


     It’s an old word, I know. Its meaning “should” be fairly “obvious.” And it describes a condition from which I suffer at predictable intervals.

     There are many kinds of fear, and many sources for each. For an old man whose final horizon is drawing steadily nearer, it’s common to fear that he’ll die before he’s “ready.” Let’s leave aside for the moment what it means to be “ready” to meet one’s Maker.

     My principal fear in these latter days is of deterioration. Aging brings that with certainty. We lose strength, endurance, agility, flexibility, and – most unfortunately – we lose mental acuity. These deteriorations can be slowed, in some cases even halted, by the right sort of effort and enough of it. But the effort becomes harder to maintain as one ages and grows wearier.

     There’s one fear about which I try not to think and of which I seldom speak, because it affects the core of my usefulness to others. It’s the fear that my abilities as a writer are diminishing.

     I’ve been cranking out op-ed drivel for more than twenty years. Occasionally the impulse seizes me to revisit older pieces: my archives from Eternity Road and The Palace of Reason. Some of those older pieces are a lot better – more sharply focused, more neatly phrased, and overall more powerful – than anything I’ve posted at Liberty’s Torch. The recognition draws a graph I dislike to face.

     But I’ve also been cranking out fiction over that interval. Now and then I get the urge to reread one of my earlier novels or stories. I don’t always resist it. I’m beginning to wonder if I should.

     Op-ed writers are plentiful. (Some would say we suffer an oversupply.) But good storytellers, despite the recent surge in fictions available to the reading public, remain pretty rare. My current sense of whatever enduring value my efforts have for others is that it resides mainly in my storytelling.

     And I’ve become afraid to continue it.


     You’ll seldom hear a writer with a substantial oeuvre speak of a fear that he’s losing his powers. At least, I can’t remember the last time I read any such thing from a writer whose work I’ve enjoyed. Still, I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m not the only writer who’s ever suffered from that fear.

     My most recent three novels, Love in the Time of Cinema, Statesman, and Innocents, cost me agonies to complete and further agonies to release. From cover to cover of each, I worried that I’d lost my chops – that I could no longer tell the kind and quality of story I’m known for. That fear made me sensitive to reviews and reader email. A review such as this one:

     A superior wordsmith by far than many better known authors, he has a unique ability to write believable characters with extraordinary depth. But the storytelling! My goodness. He holds a near-unique ability to mix religious themes, challenging moral situations, relationship, and some good ol' fashion butt-whoopin' all in one. This text is no exception.

     ...would lift my spirits and (temporarily) reassure me that I was still firing on all twenty-three cylinders. A review such as this one:

     Unsatisfying mil action, unrealistic romance. Marty Sue hero who ends up forced to do the thing he wants but knows he shouldn't.

     ...would leave me in a funk for days, wondering whether I had any business polluting my own record with fresh tripe. And in the nature of things the negative reviews and the negative emails weigh more heavily on the mind than the positive ones. (The average review for a work of fiction at Amazon is slightly over four stars; think about what that implies.)

     The result is an increasing reluctance to start a new story. In case you’ve wondered why the books are being spread further apart in time, now you know.


     I’m not fishing for reassurance here. I’m mostly doing something I think isn’t done often enough. I’m articulating a besetting fear of the old: the fear that one has transitioned from an asset, valued by others, to an encumbrance they’d as soon be rid of. I think more of us older folks suffer that fear than is generally admitted.

     The marvelous recent movie Act of Valor has something to say about this, as well:

     Before my father died, he said the worst thing about growing old was that other men stopped seeing you as dangerous. I've always remembered that, how being dangerous was sacred, a badge of honor.

     Being dangerous is the critical requirement of a soldier. Every occupation has a critical requirement...and every one of us must fear that a time will come when he “just can’t cut it any more.”

     If you have older relatives or friends, and you sometimes see them mired in an unexplained gloom, this could well be the reason. If you’re still in the prime of life, you will probably know that fear soon enough for yourself.

     Food for thought.

3 comments:

Joe Andruscavage said...

I will read just about anything you post. Politics has become a bore because we can now easily see who the real enemies of the American people are and they are firmly in power on both sides of the aisle. Common sense is absent in society and politics. I have enjoyed your blog for several years and will do so for as long as you choose to write one.

ligneus said...

Well I'm getting old, 82, I've been very lucky, I do house renovations, which term covers a lot of ground inc outside work, building a fence this week, but I won't be doing it for much longer, I can't work the long hours, I'm not as strong as I was and I get awful tired sometimes! But I don't mind, it doesn't worry me, I've done my bit, I can look back on it with satisfaction and enjoy 'the little things' as they say. I think if you can still read, walk, listen to music, you shouldn't really complain,lose any of those and life really is diminished. I also enjoy looking back on my life, remembering people and places, things that happened, reliving my childhood days, what a wonderful time that was. The longer I live the longer I can keep those memories alive. Like I said, I've been very lucky.

Stacey said...

"better – more sharply focused, more neatly phrased, and overall more powerful – than anything I’ve posted at Liberty’s Torch." Wait, what? So, you're telling me that there's a cache of reading even better than what I'm getting from you now? I honestly find that hard to believe! I read the snippets you occasionally link to in your posts. I always find them helpful to the story (and educational), but never better.
Liberty's Torch is my first read of the morning, has been for a couple of years now. I never thought your blog was entirely politics in the first place. I look at your writings more like what is going on in the world and how it effects us. Even your political posts are worded in a way that makes them so interesting. I'm sure I'll enjoy what ever it is you decide to write about.
One of my favorite things about your blog is that every time I read I have to copy and paste at least one word (sometimes more:)) into the dictionary. I actually started a Word doc of those words so I can learn and use them!