Sunday, October 30, 2016

Birth Pains: A Novelist’s Rumination

     There aren’t many (supposedly) normal occurrences that cause quite as much pain as giving birth. My wife compared it to having a truck drive through her body. Being incapable of personally experiencing the event, I’ll take her testimony at its face value.

     Birth, like death, is so important an occasion – every man that lives will do both, once each – that intuitively at least, it seems that it should be traumatic, that it might be remembered forever afterward. Yet we don’t remember our births despite the suffering that accompanies them or the drama that attends them. And of course, if we “remember” our deaths, we do so in a realm utterly unlike this one.

     Any act of creation, regardless of the thing created, is a birthing.

     I’m about to release my eleventh novel. I’m waiting for one more set of test-reader comments and a final cover image. The contractions are getting closer together, and steadily more intense as the big moment approaches.

     It was that way on each of the previous ten occasions. You might think I’d be used to it by now. However, it isn’t so. Each novel’s birth process strikes me as unprecedented and unique. So also are the reactions of the first batch of “non-intimate” readers, the anticipation of which fills me with a blend of eagerness and dread. (When will I receive the first Biercian “The covers of this book are too far apart” review?)

     I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world and everything in it. There’s absolutely nothing that compares to it. But I’d never say that the process is entirely pleasant – that there’s no pain involved. It hurts me like crazy, especially the end stages. I sometimes wonder whether other writers and artists experience their acts of creation in the same way.

     It also makes me wonder about how God felt...if such a question makes any sense at all.

     It’s potentially misleading, at the very least, to think of God as making decisions in a human, time-bound fashion. A Being that stands outside of time must have “mental processes” that differ totally from those of men. Yet Creation could not have been without some kind of Plan – and part of that Plan was the incorporation into the human psyche of free will.

     Mockers and scoffers have asked for centuries, “If God loves us, why does He allow evil and suffering?” To me the answer seems straightforward: the nature of time, the existence of natural laws, and Man’s free will make those things unavoidable. Nor does it matter what the laws of nature are; any set that operate in time and embed causal consequences would do. Only a completely static universe in which choice is impossible and actions have no consequences could avert all agony and horror.

     An omniscient Being would of course be aware of that. But without the possibility of evil and suffering, there could be no love, no joy, no courage, and no growth. The splendor of Creation was mingled with sorrow from the very first...and He Who decreed it knew it in its totality.

     The moment when I release a book for general circulation leaves me with a melange of emotions, the strongest of which are:

  • Relief at having completed an arduous and seemingly interminable process;
  • Sorrow that my powers are insufficient to make it better than it is;
  • Agony over how it will be greeted by its readers.

     The parallels to childbirth aren’t exact, but in their mix of positive and negative emotions, they bear a substantial resemblance. What mother hasn’t felt great relief that her pregnancy has come to its intended conclusion? Many mothers-to-be live in a great deal of uncertainty over whether they’ve been “doing it right” up to the very moment of birth. And of course, every decent woman lives with some degree of fear over how the world will treat her newborn, for we all know that our power to protect our children is less than perfect.

     In this sense, the parallel with Creation is inexact, for God doesn’t share our limitations. However, He knows them well. He knows that men, being what we are, will sometimes choose to harm one another. But the gift of free will makes it necessary that He not intervene. It is in this, I think, that the blending of splendor with sorrow is most pronounced.

     During the crafting of a story, I pray frequently for guidance: that I might see clearly what must follow from the motives and decisions of the characters I create and the setting in which I embed them. Once it’s finished and out of my hands, I pray for sustenance: that I might not flinch from the judgments its readers will express.

     A human life is much the same. The conscience speaks in whispers, at times all but inaudibly. But prayer has the power to amplify those whispers. He who allows himself any doubt about his moral and ethical judgment – and surely that’s every decent man who’s ever lived or ever will – can find reassurance in prayer, if he remembers to listen as he prays.

     When one’s time on Earth is over and done, he experiences a second birth: release from the flesh into a realm in which judgment is the sole privilege of Another. The story he wrote with his temporal choices will be critiqued by the Reviewer in Whom all meaning ultimately resides. While time remains to him, a wise mortal prays that if that final review is not to be “five stars,” at least it won’t be too everlastingly fiery.

     May God bless and keep you all.


Anonymous said...

"The story he wrote with his temporal choices will be critiqued by the Reviewer in Whom all meaning ultimately resides. While time remains to him, a wise mortal prays that if that final review is not to be “five stars,” at least it won’t be too everlastingly fiery."


Unknown said...

AMEN to the amen