Many years ago, I wrote an essay on why I write.
What precipitated the essay was the writing of two stories with quite a bit of sophomoric humor where I had placed myself and several friends as characters. When I expressed genuine guilt to the small group for what I had done to one of the characters I had named Molly, one responded, "I'm reaching out and slapping some sense in you."
Read on. Of all the essays I've ever written, I consider this one my best:
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Molly stood in the small gazebo overlooking the white cliffs where five hundred feet below the sea gently washed its waves against their base. Both moons were full and the Great Nebula glowed with gentle pastels of violet and ginger.
She sighed in pleasure at the visual delights. Dressed in an ankle-length evening gown of crushed purple velvet, she had let her hair down where the light breeze made it flow around her bare shoulders.
Molly leaned against one of the posts with arms crossed against her chest as some protection from the slight chill in the night air. She knew she was waiting for something, but she was not sure what she was waiting for.
She heard the sound of shoes crunching gravel. With a start she looked up to see in the combined moonlight a middle-aged man, balding and dangerously close to having far too much flesh on his bones, puffing heavily from the exertion of walking the steep path. Looking up, he saw the young lady who was staring at him with surprise. Gasping for air, the stranger stumbled to the shelter where he slumped onto a bench and waited to regain his breath.
In the light of the two full moons, Molly could see the raw imprint of a hand across his right cheek. Somebody had slapped him. Hard.
Suddenly, recognition dawned.
"You’re Dr. Alan Loewen!" she said in surprise. "Fancy meeting you here."
Alan Loewen held up his hand to signal for a moment of peace while he breathed heavily.
"Sorry, my dear," he said after a moment, gasping between the words, "you have confused me with my fictional character. In reality I’m only a member of the clergy with a yearning to write. I am no doctor, just your creator."
Molly looked at him clearly puzzled. "You’re saying you’re God?" she asked incredulously.
Alan laughed. "No, no, no! No god at all, just a creator." He waved his hand around the landscape. "I created all this. Just as I created you."
"Where are the others?" she asked, changing the subject. She was getting uncomfortable with the topic and where it might ultimately end.
"They’re not here," Alan said, standing and admiring the view, “but there are many others here at this moment. We just can’t see them, but they are here listening to every word, perceiving every nuance and seeing everything that I emphasize.
"In reality these observers—who I call readers—are very imaginative. This scene, the words I speak and the words I make you say will stay in their minds for some time to come." He looked at her with a smile and a look of wonder. "This is what is called the magic of writing."
"Who slapped your face?" she asked, once again trying to change the subject. She had the growing feeling she was in a trap that was slowly closing in on her.
Alan laughed. "Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful," he quoted quizzically. He turned to face her and admired the highlights the light from the reflected moons set off in her hair.
"I created this world and brought you here along with all the others to make a point about my theory of writing.
"How would you feel," he asked, "if I told you that every time you embarrassed yourself the past few days, like the house in Maryland or the San Juan airport, I was the one totally responsible?"
"According to you," Molly said testily,” I guess it would depend on how you wanted me to feel."
"Wonderful!" Alan said, clapping his hands together like an overgrown toddler. "You learn fast, but then it was me who had you say that in the first place."
Molly shook her head in puzzlement. "I don’t understand."
"Not to worry, my dear. I just performed a practical joke. Only the invisible and silent others will get it. Now let’s get to my point before I lose my audience." Alan snapped his fingers and the scene melted into utter blackness. Swirling colors appeared out of the murk and gelled into a figure sitting at a desk writing furiously with a quill pen. Standing at his left and right, two other figures read along while the sitting figure wrote, each had one hand placed gently on the shoulders of the writer.
Molly looked at her escort and shrugged her puzzlement.
"The man writing is a symbol of me, the writer," Alan explained. “The man at my right shoulder is my audience. He is always there and, when I write, I feel his continual presence. The man at my other shoulder is my conscience. If that word offends you, you can call him my principles or values or self-imposed limit of moral choices."
"I’m not offended," Molly said.
"I wasn’t talking to you," Alan said gently, patting her on the hand. "Allow me to continue.
"Audience and Conscience are a necessary part of my writing process. Without them, I would write only for myself, but in a way that can look only chaotically inward, unable to conceive of the concept of ‘other’ or ‘limitation.’ Sort of like a psychic form of unrestrained autoeroticism.
"If I get rid of Audience, I end up writing only for myself. And journals, though important tools for self-development, are usually boring reading for others. It is writing for Audience that makes me strive for creativity, excellence, and clarity of word—the essence of storytelling.
"And Conscience represents those moral principles which I follow by my own free will, an external code of ethics that cannot change, the framework which supports my joy, my peace and my sense of self-worth. Without Conscience, I could easily take advantage of my creation and pervert it. And pornography is never great literature unless the culture in which it is spawned is totally degraded."
Molly looked at him in puzzlement. "But what brings this all up?" she asked.
Alan smiled ruefully. "A moment of self-doubt. I had to make sure that in your adventures I had not crossed a line which I did not mean to cross. And though a creator, I am still a flawed human being. I need people to let me know when I forget myself and dance too close to the edge." He pointed to the fresh red welt on his cheek. "Or," he added with a twinkle in his eye, "when I cripple myself with my own uncertainties."
The scene faded and once again they stood in the gazebo that stood on a moonlight bathed cliff overlooking a gentle sea.
"As a member of the clergy, I find myself in situations which go far beyond my knowledge and experience," Alan said. "Twenty years ago, I was dramatically exposed to the body fluids of an AIDs patient who I was ministering to, and this well before we knew much about the disease. For days I lived in absolute terror I was going to share his fate until the doctors assured me that it was near impossible for me to contract the virus that way.
"Twice, I’ve had to deal with guns, one of them pointed at my head. Funerals and divorces and death beds and hospital visits and pain and suffering ... and always, always the questions which have no clear answers. I needed an outlet for all that stress and concern and frustration. Writing provides that."
"Then give up the clergy," Molly suggested. "Be a full-time writer."
Alan chuckled. "Without getting theological on you, all I’ll say is that I can no more give up being a pastor than I can give up being a man who needs air to breathe. And that’s my final say on the matter.
“But when I write," he said, a faraway look of wonder in his eye, "for just a moment, I can make a world of my own creation with people who I find fascinating and situations I find I can handle no matter how fantastic. For just a moment, in the act of creation, I can almost touch the Divine and know the joy of what it must have felt like to create the cosmos with all its potential. But even better than that, is the ability to share it with somebody else and have them walk in my world and laugh or cry or feel any emotion I might successfully communicate.
"And with all that power, I must make sure I never, ever lose respect for myself, my creations, my conscience or my audience. My integrity is the only thing I truly own in this life. I will not knowingly sell it or throw it away for a cheap thrill."
Molly looked out over the sea and shivered slightly in the chill night air. "I have a feeling I must go," she said at last.
"Yes," Alan said, a note of sadness entering his voice, "but I want you to know that even though I pulled all those embarrassing tricks on you in my stories, I have come to love you, as I have come to love all my creations."
Molly smiled and gently kissed him on the forehead. "You’re a strange little man," she said. "Give my love to those invisible others."
"They already know," Alan said smiling sadly, "Goodbye, my dear."
Molly turned and walked down the path and by the sixth step she had melted and disappeared into wherever creations go when their purpose is fulfilled.
"Well, Gentle Readers," Alan said to the empty air. "I know you’re here and reading this and have seen my perspective on the craft of writing, but before I go, I would like to share with you one closing thought.
"The ancient bards and troubadours saw actual magic in the ability to communicate with words. The ancient Greeks called it the Logos. Norse legends say Odin gave up an eye and hung himself on the World Tree for a night of suffering and agony so he could win for himself the secret of the runes and all the power inherent in what became the Norse alphabet. The Jews refuse to say the entire name of God or even write it out fully out of respect for its power.
"I will not bandy metaphysics with you, but I’ll simply say that I agree with the concept of the magic of words.
"History is filled with the names of men who sought the occult power of creation; Rasputin, Saint Germaine, Cagliostro and others. But I dare say to you now that if we craft an exquisite sentence, we have achieved more than all the incantations of Aliester Crowley combined. All the cabalistic mechanizations of Paracelsus never brought him any closer to the act of creation that we so easily achieve when we dare to put pen to paper or hand to keyboard.
"The writer who seeks perfection of his craft and continues to write comes across more wonder and magic and awe than any witch, warlock or sorcerer that ever mumbled a midnight charm.
"Thank you for allowing me to share my magic with you, even when it has been nothing more than droll slapstick. You have honored me deeply. I look forward to returning that honor when you share your writings with me.
"So let’s all together, in our own private worlds of our own creation, snap our fingers and say ‘Let there be light!’"
Alan laughed and snapped his fingers.
And there was light.