Is there anything as intrinsic to writing than purpose? Yet so many of us forget why we’ve started a story, we lose track and motivation, perhaps beguiled by characters or waylaid by a complex plot. Then there’s grammar and punctuation to watch out for … oh heavens, even the simplest words lose their basic power.
Lily Tomlin, a joker at any time, believes ‘we developed language because of our deep inner need to complain’. And sometimes that’s the tone we fall into when we fall out of love with our own stories.
Here are a couple of takes on what is worth remembering as we write – if we want our readers to feel satisfied when they’ve turned the last page, if we want them to feel the satisfaction in knowing what our greater purpose was in starting the story in the first place.
First, Helena Ameison’s take on Tomlin’s bleak view:
Developing language because of our deep inner need to complain reminds me of a joke my father used to tell …
‘A five year old boy has never spoken. His parents take him to all the best doctors but none can find anything wrong with him.
One morning, when the whole family is sitting at the breakfast table, the boy pipes up “This porridge is cold!”
His parents jump from their seats, whooping for joy. “You can talk, you can talk! Oy, vot a miracle! How did this happen?”
The boy looks at his parents and replies, “Everything was OK until now!”’
Whimsy aside, I believe language serves a much deeper purpose than simply to complain.
We name the objects of the world around us, the beauty of creation and give expression to the murmurings of our hearts. We sing our gratitude to ‘mother nature’, we sing lullabies to our children, and on the wings of words our stories fly to future generations: stories of our ancestors, stories of warning, of triumph and of glory so that we not only name who we were or who we are but who we want to be … this race of creatures on this bright blue star, a tiny ball, an orb, a speck of dust in this myriad of galaxies.
‘When is the last time you sang your song?’ say the people of African tribes. ‘When is the last time you told your story?’ say the Navajo Indians when the heart is dark and silent.
Words have power; words like swords can cut and maim; but words can also heal. Raise your words and voices to the crest of mountains and let them ring out peace, for all to hear.
Now, Wil Roach’s ideas on the subject:
Well, I don’t know about Lily Tomlin … Personally, I haven’t found too much in life that shouldn’t be complained about. I think a right to complain should be available on Medicare and then we’d have a slew of fantastic writing to show for it. Just a thought.
It struck me that when I put finger to computer key there`s a lot that needs to be said. Not so much perhaps as complaint but clarification.
Who put the water in the jam jar after eating the jam? It wasn’t me though, aged five, I was accused of this by my aunt, Dad`s sister and with whom we lived for a number of years. To this day I can replay the scene as an innocent child-victim, looking from Mum to Auntie as these two formidable women slugged it out. It goes without saying that Mum was the victor, but at what cost to me?
There was nothing she could do to change our circumstances – living under someone else’s roof and putting up with slights and petty restrictions. Yet to this day, fifty years later, I still feel my grievance wasn’t upheld. I wasn’t heard. Funny how something so trivial in the grand scheme of things still demands to be heard.
It seems to me that what we seek sometimes through writing is to right wrongs, or at least to air them on what might be an objective audience of readers who can, without the prejudice of having been involved, draw their own conclusions regarding the rights and wrongs of a matter.
Finally, Marjorie Banks’ more irreverent take on the issue of complaint:
I do not like thee, Doctor Fell
The reasons why I’m glad to tell
I do not like your warty nose
Your hairy feet or hairy toes
I also simply cannot bear
Your straggly beard and greasy hair
Your crooked teeth and foetid breath
That brings to mind the scent of death
Your pointed teeth and beady eyes
Are likewise features I despise
But what must be your greatest taint
Is being too deaf to hear my plaint
Copyright Helena Ameisen, Wil Roach and Marjorie Banks