David Reynolds | Why write?

Because it is hard. And talk is easy. That’s one reason for these opinion pieces of writing I have done during most of my 14 years in paradise.

But does that make any sense? Why ruin paradise? Why not go out and enjoy this beautiful place and see its smiling faces? After all, you are past seventy. You just might be adding to a sheet of regrets hanging from your death bed. If it’s not on your bucket list, why write? I especially think about that question during those weeks when I fail to get together with you. Something is missing — something difficult, yet essential. Like breathing.

Let’s see if I can explain. Writers are like mountain climbers. One climbs a mountain because it is there. One writes because there is something to be said. Both go to great pains to do a task for which others are probably better suited.

But for those who will not endure pain there is no pleasure. Writers and mountain climbers receive the joy that only comes from following Nike’s advice, “Just do it.” Personal achievement is happiness. There is no other way to define it. But along with just doing it, there is a big bonus. It is called a memory. “The memory of all that, they can’t take that away from me.”

Just think of your own life. Think of what has brought you the greatest satisfaction. It was not easy. But it brought happiness.

Ask Rockbridge County supervisor Mack Smith about raising cattle. Farming is not a easy life. But could Mack get greater satisfaction from doing another line of work? Ask those who serve our country. There is a unique satisfaction from serving a nation of others. Would that satisfaction be so total if it were any easier?

Or think of preachers writing sermons attempting to explain God over a lifetime of Sundays. No easy task explaining what is mystical to those sitting in the comfort of their pews with no mystery in their lives. It’s not easy to explain what faith is to a flock that doesn’t fly. But that is precisely why preachers love to preach. Because it is hard.

As for my own preaching, I have tried unsuccessfully to climb out of this bully pulpit. Writers are also human. We, too, have egos. Plus an agenda.

Try it. Pick any complex subject: a war; a financial crisis; the economy; the best candidates; a fair tax; wasteful spending; why government works and why it doesn’t; and, yes, even down to such mundane subjects as why our new courthouse is a square peg in a round hole. Explain it with a single theme, with nothing significant left out and make it comprehensible to the casual reader. All in about 800 words!

Not easy, right? But if you can pull it off you will have learned more about the subject than you ever though possible. And that is what makes newspaper column writing so worthwhile. It teaches the writer far more than the reader. Writing is simply my attempt to explain a secular world to myself.

Paul Krugman is a Princeton University professor who won the 2008 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for disproving the traditional economic theory that nations only trade products when they enjoy a comparative advantage. However, Krugman is better known for his New York Times column, because as a Princeton colleague said, “Krugman can take quite complex questions and reduce them to the simple essential insight.” In a PBS interview on the day of the award, Krugman said that his scholarly and newspaper work were equally difficult! The column, he said, just uses fewer and shorter words.

There is also a very selfish reason why I write. As each year passes I don’t wish to have any more rust accumulate on my brain than what is already there. After all, I don’t play bridge or do crossword puzzles, two proven rust removers for old brains. Writing will have to do the scrubbing.

Or maybe I write because late in life it gives me the freedom to say what I really think, following a career of creating words and numbers in support of what others think. I was told in 1962 when I first went to work for the U.S. Government, “Hold that thought — until you get out.” I guess I did. Government work proves the axiom that groups do not think as well as individuals. Yes, agencies, committees and boards are necessary in order to push along an idea, but have they ever created one?

Before my space is used up I must add two more points. First, too many Americans have died to give us our freedom of speech. I prefer that they did not die in vain. Secondly, I wish everyone a most happy and prosperous Two Thousand and Nine. I’ll see you then.

 

– Column by David Reynolds


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