In addition to being handsome, charming and a brilliant politician, Canada’s new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is also a great human. He suggested in March of this year that he’d like to see Americans pay more attention to the world. And while his comments are directed outwardly more at the collection of humans clinging to this spinning rock we call earth, he’s in good company with his statement. Another brilliant human, Susan Sontag, made the same assertion, but more inwardly directed to writers. She said, “a writer is someone who pays attention to the world — a writer is a professional observer.” I think in saying this she believed, as do I, that this paying attention to something greater than yourself is as important to writers, as it is to being a good human.
I think, since I’ve learned to take my writing more seriously, and have started to do a lot more of it, the telling of stories is my contribution to the world, my price, if you will, of living here and now. I’m not saying that my thoughts or opinions are are any more or any less important that others. I just think that the ability to observe, to take in, to digest, and then to rephrase something helps others to understand. This is a part of human communication that I think is lost in today’s soundbites, and bombastic rhetoric. I don’t want to change people’s opinions, I just want them to pay attention to what is going on around them, and perhaps join the conversation.
In the article that inspired this post there is a link to Susan Sontag’s book of essays on storytelling “At The Same Time” where she talks about telling a story well helps information become wisdom, saying, “Obviously, I think of the writer of novels and stories and plays as a moral agent… This doesn’t entail moralizing in any direct or crude sense. Serious fiction writers think about moral problems practically. They tell stories. They narrate. They evoke our common humanity in narratives with which we can identify, even though the lives may be remote from our own. They stimulate our imagination. The stories they tell enlarge and complicate — and, therefore, improve — our sympathies. They educate our capacity for moral judgment.”
I take this as a call to pay attention, to look deeper into things even the ugly and loud and exaggerations, and once I have the information I need, it is my moral duty to write to turn that information into wisdom, if only for myself.