In December, I am republishing my top ten posts of 2015; Writers and The Butterfly ranked number two.
[Tiger Swallowtail courtesy of Kathy Shogren]
Our potential reader is inundated with shouting media, on large, flat screen televisions or giant cinema’s screen, in spectacular colors and high fidelity stereophonic sound. The protagonist is a Gregory Peck (Moby Dick), a Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady), a Lawrence Olivier (Hamlet), Peter O’Toole, (Lawrence of Arabia), or Elizabeth Taylor (Cleopatra), gorgeous, clever, courageous. The special effects virtually shake one’s sensibilities. On your TV: Breaking News.
Breaking NEWS, BREAKING NEWS on every channel. Mass Murder; mysterious disappearances! All of this spilling into your living room. Stay tuned for the Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse, Anthrax!, Ebola! It comes in eight-second clips.
Lester Holt, on NBC Nightly news, reported an estimated American’s attention span is eight seconds! (said to be shorter than goldfish).(1)
It has been reported, the brain’s neural circuits control one’s Internet experiences and are becoming strengthened while the other parts of one’s brain are being neglected. When using the Internet, our brain receives a small release of dopamine as one switches from one web page to another, and this feels good. This is why we tend to “surf the Web,”
Whether at the cinema, at the flat screen TV or the internet, your potential reader is accustomed to be seized by the presentation and the “take-home-message” is not subtle and with little nuance. Could Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre have competed?
Anne Dillard reports an entomological experiment showing a male butterfly will ignore a living female butterfly, of his own species, in favor of a painted cardboard replica of a female butterfly, if the cardboard one is big and colorful.
If the cardboard one is bigger than he is, bigger than any female ever could be, he jumps the piece of cardboard. Nearby, the real, living female butterfly opens and closes her wings in vain. Dillard suggests that films and television are produced to stimulate one’s body’s senses in big waves. These big waves bathe and engulf our readers repeatedly.(2)
Dillard, discusses our efforts: “This writing you do, that so thrills you, that so rocks and exhilarates you, as if you were dancing next to the band, is barely audible to anyone else.”
“The reader’s ear must adjust down from loud life to the subtle, imaginary sounds of the written word.” So why should the writer persist? This is no small challenge to test how much we want to write.
There are numerous examples of authors who have written without the prospects of publication. Randy Pausch, in his last lecture, told his students: brick walls are in our path to keep out others less motivated. (3)
There is, however, great value in the process. The process may be the product as in The Japanese Tea Ceremony. The value of the ceremony is not to obtain a cup of tea to drink! The process is the product.
I think the best thing Winston Churchill wrote was a little monograph: Painting as a Pastime, in which he explains the mental restoration of amateur painting.(4) When I write, I feel like Churchill did when he describes “stabbing the blank canvas with a paintbrush!” (it’s OK, it doesn’t bleed). Instead of a wound, you receive healing from fatigue, anxiety and boredom.
I find when I set down to write, I often find it is less a message than a discovery. I have read that some authors, having started a story, will find his own fictional character take control of the keyboard and write its own story that the author did not know was in him. It is the discovering of what is going to appear on the page, that keeps me coming back for my own indulgence.
Neurological research at Harvard’s Massachusetts General Hospital, indicates there is a “reward circuitry” in the brain in which there are sites where both areas of “what the brain likes and what the brain wants” exist. It is something that is regarded as a reward in and of itself. (5)
I believe that a writer writes, regardless of an audience because he is, like, I think Van Gogh was, “dancing next to the band” (his own music)(Thoreau’s “distant drummer”?). We need to do this, even though our product may then lie in our attic.
“Beauty is its own reward!”
Or, you can try to compete with the giant cardboard butterflies!
Charles Clanton Rogers Christmas Day 2015
(1.) NBC Nightly News, May 14, 2015
(2) Dillard, Anne, The Writing Life , Harper Perennial, 1998
(3.) Pausch, Randy, “The Last Lecture”, Professor, Carnegie Mellon, 2008
(4.) Churchill, Winston, Painting as a Pastime, Rosetta Books, 1932
(5.) Massachusetts General Hospital Proceedings, Study finds beauty can be Its own reward, November 8, 2001