By John Blankenship
Writing can, at times, be an almost mystical experience.
Like other professional feature writers and columnists, I write as a way to review experiences and find out what I think. For me, writing is more or less a process of discovery.
The reader, meanwhile, is my shadow friend whose attention I am trying to keep.
It is true, I also write for money. Samuel Johnson once wrote that only a fool or blockhead writes for reasons other than money.
I wouldn’t go quite that far.
But when you consider the 18th century author wrote his famed “Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia” to escape debtors’ prison (specifically to defray the expense of his mother’s funeral and pay some little debts that she had left), maybe he had a point.
My column, as far as subject matter goes, jumps all over the place: from human interest and nostalgia to education and entertainment. I write to explore my ignorance of things and to clarify the meanings I am trying to understand. Essentially, I am asking my audience to help me process information by allowing me to clarify it for them.
Closing in on 30 years of newspaper experience, I know the value of clarity.
If I walk into a local restaurant and see a customer reading The Register-Herald, I watch to see if he reads my column. If he does, I want to know if he finished it. If he didn’t, then I must have failed that particular reader, or at least let him down somehow.
One day when I was feeling pretty good about the works I’d just written, my telephone rang.
A little girl named Michelle explained she had been given a school assignment: to read an article in the newspaper and write about it.
“I read your column,” she said. “Can you tell me what it means?”
That burst my balloon. I was at a loss for words.
Then I asked the polite elementary student, “Where do you go to school? How would you like me to come out for a visit?”
“Fine,” she said. She would ask the teacher.
The visit turned out to be a wonderful experience. I was on the other side of the interview for a change. I had to defend myself as a writer and show how I did it.
Basically, that’s what writers do every day. We’re only as good as our last column or feature story.
I like talking to the youngsters about writing. They seem to enjoy hearing about my failures, how things don’t always turn out as planned.
They ask lots of good questions-things like “Why do you write?”
The truth is, I really don’t know why I do what I do.
I think it is because I have always enjoyed reading. I grew up in a culture that spent time reading for entertainment as well as to gain information. Even today, the best way to learn something new is to read about it — books, magazines, or newspapers — at the local library or on the Internet.
Reading is a bridge to writing, and writing is a bridge to reading. The two are interconnected. If you can’t read, you can’t write. Reading and writing are the key components of literacy.
Read for meaning, read for knowledge, read for pleasure.
And writing to summarize what you have read is a means to clear thinking.
If there are no books or magazines at home, there is no exposure to good literature.
If we want our children to read, the subject matter must have meaning for them. It must be relevant. If you don’t believe it, just give youngsters something they are interested in — trucks, fashion, sports, science fiction, horror ‚— and see how quickly they devour it.
My idea of spending a leisurely afternoon is sitting in the easy chairs at Barnes and Nobel and sipping a cup of mocha while exploring the works of half a dozen authors. The exotic fragrance of books and coffee is how I imagine Heaven must smell like.
Perhaps it would be a good idea if parents took their children to the public library or a bookstore once in a while and allow the young readers to explore the kaleidoscope of literature currently on display.
After all, more books and magazines are being published now than in any other time in history. It’s a terrible shame to think that all of those billions of words, like far-flung stars in the heavens, are indiscernible to young intellects and squandered in solitude.
Top o’ the morning!
— Blankenship is a reporter for The Register-Herald.