I recently read an article published in Medium titled ‘HowBooks and Television Affect Your Brain Differently, According to Science’ in which the author outlined the findings of scientific studies examining brain activity in children who read books versus those who watch TV.
I mention this because the thought occurred to me as I read said article that I should get back to affecting brains with my own writing. After all, there is nothing to read when no one writes.
That is to say, in case you had not noticed, I have not been writing for seven months. For me to have not been writing for seven months has been good, perhaps, as well as necessary. However, I feel strongly that to continue like this would be an abdication of my ability and responsibility.
What were the reasons for my stepping back in the first place? You may wonder. In short, however, they do not matter. Or at least I will not dive into an explanation of them here. They are a quagmire which has already consumed enough time and energies.
What I will say is that the reasons involved more than a factor of time and mere busyness. As a pastor of mine once quipped: ‘I don’t have time’ is not a statement of fact. It is a statement of priorities.
Writing, then, ceased to be a priority for me among other, more pressing and immediate concerns. That was well, but no more.
Beyond that, a phrase from Frank Herbert’s sci-fi novel Dune comes to mind. ‘Fear is the mind-killer.’ And I was afraid.
Chiefly, I was afraid that all my critics were right. My writing was self-important drivel, insufficiently researched and considered before being published.
And had I been hoisted by my own petard?
I had not meant to blow anyone up. To be sure, several persons over the years had taken what I wrote that way. But was that my intention? Or was I just oblivious to the consequences of my verbiage?
Either way, if I was not being clear, I feared I was incapable of it.
Communication necessitates shared meaning. If I had not understood my audience well enough to anticipate how they would take something I wrote, then clearly, I should just stop communicating until I was certain of the shared meaning in what I was communicating – or attempting to communicate.
Speaking of shared meaning: for those unfamiliar, petards were a Medieval explosive device used for destroying fortified walls around castles and forts. The phrase “hoisted by his own petard” was made popular by one of Shakespeare’s plays in which it was used to describe trying to hurt someone but blowing one’s self up instead.
Now you know.
Now that piece of communication has shared meaning. Or, if not, whose fault is that?
Suppose you get offended now that I just referenced Shakespeare. You were unfamiliar before my explanation. Or maybe you feel I am showing off by quoting Frank Herbert’s Dune. Enraged at all my condescension, you close this article and refuse to read anything else by me.
It is unreasonable for me to bear the burden of anyone being so fickle as that.
Perspective v. Reality
The truth is not merely a perspective, nor even an amalgam of perspectives. Truth is truth. Our perspectives can all be lacking and insufficient. And they surely are, from time to time and depending on the topic.
My responsibility as a writer, dear reader, is to be as clear and concise as possible, and to conform what I say to the truth as much as possible. Your responsibility is to try earnestly to understand the original intent and meaning of what was said, and to determine if it conforms to the truth.
We live in a post-modern, post-truth age. The truth is supposedly relative, or is actually many ‘truths.’ Reading no longer entails discerning what the author meant, but rather what their work means to us. Emotional, relativistic, and self-absorbed – these are the hallmarks of communication according to the Zeitgeist – the spirit of this age.
But that is nonsense. It is junk food for the mind.
At some point, the adults must re-enter the conversation and tell the children to brush their teeth and eat something substantive. And when the children eat, they should not slip their vegetables under the table when they think nobody is watching them feed the dog.
But that is what it is like when people today read something and ask only what the communication means to them rather than what was meant by the author, or when they presume entitlement to being offended based only on their feelings.
And that is what it is like when people care only about how they feel – and surround themselves with voices which only make them feel good right now, and give their hearts and minds sugar rushes, but shy away from substance, truth, and depth of meaning.
Taking It Personally
The mistake I made – or one of them, anyhow – was in taking personally what is a systemic, cultural problem. And the symptoms of that problem affecting me personally, or me butting up against the Zeitgeist with my writing – I was taken aback at how pervasive and intrusive the downsides are in affecting my spheres of influence, even my personal life. I did not realize how powerful and ruthless the spirit of this age was.
But what did I suppose was going to happen instead?
When David answered Goliath’s challenge to Yahweh God and the armies of Israel, he fully expected Goliath to fight. Yet David ran eagerly at Goliath, believing as he did that the Lord his God would win the battle and give the enemy into his hand.
Yet if the Lord had not given Goliath into David’s hand so swiftly, Goliath certainly would have tried with all his strength and skill to destroy the young man David.
So also, in the case of writing against a Zeitgeist which can only have originated with Satan himself, what did we suppose was going to be the response to taking up the challenge of confronting it?
And what did we suppose would be the response of persons engaged by the Zeitgeist, and swimming in its waters when we called them to question all their comfortable assumptions? Disquieted, they were going to disquiet us right back.
And beyond this, there was also the fact of my own process needing to be refined. And if my own thinking was not clear, or if others were going to help me clarify it, I had every need of humility and patience.
Reading Necessitates Writing
Let us return to the first thing – how reading affects the brain, and how there must be writers writing in order for readers to read. How can readers not be self-indulgent about their feelings when writers be similarly minded, or else despair and quit the field?
“…If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”– Jesus, Matthew 15:14 (ESV)
Feelings matter, of course. But they are not of the utmost importance. Feelings should conform to the truth. I say they should because they do not always. And when they do not, we must retrain our feelings by choice.
I think of a scene from Tim Burton’s 2005 film, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Willy Wonka says, “That’s just it, isn’t it? I make the candy I feel like. But now I feel terrible, so the candy’s terrible!”
However, rather than following that mold, I should choose instead to write in a similar vein to ‘as it is written’ and the words of Joshua, son of Nun.
“Now therefore fear Yahweh and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve Yahweh. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve Yahweh, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve Yahweh.”