My guest is fiction novelist, Ryan O’Reilly.
Ryan is a bit of an adventurer, definitely an observer of life, he’s a businessmen, and freelance writer. I also think his mother has a strong heart to survive watching him go through the many adventures he's had. I’m betting that as with many of us who have pushed the envelope, mom was given a condensed version of many of those adventures.
Ryan has applied many of those experiences and observations in his writing. His article is a very well thought out commentary on the battle of many authors between making a living and answering the need within their soul to put pen to paper.
When I first experienced cacoethia scribendi – the urge to scribble – my immediate consideration was how to fit the art of writing into the business of everyday life. My experience up to that time had been that art and business are non-overlapping fields, and my fear was that I couldn’t make the two harmonize. When I told my parents I wanted to write, that everything else I wanted to do with my life would be in support of that, their response seemed to be mostly misunderstanding. I couldn’t make it clear why someone would want to be a writer. What place, after all, could literature have in a productive society? Why would you want to write?
I don’t think I’m alone in discovering this reaction in others, nor do I think that I am the first writer to have bouts of frustration after years of failing to reconcile the “why” question. After writing columns, articles and three books the friction from that question is still there for me. For a lot of us, there is no “reason” why we do what we do. It isn’t a choice. Writing is simply who we are, and we do it with little thought to money or recognition. For me, for example, I have a bottom desk drawer filled with scraps and fragments that will never see the light of day. At least, hopefully, not while I’m still alive.
One of my greatest joys is the simple act of recording my thoughts and observations; Some I use, and some are relegated to the bottom drawer. But our social evolution seems to frown on energy devoted to anything other than productivity. By many definitions writing is not productive in the sense that it does not result in an advantageous commodity. We who put pen to paper seem to be destined to hold our artistic endeavor at arms length from productive society, simply because the link between them isn’t always clear. We have to justify our art through success by either recognition or monetary compensation.
But that compulsion flirts with ridiculousness.
Those of us who choose to devote a life – or part of a life – to literature and language and learning are in a unique place. We walk between two worlds. Intellectually and emotionally we exist at the intersection of the mythos and the anthropos. The mythos is the ethereal realm of creativity, and the anthropos is the world of strictly human endeavor. Others think of anthropos as “the machine”; the mechanical component of our society. The machine exists as a function of the human mind, and the mythos is our relationship to life as an experience.
It is in the mind of the artist and the writer that the anthropos and the mythos interlock. Writers and artists are, you might say, the stitching that binds them. The artistic output we feel compelled to participate in is the by-product of our position. Art gives meaning to the otherwise banal survival instinct that makes up the business aspect of the world. The position of the artist on the border of the two worlds gives them perspective to see, and that perspective is increasingly important as people seek meaning. The emotional connection people feel in regard to their lives and the world around them depends on the emotion of artistic output. So while there may be no quantifiable justification to write, those who have the ability also have the obligation.
The role of writing in my life is one of substance. A lot of my time is spent doing the things I have to do to survive; work, make logistical decisions, commit to relationships, provide for my family. The rest of the time I spend trying to find meaning and substance in the world.
Spinoza said, “I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them.” In my estimation there is no clearer mandate for the writer, poet or artist. Being in possession of this particular gift, and given the perspective that we have, the product of our endeavors must be a truth understandable by others. The components of the stories we tell must be applicable to a greater human experience. We must write about what we know, but write for people we don’t. We write to signify the commonality of all life, and all the stages of life.
That is why we do what we do.
- What compels you to put pen to paper?
TO NOURISH AND CONSUME: