Friday, April 15, 2011

A Tree Grows In... My Sinuses

It's very interesting to me that the great writers of the 19th and 20th century never complained about mundane personal problems in their works. We know that Lewis Carroll suffered from migraine headaches, but he never added so much as an adjective to share his pain through his writing. No "head-splitting", "blinding light" or "achingly" to betray his true feelings. Did the masters just want to distance themselves so much from their stories? Or did they genuinely have fewer problems and care about them less?

I realize I write mostly nonfiction, but I have a little trouble distancing my written words from what I'm thinking at the time. I have a headache today, in return I bring up Lewis Carroll as my example in the opening paragraph of this blog. Poetry is mostly nonfiction, novels are usually reflections of real life... no innuendo at all of the authors well-being, yet I can't help but gush about my headache?! Coincidence? Not hardly... the subconscious mind at work.

So is awareness making us sicker? And in return, making our writing sicker? Since I can google the pollen count every day and look for my pollen adversaries, I am more attuned to hay fever symptoms. As a society antibiotics and chemicals have sensitized us to the natural world, causing more asthma and allergies than our author-ancestors endured. And natural selection probably has something to do with it as well, a kid with asthma in the 1800's likely died before they were able to reproduce. Today, we give the kid nebulizer treatments and they someday return the favor by giving the treatments to their asthmatic kids. Even though we are getting more sensitive, awareness of those symptoms must be a factor in the way we communicate.

We know more about ourselves now than anyone has before us. The writer of today can harness literally all knowledge with the right username and password to create, diagnose and treat a plot disease. The genres of science fiction and fantasy are not only unlimited in the author's mind but in the amount of research available to describe the imagined.

Today's author has a larger audience as well. In the 1800's, vast portions of the population were illiterate, so target audiences for the written word were scholars - learned men. Now, anyone around the world with a computer and google translator can read this blog. And if I throw out a tricky word, like 'Abstruse', the reader can drop that word into their search engine and get my meaning (or lack, thereof). You don't even have to be able to spell it correctly in most cases. Likewise, if I'm bored with a word, I can google synonyms to my heart's content. I just wonder if 100 years from now our great-grandchildren will read 'Alices Adventures...' and then this blog and think we're a bunch of whiners, unable to divorce our sinus headaches long enough to develop a character.

In 1943, Betty Smith wrote 'A Tree Grows In Brooklyn', which is the first book I remember relating to the author. Francie, the main character, is an analogue of Smith. Smiths struggles are Francie's struggles. The author lives within this novel, just as the novel lives within her. She uses it as a megaphone for her personal struggles with poverty and the will to transcend those problems.

If only she knew then that reality TV and the Internet would eventually expose all of us as interesting, unique stories... waiting to be told. That someday I would write about spring allergies and someone would read it (willingly, as you just did) and identify with the shared experience. The only difference is that in 1943, the people who shared her struggles could barely read and now, authors have peers everywhere.

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