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Alter Egos - I Am Done Watching This

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Sunday, July 16, 2006

So You Want to be a Writer

“But this too is true: Stories can save us.”

Oh Mr. O’Brien you tell us that, and yet I read your stories and feel anything but saved.

But there you have it, you, Tim O’Brien, would undoubtedly say, to be truly saved you have to feel unsaved. Christ, it does not get any more difficult than this. You see O’Brien is not simply Resisting the Murder and Mayhem he is tackling it head on. Never mind what is expected of you, never mind what can lead to success, write what has to be written. Write the true stories that engulf us. These are not issue bound and emerge organically from the environment of the story.

“Stories can save us.”

We have to believe this. I read once where Toni Morrison said that she did not believe her writing had any impact on the world. She may well be right. She may well be wrong.

Stories can save us.

“In Vietnam too, we had ways of making the dead seem not quite so dead. Shaking hands, that was one way. By slighting death, by acting, we pretended it was not the terrible thing it was. By our languagle, which was both hard and wistful, we transformed the bodies into piles of waste. Thus when someone got killed, as Curt Lemon, did, his body was not really a body, but rather on small bit of waste in the midst of a much wider wastage. I learned that words make a difference. It’s easier to cope with a kicked bucket than a corpse: if it isn’t human, it doesn’t matter much if it’s dead. And so a VC nurse, fried by napalm, was a crispy critter. A Vietnamese baby, which lay nearby, was a roasted peanut. Just a ‘crunchie munchies,’ Rat Kiley said as he stepped over the body.
We kept the deal alive with stories. When Ted lavender was shot in the head, the men talked about how they had never seen him so mellow, how tranquil he was, how it wasn’t the bullet but the tranquilisers that blew his mind. He wasn’t dead, just laid-back.”

Damn it, if you have to write stories, and some of you do, you have to learn how to keep the dead alive. Nothing else will suffice. Anything less, in the words of Kundera, is immoral.

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