Why do I do this? Why have I been doing it for so long (to include churning out weekly op eds for newspapers for much of 33 years?)
I’m not sure many writers give it that much thought. Writing is a compulsion. To deal with compulsions one goes to a therapist. Most writers don’t make enough money to do that, so they just write.
I’d often answer my objections to my mother’s edits (oooops, is there a therapist in the audience…?) with long logical responses. Exasperated she’s shout, “Stop pontificating!” I love that word. But to expose the irony, I got that ability from her. So one answer is that I was born and bred as a “pontificator” and since I’ve never had a balcony, no less one over looking a square, I turned to encyclicals, in part (cue the therapist) because in our house the “little pitchers should be see and not heard” rule was strictly enforced. Thus I wrote, often and often angrily until the joy of expressing myself overcame the anger. To one girlfriend, when phones were still expensive for long distance calls, I wrote probably 250 letters a year for several years. When I left my last job I was closing out my computer and found I had written over 10,000 emails in about 7 years. My brother and I would routinely write a dozen sometimes two a day to each other. Along with the therapist cue the ortho guy; I’ve got arthritis in my fingers…
My brother, of blessed memory, was a world class personage in the news business. The first time he heard me give a speech he told me I was a natural story-teller. However the first time he read something I had written, this for a college essay, he didn’t know whether to tear up the pages or tear off my fingers. He chose the former and took me under his wing, or typewriter. One thing always stood between us on this subject, the matter of style. He wrote like Hemingway. Sparsely. That was honed by the news business which forced thoughts to be compressed into 30, ,45, or 60 second slots. Of me he said, “You write like Dickens (I wish!). You’ve never met an adjective or adverb, simile or metaphor, you didn’t like.”In fact I’m reading right now, “The Bleak House” by the very same Charles Dickens and loving it.
There is a long time dear friend who is a preacher by profession, a rock-ribbed Presbyterian (never had an alcoholic drink in his adult life) Evangelical who has his own radio ministry (Key Life Ministries), who said simply, “You have a gift.” In his parlance that’s half a thought. Gifts come from G-d and they are meant to be shared. So share it I do.
None of the above however really hits the nail on the head. Then came my epiphany. It was last week. Since it has to do with Broadway, or Broadway coming to Boca Raton, let me set the stage. My wife sings in our synagogue choir. One of her choir colleagues is the mother of a son who has two names: “My Andrew.” It’s the way she refers to him. I get a benefit from my wife’s hard work–free tickets to the concerts. Last week I got the most special of benefits. Andrew’s mother induced “my Andrew” to give a private performance for the choir and friends. Very “intime,” only about 40 people were invited. I was one.
So who is her Andrew? His other two names are Andrew Lippa. He is a Broadway lyricist, composer, musician, producer, and actor. ‘wrote the score for the international smash hit “The Addams Family.” He’s your basic over-achiever… He exudes talent and personality, one of those performers who gets you from “Hello.” He was a tour de force. One song he sang was the one he wrote for Steven Sondheim’s 80th birthday. Not bad company to keep. It was a delight.
Mid-way he told a story. It was about a female friend with whom he’d gone to dinner. She was noticeably distracted and unhappy. He questioned her with little response until they walked home and did a very NYC thing, they sat down on the steps of her house and talked. He said, “What do you want out of life?” He expected in response a word–love, excitement, wealth, fun.” Then he paused and said, “She didn’t have a word–she had a list!”
So what do song-writers do with lists? They write songs and it was in this song that came a line that woke me up inside. It was my answer to a question I wasn’t even contemplating at the moment, or maybe ever. Forget the talent it takes to write lines that get inside the head and hearts of an audience. That’s a book, not an essay. Let’s stick to this one line that answers the question I started with: “Why do I do this?”
In her list of “I wants” “my Andrew” croons of one item on the list.. “I want to write letters to people I don’t know about…..” In this case it was about global warming. The problem with epiphanies is that they block out everything else once they hit you. I can’t tell you what came before or after that line, but I carried that line outside to the car, talked to my wife about it, and then took it home to write about.
I write because I want to. I write, I suspect as do most writers, because I believe I have something to say. And it doesn’t much matter if you, the reader, gets it–though that would be nice. “My Andrew” in another story about the message of art said, “It isn’t the artist’s job to make you understand his/her meaning. It’s your job, the consumer of the art, to figure it out.”
So I write with abandon on all matter of stuff. I’ve written about the esoteric fight over re-naming the Jew-fish. I’ve written about tangles between Jews and Jews for Jesus. I’ve written about racism, corruption, and yes global warming. While it’s my job to write well, properly, in an interesting and coherent fashion, I feel having done that “my work is done here.” The rest is on you.
I write because I am. I am because I write.
I write because I want to write, just as you read my ramblings (hopefully) because you want to.
Thank you “my Andrew.”