Answer to the question, What it is a writer?

I posted the following some time back, and recently got a request to re-post it, so here goes…

Do you ever keep old printed handouts and documents, and then find yourself thrilled that you did? Happened to me today.  I attended a presentation at USC many years ago, was privileged to meet author Irving Stone, and received the following written by him as a take-away:

What it is a writer?

by Irving Stone

What it is a writer? It seems almost too simple a question to ask. Yet few have bothered to set forth a durable definition, establishing the writer’s legitimate place in the world. Does his function change from each to age, crisis to crisis? Or are there certain stabiles, imperative tasks which he must perform, and bring to fruition, regardless of the century or the civilization?

The writer is a seer, a prophet, an alchemist; creating wisdom where none existed before.

The writer is an entertainer; but hopefully not a court jester.

The writer is a bringer of order out of chaos.

The writer is a creator of new religions, new governments, new mentalities, new cultural and social patterns.

The writer is a midwife, giving birth to new civilizations.

The writer is an undertaker, burying old ones.

The writer is an archaeologist, uncovering layers of man’s past.

The writer is a sculptor, giving form to the unmolded an uncoalesced materials of life.

The writer is a destroyer, putting to the Gutenberg sword and fire old shibboleths, ancient fears, tribal myths, falsehoods that have paraded as truths for thousands of years.

The writer is a warrior, fighting to possess men’s minds.

The writer is a composer, attempting to capture the music of life for a tone-deaf world.

The writer is a poet, trying to compress the complexity and confusion of a spent life into essence lines which scan, and perhaps even rhyme.

The writer is an explorer, penetrating impassible jungles, traversing mountain ranges which start at the peak of Mount Everest as he searches for regions where men can live in dignity.

The writer a philosopher, attempting to extract the meaning of life from the passing hurricane.

The writer is an interpreter, reducing to simpler language the ultimate designs of God, the Devil, Fate.

The writer is a mirror in which mankind can see himself reflected… all too clearly.

The writer is a seducer, attempting to break young people to pleasure.

The writer is an encyclopedia, which knows everything and understands nothing.

The writer is a sieve, allowing all thoughts and ideas to pour through him.

The writer is a Wall of China, keeping out the unfamiliar.

The writer is a doctor, prescribing pills whose content he has not tested, for patients whose ills he cannot fathom.

The writer is a catalyst bringing together people and visions who would otherwise not have bowed to each other while passing on the street.

The writer is Virgil, guiding a world of Dantes down through the Nine Circles of Hell.

The writer is an aging athlete required to break the four minute mile every morning.

The writer is a deep-sea diver who comes up with priceless treasures from the deep, until the day someone or something fouls his oxygen line.

The writer is a scientist, working without equipment in a dark room, searching for an antibody which will eradicate still in another human disease, or human failing.

The writer is a conservationist, trying to save a fresh water lake or a giant redwood forest from the hands of human predators.

The writer is an astronaut, willing to catapult himself through outer space in the hope that one day he will find a more rational planet to which we can all escape.

The writer is a psychiatrist, going behind the insanity of the modern world to chart the trails whereby we have reached the sanitarium, and the paths out of it.

The writer is a dinosaur, extinct for thousands of years yet believing because he has a shin bone and a piece of jaw he is still a monumental creature.

A keepsake presented on the occasion of Irving Stone’s MLA lecture at USC, November 20, 1986

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