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Friday, December 27, 2002

The Name of the Writer


(first published at the Patchword e-zine)

�You should write only if you cannot sleep at night if you do not write.� So said a Yiddish writer to my friend, the poet Karen Alkalay-Gut when she was still a child.

Reading another writer's's article I feel coming from him some kind of expectancy to be anointed. You go out into the world like King Saul, to search for the lost donkeys, and you find a kingdom. A prophet anoints your head with pure olive oil and then smooth silky writing comes out in a never-ending luxurious flow.

But is it so?

Why did I always, from the very moment I remember myself, know I am a writer? What came first, the writing that was flowing out of my pen as if of its own will or the praise from the teachers, from a father who wrote beautifully and compassionately.

I do not know the answer. But even if we credit (do you have a less monetary word?) only 50% for the empowering agent or only to one person in our lives, yet an important one, then I think we do have part of an answer, if not the major one. Because, you see, there are so many gifted people in this world, so many of them actually gifted writers. What happens to those who toil in utter darkness with no one to smile lovingly at them, or admire, or offer appreciation, in early childhood or in any later stage in life? How many of those unable to sleep at night become prey to illnesses and despair, their life wasted in a world that seems like a desert to them?

We do not know.

The world loves books, offers them dutiful respect, yet it forgets that without the writer there wouldn�t be any books. In this sense the writer is more important than the books, in this very real sense.

Suppose you are a business person or an editor, will you wait for a jury to pronounce you the Business-person, the Editor?

In Hebrew we say: Since the Destruction of the Temple all prophets were deemed to be just �Lying Prophets�. So, you see, No one has the power to anoint, unless you yourself credit them with it.

What will all the juries do if all the writers, God Forbid, turned their back on them?

I do not suggest they/we should. The point I�m raising is that a jury�s existence depends on us while a writer�s existence is sovereign and independent. When you enter the Temple, leave on the threshold the worn shoes of humility. Isn�t humility in our case just internalized oppression?

So, you are a writer even if you�ve never yet written a single word. In this I recall a formidable writer who once said in an interview: Until the age of forty I was a writer who never wrote a single word on a page, only in my head. Which takes us back to the head and the anointment business.

Now, are Prizes the anointment replacement? Are they really what make the difference?

In my experience and understanding prizes serve one function � just the monetary one. The writer is his/her only jury, chaired by Old Good Truth and Honesty. Indeed I do believe that one can fulfill the gift of writing and the vocation only with honesty, only when guided by truth. You do your best, the best you can, notwithstanding the spouse or neighbor�s opinion/dictum. You are a writer even if you�ve never got a single prize (albeit poorer) and in this you are in the good company of some of the most honestly important writers. Aren�t so many of the Nobel prize winners forgotten while the likes of Kafka, Yehuda Amihai, you name them, have never reached that podium? No, Prizes don�t make you a writer, no more than a Nobel Peace Prize turns you into the Eternal Peace Guardian � judging from our laureates at home here in the Middle East. As in their case, being a writer is not like becoming an adult, it�s not like reaching a stage in life but rather a life long commitment to testify truthfully and honestly on the nature of your times and human experience.

As long as you cannot sleep at nights if you do not write, and write honestly, Brother/Sister: rest assured: you are a writer!

And I�m not a Lying Prophet, no� I�m a writer.

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