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Wednesday, October 15, 2003

The Name of the Writer

"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.

Do you wait to be anointed?
Like Saul, who went to search for the lost donkeys, and found 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 had I known always, from the very moment I remember myself: 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 allow only 50% to the empowering agent or even only to one person in our lives, yet an important one, then I think we do have a partial answer, if not the major one.

There are so many gifted people in this world, so many of them potential 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 latter 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 desert to them?
The world loves books, offers them dutiful respect, yet it forgets that without the writer there wouldn't have been any books.
In this sense the writer is more important than the books.

A formidable writer once said in an interview:
Until the age of forty I was a writer who never wrote a single word on page, only in my head.
So, you are a writer even if you've never yet written a single word.

Now, are Prizes the anointment replacement?

In my experience and understanding prizes serve one function - the monetary one.

I 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.
The writer is his/her only jury, chaired by Old Good Truth and Honesty.

You are a writer even if you've never got a single prize (and so 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 as much as a Nobel Peace Prize doesn't turn you into the Eternal Peace Guardian - judging from our laureates at home here in the Middle East.

As in the last's cases, being a writer is not like becoming an adult, it's not like reaching a stage in life but rather a life long commitment.

My solution? I work at night and sleep during the day.

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