There comes a moment in my favorite concert film, Stop Making Sense, where David Byrne dances with a lamp. Within that dance is a thing that always makes me smile: David encircles the lamp with his arms and gives it a little kiss. In a song that is, as DB describes it, the only love song he has every written, the embrace and kiss are evidences of a deeply human emotion.
What was so special about that moment? One thing was, I think, the unexpectedness of it. In a career without much use for the sloppy sentimentalities of life—from a man who has made a career out of artful quirkiness—that rare display of pure humanness had an element of child-in-the-man delight.
One of writing’s great gifts is the ability to gather emotional truths onto a story.
And here come the questions….
In writing, we channel the small human moments (and the great honking ones, too) from the Grand Outside to the intimate setting of the page. Do we gather those truths from life and store them in the synaptic filing cabinet of our heads, to dole them out later? Do we synthesize them out of what we’ve seen? Or do we cut those emotions from the whole cloth of personal need?
Are we synthesis machines? Or maker-uppers?
The answers aren’t as clear cut as they might be in a…well, let’s just say a better adjusted being. Born as they are of our overly-active imaginations, human interaction is a dicey territory. Some of us are well aware that our condition of aliens-in-residence leaves us ever in the position of observing “real” people through a perpetually glass: We see the workings of the human world, but we never quite get the knack of how it works or why.
For writerly creatures like us, whose lives are dedicated to capturing big and little moments of humanity, this is a puzzling condition in which to find ourselves. One would think that to represent motivation and response in a genuine way we would have to roll up our personal pant-legs and wade into it; to don real-world garb and view the indigenous beings in their habitat. For some of us, that is hardly an option. Real life is a thing most safely viewed from afar.
So where does that leave us?
Hoping, mostly. Hoping and working hard. Watching and searching and wondering at what real people do, and hoping that we can raise it above the stew of confusion that life so often is.
We feel wonder to share wonder. We imagine love to convey it. We hope, in our unreality, to find a greater truth in a reality that we don’t entirely understand. That people tell us we are keen and insightful observers of people…if only they knew.
Now will somebody please find me a lamp? I feel a dance coming on….