by Helen E. H. Madden
I hated this topic from the moment I first laid eyes on it. What would I do if I couldn't write? Are you kidding me? Not writing is like not breathing for me. I'd eventually turn blue in the face and keel over dead. Seriously, who's cock-a-mamie idea was this topic anyway?
Oh well (she says, rolling her eyes). I'll play along I guess. If I couldn't write, I would like to be...
An Egyptologist! I'd travel to exotic locations, explore pyramids, discover mummies and treasures galore, and write about my exploits in all the latest archaeological journal--
What? Oh yeah, right. I'm not able to write. Okay, forget that. Let's try again. If I couldn't write, I would be...
A rock star! Yeah, I've always wanted to play electric guitar! I'd go on tour and sing to millions, no BILLIONS, of adoring groupies! I'd wear all the latest gothic fashions and croon these amazingly deep dark songs about love and puppies and stuff. Of course I'd write my own lyric--
Huh? What? Dammit. I forgot. No writing. Okay, let's see. If I couldn't write, I would be...
A biologist! I've always loved science. I'd be a field biologist, the kind who gear up in khakis and hip waders and go out into the rain forests and find new species and write books on evolution--
God dammit! Okay, if I couldn't write, I would be...
Ah, I can't do this. This is ridiculous! If I couldn't write, I'd be dead! Dead, do you hear me?! The only way you'll get my word processor away from me is to pry it out of my cold, dead hands! And there will be at least three, count them, THREE masterpieces on it because that's the kind of writer I am. If I weren't a writer, I'd be a cashier in a lousy fast food joint, counting the days until I could blow my brains out, okay? That's what it would be like for me if I couldn't write.
Oh, but wait! you say. Helen, what about your art? Couldn't you just draw instead?
NO I COULDN'T JUST DRAW INSTEAD! Because art, really good art, involves story telling. You ever hear how a picture is worth a thousand words? Yeah, that's actually true, and if I couldn't write a thousand words, then I damn sure wouldn't be able to draw them, would I? Not anything good, anyway. I wouldn't be able to cartoon, because cartooning definitely involves writing. Don't believe me? You try putting together a four panel strip. I dare you. And if I couldn't write, I wouldn't be able to get a decent job in any other field because most fields these days require at least some capacity to communicate in written form. I'd at least have to be able to put together a decent e-mail.
Oh, but e-mail isn't writing, is it? WRONG! E-mail is so writing! In fact, there are a lot of everyday things we do that involve writing or storytelling in some form. Try telling a joke without telling a story. Try discussing over dinner what you did today without resorting to telling a story. Try tucking your kids in bed tonight and answering their questions about why the sky is blue and trees are green, except in the Fall when the leaves turn yellow and red and brown, without telling a story. Try doing any of that without telling a story. It's impossible, I tell you. Simply impossible.
Of course, some of you out there are shaking your heads and saying, "No Helen. Those things you've mentioned can't be writing or storytelling, because I do them, and I can't write." Bullocks. You can too write. You've just convinced yourself you can't. I bet if you sat down at the computer right now, you could type out at least one funny story from your childhood, like the time your dad got his tie caught in the toaster and ended up setting himself on fire as a result (or was that my dad who did that? I don't recall). Maybe it wouldn't be perfect. Maybe it would be riddled with spelling and grammar errors, and you put the punch line in the wrong place and sort of limped through to the end, but you could write that story. And if you wanted, you could rewrite it to make it better. And then rewrite it again if you want, until you've got that story polished like gold. And you know why you'd be able to do this? Because you're human, and humans are storytellers to their very cores. To be human is to be full of endless tales and jokes and anecdotes that we just have to share with each other. Tell me, what other species on this planet tells stories, huh?
If I couldn't write, I'd be an aardvark, dammit, because that's all I'd be good for.