2009-09-03 / Sam Bari

A notable aversion to real work

You can’t beat a system you can’t understand
By Sam Bari

During my adult years, I have made a living as a writer of music and/or words. The ability to support myself in this way has been a privilege for which I am most grateful, and for good reason. I am less than qualified to do any job where actual work is involved. You might say I was destined to write because I have little talent for much else.

I might also add that my life as an adult is a reference to accumulated years, not maturity. I am not convinced that I ever had the ability or desire to think or behave like an adult as the term is generally accepted or understood.

Aspiring to the unrealistic lifestyle of a creative dreamer has been the cause for occasional introspection on my part and a point of frequent concern for my parents and teachers. “That boy is not in touch with reality,” is a sentence I heard repeatedly during my formative years.

I thought my parents would suffer from apoplexy when I told them I wanted to be a professional composer and musician, and if that didn’t happen, I was going to be an author.

The blank stares from their paling faces reflected their thoughts on the matter.

“All the years, the sacrifices and the money for education – where did we fail?” appeared to bounce around in their heads. They never said much about it. You might say they were speechless.

Mind you, many have said, “Writing is hard work. It takes study, and planning and endless hours in front of a computer, or word processor.” That may be true, except for one thing. Real writers do not perceive writing as work, or labor for compensation. Those who have the calling write whether or not they are paid. They do it because they must. To the inspired writer, the act of writing is akin to being addicted to a computer game.

The writer has 26 letters and a handful of punctuation marks and symbols. The object of the game is to use those letters, marks and symbols to paint a picture in the form of a story as if they were parts that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. The game is over when the writer has completed a composition that can be read by others so they can understand the writer’s imagined perception of the world, even if it is only in a book, a comic strip, a movie or a newspaper column.

Writers have an expanded reality. When they stare at those blank pages and fill them with words, the world can be whatever they want it to be. If you’re Lewis Carroll, Alice can slide down a rabbit hole in Wonderland and talk to a grinning Cheshire cat.

If you’re J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter can make you levitate with one wave of a wand and an appropriate command in a magic language. And if you’re Joseph Shuster and Jerry Siegel, your Superman character can fly, stop speeding bullets, leap tall buildings and fight crime.

The rules of writing are many, but the imagination knows no bounds, and the stuff that dreams are made of are put to good use by writers on a daily basis for all to enjoy.

When I was a boy, I saw an adventure in everything. Although I was born in Hawaii, I spent my school years in the Midwest, in Mark Twain territory. During the summers, I lived like Huckleberry Finn. To me, that was reality.

My parents had an unshakeable work ethic. They seemed to live to work. Even when they were on vacation, they were able to turn the experience into work. I think I translated that into discipline as I pursued my goals. Days behind a typewriter and, later, a word processor never bothered me.

Nothing bad ever happens to anyone who is reading or writing. The great works of literature are an escape from the rigors of life as we know it. In real life, people fight, die, commit crimes and endure unspeakable atrocities.

That happens in books, too, but there is a difference. The reader can stop at any time and give the imagination a rest. People do not have to escape from reading good books to preserve their sanity.

However, many escape the hardships of everyday life by taking refuge in a well-told tale. Reality is where we live in a system we can’t understand.

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