“How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.” – Henry David Thoreau
I remember reading this quote as a child, most likely a result of some required reading in high school. I can’t really say with any degree of accuracy what it meant to me then but I will make a guess that the meaning was explained to me by a teacher with the best of intentions. I am older now, and my interpretation of any reading or quote is based on my knowledge of the subject matter, what I might or might not know about the author, and my own life experiences. This particular quote by Thoreau happens to be one of my favorites.
As I embark on this journey we call writing, this quote has new meaning to me due to how I define living at this point of my life. It doesn’t translate that I must venture down a path on some spiritualistic quest in order to write with conviction. Nor do I interpret this quote in a literal manner. I do however; feel there is a continual element of self-reflection involved regarding my life that allows me to write.
I have lived. I have lived through hundreds of books that I have read over my lifetime. I have lived through life experiences. I have lived through imagery, both real and imagined. I have lived through other senses: tasting, smelling, touching, and hearing. I’ve lived through both physical and gut wrenching emotional pain. I’ve lived through loving and having been loved. I’ve lived through life’s lows and euphoric highs. And so have you. Toss vanity aside, we have something to write about.
As for what I haven’t lived? We have technological tools today, that combined with imagination and life experiences, allow us to write about almost anything, regardless of age, demographics, or any other self-imposed barrier we tend to use as an excuse . I have been fortunate enough over my life to travel to many places both domestic and abroad, yet I feel I could write about a place I have never been to. For example, I have traveled most of the United States with the exception of the Pacific Northwest, New England, and the South. Could I write a scene or story based in Oregon? Absolutely. I’ve read others who have written about the area. I’ve watched movies and documentaries set in the area. I have friends who have lived there. I could get on the internet and ‘walk’ along a street, seeing what the storefronts or homes look like or browse photographs of a trail and walk it in my mind. I’ve enjoyed a rainy day served with dark clouds, hold the sunshine, and can imagine what multiple days of that entrée would be like in a city such as Astoria, Oregon. And yes, I have watched Goonies at least twenty times over the years. At some point, I am living it. And so are you.
With all due respect, I am not diminishing the artistic value or skill levels of those who have mastered the craft of writing. Nor am I demeaning a quote that resonates with me on a very personal level. I am simply stating, and a bit cliché: everyone brings something to the table.
The amazing thing about my writing journey is that I am still a student and will be for some time. I welcome that because lifelong learning is a mantra I subscribe to. There are, however, a few things I do know: I’m not vain, I have stories to tell, and I have stood up and lived. I will write knowing that.