Walking the Cat . . .

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Thoughts on Writing

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What is a writer?

Well, the simple answer is, a writer is someone who writes. Easy enough to explain something by citing its definition. Bricklayers lay brick, dancers dance, musicians make music, and writers write. Simple.

But why do writers write?

The answer to that question is a bit more complex. It is, as they say, a whole other ball o’ wax. The reasons people choose to write are as varied as the writers themselves. I could list all the reasons for writing by it would take up more time that I’m prepared to spend on this post. For those interested in exploring the topic, l suggest you pick up a copy of Margaret Atwood’s Negotiating With the Dead, A Writer on Writing. She offers an extensive, although by no means comprehensive, list of reasons why writers write; some of them surprising, others not so much. One reason that appears elsewhere in Ms. Atwood’s book, although not among the listed reasons for writing, is that it’s a comparatively easy thing to do. There are no prerequisites; no intellectual or educational background is required beyond a certain facility with one’s native language. That, and the determination to see the process through from beginning to end. After all, it is, as Neil Gaiman is supposed to have said, simply a matter of putting one word after another on the page until you’ve finished saying whatever it is you want to say. Simple, right? Not really.

There’s a small addendum to Mr. Gaiman’s description that’s worth noting if one aspires to be a published writer. (Not all of us aspire to that lofty goal, but I’ll get to that in a bit). The addendum is, that along with putting one word after another on the page, a should be able to put the right word in the right order after another on the page. Makes this ‘writing thing’ a bit trickier, don’t you think?

Ernest Hemingway once described the act of writing as, “You just sit down and open a vein.” Ironic, considering Hemingway did a lot of his writing standing up. I’ll confess that Hemingway’s description is a bit more strenuous the Mr. Gaiman’s, and anyway most writers – not all, but the majority – manage to confine their bloodletting to the page. Suffice it to say the actual process of writing lies somewhere between the two extremes. I, myself, picked writing because it was one of the few things I was suited to that didn’t require an inordinate amount of time trying to dislodge the dirt from under my fingernails.

So, what’s it like, being a writer?

For the most part writers live pretty much to way everyone else does. Most of us have ‘day jobs’. We get up, get the kids ready for school, go to work, attend PTA meetings, grocery shop, pick the kids up after school, get the car washed, the tires rotated, go to the barber or the hairdresser, maybe go on vacation when we can afford it. Pretty much the same thing everyone else does, except when all the other stuff is done, we write; usually late at night or early in the morning, and sometimes on the weekends if there are no soccer, baseball or football games, or piano or ballet recitals to attend. We’re just like everyone else. We’re kind of like witches in that respect; you can’t tell just by looking whether we are one or not.

Writers also tend to be avid readers, and we read across a wide variety of subjects and genres. I’ll give you an example. My own small library contains books on history, biography, memoirs, religion, business, art, writing, cooking, science and politics. I have thrillers, literary fiction, classics, philosophy, occultism, humor. books on photography and crafts, wine and winemaking, books and book collecting. And these, in one way or another, inform my own writing, as well as the way I tend to see the world around me. By reading how others viewed their world, I gain insights into my own world, and how it came to be the way it is. It’s also a handy how-to for using words, a turn-of-phrase that, with practice, helps me improve my writing.

Writers have always experienced a peculiar, Janus-like relationship with the non-writing public. Being among the ‘creatives’ in society, we are encouraged, even celebrated, in our ability to provide entertainment for the masses; to allow them to slip the bonds of their work-a-day lives and enter realms where good and evil battle endlessly for supremacy, and where good doesn’t always prevail, at least not until the next installment rolls off the presses. Then the god smiles on the writer, and the critics praise his efforts and lament the dearth of creativity in society, and presses roll out another spate of how-to books exclaiming, “You, too, can be (or become) more creative!”

Writers – and this applies especially to journalists, whether they write books or newspaper and magazine articles – have also always had the responsibility to “speak Truth to Power”, to expose, whenever possible, the misdeeds of governments and corporations, and provide the public the information necessary to combat the abuse of power. Then the god frowns on the writer, and governments and corporations berate him or her for the “misleading information”, “the lies”, “libels”, “unfounded accusations” and “unsubstantiated rumors”. These centers of power and influence have always viewed the writer as suspect, unreliable, and possibly subversive. Writers who continually joust with those in power have often been described in stereotypical terms; alcoholic, drug-addicted and mentally unbalanced, all to discredit those who question authority; and not only those who currently challenge authority, but those who would do so in the future.

That’s what it means to be a writer. It’s just like any other job or avocation. You have your good days and your bad. Like my mother used to say, “You pay your money, and you take your chance.”

In the end, I guess, it really doesn’t matter what type of writer you are (or become); whether you labor in the public eye like Stephen King, John LeCarré, or Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, or you labor in secret like Winston Smith, the reluctant hero of George Orwell’s 1984, or even if you write a single word. It doesn’t matter what you do, what matters is that you do it. But if you’re human, and I’m betting you are, sooner or later you’ll give in to cacoethia scribendi, “the itch to scribble”. Just be warned, if you scratch that itch once, you won’t be able to stop.





Justice Scalia & SCOTUS . . .(W-T-F, Tony?!)

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At the outset, I want to say I had some reservations about posting this here but then I re-read the “About Walking the Cat” page and decided it was as appropriate as any other post I’ve written, so . . .

I am troubled by comments made by Justice Antonin Scalia during oral arguments in a case before the Court regarding certain sections of the Voting Rights Act (VRA).  Justice Scalia’s reference to VRA as “. . .racial entitlement” is appalling on its face, but a larger issue resides in the attitude this comment represents as it relates to the function of the Court.

It was never the intention of the framers of the Constitution that the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) should be a vehicle for legislation.  It was designed to be a check against “unruly” legislation; to insure those laws passed by Congress comport with the Constitution.  I don’t believe it is within the Court’s purvue to examine the motivations of individual legislators as to why they voted, pro or con, on a particular piece of legislation.  Using such as argument the Court could examine every law enacted by Congress going back to the founding of the country; even to question the very decision to declare independence from England in the first place.

Yet Justice Scalia sees it as his responsibility to do just that.  After labelling VRA as “racial entitlement”, he continues: “It’s been written about.  whenever a society adopts racial entitlements, it is very difficult to get out of them through the normal political processes.  I don’t think there is anything to be gained by any Senator to vote against continuation of this act.  And I am fairly confident it will be reenacted in perpetuity unless — unless a court can say it does not comport with the Constitution.”

Further along in the argument(s) Justice Scalia reaffirms his belief in the reasons some senators voted to enact (and reenact) VRA.  After noting the existence of “black districts by law” (the results of state’s practice of gerrymandering), he adds, “And even the Virginia Senators, they have no interest in voting against this (VRA) . . .and they are going to lose — they are going to lose votes if they do not reenact the Voting Rights Act.”  

I find this last statement mind-boggling.  Apparently, in Justice Scalia’s mind, senators should not vote for or against bill based on what their constituents think.  Never mind that, in the case of VRA, some of those whose rights are being protected could conceivably be persuaded to vote for them (I know it’s not likely to happen, especially for conservative senators, but it’s conceivable).  Senators (and Congressmen, too) always take into consideration what their constituents think about the laws they are expected to vote on (at least they should be thinking about it); if they don’t, they abrogate their responsibility as elected officials and risk being voted out of office by that same constituency (as they should be).

The Voting Rights Act is important legislation and it should be reenacted; not only because it protects the rights of blacks (for whom it was enacted in 1965), but because it protects the rights of all of us.  In 2011, seven states, all of which were (and still are) controlled by Republicans, attempted to establish restrictive voter ID laws in an effort to block (or at least restrict) those voters (not only blacks, but Hispanic, the poor, the elderly) they felt likely to vote for “the other guy”.  Those efforts were blocked by the Justice Department, in two states, under Section 2 of VRA.  The Voting Rights Act is vibrant and necessary legislation; as much now as it was when first enacted in 1965.

If Justice Scalia wishes to determine the constitutionality of law based on his assessment of the motivation(s) of lawmakers; whether or not their motivation was sufficient to warrant a vote for passage of a given piece of legislation, he should, perhaps, retire from the bench and take up psychology.

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