Berried Treasure in Worlds Old & New

We are alive within mystery, by miracle. ~Wendell Berry

I am not a writer of fiction. That isn’t to say that everything that I have written has always succeeded in being factual, though I have pressed toward that mark, it is rather to say that I do not write in the popular genre known as fiction. I have not yet discovered within my native abilities the requisite qualities that make for telling tales yet untold. For the time being I content myself with saying things about the world that is, can be, should be, and finally will be, while leaving the creation of other worlds to those better suited to that task. There’s enough wonder in this world to keep me sufficiently occupied if I never learn how to make worlds of my own. This is not at all meant to disparage those who “make up stories.” Rather this is my feeble attempt to justify my own creative deficiencies over against those who suffer defects in different areas. 

Despite the arbitrary imposition of “genres” upon those who labor to line words up so as to make something, the writers of fiction and the writers of nonfiction both hope to stack their sentences in such a way as to make sense. Sometimes a man can make sense of this world by looking to the dirt beneath his feet and remembering that he came from it and that eventually he will return to it. At other times, paradoxically, one can just as easily look at the sky overhead and remember that it is just as much his native soil and eventual home as the tightly packed sod underfoot.

But then there are those times that a person has to make other worlds just to be able to perceive this one clearly. In making we learn what it is to be made; in creating we understand something about being created. One may even begin to understand, though always as though looking through a glass darkly, what it means to be a creator who makes worlds simply because he delights to do so. Authors litter these little lands with various peoples and monsters. With the stroke of a pen (or the tap-tap-tapping of a keyboard) mountains rise and rivers run. But these peopled lands are not really worlds as long as they sit alone and idle; they need something to do. So authors select handfuls of characters and bind them together in cryptic cords which we call “plots.” The characters themselves are unaware that they are plodding through these plots but still there they are–firmly plotted. If the new world is going to be an interesting one the author must take those conjoined characters and pull both ends of the story together by drawing that plot cord, careful not to yank so hard as to bring the ends down upon it. Sometimes the plot is a watery stew of abstract ideas that needs thickening, at other times it’s a loosely connected series of predictable events and needs a good firm twist. In the end all of those elaborately constructed elements- peoples, places, plots- serve to bring satisfaction to the writer and reader alike.

When it’s all said and done the work of fiction isn’t a mural to look at but rather a window to look through. Reading is not the goal; seeing is. This is the common ground upon which all writers pitch their creative tents. Though one chooses to construct a world and another chooses to simply observe this one, there is one destination at which the fiction writer and the nonfiction writer both hope to eventually arrive…truth. Truth doesn’t belong to any genre. Truth belongs to the God who tells good stories.

As I’ve said, for now I have to content myself with saying things about this world. Perhaps eventually I will be able to sire a world or two of my own.

If that day does come I hope to be able to do it like this…

Wendell Berry Reading One Of His Creations

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