(originally posted 3/28/2013)
The question is, can you really write something meaningful in only 1000 words? 1000 words to try and capture something transcendent, something powerful, something that can make a difference in the life of a reader. Can a writer overcome the preponderance of evidence suggesting that it cannot be done? Can he or she find it within themselves to be so bold as to try?
My guess is that it doesn’t help to waste 74 of them outlining your initial question and self-doubt. 82 if you count that last sentence.
Look at it another way. No matter when you die you only have so many words that you’ll speak. If you accept that premise then every one you say or type or think to yourself is another grain of sand through the hourglass. So why worry that 1000 isn’t enough when whatever number exists for you will not be enough when the hour arrives. There is a good chance your last words will be complaining that they are your last words.
And no closer to something meaningful than when I started.
There was this old guy who lived with his wife in the same house for over 50 years. Every day she would write in her diary. Every day. He never asked what she wrote or suggested that perhaps she share it with somebody. When she died and he was cleaning out some her stuff he found these 20 or so journals. He stared at them awhile and for a minute he thought about reading them.
Then he took them to the fireplace and burned the lot of them. Not out of spite or because his relationship with his departed wife wasn’t full and loving, but because he realized that even if he read them and they were wonderful and he ended up taking them to a publisher and they in turn fell in love with them and released them and they became a huge hit and beloved around the world that in a few years he would be dead and in a few billion earth would be gone.
So what did it matter?
Now you might for a few seconds find that story profound, but when you start to turn in over in your head and examine it I’m sure it will lose a lot of its initial luster. It’s a story that has probably run through your own head a few times as you count down your own spoken mortality. White words written on a white page, never to be read.
And the search for something real goes on. It’s not just you, everyone is looking and when they see an opportunity to be moved at the cost of only 1000 words it’s a bargain few can pass up even though they know already that what they’ll get is probably just a story about an old guy burning his wife’s diary.
Almost halfway there.
Exhausted physics professors, faith healers with pained looks sketched on their faces and beatniks snapping their fingers in a dark café somewhere are all looking. Of course they are. That’s their job we are all told. But they are all frauds, though they will be amongst the last to admit it. To the public anyway, they are among the first to admit it to themselves.
But what of the plumbers? Those crawling around our toilets and unclogging our pipes? Surely they are too busy to be concerned with such twaddle right?
Do you think their heads are swimming with visions of our clogs as they unclog them? Or are they dreaming and drifting and far away from the cramped and smelly quarters that their physical bodies are currently inhabiting? Examining math and faith and finding them as wanting as you did when you read about the old man who burned his wife’s diaries. All as he unclogs your drain.
Can you feel it even now? The words between 1 and 1000 slowly running out. It seemed like only a few seconds ago you were at 355 and now you’re not sure but surely you’re way past 600. Maybe even 700. And that has your stomach constricting just a little. Perhaps your head is even swimming a bit, and maybe you’re wishing that you had a pipe to unclog so you could be done with this already and back to killing time productively.
For the earth will be gone in only a few billion years. It seems so far away but there will be a time when it will happen, just as there was a time before it was here and if you had been standing in the empty space it would have seemed an eternity until the earth was finally formed.
So the question is, what would you really want to read in the last 200 hundred words? An answer to a question you have? Something inspiring to take away or perhaps a phrase stated so perfectly that it resonates inside you and you remember it and speak it aloud every time you are drunk and pressed for something to say?
How could you have even started this expecting it to mean anything if you’re not even sure what it is that you really want? And every word brings you that much closer to the end of the story.
Surely the only thing you can do is rage against the fact that you even wasted your time reading it and what a hack I am for having started it. For my part all I can hope for is that you’re reading this on a Kindle or Nook or on your laptop so you can look past the words hovering on the screen and catch a quick look at your own reflection as you’re reading it.
Take a good look. Yes. It is you. And the last words here are really irrelevant. The image should make you smile and even if it doesn’t… smile anyway.