I recently arrowed send and, instantly it seemed, my novel-in-progress flew from my desk in California to an editor on the East Coast. The Fire Trail had been rewritten once again. Characters were developed more fully, I hope, scenes added and expanded, plot points remapped, histories made true.
I am enraptured by what is true, a true truth-junkie. In all of my novels I have tracked and tried to capture truth, turning this elusive and challenging quality into characters who live and breathe, people who people my pages. For it is the artist's solemn obligation to attempt this invaluable and possibly foolhardy feat, this re-presenting what is true about you and I, our world, our very existence. It is a big and scary subject, and some of us do not want to hear about it, for as T.S. Eliot wrote in Four Quartets, "Humankind cannot bear very much reality."
We call these realities "hard truths," and they are ones which make some folks squirm: the definition of marriage and why the state should be interested in its definition, the sacredness of life from conception to grave, the need for freedom linked to responsibility, liberty linked to law, democracy linked to an educated electorate. Yet all of these truths are necessary for American culture to survive, indeed, for free peoples of the world to survive.
Entering the election season, we citizens who own the great privilege of voting must understand these issues. It is good we have these months to debate truth, from all points of view. It is good that we learn what is at stake, recognize when truth is elasticized and remolded, is shape-shifting. In this learning process, we pull truth into its proper shape, into its true character.
And so in my little novel that flew through cyberspace I tried to pull these elastic truths back into their real shapes through my characters. The characters themselves, for that matter, are icons of many people I have known. They speak with voices I have heard. They have been molded with words as an icon is painted with prayer, so that they will one day face readers and say, "I am so pleased to meet you." Thus, the dance begins, a waltz or a minuet, a conversation between character and reader, a slow dance at first, but one picking up pace and tempo, as the music of language is heard.
Art is a medium of truth, or can be, should be. It is a way of expressing the inexpressible, explaining the unexplainable, touching familiar notes deep within our common humanity, as though we were an orchestra playing a symphony. The artist reaches into clay or image or symbol, tempo or melody or chord, and re-molds it to show something true about each one of us. The medium is only that, a medium, material used to tell us about ourselves as human beings, who we truly are.
With the rise of advertising over the last century, truth has become malleable, slanted, slippery. And with advertising we learn to be forewarned and hesitate before believing that snake oil will cure blindness.
But in the process, journalists, publishers, and politicians have been tempted to twist and stretch truth, so that honest elections are held hostage to news media, be it print, video, or electronic. Shades of gray stretch as far as the eye can see. Colors and definitions disappear in a wasteland of relativity. What are voters to do? We can only be aware, beware, and be wary of the lie that there is no truth, no right way forward. It is not, as they say and preach, all relative. Truth exists, is real, is true.
And so as we listen and read, as we consider the direction our nation should take, who should lead us through the wilderness of today, I am glad I created characters who live within the debates. I will refine them with honest fire, hammering and shaping their golds into revelations, beautiful and good and true.
For in the end, this is what we all desire, to know in truth where we have come from, where we are, and where we are going.