Grab a cuppa and a comfy seat, and let’s chat a while! It’s time for Coffee and Conversation!
When I was six, my family was driving on a highway late at night. Streaks of headlights and taillights painted the dark. For the first time, I realized that each car held people living lives as important to them as mine was to me.
I wanted to know what those lives were, and to share my own..
In high school, nearly 30 years ago, I had an assignment that asked me to describe the career we’d like to eventually have, and how we thought the advent of home computers might change the nature of that career.
I chose writing, and posited that the computer wouldn’t do much to change the 1987 current reality of writing. Sure, I reasoned, it might be easier to print using a keyboard and screen where I could fix typos without whiteout, and not have many many trees killed for my art, but computers couldn’t do the writing, because they didn’t have human experiences. They’d never be more the a sidenote to my writing – sort of a fancier, more efficient version of the Smith-Corona electric typewriter I received for graduation.
I didn’t know, then, what computers would come to be, in the next decade or two. I didn’t know about the Internet; Facebook and Google and Netflix and Amazon and blogging simply didn’t exist. Twitter was just a sound made by gaggles of little girls…or a flock of birds.
I didn’t know that the computer would become both a writing resource, and an outlet. I had no clue whatsoever what computers could be, and how vastly important a tool they would become for my writing life (not to mention life in general).
What do I mean?
Well, take absinthe, for example. My personal experience with the wormwood-infused alcohol is non-existent – well, OK, I know a person or two who’ve tried it; and I’ve seen a bottle of it, and been offered a sample, which I refused.
For myself, that’s enough. But I’m a writer, and, during November’s National Novel Writing Month, I had a character who tries absinthe in an attempt to deal with “larger issues” – he’s a telepath who needs to make and maintain contact with someone on an unknown planet, and he’s used pschychoactive substances in the past to achieve that contact. Absinthe turns out to be an excellent catalyst, for that purpose, but his growing passion for it wreaks havoc on his life…
So I needed to know something about absinthe, and this magical window whisked me away and led me down a trail where I learned :
- the composition of absinthe
- the chemical aspects of wormwood
- the ritual of preparation
- (and why, scientifically, it matters)
- the history of the drink
- the language used in relation to it
- art featuring absinthe
- rumor, propaganda, and facts
- the effects of absinthe
- famous people who favored absinthe;
- and those lovely spoons…
From the research, my story evolved. My character not only has his life turned upside down by absinthe- it becomes the moving force propelling him through a good deal of the story, and a symbol of those “larger issues” he was dealing with. It provides sensory detail and imagery that feed the story, and led this character – and others – down paths I never suspected they’d take (and I planned this story). The spoons he and others choose for the ritual become symbols for who they are, or who they see themselves as. The process of preparation becomes an analogy for what’s happening in this character’s life, and within him, through the story…the changes and challenges he undergoes.
Without the Internet, I might have been able to come up with some information on absinthe- but it wouldn’t have been instantly available, to be explored in the moment of inspiration. It would have been rigid and limited – static. It wouldn’t have shifted with my explorations, accommodating the shifts my imagination made along the way. I wouldn’t have been able to adjust the research with a new click, save the relevant pages electronically, and navigate smoothly from one site to the next. So my story would have been either more vague, or less organic, than it will be.
And what I looked at was only the tip of that iceberg…I can learn far more, just as easily, if I need or want to. And not just about absinthe – about nearly any subject I can think of.
No, the Internet won’t write my story for me – but it does give me the resources to be a better writer, in an endlessly customizable way.
So, to my former English teacher, I offer this hindsight 20/20 update. While it’s true that computers aren’t doing my writing, they have changed just about every aspect of my writing life…in ways I couldn’t even imagine, back in 1987.
And I’m very happy about that!
How about you? If you’ve been around long enough to remember the pre-Internet world, in what ways is your life different, now? If you’ve always had Internet access, can you imagine what life would be without it? I’ll pour the beverages (absinthe, anyone?), and listen….chime right in!