I wrote my very first novel when I was 11 years of age. For Christmas, my parents gave me a portable Brother typewriter and on the very next day – my 11th birthday – I sat down to write a story about a pilot in the Battle of Britain in World War Two, largely based on the experiences of my father.
Since that time I’ve written dozens of books, including children’s adventures, novels, and lately studies on politics and civic engagement. I’m afraid I suffer from the same malady as that of the great American contemporary poet, Maya Angelou, when she confessed, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” I have had the pleasure of sitting down at my computer and finding the personal fulfillment in Angelou’s further observation that, “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer; it sings because it has a song.”
All this has definitely become true since my time in politics. I specifically called my blog the Parallel Parliament because I believed there were numerous realities going on in Parliament that most people never received the opportunity to learn and which the media showed little inclination of covering. Perhaps chief among those “realities” was learning just how seriously enforced partisanship had inflicted damage to the democratic state. Though I personally moved on from a political career and returned quickly to a meaningful life, I perceived my community through a more seasoned eye. The dysfunction within the political order was leaving communities across the country poorer through neglect. The big issues weren’t being tackled and the rise in poverty, environmental decline, middle-class erosion, joblessness, and burgeoning debt, to name but a few, were making it difficult for communities of all sizes to adjust to modern realities.
And so I wrote – lots. I felt that with politics becoming increasingly gridlocked that it was time for citizens and their communities to step up if democracy was to be served. I’ve attempted to stay on the main themes of citizen responsibility and its importance, regardless of political stripe. And then there were those who had no political affiliation and who were turned off of the spectacle; they too needed reminding that their efforts would have to be mixed with the whole.
Our communities will either serve as political appendages or citizen pathways. They could become what we see and want for our children. It’s like Aesop’s famous fable where someone commented to a lion how many statues of humans there were. “There are many statues of men slaying lions,” the lion replied, “but if only the lions were sculptors, there might be quite a different set of statues.” Our communities might look far different if citizens developed more of a say in how they looked and functioned. I really feel that is not only true but necessary for the future of our country. And so, again, I write.
But I like composing the way Henry David Thoreau spoke of it; “How vain it is to sit down and write when you have not stood up to live.” I enjoy being in the thrust of events and my writing will always reveal a sense of activism because of the lessons I have learned from taking citizenship out for a test drive. We have become a people who passively consume cultures created elsewhere. The practice has increasingly meant that we are not only lost in the greater world but in our own. We have become consumers of the “read-only” variety. We enjoyed being entertained and distracted for long enough that we are now experiencing difficulty in reimagining our respective communities. Centuries prior to this one were read-write societies. Creativity was essential for culture and community living. We can become like that again.
Our political and community lives have become professionalized and we have remained amateurs – a position leaving us vulnerable through a lack of knowledge and interest. But that equation is changing. As citizens lose trust in the political establishment they are waking up to the reality that they – the amateurs – have to step up to fill the vacuum. Our grandparents and their ancestors built entire countries like that and we can too.
The tools we have at our disposal are ideally suited to equip us for the responsibility. Each of us has the technology at our fingertips to make the leap. And it’s happening. A new breed of writers is emerging to fill in the gaps left behind by a professional media establishment more interested in agendas than living. Where creativity was once the realm of the professional, it has now been democratized and change is within our grasp if we but reach for it.
And so I write, not so much to be heard but because it’s my feeble contribution to the age in which I live. I write because I want my kids to know that community belongs to them. It is theirs to create, for good or ill. The amateur is back, and I’m one of them. I revel in the cut and thrust of activism, but it is in the quiet reflection of where we are headed that the urge to write comes from.
Our present life requires narration, people who not only talk about what happens, but interpret those events in the light of greater issues. I’m deeply excited by the future of citizenship and the renewal of politics, so the clicking on my keypad will continue.