A NUMBER OF PEOPLE HAVE ASKED if these blog posts are available in book form and the answer is “yes”. The Parallel Parliament posts for 2015 can be acquired here in hard cover and in paperback, and here as a free download from the iBooks store. You’ll also find other recent books there that I’ve written on Don Quixote, and a couple of novels on Paris and Africa.
My very first book was a novel about a Spitfire pilot in the Battle of Britain – written when I was 12 on a Brother portable typewriter my parents gave me for Christmas. Why did I write it? I had no idea back then, but I’ve come to realize that each of these books or blog posts have to be written. I’m up writing at 4:30 each morning, not because I’m disciplined but because I’m eager to get to my laptop and put down the things I believe or that I have recently learned.
It’s a fascinating thing to learn why other people put themselves through the arduous task of written composition. Albert Camus said the purpose of putting pen to paper is to, “keep civilization from destroying itself.” The beautiful and moving poet, Maya Angelou wrote because, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” Maybe that’s one of the reasons her most famous book is titled, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
One of the best insights on this subject came from Rainer Rilke, who, when asked by an aspiring writer why one should take up the discipline, thoughtfully replied:
This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must,” then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your while life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse.
It’s fair to say that this adequately describes my life, as it has done for decades. I’ve built the hours of my days and nights around the urge to put my observations of life down on paper or on a digital screen. It’s not because I think I’m intelligent, but because my life has been too full of lessons to let them pass by unnoticed. In this sense my purpose for writing aligns somewhat with Henry David Thoreau’s insight: “How vain is it to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live?” I have lived and have the scars to prove it. But I also have the life lessons to show for all my experiences – most good, some bad. The issue for me isn’t so much about success or failure, but what I have learned from both and if I have become a more noble soul as a result. And then there is the greatest question of all that forms the motive for much of the best writing: have we lived for a larger purpose, for life outside of ourselves, for others? It is the very practice of writing that has kept me judging myself by these principles.
It’s likely few read my writings, and it’s even more likely that they’re not very good. But they are real to me, and that is what matters, whether they reach others or not. Sometimes our greatest reason for putting our thoughts down has nothing to do with anyone else. Maybe that’s what Margaret Atwood meant when she wrote with that powerful pen of hers: “Perhaps I write for no one. Perhaps for the same person children are writing for when they scrawl their names in the snow.”