Sentenced to life without parole

"The reader's ear must adjust down from loud life to the subtle…sounds of the written word. [For] an ordinary reader…it will take half an hour to pick up the writing's modulations, its ups and downs and louds and softs." – Annie Dillard, "The Writing Life"

You would think that seasoned writers would have it made, especially when deadlines loom and the pressure is on. Although, rarely is that ever the case.

The anatomy of writing requires a rare depth of thought and sensitivity – an exploration of rhythm, cadence and energy of what breathes and does not breathe, what is animate and inanimate, what is tangible and intangible.

Many of us consider our work as a birthing of sorts. Others say drafting stories compares to sculpting or puzzle making. There is no single metaphor for writers and their work but an endless storehouse of comparisons.

Writers are both parade marshals and drummers. We are ring leaders and the high-wire act. Our rambling words sometimes meander and then finally convene in stories about everything and nothing: Mother's mink collar, Dad's sailor hat, the playground teeter-totter, a tin spice can, a clothesline flapping and flailing in the wind, black licorice, the back porch steps, on and on it goes.

As we cobble our accounts, we tiptoe with exuberant trepidation down long winding corridors of our subject matter. Examining that which is meaningful, fearful or trivial in life, we never are quite sure where we'll end up.

Every last glance and grimace matters. We sip or sometimes guzzle the atmosphere, texture and the cadence of people, places and things. 

We are capable of drawing fire in the quietude of noisy waiting.  In the silent restlessness of our charge, we resurrect once lived moments of finding and nearly losing, living and almost dying, making and narrowly missing, running and barely crawling.

As purveyors of the language, we are accused of being clairvoyant – hearing and seeing what others do not. With libertarian note taking and shared password, we grant full access to all, withholding nothing.

We are both defendants and witnesses cavalierly preparing our testimonies for trial. There's no escaping it. Pleading guilty of all chargers, we are sentenced to a writer's life without parole.

Those of us who write for a living can be compared to miners angling with axes of hope and picks of resolve, excavating without end, uncovering some answers and even more questions. Sifting through the rubble of our work, we search endlessly for tiny nuggets that could become stories.

Writers are as ministers, sanctioned to arrange words as a holy grail, offering absolution. We are posterity librarians, indexing joys, cataloging hurts, checking out passages and archiving milestones.

In our contemplative construction of words, we are eternally in pursuit, chasing down and trying to capture reality. Whether in musty attics or moth-eaten memories, we often find ourselves authenticating the distance from the fertile foreground of youth to the vanishing point.

Some have compared writers to healers, practicing medicine without a license, administering remedies as cures for their readers and, yes, for themselves.

No matter the metaphor, we are commissioned without remorse to embrace the impenetrable sensuality of life itself: the ebb and flow of the hellish and the heavenly, the stink of chaos, with all of its nasty aftermath and maybe even the sweet fragrance of what's to come.

Although, occasionally, we must journey through stories with borrowed bravery, as our streets are not paved with gold but sometimes are rocky with steep terrains and deep crevices.

Even so, you will not hear a writer say, "Don't go there." We do not wince while greeting the deep, wide unknown. Instead, we give it voice, all the while whispering, "Come, see."

2013 © Copyright Paula Damon.

A resident of Southeast South Dakota, Paula Bosco Damon is a national award-winning columnist. Her writing has won first-place in competitions of the National Federation of Press Women, South Dakota Press Women and Iowa Press Women. In the 2009, 2010 and 2011 South Dakota Press Women Communications Contests, her columns have earned eight first-place awards. To contact Paula, email  boscodamon.paula@gmail, follow her blog at and find her on FaceBook.

Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>