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"Re: Literacy"

      "There more writers than readers!"  This has been my over-
stated exclamation, when publicity of one kind or another for our
publishing company makes me field more pitches for unpublished
manuscripts than orders for books already published and ready to

      It's not true, and it's a good thing it's not true.  Writers
need readers.  The world is a better place, I still believe,
because there are writers and readers in it.

      In A WORLD FOR THE MEEK: A FANTASY NOVEL, I needed a way for
the disparate intelligent species to communicate.  The last human
in the world preserves his memory of reading, even though there
are no books to read, since paper was reduced to ash in "the
blast."  The dolphins and the octopi evolve into a symbiotic
single organism, with old memory and language and patience and
poetry and science.  The dolphipi, as I call them, master
writing, and like archaeologists, master ancient dead languages,
including Spanish and English.  So, they can communicate with our
protagonist, Noah, haltingly at first, by means of writing.  He
learns meekness -- it's like Zen -- it's their world and they are
delighted to let him into it.  They think they've found a live

      In "Report to Base," in VERMIN: HUMANITY AS AN ENDANGERED
SPECIES, two aliens from another galaxy visit Earth, disguised as
a teen-age male human and his dog, assigned to determine if there
is intelligent life on earth.  They've been here fifty years,
since shortly after the first atomic explosions, and aren't sure
yet.  They are fascinated by the human ability to read and write,
which seems at first glance to be an indication of intelligence. 
They report "home" instantly by means of telepathy, but decide to
prepare a supplemental written report.
      We have learned how this invention works, and have decided
that I should prepare this record. It is not exactly an addition
to my report to headquarters, although headquarters will have it,
because my observations are focused on this record, while I am
preparing it. One of their writers asks, in a play that deals
with censorship, "Can a person write a book without reading it?" 
      This report, or record, will contain in preservable form, my
thoughts about my own observations. The two things are different.
The report will be preserved here, like their own records, hidden
among their records, probably as "fiction," meaning that it's a
made-up story. Bill and I are mythological to them, or would be,
if they knew about us. Their librarians will call this report
"science fiction." 
      "Science" is their word for the amassed knowledge which they
regard as "proven," even though it isn't. Their phrase "science
fiction" is a contradiction in terms. They use many of them and I
take pleasure in collecting them. "Science fiction" means "proven
fact/not fact." Much science fiction is set in the future, often
trying to imagine where their technology is taking them,
extrapolating all too often their obsession with fighting and
conquest, imagining the possibilities that they'll never get to
see. This report, of a visit from outside the galaxy, will be
taken as fiction, and if taken seriously at all, as science
fiction. So be it.

      Writing is a mysterious thing, and perhaps those of us who
write all the time, for a living, are in danger of forgetting
that.  I had an experience once, which underlined for me the
strange power of writing.

                            The Pen Is Mightier
      In the crowded office of the eye-doctor, voices reverberate,
making reading of these ancient magazines impossible, and writing
my own thoughts difficult.  Two women are
quite unaware that others hear every syllable they utter.  In
contrast, I can't get a whisper out of my wife.
      I recognize the accent as transplanted lower Hudson River
Valley.  Aha!  I spot a self-interruption, a momentary awareness
that we are watching them, and that I am making notations in my
ever-present journal.
      The older one is telling the younger what clothes to buy for
a child and how warm it'll still be around here in October.  I
infer that the speaker moved to Rio Rancho several Octobers ago.
      Now they are plainly aware that I am watching and listening
-- no one can not listen.  But I am also taking notes!  They are
trying to lower their voices, but are not good at it.  
      It is quiet, for a moment.  He attacks with his pen.  The
pen is mightier than the mouth.  The older one is now shut up
completely, and glances over at me from time to time.  I am still
looking, and writing.  My wife is trying to sleep.
      The younger one cannot hush,  and talks on about the
children, but now she receives no response.  The older one
suddenly interrupts, to point out a painting on the wall.  The
younger one starts, then sees that slightest gesture toward me
and puts her hand over her mouth.  And then quiet.  Quieted, both
of them, at last, by a pen scratching in a spiral notebook.

      Here's a final observation, about writing, and its potential
effect on the writer.  Help me figure out what it has to do with
literacy.  No one can read, if someone hasn't first written.  And
I have experience that one can write, even if there's no one to
read it.  But somehow that still has to do with literacy, doesn't

                            The New Meditation
      I come in here, and write and write and lose an aspect of my
mind, and see once again that Reality is not as fixed as I've
been thinking.  There are unlimited possibilities.  It can be
different, and it will be.  I can learn in here, writing.  I can
learn to allow a flow.
      "A flow of what?" you may ask.
      More than a flow of ideas, it's a flow of a kind of energy. 
When I'm not in here, but trapped completely in my ego, that
energy feels blocked, blocked by something, by that self-
conscious sense itself, maybe.  But in here, I can let it flow, I
can be sure it does flow, and I can even learn to love to ride
that flow.
      It's not unlike body-surfing.  I throw myself down on the
wave and allow myself to be carried in.
      Now, imagine the surf, and its challenge -- what would it be
like if the waves and major current took one out instead of in? 
That would be more like the flow of life energy one can discover
in here, writing.  That kind of body-surfing would take the kind
of courage one could really admire.  I can discover that kind of
courage in here, also.  In here I need it, and I know I need it,
and it is then provided.
      Jump!  "Cast thyself down from here."
      Let it flow.  It is flowing, whether I "let it flow" or not. 
When I don't let it, it flows anyway, but I feel that it is
passing me by, that I am stuck.  I may say that "it" is stuck,
but it isn't, not ever.  The wave will go in to the shore,
whether I throw myself upon it and ride or not.  The difference
is whether I get the fun of a ride, or not.
      And that wave -- the outgoing one, will go out and on and
away, no one knows where, whether I ride or not.  I come in here,
in order to learn to feel that flow and give more willing consent
to that flow.
* * *
Copyright © 1997 Harry Willson

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