Everyday Piping

A while back I embarked on yet another mission with my writer friend Val–because that’s what we do, continually start new and exciting projects with the best of intentions of actually FINISHING them some day.  (Starting new missions is a wonderful way of procrastinating on ones which you have already undertaken…but that’s entirely beside the point…)

So yes, we started yet ANOTHER mission.  A friend of hers gave her a deck of cards where each details one classic work that everyone should read.  We flipped through them idly and discovered that while we may consider ourselves to be “well-read” the rest of the world–or at least the designers of the cards–did not exactly agree with us on that.  Neither of us had read very many of them and of course we had to rectify this.  By the luck of the draw, it was decided that Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis would be the first.

And I…well, I fell in love.

Kafka was, is, a literary genius.  His writing is the sort that traverses time and distance to bestow meaning on any who happen upon him.  So yeah, I fell in love and I had to read more.  It was the sort of compulsion that is impossible to ignore…you know, the type that gets in your face and screams at you like a little kid on a candy rush intent on getting you to go with them to the toy store now!!

Needless to say, I devoured all of them included in the version put out by Barnes & Noble Classics.  It sucked me in like heroin–each story making me more and more addicted, changing me forever.  It culminated with his final story, Josephine the Singer…

At first, I was disappointed in it; the first couple of paragraphs seemed like little more than a children’s fable.  By the third, I realized that it is really a complex metaphor for writers and I was blown away..

“Then is it really singing? Isn’t it perhaps merely piping? Piping is something we all know about; it is the true artistic forte of our people or, rather than our forte, more a characteristic expression of life…

…Even if this were only our everyday piping, a certain peculiarity must be observed: Here is someone creating a solemn spectacle of the everyday.  It is truly no feat to crack a nut, and therefore no one would think to gather an audience for the purpose of entertaining them with nutcracking.  But if he should do so, and if he should succeed in his aim, then it cannot be a matter of mere nutcracking.  Or alternatively, it is a matter of nutcracking, but as it turns out we have overlooked the art of nutcracking because we were so proficient at it that it is this new nutcracker who is the first to demonstrate what it actually entails, whereby it could be even more effective if he were less expert in nutcracking than the majority of us.”

It’s just so, so true.  Writing is nothing less than a vicious cycle wherein the writer tries (and fails) to illustrate the nature of humanity to the reader and the reader fails to understand it simply because they can never truly understand what it is exactly that they are meant to attempt to understand in the first place.  Confusing right?

You have no idea…

The most confusing bit of all is that the readers adore the writer for it anyway!  They can tell that any bit of writing is not a perfect rendering of anything.  Everything written is rough around the edges, unable to fully portray the thoughts that generated those words on the page.  Readers know this, and yet it does not cause them to turn away.  They still love the writer–not in spite of these failings, but because of them!

It is the willingness of the writer to embark on a mission with zero chance of success which moves millions of readers everyday.  It doesn’t matter that no writer is any better at writing than those who never write anything at all.  It doesn’t even matter that many of them are a great deal worse at it either.  In fact, that actually makes it better.  I mean, why else do hundreds of Harlequin Romances get eagerly devoured by thousands everyday while Kafka lies forgotten in moldy library book sales across the world?!

The reason is quite simple: we like crap.

Crap makes us feel better about ourselves.  It gives us a sense of perverse joy to realize that we aren’t the only ones who can never quite get things right.  It’s liberating to know that the rest of the world is just as full of crap as we are.

So we live for books that remind us of this.  Crappiness is the voice of the people.  As writers, our ultimate fate is to embrace the utter crapiness of our life’s work for what it is: crap.

Because really, nothing is ever perfect. Who would want it to be?  Perfection is dull.  Da Vinci once said that “Art is never finished, only abandoned.”  Likewise, books can never be truly written and complete; a final draft is just that–a final draft.  There simply comes a time when every writer of every book just gives up and sends it off to the publisher as is.

And every single time, that writer feels like a complete and utter failure for doing so…

What all of us fail to realize is that we can’t write the perfect book because we aren’t perfect.  Maybe it is as Plato stated so many years ago; maybe we are just forms mimicking something perfect as best we can as imperfect beings.

More importantly, maybe that’s okay.

Kafka is said to have believed in doing all of his writing for a story in one sitting.  He wasn’t a big fan of editing or taking breaks.  Really, maybe he had the right idea too.  Many of us can never see how well our writing would speak to the People; we are too focused on all of the tiny myriad ways that it sucks.  We can’t see that the thing that makes it so beautiful is that it is fallible crap written by a fallible, crappy writer for fallible, crappy readers.  Those imperfections are the tiny differences that make us us

Kafka seems to have known this…

Admittedly, by this same logic, maybe he didn’t.  Maybe he meant to say something entirely different.  The point is that it doesn’t really matter what he meant to say.  What matters is that what he did say was (and continues to be) meaningful for other people.

In short, Kafka represents the essence of everything that makes a writer a writer in the first place.  It’s insecurity and the endless struggle for perfection…it’s a need to speak of the people to the people and never being able to ever fully do so…it’s gleaming spots of success in a sea of failures…

But mostly, it’s just everyday piping…and it’s beautiful…

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