Stephen Jenkinson, Writer
You could make a good case – a slightly premature case, mind you, but a good one – that the book as we know it is in its sunset years. Hell, I’ve made that case, to myself. Portable; virtual; invisible; personal; retractable: those are the marching orders for the book these days. The time of books on hand, of warehouses for skids of them, all that treasure? Gone, or all but gone. On demand printing took care of that. Personal appearances of august authors in august bookstores? What bookstores? Vintage stuff. Hell, again we’re approaching a time when books themselves will be vintage items, like rotary phones or beehive hair dryers.
Still, I myself write things down. I’m not an author. Authors write everyday, I imagine, or almost everyday, publisher or not, book contract or not, concept/reason/plot or not. I’m not one of those. I suppose I’m a provisional writer. When the storm gathers and the wind rises, I write things down. With no audience or readership in view, I write, occasionally. When I have macro troubles, I write.
I notice that I’m writing more these days than in decades past. I’m fairly sure that’s because I’ve taken the likely measure of my allotment, and hedged my old bets on the spoken word with scrawl. Truth be told, I probably still favour the live thing, the bright lights, the people filing into the hall, the slash and burn of person to person encounters. I favour the chance for inflection, the pause that underscores, the aside, the sotto voce, the time passing between words and phrases. I suppose I like the sound of it all. But I’m willing to know that the clock is ticking on whatever ability I have to stand and deliver apropos of whatever comes my way.
And so, over the last half-dozen years, I’ve begun to resemble an author. I’ve tried to come to the enterprise as craft, as a workman would, a builder. I don’t find these things in the ether. I get discipline, I sit down, I take note of the usual etiquette and the rules of engagement. I bear people, living and dead, in mind. I give the thing great chunks of my daylight hours, when something has come to claim me. I listen for the sound, the arithmetic pulse of it. Then I plead over phrases, to see if I can be faithful to what is passing from view.
The finest praise I’ve received tells me that people can hear my speaking ways in my writing ways. Perhaps that’s when I’ve got it right. I’m hooked up with a publisher who seems to think I’m something of a good idea, and he has regard for what I send him, for which, so uncommon as that is, I am very grateful. There are people who tell me they read what I write and, amazing, really, read it again. People tell me they throw my books against the wall sometimes, because the words don’t give way in the usual fashion. And then, often, they pick them up again and begin reading somewhere else. I’m grateful for that. I’m grateful for the vestigial bookstores, but not so much for the online behemoths that sell insurance and toilet paper along with the books, which they fling out into the void as retail loss leaders. But I’m not precious about it.
Mostly, I’m grateful that there are people who’d entrust a bit of their day to the printed voice of a fellow human, a fellow citizen in an age of whithering citizenship. If you’re reading this, you’re as likely as not one of those. So, here’s to you, and to the distance between us, and the stories that are there. Would that something of it all continues.