Things are so upside down in this country that people are acting like writers—and writers are acting like people!
The latter is a good thing.
Writers normally think it's not up to them to donate canned goods to the needy or feed the homeless on Thanksgiving (partly because some writers are the needy and the homeless). Writers consider it a poor use of their time and a waste of their wit to shuffle around with protest signs chanting lame slogans like "hey-hey, ho-ho, the county clerk has got to go." They're embarrassed to knock on doors—it's bad enough they have to do book tours! Writers don't generally tutor children, they don't volunteer to be lunch moms and they don't donate to the Shriner's Children's Hospital.
Except, these days the writers I know are so politically involved that they're making me feel out of step, even though I sometimes do march in protests and do lame chants. Even though I've knocked on doors before. And even though my schoolteacher wife spends a good deal of our money buying classroom supplies and she doesn't tell me how much and I don't ask.
That's not enough anymore for a writer. No: Nowadays you have to get involved.
And you: You non-writers.
You know, there used to be a word called "opinionated." It was reserved for the manager at the HoJo's who felt qualified, nay obligated, to weigh in on every matter, political, scientific, philosophical and athletic. Now, every Tom, Dick and Harry is that way, so you never even hear the word anymore. You don't hear the word "crank" anymore, either.
What you hear is Tom, Dick and Harry calling into C-SPAN, posting on their Facebook page and holding forth at at family gatherings.
They have set pieces, soundbites and well-honed punch lines.
They refer to books they've read with an air of importance traditionally used by writers, to refer to books they've written. "As I tweeted last week …"
They're into caveats, stipulations and the contrarian counterarguments. And they're constantly intoning that what they are about to say next is "for the record."
Hey Dick: This isn't the House of Representatives. It's the House of Pancakes, and yours are getting cold.
I'm not telling anyone to shut up and dribble. Every American should speak his or her mind—especially on matters we know something about. But most of us can do the most good for our country by doing what we do, and doing it well: Doctoring. Figuring. Designing. Repairing. Counseling. Teaching. Parenting. And acting—politically, in your own way, in accordance with your own conscience.
Look, I'm a writer: Presumably but by no means demonstrably, I help out by writing stuff. Millions and millions of words that I hope add intelligence, love, and warmth to the world. I also help professional speechwriters help world leaders speakers speak words that we all hope will add add up to a useful expression of humanity's dreams, and light the path to their realization. Rhetorically speaking!
Here's how writers and people work together: A speechwriter wrote Robert F. Kennedy's 1966 "Ripple of Hope" speech, and Kennedy stood and delivered it to a group of university students in South Africa. He said:
"It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."
I'm glad my writer friends are thinking of themselves as people, and I'm glad I'm doing the same.
It's people thinking like writers that worries me. The country can only support a tiny population of people as abstract in their contribution as writers. We need many millions of people—to stand up, to act, to strike out—and to send forth those tiny ripples of hope.