Sandwiched as it is between an ad about "avoiding deathbed regrets" and an article on writing obituaries, it seemed that this issue's editorial just had to address a similar topic. What do you want on your tombstone? It might seem a somewhat morbid question, but it is a question that is particularly apt for writers. Because, basically, the reason many of us became writers in the first place was to be remembered. We want to create something that will live on after us.
Few things in this world are more enduring than words. Today's most influential religions are based upon words written down 2000 years ago, and more. To be sure, other things have survived that long; you can go to a museum and gaze upon a statue, or a pot, or a piece of jewelry, or even the mummified corpse of a king, and any number of other fascinating items that have endured for thousands of years. But the point is, you do have to go to a museum to do so. To read words that were written thousands of years ago, you can simply step into the nearest bookstore -- or, nowadays, visit a website or download them into your Kindle.
Chances are, you grew up with stories written at least a hundred years ago. I can remember, in second grade, sitting in a corner of the library discovering the tiny gem-like books of Beatrix Potter. I grew up on E. Nesbit, Mark Twain, C.S. Lewis, L. Frank Baum, and a hundred other writers who had turned to dust before I was even born. Those books, too, can still be found in an instant today. Some of the most memorable films ever made are based on books written more than a century ago.
I said in the opening paragraph that one goal many writers have is to be "remembered." But in many respects, that's not quite true. A politician, perhaps, wants to be remembered for his deeds. A writer wants to be remembered for his (or her) words -- or, more accurately, wants those words to be remembered. And it is the words themselves that stand the test of time. I can tell you "whodunnit" in any number of Agatha Christie novels, but very little about Dame Christie herself (although, I confess, I did enjoy her archaeology memoir, Come, Tell Me How You Live). I know much more about Oz than I do about L. Frank Baum; I could describe the landscape of Narnia far more easily than the life of C.S. Lewis. And this, I suspect, is exactly what those authors would have wished. Authors die; their creations live.
So what might a writer hope to hear in his or her obituary? Here are some thoughts that come to mind...
I can also think of some things that I probably don't want to hear in my obituary:
I don't know whether I'll ever craft a novel that endures for a hundred years or more. But as a writer, I do have an idea of what I'd like to see on my tombstone.
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