Tucked back on Witmer Road in Smoketown, PA, there is an l-shaped barn. It’s base is the yellow-brown stone that is the bedrock of Pennsylvania structures, and it’s board siding is white, slatted from top to bottom. Intact. The structure is massive and strong, beautiful in the way that working buildings are in Lancaster County especially.
Yet, right in front of it, someone has built a 5,000 square foot modern house, a monstrosity of residential construction. It’s almost tucked into the corner of the barn’s L, and it’s horrid. The building and its placement. Who builds their McMansion right in front of history?
Well, the answer, of course, is that Americans do. All over PA, Maryland, Virginia as we drove this weekend, we saw it – enormous homes big enough for 8, 10, 15 people covering land that used to be farms, laid out almost on top of each other. And sadly, I expect, housing only 2, 4, 5 people in them. Taking land to grow food, land pristine in its usefulness and health and plowing it under concrete and status. It’s our cultural trajectory it seems – to want bigger and better, more of what is mine and less of what is ours. It breaks me up inside.
I wonder if this isn’t what we writers do, too, when we work so hard to build platforms, when we spend so much energy trying to capture our “share” of readers. We plow over people’s fertile minds with so much information – so many blog posts (mine included), so many tweets and status updates, so many e-books that we churn out just to get readers and maybe a few dollars.
I know this is the state of publishing right now, just as it’s the state of our culture to sprawl out for miles from cities just so we can get exactly what we want and not have to connect with the people right next door. I know that to be a writer these days means we have to market and promote, and to a certain extent, I’m okay with that. But this trend toward publishing just for the sake of publishing, of creating books and blogs and follower lists just to get more readers, that I’m not okay with. Not at all. What is the purpose of having more readers if we don’t have anything meaningful to say? Meaning takes time. We aren’t good these days with things taking time.
See, I want my words to feed people. I want them to be rich and filling, something to sit and savor, to chew slowly. I want to read words that have been made fertile with the years of a life, words that are loamy and rich with organic material, words that have taken years. I want to read the “whole,” not gorge myself on the quick and mass-produced of life.
How do I do this in a culture that is so fast that be hide centuries old barns behind mcmansions and buy books that give easy and quick steps, rather than ruminative tomes? How do keep (or return to) being that barn? And if I do, do I relegate myself to the background? Probably. And maybe that’s okay.
What do you feel about this push to build? This need to produce, even if it’s mediocre, even if it buries the really good stuff? How do you feel about that as a writer? As a reader?
Today, you can read a section of my book You Will Not Be Forgotten: The Enslaved People at the Bremo Plantations over at The Daily Gallen. I hope you’ll stop by Tim’s great blog and give it a read. Thanks.