Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Words and Meaning

I can’t stop thinking about Christina Green, the nine-year-old killed during the mass shooting in Arizona. I can’t – or, more accurately, don’t want to – imagine what her parents are going through – so the thought that keeps tumbling through my mind like a sneaker in the dryer is that Christina was born on 9/11. If I had created that scenario in fiction, most editors would say it’s contrived. But it happened and it’s now part of the narrative that’s being told hour by hour.

This tragedy is a perfect example of the basic human desire for stories. We’re all watching the news trying to get answers, to make sense of senselessness. It’s a way of legislating against our existential fear of the unknown. Or at least that’s what it is for me. I don’t know if I became a writer because I seek meaning or seek meaning because I became a writer.

You couldn’t construct a better narrative – the moment conservatives take control of Congress, a tragedy that seems related to their own violent rhetoric stalls them.

Regarding that rhetoric, as a writer I reject – indeed, am offended – by the claim that it had nothing to do with the act of an unstable young man. As Hub Theatre artistic director Helen Pafumi said to me on the way to the airport, “I know it’s free speech, but here’s the guideline for politicians: if what they say could get the rest of us arrested in an airport, they shouldn’t say it.”

Regardless of whether Tea Party rhetoric had a direct effect or not on a kid having a psychotic break, words have meaning and they contribute to an atmosphere. In the Too Much Information Age, the easiest way to be heard above all the blather is to make the loudest and most outrageous statement. It’s an arms race of words and it can only lead to annihilation. So I’ll say it again, because it’s so simple and wise: If what a politician says could get the rest of us arrested in an airport, they shouldn’t say it.

There seems to be a feeling in the media – who are all storytellers – that we’ve reached a turning point. But life is lived forward and only understood in reverse, so we won’t know for a while how Christina Green , who was included in a book called Faces of Hope, will be seen as a symbol. As a writer and teacher of story structure, I see two possible outcomes in how history gets written here. In the tragic version, the Hope that was born on 9/11 – the feeling that united we stand – has been killed by the kind of divisive hate that also came out of 9/11.

Or else it becomes a myth of martydom – that it took the murder of an innocent child to finally get the opposing forces in this country to finally work together.

The story is ours to write.


Writer said...


I've avoided this little girl in the news. I saw a clip of an interview with her father. And I didn't want to know anymore.

It's one of those things that too too quickly brings tears to my eyes and an anger so frightening.

Thank you. And I couldn't agree more.

Anonymous said...

Good post Marc, you said what I feel about the double standards (one for you, another for me) of those who make the news. I also have issue with the lack of responsibility journalists defend.

They just report the news with no personal bias is their battle cry. But if they are only reporting on the loudest, wildest, most news worthy without using any discernment it is the journalists promoting that 9-minutes of fame to the least deserving of public acclaim.

Rick said...

I too find it so odd that she was born on 9/11/01.

The Frog Queen said...

As always you put things into words so perfectly. Thank you.


Fran said...

May I spread what Helen said and you've echoed around as much as possible? I think it's brilliant wisdom and needs to be heard!