The Future

So yesterday I was at Elder Girleen’s second-grade classroom for the monthly birthday commemoration, which consisted of a cheer and a song for the three kids with January birthdays.*  

On the surface, that was all that was taking place.  But because I just spent almost two weeks away from the usual routines of my life,**  thinking about writing and what makes it work to the exclusion of almost all else, I haven’t completely lost the ability —yet — to hold  two thoughts*** in my mind simultaneously.

Elder Girleen’s school was built in 1929, which is comforting to us geezer parents, because it feels a lot like the schools we attended ourselves.  This is a good thing because what goes on inside it— how multiplication is taught these days, for instance, is a completely puzzlement — can be completely unfamiliar to us, and you know how parents react to things that are different.  

These were two of the spelling words written on the board:



 Another section of the board was devoted to what had clearly been a discussion about writing, and included — God love us all! — the words narrative arc and dramatic tension.  

Did I say that this was a second grade classroom?  Don’t know about you but I didn’t hear those terms bandied about much until I was in graduate school.  

Much is being made these days about the death of print journalism — and possibly of professional writing in general.  Having just spent a full day in an airport waiting for my flight home to ultimately be cancelled, I can tell you that if you want to kill time with a magazine these days you’re pretty much shit out of luck.  

Will Apple’s new tablet computer save us?  The pundits seem doubtful.  And all you have to do is read last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine feature about the author James Patterson  and learn that one out of every 17 novels sold in the U.S. was written by a marketing-savvy former ad-exec to harbor some doubts yourself.  

But even as we’re busily killing off the idea of the writer as a professional who can make a living by his/her pen, we apparently are just as busily attempting to teach our children to write at increasingly sophisticated levels.  

What to make of this?  I’m certainly not complaining; I want my children to be good writers and readers.  And I know such skills transfer, and will be useful to them, whether or not they pick up a pencil or a book in their adult lives.  

But meantime, the publishing industry wallows.  It flounders helplessly, it continually bemoans its fate. Opportunities are squandered, right and left, and a person is hard pressed to find a book in the airport that isn’t by James Patterson.  

*Then they ate some sweet stuff, which is how all important events are recognized in elementary school.  

**We all can read between the lines here:  what I really mean is there was no one under four feet tall strapped in the backseat of the car crying Mommy, mommy, you’re REALLY not listening to me! when my attention wandered from their recitation of the plot of the movie The Tooth Fairy for a second or two.

***However inane they might be.


  1. Yeah, the freaking internet . . . .

    I wonder how it will sort itself out. Writers, musicians, critics will all just keep doing it for nothing, just like they always said they would, and audiences will find what they need, I guess (usually for free), but the hard lesson we’re learning is that the internet, in tearing down the walls and gates that the traditional publishers maintained, also destroys any sense of community among the audience. Everybody’s a free-lancer now, including the audience, and everything is a la carte. An emptiness results. I suppose it could turn out well. It could mean that the writers and musicians have to hit the road, go into the houses (did you read the back page of the NYT book review last week) and create communities that way. This looks to be another example in the continuing list of examples of “Be careful what you wish for . . . .”

  2. Your visit to the 2nd grade sounds like there may be hope yet. The publishing business has changed incredibly. I am threading my way through on-demand publishing for doing my forthcoming book, which is a study of our county’s ex-slave legislators elected in 1868 and what they went through. There’s no large market for local history, but there are notable publishers (or producers) of books which offer an alternative which gets you published and at no tremendous cost. This is the second self-publish venture for me, and I eventually made a small profit, although that wasn’t the main point. I enjoyed the doings of you and the Girleens.

    Keep the faith!

Comments are closed.