Under the Green Desk Lamp…
Here at Brad OH Inc., I’m often asked why I write. Certainly, it’s a difficult question to answer. For me, pleasure would be one acceptable response—whether it’s my own, or that of the visitors who read and enjoy what I’ve written—both are wonderful reasons to write. I’ve heard other authors answer this question as well, with such varied responses as: ‘to elicit emotion’, ‘to express myself’, ‘to make money’, and of course, the old go-to, ‘because it’s what I’m meant to do’.
They’re all true enough, and all equally vague in their own ways. But dealing with such questions, it’s hard to avoid a little bit of abstraction, and that’s ok. When you try to dig any deeper—questioning things such as purpose and meaning—it becomes a real existential quagmire.
To me, writing is a sort of religion. Scratch that… like so many religions, that’s already a bit narrow-minded. Limiting this explanation to writing is unfair… more broadly, art as a whole—or metaphor more specifically—is my religion. Let me explain…
As humans, we occupy a level of intellectual complexity reserved for us alone. As a result, we have many abilities which are entirely foreign to all other known organisms. One of the most obvious, and arguably the most significant, is mortality salience. More clearly put, this refers to our awareness of our inevitable demise. This awareness, as fully explored in Ernest Becker’s ‘Terror Management Theory’, creates an existential terror in us that is unknown in other animals. It also creates something else… a drive for meaning.
Not only are we the only known animals to perceive that we will ultimately die, we are also the only ones capable of creating meaning from nothing—metaphor. The power of metaphor is something which must not be underestimated: it can give us hope, it can inspire courage, and—as applies in the case of mortality salience—it can provide us with comfort.
What makes us so special? Why do we alone have these powers of perception and creation? Well, simply put: evolution. Our brains, under the pressures of natural selection, have slowly expanded in form and function to get us where we are today. Now, this is certainly not the endpoint of evolution, but somewhere in that incredibly drawn out process, we’ve developed the capacities for both language and abstract thought. These developments are among the most crucial to defining our humanity.
Ever since the dawn of complex language in the early prehistory of man, we have been using it to ask such questions as where we came from, what our purpose is, and whether we are serving that purpose well. This delves into some deep religious and philosophical territory, but I believe the important point here is that abstract thinking—the ability create or attribute meaning and connections where they do not naturally exist—serves as both the impetus and the solution for such quandaries.
In short, the ability to ask ‘Why’ exists within us because of our propensity for abstract thought, which is also the reason we are able to answer that question with, ‘Because…’. Our need for meaning and our ability to create it are one in the same.
Metaphor is God—and vice versa. Everyone finds it somewhere—religions, movies, bands, relationships—we idealize and apply significance to everything within the limits of our perception. The fact that some of the most popular metaphors are now held as absolute truth (and used to justify both miracles and atrocities) doesn’t negate their reason for being or their power, but rather only affirms both.
Being human, we all share a sense of wonder. Looking up at the night sky, pondering the nature of deep emotions such as love or hate, reflecting on the direction of humanity and where we are to end up… these are natural behaviours which result inevitably from our very ability to articulate them. Once a question is asked, it cannot be unasked. There is no satisfying the human urge for understanding; only an ongoing effort to satiate it.
I call it the metaphorical imperative. To provide meaning is both the result of, and a response to, our ability to think metaphorically. Every story, song, painting—all works of art—are sincere grasps for meaning. Their success, the extent to which they succeed in this goal, is simply a matter of how strong an impact they have on their audience.
And… that’s why I write.
-Brad OH Inc.