Morgan Freeman as God in Bruce Almighty, 2003
In the summer of 2007 my fourteen-year marriage was limping toward what would turn out to be a less-than-amicable divorce. I split my days between denial, mild panic attacks, and desperately trying to figure out what I would do to support myself and my three-year-old daughter. At the same time, my paternal grandmother passed away. After months of being in and out of rehab for various illnesses related to diabetes, she spent the end of her life in a hospice facility. I was there the day she died. We were not close, but she was the first family member I’d lost since I’d been grown-up enough to really understand what was happening. Only a few, brief hours before she passed, my Korean grandmother had gripped my hand in hers and told me earnestly that she was ready to take charge of her life now.
In the midst of all these big, traumatic events in my little world, Steve Jobs unveiled the first iPhone. The release of a shiny new piece of technology may not seem, at first glance, to have much to do with death and divorce; but that sleek device captured my imagination and quickly became the focus of a not entirely rational obsession.
With so many aspects of my life spinning out of control, the iPhone seemed to be an almost magical key to the life of order and control that I so desperately wanted.
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On the day of the release, my daughter and I queued up outside the local Apple store along with hundreds of other shoppers who were eager to get their hands on this technological wonder. It took us three hours to gain entry into the bustling, white-on-white interior where Apple staff were delivering beautifully packaged new iPhones into the hands of customers who were as anxious and excited as expectant parents.
Luckily for me, my mom and dad arrived to entertain my daughter just as she was beginning to lose patience with my constant admonitions about touching things and standing still. As my parents whisked her off to a less constrained environment, I finally took receipt of my own embossed box and the device that I was certain would give me all the tools I needed to organize, manage, and reinvent my life. I was ready, like my recently deceased grandmother, to take charge.
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My ex-husband will tell you that I’m a control freak, though – from where I’m standing – my “managerial” tendencies pale in comparison to those of his current wife. I will admit, however, to having Type-A personality traits and maybe even a touch of OCD. These characteristics make me more susceptible than the average person to the allure of devices, software, and procedural practices that promise superhuman speed and efficiency. I have been known to swoon upon discovering a new piece of software or iPhone app. As a writer, I sometimes worry that my fascination with technology and systems might compromise my creative spark; but I’ve also come to accept that this is who I am.
As you’ve probably already guessed, that first iPhone did not give me the ability to effortlessly transform my life into a well-ordered, Zen-like existence. Neither did any of next three iPhones that I purchased. Nevertheless, my love for Apple’s crown jewel remains undiminished. I’ve just had to learn to temper my expectations. Now that I’ve been around the block a few times, I have a more realistic sense of what an iPhone can and cannot do to improve my life.
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I’m starting to learn a similar lesson about writing.
For all it’s creative and inspirational glory, writing is, at it’s core, an act of control. As writers, we create worlds, characters, and the plots that send our characters careening through our worlds on adventures of love and discovery, triumph and tragedy. We manipulate words into sentences and sentences into stories, controlling what our readers see, hear, smell, and feel. Writers are, in a sense, the gods of our own realities.
Writing is also a way to exert control over our own lives and emotions. The process of writing grounds us, offering solace and comfort through the ritual of regular practice and the relief of cathartic release. Writing gives us a set of powerful tools with which we can plumb the depths of our own feelings, attempt to make some sense of the world around us, and even reshape perceptions – ours and those of others.
Ultimately, writing is a bid not only for control of the here and now, but also for a certain kind of immortality. Like any artist, the writer seeks to create something that will live on after its creator is long gone. It’s not enough, apparently, to control the creation of alternate realities, our emotions, and perceptions. Writing also strives to control time itself by allowing the author’s voice to time travel across years or even centuries to whisper its story into the hearts and minds of new readers living in another era.
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I don’t pass any judgments on the controlling nature of writing. It is neither good nor bad; it just is. Mostly, it makes me laugh to think how long it’s taken me to figure this truth out.
I’m also learning to laugh at the futility of any effort to control life. I’m finally old enough to realize that even if we do everything we’re supposed to, life always gets the last word. There are no guarantees. There are no silver bullets. There are, however, plenty of plot twists. Even the best laid plans can go awry, and even the perfectly planned story can turn out differently than you expected.
I haven’t yet fully grasped the nature of the relationship between life and writing. I don’t know if I ever will, and that’s okay. For now, I’m just grateful that writing is such an important part of my life. Though I can acknowledge that the control it gives me is only an illusion, I can’t think of a worthier or more lovely illusion to pursue.
A story can cast a spell, but writing is not a magic wand. Words have undeniable power, but they are only a reflection of life, not the real thing. If you can recognize the distinction and still write with joy and enthusiasm, you’re on the right track.
Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.