Every recorded story implies a future reader.Margaret Atwood
Today’s quote by Margaret Atwood has been stuck in my brain ever since I first came across it. If memory serves me correctly, I believe it was in a new introduction by Atwood to her novel The Handmaid’s Tale, which if you haven’t already read, there’s no better time than the present.
The written word is our receptacle for memory. Without documentation, we have no history, no blueprint for the future, and no constancy to purpose in terms of our collective attempt at living what many philosophers have called the good life. Every time we write, we are holding in our psyches the implied future reader Atwood references. Even if we never write with the intention of publishing our work in mind, there is still a knowing behind committing your thoughts to paper, a compact between yourself and those who may stumble across your words in the future.
When I was a library worker, we got book donations all the time, oftentimes daily. Most of the books were, forgive me, ready for the rubbish bin, but every now and again a folded scrap of paper would fall out with someone’s gnarled script on it and I’d have a new treasure. Most of them I didn’t keep because they were things like checklists or grocery lists or other ephemeral scraps, but there’s one I still have in my possession: a decades-old scrap of notebook paper with a poem on it. It is one of my most treasured possessions.
Perhaps one day I’ll share it on here. The point is I have carried that poem in my heart for years and I don’t even know the author. Only a first name and a date are listed but I think about the writer often. In the poem, they are beseeching God for answers because they’ve lost something (or someone, more likely) dear to them. This person may be long gone by now, passed into eternity, but I still pray for them. I wonder how their life turned out. I was the implied future reader. And this is how we are connected, invisibly and irrevocably.
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