Liquid Ink

The official website of Gint Aras, Finalist 2016 CWA Book Award

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Readers ask: Shouldn’t writing make readers comfortable?

This is a great question. Let me roll up my sleeves.

Asking this is similar to criticism I often hear of teachers. People would learn a lot more if teachers made learning interesting and fun. Without getting into the tedium of contemporary schooling, let’s agree that whoever says this probably assumes learning isn’t interesting or fun all on its own.

In the same way, a person demanding comfort from artists must not be feeling it while making their morning coffee. Maybe it’s worse…maybe they’re looking for distraction from whatever they feel or think. They might be seeking reassurance. They can relax because plenty of writers, artists (and teachers) will oblige them.

It’s clearly stupid to make learning boring. But people get this whole thing backwards. If memorizing a list of eventful dates alongside names of dead politicians is boring, maybe it’s because we don’t learn all that much by doing it.

Yet notice what crazy and complicated shit people memorize when self-motivated or linked to community. My son and his friends can tell you meticulous details about the myriad Pokémon characters. When I was a kid, I could recreate AD&D saving throw grids and combat matrices from memory.

Could I recite the names of all 12 apostles?

At a certain point in our development as adults, we end up weighing the difference between tasks that cause immediate discomfort while offering potential for wisdom, community or skill. This is how we learn to play music. It’s how we train to take penalty shots, win street fights, manage large groups of people or sew up wounds. It’s not comfortable for a trauma surgeon to treat a person who fell out of a rolling truck.

Ah…you say…but the surgeon is well compensated!

Sure. But I won’t agree that comfort is commercially viable while discomfort is a liability. Sex, drugs, gambling and arms have proven their commercial demand for millennia. Does porn offer comfort? Does heroin? The roulette table? Is American military might a cause of widespread paranoia or a result? Does it pacify our fear of the world or trigger it?

My favorite books were always the ones that turned me inside out. Some of my favorite writers sent me reeling. Others satirized while entertaining. What does it say, after all, for the answer to life, the universe and everything to be 42?  We laugh because, in the face of absolute ignorance, the alternative is to get fussy.

I could make a fuss. I’ve always been stunned by readers who think their comfort is universal. In other words, if they curl up by a fire to read Agatha Christie, they guess it’s masochism to read Wittgenstein while seated on a rock. Maybe it is. Of course, some people really like to get hooked. It turns them on.


Photo of Napoleon’s bed from Wikipedia.