In October of 1943, Winston Churchill gave one particular speech in the House of Commons on the issue of rebuilding after the Blitz. There’s a line in his speech that rings in my head like a church bell.
“We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.”
That’s a profoundly true statement. It equally applies to art. We shape our stories, and afterwards our stories shape us. A great many people these days subscribe to the belief that there is no obligation in making art (and by art I mean everything from stories and sonatas to sculptures and stained-glass windows), that the creator bears no responsibility in terms of the content of his story.
I vehemently disagree with that idea. I don’t suppose I’ll win a lot of friends with my view, but winning friends is not the prime objective of my life.
Is a writer any different from a cook or an architect or a plumber? A cook certainly is responsible for the content of his fondue. The architect is culpable if his building is unsafe. The plumber will get hauled on the carpet if his pipes always leak.
I shape the stories that I write. I shape them deliberately. They, in turn, shape me, for they are part confessional, part affirmation of belief, and part goad, as they whisper in my ear and spur me on toward better things. But these stories don’t just shape me. I think I’m correct to say that they shape their readers as well (not my readers, but their readers, and that’s why the release of a story into the wild should be such a careful thing). In small ways, perhaps. The advertisers of Madison Avenue are quite content to spend their millions because they know watchers and listeners and readers definitely are shaped in those small ways.
And all of life is simply the sum of all the small ways.