I used to think the only meaningful way to leave a literary legacy was to be a person like William Shakespere, Emily Dickinson, or Langston Hughes. To have the kind of immortality that means your name stretched down generations and touched thousands. Even today, we have writers like J.K Rowling, Nora Roberts, Stephen King who touch millions of people with their work, inspiring them to cry, to laugh, to dream. Yes, I thought with that bedrock certainty of every 14 year old girl who thinks the world must be exactly the way you imagine it and never change, forever and ever amen, to be successful you must be known.
Then, as it has so many times, life once again proved to me that I do not know everything.
The thing is, I have this habit. Whenever I go to a library or a used bookstore, after I have chosen the things I am going to buy, I go to find the *old* books, not to be confused with the classics. You know the ones, tattered hardcovers, corners worn by too much handling and too little care, the chipping remains of gold leaf on the edges of the pages. These are not famous authors, they were the books that even in their own time, were destined for the small presses and then bargain bins.The books whose authors languished in obscurity even as they were published. I find these books and I glance through them. Some of them are horrible. But some of them are really good. I have found stories and poems this way that linger with me years later, even after I, like so many others, have long forgotten the author’s name.
But isn’t this, too, a connection? A type of immortality? To be the anonymous words that someone takes to heart decades after your death. Whether they know your name or remember the title of your book, you have successfully communicated with someone else across time and space. Touched them, perhaps hurt them in the way all good writing hurts a little. I think, even if I can’t be Plato, I would be happy being the purple book in the corner of the bookshop, the right words right when someone needs to hear them. Or more likely, in the digital/space age, maybe some other species will stumble across this blog as radio waves move through space. They won’t understand the words. But they will know, that somewhere and somewhen, somebody looked around at the world they inhabited and tried to communicate that world for others to see. And that is a type of immortality I can live with 🙂