The Prompter Room

For Monday, December 14, 2015:


“A true piece of writing is a dangerous thing.  It can change your life.”

Tobias Wolff

Perhaps it depends on one’s perspective.

Try as I might, I can’t think of anything I’ve read that has been dangerous for my life, or even for my thinking.  Wondrous, challenging, exciting, disheartening, surprising … all of those, yes, and more.  But not dangerous.

That goes for my own writing, too.  I’ve written opinion pieces that I hoped would encourage individuals and/or certain groups of people to change their ways of thinking, but I don’t think they were dangerous.  Maybe some readers thought so, especially if they disagreed with me, or if I did manage to change their minds, but no one ever gave any indication that happened.

Now if Wolff means ‘dangerous’ in a way that more closely resembles ‘disorienting,’ I can agree with that, up to a point.  The Bible, for instance, should be – in my opinion – just as disorienting as it is comforting.  Disorientation can be almost as frightening as danger, however loosely one defines ‘danger,’ whether it’s physical or intellectual or spiritual.

At the same time, I don’t think ‘dangerous’ or ‘disorientation’ – or even ‘comforting,’ on the other side of that coin – is the definition of a true piece of writing.

If I were asked to define it, I would ask if a piece of writing makes a connection of some kind with at least one reader.  If so, that, to me, makes it true.  Even then, though, a true piece of writing can be hidden away in a desk drawer and never see the light of day.  That doesn’t make it any more or less true.

What do you think?  I’d love to hear your thoughts, to help me ponder this more thoroughly.

If nothing else, I’d say Wolff succeeded in making a connection with me.  Dangerous, disorienting, life-changing?  No.  But I know this much is true: he has certainly made me think.


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