I was driving along suburban roads when I was suddenly struck… by fences.
There’s a little house on a corner in my town, older and less than perfectly cared for, with a short picket fence more decoration than any kind of impediment to anything at all, once white but now a cheerfully peeling grayish motley revealing the weathered wood underneath. Around and through it nod flowers. The lawn beyond is a child’s dream of dandelion grass.
There’s another house, a little further on the same street. This house has a high wooden fence all around it, too dense and too tall to see through. The fence has a closed gate in it. Its message is, “This is MY SPACE. Keep out.” If nobody can see inside… neither can they see out, and the world and the people who live behind that fence are somehow sundered from one another.
Writing can be like that. Writing can give you a glimpse into someone else’s garden, and take you by the hand and lead you inside, and offer you tea and cakes and laughter on the dandelion lawn. Or it can leave you shivering outside the locked gates of a garden that does not want you, that looks on you with suspicion or disdain, that disparages all that YOU know or all that YOU can do.
Shouldn’t the best writing be about breaking down the fences…? Not raising them up?
I was thinking about this when the classic story popped up – Oscar Wilde’s “Selfish Giant”. Put up a high wall around your house and your mind, exclude the children (or – metaphorically – new ideas, new imagination, a new way of looking at the world which someone else, someone from outside, might bring to you), and watch the eternal winter take hold over everything. We are all a part of the world. We are – to quote another sage, G’kar of Babylon 5 – we are one.
Put up fences that divide us, and we are all the weaker for it.
Oh, I’m far from in advising that we should not mind if some uncouth stranger tramples our flowers or comes into our garden and then makes off with the garden gnomes. I’m all for keeping your boundaries, and definitely for requiring other people, visitors to your garden, to show proper respect for its culture and its contents. But if the stranger steps on a flower by accident, or trips over the gnomes without realising that they were there, don’t build a higher wall. Share the story of the garden instead. You’ll both go away the richer for it.”