Gratitude

If I had to chop down a tree to write a book, it would be a very short book. From tree to pulp to paper maker, to typesetter, ink mixer, printing press and binder, the path to producing a book is a crowded workplace. I claim my words as my own, but a thousand-thousand came before me to make my path possible.

Trying to write a book I’ve learned acts that appear on the surface to be solitary achievements are often the work of many. People had to invent things and show up to make paper. Mothers had to give birth and feed their children. Fathers had to build houses and sharpen steel. Workers had to commit their labor to the manufacture of goods. Bean counters had to count beans, but first farmers had to grow them. People had to decide to farm, to bind themselves to the land and the weather. I couldn’t write a book if no one had ever farmed.

As a teenager I wrote poetry on an Underwood typewriter with metal keys that slapped an ink ribbon into paper. If I made a mistake, I had to choose between an ugly cross out or typing the whole page again. That laboriousness took a lot of the joy out of creative writing. I started with words in the 1960s. I didn’t see my first desktop computer until 1984. Before desktops, mainframe computers were as big as fire trucks. But genius after genius put their heads together to reduced the size of the machine, and a couple dozen geniuses after that invented user interfaces, network connections, and apps. And all those geniuses had to eat, they had to sleep, they had to go to school and they needed teachers to open their minds to the big thoughts that make it possible for me to sit here with my laptop and key in words that may appear on a screen anywhere in the realm of Earth within seconds.

Nobody does it alone. If Michelangelo had to cut his own marble out of the side of a mountain every time he wanted to create a sculpture, he might never have carved the Pieta. It was the work of the stonecutters in the marble quarries, the teamsters who trained the oxen that dragged the marble from the mountain to the sea, the shipbuilders who designed the boats that floated the marble to Rome, and the muscles and brains who placed his rock in his workspace — all these laborers created the system that made Michelangelo’s Pieta possible.

If Henry Ford hadn’t innovated the assembly line to build cars, and our tax dollars hadn’t funded the U.S. Department of Defense to build the Internet, Amazon wouldn’t have the infrastructure for cheapest, fastest everything. Even the richest man in the world didn’t do it alone. Every day we all do it together because we’re all part of the same system. Civilization is a group effort. I couldn’t be a writer without you. Thanks for being there.

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