Last night I was treated to a performance by Salman Rushdie. I use that word, performance, intentionally, because his talk was a tour de force. He spoke as part of The Denver Post’s Pen & Podium, a literary lecture series that brings in notable writers to discuss their work and the craft of writing. I’ve attended this series for the past four years, and it ranks high among the things that
have endeared me to this fine city. Denver is not Manhattan, and yet we still get to peek into the lives of world renowned authors like Rushdie, David McCullough, Joyce Carol Oates and Anna Quindlen, to name a few. “No, I’m not missing out,” is my response to the many people who often question the limitations of living away from New York.
Back to Rushdie. For an uber-intellectual whose mother tongue braids together religion, history, politics, philosophy, art and literature, the guy is remarkably funny. I wouldn’t have anticipated this. “By the way,” he tells the audience, “About this little altercation between myself and the Ayatollah…let me point out that one of us is dead.”
The world has changed, laments Rushdie. “Because public life smashes up against us and we can’t escape it.” This makes us feel powerless over how we shape our lives. It is our right, says Rushdie, to give voice to our own stories, and yet too often we lose this basic freedom in the face of such public spectacles. It all comes down to headlines like this one in The New York Post, about the Tiger Woods scandal: “Tiger is A Cheetah.”
What does this say about us as a society that we crave such public intimacy?
Beyond the laughs, Rushdie raises a serious question. “Who has the power over the stories in which we live?” To deny humans the freedom over their own narratives is to deny us our right as human beings. The same could be said for families and nations, as they, too, have stories that are the fabric of any open society.
Rushdie’s right. We are the authors of our own lives.