The cave is dark, slightly damp, with a smell of earth and of something that is a little bit rotten and a little bit like life.
Dragging a finger through the remnants of an old fire, black lines on the tip, the fine particles fall from my skin and disappear into the air; but I’ve seen them do it and so I spit into the small pile of ash, mixing the ash with saliva, twirling my finger through and through until the paste is thick and sticking.
It is forbidden, I think as I approach the wall, pounding of my heart echoing and echoing. Forbidden to call on the magic of the caves. Forbidden to call on the Gods themselves.
But, I feel the power in my bones, in the tingling of my body, the tightness in my chest. The need is a real thing, a shallow breath, and a heightened sense of rightness.
I make the first line with the paste coated on the tip of my finger, and in that line, a release of something I didn’t know I held in check. Free.
Cave drawings. They span the globe from South America to Asia, dating some 40,000 years ago. They depict animals, mostly, with shadows of hands, and in some occasions what might be considered fertility symbols. Similar no matter their location, they speak of a different time and place, an ancient being that has now communicated through thousands of years.
A message that has endured.
The first writings.
There are several different interpretations as to why the cave drawings were made. Some scholars believe they were done by shamans in order to pull out the magic of the natural world. Some believe that it was hunting magic to help prehistoric humans with their hunting, and as such, their survival.
What is similar across the different examples is the the drawings don’t appear to be ornamental. They are located deep within the caves, or in out-of-the way, uninhabited areas. In other words, they are not living room paintings, done to brighten the place up or create a mood.
They are special. Magical. Unique.
And, whether intended or not, have communicated to us, thousands of years later, a story of those ancient peoples.
I have a hard time believing that these ancient beings had absolutely no understanding of the communication aspect of these pictures. Not one stopped, looked at the drawings, and had a flutter of understanding that this piece of drawing could, possibly, communicate to an unknown after death?
Because, talk to a handful of writers for any length of time, and that desire to be known past death creeps into the conversation of why a writer writes. There is a feeling, whether acknowledge loud and proud or just hinted at, that creating something that will survive death is an essential aspect of the writer’s psyche.
A legacy, it is said, that carries through time.
Why, though, do we want to create a legacy? If we follow the logic of evolution and genes, it is to keep our “line” alive. That is why in evolution the strong and intelligent survive, and the weak die out.
Is the need to live past our deaths in writing, drawing, painting, sculpting, and music a merely biological desire, propelled and instigated by the roll of our evolution-programmed genes?
Or maybe it is an idea (like so many ideas) that has survived from one generation to another generation. Those of us that read (and what writer doesn’t read?) see the proof of a legacy; the way words written hundreds of years ago are translated to the modern, and how powerful the ideas in what we write linger, and even influence, those in the future.
The feeling of: “yes, I did make a difference in the world while I was alive.”
A heady thing.
The desire for a legacy is a real and powerful motivator; not something that is talked about a whole lot, but which is inherit in the conversation about why a writer writes.
We want to be remembered even after our death. It is, seemingly, an inherent, biological need that humans have and nurture; and something that has been given power and importance by society.
Yet, there are contingency, because for many writers, this need to write something that survives death creates a whole host of different problems, especially for those writers whose literary success is illusive.
Which brings us to our next topic, dear readers: publishing; a sticky, mess of creationism that we will tackle in our next post.
Until next time. What is your legacy?