According to Dictionary.Com, synthesis is “the combining of the constituent elements of separate material or abstract entities into a single or unified entity (opposed to analysis), the separating of any material or abstract entity into its constituent elements”, or, more simply, “a complex whole formed by combining”. Of course the first definition is a verb, the second a noun, but the idea is there.
Over the past few years I have formed a hypothesis about maturity, but I hasten to add that it may just be about mature creative persons, or just some of them, or just myself.
In my youth (including young adulthood) I read a great deal, not only for school but for myself. Naturally the books I read outside of school affected me at least as profoundly as did those I read for school. I could recite a list of prominent examples: TIME-LIFE books on the history of aviation and seafaring; Watership Down; Stephen King’s Christine; The Lord of the Rings; Dune; Dante’s Inferno; The Communist Manifesto; The Count of Monte Cristo; The Art of Loving; The Gay Science; the Lincoln-Douglas debates; Jane Austen’s entire body of work; selected William Shakespeare. (Of course there were also lighter works that I enjoyed without being profoundly affected, such as Friday by Robert Heinlein and The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov. These were just intelligent entertainment for a boy of fifteen years of age.) I wrote my own fiction starting at age eleven.
Between twenty-five and thirty I started reading less, I noticed, and for years I thought there was something wrong with this. I had not been an English major, which had always struck me as a major for readers more than for writers, and despite others thinking me well read, there were big glaring holes in my reading experience. Starting at about thirty I began to realize there was something else going on, though I did still read occasionally, and it took me a while to form my hypothesis.
My hypothesis is that in the life of every creative (or at least smart) person there is a phase of collecting information, gathering knowledge to oneself, which is what I had done in my own way, seeking and devouring various texts and databases. There is then a phase when one withdraws from the gathering to reflect on what one has gathered and digest it. Then comes a phase of synthesising all that one has gathered into something new. People think it is some revelation to say that “genius stands on other shoulders” or “art is a product of its time”, but the reality is that this is what the human mind is evolved to do, to transform its experience into something new, and nothing could be more basic. It would be surprising if this did not happen. This is what we do.
I love books, and I love reading, but nowadays I primarily wish to write. The only time I read now is when I am especially moved to do so — to research a topic for a story or when someone recommends something extraordinary (most recently “Big Two-Hearted River” by Ernest Hemingway and Dubliners by James Joyce). Most of the time I cannot be bothered, and this is not a comment on books or reading, or even on my work life. When I am free to read or write these days, when I am not writing my own works, I would far rather read news and respond to current events than read others’ fiction or poetry. Reality informs my work. My desire is to employ my creativity in response to my reality.
I may write something small — a Facebook post — or large, but I do not have the patience for most reading any longer. A part of me finds this sad, but a larger part of me sees this as the way it must be if I am to devote my resources to creation. If I need to research Ayn Rand to write about her or the Roman Catholic Church to write about it, I will. Otherwise, stand back — I’m creating.
I could be wrong, but I think that’s what we all do: we learn, we experience, we grow, and then we live, knowing what we know and contributing our own parts to the Great Conversation.