Over the past week, I’ve struggled to write. I’ve struggled to do many of the things that typically bring me joy or at least make me feel remotely content. Sleep has been elusive. These are difficult times for our country. We’re living in a moment when our democracy demands our attention, stirring our passions, forcing us to decide who and what we believe. It gnaws at our consciousness even as we may try to ignore it. We can’t turn away. And we shouldn’t. As citizens and especially as writers, we must engage.
I agonized over writing this post thinking that taking space here to address this topic may be labeled inappropriate. I might be subverting the unwritten writer code that we can’t risk being perceived as polarizing. Some would assert that this forum for writers is not the place for anything remotely political. They may be right, but I believe that silence is also political.
We often look to fiction as a means to escape the inescapable. Every summer, publishers promote the pastel covers of our favorite beach reads and many of us curl up with them well into fall and winter to cocoon ourselves in the warmth of stories we hope will have happy endings. Alternately, some of us read dystopian novels where humanity scrambles for survival in a dark, nightmarish world. We cloak ourselves in the illusion that dystopia is far-off and unimaginable to make our current reality more bearable. Unfortunately, we’re living the cautionary tale we fear.
When I talk to my friends in writing organizations, we often lament about how helpless we feel in this time when objective truth is pilloried, marginalized people are re-victimized, and hard-won rights are in danger of being stripped away. Our hand-wringing remains constant.
Now is not the time to stop writing or to write only to help our readers and ourselves escape reality. We can use our writing to fight our way out of what scares and overwhelms us. Some have labeled this “writing as resistance.” Yes, I want to resist injustice and intolerance, but I also want to foster understanding and build empathy. I’m not advocating that we write novels that promote a partisan stance. That’s didactic propaganda that keeps us kicking and screaming from our ideological corners. The best fiction remains a place where we can immerse ourselves in the world of characters who grapple with systems of oppression, demand agency, and struggle to make sense out of a complex world. It’s still all about story first.
As writers, we’re equipped for battle with our laptops and smartphones, or typewriters and pens, and access to Wi-Fi practically anywhere we go. Our bunkers may be our home offices, subway trains, or coffee shops. Our greatest weapon is [Read more…]