Against the ruin of the world, there is only one defense—the creative act.
Writers, I know I’ve said recently that if you’re not writing, if you’re too overwhelmed, it’s OK. That the words will come back to you when you’re ready.
But this month, I gotta tell you, I’m over it.
Because 2020 is not relenting—and your stories can’t wait.
Rexroth, the poet, is right—our creativity, our stories, our voices, they’re not only our best chance at preserving our perspective on history, they are our only hope of having any influence on what is to come.
Besides, if you’re waiting for things to calm down, so you can have more mental space to write, it might be awhile.
So how will we do it? How can we reach into the swirling funnel cloud of 2020, pluck out what’s important, and shape it into a story?
Once again, let’s look to James Baldwin, who wrote dispatches from the heart of the Civil Rights Movement, and later re-visited those experiences again and again in his fiction.
In a 1984 interview for the Paris Review,Baldwin said, “…after I had been to all those places in the South and seen those boys and girls, men and women, black and white, longing for change. It was impossible for me to drop them a visit and then leave. Once I was in the civil-rights milieu… the role I had to play was confirmed. I knew I could get a story past the editor’s desk. And once you realize that you can do something, it would be difficult to live with yourself if you didn’t do it.”
Writers, let’s see what you can do.
In July, I gave you a writing exercise aimed at capturing the current moment.
In August, I gave you another one, aimed at helping you make sense of an earlier era of chaos in your life.
If you haven’t tried them yet, please do so now. And then do this one, which I hope will help you excavate what’s important—to you— and maybe you can identify patterns in the chaos, visible only to you.
Somewhere, someone needs your story to help them sort through their own chaos. And right now, someone started kindergarten this week, who in a decade or two will look to your story to help them understand this time, and maybe even reach into the swirling funnel cloud of their own life, and pluck out what matters.
Give it a try, writers. And if you come up empty, try again tomorrow. For, in the words of the poet Mary Oliver:
Imagination is better
than a sharp instrument. To pay attention, this is our endless
and proper work.
Go on, now. Get to work.
Dean of Faculty