It’s been a rough week, hasn’t it? Gilroy. El Paso. Dayton. A punch to the gut with every breaking news headline.
I have been deep in a hole of “why does my little voice matter?” The problems and passions of my day-to-day seem shadowed by the greatness of white supremacy and misogyny and leaders who refuse to do anything and who prioritize guns over people.
And then… and then… one of the greats dies. Toni Morrison didn’t truly influence me until I was old enough and, I don’t know, wise enough I suppose, to really appreciate how differently she told stories. I’d read her as a student, but revisiting Beloved recently just knocked my socks off. On and off the page, her words inspired, challenged, and uncovered parts of all of us we pretend not to see.
So, it’s only Tuesday, and everything seems terrible. I can give myself logical pep talks, or listen to wise writing friends who share in the struggle and know that it’s the small things that accumulate over time that matter. Inspiring words soothe and remind me there is reason to hope.
And. I’m also feeling physically terrible, which is not something I can just talk away. My body is telling me something, perhaps asking something of me, and I need to stop for a second and listen.
What is it trying to tell me, about what’s really important? About how I’m using my voice, my words? About how I’m spending my time? About what I really want?
Is it selfish to turn national tragedies into self-reflection? I struggle with this. It seems both futile and self-aggrandizing.
I wrote the first scene of what turned into my novel the day after the Charlottesville massacre. And it’s not “about” gun violence or white supremacy (only tangentially), but rather about a woman struggling to find herself in the wake of grief and guilt.
I hope there’s someone out there who needs to hear that story.
Stories are what make us human—they are what connect us—and we are in desperate need of stories right now. We have a lot of open wounds, both acute and chronic. Collectively, the nation is rightly grappling with its white supremacist history and the battle between continuing to cover it up while benefiting from it, and exposing it so that we can finally break free from it. There is fear and blame and anger and grief.
Stories show that these are universal emotions, and it’s not about covering them up or not feeling them, but about recognizing them and using them to drive change and progress. They don’t have to be “about” a crisis or have an overt political angle, but at the very basic level, giving words to the human experience and letting voices be heard that add flavor and perspective to what the current struggles of our generation are, can add to the way we grow as a nation. Be a call to action.
So, in the words of Toni Morrison:
“This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.”
“We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.”