I find it profoundly difficult these days to be a writer. My inspiration and enthusiasm have been buried so far below an onslaught of awful news headlines and downright hate, trauma, and tragedy that I struggle to reach them. What’s a girl to do? In a world so woeful and broken, how can I dig beneath the heartbreak and create? Do you have the same thoughts? If so, how do you free yourself to write during these confusing and troubling times?
This is a question Karen Cushman posed to her fellow writers in 2017. I intended to respond to it then, but I find no evidence that I ever did. The question seems even more appropriate, more urgent today, so I’m going to tackle it now.
How do I free myself to write during these confusing and troubling times?
I have one friend, an artist in a field different from mine, who keeps these confusing and troubling times in check by abstaining from news entirely. And that works for her. But while I honor her choice, it’s not mine. I don’t see how I can be a responsible citizen that way. I do, however, limit the amount of time I spend taking in the news. In particular, I abstain from almost all news that comes by way of television. Most of what is offered there is less news than it is high-impact entertainment, meant to sell the products that ride on its back more than to inform.
I do read my local newspaper. I do get news from sources I trust on the internet. (That last is problematic, of course, because the sources I trust are sure to support my own views of the world, and as more of us get our information from such radically different sources with such profoundly different truths to convey, we all grow less and less able to communicate with one another.)
But the issue here isn’t who has the truth. It’s how we live—and write—with the truths we embrace. With the lack of substantive hope those truths support.
My answer has been to attempt to reach, day after day, deeper, farther, beyond the news of the day. My answer, for instance, to the ravages of our climate has been The Stuff of Stars. I won’t say to our children, We adults have failed to keep out world intact, now it’s up to you to fix it! Rather I say, Look! See our universe! See this incredible Earth! See your own amazing self! All magnificent! All sacred!
And I dream that if my readers know in their hearts the sacredness of the Earth and of their own selves, they will in some small way live differently into whatever lies ahead.
I dream, too, of writing a picture book about Peace. I capitalize the word, because I’m not talking about soft, squishy peace, the kind of feel-good stuff that all little old ladies believe in. I’m talking about Peace as a vibrant force that has the power and authority to change history. I have a dear friend who speaks of humans as both mammals, nurturers, and as predators, creatures who kill to survive. I want to find the Peace that lies on the other side of that truth, and I want to write it in such a way that the very young—and the very old—can believe in it.
It’s not much of an answer, I know. It certainly isn’t an answer that fixes anything. But it is the best I have.
What is your answer, especially those of you out there who also write for children? Where does your hope lie? Surely we can’t speak to children without hope. Surely we can’t live our own lives without it.
I would love to hear your answers, and I’ll post as many of them as I can.
Write to me. How do you live your hope? How do you communicate it?