Two weeks ago I posed a question that Karen Cushman had brought to her fellow children’s writers a couple of years ago. How, in these confusing, troubling times, do you keep writing?
I may have responded to Karen at the time, but if I did, what I wrote is lost somewhere in the bowels of my computer. What I found instead was a start at a response that seems to have dribbled into nothing after a few sentences. So I set out to weigh the question again. See Confusing and Troubling Times.
And I asked my readers to give me your answers to Karen’s question.
I received only three responses. I suspect that this kind of request leaves many of us dribbling into nothing after a few sentences, but here are the ones I received. Each is important.
Janet Fox said “I’m trying to write books that will reach deep inside to bring the beauty of the individual, trying to succeed against all odds, to the page. And to leave readers with hope, always.”
I agree. That is the key, always, to begin with the beauty of the individual, every individual’s struggle, and to end with hope . . . for ourselves as well as for our readers.
Nancy Bo Flood said: “Thank you for describing clearly how hard [it is] to hold onto affirmation about anything during these times. Even our own writing world is enmeshed with firing criticism and scorn rather than thoughtful comments and insights — or encouragement that yes, we can be better human beings. Yes, we can open windows, cross bridges, go around walls, welcome a stranger. Despair is the opposite of hope. Human history is repeating itself – the struggle between kindness and cruelty continues. I think of the Greek god each day pushing the boulder up the steep hill toward light. The darkness of night pushes the boulder back down. Morning means taking up the struggle again.
“And so we do. One kind word. One book. One poem. Crossing the street to assist, to include. If the birds are foolish and brave enough to sing, so must I.”
Nancy’s point about the vitriol that has come to be too constant a presence in our own small world of children’s literature is one I resonate with. I certainly don’t long for a return to a “bunny nibble bunny” world in which all the bad words were kept discretely beneath the surface, but I do wish we could dial down the instant judgments, too often about books the ones judging have not even read, and the profound righteousness that seems to be infecting our conversation these days. There is so much out there in the world that is soul destroying. Am I naïve to wish those of us who write for the young could hold ourselves to a higher standard?
Nancy’s point about the necessity of starting again each morning pushing that boulder up a hill toward the light also strikes a deep chord for me. How helpful it is to be reminded that I am not pushing alone.
And Deb Miller said: “I for one of many will be watching and waiting for your book on Peace. Building love and empathy in the hearts of our children through story is probably the most powerful thing any of us can do. I keep at it because I have to think that someday some child will read my story (if it ever finds its way into the world, that is :-), and work out a more empathetic solution to whatever problem her world presents to her.
“Meantime, like you, I try to stay globally informed through reliable news sources, always fighting against the tendency for helpless despair by remembering the wisdom of Tolstoy’s Three Questions: What is the most important time? Now. What is the most important thing to do? What you see needs to be done. And who is the most important one? The one you are with. (simplified paraphrasing, of course)
“In my bookish life, that translates to acting locally— when I can, doing what I can, and for whom. And continuing to type away at my now ten year old manuscript that I have to believe will foster a measure of love and empathy in the hearts of at least a few children someday!”
A dream we all can carry, especially those who create books for children or create connections between children and books.
Because information frees us and stories enlarge our hearts, and in this perilous time more than anything else we need solid information and larger hearts.