On Writing During a Crisis
July 30, 2020 § 21 Comments
By Beth Morrow
I made a new acquaintance recently who, in his days before three kids, a job in administration, and a divorce, had been an active and productive writer. He lauded me each evening for having sat down during this pandemic to flesh out the essays in my head with a Bic pen in my spiral notebook.
I couldn’t understand why he, as a person who’d felt the pull and power of writing himself, wasn’t doing the same. I thought that’s what writing was for: to internalize and digest the suppositional inanities of the external world into concrete and rational observations. To use our words to transmute the unease and anger and hatred and uncertainty into a story with tangible relevance. Writing has been the only way I have been able to convert the painful and potentially destructive events of my life into a series of stepping stones since I was nine. It has brought me through both my brother’s and husband’s deaths when family and friends failed, clinical depression when no one listened, and panic when leadership had cowered.
Wasn’t that why other writers sat down to the page?
Sure, he said, but it was impossible to get to the point of being able to write again with all the distractions that conspire to consume his days. Besides, he added, the rejections he’d suffered in his submitting days were evidence that he probably wasn’t meant to pick up a pen and keep going.
I disagreed. To me, these were the clearest indications of why he–and we–must continue writing.
Lack of time and focus, fear of rejection, unpredictability, worry. These shadow elements, in differing proportions, conflict in the creative mind to make the path to writing in times of chaos seem insurmountable and irrelevant. When each dawn reveals a new catastrophe or devastating loss, it’s easy to believe that putting more words into the world won’t make anything better. There are too many things going wrong, too many wars waging, too little quiet, too much outrage. The virus. So little makes sense, so much is frightening.
All of these are the reasons we must dedicate ourselves to putting pen to paper. Just as the military analyst has decades of familiarity interpreting complex battle plans to the civilian and the educator possesses the gift of compelling the learner to explore uninspiring content, the writer exists to experience, filter, funnel, and transform abstract feelings and emotions into words to light the way for others. If we can name our joys and gratitude, so too can our readers. If we can grapple with our invisible dread and illuminate anxiety on the page, we can share them. If we can admit the shortcomings of our own human experience with grace, we can spark introspection in a way that fuels hope, change, and growth.
The truth of the matter is that the act of writing allows us to cement the universe’s upheaval to the human condition–the wishes and dreams, fears and failures for the future we all hold–in a way that helps others to process the changing landscape, to face the overwhelm, grief, and sadness inherent in such a time, and emerge with the knowing that no matter the struggle, beauty prevails.
Examining the pain of life through the pandemic, Civil Rights, gender equity, and other crises through words is the writer’s way to absorb the collective energy and focus it through our uniquely beautiful and personal story lens to metamorphose us all forward.
When my friend asked last night about what writing I’d done, I told him I’d drafted a few paragraphs about the importance of writing through big challenges, and how writing is the first step in healing what feels like a life spinning out of control in a world we are struggling to recognize.
“I suppose that’s your way of telling me to get back to writing?” he chuckled.
“I suppose it is,” I confirmed.
Beth Morrow is a writer and teacher from Grove City, Ohio. Her work has appeared in numerous magazines and blogs on health, summer camp, language acquisition, and, of course, writing. Visit her on Twitter @Buckeye_BethM and at http://www.BethMorrow.blog