Does the World Need Another Essay?

April 11, 2022 § 38 Comments

by Dorothy Rice

It’s Spring 2022, over two years since life was transformed by a global pandemic. Meetings, appointments, and vacations cancelled. Professional obligations and expectations suspended. My longest stretch of workaday limbo, aside from three maternity leaves.

“I think we should stay away for a while. You’re in that vulnerable age group,” my son said, over the phone during the initial quarantine. “We can’t risk anything happening to you.” Which meant no son, no grandkids, for weeks that became months.

I had unscheduled time. Every writer’s dream. I might have completed that memoir, tackled my moldering list of essays, made progress on the middle grade novel begun as a break from the navel gazing of personal writing. But my thoughts were unfocused, too diffuse to distil into coherent sentences.

I excavated closets and cupboards, arrayed the leavings of five grown children and my recently deceased mother on the dining room table, wishing they were the pages of a manuscript. I held each object, felt its heft and texture. Victorian glassware and mismatched China. Grandma’s handknit, hand-sewn suits and dresses, each with a dyed-to-match silk slip. Mom’s Latin American textiles, photo albums from her world travels. Children’s artwork, their imagined futures in photos, award certificates and boxes of mementos.

I amassed piles. Keep. Gift. Recycle. Repurpose. Trash. The lines bleary as my thoughts. A can of baking powder that expired in 1988—trash or collectible? A sack of wooden spools from my own sewing days—string them into aclunky necklace for a kindergarten teacher?

The silverware drawer and pantry became marvels of cleanliness and organization. I ordered padded storage boxes (that appeared on the doorstep days later) for the glassware—one daughter said she’d want it if she ever left Manhattan. I assembled sewing baskets for my two sisters with surplus notions acquired from Grandma, Mom, and thrift stores. I did touch my writing. Documents dragged into computer folders. Journals arranged in descending year order. My office was ready for me whenI was ready for it.

Along with routines, schedules, and external obligations, I was suspended, in creative limbo.

In younger years, when I expressed angst about the future, Mom would remind me I was just a grain of sand on the beach of life, a cog in a great machine. “Find your cog and put your shoulder behind it,” she would say. I’ll show you, I used to think, I’m no cog, no grain of sand, I’m special.

Now I get it. I was, I am, a grain of sand, a cog, a Victorian bubble-glass goblet.

The urgency of anything I had to say withered in the face of world events. Global pandemic. Wildfires. Uncloseted white supremacy and bigotry. Gun violence, fake news, conspiracy theories. War, refugees, famine, closed borders. Earth gasping for breath. There all along. Then a massive hand shook the planet like a snow globe. Virus molecules insinuated themselves into every nook and cranny, leavening, and gas-lighting our differences, our placement on the privilege scale.

In light of life revealed, bruised and diseased, I was neutralized. Does the world need this essay, I asked myself. Does the world need another memoir? Does the world need anything I have to say? Of course, the things the world doesn’t need appears infinite and expanding. Does the world need another roundabout? Another dipping sauce, cat celebrity or meme? What the world needs now (cue music) is less, not more, a time out from human-kind’s machinations.

For two years I’ve treaded creative water, begun project after project, only to stutter, then stop, in the face of the blinking, blinding, why. Why these words, this topic, why me? No one will be hospitalized or cured if I don’t write. No one will despair. No one will notice at all. Was that ever the point? It’s not as if I believed my words could home the homeless, put food in children’s bellies, or avert another senseless war.  

Joan Didion famously wrote, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”  Of course, she’s Joan Didion, and I’m not. Yet isn’t it the same for any writer, no matter our success or visibility? I write to dissect what it is to be me, in this body, place and time, never knowing when my words will bring comfort, make someone feel less alone, or elicit a smile.

When I don’t transcribe life onto the page, when I don’t move words around until they resemble my truth, I’m left with a sense of lost opportunity. Does the world need another essay? No. But sometimes I do. How else to attempt to make sense of the world? And why cede my words to all that we need even less—another “reality” show, miracle diet, clump of big box stores. My words don’t take up space, interrupt traffic, create false hope, or defile what’s left of nature. Yet once written, they exist, one human’s experience distilled, like the petroglyphs and cave drawings of civilizations past.  

After two years twiddling my fingers over the computer keys, I’m clicking them again, not because the world needs me to, but because I do. I’m a writer. That’s the cog I put my shoulder to.

Lately, when I see my ten-year-old grandson, he asks, “How’s that novel coming, Grandma?” If he were a fellow writer or nosy neighbor, I’d assume he’d asked because he knew it wasn’t. From my grandson it’s a reminder that he wants me to finish the dang novel so he can read it.

“It won’t be you,” I remind him, because I’ve told him the protagonist is also a ten-year-old boy. “There may be parts of the character you don’t like.”

“Yeah I know,” he says. “He can’t be all good. That would be boring, right?”

Which he knows because his grandmother is a writer and we talk about these things.
___

Dorothy Rice is the author of Gray is the New Black: A Memoir of Self-Acceptance, The Reluctant Artist, an art book/memoir, and editor of the anthology TWENTY-TWENTY: 43 Stories from a Year Like No Other. She is Managing Editor with Under the Gum Tree, and co-director of Stories on Stage Sacramento, a nonprofit literary performance series. She earned an MFA in Creative Writing at 60. Find her on twitter at @dorothyrowena and at dorothyriceauthor.com.

Tagged:

§ 38 Responses to Does the World Need Another Essay?

  • I have a novel protagonist who is a 10 year old boy for most of the story. It is not meant as a child’s book, but somehow people expect it to be that. I envy your grandson.

    • dorothyrice says:

      How fun, Jan. I look forward to reading it, and yes, folks do have that expectation. I’m writing how I write (not gearing the language for an age, in other words) and am curious how it will turn out.

  • cmconsolino says:

    You’re not Joan Didion. You’re Dorothy Rice. And yes, we need your essays and anything else you feel like creating. Thank you for sharing.

  • rachaelhanel says:

    Well said, Dorothy! “Does the world need another essay? No. But sometimes I do.” I love that.

    • dorothyrice says:

      Thanks so much, Rachel. I love that your bio says you teach mass media to the masses. I still remember writing in my college application essay that I wanted to write popular fiction for the masses … that was a long time ago.

  • Maddie Lock says:

    Thank you for sharing your feelings; I was nodding my head the whole time. And the quote from Joan Didion is one I have taped on the wall in front of me. It serves as a reminder whenever I get that “nobody cares” attitude in these turbulent times.

  • Thank you for saying what I’m thinking. That’s pretty much the goal of publishing isn’t it? We can write for ourselves and to find out what we think. But when you put it out there the rest of us can say, oh yeah, that’s what I think too. Thanks for putting it into words. Having a 10 year old sidekick is the best. “Nana let’s set the timer for 10 minutes of writing, go!”

  • Karen says:

    Yes as others say above, you put into words what I, and probably so many of us, have been feeling and that resonates and helps, so thank you!

  • dkzody says:

    Joan Didion famously wrote, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” The whole reason I write, and write, and write. Keep writing.

  • kperrymn says:

    Hello. Just want to add my thanks to everyone else’s. I had one of those memoirists’ aha moments this morning, enabling me to see how I am like the primary antagonist in my book. I am struggling to finish revising the last six chapters, where I know I must bring enough things together for readers to make sense of everything.
    Your essay helped me see the importance of this struggle, of that moment, as I made sense of things for myself. I hope I will be able to bring that understanding to the page successfully for readers. But even if I don’t, the lens through which I view my past (and present) has opened. And that is something. Thank you!

    • dorothyrice says:

      Oh wow, thank you so much. If I helped in even a tiny way, I’m so pleased and honored. It’s a struggle, isn’t it? But a worthy one, for sure, if only to show ourselves that we can finish what we set out to do and, even if it isn’t perfection (as nothing is), we’ve learned something in the process – about ourselves, others, the world, and how this business of writing works (for us).

  • I started reading a few words and realized I had stepped right into a field of treasures. I answered yes to so many of your questions, I felt as if I were sitting right beside you. You’ve not only inspired me to keep at it (the ol’ writing) but to tackle the attic and basement with all their empty spools and such I haven’t been able to sort or let go of! Now maybe. What a wonderful, refreshing read. Thank you!
    (Just visited your website and signed up. Wow!)
    Deb

  • natanan12 says:

    Informative ! A nice article ! I learn a lot from your article ! You were a good writer ! Still now you are !You are a good write narrator ! Keep it up !Thank you for sharing your essays with all of your followers ! Havea nice time !

  • Charlie Kyle says:

    Thanks for your essay and thanks to the commenters as well.

  • After a two-hour electrical outage, I rebooted my computer and tried on Facebook, something familiar to get myself revved up before tackling my writing project for today: make some progress on Part 2 of my novel. Yep. That one. Your words couldn’t be more perfect. Filling my need to connect with you and your take on the quotidian. Thank you, Dorothy!

  • Reblogged this on Inspirations from Wake and Sea and commented:
    After two years, I’m starting to get disciplined about my writing again. I need a focused way to scream my thoughts onto pages besides journaling, which I’ll admit I’ve even been too depressed or scattered or numb or too teary to write in some days. I haven’t met you, Dorothy Rice, but I know we’d get along! Your words speak my heart, too. Thank you.

    To my readers …. enjoy! xo

    • dorothyrice says:

      Thanks so much, Ginny! Your blog is lovely and I know what you mean about needing to find a way other than journaling, which is all I did for years and years, rather than actually complete anything that moved me forward. All best to you!

  • Yes Dorothy. Like Fermat’s last theorem – your essay is the proof that the world did indeed need another essay. As readers of it can gratefully attest.

  • ‘Does the world need another essay? No. But sometimes I do.’ These are a great few lines.

  • Wonderful. You may not be Joan Didion famous, but I recognized your name from your books and from California. Let’s just keep writing because that’s what we do.

  • Thanks! I needed to hear this today.

  • Louise says:

    I really felt this, as I had very similar experiences over the last two years. “ A can of baking powder that expired in 1988—trash or collectible?” — LOL. And yes, the world might not *need* my writing, but I do, and it’s a hell of a lot more helpful than another incarnation of The Kardashians.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

What’s this?

You are currently reading Does the World Need Another Essay? at BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog.

meta

%d bloggers like this: