"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." ~Toni Morrison
I've been tossing around ideas about what to write for this post for a few days now. It was tempting to bypass the state of the nation and stick to a safer topic, something like motivation or puppies. But Toni Morrison's words summarize what is on my mind, and what I think should be on the mind of every writer.
Yes, I'm about to be opinionated, and I'm not going to apologize for that.
We have been given the gift of words, and with that I believe there comes responsibility.
Yes, a lot of us, maybe even most of us, are in the writing business to entertain, but that entertainment shapes thoughts and emotions. We're not preachers or politicians, but we have beliefs and principles and values.
We have power we don't realize that we have.
I was thinking the other day about all of the books I read as a child and a teenager. The product of a strict religious upbringing, born and raised in a small town, I was very sheltered with little experience of the larger world. The books I read - fortunately - taught me compassion and understanding for people different than me. They taught me that evil can be confronted and overcome. They taught me that hope, beauty, and good can survive in even the darkest of situations. They comforted me. They gave me heroines and mentors I could relate to and look up to.
They also taught me that it's important to step out of the safe zone and take action when lives and liberties are threatened.
This, my friends, is that time. I'm not saying we all need to start writing essays or blogs or opinion pieces, although that wouldn't be a bad thing. But I believe that in the world as it now is, it's more important than ever that we think about how we are using our creative gifts.
Do we have influence on social media that can be used to give bandwidth to important messages? Are there elements we can include in our stories that will help threatened groups feel stronger? Can we write stories that might shine a light on privilege and unconscious bigotry? Can we help to build bridges and create understanding and cooperation?
I believe that privilege and even a lot of bigotry and hate hide out in our subconscious, installed there when we were children incapable of sorting truth from lies. We can do work to find these beliefs in ourselves. We can write things that make people stop and think.
Fiction often shines a light where argument and rhetoric can never reach.
If I'm honest, I'm not sure what that means for me, as a writer. I don't know how this belief is going to change the next book I write. But if I write consciously, from the heart, with the desire to make things better, I dare to hope that my stories, in some small way, can help to make the world a better place.
My challenge to all of you is to make an effort to do the same.