April 22, 2008

Why Am I Writing Right Now...?

I love my job. I love writing, writing about and talking about books.
However, it's sometimes hard to square what is essentially a job in entertainment with a world that isn't entirely free to be at ease and entertained.

What does it mean, when you are a writer, that people are starving in Haiti, Egypt and the Philippines? That there's a massive drought in Australia, and a food crisis in South Asia? People have always starved, it's endemic to poverty -- the poor we always have with us, after all -- but things have been drifting quietly downstream for some time now, and in the distance is the roaring sound of the rapids.

...and yet I'm writing books. Is this the best use of my time?

Common sense suggests that paddling this canoe now won't even slightly delay our rush toward white water, but that's not why I'm still writing -- I'm writing because I believe in the power of stories. I do. I think that's a core belief -- something I believe in as strongly as a religious creed. I believe in the power of story.

I remember feeling quite moved when so many SCBWI authors and authors-to-be sent books and flashlights to the kids caught in the Katrina floods, and knowing that if I was miserably hot and stuck with thousands of people in a sticky, crowded, dark room, facing The End of Life As I'd Known It with nothing but the grubby clothes on my back and a few damp possessions -- maybe --, I'd want something else -- quick -- that said, "Once upon a time," and ended somewhere else, maybe not with "Happily Ever After," but with "Happily, Not Here." I believe in the power of stories to distract and distance us from the unpleasant. I'm big on escapism -- sometimes it is A Good Thing.

I also believe in the power of stories to teach. Just the other day, when we all rocked the readergirlz TBD, I was cheered to know that hundreds of hospitalized teens would now have a chance to be distracted -- but more than that, to be taught. So many books have taught us. We know about cancer and diabetes, revolutions, wars and life as immigrants. We can't really be afraid when we know things. Prejudices and terrors stem from what we don't know. When we read, we learn. I believe in the power of learning things to shine a light on our fear.

Story was my lifeline when I was a kid.
Stories are my lifeline as... an older kid.

Yet, the food crisis thing. Starvation. Not just kids, but everyone in some countries. Somewhere the obnoxious idealist in me is shrieking, "Somebody should do something!!!"

I know who 'somebody' is - it's me.

So, I'm writing.
And thinking of what else to do.


Anonymous said...

This is a beautiful post, Tadmack, and something I wonder about a LOT. Is what we're doing (each of us) enough? Is it good or important or necessary or helpful? Is it service, or self serving?

But deep down I think that if you're the kind of person who's asking those questions and following them to their logical ends, you are serving. And helping. Really.

Part of what you're doing as a writer, I think, (besides providing an education and a escape through story) is raising consciousness.

Who's to say that ten people aren't going to act TODAY after reading your post? We all play different roles in the world, multiple ones, many of us. And the one you are playing today is lighting a fire under other ones of us who, together, can and should get this world fed.

Both literally, and through story...

Saints and Spinners said...

I appreciate this post, TadMack. I really wish I could remember the person Madeleine L'Engle quoted when she said that the writer's/storyteller's job was not to tell the troops that they were going to die, but to entertain them and give them stories the night before they were going to die. It was in one of her books, so I should just go back and reread them all.:) She said it much more succinctly than that, of course! But I've carried that thought with me for many a year. Books definitely helped me emotionally survive the rough years. Whenever someone said, "Oh, you've just got your head in a book," I wanted to respond, "Yeah? What have you got to offer that's better?!" (I was in 4th grade, and not that snappy, though.)

Sarah Stevenson said...

I wonder about this issue a lot, too...I often wonder whether there's some way I can use my ability to write, or draw, to do more than simply draw others' attention to important happenings.

Let's make a pact to tell each other if we come up with any bright ideas! :)

I do love what Liz and Akelda had to say about this, too.

Kelly said...

Tadmack (and Liz, and Alkelda, and Sarah): I struggle with this issue every day. I wonder if what I do on a daily basis makes any difference, especially when the world is such a cruel, cruel place. (Especially now.)

It's nice to know others struggle too.

Anonymous said...

I feel the same way - and so I donate money to causes I believe in and people I hope to get into power so they can change the world. And I write to my senators and congressman (actually not so much writing to the congressman as he is facing a investigation by the Dep of Justice - oy) and let them know how I feel about things.

And I buy what I can to support local business and I don't use pesticides on the lawn and I hope to God that Al Gore gets a seat in the next governmnet so he has a chance to save the damn world.

And I write because I truly believe that we get the goverment we deserve and what is happening now is proof of just what terrible shape our education system is in. The politics of fear brought us to this place, because there were not enough educated, forward thinking people to out vote those who did not know better.

Write books Tanita, so that young people will read them, and when they are done, they will keep reading more. And they will not be so easily fooled; they will know enought to question outrageous things are said.

PS. Madeleine L'Engle also wrote "fight to the death for truth and the Lord God fights by your side". In a good world we would not need to entertain the troops with stories; we would not need to send them away.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing this, TadMack. "Why write" is a question I am constantly asking myself and trying to answer. Most days, I do believe writing/books are so very valuable... but I also believe I could be doing more to give. Maybe we always could.

Sara said...

Thanks for this post, Tanita. It's what good writing does: ask the questions. Amen to: 1) still writing and 2) thinking what else to do.

tanita✿davis said...

Education. Escape. Raising consciousness. Writing truth. I want to pin these words and phrases to my sweater like a Kindergarten nametag so if I get lost again, I'll know where to find me...

thanks, guys.