Seven years ago, I wrote here about a colleague who starts each semester prompting her students to consider: Who am I? What am I doing here exactly? What more is there to learn about me? How can I possibly be happy or seek fulfillment when pain, suffering, and death are inevitable?
I wrote here about a sound tucked up in my brain. A wheeze that escapes its dank little brain hole the moment I open my laptop. Three words strung together for maximum destructive effect: What’s the point? A whiny buzz—like a motorcycle revving three blocks away, like a leaf blower across the lake—just when I find five or ten minutes to write.
Life has changed a lot since then, but not much has changed about my writing life. And like then, I hear that whiny buzz. Our home is now our bunker. Our groceries get washed and disinfected. My doctor, and my podcast and Facebook feeds, tell me to keep it this way. And in the relative quiet after my three boys are in bed, I hear that old buzz. Why write, when pain, suffering, and death are happening everywhere? How can I teach my students, and now my children, that what they are writing about matters? That how they say it, how clearly and with how much conviction, makes a difference to anyone at all?
To quiet that buzz, I keep thinking about a phone call I had last month. The mother of a friend was reading The Memory Sessions with her book club and asked if the group might call me during their meeting. At 9pm my time, 6pm Idaho time, I talked with eight incredible women—two sisters, a mother/daughter duo, friends—who shared their stories. To Cindy, Melinda, Wendy, Jacky, Cami, Mandy, Vicki, and Marissa: your willingness to invite me into your conversation from 2600 miles away will always stay with me. (Your books are ready to go … once our lockdown loosens, I can get to the post office!)
I keep thinking about the conversation I had in January with Ben Woodard and Sophfronia Scott about how writing our stories and listening to others makes us kinder; sometimes right in the moment we are listening, we become kinder.
I keep thinking about my friends Lisa and Michelle and Kristi and Hilary who each attended a book event—well out of the way, two as a huge surprise—and the conversations we had that might otherwise never have happened.
I keep thinking about the Syrian father who taught his daughter that the booming bombs are just fireworks, transforming what would have been traumatic memory into something intimate and connected.
I keep thinking about how the writing I do with my children during this time of home schooling, and their memories of this time together, will outlast this emergency.
And I keep thinking about something my friend Cheryl Wilder once wrote: By ignoring our writing we cut ourselves off from the rewards that stem from this deep thinking and creativity, and we fail a community that needs the respite of a compelling story after a long, hard day, an essay that helps them feel less alone, or a poem that provides courage during a tough time. By not honoring the writing life we are not honoring our thread in history, our connection to the great writers before us, the ones in our midst, and the ones yet to come.