I’m guessing that, for the majority of you, your first desire to write was a way to express an emotion that you were having difficulty feeling or understanding. Or it might have been an early attempt to document, to explore the world in which you lived. But then you grow up and reality kicks in big time, and reality can be an obstacle to working with your imagination. It can mess with your mind. If you’re not careful it can catch you with your guard down and say things like: Oh please, you think your little poem is going to change the plight of people living as refugees? You think your little novel is going to make people think about a compassionate society that cares for its citizens?
In response to this voice, we can choose to focus on the value of the conversation that our writing will prompt with our audience. Because, as writers, we are not only recorders of history and memory, we are also striving to be forward-thinkers and visionaries. Our job is to promote thought, to witness, to explore, to dream, and above all, to create connection.
In her poem, “Children of our Age,” the 1996 Nobel Laureate in literature, Wislawa Szymborska, wrote:
“Whether you like it or not,
Your genes have a political past
Your skin a political cast,
Your eyes, a political slant.”
She is speaking here of what separates us from one another, and at times like these, there is so much to separate us that it becomes an incredibly huge task to look for what unites us. But as writers, it is our responsibility to keep reminding our country of this connection.
So when someone asks you, What do you do? perhaps you can come up with a sentence or two that says something like: “I am part of an international conversation. I use my imagination to explore possibilities, to investigate the past, and to dream about the future.” And when someone asks you, What can you do with a degree in creative writing? perhaps you can say something like, “Well, my degree is just the key that opens a door. But once I step over the threshold, I can be a poet or a playwright or a novelist or a memoirist or a blogger or a protestor or an activist.” It really doesn’t matter what label you claim; you will be – you are – a writer in the world and it is the action you take that holds all the promise.
I know that many of us are having a difficult time right now. Remember that we are a community: a community of writers, whose role in our society is to attempt to witness, document, invent, and imagine a different kind of future. Imagination is our strength. Faith is our call to action.
With gratitude for community,
(This letter was first published on The Writer in the World, a blog for the MFA in Creative Writing community at Goddard College, which is directed by Elena Georgiou, and shared here with her permission.)