Let's Think About This
When in doubt, find a good read
It’s another swirling week; another round of discouraging news about coronavirus, election campaigns, stock market losses, climate change. Social media and news outlets are wearing me down. Rather than being a source of connection and information, they are sources of anxiety and speculation.
What’s a writer working at home and feeling a tad isolated to do?
Shut off the computer and read.
One of my enduring ways of recovering from news overload and a lack of motivation is to pick up a hard copy of something - anything - and read. This week, that hard copy was a recent issue of the New Yorker, in which I read essays, cartoons, poems, and articles that shifted my mood. My hard copy also included a novel that I’ve been reading by small bites, at bedtime, immersing myself in another culture and time.
One of the greatest things about being a writer who works at home is tapping into the enormous network of other writers out there anytime I want. If I read their words, I can change the conversation running through my head. I can sink into that conversation without eyestrain from a screen, without pop-up ads, without commentary from local news anchors, without suggestions for what else I can read that’s similar.
I can read without being monitored. My critical thinking can kick in without distraction.
Dad would approve
A David Sedaris piece in the March 2 New Yorker, in which he talked about visiting his father in a nursing home and noticing how much he is changing as death draws closer got my attention. Sedaris’ words about his father’s changing physical body, his shifting attitudes, the things left behind in his house reminded me of conversations with my dad after my mom was gone. My father died in 2005, but he pops into my mind every single day. More so lately as I feel like I’m entering into this new territory of adulthood: the territory of the elder.
I don’t love this idea, this status as an elder. Not yet. What I do love is feeling more confident than at any other point in my life. I happily shirk the conventions others might have me adhere to, like wearing makeup or using the title Mrs. I speak out in favor of universal health care because there has got to be a way to make that work. I insist women know what to do with their own bodies and minds. And I’m happy to suggest that old white men might do well to step back from their positions of power in favor of the rest of us having a go at it.
I think my dad would approve.
One of the things that I’m also questioning is how I do my work. I never wanted to be a writer for the company. The idea that writers work in solitude always appealed to me. But social media changed that lifestyle with its promise of connection and sharing of information. In spite of that information sharing and connection, I’ve been considering dumping some of the social media I use. Twitter, to be specific. I hate the constant state of zinging and slinging that happens there. I’ve been hanging on out of some idea that it helps me as a writer. One Minnesota Writer site analytics say otherwise. Facebook and direct links are where most of my traffic comes from, so why am I hanging on to a platform that discourages deeper thinking in favor of tweets? Not that any social media encourages deeper thinking. That isn’t their role.
But One Minnesota Writer’s role is one of encouragement. Of promoting the idea that taking time to ponder, to meditate, to reconsider, to look at another facet is valuable. That critical thinking is an essential part of being an artist, a writer, a human being.
Dad would have approved of that, too.
How's that critical thinking?
Critical thinking is in short supply right now. Sometimes mine. Sometimes yours. Sometimes the entire population’s. That’s been amply evident as the coronavirus pandemic unfolds. There are so many things that can interrupt our lives and have high fatality rates: natural disasters, toxic spills, acts of war, and, yes, viruses. There are other things that contribute to illness and sometimes death, too: poverty, obesity, poor access to health care, poor access to a decent education, lack of exercise, overwork, despair, depression.
What I’m getting at here is the stark difference in response to a novel virus versus so many other problems that we know harm human beings. Aren’t all of these equally important? What if we were as dedicated in removing, oh, let’s say pesticides that are killing the bees who pollinate much of the food grown here as we are to containing a virus that is going to spread around the world whether we like it or not?
The impossible is possible
I just rediscovered a book on my bookshelf that I forgot I owned. The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen’s Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear edited by Paul Rogat Loeb. The book came out in 2004, a few years after 9-11 changed the national psyche. The list of contributors for this book is impressive, including people like Maya Angelou, Tony Kushner, Bill McKibben, Pablo Neruda, Vaclav Havel, Cornel West, Terry Tempest Williams, and many, many more. This seems to be just what I need right now: a guide to hope that I can tuck into as the coming weeks unfold.
I think I’ll start with the essay titled, In What do I Place My Trust? by Rosalie Bertell. That’s the perfect question for us all right now.
Answers, like mileage, may vary.