Sick of the News and Wondering – Why Write?

This morning after I turned the key in the ignition to drive to the gym, I flicked on the radio. It’s programmed for NPR, and as I heard, “Here are the day’s headlines,” I switched to the classical music station. I knew my heart would be pounding soon enough in my circuit class; I didn’t need the morning report to raise my blood pressure.

I’ve been feeling this way a lot lately. Distressed by accounts of wildfires, hurricanes, mass shootings, sexual assault and harassment, earthquakes, dismantling of our health care system, and environmental protections erased, I’ve had to limit my intake of current events. And that distresses me, too, because denial or ignoring does nothing to ease the suffering of our world.

I’m not alone. In the last week, two women I admire have responded to these troubles, each in her own way.

Eileen-Valley-Green-e1504621326715I’ve written previously about Eileen Flanagan, and I found her course, We Were Made for This Moment, extremely helpful in the early months of 2017. A couple of days ago, an email from Eileen asked, “Sick of the news?” Some intense, exciting work had kept her away from media, and when she tuned in again, she writes, “…I went on a CNN binge. It was the spiritual equivalent of chowing down pork rinds and jellybeans right after your yoga retreat.” The news literally made her sick, disturbing her eating and sleeping. Eventually, though, she realized “…it wasn’t just the stories themselves that were depressing; it was the way they were presented, with no role for me to play but voyeur. It confirmed my intention to keep my focus on things people like you and I can actually do to create the world we want to see.”

One of the ways Eileen shifts her perspective is through teaching, so she’s offering a new, four-week, on-line course, How to Build a Nonviolent Direct Action Campaign. It begins October 23, and there’s still time to register. Like her earlier courses, I suspect this one will help participants build their capacity to make change.

In “We Were Made for This Moment,” Eileen discussed a variety of activist roles (helper, organizer, advocate, rebel) and helped me gain some insight into the actions I feel I’m best equipped for and that give me joy. She cautioned that no one can do all the roles, and that if a role doesn’t feed you, burnout is likely.

Hiking Naked Final CoverWriting is both my creative outlet and my way to advocate for change. But as I’ve turned much of my energy to promoting my new book, Hiking Naked: A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance, I’ve wondered what good it’s doing in the face of the tragedies throughout the world.

Carol-768x1024Another friend, Carol Sexton, reminded me I’m not the only artist raising this question. Her blog post a couple of weeks ago, “Why I Make Art,” wrestled with, “What is the point of this art that I am making?  I see news of police brutality, racial injustice, political corruption, the failure of our current health system, or natural disasters such as wildfires and hurricanes, and I am sitting at home making a drawing of lace. I have to wonder whether there is something more I could/should be doing as an artist to address the needs of a hurting world.”

lace

Carol explored her role as an artist further.

“There are artists who focus their art around issues of social justice, and I admire and respect what they do, but that is also not who I am as an artist. I paint images of plants. I draw mandala designs. I carve figures in stone. I am attracted to things that I find beautiful and I want to share them in some way. But how can I justify being an artist when there are so many other worthy causes that need support?”

While acknowledging the privilege of choosing to make art, Carol lists clearly why she continues it. By changing the words “make art” to “write,” the points work for me, too.

  • I continue to make art write because it is what I do, and who I am.
  • I make art write because it is a gift that I have been given, and it would seem wrong not to exercise that gift.
  • I make art write because it satisfies my soul and gives me pleasure on a daily basis.
  • I make art write because part of my livelihood depends on it. In a lifestyle where there is no regular paycheck, every little bit of freelance income counts. And before getting income from art, one must take the time to produce art.
  • I make art write because it brings enjoyment to others.
  • I make art write because in a world full of ugliness and hatred and injustice, there is also much beauty to be shared and celebrated.
  • I make art write not as a direct response to important issues, nor as an escape from thinking or caring about them. I make art write because it is what I do best, and I want to offer my best to the world.

Most days, I trust that if I listen to the voice within, I’ll be led to actions that contribute to the world we want to see. But when I doubt, wisdom from people like Eileen and Carol sustains and inspires me. My hope is that my writing does the same for others.

Whatever your work is, how do you view it in the midst of today’s tribulations?

 

 

 

 

14 thoughts on “Sick of the News and Wondering – Why Write?

  1. Thanks for this, dear Iris, I too am struggling with discouragement, fear, grief, despair. It all feels very hopeless. I am committed to ‘brightening the corner where I am,’ but that feels inadequate to the disorder surrounding us. But I know I’m not the only one, and that is oddly comforting!! Mickey E.

    1. Thanks, Mickey. Yes, there is comfort in knowing we’re not alone, and we’re not the only ones distressed by these times – how awful it would be if nobody felt this pain. I’m grateful for dear ones like you – you do indeed brighten every corner where you are. Much love to you.

  2. Thanks for this, Iris. I am working on a new book and I sometimes wonder if it is the most useful thing I can be doing with those hours. The truth is I’m an organizer, teacher, AND writer, and there is some part of me unfulfilled when I don’t use that last gift. I appreciate the affirmation of it.

    1. It WOULD be a good discussion, especially for book-lovers, to ponder what it would be like if writers (and other artists) gave up their work because it seemed futile in hard times. Your comment reminds me of the scores of stories of how art of all kinds has sustained people (both artists and those suffering) through crises. So glad you’re going to your studio!

  3. As always, your thoughtul observations gave me new perspectives on our increasingly divided and troubled country–not to mention people struggling to cope with burning forests, storms and floods and their associated pain and losses…. I appreciate your suggestion regarding Eileen Flanagon’s new class.Sounds like an excellent idea. Many thanks, Ann Norman

    1. Thank you for your comment, Ann. Eileen’s online classes are supportive and also offer tools and guidance to act. And you would bring valuable experience and perspective to it, too. It’s so easy to join in from wherever you are, and the format allows for interaction with others in the class. I appreciate all the ways you shine your light in the world.

  4. Don’t know how I missed this, but thank you for writing. I, too, am puzzling over my “right work” in face of so much upheaval. I try to care for those around me, address the wider issues as I can, and nurture a little corner of my heart to write stories …

  5. As an artist I have often struggled to find purpose in my work in a world that is filled with tribulation, where it seems that everyone else is doing more important work than myself. It wasn’t until my husband encouraged me to keep doing what I do, as he put it “In this crazy world we need more people who create cute and beautiful things to remind us that there is more to life than just war and struggle.” His words got me to thinking about how everything has it’s place and that it takes more than social activists to create heaven here on earth. I seek to find significance in the little delightful things of life. What would this world be like if we didn’t have those who take pride in cooking a good meal, making a wonderful smelling perfume, creating a beautiful painting, writing a moving story or singing a touching song? I’ve come to accept that I am moved to do what I do because that is who I am and that I am one of the many creatives who are in the business of creating beauty and delight for a weary world.

  6. Oh, I couldn’t agree more! I’m a strong believer in the importance of identifying our gifts and offering those to the world. I’m so glad you have the support of your husband to keep doing what you do. You’re absolutely right that we needs those good meals, perfume, paintings, stories, and songs. Keep doing what you do!

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