I’m a pretty good writer. I’ve made two versions of my career on that – first as a hard news guy at a newspaper for a decade, then as the fact-based blogger and podcaster for a non-profit. Freelance and contract work slid in between, and sometimes during, those two major paths. I’ve won over a dozen awards, debated opponents on live, national television, and assisted in crafting policy at the local and federal level. I don’t note all of this to show off (too much), but to put this statement in context: I can’t write.
I can write for my day job: the research, the interviews, the punchy but emotionally appealing blogs or letters are natural for me. It doesn’t matter where, when, or for whom – give me a subject and a deadline, and it gets done. I know what needs to be said, and I give it a voice. I say it efficiently and well, in whoever’s tone or accent the situation demands.
But when I want to write what I need to say, when I want to pour out the inner monologue that defeats the world’s negativity, that’s when I hit the wall. When I want to tell the story of how I see past mean comments, how I feel compassion in the face of fear, it just won’t come. And believe me, I’ve tried.
I’ll sit down at my desk with my laptop, load up the Americana playlist, and roll the spherical ice ball around my whiskey glass at midnight. I’ll hunch forward on the wobbling deck table with my iPad, and listen to tinny country through my phone in the late afternoon. I’ll even lean back in the second hand couch, a notepad covered in dog fur, with a cup of black coffee and hear nothing but the ceiling fan whirl and dogs snore.
I write around the ideas. Relying on scientific data, but still recognizing that emotion and perspective matter in management policy is a recent podcast. Being a vegan and playing violent video games is the subject of a lengthy essay I’m wrapping up. How internet commenting is taking down a movement, rather than building it up, is on the docket.
Kryptonite. A silver bullet. The word ‘Shazam’ and a chorus of thunder. That’s what I need to address this writer’s block – and push the spotlight into how I feel, rather than what I sometimes see.
Every day, in one way or another, I sit down to give shape and words to a burning despair that lives inside of me, that I see in the world all around me. I don’t think I’m a pessimist, depressed, or even sad. I know that horrible things happen. Hate crimes against people for ideology, torture of animals for greed, and millions of lost cries echoing throughout the world for nothing more than ignorance and convenience; they’re all very real, and plain to see, if you’re willing to look.
The easy reaction to all of those things are turning to what they stand against: hate fueling violence to fight against ideology; dispassionate action against those who are full of greed; and turning up the volume of the lost so loudly that ears bleed. I see this happen, time and time again, from the micro to the macro, and feel lost in a wave of bitter disillusion that threatens to consume me.
But also inside me, deeply woven in an omnipresent and terrifying way, is the hope. It’s what leads the child of war to build wells in dusty towns; it’s how parents give up community and security for the mere possibility of a better future for their children; it’s finding a world of love that exists, despite what the 6 o’clock news tells us. That is what I want to write. That is the story I need to tell.
In real life, of course, there aren’t alien meteorites, mystical weapons, or magical words. There is love and loss, life and death, beginnings and ends. Every day I fail to write that story, the one that I know is somewhere inside me. But every day, I get up, and I write another story. And then I do it again, and again, and again.
And that’s what is needed. It isn’t an epic moment of symphonic climax that changes the world, building up for all the world to see. It’s the dusty shovel, never relenting, because it’s right; it’s the parents who read stories of dragons, knights, and princesses, because the good guys really do win.
It’s the writer, who keeps telling other people’s stories, hoping that it might just mean something.
It is the daily combination of compassion, love, and hope for a world that’s really a pretty great place, most of the time. I don’t know if I’ll see the day when we finally realize that we’re so often paddling against a wind that will carry us to safety, but I believe that day will come.
And someone will be there to tell that story.