“This is precisely the time when artists go to work—not when everything is fine, but in times of dread. That’s our job! … There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal. I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence.” –Toni Morrison
Writers, this is our moment. Artists, truth-tellers, beauty-makers, people who make parts into wholes, all of us who connect the private, hidden stirrings of the heart to our complicated human communities, history now calls us. Now is the moment to put everything we’ve got into creative engagement. Why? Creativity is an act of love; it teaches us to believe in possibility, it trains us to revise (re-see) the world. It demonstrates that “the interior life is a real life, and the intangible dreams of people have a tangible effect on the world,” as James Baldwin wrote. We need all this. Now.
When I was eleven, twelve, thirteen, like many kids I was fascinated by the Holocaust. Anne Frank’s diary was for me a trustworthy window onto the dark underbelly of humanity, so very different from the assumed safety of my white middle class childhood. Evil seemed obvious on the streets of occupied Amsterdam. Hitler was the embodiment of evil. In my young mind I placed on Hitler and the Nazis and everyone who was complicit in their atrocities the heavy burden of evil, and in this way separated myself from it. That was another time, another place. By reading about it obsessively, I kept that possibility an ocean and decades away.
Today I see that those stories are also my story, that I am and we are and any time is capable of horror.
This is a “time of dread.” Humanity is knowingly destroying the planet. Our country forcibly removes children from their families and incarcerates them. Our police force regularly, routinely kills innocent Black lives. We Americans increasingly express our despair with guns, addiction, and suicide. The darkness that Anne Frank knew in Amsterdam and that Tutsi knew in Rwanda and that Native and African Americans have always known—this darkness is seeping down every street in our country.
I hesitate to write all this because we’re all exhausted from the daily bombardment of bad news. But I need to write it because today “there is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear.” In the face of all this, it’s time to go to work.
The work for writers is two-fold. First we must heed our inner creative stirrings. Like Anne Frank, we have to trust our artistic impulses, cultivate inspiration, listen deeply to what’s moving in us, and open ourselves as conduits of creation. We have to work, and to the world outside this often looks like idleness. So we have to trust that the work works and not worry about it any more. And we have to give this work as much time as it takes.
Second, we must share our work so that it can work in the world. Whatever we’re given by inspiration we must augment with effort and then release to move and heal and connect and transform the wider world. We need to do this generously because there’s no time for personal gain. We need to do this with love, trusting our own creations’ power to create change. And we need to do it now.
This is our part in the healing of civilization. –Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew
Need time to do this work? Join me September 24-28 for a week on Madeline Island! Experienced and beginning writers alike are welcome.
Revision is a practice of transformation—of seeing text, and therefore the world, with new eyes. Done well, revision returns us to our original love. This week-long immersion, based on Elizabeth’s latest book, Living Revision, will reframe writing as a spiritual practice. “No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader,” Robert Frost wrote. How can we continue to open our hearts to surprise through revision?
Save second Fridays from 1:30-3:30 through the fall for Wisdom Ways’ spiritual memoir drop-in sessions.
I’m also excited to teach two workshops at the Loft this fall. On Saturday, October 27 from 1:30-4:30 I’m sharing a brand new workshop called “The Launch: Reimagining Publishing with Integrity, Freedom, and Generosity.” This is a test run of some ideas I’m currently working into a booklet for writers.
Then on Friday, November 16 from 10-4, I’ll once again offer the successful Living Revision: A Writer’s Craft as Spiritual Practice immersion, an introduction to revision as a transformational practice. Registration for both will open soon.