REVENGE: an opportunity for getting satisfaction
Sometimes when I read, I come across phrases or excerpts that I fall in love with. Such discoveries typically do one of two things for my own writing: they either inspire or they inhibit.
Sometimes a cluster of words or turn of phrase jumps off the page and sparks a fury of creative thought for me – igniting a dormant seed of a story, serving as the first line of a poem, or sending me on an unexpected journey of introspection and revelation.
But, other times I meet an author on the pages of a book who has so thoroughly captured an idea or emotion that I feel like waving my white pen in surrender. I walk away from the words in awe of their beauty and strength but discouraged by my inability to capture things in the same way.
I’ve been stuck lately. Big things are happening in the world and I feel small. My words feel weak, my insights insignificant.
While waiting for a meeting to start this week, I read the opening essay of Barbara Kingsolver’s book Small Wonder. This particular essay packed a punch. I read passages over and over trying to extract all of their wisdom.
She made a passionate plea for problem solving that goes beyond weapons and warfare:
We are all beasts in this kingdom, we have killed and been killed, and some new time has come to us in which we are called out to find another way to divide the world. Good and evil cannot be all there is…
This new enemy is not a person or a place, it isn’t a country; it is a pure and fearsome ire as widespread as some raw element like fire. I can’t sensibly declare war on fire, or reasonably pretend that it lives in a secret hideout like some comic-book villain, irrationally waiting while my superhero locates it and then drags it out to the thrill of my applause. We try desperately to personify our enemy in this way, and who can blame us? It’s all we know how to do…
But now we are faced with something new; an enemy we can’t kill, because it’s a widespread anger so much stronger than physical want that its foot soldiers gladly surrender their lives in its service. We who live in this moment are not its cause – instead, a thousand historic hungers blended to create it – but we are its chosen target: We threaten this hatred, and it grows. We smash the human vessels that contain it, and it doubles in volume like a magical liquid poison and pours itself into many more waiting vessels. We kill its leaders, and they swell to the size of martyrs and heroes, inspiring more martyrs and heroes. This terror now requires of us something that most of us haven’t considered: how to defuse a lethal enemy through some tactic more effective than simply going at it with the biggest stick at hand…
It is not a simple-minded suggestion…The strategic difference is the capacity to understand this one thing: Some forms of enemy are made more deadly by killing. It would require the deepest possible shift of our hearts to live in this world of fundamental animosity and devote ourselves not to the escalating exertion to kill, but rather, to lulling animosity to sleep. Modern humanity may not be up to the challenge. Modern humanity may not have a choice…
She captured my overwhelm:
The historians are right, it isn’t new, this feeling of despair over a world gone mad with heartless and punitive desires. It isn’t new that both sides rush to the fundamentalist presumption of themselves against the evil ones. It isn’t even new that the world could fall apart and become permanently uninhabitable in a matter of minutes…What is new is that we now know so very much about the world, or at least the part of it that is most picturesquely exploding on any given day, that we’re left with a desperate sense that all of it is exploding, all the time. As far as I can tell, that is the intent and purpose of television news. We see so much, understand so little, and are simultaneously told so much about What We Think, as a populace polled minute by minute, that it begins to feel like an extraneous effort to listen at all to our hearts…
At moments I have to stop taking in more news so I can consider that I’ve gathered so far and pay attention to my own community, since that is the only place where I can muster a posse to take on our own local disasters of the day. Sometimes I have to make a simple, straightforward effort to do just that, so I will feel less like a screen door banging in a hurricane.
And that is what is really new since time immemorial: the sense that the problems are so vast in scope that we’ve lost any hope of altering the course of things…The feeling I dread most is not fear but despair.
Kingsolver’s words were leading me toward the inhibited writer path. What is the point of writing about my daily life, the quirks of parenting, and the silly things my kids say when other writers are writing about stuff that really matters?
But, I found my way to the inspired writer path when I read this toward the end of Kingsolver’s essay:
My best revenge against all the dishonesty and hatred in the world, it seems to me, will be to raise right up through the middle of it these honest and loving children.
That sentence felt like a hand up from the place I’d fallen. Taking time to think and write about the journey of motherhood and my efforts to raise honest and loving children is one of the ways I stop the “screen door banging in a hurricane” sensation.
So, it’s time to get back to it.