I’ve battled an epic case of writer’s block these last several months. It’s not that I don’t have ideas — I do, dozens of them, phrases strung together into haphazard lists on my phone and in the notebooks littering my house. It’s that none of them seem important enough.
Facebook and Instagram and Twitter teem with unspeakable tragedies, news of unrest, and political platitudes. Where social media was once a scrolling stream of family photos and status updates, its purpose now has been emphatically redefined: effect change. If you’re going to speak, write, wear, or think anything, you’d better be making a statement.
This is such a vital and honorable intention.
Obviously, the method itself has flaws. People — LOTS of them, people you personally know — freely admit to blocking and unfollowing friends who post articles that don’t align with their beliefs or perspectives that make them uncomfortable. This furthers the divide, of course, since now those people are surrounding themselves with carefully curated information that will only serve to bolster their own preexisting viewpoint.
Still, though, sometimes it works. Sometimes things happen. There are deserving, heart-wrenching GoFundMe campaigns. There are rallying cries whose very strength and energy depends on the viral momentum of social media. There are MOVEMENTS.
When you’re living through events so pivotal they’re sure to go down in history, it can seem insipid to talk — or write — about anything else. The day-to-day feels woefully insignificant by comparison. Potty training, gardening, whether or not your phone needs an upgrade. Who cares? Does anyone want to read about someone’s cat when there is SO MUCH happening out there? It feels ridiculous to discuss the trials and triumphs of parenthood when people are dying in arctic bomb cyclones and signing net neutrality petitions and monitoring the nuclear weaponry of other countries. In the midst of all that, how can you listen to your colleagues prattle on about a broken vending machine or piles of paperwork? How can I write about missing my parents and friends back in Michigan? How can I tell you about the disappointing rejections that have rolled in recently without sounding self-indulgent and obnoxious?
Last May, The New Yorker ran a piece called “The Personal-Essay Boom is Over.” It was awesome — the last paragraph, especially, was intense in a way that left me sort of gobsmacked. It was also scary, because it seemed to confirm what I had started to suspect was true: personal stories are no longer relevant, especially without a distinct social or cultural or political bent.
So yeah. Cue the existential crisis (and ick, even saying THAT reeks of a certain pettiness). Why keep a personal blog? What’s the point? What am I even doing? The rest of my writing has felt on pause, too, even though there are some short story ideas I’d love to tackle — and by the way, I’ve heard that while you’re hanging out in the query trenches waiting for a decision about your first novel, you’re supposed to start your second.
But I’m frozen. If my words aren’t about climate change or immigration or assault, I worry they’re not important enough to say.
Maybe that’s all we should be talking about, all the time. We certainly can’t STOP talking about these things — the issues are too crucial, regardless of your position. But maybe there is space to share our art and our stories and our music — no matter the topic, no matter our background, no matter how trivial — with the hope that we might find commonalities in the seemingly mundane, a HUMAN way to bridge those larger gaps between us.
In Braving the Wilderness, Brené Brown discusses such necessity, and her words are so profound:
“The transformative power of art is in this sharing. Without connection or collective engagement, what we hear is simply a caged song of sorrow and despair; we find no liberation in it. It’s the sharing of art that whispers, ‘You’re not alone.’ …But rather than coming together and sharing our experiences through song and story, we’re screaming at one another from further and further away.”
She concludes that our world is in a “spiritual crisis” and that we are “lonely and untethered. And scared.” If we stop sharing our day-to-day, our HUMANNESS, to what degree might that loneliness and fear increase?
I don’t know. Maybe I’m just trying to convince myself that even our silly little intimate stories matter, that we might still need those narratives, too. Hopefully there’s room for both the global issues and the individual ones, the monumental and the frivolous, the meaningful and the trivial. The personal stuff is part of what humanizes us, after all — and a collective sense of humanity might be the best tool we have to combat everything else.