Just Words

At some point it is all just words on a page, and perhaps too many of them at that. They start to run together, sentences bleeding into one another as you read them for the 88th time. They start to sound hollow, even, after a while, and eventually you start wondering what the point is. Because will it really matter? Will it make a difference to someone, somewhere? Will it even make a difference to me? Why am I engaging in such hard work if, in the end, the world won’t be any different for it having been done?

There is, on the one hand, a certain amount of arrogance to this–the fragile ego of any artist pushed up against the reality that this creation that matters so much to her, that seems to express more than she knew she could about herself and her place in the world, may well not resonate with any other living being.

Any artist who tells you that they paint, write, draw, create, sing, dance for only themselves is fooling themselves and you both. We all want, very much, for what we offer the world to be accepted by it with some celebration and gratitude and applause. That said, our best work is often that which we never mean for anyone to see. You/we/I can’t win against these twin truths.

This blog hasn’t gotten much attention from me lately–I’ve neglected it terribly as I’ve worked on a book (forthcoming, if all goes even remotely as is planned, Spring 2016 from Chalice Press and tentatively titled Available Hope). I owe my little blog an apology for this–as this corner of cyberspace is by and large what led me to the book contract in the first place. So much for expressing gratitude!

I’ve tried to return to the blog every day for the last week, and multiple draft posts now lie discarded in the WordPress trash can. I was unable to get past the first sentence on any of them.

Writing fatigue? Maybe. But I think more likely an honest reflection that it felt like everyone, everywhere, was writing something about the things that were weighing on my mind and at some point it just becomes to much. Too loud. Too frenzied. Too opinionated.

And there’s also this, with which I am grappling mightily this morning…

…words cannot seem to change the heart and mind of Kim Davis. I disagree with her stance at a very visceral level (like Demi Moore “strenuously!” objecting in A Few Good Men), but there’s something to be said for Ms. Davis’ dogged determination.

…words cannot make Donald Trump Shut. The. Hell. Up. In fact, the more words we throw at him, the more he spins out himself, having apparently become the darling of anyone who wants their TV show to get its 5 minutes of fame these days.

…words cannot fix heartache. Cannot reason with stubborn 8 year-olds. Cannot change systems that frustrate mightily. Cannot eradicate heroin from our neighborhoods. Cannot…cannot…cannot.

…and most of all, this week, words cannot bring Aylan Kurdi back to life (may we write his beautiful and precious name on our hearts and never forget it).

And so I am left to wonder…are they really just words?

I can’t believe that. All my life I’ve depended on words to manage whatever situation I found myself in. I’ve depended on well-crafted sentences and imagery such as I could create it to help me see past whatever difficulty I found myself in and into the possibility of something more. I’ve needed my stories, written down, to remind me that something so much bigger than me is at work in this life I’m/we’re living.

If they were “just words,” there wouldn’t be banned book lists. Atticus Finch wouldn’t be one of my great heroes, and Katherine Forrester wouldn’t be this woman I resonate so deeply and fully with. And if they were just words I would not–still–be looking for my own invitation to my first year at Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft (seriously, where’s my owl?!?).

And so even as I struggle to find the right words for my deep sadness over so much of the world as of late, I come back to these words–not just words at all, but deep and proven truth from one of the great film characters of all time, played by the incomparable Robin Williams:

“No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.”

And so I keep at it. We all do. Writing and speaking words, searching desperately for the ones that will make the difference, turn the tide, help us realize, finally and blessedly, that all the empty words we’ve been shouting at each other with for so long…they cannot stand. Not in the end.

More powerful, more gracious, more loving words are at play. And it’s these we’ve got to set about staking our lives on. If anyone is to have any hope at all.

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