Over the last few years we’ve written blogs responding to various world events all like ‘hey guys don’t worry, writers will save the world with our awesome ability to twang people’s souls into Doing The Right Thing ™️!’.
It’s a crazy thing isn’t it? Because we can all (mostly) find the balance between absolute complacency and wild panic (except apparently when it comes to loo roll), and things are gonna get weird af over the next few weeks. But then in that way society does, in the way that capitalism is so superbly designed to do, we’ll just kinda bounce back and in a few years there will be a butt-load of novels and shorts about global pandemics and we’ll discuss it like we discuss the Great Storm of 1987 – a traumatic yet abstract thing in that foreign country of the past.
Since this whole shebang started I’ve spoken to my baby sister daily. She’s a doctor, doncha know? So proud. A medical doctor! Look at all the letters before and after her name! She tells me off for being neurotic; I tell her off for suggesting she’ll volunteer in the infectious part of the hospital (she’s in the high risk category – genetically crap lungs and the like). When I hang up the phone and listen for a second to the new silence, all of a sudden her job seems so important, and mine seems so… pointless.
Then I was talking to some guy on some dating app.
“Stop distracting me,” I said, half-flirty, half-serious. “I have to work now!”.
“I’m all for a bit of healthy distraction,” he said. “Unless you’re a surgeon. Then probably best you’re focused”.
Ah. Thanks universe. Double message received loud and clear.
Doctor = important.
Writer = what?
Of course, we all tie our self worth to things it doesn’t need to be tied to. Our wealth, our social standing, our material possessions. Our careers. But when lives are on the line, what can a writer do other than stand helplessly on the sidelines, periodically making quips about how to conjugate the future imperfect?
It is often hard to see the world as the interconnected web that it is, except for when our interconnectedness in all its glorious and terrifying vulnerability is laid so bare. Through crisis. Through stories.
When we are scared, stories teach us to find comfort in our friends
When we are isolated, stories teach us that love has no barriers
When we are facing despair and the bleak futility of that which we cannot fight, stories teach us that every dark night ends with the sun.
When we feel useless and uncertain, helpless and lost, stories teach us that we might not have control but there is still freedom to be found.
When we think we have a choice, stories teach us to surrender. Not to be passive, but to surrender to the apparent impossibility of it all, to the chaotic inevitability of it all. To accept our place within the order of things, and act accordingly.
The doctor might look after the physical, but the writer looks after the metaphysical.
We are both or we are none, and we find all of it together – doctor, writer and everything in between – or not at all.
We are hardwired to need each other, as awful as we all are. Our self worth – the value we place on our own existence – should be tied to our ability to be honest, be vulnerable, to connect with and support the people around us. That means love, compassion, kindness, generosity, empathy, understanding, tolerance, community, and support.
And *that* is what writers are for.
For telling the kind of stories that have kept humanity together and moving as a vaguely coherent unit since we first worked out how to flap our tongues, how to scratch marks on to rocks.
We make it to the end of time together, or not at all.
Don’t know about you, but our money is on the former.
Go tell a story. And cough into yer elbow, you monster.