“How in the world is this going to make any difference, Mom? How does any of this matter?” The tears came then, pouring on her cheeks. “It doesn’t make anything better for Moses or Jim. It doesn’t bring Millie back. It’s just a bunch of stories, and stories don’t matter.” — Mary Steele (from my novel in progress)
I tell myself what Mary said above all the time. Not in some bold way but in the subtle scolding I give myself about how much time I spend by myself, tapping on a plastic tray. Shouldn’t I be out there protesting and advocating for equity in the workplace? Isn’t there a homeless woman who I could coach on writing a good resume? Isn’t there something more hands-on I could do rather than tucking myself into this tiny office and writing stories that most people will never even read?
Because this is all really useless, right?
But then, I read what P wrote in a note that hangs above my desk:
What you do is important for people who are here and to those who have passed.
And I remember that I know this – I know the way stories have changed who I am and what I know and believe in the deepest way, how they trip against and knock down prejudices and lies, how they spin me to golden hope when the world seems shadowed forever.
We all sat around the firepit on Saturday and did that thing that happens around fires a lot – the great story swap. Somehow we got on a close encounters with nature theme, and Dan talked about the cockroach crawling against his belly as he camped one night; Dad told the tale of the beer-drinking bear who walked away from their campsite in Yellowstone, dropping an empty can every few feet; Jennifer told us how a camping trip had begun with a flooded tent and obnoxious, racist neighbors and ended with a lesson in perspective when everyone else had slept in a home with bedbugs; and Alex, Alex laughed so hard she doubled over.
By the end of the night, the warp and weft of stories had tied us all together. Memories forever.
It can be hard for us to believe that, as writers, our work matters. I think this is why so many of us don’t make time to do it regularly – we’ve convinced ourselves it doesn’t matter.
So today, here, let me tell you in no uncertain terms – your stories matter. If you are a writer, if somewhere deep in the center of who you are you find that the way the world makes sense is in language, then we need what you – and you alone – have to say.
If you can’t hear the truth of that fact from me or yourself, imagine the most loving, honest, supportive person you know speaking those words to you. Listen long.
When I did that this morning, I heard my mom say, in the voice of Mary Steele’s mom:
“It matters a great deal to be remembered. So much.”
Mary felt like what her mom said was true. S She felt the truth in the same place she felt the assurance that her mom would always love her, no matter what she did. She didm’t understand it, but she felt it. And when she did, it felt someone had just lifted a backpack full of boulders from her shoulder.
The weight of futility had been heavy.
What you do, what we do is not futile. Don’t ever forget that.
Do you ever feel like your writing is futile? If so, how do you combat that feeling?
I’m in the midst of a big campaign to promote my book The Slaves Have Names. My goal is to get 100 people to sign up and allow me to use their social media voice for one big blast to spread the word about the crucial role that enslaved people have in American History. Right now, I have 36 supporters, so I still need 64 more people to sign up. If you would be willing to help me spread the word, please follow this link – http://thndr.it/1jLo0AA – and connect your social media profiles. Thank you so much.