Something has to come out of this
On writing as an act of hope.
The day after my husband died, I started to write. I opened up a fresh Google doc, titled it “Jamie,” and began dutifully documenting my days.
At first, I simply tried to capture the hazy details of early grief that I worried would later be lost. My writing was straightforward and utilitarian, proof that an unreal time was, in fact, real.
As the weeks and months went on — and the horrible reality of Jamie’s death began to sink in — I wrote more and more often about my feelings and fears. Writing became a way to make sense of the world. It was early 2017. Not only had a wonderful man named Jamie just died, but an awful man named Donald had just become president.
“I feel hopeless,” I wrote on March 5, one month and one day into widowhood. “My heart literally hurts. It’s hard to breathe.”
Despite all my pain, I continued to open up that document and capture my thoughts. I continued to wake up, day after day. I continued to look for reasons to live.
“Something has to come out of this,” I wrote on March 30. “Even if it is just the capacity to feel things I’ve never felt before.”
Throughout that dark and horrible year, I wrote for myself. I wrote what I needed to hear. Eventually, I began to share my words with others — through social media, then articles, and finally this newsletter. By working through intense waves of sadness, despair, and fear, I became a writer, something I always wanted to be.
To this day, I’m still writing what I need to hear. As it turns out, there are other people who need to hear those things too.
Writing about grief is relatively easy for me because I’m writing about my own lived experience — something I know better than anyone else.
But there are plenty of other times when I don’t have experience to rely on and struggle to find the right words. Lately, I’ve looked to the wisdom of other writers to help me make sense of the war in Ukraine, the threat of climate change, and, yes, last week’s leak of a draft Supreme Court decision that would overturn Roe v. Wade.
I don’t have personal experience with getting an abortion, though I know and love many people who do. I am firmly pro-choice, a belief that has only deepened since experiencing pregnancy and becoming a mother.
I’m not sure that I have anything useful to add to the abortion rights discourse that hasn’t already been said. There’s no shortage of smart and passionate people sharing their truths. For the most part, it makes sense for me to stay quiet, to listen to and learn from others, and do what I can to amplify their voices.
Still, I feel that old urge to write.
Last week, I got sick. My whole family did. My daughter was the first to catch a cold, which morphed into an ear infection. Several doses of antibiotics later, she’s starting to feel better, just as Billy and I are starting to feel worse.
Needless to say, it’s been an exhausting week. One of grumpy moods, snotty noses, fitful sleep, and an overabundance of screentime.
Whenever I looked up from my own misery, I saw how miserable so many others were, especially in the wake of the SCOTUS news. How angry. How scared. How defeated. Many of us knew this decision was coming, but knowing didn’t make it any easier to bear.
In the midst of my own germ-fueled exhaustion, I didn’t know what to do or how to add to the conversation in a meaningful way. My head was fuzzy. I felt useless. And still — still! — I was pulled to write. I wanted to muse about how hard and heartbreaking it can be to be a human in the world.
As I considered what I wanted to say — what thoughts I wanted to untangle with words — I remembered how writing carried me through 2017. Whenever I looked up from my own grief (which, admittedly, was not that often) I was struck with how harsh the outside world seemed. It usually felt like too much to bear. Before long, I would put my head back down and return to the page.
Why do I write? That’s the question I ultimately couldn’t get out of my head this past week. Writing doesn’t help me get over this cold any faster. Writing isn’t the same as taking to the streets and demanding reproductive rights. Writing isn’t as straightforward as a monetary donation. When so much feels wrong in the world — and so much needs fixing — what’s the point of writing?
I recently posed this question to a group of fellow Substack writers and their answers all boiled down to writing as an act of hope. Sharon helps to fix the world by teaching others about racism. John gives animation fanatics “something valuable, meaningful, and purposeful to hold onto.” Terrell, in a nod to Faulkner, tries to lift his readers up. Kevin writes to make sense of his journey as a father and to help other dads along the way. Val and Steven write to think. And Mike writes to make readers “a bit more in love with the possibility in their lives.”
Perhaps my favorite answer came from my friend Katie, who writes the newsletter, Everyday Woo.
“I’ve always said that I write to make sense of the world around me, but there are some things that just feel senseless,” she said. “In the face of that, writing feels like a fool’s errand.”
“I guess the way I reframe writing in times like these is that it acts as an anchor,” Katie continued.
“Writing is a way to, for a moment, put my finger on the pulse of my humanity and remind myself that I am still here, standing in the midst of chaos with my pen in my hand,” she added. “No matter if I write to escape the chaos or reckon with it, I know that the words that emerge will bring me back home to myself and maybe help someone who reads it to make the same journey back to themselves.”
I keep thinking about Katie’s words. She’s spot on: Writing — and reading the words of others — brings me back home to myself.
Last week, instead of writing for an audience, I jotted my jumbled thoughts in a journal. I also turned to the writings of others. I felt emboldened by Roxane Gay, Ann Friedman, and my funny and fearless friend, Stephanie Hayes. I felt encouraged after reading Rebecca Solnit, who argued that the likely SCOTUS ruling “should strengthen our resolve to resist by remembering our power and strengthening our alliances.”
I’ve turned to Solnit many times before. In Hope in the Dark, the activist and historian writes that, “To hope is to give yourself to the future — and that commitment to the future is what makes the present inhabitable.”
Last week was a hard one for many of us. News of the SCOTUS leak was maddening, updates about the Russia-Ukraine war were disheartening, and the domino effects of coronavirus and inflation continued to take their toll. That’s not to mention the various tribulations, losses, and disappointments we faced in our own lives.
But this is a new week. Today is a new day.
I hope this week gives you a reason to look ahead to the future. I hope it helps you to find the motivation to pick up a pen, the phone, or a picket sign — or whatever expression helps you make sense of the world. I hope it holds some light. A little bit of hope.
Something has to come out of this. It always does.