By Angela Sutton
Toward the end of 2015, hate became mainstream in a way I had never before seen in my lifetime. I’m a historian, so it’s not like I’m unfamiliar with it. I know well how rhetoric turns to action, how democracies fall to fascism, and the types of atrocities that accompany this slide. But for the first time in my life, I was experiencing this upsurge not through the lens of the past or from a geographical distance, but in my present, in my country. Even in my city.
And it was intrusive.
All at once, the people I loved weren’t ok anymore. Every single person I knew was afraid for themselves or someone they loved. Everyone felt powerless.
My initial response was to throw myself into my community. I wanted to create, support, and protect spaces in which people could feel safe, if just for a while. Spaces in which the truth was honored, and there was no place for hate. Spaces in which people could catch their breath between protests and panic attacks.
And in doing that, I all but stopped writing. I told myself that I didn’t have time- there was always a fire to put out, always funds to raise, always conflicts to dissipate. It felt so indulgent and selfish to sit at the computer while people died. Every time the news turned up some new fresh hell, I felt helpless, and responded by throwing myself into the fray, convinced that at the local level, I could affect change.
And I did, for a while.
But I also burned out. My writing stalled. I stopped showing up to the page, as Julia Cameron says.
And it made me miserable. I began to read bad intentions into people’s actions. I criticized myself and everyone around me. I felt irritable and so much less able to help in the ways that I wanted to.
I tried harder to throw myself into my volunteer roles, but so much of my days were spent procrastinating and resisting that I became inefficient.
And then I got angry with myself for not doing more. Refugee children were being locked in cages while politicians used dehumanizing language to justify this, and I was binge watching something trivial while urgent tasks piled up.
And that’s when I remembered- writers who don’t write are THE WORST.
Because writing isn’t selfish or self-indulgent. For people who write, writing is self care. It’s a way of processing the world. It changes neurological patterns, and re-wires the brain. Writing for writers sits at this unique intersection of meditation, dreamwork, psychotherapy, and spirituality. These things aren’t optional. That means for those of us who are creatives drawn to verbal processing, writing is essential. When we write, we’re healthier and happier and more able to give the best to our days. Writing makes me my very best self.
Writers who don’t write are THE WORST, and writers who do?
We will change this world.
Angela Sutton is a Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Humanities & Lecturer in History at Vanderbilt University. She can be found on Twitter @DrAngelaSutton