Tag Archives: news

On Writing Despite the News

(Warning, politics ahead! This will not be a permanent shift for the blog, but just for tonight, humour me. I’ll try to keep it vague…)

Friends, I come to you tonight weary and wrung out. Like many of you, I’ve been struggling with the news for months, burnt out but unable to look away. Writing was impossible, pointless, indulgent. I started a mini-challenge and kept hoping things would subside. Instead, they’ve gotten worse…and worse…and worse.

I’m not even American, I’m Canadian. But whatever happens south of the border affects us deeply, so we tend to keep a close eye on American news.

Besides, yesterday we learned–beyond a shadow of a doubt–that we’re not immune to the forces sweeping this part of the world, much as we’d sometimes like to think we are.

I’m angry, I’m tired, I’m afraid. Writing seems impossible again.

But…

Words have power. Facts have power, but story has more. We’ve always known that, and we learned it again this election year, when one candidate was brought down by narratives that wouldn’t go away, and the other candidate tapped into the fears and frustrations of his audience and sold them a story they wanted to believe.

When I  write, it’s not a coincidence that I often write about young women who are learning how to be themselves and how to shed what is holding them back. I write about cooperation winning out over fear and hate. I write about people from opposite walks of life who grow to understand, and sometimes love, each other. I write about people who are not white and straight–both to take away the “otherness” for some readers and to give other readers someone who looks like them.

If I’ve done my job right, my readers don’t even notice half of what I just said. They don’t notice…but the story is inside them now, and so are the themes.

In times like these,  here are some reasons why I need to keep writing:

  • to process events
  • to exert a sense of control
  • to escape so I can recharge and keep fighting
  • to provide an escape for readers who need it
  • and–just maybe–to change the world, one reader at a time.
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Your Turn: First News Memory

This week is the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination — a huge event in US history, to be sure. But the extent of the coverage is kind of strange to me, because I wasn’t born yet. One newspaper bore the headline “Why we can’t stop grieving”…and all I could think was “Speak for yourself.”

It did get me thinking, though. We all have our seminal news memories — events where there was a “before” and an “after”, when our perception of the world shifted. But if you go even further back, we all have our first news memories, the first time we were aware of events that didn’t personally involve us.

I’ll tell you mine.

In October 1987, I was eight years old. I was pretty sheltered from news coverage — for example, I don’t remember the Challenger explosion or the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, which both happened the previous year.

But I do remember Baby Jessica.

That month, a toddler named Jessica McClure fell down a well in Texas and was trapped. More than two days later, after many dramatic rescue efforts, she was freed via a freshly dug parallel shaft. The whole saga was broadcast on TV, discussed endlessly in the print media with diagrams of the well shafts (I remember vividly how the tunnel that was dug between the two shafts sloped up towards the old shaft, so as not to bury Baby Jessica in dirt), and so on.

In hindsight, I don’t think it really occurred to me that she could have died down there — and she certainly could have, from the fall or exposure or even from the digging of the other shaft. It was just a captivating story…with, as it turned out, a happy ending.

(Here’s an update on Jessica as an adult.)

Your turn! What’s the first news event you remember?