Writing to Save My Life: How I Survived The Election and Everything Before & After
In the last six weeks I’ve written over fifty articles for Addicting Info, ten for Huffington Post, two for my “Bridge Notes” column at The Ferndale Enterprise, and two here at Rock+Paper+Music, including this one. Beyond my article and essay writing, I’m also editing at Addicting Info, have written and submitted in the short story competition at France Ford Coppola’s literary magazine, All-Story, have several screenplays out, (one, The Theory of Almost Everything, just awarded as a Finalist in the 2012 Final Draft, Inc. Big Break™ Contest ); have continued the editing and “taking the steps towards publishing” process on my novel, After the Sucker Punch, and doing my photography work whenever I can squeeze that in. Add to all that the madness of the just concluded election – and it was madness – and you can see what a wild ride it’s been these past few months.
I mention all this not to tout my task list, not to attempt to impress or blow my own horn – we’re all incredibly busy and occupied in our own ways – I say this only to illustrate the “immersion method” of writing I employ to help keep my ever-challenged sanity. Because through it all – all of it: life, work, loss, frustration, disappointment, joy, grief, reinvention, loneliness and love, to mention just a few of the “its” on the roster – writing has been my most passionate companion; demanding, occasionally overwhelming, but always and ultimately a life saver.
I’m not being hyperbolic here. There is truly something about the process of writing that, for me, takes the random insanities of the world and corrals them into something more manageable, something with structure, chronology and order, making them easier to understand and accept. Pre-Internet, I was that person writing “Letters to the Editors” wherever I came upon something that outraged me or seemed ripe for response, and though not a one of those letters was ever published, just the act of putting my thoughts into words, into cogent form, calmed me and made whatever it was I was writing about less infuriating. I could move on from it, take it from the swirling eddy of my thoughts and place it somewhere tidy and defined.
Truth be told, without the writing outlets that value and request my point of view – which I zestfully impart – I would likely be ones of those creepy “over-sharers” who snags anyone within earshot to engage in breathless pontification…dear God, what an image! Y’all are lucky I’ve got writing to keep me sane!
But now that we do have the Internet, we are all, all of us, bombarded every minute of every day with millions, billions, of words of information – news, opinion, analysis, gossip, bullshit – that make our world both easier to understand and more completely incomprehensible. The contradictions exist because many of the writers producing those billions of words are as contradicting as the stories being told. What used to be straight reporting is now spin and, of course, there are many of us professionally spouting our opinions, with varying degrees of verifiable truth, so certainly it gets confusing.
My husband and others in my life have made the comment, “I don’t know how you find that many topics to write about,” but it’s a simple matter of scanning the horizon – culture, politics, religion, family matters, art, movies, etc. – and seeing what jumps out for commentary. Most recently it’s been politics, with nary a dry moment to consider. But still, some have asked, how do you pick which stories are worth pursuing, or haven’t already been flogged to death by every other writer and journalistic site around? Well, if you’re a writer of some salt, you can always find a unique angle on a familiar story. But mostly, for me, particularly with politics, the process is incited after I’ve read a number of pieces that are contradictory, incendiary, spun with clear bias, and/or in serious need of objective clarification, and if my blood gets boiled enough based on the lack of fact or logic, I dive in.
For example, this most recent pre-election Benghazi story; while there remains much to that event that needs continued exploration and examination (now hampered by the oddly exploding Fatal Attraction event that is the Petraeus affair), in the early days of its confused explanation, after the event but before a very partisan election, the facts (or “facts,” quotes intended) were not only confused and concerning, but reeked of hysteria and the sort of political arrogance that presumes a knowledge impossible to have. Suddenly everyone was inside the President’s head, knew exactly what he was thinking at the given time, what his agenda was, what he was “hiding” and why, and the resultant hyperbole, including some incriminating insinuations, was repugnant.
So how do I, as a reader, a writer, and a concerned citizen respond? I start by following threads of logic – or illogic. I pull up as many versions of the story as I can find; I read and check the credentials or known biases of the writers involved. I let it sift and sit and simmer and then I follow my own threads of logic based on what I’ve researched and come up with something as cogent and credible as I possibly can…and that’s what ends up on my page (Benghazi Emails: Smoking Gun or Fog of War?). Once done, the knot in my stomach relaxes, because the many disparate threads whipping and winding through the air have now been given, in my mind and by virtue of the facts presented and the logic available, some structure. Some framework that MAKES SENSE. To me. Apparently to many of my readers. Which is grand. But even if no one agrees, and often many don’t, the creative and journalistic exercise for me is the lifesaver.
The same applies to creative writing, where ideas and thoughts spin in a mad kaleidoscope of inspiration and imagination and I, as the writer, pull them into structural and, hopefully, compelling order. Writing a novel was the most completely exhilarating example of that phenomenon; “herding beasts across the great plains” (somehow that Western motif resonates when I picture thousands of words making their way across the canvas of a creative mind, being corralled into chapter and verse!).
For those of you who’ve wondered and asked, the bottom line is this: writing is not a chore for me, it’s a salvation. A gift. That many of you read and enjoy the words I put to paper (so to speak) is a delightful, appreciated, and very valued fringe benefit. I thank you. You make salvation sweeter.