Considering Charleston

Words usually come easily to me. I can be longwinded when I speak, and my writing is rarely brief. I blame the latter on my small handwriting. For the majority of my high school years, papers were handwritten, and I had to fill the page requirements like everyone else. Since my words took up less space, I got used to using more of them.

Words usually come easily to me, but then I watch the news. I see that the country I live in has some festering wounds. Slavery has left a legacy of disparity that is proving difficult to dismantle. I feel as though I’ve been tricked, or asleep, or in denial. When I was younger, I was certain that racism was endangered. I assumed it would die with the old-timers—becoming extinct in a matter of decades. But then the news of an event like the slaughter in Charleston hits me with a sucker punch. It’s 2015, and the assailant is young.

As a writer, I feel I should write something, but my reaction is one I find difficult to articulate. And whatever I could say in response to Charleston seems like a paltry offering when compared to what better minds than mine have written already—or even just stacked against the severe magnitude of the violence that took place.

I understand the history; it’s the present I’m struggling to grasp. Current events are making it clear: racism is a currency that is still in circulation here. When the conversation turns to Charleston, I’m ill equipped to make a response. What can I say other than I’m sickened and shocked? What will my words add? I have no solutions—no pithy rallying cries or hashtags.

Quite honestly, words leave me when I’m confronted with such atrocities. Considering Charleston, words fail me. All I’m left with is a confusing mélange of feelings: pity, sadness, despair, frustration, fear, anger. All my life I’ve been told (and believed) I can do and be anything I dream—that this is a land of equal opportunity. But hearing the news, I begin to wonder if we’ve irreparably ruined this world (or perhaps just this country).

In response to Charleston, the only words I can muster form questions: How can our country have come so far and still have so far to go? Have our methods of measurement been wrong? There’s a lot that can be said and even more that can be thought, but if we hope to make this world a better place, what can actually be done?

Racism isn’t new, but it’s modernized. I expected it would linger a bit, but I’m still caught off guard by its scope and size. Has it grown, or has it just been hiding behind political correctness and false smiles? How much of our progress is an illusion? How much of equality is a lie?

It’s not that all my hope is gone. I’m just realizing how much more I have to hope for.

Writing Is Work

Sometimes writing feels effortless—neither my fingers nor my mind grow fatigued. Instead of being painfully aware of each minute—each second—time passes without my noticing or counting. I’m somewhere else. I’m fully absorbed and reside in the process. Sometimes (rarely) I’m so engaged I forget to remember to eat. When I finally stop, it’s like waking up from a dream.

Sometimes writing is work; it’s an onerous chore. Instead of a stream of thoughts, words come in a lethargic crawl. Finding a phrase or sentence to add is like coaxing a suspicious and timid animal into eating out of my hand. Adding another paragraph is like finding a contact lens at night on the beach in the windblown sand.

Sometimes I can sit at my computer and write without ceasing. My brain doesn’t self-censor. My mind doesn’t grow weary. Once in a while a topic moves me—sets my thoughts astir, and then those thoughts set my fingers to typing more and more. I find myself lost in an idea. I write without being self-conscious or self-aware. Words become the strong current of a river carrying me forward. Instead of feeling like a beast of burden, I feel like a productive conduit.

Some days writing is simple. I get consumed by an idea, and it feeds me. I can write for hours at a time without any barriers or shackles around my thinking.

Other days writing feels futile. The task is never truly done. It’s shoveling my car out only to be buried again by a passing plow. I feel like Sisyphus—except my boulder is words, and the blank page is my mountain. Finishing a work requires starting anew. Reaching the end is finding a bare beginning too.

Sometimes writing is like skating on ice—the slightest effort propels me forward and far. Other days it’s like slogging up a muddy hill wearing flip-flops—progress is clumsy and arduous.

Sometimes writing is sitting down to a banquet—a feast of ideas for me to choose from. I feel nourished. My head is full. Other days it’s like looking at a barren landscape or searching for water at the height of a drought. Coming up with a new idea is like harvesting a field during a famine. My mind is dry and empty. It’s a well with no water to offer up.

Some days writing draws me in—attracting me like a magnet—luring me closer like the Sirens’ call. Other days I feel repelled; writing is an opposing force.

But whether it’s an endeavor I savor or suffer, whether the words ease or are eked out of me, if I refuse to abandon the effort, my work will produce something . . . eventually.

Playing with Words

I like playing with words. I like stretching them out like Silly Putty, molding them like Play-Doh, and assembling them into new formations like Legos.

Words are literary toys to toy with. I can make them dance like marionettes, line them up like dominoes, or turn them for a surprise—not unlike a jack-in-the-box.

Words make amusing playthings. They are lock, key, and door—question, reason, and answer. Writing is like solving an evolving puzzle. The permutations are multifaceted and infinite. No piece is wrong.

Words are an engaging activity. Instead of paints and crayons, I craft images with text and punctuation. Writing can be a game, a daydream, an awakening, or a labor of love. Words can be sharp, translucent, succulent, or soft.

Some wear masks and costumes; I play dress up with words. They can be witty, tender, or severe. They can act on behalf of thought, love, hurt, or anger.

Some words are comforting companions. I hug them close and often like a favorite teddy bear. I played with Barbie dolls when I was younger, but I also wrote plays for them.

Words are the building blocks of my mind—helping me construct and deconstruct life. Bridging the gap between my reality and my dreams. Drawing a line between the intuited and the seen.

Playing with words is serious work, but not so serious that it ceases to be fun. Words can create a character, a family, a landscape, or a universe. Writing is the vehicle (batteries included) that drives my imagination forward.