Writing my way through the dark

This week was one of those that feels like it happened two weeks ago. Was it really only last weekend that #MPRraccoon scaled a tall building and gave us all hope in the ability to survive through sheer tenacity.

Yep. It was. Only a few nights later, Rachel Maddow would break down, talking about babies detained separately from their migrant parents. The debate lapsed into semantics over what constituted a “cage”, and few people seemed willing to address the effect of workers not being allowed to comfort crying children.

While many writers began to wonder whether striving to entertain was really a worthwhile pursuit, I found I couldn’t say I was one of them. Instead, I’m learning to use the anger to drive me forward. Whether it’s writing about the effects of habitat destruction on young raccoons, or the possible end results of a push to privatize our government, about the only way I can stomach the news cycle is to make use of it in a story.

Building to resolutions in a senseless world

I had an interesting exchange this past week with one of my beta readers around Raccoon Retreat. In my first draft, the question of whether Mama Raccoon is still alive was, well, ambiguous. The intent was for the young raccoons to learn that they could prevail and survive on their own.

My reader, a close friend who once taught elementary school age children, felt strongly that they nonetheless needed to find their Mama. Wasn’t that too “white privilege”? I worried. After all, questions remain over whether 2,600 children along the US southern border will ever find theirs again. Her response: “Kids the age you’re writing for need a resolve.”

I’m still working through how it all works out for the procyonid babies, who have lessons to learn about survival either way. Meantime, I’ve started the third in my novella series for Running Wild Press, a story about women “laborers” in the world I’m building, where human trafficking is fully legalized and sanctioned as a way to work off debt in its many forms.

The scary thing is, this may actually be where society is headed. Whether the indefinite detention of migrant families leads to entire economies built around detention, or child labor in hazardous occupations, is it really that much of a stretch to posit that some kind of modern-day gulag might be the path to citizenship you can’t otherwise afford?

In a world where the response to such fiction isn’t so much, “That’s nothing but a conspiracy theory,” as it is, “So what if it happens? Those people probably deserve it,” it’s difficult and surreal to be writing it as it (seems to) happen. Both feelings are reasons for the comfort I took in the words of two other writers this week.

Chuck Wendig (rather coarsely) wrote:

We can write articles and blog posts, and yes, I understand that seems a very passive, safe form of resistance, but I assure you — words can go far, and can have great power.

While a tweet drew my attention to the beautifully eloquent, tragic writing of Dimas Ilaw:

Writers bring us back to ourselves; they remind us who we are and who we can be. I say this as I struggle daily to get out of bed and face the task of living: your work sustains me. It tells me that I can reach higher than my present self. That, faced with leviathan, I can look the darkness in the face, and make a choice. To act with courage, maybe; or, failing that, to act in hope.

I wrote last week of writing to inspire empathy and self-forgiveness and community and building. This past week was such a long week, but the inspiration is still burning. It. Matters.

2 comments on “Writing my way through the dark

  1. The world is terrifying. But yes, I agree, writing matters. I’d say writing for children perhaps matters most, since they’re the ones who’ll be building the future, and since books we read as kids can be so formative.

    For writers, I think there’s no other way than to just keep writing.

  2. You know, I never thought of myself as a children’s writer. (Or an animal rescue volunteer, so, you know. LOL) Even the YA fiction I gravitated toward as a kid was really deep — Madeleine L’Engle, plus I never read much YA (I pretty much skipped straight to Agatha Christie and PD James by high school). Raccoon Rescue started almost by accident and then kind of morphed from there. What I like most about it is that it’s a way to explore dark subjects without going TOO dark — like it’s a way to keep my own sense of hope for this broken world. (Yes. I do have this secret hidden inner Goth wrapped in a Pollyanna shell.)

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