written by Melissa Connolly
It was hard to write a complete sentence, and not just the past few post-election days. For months now, the disbelief, the choking anger that pops up reading Facebook or watching a rally or a really good Samantha Bee rant, the righteous rage that colors every internet interaction I have, my mind was running constantly, I was so mad. You know what I mean, fellow writers, don’t you? You imagine the things you’d say to that bigot, to that misogynist if you were bigger, braver, more clever, you’re furious at someone’s careless post, some Tweet about racist treatment, some Access Hollywood tape. The disbelief, the awful words of some random Facebook friend (how could you ever have accepted that invite after that business breakfast?), you go over and over again, in a type of futile effort to make sense of it all.
And what are we writers left with? Nothing but some snarky status updates that maybe we post, maybe we don’t, and yet another day sacrificed to the twin gods of rage and social media.
For me, anyway, a part-time, long-form fiction writer with a full-time job, this has been the most unproductive season in ages. That I was working long days helping to produce the presidential debate here at Hofstra started my period of inactivity, true…but when the debate stage was packed in the truck heading south to Virginia and Longwood University, and I could once again have an opinion about politics, thoughts on the candidates and campaigns filled my days and my nights. I could not imagine how I’d write even a sentence in my novel, which was sitting cold on the stowed away laptop, its battery dead.
Constantly checking Facebook and Twitter, watching Seth Meyers on YouTube, my obsession and disbelief took up all my time. The rage became both its own means and its own end. And I, I had none of the quiet necessary for creative thought. Even during my long walks at night, a habit built in part to encourage mild fitness and in part to free my mind up for imaginings, I was too busy listening to NPR podcasts to find that quiet space.
This space is best described in Jane Hirschfeld’s essay, “Poetry and the Mind of Concentration” (brought to me again by www.brainpickings.org) “By concentration, I mean a particular state of awareness: penetrating, unified, and focused, yet also permeable and open. This quality of consciousness, though not easily put into words, is instantly recognizable. Aldous Huxley described it as the moment the doors of perception open; James Joyce called it epiphany. The experience of concentration may be quietly physical — a simple, unexpected sense of deep accord between yourself and everything. It may come as the harvest of long looking and leave us, as it did Wordsworth, a mind thought “too deep for tears.” Within action, it is felt as a grace state: time slows and extends, and a person’s every movement and decision seem to partake of perfection.”
It’s been a long time since I felt that mind “too deep for tears.” Too long since I opened that laptop.
So I’ve done the last thing I could to get my sacred soul space, my very own grace state, back. I said farewell to Facebook, sayonara to Twitter, for now, to cool the rage and find my voice again. It’s a little like an addict going cold turkey. I was accustomed to both the fight with trolls and the camaraderie among fellow travelers that posting on social media engendered, the quick hit of endorphin from likes and comments, the virtual pat on the head.
But the refresh button and the retweet has been a black hole.
Some might say that dropping out is giving up, I’m not engaged in the fight since I’m not listening, not commenting and making points. I’d prefer to think I’ve got the long game in mind. Perhaps you’re familiar with the study by psychologists David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano, at the New School for Social Research in New York, who have proved that reading literary fiction enhances the ability to detect and understand other people’s emotions…in other words, reading good fiction builds empathy. Go figure! And that’s what we do. We build worlds and narratives that give our readers a place to go, other lives to live, outcomes to imagine. Novelists, storytellers – we provide readers with the space to inhabit the other, whomever the other might be. So now, more than ever, it’s important to go back to the real work, to try and create something that lasts, that gives our readers, wherever they are, a home in the air, on the page, in the soul.
And each of us, especially now, needs to find and hone and keep our voice strong. And maybe snarky Facebook posts just aren’t the way to do it.