What do I write when the world is unutterable?
Photo by Barrie Kreinik: Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC
I’m going to be honest here, folks. I’m struggling with this blog thing right now.
I keep a list of potential essay topics on my phone, and it’s plenty long. But as soon as I swipe from the Notes app to the New York Times, all my ideas wither into dust.
What does one write at a time like this? Should I try to respond to one of the many crises ricocheting around the world? Should I run the other way and plunge into escapism? Or should I just keep my (unsorted, spiraling, nearly inarticulable) thoughts to myself?
If you’ve studied any history at all, you know that the world has always been a brutal place, filled with tyranny and hardship and cruelty and suffering and death. You also know that the world has always been a beautiful place, suffused with kindness and generosity and beneficence and courage and hope. How we experience this two-faced world is partly a product of how we choose to look at it. Is the glass half-empty or half-full? You decide.
My father, who had the unfailingly logical brain of an engineer, didn’t understand the glass adage. To him, half-empty and half-full were identical states of being. The solution was the same either way: you need a smaller glass.
It feels like we’re submerged in a very large glass right now. Drowning in what it contains. And on every level of society, people are recognizing that it’s not just time to change how we look at these turbulent waters. It’s time for us to change the container in which we’re trapped.
So I could write about racism, sexism, homophobia—how they remain rampant in this country—how half of our politicians want to drag us back into an era when all of those prejudices and more were lawfully sanctioned. I could write about the ravages of the pandemic, the government’s failure to act, and the consequences of that failure—death, disease, unemployment, no end in sight. I could write about the threat to our democracy, the collective anxiety about our upcoming election, or the devastation that’s evoked whenever someone utters the phrase “Supreme Court.” These are all in my thoughts right now. I bet most of them are in yours too. But the internet is bursting with every opinion under the sun about these issues. When I think about adding my voice, it feels…unnecessary.
So. I could write about my excitement that The Great British Baking Show is back on Netflix. I could write about how I recently restored my cable TV subscription purely so I can watch Law & Order reruns on five different channels every day of the week. I could write about what I’m knitting, what I’m baking, what I’m cooking, what I’m reading—in short, all of the things I’m doing, making, and ingesting in order to distract myself from the aforementioned litany of disasters. But then I think…will I seem tone-deaf? Can I write about superficial fripperies when the world is falling down around my ears?
So what have I done instead? What I usually do: I’ve gone meta. I’ve written about writing.
Well. I may not know what to write about at the moment. But I do know a few basic, grounding facts: the world keeps turning, the seasons keep changing, and as Orphan Annie so wisely sang, the sun’ll come out tomorrow.
Sometimes, I think just knowing that is enough.
The sun’ll come out tomorrow
Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow
There’ll be sun
Just thinking about tomorrow
Clears away the cobwebs and the sorrow
Till there’s none
When I’m stuck with a day
I just stick out my chin
The sun’ll come out tomorrow
So you gotta hang on till tomorrow
Come what may
I love ya
You’re always a day away...