Just when I think I’ve achieved equilibrium, there’s a jolt.
Such is life. That’s the Zen way of thinking.
But I’m a writer, and writing demands focus. Under certain circumstances—death, illness, tragedy, the potential demise of democracy—focus is hard.
It won’t help with all circumstances, but one source of wisdom I’ve returned to time and again in recent weeks is Timothy Snyder’s On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century. This slim volume of small trim size delightfully illustrates the writerly precept that less is more. It also reiterates the importance of language, writing, and books, especially in times of trouble.
Snyder opens a chapter titled “Be Kind to Our Language” with this admonition:
Avoid pronouncing the phrases everyone else does. Think up your own way of speaking, even if only to convey that thing you think everyone is saying.
He goes on to point out the ruinous effect of language used by Adolf Hitler to reject legitimate opposition—the people meant only some people, encounters were always struggles (framed in more modern circumstances by winning), attempts to understand the world in ways that different from the spin of the leader were defamation (cue fake news).
These effects are magnified in the modern era by our addiction to television and the internet, Snyder contends.
The effort to define the shape and significance of events requires words and concepts that elude us when we are entranced by visual stimuli…When we repeat the same words and phrases that appear in the daily media, we accept the absence of a larger framework.
To alleviate this effect, Snyder suggests we surround ourselves with books. Such sacrifice!
We writers stand well-equipped for these times. In the midst of trouble, we’re kind to language. We read. In the genres of our choice, we illuminate the larger framework.
In the midst of trouble, we stand strong.
Co-founder of 49 Writers and founder of the independent authors cooperative Running Fox Books, Deb Vanasse has authored seventeen books. Among the most recent are Write Your Best Book, a practical guide to writing books that rise above the rest; Cold Spell, a novel that “captures the harsh beauty of the terrain as well as the strain of self-doubt and complicated family bonds; and the “deeply researched and richly imagined” biography Wealth Woman. After thirty-six years in Alaska, she now lives on the north coast of Oregon. She’s looking forward to reconnecting with Alaska writers later this month at the North Words Writers Symposium in Skagway. The views expressed here are her own.