I am not, by nature, a political writer, although sometimes, intentionally or otherwise, my politics slip into my work. Yet I’m feeling a certain pressure these days to be otherwise, and wonder if other creatives are feeling the same: an expectation that to be a writer means to carry a responsibility to write about Capital I Issues, to include everyone’s perspective, be all-encompassing, mine the current global and local concerns, break apart conventional thinking, and represent those who can’t represent themselves—never mind the planet itself.
Whew. That’s a lot of pressure, and it can be exhausting just thinking about all of this, and honestly, it makes me struggle to even get to the page some days. Where should I begin, I wonder, and then I don’t begin at all. (Although even as I write these words, I wonder if I’m not using this as just another excuse. Isn’t it too much time on the internet and social media? Isn’t it the months of winter darkness? Isn’t it a hundred other things?)
Political writing is important. Essential. Crucial in these troubled times, and I’m no stranger to signing petitions and sending letters to MPs. But I have to remind myself that it’s also okay, and just as vital, to describe the tulips in my living room, looking like they’re about to ignite the walls with their red and yellow petal flames. I remind myself of the one “mantra” I always return to when thinking about creative work: there is room for everyone. And there is; I really believe it.
This morning I visited my niece Grace’s Grade 3/4 class, to share some writing ideas and exercises. It’s been a few years since I’ve worked with this age group, and wow, it was fun!
We started with a list of favourite words, then moved on to making poems and stories. When I asked what tools we needed to be a writer, someone threw out the idea of imagination right away, even before paper and pencils and words themselves. What a good reminder this was: of course, even before we are able to read or write, we make up stories, songs, poems for ourselves and those nearby. Preverbal babies still have a lot to say!
Today, students came up with characters ranging from lions to ghosts to robotic flying fish, and if they had trouble with words, they asked for help in spelling them, or drew their ideas instead. And it was an honour, as it always is, no matter their age, to be in the presence of people creating, surprising themselves with what comes out of their heads and pencils, an honour to listen to their fresh work when they’re willing to share.
Today was also an excellent reminder for me: that sometimes writing a silly poem about being a blue sofa with wings is as important as a Capital I Issue. Expression and playfulness can be restorative, connecting, and an excellent practice unto themselves.
In fact, Grace suggested at my last book launch that I write a story about a unicorn, so I’m going to work on that story right now.