Writing to Change the World: Why Do Stories Matter?
A few weeks ago, I wrote about Bonnie Friedman's Writing Past Dark and a couple of other books that are my go-to books when my batteries are depleted and in need of recharge. This past week, I found another. I've been meaning to order Mary Pipher's Writing to Change the World ever since it came out in 2006, but for some reason just never did, despite that inner voice that said I should. And now I know why.
Pipher isn't writing to writers who want to be especially literary, nor is she writing to those of us who want our novels to sell. She's writing to those few, brave souls who are stubborn enough, visionaries enough, and perhaps arrogant enough to believe that something we write may have an impact on the world. Granted, she is talking more of activist writing than writing novels, and even says as much in her introduction. But as I read, I found myself nodding along and realizing that I am one who writes for a greater purpose, because of a calling that comes from outside myself. In my writings about the place of the mentally ill in society, though I want to haunt, spook, and entertain, I also hope to start a broader sweep of change that just might begin with the controversy I and others like me will spark with our books.
It takes a really bold voice to make such a statement, and to be honest, these last few weeks I've wondered if I have it. And, more importantly, I have wondered if I'm prepared for the reactions that such a work will spark. In the past, I've tended to polarize people in workshops, live audiences, and the editors of literary magazines. I've had pages of a play I wrote thrown down on the floor and stomped upon, and my former Sunday School teacher once concluded I was under the spell of a witch. But if my writing gets out there, I will have to contend with these same responses from complete strangers, strangers who may not understand what I'm trying to do and conclude that I, like my main character, need "an adjustment in the head."
But then I read Pipher, and felt like someone was speaking my language. Among her many gems in this book, I found the following, which really spoke to me. I hope it speaks to some of you.
I do not believe in fairy tales, and I don't think it's helpful to encourage others to believe in them either. As a species, we are self-destructing, and we are taking the rest of the world with us. I do believe in grace. If we open ourselves to the despair and pain of the world, and if, brokenhearted, we can still love the world, then we can become part of the medicine for the world.I am broken now. Use me.