Flash in the Pan
A Quarterly Posting at Tiny Lights
by Rebecca Lawton
A friend of mine is a writer so evolved and powerful that everything she writes becomes a bestseller within weeks. Her words inspire and motivate; their beauty is astonishing. Whether writing poetry or prose, she moves her audience to tears. Her books are snapped up from real and virtual stores as soon as they are released.
Recently, in response to the epidemic of public shootings in America, she put down her pen. It's a sort of hunger strike, she told me. "When our society devotes itself to finding a cure for gun violence," she said. "I'll write again." Until then, she's dedicating herself to the Not One More campaign organized by Everytown for Gun Safety (www.everytown.org). She said, "I can't focus on creating nice little verses and make-believe characters at a time like this. I need to use my talent to make the world a better place."
Some years back I watched several videos about the It Gets Better project, the anti-bullying campaign that followed a rash of student suicides. Several well-known actors, playwrights, and directors testified to the role played by destructive words in their childhoods. As I listened and watched, I realized that the breezy, sticks-and-stones adage "words can never hurt me" isn't true for many. The deep effect of damaging language on developing brains was enough to push vulnerable individuals to end their lives. Although most survive the damaging name-calling and physical abuse, many others do not.
Now we're in a nightmare time when the fatal, self-inflicted wound follows the public slaying. Many say the perpetrators are responding to bullying; many say they're bullies themselves. Whoever they are, they're enough to end my friend's pursuit of writing in the name of raising awareness for a cure to violence. As much as I crave my friend's stories of yesterday, as much as I realize a life without her works isn't as rich a life, I know she'll write for the good of society.
A body of research is growing up around something writers have always known: that all we say and do creates the world we inhabit ("Words Can Change Your Brain: The Neuroscience of Communication," Common Ground, Nov 2012). Words create. Words affect. My wise life coach uses "language" as both verb and noun. "Be careful how you language things," she warns. "Because language is generative. What we preach, we practice." The words we use when we talk to ourselves and others become the fabric of our communal life.
Whether used as verb or noun, "language" goes straight to our hearts and carries them toward our collective future. As poets and writers, we can wield our pens with confidence that what we write makes a difference. Knowing that, we can choose our words and creative projects wisely.
The same wonderful friend who is taking a hiatus from writing bestsellers balks at the use of "language" as a verb. She asks, "Can't we just communicate instead?" Of course we can. We must.
Rebecca Lawton is an author and natural scientist whose poetry and prose have won the Ellen Meloy Fund Award for Desert Writers, residencies at Hedgebrook Retreat for Women Writers and The Island Institute, three Pushcart Prize nominations, and a Fulbright Visiting Chair at the University of Alberta.
Rebecca's books include:Reading Water: Lessons from the River, Sacrament: Homage to a River (with photographer Geoff Fricker) Junction, Utah, and Steelies and Other Endangered Species: Stories on Water just out from Little Curlew Press. Sign up for her almost-monthly e-postcard at www.beccalawton.com.
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