Today I wanted to talk about fear. Writing fears, career fears, fear of failure. Then this morning happened.
I’d spent the night at my boyfriend’s house, and normally I check my phone the second I wake up, but he leaves early for work, so I just hopped out of bed and started getting ready for the day. I was putting my contacts in, one finger still touching my eyeball, when my boyfriend’s mother came in and asked if we’d heard about what happened in Las Vegas. I froze. Turned to her slowly. Because half of my family is in Las Vegas this week.
She saw my expression and immediately assured me that she’d reached out to my mom and everyone was okay. Then she told me about the mass shooting that took over fifty lives and injured hundreds, that has instilled terror and shock across the country, that happened where people were just trying to enjoy themselves for a few hours. For some, a once in a lifetime experience. “But my family is okay?” I asked, and she nodded.
“Your family is okay.”
I thanked her for reaching out to them and letting me know. Then I ran to get my phone. When I clicked to open the home screen, I scrolled through ten notifications about the shooting (I’ve mentioned before that I work in journalism, but still, the number of news apps I have downloaded could be considered obsessive). And then, the most recent notification, a text from my mom: “We are safe!” I breathed easier.
Working in news, I’ve felt myself start to desensitize to tragic events. Another shooting, another terrorist attack, another world collapsing. The police scanner in the newsroom goes off, another person has been shot. A terrible storm rolls into the area, and I groan because I’ll probably have to pick up an extra shift. People die, and I tell the world.
I used to wonder what could make people commit such evil acts. I used to think about it for days after some other mass killing, trying to wrap my head around how anyone could take even one life, let alone dozens, hundreds. I don’t think about it much anymore. People kill people at such a rabid speed these days that it’s difficult to keep up with the latest tragedy. But today I haven’t been able to get it out of my head, and it’s because I can’t desensitize myself to the thought of my family being harmed or lost (my mom wanted to go to that concert), so I shouldn’t when it comes to the families across the world. As I type this up I’m looking around the cafe, at all the other patrons sipping their coffee and enjoying their lunch, and I’m wondering: is this their last day? Their last week? And what could I have done to stop it?
When something like this happens, people are terrified. Understandably so. It could have been them at that concert. It could have been their families. They take to social media to express their grief, but others take the moment to point fingers. The language thrown around on social media is some of the most horrendous and often has me doubting the humanity of the people tucked away behind their keyboards. Reading such angry, spiteful messages has filled me with my own issues with scorn and resent, feelings that bleed into my writing. The first book I ever wrote with any intention of publishing could be summed up in two sentences: “People are assholes. We just have to deal with it.” I let myself believe that people are depraved at their core, that tragedy was inevitable, and we can’t change it, we can’t get better.
I don’t want to think like that anymore, and I don’t want to write like that. Our words matter, whether they’re written in the comment section of some controversial Facebook post, or penned on the pages of a best selling novel. The old adage is that sticks and stones may break our bones but words will never hurt us, but it’s never been true. Words said or written with a hateful intent can inspire evil acts in the darkest of hearts, and to brush it off, shrug our shoulders and say “it is what it is” is just as bad. My favorite quote is by Edmund Burke, and he said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Lately I’ve been doing nothing with my writing to try and turn the tides of the world, believing it impossible and doubting the impact that writing could have. But life is too short to doubt the good we could do.
One day I’ll talk about building writing careers against the fear of failure, but today I want to leave you with this: As writers who want to one day be read, we have a responsibility. Our words can have more power than we ever imagined, and we can write the stories that inspire hope and kindness and bravery, or we can fan the flames of hate and anger and fear. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy a well crafted horror story or murder mystery, and I’ve even dabbled in those genres with my own writing, but I don’t want to write stories that paint a bleak reality, devoid of the things we live for: love, friendship, beauty. I want to remember what it is I’m writing for, what I’m fighting for, and that’s for something better.