Writing This Week’s Letter…

Facing The Unknown And Uncontrollable]

Is not drinking Schweppes Tonic Water contributing to Ukraine’s defeat of Russia? Is paying for a Ukrainian AirBnB that you won’t use contributing? Is tweeting ferociously about the brave Ukrainian defenders? Probably not, but it’s better than sitting feeling helpless in the face of Putin’s onslaught.

Right now I have no excitement about the idea of writing this letter nor any faith that it will be any good. This feels very much like the balance point in writing. The point at which you question in yourself why you are writing at all whilst feeling that writing is the only way out of the lack of feeling.

Energy And Faith

Should I write about the horrors of war, the exodus from Ukraine or the madness of a tyrant? Is that all I can do? Annie Dillard in The Writing Life writing about what a writer must have to sit down to write, talked about energy and faith. Remarkably material [to a writer’s life] is the writer’s attempt to control his own energies so he can work. He must be sufficiently excited to rouse himself to the task at hand, and not so excited he cannot sit down to it. He must have faith sufficient to impel and renew the work, yet not so much faith he fancies he is writing well when he is not. The writer Octavia Butler had some great advice for what to do in the situation where the energy and faith seem to be lacking. In a well-known quote amongst writers, she said, You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence. I don’t know whether I am writing good stuff or not-I am just writing, being persistent. I do, however, feel better as I write, I feel energy start to ease its way into me-only little, but it’s better than not feeling any! Anne Frank saw this positive aspect of writing when she said, I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.

Finding Courage

I will take her lead, find my courage and dive into writing, no matter what. This is not the first time I have felt helpless in the face of potential catastrophe. In the early eighties I was, along with thousands of others, deeply concerned about the deployment of US Cruise missiles in the UK. I was involved with CND (the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) and was a steward at a demonstration of more that a quarter of a million people in Trafalgar Square, in London, against nuclear weapons. But concern faded during the Thatcher years and Glasnost in the Soviet Union lessened the threat and led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Life took over again as the future looked rosier. Of course, potential catastrophe never really went away, and today we are facing it again. We are looking at the actions of a mad man made worse by the prevarications of the western alliance. We were lulled into a false sense of security and believed that the Russian Bear would not wake up and strike back at what it sees as threats to its existence.

Letter To The Future

Rebecca Solnit has just written in the Guardian (it pinged as I was writing this), I can’t say I have confidence in the future, but I have a lot of confidence in its unpredictability, based on the fact that the past has regularly delivered surprises. […] The terrible too comes along without warning. So I am letting go of feeling helpless and telling myself that what little I do can help. I don’t know how it will help-none of us knows-but I do what I can anyway. Whatever comes out of this present crisis will not be what anyone expects, and I certainly don’t have the knowledge to anticipate what it will be. But equally I don’t know what the consequences of my writing will be, but I write anyway-doing what Octavia Butler and Anne Frank suggest.

So this is my letter…