Before a pandemic chewed through our livelihoods and collective mental health, summer used to be silly season. News slowed down to a crawl, trivia and oddities took their place, and life read a little easier for a while. But now? It’s been surreal season for so long constant overwhelm is the new normal. If words matter to you and you’re concerned about the political climate, you may have come to regard writing with suspicion and doubt. Is there no other way to earn a living with words than by oozing fear, greed, and anger in print or riding the coat tails of celebrities who behaved badly? Recycling the worst of the zeitgeist ad nauseam is no way to improve it, defunding dumb may be more effective.
If there’s no financial incentive to produce garbage then the trash will eventually take itself out. Meanwhile, the internet is a dump, digital detritus abounds, and everyone is scavenging for meaning.
We don’t have to be seagulls.
Writing can change your life.
Writers always say that because it has changed ours in innumerable ways. Much like there’s no one-size-fits-all definition of writer, there’s no one-size-fits-all success story either.
We tend to measure success in financial rather than human or creative terms. Writing leads to extraordinary connections and combinatorial creativity, as it causes different worlds, cultures, and values to collide. Trails of words lead you to people and places and epiphanies. They make life possible. They give it meaning, purpose, and a sense of belonging. Rare are those of us who do not claim our place in the world word by word, be it only on social media. All literate humans are writers, writing is one of the main forms of communication. Words don’t have to go viral to change your life, they just have to connect you to the person who does. No one can ever predict when a fellow human will be anything but indifferent to your intellectual labor.
The magic isn’t explicable. Rather, it’s a form of faith that keeps you going against all odds. Not writing would mean not being fully alive. When it gets wrapped up in financial survival, things can get complicated. The principal substance offered by websites, media outlets, and platforms becomes formulaic and competitive rather than thought-provoking and complementary. Not all content is good copy. Not all publishers, editors, outlets, platforms, practitioners, or readers even care. Sometimes, the thing that entertains us most is someone else’s misfortunes, especially if we’ve been socialized to compete from a young age. This kind of content is never conducive to conversation, it just builds more echo chambers.
How we co-exist online is indicative of how we co-exist in person, be it with courage or with cowardice, be it with curiosity or with prejudice. The more diverse our neighborhood, the more open-minded we are.
The problem isn’t always you.
Right now, reality is a mouthful.
Depending on where you live and what passport you hold, it may even be indigestible. Some will find the words that make reality palatable; others will find the words that conjure up a better one.
Ultimately, we shape the reality we live in to align with our values through the words we speak, write, support, nurture, and grow. If greed is the root cause of our problems then should our words service it? What if media outlets and platforms who succeed are those who bet on mutual benefit with their users? What if writers who thrive are those who don’t just stand out but also stand for something other than greed? The future won’t be unchecked capitalism. Prospects may vary depending on geographical coordinates, individual commitment to the common good, and creativity. Unless we move, we’re going to need a lot of heart to renew and rebuild digital neighborhoods greed decimated.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor now based in the Netherlands. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.