The Futility and Power of Words

Jul 31, 2020 | In the moment

Lately, I have been chastising myself for not writing. In a wordless conversation between my writing self and her shadow, the dialog goes something like this –

“Why are you not writing?”

I’ve been busy. Work has been so crazy. Working from home is just not working out for me.

“So busy that you can’t write even a simple blog post? Even on a weekend?”

Yes. I’m too tired.

“That’s strange. I thought you would have extra time to write, now that you don’t have a commute.”

I have even less time than before. And certainly, less energy.

“You’re just lazy. Looking for excuses. Something you rarely did before Covid.”

You get the point. In various versions of this conversation, I list other excuses for why the weekends are unproductive, why having family at home all the time is distracting, and how I can’t write outdoors because I can’t wear a mask for long periods of time.

The truth is, I have ideas.

In fact, several ideas; for blog posts and essays, for books that I could review, for current events that I could comment on. 

What I don’t have is motivation.

The surreal pandemic situation, despite persisting for months, still manages to catch me by surprise. Just when I got used to following gloomy statistics about global infection rates, a steady stream of reports from countries torn apart by politics and policies, and by racial and religious differences began pouring in. And when cancel culture did its part to further divide people at a time when we most need to be united against our common enemy, an invisible virus that does not recognize geographic boundaries or petty stratifications within sovereign nations, I felt utterly defeated.

Under these circumstances, what is the point of writing?

I write in order to make sense of the world I inhabit, a world that seems to be getting more and more unrecognizable, inside and out. I often consider the art of writing similar to the act of navigating a maze, with thoughts and ideas pulling me this way and that, leading me to unexpected turns or bringing me to dead ends. The point is to persist, to keep moving, knowing that some leads may not pan out and others may not lead to tidy conclusions. 

But when I put my writing out in the world, it is no longer a solitary stroll through a circumscribed neighborhood. The words pour out into the infinite vastness of digital space like tiny targets that cannot defend themselves if they happen to catch the ire of angry hordes that lurk in every corner. 

What if I use the wrong word out of ignorance, not malice? What if I posit an unlikely theory or weigh in on an unpopular opinion? What if my own meandering thought-process, offered as a road for others to consider is now pelted with rocks for not being in sync with the majority vote?

Words can connect. Or divide. 

Words can soothe. Or ignite. 

Words can reassure. Or trigger.

The one thing words cannot do, is rise from the page and push you into action. Deliberate action is needed for words to come to fruition, and it can only come from the reader. As a writer I know that I have no control on the reactions of a reader. 

Given the reactionary nature of cancel culture that has become almost a reflex instead of a carefully considered opinion, I wonder what differentiates the original instigator from the  outraged respondents? Whether it’s in response to a photo challenge on Instagram or an ill-thought out tweet, a tsunami of online anger seems ready to overpower every real and perceived transgression in the virtual world.

Even though I rant about words and their futility in an age of viral popularity and instant gratification, I do so because I am aware of their power. Words are powerful. I know. 

Words inspire me and move me.

Words bring me to a place of understanding and pull me back from despair.

The trick is in knowing what words to read.

In my bookshelf lies a small book with an olive colored hard cover. The edges of each page bear a trace of blue ink that can’t be seen when opened, but viewed from the side, they glow with a blue-gold light, complementing the luminous prose written by Ruskin Bond, a well-known writer who lives a solitary life in the HImalayas. His words are a soothing balm on burning skin, a salve for the irritations and transgressions of life.

As I work myself up into a frenzy about my writing (or lack thereof,) Bond’s words bring me back to earth. They remind me that my writing is an  internal journey, not to be confused with its external after-effects. With or without external validation, I remain what I always was – human, with all the clarity and confusion of being so.

Fame is like the wind. It blows in all directions, then vanishes without warning.

Time passes and brings us all down to the level of ordinary humans (which is where all of us belong). 

Some of us struggle and rant against the spectre of obscurity. I think we should welcome it. 

                                                       A Book of Simple Living, Brief Notes from the Hills, Ruskin Bond

Image credit – Ranjani’s archives

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