I’m still hoping that one of these days I’ll learn not to turn on the news. There have been times—long periods in my life—when I’ve done without it to amazing results. The world reduces itself to the most basic elements when you are ignorant of what’s going on beyond your front door. Things don’t seem that bad.
But then I always go back eventually, checking the internet or the cable news once in the morning and then again in the evening. I tell myself there are too many ignorant people in the world to count myself among them, even if that ignorance really does contain a large portion of bliss. As an adult, I have a responsibility to know what’s going on. It’s a duty.
I’m sort of between the two right now. I know some of what’s going on out there, but not a lot. That’s how it is in the middle of writing a book. Getting those pages in every day takes precedent over much of anything else. I don’t have time to tune in, and so I tune out. I figure the world can carry on without me for this little while.
I finished up a little early the other day, though, and decided maybe I’d just take a few minutes to hope on a few websites. Not long, just a few minutes. Sort of like stepping outside to lick your finger and stick it in the air to see which way the wind was blowing. In the span of those few minutes, I learned that 200 girls had been kidnapped in Africa and threatened with being sold into sexual slavery. I learned that a young woman had won an award for filming her own abortion. I learned that climate change is now climate disruption and we’re all going to either drown or die of thirst, and if you happen to disagree with that notion you’re a Neanderthal. And then I shut my computer before I could learn anything else.
I sat there for a little bit, looking out the window on our little neighborhood. The window was open, letting in a bright sun and a breeze that smelled of blooming flowers and cut grass. A guy down the street was throwing a ball to his dog. Two kids next door were shooting hoops in the road. The retired couple who just moved in across the way were planting some rose bushes. It was a scene likely played out in thousands of neighborhoods in America right then, maybe yours, too, but its commonness in no way tarnished the beauty of it in my mind. That little scene I looked down upon, that was life. That was people trying to get by, trying to enjoy things despite it all.
The wind kicked up just for a moment, just enough to sneak through the big oak outside the window and ruffle the papers I’d just written on. They curled in on themselves and then went tumbling into a pile on the floor. I gathered them up and sat there on the carpet, trying to order the pages from memory, and a funny question crossed my mind:
Why are you doing this?
It took me a minute to figure out exactly what “this” was. I thought at first I was asking myself why I was sitting down on the floor with a stack of papers in my hand, but that didn’t sound right. Too obvious. And then I thought maybe the question was more about why I was sitting upstairs to begin with, and not outside enjoying the spring day. But that wasn’t it, either. No, it was more fundamental than either of those, something that struck me deep down where I most live.
The question was why I write at all.
The question was why bother.
Why spend so much time and suffer through so much stress to write books in a country where most people would rather turn on a television than read a chapter? Why go through the endless heartbreak of being a single shouting voice among the tens of thousands of other shouting voices? Why believe that in some small but significant way, what I do can pause a fallen world from its steady pace toward the edge of some great abyss?
And you know what? I’ll have to think about that and get back with you. Because right now, this moment, I really don’t know.