Wednesday, January 28, 2015

When We Care

According to most media, we live in a society that doesn't care enough. We are surrounded by images of starving children and abused animals that we don't consider often enough when we're sipping our lattes and buying our doggie day care passes for our designer mutts. When we shop, cashiers ask us to give a dollar to a national or local cause so we can hang a star on their wall and express to the world that we did something good that day.

I don't buy into that message. In my life, especially my most horrific days, I saw that people care a lot more than they are given credit for. When I felt the biggest void of my life, friends, family, co-workers, neighbors and strangers reached out to me and let me know they cared. Some of them didn't even know Warren and they still offered a sympathetic word, offered a listening ear, or gave me a hug that sometimes literally held me up.

I think that if we don't care about something, then we don't have the most essential tool for writing. Writing is so much of a reaction to what we feel, that without feeling we can't tap into the deeper portion of ourselves that holds the stories we need to tell. Rarely do I write just for me, even if I am the only person who ever sees what I write. What happens more often is that I have an audience in mind, usually someone I know, and I write as a reaction to how that person makes me feel. It makes the experience more intimate, personal, less lonely, and better connects me to what I'm writing. I write to explore their response to how they impact my world.

I care about every word that lands on the page, but I also care deeply about what is happening in the world around me and I put that into my work. The nods may be subtle, but there's no way I can escape doing so. When I am feeling especially vocal and bold, I write as though the whole world is going to read my words and it is going to change them in some way. This is a lofty approach and I don't do it all the time. When I'm addressing something I care about, it moves me when I think of who might read my words and somehow be changed by having read them. In order to write this way, I have to believe that everyone cares intensely for some of the same humanistic issues as I do. That is when what I write becomes a dialogue between myself and my imaginary audience. At those times I feel that I am creating a space to share in our compassion, and empathetic understanding.

Those times of connection make me think about who my reader might be, why they would want to read my work, and how they might internalize it. I am forced to make decisions based on what I want that reader to get from our interaction, to consider what their expectations are when reading my work. Once I consider that, my writing takes on another dimension in its tone, my word choices, the level of detail required, and even which grammar rules I am going to follow. Caring about my reader's reactions to what I write influences every facet of the work, and that is a good thing.

Think about a piece you read that you did not connect to. Chances are it wasn't about the book being poorly written. Most likely, you became disengaged because at some point you did not feel that the writer cared about your experience as a reader. That detachment took you out of the story, away from the point of the writing. You were no longer drawn to what the writer had to say. That does not indicate that you don't care, it just means that what you care about does not align with what the writer cares about.

So the next time you feel that you're being forced to believe that you live in a society that doesn't care, remember that as long as the written word exists, you are surrounded by caring.

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