On Doing What We Can

During the past several days I have started to write a post, and then stopped.  Started, then stopped.  And I’ll tell you exactly the thought process, verbatim, that has raced through my mind each time I sat down to write.  Who cares?  Why me?  How can writing possibly help with the state of the world is in such profound chaos?  What makes me think I have anything to contribute? Isn’t writing somehow self-indulgent? Shouldn’t I be out there in the world, at every possible waking moment, making some sort of real difference?

Sound familiar?  I have felt this way twice before in my writing life.  The first time was when my son was terribly sick as an infant with a rare disease, and the odds were stacked against him.  Each day, as he slept, I sat in my office and stared at the wall.  Why be a writer? I asked myself. It seemed the  most frivolous thing I could imagine.  People were out there going to medical school, or becoming nurses, or developing experimental treatments that saved lives.  And what was I doing?  Making things up.  I stayed stuck for a good long while.  I stayed stuck until one day, while having coffee  with a writer friend, I was talking about my terror about my son, and she said: write about that. And so I did. I wrote an essay, and then a novel, about maternal anxiety.  It was all I cared about. All I knew about.  I poured my heart and soul onto the page because that’s what I am and that’s what I do.  Which is to say, I am a writer.  I’m not a doctor, a nurse, a scientist.  I’m a writer, and a writer writes.

The second time I stared at a wall for a long time was after 9/11.  Every artist and writer I knew was doing the same.  How to create, from inside the devastation and the madness?  How to make meaning when all felt meaningless?  We walked around, shadow selves, ghost-like, as we attempted to metabolize a level of collective pain and trauma that seemed impossible to absorb.  During that time, William Faulnker’s Nobel acceptance speech was circulated, sent from writer to writer, pressed from hand to hand, a reminder to get back to work despite fear, despite terror, despite a sense of futility.  Get back to work.  “There are no longer problems of the spirit,” Faulkner rails against precisely that sense of futility. “There is only the question, when will I be blown up?”

Problems of the spirit.  It seems to me that this is what writes grapple with every single day when we sit down to work.

Love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice.

Which is not to say that I am not filled to the brim with a sense of moral outrage and that every cell in my body does wish to protest during these dark, dark days.  I’m doing what I can in that regard — as we all must.  But there is another kind of protest, another way of refusing to succumb to despair.  And so we sit down to write.  We ignore the inner voice telling us that there’s no point, it doesn’t matter.  We grapple with the problems of the spirit, of the human heart and all it contains.  It matters more than ever.


  • katrinakenison

    Yes, it does matter more than ever. And in these dark days I also find myself more grateful than ever before for the chorus of thoughtful, outraged, concerned, determined, hopeful voices rising together and speaking the truth, both on the page and in the streets.

    • Danishapiro

      Thank you my dear, dear Katrina. I feel blessed to be part of the chorus with you. xo

  • mothering spirit

    A thousand times yes. Thank you. I’ve spent the past year writing about the death of my daughters, and I wondered if even this matters now. Is it indulgent to talk about grief, to mull over matters of the heart when I could be protesting in the streets instead? But this is how I am in the world as a writer. So it must come together on the page to keep moving forward. The stakes for truth and beauty are higher than ever.

    • Danishapiro

      Our grief, sorrow, longing, regret, joy, loss, terror — in its singularity, in its specificity,, becomes a gift when it’s expressed in its fullness and touches the universal thread. Thank you.

  • MsRebecca

    Needed this today. Thanks, Dani!

    • Danishapiro

      You’re welcome, Rebecca!

  • Thank you, Dani. I needed to hear it, too.

    • Danishapiro

      You’re so welcome, Alesia.

  • ayala

    Martin Niemoller’s quote comes to mind in these dark times. As we the people adjust and regroup and march and speak our mind for all the people. As a daughter and granddaughter of holocaust survivors I feel the responsibility of staying tuned. It all matters, the thoughts on the page, in the streets, everywhere.

    First they came for the Communists
    And I did not speak out
    Because I was not a Communist
    Then they came for the Socialists
    And I did not speak out
    Because I was not a Socialist
    Then they came for the trade unionists
    And I did not speak out
    Because I was not a trade unionist
    Then they came for the Jews
    And I did not speak out
    Because I was not a Jew
    Then they came for me
    And there was no one left
    To speak out for me – See more at: http://hmd.org.uk/resources/poetry/first-they-came-pastor-martin-niemoller#sthash.cBnstBMg.dpuf

    • This is beautiful. Thanks for sharing. I’m an Indie writer with three books and a fourth ready to go. I’d like to find an agent but it’s daunting, seemingly impossible thing. If I don’t succeed I’ll self-publish. So I’m out here here alone selling books and it’s hard. I often write about politics or injustices I see but since the election it’s all that’s on my mind. I wondered if I was alienating people, potential readers, with my opinions but then I didn’t care. It’s all I’ve been blogging about since the inauguration. Stories of the women’s march, my health insurance travails. Other stories people share with me. I try to put a human face on all the consequences of the Trump presidency. Maybe create empathy. I don’t know if it will work but I believe it’s a writer’s responsibility, even a writer with a small foliowing, alone in a noisy, angry world.

      • Danishapiro

        You’re not alone, Sheila. Hang in there and speak your truth!

    • Danishapiro

      Thank you, Ayala. xo

  • Linda K. Wertheimer

    Yes. Thank you so much for writing this, Dani. I know many writer friends who are struggling to find their voice again because of their deep funk over world affairs. As writers, we can make others think. We can wake them up with our words. Ideally, we can get others to act.

    • Danishapiro

      Exactly. Thanks, Linda:)

  • Oh Dani. I’m walking around in a stupor. I’m on a book deadline. The world is imploding. The moral outrage that I feel in the pit of my stomach on a daily, minute-by-minute basis (coupled with an ancient, epigenetic fear), coupled with the illness of a parent …. all those things have immobilized me. I so needed to read this today, and I am so grateful for it.

    • Danishapiro

      Knowing I have helped you in any way makes me very happy, Elissa. xoxo

  • Thank you for sharing your struggles with writing. I’m on so on the same page. You said some very valuable things that give me inspiration to move forward more comfortably. I have felt all the things you described. It’s so hard to know which thing to address and yet it is the heart and the soul of the matter that counts the most to me. The deeper truths remain unchanged regardless of external circumstances. On that we, as writers, can depend.

    • Danishapiro

      My pleasure, Dorothy:)

  • Thea Koukoulas

    Hello, here is a gem of a thought that was shared by either Mark Nepo or Thomas Moore on Insights at the Edge…. sorry I can’t remember which.

    God does not save us from suffering… God infinitely sustains us in all things as we are grateful for the courage to be happy amidst the sadness of the world.

    Grateful… for the… Courage to.. be Happy… Amidst… the Sadness… of the world.

    I do not think one word is lost here, as it describes exactly our human purpose, divine right, solution and problem: to be a fully alive human being. A positive source. A light. Inspiring others to do same. One by one. Infusing the world with our individual, humble, small yet great work of being alive. Making this blue marble breathe deeply as one. Exhaling.

    Be sad. Do your part. And tend to you. Do You greatly. (which does not mean achieve things… over achieve… expect great results… you can do that too… just not let it be your purpose. The purpose is the journey. Live each step. Infuse yourself in it. Hold your space.). Just do you wholeheartedly. In every baby step. Even sleep the best sleep you can sleep. StReTch OuT. This helps me too. This inspires me. This give me permission to do same. This makes me happy and in turn, I have room to share. I can give more, and better. I can be a great example for others to follow. You and your big dreams or small tender thoughts and unfinished ideas are important. Whatever makes you feel good. Without care for results. Take care of your little details with big love. It’s what will saves us! 😉

    🙂 Smile 🙂
    Teach the little ones to be different.

    Getting back to the work sounds like an army command, but I sense the urgency. The importance to not let things that help you breathe life back into you… things that represent humanity… human kind… creation… and art… Truth, Beauty, and Creativity… our greatest human manifestations and treasures to seek and behold. We need to keep creating to be alive and well.

    You do because it fuels you. It is you. You don’t let it wither and die. Your craft is water for your soul.

    Please, God, Angels around me… give me the courage to live with vitality in this human condition.

    Thea K.

    • Danishapiro

      Thank you for this, Thea. :)))

  • Simone Cortes

    I love your work, Dani. While I’m brushing my cat’s fur or trying to get rid of a stain (any stain) from the countertop… or any other insignificant task, I hear the voice “Why are you doing this now? Go sit and write.” That daunting but so vital journey of mine. I’m a better person when writing is part of my day after all so why not…?
    Thank you for sharing your life, your magic with us… and guiding me back to my desk .

    • Danishapiro

      Thanks so much, Simone. My pleasure.

  • Louise Ruggeri

    How did I just find your website & blog? And exactly when I needed it? I read through the past year of your posts and am sitting here with tears in my eyes. I struggle with confidence, in general, and in writing. I’ve lacked the nerve to take my love of it seriously, despite so much encouragement and good feedback. Your posts are the push I need right now. Thank you for your candor, and your willingness to keep at it. I look forward to reading more, and to reading your newest book! -Louise