I am weary of conflict

img_5348I’ll be honest. I’m having a tough time.

For a while I was just burned out. Writing four books in less than eighteen months will do that to a writer. But now it’s been almost three months since I turned in the last project. I’ve been on two canoe trips and spent lots of time in my happy place. I’ve rehabbed my knee and gone back to doing aerial silks. I’ve been trail running with the dog. And I’ve been trying to map out my next project.

It’s not working. The words aren’t cooperating.

Quite a few years back, when my daughter was little, she came home from an obviously awesome lesson about story structure declaring, “I hate stories that don’t have trouble!” It’s Writer 101 material, of course. Good narratives need conflict—they start conflicted and get worse and then even worse. Trouble is key.

And trouble is also my stumbling block. I am so very weary of conflict. My social media universe is nothing but trouble. My morning OPB shows. The newspaper. Every conversation. Everywhere I turn. Trouble. Sometimes it seems like the world is going down in flames. Or maybe just American democracy and civility and the safety of children and respect for other members of humanity.

As I scribble ideas in my journal, I can think of lots of snippets and images — a fish floating through a girl’s room, Miyazaki-style; a road made of solar panels; a boy farming carbon in some future world; a cross-country romp. Yet when I try to shape them into a narrative, I run into the trouble problem.

I want male characters who ask for consent and diverse characters who are not oppressed and female characters who aren’t demeaned. I don’t want them to have to fight for their lives or save the world or make heart-rending choices or defy authority. I don’t want to write villains or a world in ruins or a broken family or abuse. I just want everyone to be calm and happy and swaying in place with their hands entwined.

I am overwhelmed with heartache and trouble. The words aren’t cooperating. Everyday I try to acknowledge the suffering, to speak against it, and to amplify the voices that the world needs to hear, and then I try to turn away from horror and circle back toward a place where I can create. I try to return to joy.

But it’s not working. That’s the truth—at least it’s my truth right now. The words are not cooperating.

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14 thoughts on “I am weary of conflict

  1. Amber, I found this article really interesting, and it helped me put things in perspective. As writers, we are often more sensitive to the slings and arrows of life than others. We have to be observant and empathetic to write well, and that leaves us vulnerable. But, since you are also a scientist, here’s some facts that I thought might help you.
    http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/features/why-were-living-in-the-age-of-fear-w443554

    Chin up.

  2. That is an excellent article, and explains a lot about the anxiety I’ve been feeling, which has been compromising my artistic work. But my anxiety is mainly about Trump being in the Oval Office!

  3. Thanks for sharing, Amber. The courage to share your tough time, to be vulnerable, is powerful. It builds connection and empathy. I have faith you are right where you need to be, doing exactly what needs to be done. Trust the process. Trust yourself.

  4. Every now and then something takes me back to a really lovely Twitter conversation I had with Laurel Snyder. It was about the kind of story we remember reading and being fed by – I think she called it the “going out and coming in” kind of story. Like a day in the life of – anyone. Not earth-shaking – but a story where maybe challenge was opportunity. Adventure could be large OR small, and still be adventure. With wonder and discovery at the heart of it. That seems to be the kind of story I crave right now. And your words brought that conversation back to me right now.

  5. Hi Amber!

    I just stumbled upon your blog while looking up a Warsan Shire poem. Somehow, I ended up on this post. I’m three months late to the conversation, but this is exactly precisely so much how I’m feeling. I’m in an MFA program and have to regularly turn in short stories and for the past two months have felt this anxiety. After the election an additional feeling of futility has crept in. There’s so much noise and so many voices and ideas to amplify and yet when I tune into the social media universe, or daily conversations, it seems that all the words are being used to reduce, not amplify. It’s a tough time. I know we’ll turn a corner, we’ll find the things we want to say and the story to set them in…but I hear you. I’ll second what another reader said – when I feel this way I write haikus or poems in general. Does seem to help. Hope things have turned up for you!

    1. I know. It’s really hard to figure out how to listen enough to do the work of activism but still practice self-care. I’m struggling with that myself. My daily walk with my dog is essential! XO

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