“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”Howard Zinn, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train
When I think of writing for this blog I sense a hesitation to share, not out of fear, but stinginess. It’s disheartening to dedicate time and hope into a post about something that fascinates or concerns me only for the metrics to show that hardly anyone has read or responded to it. Is there anything worse to a writer? A proximate cause for those paltry view counts could be that I haven’t optimized my writing for search engines (SEO) so most people can’t find the post in the first place. But, what could be the root cause of my stinginess?
When questioned on his (ugh) ‘method’ David Sedaris advised fellow writers to keep a diary, carry a journal and, most importantly, abandon hope. Why abandon hope? I notice that when hope goes unfulfilled it can morph into its opposite (or one of its many opposites) and begin to thwart the very thing once hoped for. My hope for praise, for thousands of views and hundreds of comments, turned against me. Why bother making the effort only to get silence in return? What else should I write for? That’s for me, and us, to find out.
When she was twenty five and he was twenty seven Arline Feynman, first wife to the future Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman, died of tuberculosis. When he too died, forty three years later, Richard’s family found among his estate an unopened letter he wrote to Arline after she passed. He told her, among other things, that he still loved her, that no other woman he had met since she left could match her.
Two years ago I flew to Dublin with my parents for my auntie’s wedding. Our journey from the airport was long and stressful because a car had crashed on the motorway nearby causing a jam and we, already irritated the way travellers who fly coach are, were squashed in a small car and our driver kept making wrong turns, but once we finally arrived at our guest house our host was waiting at the front door to welcome us in.
We ate Chinese from the local takeaway for dinner while our host got acquainted with us and my mother let slip that I was a trainee counsellor. I noticed our host’s mood shift ever so slightly and she told us that when her father had died years ago she saw a therapist who encouraged her to write a letter to him so she could say all the things she never got a chance to say now that he was gone.
Can writing be therapeutic? Absolutely. It was for Richard and our host and I’m sure I’ll still have things to say to my loved ones when they’ve passed even if we’ve had plenty of time to talk while they were still alive.
In the postscript of his letter to Arline, Richard writes:
“Please excuse my not mailing this – but I don’t know your new address.”