Apr. 12th, 2014

dampscribbler: (animecon)
I'm going to start this with the tweets I started this morning, intending at that time to both explore and explain something, then soon realizing that I needed to go in deeper than either Twitter or my empty stomach would allow.

At some point in my life I became possessed of the notion that it was my responsibility to solve all the problems. That wanting to "make the world a better place" meant in fact to "make the world a place with no big problems." And I believed that, somehow, this was achievable. If only I could figure out how to do it. First I tried majoring in Philosophy in college. But I discovered that philosophers often lost themselves in minutiae, ridiculous convolutions like determining the meaning of "of" in a particular sentence of a particular treatise. So I didn't go on to graduate school, but I did what people have to do like get a job and pay the bills. But I also got depressed and felt helpless that slitting open envelopes and distributing papers wasn't making the world a better place.

There endeth what I began in tweets. Now to explore the rest of it. In the interest of brevity I'll just say I've had a number of different jobs, attempted a couple of different careers, and have come full-circle in the past 5 years back to my first love, storytelling, which I recognized very early in life. I'm now focusing on making a career out of writing, and in particular writing for children. And if you're not aware of this, writing for children gets much more particular than that, though the particulars, like young adult books, picture books, chapter books, nonfiction chapter books, etc etc., are not mutually exclusive.

Where I wanted to go with this in short form, was, I think, someplace like this: my desire to solve big problems has gotten in the way of much of my progress in careers. When I've seen conflicts between my path and the ability to affect the kind of change that will make the world into a problem-less utopia, I change paths.

It looks a little absurd, written out like that. But it's true. I wanted to make it ALL better. Pollution, the polar bears, depression, high-stakes testing, guns, drugs, Taco Bell, mean people, poverty, you name it. At some point I recognized a Unified Solution of Bad Stuff probably didn't exist, but I continued to believe that something I could do could make a big difference. So maybe I had to choose which thing to go after.

Again, in the interest of brevity, because this is LJ and I still have to finish doing the taxes, I'll skip a lot of stuff and say that I've glacially slowly come to recognize that while wanting to solve all the world's problems sounds crazy, it actually isn't. But there is a problematic piece, and it's this: being stopped or sidetracked by the understanding that whatever it is you are doing isn't going to solve all the world's problems. I did that, a lot.

I write books for kids now. I hear amazing things from authors about the lives they have touched, in big and little ways, by putting their stories out into the world. I think "wow, that sounds great. I remember being changed by books I read as a kid, and I'm so grateful I want to pass that on. But don't I have to do it bigger?" Some people are motivated by fame, money, sex, power. Put me in the power category. I want the power to make sure that bad things never happen in the real world. So I haven't been able yet to dispense with the fantasy that I might write the One Book That Will Put an End To All That.

For quite some time I've been a fan of author Laurie [livejournal.com profile] halseanderson, who writes, among other things, novels about teens having to deal with terrible things. In recent months she's begun referring to this body of work as "resilience literature," a label I absolutely love. These are novels of contemporary kids in times we recognize, dealing with problems that are culturally current but also on some level timeless and universal, like the desire to be acknowledged, understood, respected.

My own resilience has been tested a lot this year. In January I had to quit a job that was right for me in some ways but not right in others, a painful but necessary separation. In February my grandmother, the matriarch and center of my extended family, passed away. In March my aunt and uncle decided to relocate from the city that has been my geographical center throughout the dozens of moves I've made through my life. These events were all unsettling, causing me to examine and redefine my place in the world, and I'm still in the process of doing so. What occurred to me recently, though, was to observe my own resilience in the face of these changes. Rather than change my path, they've helped me more clearly define it. I know I want need to keep writing and editing. I know I care deeply about readers and literature connecting, and I need to keep doing things to make that happen.

I've long had an adversarial relationship with what is known as "acceptance." It's not surprising, really. Resistance is the zeitgeist these days, in popular culture and in the news. We love battles and warriors and defeating evil and winning. Acceptance is weak, right? Acceptance means being defeated, quitting, it means nothing will ever get better. Acceptance is for losers. That was my thinking. As critical as I am of so very many ideas, I utterly missed for years how this one was limiting me.

People hurt. People do bad things. Sometimes on purpose, sometimes by accident. Sometimes the bad thing is a side-effect of something else, neither intentional nor accidental, just something done that leads to an unforeseen thing that hurts someone. I didn't want to accept my limited ability to control that. Because that would mean I am weak, helpless.

I
can't
stop
bad
things
from
happening

Not all of them.
But maybe some of them.

I
can't
stop
people
from
hurting

But maybe I can show them a path through.

This week a possibly avoidable tragedy struck a family very close to us. My husband and I, and other parents in the community, have wept and wondered alongside our friends. We have all struggled for understanding. What happened? Why? What can I do about it?

How can we feel less helpless?

But none of that can undo what has been done. We also have to accept.

I thought a lot this week about ways to decrease suffering. About ways to prevent heartbreak. I thought about how bad things happening despite everyone's efforts can feel like failure. But that not doing them to avoid that failure is helplessness. And it seems to me now that the real choice isn't between acceptance and success, but between acceptance and helplessness. Because no one can stop all the bad things. But so many of us working together, each of us changing a few things, touching a few lives, we can make a lot of differences.

I am sad that I can't end suffering in the world. But I can accept it, though I suspect that at times it will require a lot of effort to accept it. After all, I've lived with the belief that I can and that I should "make it all better" for most of my life, and that's been kind of a long while. But because I accept it, I can work differently, with the understanding that even the small differences I make may matter to one person, and to someone that one person is the world.

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