Sunday, February 26, 2017

"Ladies may do much good by writing." (Courtney McKinney-Whitaker)

Why do I write? I ask myself this question a lot. Not only does one have to defend that what one does is in fact a real thing to people who say, "Oh, but you don't, like, leave your house and go to work work," but one also has to deal with the vagaries of "the market," which is usually not terribly vague about the fact that it would prefer if everyone but a very few bestsellers who are good at Twitter would just shut up.

Alas, I am not good at anything else. Anyway, I've tried to stop writing and it doesn't work.

But lately, in this world we are living in, I have questioned the point. What difference is it going to make, after all? Is it going to stop children from being ripped from their parents' arms?  Is it going to stop people dying of curable diseases because they can't afford healthcare? Is it going to feed the 1 in 6 people in my city who are food insecure?

Maybe. Eventually.

See, somewhere along the way, I turned into a person who believes we are all connected and we are all responsible for each other and we are our brothers' and sisters' keepers, whether we think they deserve our care or not.

Books turned me into that person. Books showed me that my life, my kind of life, my concerns, weren't the only ones out there. It wasn't that everything about my particular culture was "right" and everyone else was "wrong." My world was what it was. But there were other worlds.

Books create empathy, and if there's one thing we need in this world, it's more empathetic people.
In recent historical research, I came across a transcription of a discussion of Harriet Beecher Stowe's abolition novel Uncle Tom's Cabin. One of the men comments, "Ladies may do much good by writing," which sounds a little patronizing until you consider that in this same era Charlotte Brontë was being told how indelicate it was to tax her poor little female brain by writing novels.

I also recently stumbled on the poem, "The Seraph and the Poet" by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

 The seraph sings before the manifest
    God-One, and in the burning of the Seven,
    And with the full life of consummate
    Heaving beneath him like a mother's
    Warm with her first-born's slumber in that
    The poet sings upon the earth grave-riven,
    Before the naughty world, soon self-forgiven
    For wronging him, and in the darkness prest
    From his own soul by worldly weights.
    Even so, Sing, seraph with the glory! heaven is high;
    Sing, poet with the sorrow! earth is low:
    The universe's inward voices cry
    'Amen' to either song of joy and woe:
    Sing, seraph, poet, sing on equally!

I keep repeating these lines to myself:

"Sing, poet, with the sorrow!"


"Ladies may do much good by writing."

Earth is low and grave-riven. Someone has to sing. In time, it may do much good.


  1. Excellent post. I'm sharing it on Facebook. I learned long ago that we cannot know which act creates the most ripples, but the one never committed creates none.

    1. Excellent point and good to remember when we wonder if we have any impact at all. Thanks for sharing.

    2. Lovely post, Courtney. And Berek, thank you for sharing your thoughts. Just what I needed to read this morning as I start my day's work.

    3. Thanks, Jody. Exactly what we all need to hear, Berek.

  2. This is beautiful. "Books create empathy". Love.

    1. To be clear, I've seen that idea in a ton of places. It's not my original thought.

  3. Beautiful. Keep writing. It is all worth it.

  4. I love the idea of us all being connected.