When I was twelve, my brothers and I would hike up a sagebrush-covered hill to Mass at the Carmelite Monastery of Reno, Nevada.
It was very Sound of Music. A couple dozen of us locals sat in pews, while an equal number of nuns sang to guitar accompaniment, all overseen by a priest who’d done something unspecified bad enough to get reassigned to offering masses there.
One day, at the opening of his sermon, the priest said, “We all do things we know are wrong. For example, I’m living with a woman…”
That got my attention. Wait. What?
We all do things we know are wrong.
And then some of us wrestle with that, out loud, for a small audience. It was gripping, listening to priest discuss how he was conflicted. (I still remember parts of that sermon many decades later.)
Unfortunately, as those of us who write stories know, change is difficult. That’s one reason so many terrible things happen to protagonists—it takes a lot of suffering, and getting it wrong, and making wrong choices, to change in the end to make things right.
Denial is strong. (Can we just ignore the problem? For now?) So is bargaining. (Can I change just a little bit?) In 2019, I learned two things, and they’re painful enough that I really have to change.
First, in the category of real, physical pain, this year I have to get some parts of my lower spine removed. I’ve got a bulging disc and some spinal stenosis, and five years of serious pain has been enough.
The bad news: I need surgery. The good news:
They found a spine, so we know I’m not a Republican Senator. Whew!
It’s mostly okay when I sit, but I used to plan scenes while walking or pacing, and that’s gotten painful. So if the surgery is a success, that may even make my writing easier.
The other thing that’s gone wrong interferes even more with my writing. Instead of writing my current novel, I often procrastinate.
Since November, 2016, that’s gotten worse, because I spend a lot of time on the flaming hellscape of political Twitter, jabbering away about the misdeeds of the current administration and its enablers.
I like Twitter: I’ve always enjoyed writing jokes, and Twitter offers almost instant feedback and gratification. By contrast, as Alain de Botton pointed out, writing a book is like telling a joke and then waiting two years to find out if it’s funny.
Writing novels is solitary, and I have some PTSD from a difficult childhood, which I’ve written about before here at YAOTL. So for me, Twitter offers a nice mix of being social with enough distance that the people I interact with don’t get close enough to be scary.
I also treat Twitter as my personal quirky college radio station, to broadcast the weird, unasked-for things I feel like sending out—a tweet every morning about coffee, a tweet most days about writing, good night messages to people waking up in Australia, scathing political humor, and frequent current event limericks. (Yes, really. They’re my least popular tweets, but I keep doing them, anyway, because I like them.)
And I believe that, especially in times like ours, when America is caging children of families legally seeking asylum and our institutions are under authoritarian assault, we all have duty to speak out somewhere. Particularly writers, who practice communicating clearly in a way to create a genuine emotional reaction.
We writers are told we must “create our platform.” Once we have one, though, we should also use it for more than ritual adverb sacrifices.
All that said, we writers have our own work to do and to finish, which is different than spending hours a day on Twitter. And those of us who want to change our country for the better should spend our time doing that effectively. Liking tweets or writing anti-Trump jokes is not the same as accomplishing something in the real world, which requires things like donating money, registering voters, and going door-to-door to get out the vote.
So for the next few months, I’ll be working hard to finish my next novel, and will be spending less time on Twitter.
As the priest said in my youth, we all do things we know are wrong, or not, anyway, ideal for us. I hope this year to finish my current novel and to do more things right. (And write.)
Best wishes for a great 2020, and good luck to us all.
Dean Gloster has an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. He is a former stand-up comedian and a former law clerk at the U.S. Supreme Court. His debut YA novel DESSERT FIRST is out from Merit Press/Simon Pulse. School Library Journal called it “a sweet, sorrowful, and simply divine debut novel that teens will be sinking their teeth into. This wonderful story…will be a hit with fans of John Green's The Fault in Our Stars and Jesse Andrews's Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.”
When Dean is not writing, studying Aikido, or downhill ski racing, he’s on Twitter, where--despite the limericks--he has over 136,000 followers: @deangloster