I’m sure from the outside, the lives of writers and artists look easy. I mean, all you have to do is spend a lot of time doing the thing you love, right? If you’re a writer, it means you spend a lot of time writing and reading, which is all I ever really wanted to do so I can see that it might look easy. It means engaging your imagination throughout every aspect of your life, which is a way of truly appreciating it. The challenge, and the place where the real work comes in, is to keep doing these things when the everyday stuff of life gets in the way.
When it comes to major events, from a personal loss to national horrors such as the recent Manchester bombing, things get even harder. I’m not saying for a second that it’s harder for artists. It’s not. I lost my Dad a few years ago and I don’t think it was tougher on me than on my sisters just because I’m a writer. I’ve been following the news about the attack in Manchester with the same horror as everyone else. I’m not kidding myself that I’m somehow special or more sensitive. When I think of writing about it, lines from Seamus Heaney’s poem The Cure at Troy keep recurring in my head:
That doesn’t mean it’s pointless to keep going in dark times. Poetry, for me, is about understanding; it has as many roots in kindness as it does in language. Looking at the world in a new way can help us to appreciate it, see things from a different perspective or articulate feelings we’re struggling to understand. Poetry is also about joy. Poets write for the sheer joy of it, and that’s a good thing to be sending out into the world right now. It can be hard to hold on to that when horrific events take us so far from it, but I feel that artists of all stripes have an obligation to persevere.
The obligation is there not because artists have been marked out for some special reason. It’s because it’s incumbent on everyone to keep going, to find kindness and love in even the most horrific of circumstances. There is as much courage in a teenage girl putting on a sparkly t-shirt and dancing at a pop concert as there is in a writer trying to find a new way to express an old idea.
What’s my point here? Life is hard, human beings suffer and it can be hard to make sense of it all. All we can do as artists is stay connected to kindness and joy. All we can do as people is share that same kindness and joy with others and never, ever stop dancing.