NaNoWriMo has kept me busy. When the WordPress app kept failing to update on my iPad, I found it too easy to blow off posting updates.
Because, hey, why waste words on blogs when I could be pushing toward that magic 50,000 word goal?
Now I’m sitting just past 41K with five full days remaining (plus my Tuesday night here on Okinawa). I have no doubt in my mind I can do this.
When I made a spontaneous commitment to this crazy effort, I had no plot in mind. But the news was full of Ferguson and Mike Brown, accusations and protests and justification on all sides.
I started reading blog posts and immersing myself in the voice of a culture and experience completely unfamiliar to me. And I realized how little time I’ve taken to listen or consider what it might be like to walk in different shoes or live in darker skin.
A story formed in my head, but I didn’t feel adequate to the task. So I hit the library and dug into books and websites documenting a variety of viewpoints and experiences. Beyond the Color Line by Henry Louis Gates Jr. offered me the wide range of perspectives I wanted.
Bloggers delivered some profound insights. My “favorite” blog post on the subject–not because of how it made me feel, since it positively wrecked me emotionally–is found here:
The link Ms. Wilson includes to a similar post about Sean Bell is equally challenging to those of us who haven’t had a conversation with our parents or children about how best to avoid getting shot by police.
That said, I also found gems like this post, called It’s Hard to Keep Caring, in defense of the difficult job and the unheralded but still heroic efforts of the many good and decent human beings serving their communities in police uniforms.
Basically, NaNoWriMo started (for me) as a fun project to see if I could be a better writer.
I’m surprised, humbled, and satisfied to think maybe it achieved something else: maybe it’s forcing me to become a better person.
I found myself writing a poem from the perspective of a hypothetical protester in Ferguson (or one of the other all-too-similar situations over the last few decades).
I don’t know that I’d find myself on a street holding a sign, or putting my hands in the air staring down a riot cop’s gun. But for a moment, I could expand my limited perspective and try to ask, “How would I feel? What would I say in these circumstances?”
Because on my various social media feeds, all I saw–on all sides–was a bunch of groups of “us” talking about “all of them,” vilifying and dehumanizing anyone who disagreed, anyone who looked different.
That’s my takeaway from this project. My goal in the story was to present the idea that black or white, rich or poor, maybe we’re not so different, maybe we all feel similar emotions, deal with similar struggles, and experience similar tragedies.
I doubt I hit the mark all that well. I’ll end up with a rough draft that will probably sit on my computer and go nowhere. Maybe I’ll self-publish.
But my coworker who inspired me to join reminded me, “NaNo is all about trying something new. Go for it, see where it leads.”
Who would have thought compassion and empathy are new concepts?
Judging by the news, I suppose maybe that’s not such a surprise.
My book isn’t finished yet. The book’s not closed on racial injustice and tensions either. Both are pretty rough drafts with some great moments and touching scenes, mixed with a whole lot of crap we’d all probably rather ignore.
But I can only hope that both will be finished, someday soon.
Here’s the poem. I welcome your thoughts:
The dam you’ve cracked could not hold back
A flood of fury, hurt and worry
The history of wrongs built up for so long
The strong walls of patience and appeasement
Burst and shattered, twisted and bent
By six shots fired in supposed self-defense
At an unarmed teen accused of violence
And they act like the evidence all makes sense
But we see right through all the police pretense
To the obvious truth of an innocent youth
So back off your sanctioned brutes in riot gear and jackboots
Your power was never meant to be absolute
You’ve awoken an army with hands up–Don’t shoot.