I’m a little behind on the blog writing due to our now 18-month-old boys going through a perfect storm of double-dose teething and developmental leaps. Matt and I have endured many a night-waking these past few weeks. However, I’m relieved to say we’ve made it through, four teeth apiece have sprouted in their little mouths and they seem to be making lots of (immensely cute) chitter-chatter progress with speech.
So, with a full 7 hours sleep (it could’ve been 8 but I’ve just discovered Dexter on Netflix) I’m back and I want to address another challenge along the path to our dreams.
I faced this recently, exacerbated by sleep deprivation. What with the UK’s post-election political turmoil, the horrifying terrorist attacks in Manchester and London and the constant hate-mongering by our notorious tabloids – oh how those writers make a living – pursuing my dream seemed incredibly frivolous.
I wondered if trying to be a writer was rather pointless in the face of corruption and terror and asked myself (and the neighbouring trees as I was walking) if I should be doing something more worthy.
After a bit of wrestling (with my thoughts, not the trees), this is what I’ve come up with…
Some dreams are clearly noble
If your dream is to be a volunteer in an orphanage, human rights campaigner or a healer of some kind you may not ask yourself these questions. Before I became a freelance writer, I had a number of jobs that fell into the ‘helpful’ category. In one, I supported unemployed disabled people to get jobs, in another I awarded grants to charitable groups. While neither of those was my dream job, I knew I was contributing to society, doing “good”.
Now that I’ve chosen to pursue a personal dream, one that gives me joy but doesn’t necessarily offer any practical help to humanity, it can feel, in comparison, somewhat indulgent.
Why the more “indulgent” dreams are still worthwhile
Hatred is reductive, narrow-minded and resistant. Let’s take recent media headlines and political speeches about immigration as an example. They’ve reduced sons, daughters, mothers and fathers to relentless waves of desperate job-takers and criminals instead of fellow humans who feel and hurt. The disconnection allows fear to march right on in.
To counter this, it’s crucial we don’t lose our empathy and compassion.
One of the ways we can keep our humanity intact is to do what we love. If we’re doing what brings us joy, we’re more able to keep our hearts open and less likely to take our bitterness and frustration out on the world. Doing what I love makes me feel lighter. I treat people better, including myself. I laugh easily and become more patient and generous. In short, I become a better human.
Not all of us can be formidable orators and campaigners, but we might become great carpenters and musicians. By living our dreams we inspire others to do the same. What’s more, doing what we love gives people hope, entertainment and joy – things sorely lacking in times of hardship.
Yes, it’s still advisable to vote, be mindful of the climate we live in and call out any injustice we encounter, but choosing to follow our personal joy can be a wonderfully helpful thing.
Why art is vital to our humanity
Art, in particular, gets a bashing when the bad times roll. Yet, in its myriad forms, art greatly benefits our world. Not only has it been proven to relieve stress and improve mental health, it allows us to express our true selves, serving as communicator, empowerer and purger. Take a look at this amazing graffiti by Shamsia Hassani in Afghanistan. In one of the worst places to be a woman, her work serves as a poignant reminder of the challenges she and our sisters face.
Moreover, art can make hard truths more palatable. For instance, racism is explored through science-fiction with different races of aliens (hello Star Trek) and I remember AIDS depicted as a pile of sweets (yes, I ate one – and yes, we were allowed) in a Félix González-Torres installation.
There are countless examples of beautiful songs, incredible stories, heartfelt poems (insert other amazing art here) which have saved individuals from despair, changed their minds and healed their hearts.
Whether through comedy, writing, sculpture or dance we need a channel through which to explore our experiences. Perhaps even more importantly, art can help us connect with each other, feeding our empathy and compassion, diminishing separation and fear.
Watch out for the voice that keeps you small
A healthy dose of fear ensures you don’t walk into traffic, but it can also stop you from doing anything different or challenging. In fact, fear can be downright devious, using any excuse to stop you from expanding beyond your comfort zone and what it knows to be safe. One of its tactics may well be to ask: how can you do such a silly thing when there are horrors in this world? Yet, when you try to do something to help counter those horrors, doubtless it will pop up again to smack you down. In her book Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert says that fear is a constant companion to creativity and the key is to not let it stop you. It’s usually a sign you’re on the right track.
Staying small is what the sh*tbags – those terrorists and dodgy politicians – want. If we’re miserable and oppressed then we’re all the more open to their hate, to towing their party line and so giving them power.
Of course, if your passion takes you to the front-line, then you must absolutely follow the call. I’ve asked myself honestly and I still want to write stories, more than ever. My place is here at my desk, reaching out through my words.
So, whatever your dream, my message is if it matters to you, do it any way you can and do it unapologetically. We need your joy.