The devastating news about Amber Peat made me think about the things we don’t say and the things we don’t communicate. Communicating is powerful. I think writing is perhaps the most powerful kind of communication of all. After all, the pen is mightier than the sword, right?
Maybe we know the saying but we don’t believe it. It doesn’t always feel true for us. We can’t all make speeches like Churchill or Malcolm X, nor are we world-changers at Charlie Hebdo; our own small world writing can feel somewhat impotent and silly. So, often we just don’t bother writing, or communicating – after all what’s the point when it is open to misinterpretation, argument, dismissal and ridicule? Or the worst of all – disinterest.
And in an actual fight to the death, come on – pens would be rubbish. You might jab me in the eye with your pen but even half-blind I stand a reasonable chance of blasting off your legs with my Kalashnikov. My Kalashnikov is fictional and your pen is real but the point stands, unlike you if you come at me with that pen. Okay? We’re cool bro.
Notwithstanding comparisons to Russian automatic weapons, it is a truth that writing is a tool which helps us to communicate. The more deft you are at communicating then the more likely you are to get what you want. You may receive the refund on your shitty holiday experience at Centre Parcs or get a replacement toaster off of Argos. You may get a job you applied for. And the extra pint of milk. Or the restraining order against the writer with the fictional Kalashnikov who keeps doing the “gun finger” thing at you.
The most measurably powerful piece of writing to which I can lay claim was a character statement for someone I know who was facing a jail term. They still received a jail term but my statement went some way to making it a little shorter than it otherwise might have been. I’m not certain that tap dancing or posting a drawing or blasting off the judges legs with a Kalashnikov would have achieved the same result.
Writing can communicate complex feelings too, and feelings aren’t so measurable, or transactional. That power to communicate shouldn’t be underestimated. What moves us more than a beautifully written letter of condolence, or an intimate love letter?
You might not sway a people to rise up against their oppressor, (or I suppose, quell a separate, less desirable uprising) but writing can give us and others comfort and can express truths – “to tell someone all the truth before it kills you” even, to quote a favourite lyric.
I have written pieces of prose or poetry for people on a few occasions which enabled me to express feelings. One time it was for a friend who had lavished me with so many hand-made gifts that something shop-bought in return felt thin and ill-suited in comparison. My effort turned into a piece of free verse that ran into about four pages and I don’t expect anyone other than the recipient to understand a word. It was packed with the encapsulation of remembered private jokes and bits of history. It communicated everything I felt about our friendship – even today I could point at that verse and say – yep, that’s us. It made physical something which was ephemeral – and that is a comforting party trick for an atheist.
I wrote another piece of prose once, for a friend who infuriated me and with whom I argued on many occasions. I wanted to set in stone that we were friends, at least in my opinion, but without a conversation about it causing another row. A piece of writing can’t be interrupted and so is an excellent way of communicating with stubborn bastards. Typically for me I created an elaborate analogy set in space, in part because duh and also perhaps to put him at a disadvantage in not being able to rebuff my argument as instantaneously as usual. I am not sure we ARE actually talking at the moment but at the time it did smooth the ripples and we smiled a while instead of provoking each other.
The effect of writing those things made me feel powerful – mighty in some way. I even put the Kalashnikov on ebay as a result.
The pieces of my writing which I like the best (and which have done the best) tend to be informed by this strong desire to communicate. There is a point to them – some sort of truth I am attempting to express – dragging the painful abstract into black and white reality. I think the best types of writing are like this. Friends of mine who write reviews always seem to create the most astonishing writing of alll when they are fuelled by rage, or delight, or wonder.
I am reminded of this: the simple power of writing, power felt inside, coming from truth however unpalateable that truth can be. I resolve to be more truthful.
If you write and are blocked maybe think – What truth do you need to tell before it kills you? Go and write that.