Yesterday, in the face of escalating MidEast violence, attacks on American Embassies and continuing regional unrest, I felt an intense contrast between what I do now (creative writing) and what I was committed to 22 years ago when I first joined the US State Department. In 1980, I joined State under President Jimmy Carter as a Presidential Fellow, eager to apply my political science education and Masters in Public Administration from the University of Washington's Evans School of Public Affairs to the American diplomatic effort. I was an idealist in fervent support of the goal of international peace and understanding. A decision made in full light of the events of November 4, 1979, when armed rebels in the country of Iran attacked the US Embassy and 52 American Embassy personnel became prisoners of the rebellion for 444 days. That moment to now brackets two points of international unrest that have resulted in the deaths of American Embassy personnel overseas.
Fiction seems so thin a pursuit in the face of real world struggles, and I must ask if the work I do as a writer leverages or wastes my given personal abilities to make a difference in the world. The potential to offer meaningful service to others. I look at the blogs, the book reviews, the novel in progress and think: Too much "lightness of being" in a content heavy world.
My friend, Barb Camberlain, who works in public service, sent me this comment yesterday - Where your greatest joy meets the world's greatest need you will find your calling (Frederich Buechner). You can write/serve! These are meaningful words. But the gap between what is one's "greatest joy" and "the world's greatest need" is measured how? Ambassador Chris Stevens worked in the arena of peace and stability for Libyans as well as American interests in Libya. His sad loss can be measured in personal and world terms, as is true for the other Americans killed at the American Consulate in Benghazi. The arena of the arts presents a challenge: How to discern the public value in any one particular painting, poem, story, or dance? Yes, the arts are the receptacle of global culture, and for that alone, are intrinsically valuable. Human history is recorded in the creative: the expression of what evolves from, and beyond, the commonplace. An ongoing translation of the ordinary into a symbolism of deeper human understanding. Yet it is not among equals that social enterprise matters; that what is made is worthy. We know this. There is substance and there is fluff, contribution and dissolution, meaning and what is vacuous. It is for each of us to push the boundary between our talents and the existential yaw, to address the terrible want of the world.
Today, like many of the days since I left public service and turned to a writing life, I think about the value to me and to humanity of the simple, ordinary things I do, and wonder if I've ever tapped the personal extraordinary we are all sometimes capable of. These are extraordinary times, in a world that demands more of us. More of me. Read More