Monday, 9 June 2008

Angst

Having a bit of a downer at the minute. I’m not generally one to be depressed by world affairs but I spent some time over the weekend working on a session on the charity Water Aid for our 10-14 year olds at church and was just horrified at the scale of the problem. For instance, one child dies every fifteen seconds from the effects of water-born diseases or lack of sanitation. Half the population of Bangladesh (50% of 150 million) have no access to a proper toilet. Etc etc etc. Depressing.

And I started thinking insidious thoughts like why am I writing novels? How does that help the world? OK it might cheer up the odd person in the rich Northern Hemisphere but how am I making the world better for all those people we keep hearing about who live on less than a dollar a day? Can I do anything? Could I ever have done? Bit late to start regretting life choices etc but suddenly, just over the weekend, I kind of lost faith in what I’m doing with my life.

Any other writers out there suffer with the same kind of angst?

Oh and, by the way, if you have any spare pennies you were wondering what to do with, www.wateraid.org will take them off you happily. They also do that ‘buy a present for somebody and give it to somebody who really needs it’ thing. Like taps and well-digging kits and toilet covers.

9 comments:

KAREN said...

I know what you mean. Novel-writing pales into insignificance in the grand scheme of things. Someone once said to me that as none of us can help the hand we've been dealt, it's better to get on with living - but try and make a difference where we can.

A while back, after watching one of those adverts on the TV, we ended up sponsoring a child in Zimbabwe. It helps to know you're doing SOMETHING. And your writing DOES bring pleasure to lots of people, if that's any consolation!

Alis said...

Thanks, Karen, it is!

David Isaak said...

Oh, I have angst squared on issues like this, partly because I've spent so many decades working on various kinds of projects in the Third World.

The deeper level of this problem is one nobody seems to want to talk about. Suppose you can decrease the death rate; suppose you can increase the number of people who can survive on some arguably already overpopulated piece of land. And allow those numbers to increase further...have we increased the sum total of human happiness, or the sum total of human misery? And what about all the other species we are wiping out as humans multiply?

There is no single solution to these problems. In fact, I don't think there's many "solutions" that don't actually result in things becoming worse in net.

Any approach that won't result in a net negative change won't be through increased water or medical help or food or energy. Any larger change will have to be through changing how people think about things and organize themselves, and writers hae as much to do with tha as anyone.

Alis said...

'Any larger change will have to be through changing how people think about things and organize themselves, and writers hae as much to do with tha as anyone.'
Yes, I do think this is true. We're back to education, education, education (sorry, that's a Tony Blair quote for those not caught up with UK politics) and writers ought to be at the forefront of that, at least.

Tim Stretton said...

A 'good book', however you define it, makes the world a slightly better place: you enrich x number of people's lives without, in most cases, making it any worse. (Although I remember doing Wordsworth's 'The Prelude' for A-level: now that dude made my life a damn sight worse for two years. "And if this is the prelude," I remember thinking, "what's it going to be like when we get to the main event?").

If it was a choice between writing novels and ending world poverty, it would be hard to justify scribbling away. But it's never like that. We can only do what we can do. Writers like Alis and David are able to do something that most other people can't: use language in a way that draws others in and heightens their experience for as long as we're in that fictional world. As a writer, some days that seems no more valuable that a party trick like swallowing your hand--if easier on the oesophagus. But on other days, we should give ourselves credit for what we do...

Alis said...

Thanks, Tim. I really appreciate you and David taking the time to stop me sinking into a little black puddle of angst...

KatW said...

I have moments of angst that are just like the one you describe. I feel I should be doing something to help all the suffering that exists in the world. And I feel indulgent writing when I could be doing something more....more life changing.

However, a friend once said to me that we all have our own purpose in life. A small gesture or idea can create big change. And I think of the numerous books that have had a signigicant impact on my life. From encouraging my passion for reading as a child to offering insight through fiction. Who knows, maybe one day we will write something that will change someones life for the better.

Kat :-) PS glad to have found your blog!

Alis said...

Thank you, Kat. I was searching for t-shirts for my god-daughters' birthday the other day (apostrophe not in wrong place, they're twins!) and found one which read 'flower where you're planted' which I think is what you're saying. From reading your blog, I can see you're someone who has learned to appreciate the extraordinary beauty in the everyday, so I am starting to recapture my vision of producing something worthwhile where I am instead of feeling guilty that I'm not somewhere else. Hope the eye continues to improve and dig your writing hut!

KatW said...
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