A writer’s brain is something like a mountain stream. It rollicks downhill, cascading in gouts of churning white foam over razor sharp rocks. It meanders dreamily around lazy bends in the riverbed. Sometimes it hurls itself off cliffs and pulverizes the stones below with its immense gravity. And eventually it dumps itself out into an ocean or lake brimming with the contents of other streams, other minds.
The stream also plays host to a panoply of life: the fish swimming upstream in their scaly mail, the bears whose merciless jaws slam shut on the hapless fish, the infinitesimal specks that feed upon everything else. All of which is lovely and poetic and whatever. Ideas are living things, is the point, and the current that beats at them and bears them along is fueled by the work the writer is willing to put in to those ideas. A flowing stream is a healthy stream. A stream that does not flow stagnates and rots.
But a stream also collects anything that falls into it. Dead critters. Tin cans. Toxic runoff. These things can poison the waters and taint everything that comes from it.
And there is a lot of poison threatening our streams, of late.
A lot of writers — in my circle, at least — are the liberal sort, and it’s hard to view the daily news, living in Trump’s America, as anything but a literal toxic cloud. (And I imagine even non-liberals are feeling a little more heartburn than they expected, these days.) It becomes very hard to write coherently and fulfillingly when you’re living in existential dread for the future of your country, of your loved ones, hell, even the planet.
But the stream only purifies itself by flushing the toxins out. We have to keep writing, even when we’d rather not, because we’ll never get clear of this stuff if we don’t let it in, process it, and then purge it. That means writing every day, even just a little. Not letting the stream stagnate. The writing is like a stream. A few words becomes a sentence. A sentence flows into a paragraph. Paragraphs pile up and become pages.
And while we’re at it, we can also protect our streams. Limit our exposure to the whirling crap tornado, walling ourselves off from it where and when we can. Build a chamber — metaphorical for most of us, unless you’re one of those Neil Gaiman types who can indulge in a literal chamber of solitude — into which we allow only so much poison. Cut back on the news. Don’t go rage-reading every story pointing out incompetence and malevolence. Don’t go hate-sharing every link on facebook, every subversive tweet.
Don’t simmer, in other words, in the toxic stew that threatens your stream.
Stay plugged in — because what they really want is for you to give up and stop paying attention — but don’t try to grasp at every thread of the fraying tapestry. Grab hold of one or two strings. Engage enough to get good and angry and motivated. And then stop the flow of the poison. You can’t fix it all. You can’t properly get upset about every little thing that happens. And that, too, is a source of poison: the feeling that it’s all too big. Luckily, there are others of us out there picking up the slack.
We can’t avoid the pollution, but that doesn’t mean we have to drown ourselves in it. Stay afloat. Keep the waters flowing. Keep writing.
This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.