Some things can only be said adequately in metaphor, in stories or verses that indicate, disrupt the rational mind, switch on a light as the sun sets at the end of day…
I write out of a sense of crisis. When I was born, 2.5 billion people lived on the planet. In six decades we have surpassed 7.1 billion, headed to 10 billion by mid-century. Anyone who thinks we can do this, and do it at the level of consumption to which we have accommodated ourselves, is, well, wrong. Something fundamental is occurring. An age of industrial expansion, mastery over nature, and economic growth is coming rapidly to an end.
Every day in the work I do I confront this truth. And every day in my writing, I find myself of necessity writing with that in mind, my context, my material, my font. I don’t know how to write anymore without that as my reference point, or at the very least its background noise.
I have written stories from my human rights work of the past and my spirituality and ecology work of the present. I write stories of real people; I write descriptions and accounts of real environmental disaster and danger. But often the metaphor or the image is what bursts through to communicate what it is we are all a part of, what we are experiencing right now in our lives and our relationships, the stresses and anxieties of living in such a time, when everything is ferment and change, when old understandings are breaking down.
Memoir is its major form now as I trace the multi-generational roots of the Myth of the [Unsustainable] American Dream through the stories of my ancestors and their descendants. I took up poetry recently as a way to hone the writing craft, and then discovered poetry to be a powerful tool for bringing about impasse, that break with the rational mind that feels so necessary now.
I felt it after Newtown. I felt it in Oak Creek last August, or in seeing Lower Manhattan under water--what it will be like as things fall apart. And my question: how will we do?
Writers need to address these things openly and honestly. Cultural workers have something crucial to offer to the transition time coming, something that could help soften the harsh edges of these difficult times. What we need, I think, is the work that stops the flow of our habitual western mind, the stories, the verses, that bring us back to ourselves, that help us see the way the wind makes a tree bend just so, or how the thick waves under the surface of the lake as they press against the ice floes make them creak and sway (or undulate, one of my favorite words), or the impacts of mining tar sands for oil, or of opening an open pit mine in the north woods. We need culture workers to help us see this future from the vantage point of the little ones who cuddle in our arms and look to us for trust and reassurance that being alive is a good thing.
Telling stories, sharing poems and songs, has been part of the human journey since before a word was ever written down. Cultural work taken on in the context of community, and imbued with a commitment to truth, beauty, and hope, will be essential to how we live through and beyond the end of this world, and for indicating just how it is that a new one is emerging.
Margaret Swedish is a writer/speaker currently working on a project called Spirituality and Ecological Hope. She has written two books, Like Grains of Wheat: A Spirituality of Solidarity, about the impact of the Central American solidarity movement on U.S. people of faith, and Living Beyond the ‘End of the World:’ A Spirituality of Hope, which describes the ecological crises unfolding in our times. She is currently working on a multi-generational memoir connecting her deep ancestral/immigrant roots in
to the myth of the unsustainable American Dream. Relatively new to poetry, her first published poems appeared in Verse Wisconsin , Vol 110, October 2012. She also blogs about writing at “Swedish in Wisconsin : My Life as a Writer,” (http://milwaukeereflections.blogspot.com/). Milwaukee