At noon today, January 20, 2017, a new administration takes over leadership in the US. Inauguration, balls, protests and marches will magnify every moment in Washington, DC this weekend. The first 100 days of the new administration will reveal just how much change is going to unfold and judge its benefits or detriments. To say the entire world is watching is not hyperbole. And writers cannot escape this gaze.
The US Press Corps has issued its stand in an open letter to Trump: “We believe there is an objective truth, and we will hold you to that.” Media has derailed in its quest for objective truth the moment advertising dollars oozed past the boundaries of editorial in an act of survival when print faded in the light of the rising digital sun. Media has long toyed with sensationalism to grab attention, often obscuring the truth to get readers. But now we live in an age of reality-TV masquerading as real and fake news making fools of all. We are now struggling with a post-truth era.
Let objective truth become your safe phrase.
We cannot hide from the events unfolding. To be an informed writer — even a novelist or poet or memoirist or creator of educational materials or creator of flash fiction — we must be informed readers. When it does not feel safe to read or listen to the news, often it is because of biases and worry over propaganda or fake news. Focus on objective truth. Read critically. Read deep. It might be tempting to scan the sound bites or let well-intentioned friends inform you in a Facebook post about those “six things you need to know about _______,” but seek the deeper reporting. Here’s my list of news sources:
- The New York Times (I pay for a monthly subscription)
- Associated Press
- PBS NewsHour
- Audible (I pay for a monthly subscription and follow Channels like Scientific America and Masters of Fiction)
- Pocast Republic
Be a critical reader. Even the best of journalists can express bias. At times, I’ve caught a tone of exasperation missed by an editor or perhaps added by one. Recognize tone and intent. Be on guard for bias. Occasionally read a source you know to be bias (liberal or alt-right) to compare the reporting on the same story. Know the difference between opinion and fact. Look for sources. Look up sources. Do some sleuthing on your own, don’t become reliant upon outlets like Snopes because then you are letting someone else think for you. Don’t “like” biased news, call out fake news or lies when correction is needed, and don’t copy and paste incomplete information from your BFF. Seek objective truth.
One of the challenges writers have when filling the mind-well is wanting to write about it, of course. Be aware that this is not a safe environment for writers. Journalists have called for solidarity. Many groups, such as #LinkYourLife offer private safe space on Facebook with member rules to protect the space and moderators to encourage participation. Carrot Ranch is an open literary community. Most writers participate in multiple social media platforms and write blog posts, articles or literary submissions. We express our thoughts and our thoughts are informed by what we experience and read or observe.
Yet, doing so makes writers vulnerable. What was intimate in our hearts and minds becomes words on a page. When we share those words publicly, we can’t control the reaction of others. Something as simple as an encouraging quote or an expressed opinion can receive negative feedback. Recently I posted a quote from Langston Hughes and endured a vitriolic debate from someone on Facebook who inappropriately associated the quote to an offensive art exhibit. And yet, I defended artists having the freedom of expression. It felt ironic because I didn’t feel so free in expressing myself. Another writer posted a political meme and was trolled on her Facebook page. Another writer wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post that created a media storm complete with public shaming from Bill O’Reilly and death threats.
So how do writers stay safe yet continue to write?
Know your boundaries. Find safe groups where you feel welcome and comfortable. Have a crisis plan. If you are new to blogging and are journaling personal thoughts and feelings, you can keep your blog private until you feel ready to share. Use your comfort to share as your cue. Sometimes, in order to grow, we have to expand beyond our safety zones, and being scared does not mean you are helpless. Set your boundaries on your social media and craft rules of what you will tolerate (you can block and report). I tolerated the vitriol on my FB because I want my posts to be public (part of my writer’s platform) and I knew the offender (my Hub’s opinionated cousin). The writer who was trolled on Facebook thought she could learn from opposing opinions, but it became clear it was an organized attack (by people she didn’t know) and she blocked them. The Washington Post writer rode out the storm with the help of her publicist.
Before negative remarks send you into a crisis, have a plan: don’t engage with anyone who makes you feel unsafe; know how to block and report offenders; reach out to moderators; adjust your level of sharing.
As someone who leads a literary community, safe space means a place where our writing is not critiqued in the normal academic way of tearing down. Trolls would never be an issue here and that is why I have tight security on my comment feed. It can be annoying when comments or pingbacks delay or even get lost but it’s worth keeping the space here safe from undue criticism. We also have some basic rules at Carrot Ranch which are always linked. In the three years we’ve been flashing as a community, only once did I have to send an email to an inappropriate commentor, and the writers never saw the comment. Of course, we are not the Washington Post or The New Yorker, but it’s important for writers to know that having a safe zone to practice creative writing — raw literature — is a priority at Carrot Ranch.
Each week we focus on writing flash fiction as play, the way musicians get together and jam. Writers often comment and the focus is on what is engaging in the flash, or craft techniques that worked well. A safe place for literary art practices appreciative inquiry to build upon a writer’s strengths. A safe place expresses adult ideas in content, and we keep them to the level of: would you share this with your boss. If not, give a content warning, post it on your own blog and link to it in the comments. It’s never been a problem to date, but worth explaining that there is a process for sharing extreme content.
Ultimately Carrot Ranch is a safe place for writers from diverse backgrounds to share across genres, topics and national origin. Literary art is the common ground for diversity.
Even fiction explores objective truth. In fact, fiction is most powerful when it clearly expresses truth. Just because we live in uncertain times does not mean we have to be uncertain about what we write. Perhaps we are called to be more mindful of what we write, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Safety is a reasonable concern. It’s my greatest hope you come here to write because you feel safe in expressing yourself in raw literature among this literary community. We learn from different perspectives and we grow when we dare to be brave.
It’s a new era, today. Hone your voice and write on.
A Note about the artwork: Hear Our Voice is by artist, Liz Donovan and is a free download from the Women’s March on Washington. The purpose is to amplify the messages women bring to the march. I’ll be marching on Saturday in a Sister March, holding a sign made from this artwork. My body guard and faithful dog march with me.
I’m a member and co-moderator of the Link Your Life group on Facebook which is a safe place to share writing links. The LYL Mod Squad has joined forces today to reflect upn what safe space does and doesn’t mean. Here’s the complete list:
Heavy Lifting: Accountability, ego and a safe team environment, By Shawna Ayoub Ainslie
What Is a Safe Space? by Drew Sheldon
What an Online safe space is and isn’t by Stacia Fleegal
Why this one life hack will change your life forever, by Raymond Baxter
The importance of safe spaces and how to understand them better – Link Your Life, by Charlotte Farhan
Harmony, by Rachel A. Hanson
How bringing others in improves healing and progress, by Thomas Ives