Each of us has a personal manifesto. Something inside us that drives us. Something that gets us up in the mornings. Something that gives our lives meaning. It may even be the thing that keeps us sane. For me that thing is writing. It’s how I make sense of the world around me. It’s how I sort through my thoughts. It’s how I share my ideas. It is my craft. It is the art I practise. It is the core of my identity. I write, because I must. Lately, I’ve been thinking more about my choice of subjects.
I often write about matters that are ugly, fraught, and anxiety-inducing: politics, race, fascism, climate change, and other unwieldy issues. It is emotionally draining to look at it all, process it, and try to find a way to discuss it meaningfully. I want the world to be a better place. I want to hold people accountable — especially my faves. I try to hold myself accountable. It’s a life of almost constant disappointment. It’s difficult not to descend into despair and melancholy. Sometimes I do. Then I write my way out of it in my journals. I’m not sure it’s the healthiest cycle. From time to time, I find myself wanting to be a different person — someone who writes about positivity and lifehacks and what brand of blender to buy. The truth is: I’m drawn to the darkness. I’m more comfortable there than I am under soft lighting. I am of the shadows, but I want to be made of the light.
I suppose to be conflicted is the human condition. We are an odd species. We work quite hard to create purely for pleasure and diversion. We admire beauty. We cry for characters we know are fictional. We express ourselves, and that expression affects others. I think that’s why I write what I write. I believe in the power of communication. I believe words can change people’s minds. I believe my words can change people’s minds. There is ego and arrogance attached to that sentiment. I understand that. Nevertheless, the conclusions I draw and the arguments I make aren’t easily won for me. I wrestle with them. There are some things I know myself to be right about, though: that we can’t kill the planet, that the violence of poverty is a scourge that must be ended, that leadership requires accountability.
Using language to persuade is a skill. People who aren’t writers often misunderstand how difficult it is to hone. Writing well is hard. It’s getting even harder, because nuance is being flattened by the reward system of social media, which elevates inflammatory emotionalism. We live in a clapback culture. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez negotiates it deftly, but it’s part of a larger communication strategy she’s executing. We’re watching her move the Overton Window on important political issues almost in real time. What makes her tweets effective is that they communicate meaning and are driving towards a real-life goal: political change. Most of her tweets also tell some kind of story and use powerful imagery. The meaning is conveyed in layers. She’s also often quote tweeting someone to dunk on them. Those rebuttals carry weight. There’s a lesson on how to communicate effectively in there that I think every writer should be examining. I will be.
Most people on Twitter aren’t Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, though. The clapbacks are just clapbacks. They’re messy and chaotic and lack precision. Hyperbole is the baseline. I think consuming communication like that affects people’s ability to properly assess information. I think the effects are even more intense for the people doing the communicating. How many people have we seen fumble the bag because they just had to get that tweet off? It’s deeper than posturing and grasping for retweets, though. There are people who need to express themselves clearly for good reasons, for good causes, and they can’t, because they’re caught up in this whirlwind of exchanging scathing takes. They can communicate aggressively, but the aggression often misses its true target, and no progress is made. The goal, the result, gets lost in the turmoil. The likes and retweets can mask that. I’m unsure of how to counteract these effects outside of continuing to respect the power of language.
It’s a struggle, but, no matter what, I’ll keep writing.