Yesterday I bought four tickets to see La Boheme at the Met in January. It is a gift to myself. I’m taking my husband, son and brother-in-law. Anyone who knows me, knows that this is one of those things that’s been on my bucket list for a while. I love listening to opera, but I’ve never actually seen an opera. In the past, I’ve tried to interest friends — even my husband — to come to an opera with me, but it seems my interest is not widely shared.
In the car, I was listening to a Moth podcast where Elif Shafak, a well-known Turkish writer, was talking about art and its role in society. She told a story about the 1999 earthquake in Turkey where more than 8,000 people lost their lives. At the time she was in the middle of writing a novel and she found it almost impossible to go back to her work in the face of such tragedy. Her writing felt small and insignificant, pointless even, in light of the world she was living in. It wasn’t writers block, but a crisis of faith. She said, “To me, to this day, this is one of the toughest dilemmas in my work: to have the faith, to have the belief that words matter, that words make a difference and connect us across the boundaries, and the sneaky suspicion that all art is in vain in the face of larger, darker world events. And between this optimism and pessimism my heart is a pendulum, it goes back and forth, back and forth…” She went on to tell of a neighbor, who after the quake, extended a kindness to her that was born of their shared experience. She said, “Perhaps at the end of the day, this is what we writers want to achieve with our stories, something to remain, a spontaneous bonding, a speck of empathy, and also the possibility of change.”
This resonated with me. There was a time when finishing my novel was the most important work I could imagine myself doing. But then there was a shift, a change, and the words felt pointless and insignificant, the work nothing more than an exercise in vanity. But in my heart, I know that it does matter. Art matters. Whether it’s on the stage of the Met or a draft file in my hard drive. I don’t want to let go just yet, but I’m not certain I can find my way back to the work that sustained me for so long or even make my way into something new. I still don’t know what my story is, but it’s not something I can know without beginning to put the words on the page. It’s a slow reveal. Always.
I don’t write as often as I used to. Not here on the blog, not anywhere for that matter. For me, the crisis of faith lingers. So I listen, and watch, and read. And pray that the pendulum in my own heart swings back to the side of optimism and hope again soon. Because the words are a gift, one that is meant to be shared.
I am still trying to process and figure out my post-cancer world. I am newly sobered by the experiences of the last year and a half, the lingering emotional fallout and the ongoing physical problems (problems, seems like such a big word in this case… maybe it’s more like physical glitches?).
But I am alive. I am here. And I am grateful.
And I know there’s a story to tell.