"Hey there. Just checking in to see how the new novel is coming.”
It’s not as if the email from my editor was a surprise. After all, the book is due in January. And I’d known that for, well, a really long time. Still, seeing the question in print made the fact that I had almost nothing to show her seem like it might now be an issue.
Rather than ignore the question, which is what I wanted to do, I decided to be honest. The problem, I wrote back, is that I want to write something that shows readers—in this case young adults—how they can begin to fix what’s wrong with the world. And the problem with that is that I have absolutely no idea what to tell them.
I assume that you’ve been paying attention to the news. If you have, you’ll know that things are just the tiniest bit horrible at the moment. Environmental disasters. Political sideshows. That Game of Thrones ending. There’s just not a lot of good happening right now.
“Look on the bright side,” a friend said to me the other day. “We’ll be dead soon and won’t have to worry about it.”
While this may be ever-so-slightly reassuring, the fact is, someone will have to worry about it. Specifically, young people. And if I were a young person right now, I’d be both very worried and very pissed off.
Not that it’s just young people, of course. Most people I know, of all ages, wish there was something we could do to fix what’s happening around us. And most of us don’t know where to begin.
More and more, we’re exhausted just trying to keep up. We have bills to pay, relationships to maintain, parents and/or children to take care of, pets to feed. Then there are all those episodes of Killing Eve on the DVR, waiting to be watched. How are we supposed to find time to halt the juggernaut that is carrying us all closer and closer to the edge?
The other morning Cubby, along with our housemate, and I went out for breakfast. As I sat staring at the menu, trying to decide between hash browns and grits, eggs over easy or scrambled, bacon or sausage, all I could think about was kids in cages, Russian meddling in our presidential elections, and soaring global temperatures. There was an endless list of things way more important than what I was going to consume next, and yet none of it was manageable. And I was hungry.
I sat there trying to think of one thing that I thought would make a difference. Just one. But why write or call my representatives demanding they do something when most of them are part of the problem? Why throw money at the organizations fighting the good fight when the decks are stacked against them? Why do anything when the supposed leader of my country tweets a stream of lies day in and day out and calling him out on it only makes him more popular amongst his fanbase?
This is the problem with evil—it becomes so pervasive, so overwhelming, that it convinces you that it can’t be defeated. One of my favorite books when I was growing up was Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. The antagonist is the Dark Thing, a monstrous blackness that envelops planets and destroys individual thought and personal freedom. Seeing it, the children who are the protagonists of the story sink into despair, thinking that there’s no way to stop it. But the magical beings aiding them in their journey tell them that there is hope, that there are lights that fight the darkness, artists and scientists and truthtellers who punch holes in the dark one at a time, until the small patches of light join together to obliterate it.
A Wrinkle in Time was written in 1962, six years before my birth. Reading it as an adolescent, it did give me hope. But now, almost 60 years after that book’s publication, I find it harder to believe. I also find myself wanting to give a new generation the same message and don’t know how to do it convincingly. In some ways, it feels like almost nothing has changed, that despite the advances we’ve made, the Dark Thing is now gaining strength and size.
I’ll write my book, because it’s all I know how to do. I don’t know quite what it will be about yet, but I’ll write it. And I’ll try to patch together the little bits of hope that still remain inside me to create a light bright enough to shine through the darkness. Whether it will be enough, I don’t know. But some days all we can do is try. ▼
Michael Thomas Ford is a much-published Lambda Literary award-winning author.