I love Dorothy Sayers’ book, What Do Women Want? With a wit like a sword, she makes the point that there is no such thing as ‘women,’ but only the actual woman you encounter. ‘Women’ is a facile lumping of a whole bunch of individual and various human beings into a label where, once they are swept under it neatly, they may be considered in the abstract. A much messier thing is the real, actual, unpredictable, living, breathing woman in front of you.
In the same vein, if I ask what ‘writers’ want, there is no particular answer, no real call to action. I can actually ignore the whole question by dealing with it in the abstract and coming to the conclusion that ‘they’ want (fill in the blank) my appreciation; sales; God’s approval; the satisfaction of writing well; or whatever else it is I can imagine for them without actually asking. I can spend time imagining helping ‘writers,’ or actually help them. When they are real people, they have names.
For example, I wanted to help Ann Lewis, Jennifer Fitz, Patty MacGuire Armstrong, Ellen Gable Hrkach, and some other actual people by plugging their books and blogs – because they put themselves out for me, personally, at the LIVE Conference (Hence, personal mention in Catholics Communicate Christ). I want to help Fr. Longenecker, Genevieve Kineke, Fr. Schall, Fr. Barron, Stratford Caldecott, and others, because their books have been of value to me, personally, and because they are still alive and might appreciate active appreciation of their work. The big names don’t much need my help, but everyone needs to know their work has an impact.
I’ve made a considerable investment in copies of Elizabeth Schmeidler’s The Good Sinner because I believe if anyone picks it up, they may be convinced not to abort a baby. It’s that simple: I believe this book will save lives by getting in under the radar where a page-turning plot and a fast pace are more welcome than all the arguments I can muster. Along the way, I’ve discovered a fellow Catholic author who has, like me, experienced the strange lack of support in the Catholic world for the work of writers and just needed some heartfelt encouragement. I can’t be as responsive to everyone’s work as I’ve been to hers, but I watch for the Holy Spirit to set before me other actual writers so that I may share in the work God has called them to do.
In the world’s understanding, the ‘artist’ operates alone, from the wellspring of his or her own being, where ideas are generated via personal genius and are the means of personal expression. In the Catholic understanding, the true artist is receptive to God’s ideas and nurtures them to fruition for His glory. This sort of writing should be considered the ‘burden’ of the whole Church, but too often only the writer feels the double burden of writing and then self-promotion. If I raise children, the whole Catholic school system comes along to help me accomplish my work. If I am a missionary, I can beg for the help of every Catholic I meet to accomplish the will of God. If I am called to religious life, a great training program is provided for my edification and guidance.
If I am a writer, however, I am on my own and no one else seems to consider taking any responsibility for ‘raising up’ my ‘babies. I don’t mean to whine, only to point out that, as writers, we need to develop a community of actual persons who – because we understand this unique aloneness – seek to burden ourselves with the actual needs of our fellow writers (and, maybe, teach others the importance of doing so!). I can’t judge anyone else’s degree of responsiveness, because it’s a matter between each person and the Holy Spirit who He brings into your sphere of response-ability. I certainly do not take up every single book, or author, or cause with the same zeal. I only mean to suggest that if our fellow writers remain abstractions to us, we won’t be faced with their real need for our help. I hope, through the Guild, to become more ‘actually’ connected with more members, so that I will be able to be touched by their cries for help. I also hope to develop a greater sense, in the Church, that writers need ‘sending community,’ patronage, and support that gets real, actual, physical.
In my booklet 25 Ways to Help an Artist (free) I ask, “What have you done for art lately?” It’s so common to find a vague ‘appreciation’ for the ‘arts’ without the kind of rubber-meets-the-road action that really helps cultivate art. It’s the same thing Dorothy pointed out about theoretical help for ‘women,’ or ‘the poor’. I would like to hear how you are investing in the cultivation of good Catholic writing? Do you write book reviews? Do you give copies of good books to Church libraries and friends? Do you budget money to spend buying new Catholic books? You might translate some ideas from ‘The Art of Low-Cost Patronage‘ and let us know some creative ways you act as patron to fellow writers. Please share your ideas, and stimulate us all to action that engages our freedom!!!
If anyone is to fight against the virtualization, atomization, abstraction and nihilism of this world, shouldn’t it be Word People, like us?!?! I’d like to hear how you’re doing it! Thanks, Charlotte