A Plea to Writers by Jen Violi

As writers, the best and most we have to give are words—and how we sort them and sift them and toss them out, like seeds for the birds, or beads in a Mardi Gras parade, or breadcrumbs in a fairy tale forest.

And that’s plenty.  That’s what I’d call a jam-packed tool belt, or fanny pack.  Choose your own metaphor.

I love a scene in the film, What the BLEEP Do We Know?  Midway through, Marlee Matlin’s character stares in a mirror, shouting things at herself like “You suck!”  The loathing rumbles and rises and ends in her actually smashing the glass with her hand.  In the wake of that outburst, she realizes the raw energy she possesses to label herself, the power to inflict words.  She pauses, and she makes a different choice.

She takes out a sparkly blue eyeliner pencil.  With tenderness, she inscribes words of affirmation on her arms and legs, letting them sink into her skin.

I will admit to moments when I’ve had my own mirror showdown, or if a mirror hasn’t been handy, still found a way to berate myself with a list of shitty things I’ve done or am.  And I’ll tell you what, telling yourself shitty things only leads to, well, more shitty things.

Raise your hand if you need more shitty things.

No one?


Right.  Okay.

When I worked at Tai Sophia Institute in Maryland, one of the founders, Bob Duggan, would often note how there was no shortage of affirmation in the world, that no one felt like she was getting way too much praise or he had to really cut back on that compliment intake.  So true.  The other founder, Dianne Connelly even wrote a lovely book called Medicine Words, about the power of our words to be remedies, tinctures, and salves.

Both Dianne and Bob reinforced something that I’d long believed:  words heal, and we need them.

I’m conscious of those truths this week, when our news and Facebook feeds overflow with stories and words that break our hearts and spirits, with reports of violence and tragedy.  I’m conscious of those truths daily, knowing through our online connections to local, national, and world news, that such horrors are not confined to this week.

And my belief is this:  we writers have the opportunity to offer some balance.  The darkness appears to be well-covered.  Terror, well-tended.  And so, I believe we must write to the heights and the depths of light, to give light its due.  We must weave stories of hope, threading our way through the dark and the light, offering reminders that both define human experience.  Making flashlights and torches and beacons of our words.

So all of ye word-wielders and writerly beings, let’s be EWT’s:  Emergency Word Technicians.  Let us declare ourselves the source of on-the-spot healing, whether with our pens or our keyboards or the music of our own spoken voices.

And in the back of the ambulance, let us carry the most potent and time-tested cures and ointments:

“I love you” is a handy word tourniquet.

“Peace” offers the equivalent of three days’ bedrest.

“How can I help?” makes a sturdy cane.

“I’m sorry” creates some potent Icy Hot.

“You are beautiful” contains about 4 billion milligrams of vitamin C, much more than the daily allowance.

One of my sweetest memories is of a spring afternoon on a backyard blanket in Mid-City in New Orleans, with three people and one beagle, all dear to me.  Inspired by that movie scene and armed with an array of eyeliners, we spent several hours in the sunshine writing lovely words and funny words and drawing pictures epic and simple onto each other’s hands and faces and backs and arms and feet.

We wrote love onto each other and joy into the day.  We gifted each other with words.  Although I can’t speak to the experience of the others in attendance, I can tell you with certainty that those words decorated and held and healed me.  They still do.  Because I let them, and because they can.

So writer friends, will you join me?  No certifications needed, but plenty of work to do.  Who’s in?


Note:  No beagle was written on in the making of this blog post.  She would never have allowed it anyway.


About Jen Violi


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