This is a tough season for many of us to get through, especially if we live in northern states where the cold and darkness are pervasive. The holiday season with its lights and parties and cheerful frenzy may help to buffer us a bit, but it’s hard to completely escape the effects of shortening days and below freezing temperatures. Add the news cycle and you’ve got a recipe for despair. This year the news seems especially grim. TV, radio, newspapers, as well as social media are filled with distressing reports of shootings and drug overdoses and political buffoonery.
I reached the Age of Complaint some time ago. That’s the phase of life when conversations with your peers focus on lamenting how badly young people are being raised, how dismal social and educational standards are now, how grim the future looks because young people are entitled, spoiled, and lazy. In writing circles, we also talk a lot about the death of the novel, the demoralizing state of publishing, and the disheartening lack of interest in reading among young people.
I suppose there’s a grain of truth in all these complaints, but I remember my parents complaining about very similar things. And I know that a little history checking will show that similar laments were voiced more than two thousand years ago.
On a recent bleak winter afternoon, I spent a few hours as a visiting writer sitting in with two classes of ninth graders in a nearby public school. The classroom atmosphere was a lot more chaotic and effervescent than the classrooms of my youth. We sat behind tables (not desks) in a big square. The boys clustered on one side of the square and the girls on the other. (Some things don’t change.) The students’ clothing and postures were non-conforming and individualized. They were relaxed but respectful – and brimming with energy.
They asked questions and so did I – we talked some about my novel, but mostly about writing and reading. And I came away with something I didn’t expect: optimism about the future.
Contrary to the complaints of my peers, these young people were curious and creative and motivated to learn. And they loved to read. They got very excited about books they loved, and they told me that many of them spent a lot of their free time writing fan fiction and posting it online where they received feedback and inspiration from other young writers. They were bubbling over with ideas and the desire to express them. It truly warmed my heart.
So if the complaints of your peers or the apocalyptic sound bytes of the daily news cycle have got you down, here’s a solution worth considering: Turn off the news and social media and spend some time with a class of ninth graders.
It just might cheer you up.