“All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald
For years I’ve kept this quote pinned to the wall above my writing desk. In the past, I understood it to be about the murk of the writing process, the lack of narrative clarity that can keep a writer from finishing her story, the mental and emotional darkness I often have to push through before I can break the surface of a story and see its real intentions.
This year, however, I’ve begun reading the quote differently. This year, the world has been a dark tide, and I have felt lost for words beneath its tow. How can I write now? I’ve often asked myself. What value can any story possibly have when we’re all drowning?
I’ve had to work harder to remind myself of what I have known to be true all my reading life: Stories are lifeboats. I have been saved by fiction more than once. (Picture miserable me at age thirteen, reading Alcott’s Little Women in the back of the middle school library. Picture me at age twenty-three, rudderless, broke, picking up a copy of Robinson’s Housekeeping at a used bookstore sale. Picture me at thirty-two re-reading Munro’s “The Moons of Jupiter” and weeping in the rocking chair as my baby sleeps in my arms.) Stories have always been my life vest, my rope, my buoy in deep waters.
So, in the midst of this period of murky uncertainty, I’m reaching out again for the raft of literature. I’m reading (and reading and reading). And I’m also connecting with other writers. On April 15th, Hugo House and Write Our Democracy are co-hosting a reading and write-in to support free speech and the essential role of the arts in a thriving democracy. I’ll be there at Hugo House that Saturday, ready to listen, ready to be inspired, and (maybe breathlessly, maybe blindly) ready to keep writing.
Kirsten Sundberg Lunstrum is the author of two collections of short fiction, This Life She’s Chosen and Swimming With Strangers. Her short fiction has appeared widely in journals, and she has been the recipient of a PEN/O. Henry Prize and fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Sewanee Writers Conference, and the Jack Straw Writers Program. She teaches fiction writing at Hugo House and is a member of the faculty at a small, independent high school near Seattle.