Toni Morrison on Handling Dread & Despair

One day, some years ago, Toni Morrison could not write.

She was staring out the window. It was winter, the day after Christmas. Her mood was dark. She was depressed, and paralyzingly so, about the elections.

There was a novel she had begun, but she felt too immobilized to continue it. Writing, she said, was her way of thinking. She got up before dawn, made coffee, drank it while watching the rising sun, then wrote.

It was how she made her place in the world, especially when she could not be content with what happened in it. But this state of affairs felt too lightless, too much.

Her phone rang. It was a friend, Peter. How are you? he asked. Ms. Morrison started, I’m depressed, paralyzed, I can’t write- but her friend cut her off.

No! Peter shouted. This time you’re living in is just the time when artists must work. Not when all is right with the world, but now, in the moments of dread.

Ms. Morrison remembered that shout long after it came out. In times of dread, there is no place for despair, self-pity, or silence, she resolved.

Years later, she recounted the phone call in The Nation. “The world is bruised and bleeding,” she wrote. “And though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence.”

So write, make, do the work of creating. And never more so than when dread has arrived.

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