Inspired by a recent trip to one of my favorite bakeries, The Bread Farm, in Edison, WA, I baked bread today. Sourdough dill. Their motto, "Make bread not war" (thank you, John and Yoko), elevates baking to a higher social and political realm. Can one be an activist in the kitchen? We certainly think so, but not only by baking bread. Ever since my husband (who prefers not to be named, so I will call him C) and I made the commitment to choose local, non-GMO, and organic ingredients in our cooking whenever possible, we have felt good about supporting those food growers and suppliers who share our commitment. And we have felt good about protecting the earth in small ways. It's hard to say whether the guests at our bed and breakfast appreciate that their food is organic and local. Some do. We're careful not to jump on the soapbox with our guests, after all, they didn't pay to stay at our place and hear our political opinions.
But should that caution spread to my writing? When do political views in writing cross the line into proselytizing? Last week I had dinner with a fellow writer who is interested in democratic processes for protecting the environment, and I told her many of the writers I know feel they can't or shouldn't be "too political" in their writing. Of course, we all understand that our values become apparent through our talk and actions, so it's not as if we can sanitize writing of politics. The question is how much is too much? And for me the questions are also how much courage do I have to share my social, political, and environmental ideas and ideals? Will anyone care to read those things? Will anyone care to read work without them? If I shy away from expressing what's important to me, do I strip the core and gravitas from my writing? One of my biggest fears is that I will offend others. And yet, by engaging in a democratic dialogue, one is bound to express ideas others don't agree with, and any offense taken is perhaps indicative of an unwillingness or inability on their part to listen as part of the democratic process. Though, truth be told, most of the time I have more questions than ideas, so maybe the listening role is more up to me.
Certainly writers do considerably more "listening," including research and reading, than actual writing. I guess I'm just talking myself through (and perhaps into) the idea of being more honest in my work, and not letting fears dilute the writing. The opposite end of the pendulum swing would be to write something with such a blatant political agenda the art of the writing suffers. I'm about 100 pages into Dave Eggers' The Circle, and wondering if he may have done exactly that. Pages and pages describing the corporate culture of the the Circle, but, as yet, minimal plot. Obviously, there's a balance, but having the objectivity to recognize what is or isn't working is the tricky part. Insert the predictable comparisons to bread dough and finding the right balance of ingredients, temperature, etc., etc. Or simply write with candor and trust the story or essay or poem more than any political movement that may be trying to assert its influence. Then bake. And make bread, not war.
Jill McCabe Johnson's research and writing practice follow the tradition of the French Medieval poetic form, the "chanson d'aventure" or song of adventure, where a writer walks into a new environment for enlightenment and inspiration.