There have been so many terrible events in the past year that have depressed me, made me angry, and made me feel helpless. The most recent two that gave me a sucker punch right to the gut were the killing of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota by police officers.
After these two murders, I felt an enormous need to find a way to help more people rather than sit alone in my room, typing up stories about imaginary people. I’ve been asking myself for months: should I be doing something else that’s more helpful to people than being a writer?
Last week, I started looking for a job that would help people. I also looked for jobs that weren’t in the helping profession but were well-paid so that I could earn a lot of money and donate it to organizations fighting for social justice. I spent hours looking for jobs. I spent hours worrying about everything.
You know what?
After hours of all this, I felt worse than before I started.
It took some wise words from two different people to make me stop and realize that what I was doing was not helping. It wasn’t helping anyone and it especially wasn’t helping me.
The first person pointed out to me that by writing my stories and releasing them into the world, my stories have a chance to be of service to others, to help others.
The second person pointed out to me that the thing that has changed her the most, more than anything, are books. And she would have been devastated if the books that she loved had never been written.
Their words deeply resonated with me. After I stopped wheeling around in fear, sadness, and anxiety about the state of the world and humankind, I realized that the thing that comforts me the most during hard times is ART.
Art is what helps me.
Art is what heals me.
I thought about all the works of art that I’ve loved over the years and what my life would have been like had they never been created.
What if I had never seen the fantastic movie, The Wizard of Oz, when I was a little kid?
What if I had never read the awesome, heart-wrenching book, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, when I was in 6th grade?
What if I had never gazed upon the amazing illustrations by the astounding Garth Williams during most of my childhood?
These works of art are just a tiny sample of the many works of art that have helped me, inspired me, healed me, enlightened me, raised me up, and given me great joy throughout my life.
What if all this amazing art never got made because their creators thought they should be more “useful” and should just get a job?
Without them, I would have had a sadder life. I know it.
That’s when it hit me.
The world needs more of us, not less of us, to do what we love to do.
If all of us were able to do what we loved to do on a daily basis, we would have a better world. A more loving world. A more accepting world.
I need to keep creating and keep writing. It helps me. It heals me. And I never know how my art might help or heal someone else in the future.
The world needs artists, especially now.
Peg Cheng is the author of The Contenders, a middle-grade novel centered on the question, can enemies become friends? She is currently writing another novel that is a re-imagining of the Snow White fairy tale set in 1980s Seattle.