Close your eyes, for just a moment, and imagine a police officer being sworn in. Perhaps you picture a young man, back stiff and proud, pressed suit and gleaming badge unable to hide the pride in his eyes. Or maybe you see a woman, tough, defiant, determined to buck trends and fight discrimination. An old man, finally fulfilling his dream; a crippled survivor, determined to fight and keep on fighting. The paths of imagination are endless. But there comes a point, in this story, where every single version you can imagine merges and take the same path. The officer steps forward, raises a hand, and repeats an oath. And, though the exact wording may vary slightly, the content is always the same. Because to be a police officer means to answer a calling—the same calling every police officer answers.
To protect and serve.
Which makes me wonder: do we writers have a calling?
We have obligations, certainly. So many it’s hard to count. We’re communicators and, as communicators, we’re obligated to communicate in the clearest way possible. As creatives, we’re obligated to create something new, something unique. There’s our obligation to art, to teaching the world the importance of expression: that after empires crumble and dreams are forgotten, words remain. We’re entertainers, and we’re obligated to entertain—to entertain and to keep entertaining, to write tales that sweep you away and help you escape; to prove once and for all, to all those naysayers who ramble on about how the written word is no longer important because people’s attention span is shortening, that attention span will only ever be the second most important part of writing.
That good content will always reign supreme.
But when that’s all over—when we’ve entertained and created and communicated—is there nothing . . . more? Is writing solely for writing’s sake enough?
The words are almost sacrilegious to write. One of the most fundamental rules to creative writing is that writing has to be for writing’s sake. Anything else is a cheapening of the art. And yet I wonder. Media is a huge influencer on how people think and act—not in some ominous, conspiratorial way, but simply because we pay attention to it so much. That means that we, as members of the media, have the ability to reach out to people—complete strangers, people we’ll probably never meet—and uplift them. Inspire them. Even if it’s just one person—should we not do so, simply because it would cheapen our art? When did the future of art become more important than the ability to inspire people in the present?
This question has been on my mind lately. Every morning, on my way to work, I read the news. They say that news outlets love sensational stories, that you shouldn’t judge the state of the world from the news, but the sheer amount of those sensational stories—those horrible, heartbreaking stories—just seems to be increasing, and the more stories you read, the more they seem to merge, to blur into one cohesive whole, as if it’s all the same story, as if the entire world is screaming out, over and over: enough, enough, enough.
And when the world screams, should we not answer?
I don’t know if there’s a uniform answer to this question. Perhaps every writer needs to answer it his- or herself. But this Hanukkah, I found mine.
For those unfamiliar with the story, there were two miracles that occurred over Hanukkah. The day before Hanukkah, a small army made up of rather feeble, untrained rabbis defeated the powerful military might of the Greeks. Then, on Hanukkah itself, those same rabbis entered the Temple to light the Menorah—only to find a single jug of oil remaining, with just enough for one night. Miraculously, it lasted for eight.
And here’s the interesting part—Hanukkah is the celebration of that second miracle.
For me, I feel Hanukkah came just in time this year. It reminded me that the world might be dark, but we’re a light. I don’t need to go to war against the darkness or try to fix the world. All I have to do is be a light—perform acts of kindness, spare a moment to help strangers out—and the dark will recede, become a little less.
Because even a small light can chase off the dark.
Beyond my commitment to entertain, beyond my requirement to express—I, as a writer, have a calling. To be a light, to show others that they can be a light, too.
And I’m gonna burn.
Eli Landes is one of those weird writers who just can't get enough. A marketing writer by day and a fiction writer whenever he can squeeze in the time, he spends his spare time working on his novel, writing short fiction, or daydreaming (I mean, researching). His main genre is Jewish fiction, but he's been known to dabble in the weird, the absurd, and the truly dark.