Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner

a basket of writing from author Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner

About writing through writer’s block: one step at a time

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I’ve been quiet lately on a lot of fronts. I saw the news on the destruction on Vanuatu, read the letters and pleas from a mutual friend on 350.org. A week or so later wind like we’d never seen whipped through our backyard during my grandmother’s funeral in our home, ripping through the tents set up in the backyard for mourners, taking down branches and trees. We found out later that whatever caused that wind, had continued on to upturn and destroy houses in Yap, in Chuuk. I stayed quiet again, wondering what could be done, what kinds of donations could be made, whether or not we could arrange a fundraiser. I talked it over with my students, considered options. I had also heard of flooding on Kili atoll once again, a letter from the Mayor asking for donations. A few weeks later, my friends posted photographs of themselves with the #wearemaunakea hashtag. I did some research, found out there was a massive movement of Hawaiians and allies coming together to protect Mauna Kea against a massive telescope. I taught a lecture on the movement, had my students take photos of themselves with posters showing their solidarity. Then Nepal, another devastation. Then Baltimore.

Sometimes, I wonder how people can stay so in touch, with news, with facebook and twitter. How do we stay on top of all the different issues around the world? How do we show solidarity without just liking and sharing statuses, retweeting and favoriting? And is it ok to be exhausted? To unplug? It seems easier, instead, to focus on the right now. To look up recipes, start making green smoothies, play with baby, grade some papers, hit the gym, watch a volleyball game. But does that mean we’re shutting off our empathy? Does that mean we’re tuning out? I’ve always found my ability to empathize to be an important aspect of why I can write. I think to write well, you’d need to be able to understand other people, you’d need to be able to connect to yourself, to your emotions. So I deliberately try my best to stay in touch with my emotions, to stay connected to the world around me. I worry that if I were to shut off my emotions, I would shut off my writing.

I have to admit something else. I’ve been suffering from some serious writer’s block. I’ve owed articles, poems, etc, and haven’t been able to write a damn thing. Who am I to write on what happened in Vanuatu? Who am I to say anything about Yap and Chuuk, when I couldn’t organize a fundraiser to support them? All these questions, insecurities, and hell maybe just life – being busy, being a mom and a full time faculty, all have contributed to a very dry well of inspiration and creativity.

Either way, this blog post was my attempt to dig myself out of this writer’s block. One step at a time I’ve been telling myself this past week. I’ve been feeling that itch – a consistent itch these past few months, and weeks. This itch to write. But I blocked it off for so long, told myself whatever I have to write is not worthy, not smart enough, not brave enough. Not sure where that voice came from. But it was only this past week that I told myself hey – just write a blog post. See where it can go from there. Put yourself out there once more, make yourself real and vulnerable, a tangible object of flesh and thoughts, memory and sound. Even if you’re not inspirational. Even if you don’t have the answers. Even if it means exposing yourself as human, as flawed, as real. Why not?

Author: Kathy/Dede

Kathy Jetnil Kijiner is a Marshallese poet and activist. Her writing highlights the traumas of colonialism, racism, forced migration, the legacy of American nuclear testing, and the impending threats of climate change. Bearing witness at the front lines of various activist movements inspires her work and has propelled her poetry onto international stages. She has performed her poetry in front of audiences ranging from elementary school students to most recently over a hundred world leaders at the United Nations Climate Summit, where she performed a poem to her daughter, "Dear Matafele Peinam". Currently she lives and works in the Marshall Islands, where she teaches Pacific studies courses full time at the College of the Marshall Islands. She is also Co-Director of the youth environmentalist non-profit Jo-Jikum, which empowers youth by educating them on the importance of environmentalism and mobilizing them to work toward solutions for environmentalist issues. Check out their website: www.jojikum.org

One thought on “About writing through writer’s block: one step at a time

  1. Indeed Kathy. We can’t always write the masterpiece and save the world. Sometimes we need to recharge or play or do nothing!
    It’s very easy to get overly busy and over stimulated. I believe we need silence and stillness to create our best. Thanks for sharing your truth. blessings, Brad

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