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Watching the Chilean Mine rescues, I was struck by the miners who wrote while trapped underground. Victor Segovia was designated the biographer and Victor Zamora the poet. Segovia kept the daily record. Zamora, it was reported, kept spirits high by penning rhyming, humorous verses that were read aloud and then dispatched to friends and family keeping vigil above-ground.
I come from a family full of men who do hard, dirty, dangerous work, who bend steel with fire and traverse the sky on a network of two-foot beams. These same men read more books in a month than the average American reads in a year, a fact that surprises some folks.
When I heard about the trapped miners and the efforts to reach them with supplies, my first thought was to send books. It’s what I would want, books and a light to read by. I think they did receive books and magazines and other reading material, but they didn’t rely on other people’s words to fill their days. They wrote their own stories.
There are people who believe that we should not spend public money on libraries or arts programs. Art isn’t a necessity, the argument goes; it’s not like clean water or safe roads or fire protection. Yet, when trapped underground for more than two months, a group of men who work with their hands turned to literature. Some men wrote and shared what they’d written. Some men listened and, I suspect, provided feedback and asked questions. They formed a literary community.
Writing is a rather solitary pursuit, but words bring people together. It’s why we go and listen to our favorite authors read aloud from their latest works. It’s why we form book groups. It’s why we take workshops and solicit the opinions of other writers. It’s one way of shaking off the loneliness. And, yes, it is a necessity.
I’ll be shaking off the loneliness this weekend with Colson Whitehead and fellow Lighthousers. If you haven’t already bought your tickets for one or all of the events, I encourage you to do so immediately. The shared experience is just as important as the hard work we do alone. It provides sustenance for future work and reassurance that what we are writing matters. I need that. I suspect everyone does.