Friday, January 28, 2005

tough decisions

Still in Honduras, leaving today. Been doing a lot of thinking on this trip. Heard some horror stories, sad stories... the girl left tied to a tree by her parents, forced to stand in one position outside all day, who was starved and her limbs so restricted they didn't fully form. She's 13 now and in a group home, but she doesn't talk. The priest, Fr. Patricio, whom we met yesterday. He selects the poorest of the poor children for his feeding program because there are so many and he can't feed them all. "I can't feed them all. I feed those I can, the hungriest."

There was a little girl waiting outside, hovering, really in the doorway, looking inside as the children under 6 were getting their daily glasses of milk. She looked so sad. Her face was burnt and she stood there, just waiting. This was the milk we are providing Fr. P., but still, he can only feed so many. And we asked her, her name was Yamileth, why she waited. She told us, "I'm hungry and I'm hoping to get some milk." She was 9, and too old for the program. But if the priest fed her, the other older children would find out and he'd have to feed everyone and he just doesn't have enough. He has to feed the most vulnerable, the very young, who sometimes get ignored in their large families and don't get fed. Jesus, those kids they were feeding, that was IT for them... they don't eat anything else. Nada. That was their meal. A lousy glass of milk we're supplying and some raisin bran a Canadian organization donated.

We got Yamileth a glass of milk. Her smile was as if we'd handed her a diamond necklace.

I can't imagine being Fr. Pat, having to make these tough decisions, wanting to feed them all and he can't. More than half of Honduras' population is under 15. And he told me 80 percent of the people are living in poverty. There is no middle class. Just the very wealthy and the very poor.

So i'm doing some tough thinking of my own. Tough decisions.

Maybe it's time for me to quit writing. I don't know... am I really cut out for the world of romance? Do I want to keep continuing the struggle of trying to get books published? The frustration, the pressure? Does it really matter anyway? I mean, if I quit, no one's going to miss my books. And this work I do. 11 years of traveling in the Third World, seeing tears and pain and poverty and sharing laughter as well, but I'm so weary right now and depressed... and all the work I do, does it really do any good? For all the people I help feed, another goes hungry and another. And some die. Have I really done any good in 11 years of working as a writer to raise money to help the poor?

Maybe it's time for a real soul-searching change. Take a long break. Become a pool cleaner or a bag lady at Publix. Paper or plastic? I'm too damn depressed right now to think about it. Maybe tomorrow. I'll be Scarlett O'Hara. I won't think about that today. I'll think about it tomorrow.


McVane said...

I have had that crisis so many times that it's not even funny. I work in entertainment, which is deemed 'shallow' and meaningless by many in the public. Especially when it's compared with other industries, such as international voluntary work, nursing, firefighting service, awful things that go on in this world [whether it's a third world country or not], etc. Whenever I get obsessed with ratings, I sometimes felt guilty knowing that there are people out there who're struggling to survive.

I came to realise that while what we do cannot save people from dying and such, we CAN provide means of escapism, an opportunity for them to travel to another world. Even if it's just for 120 minutes. It's also a place where we provide insights into 'real' world that they wouldn't otherwise know, e.g. CITY OF GOD, PIXOTE, SALAAM BOMBAY!, CRY FREEDOM and many more. I think this is same with books.

You know, every bit we do does contribute to make the world a better place, even it doesn't seem so. And, of course, these economic and social problems will never be completely erased.

Let's face it - if you stop writing, readers might not notice, but if you die, people in Honduras might not notice either. In ideal world, everyone would be well fed and happy, but it's not going to happen. It's a fact. It's down to you, really, in how could you make peace with that piece of knowledge.

If it means giving up romance writing, then so be it. Who knows, when you're ready, you can always return. That's one good thing about writing, there is no retirement age on it. :)

Your question: "Have I really done any good in 11 years of working as a writer to raise money to help the poor?" While books cannot feed people like those in Honduras, it can and may feed spiritual needs, e.g. housebound disabled readers who cannot get out and about, readers who struggle against financial problems, readers who go through a loss of marriage, death or such, readers who try to recover from something traumtic, so many more. We will never know for sure, but we do know that there is always at least one person who find relief in books like yours.

Perhaps you could organise a multi-author writing project to make a contribution towards Fr. Patricio's program? An anthology, perhaps? Or you could create a web page attached to your web site, highlighting these sorts of problems, encourage readers to help out somehow? There are many ways that could help you to find a comfortable medium between proactivism and romance writing, I'm sure.

FWIW. And good luck. Whatever you decide is probably the right decision. :)

Bonnie Vanak said...

Gosh Màili, how did you get so smart? You make some excellent points. I really appreciate what you said... still some decisions to make, but as you stated, "You know, every bit we do does contribute to make the world a better place." Thanks for reminding me what truly is most important.


Anonymous said...

This giving up writing post is from 2005. Would love to know if you did, and I assume you must have since there are no more posts, what you replaced it with.