“Words and Ideas Can Change the World”

“No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.”–Robin Williams as Professor Keating, Dead Poets Society

When the clock struck midnight–well, flashed midnight; in our digital era, clocks don’t really strike anymore–and everyone was kissing loved ones, my mind turned to my craft. I had a few grandiose plans–write every day, finish my memoir, etcetera–and while the memoir might still happen, writing every day has not. After all, the real world still comes crashing in at unfortunate times. However, those were not my only resolutions. My biggest one, and most important one, was to make sure that I use my craft “for good,” to mean something more than expressing my own inner angst or whatever emotions I happen to be feeling at a given moment, but to somehow make an impact.

The year is young–only 25 days old–but I am off to a decent start. Last Saturday, I was blessed enough to be able to read my essay, “When Mountains Were Mountains,” as part of a celebration for the 2014 New Southerner Literary Edition. (The essay can be read online at www.newsoutherner.com). “When Mountains Were Mountains” was written as a response to the first time I saw a mountain that had fallen victim to mountaintop removal mining, how it seemed like its soul was sucked out along with the coal. It’s a terrible practice, resulting in deaths, cancer, loss of natural waterways, and severe environmental damage that can never be recovered. People have been forced from their homes, sometimes at gunpoint, so their ancestral land can be destroyed.

It’s a controversial topic, especially here in Kentucky where you can purchase a specialty license plate for “Friends of Coal” but not one for any of the groups fighting to end mountaintop removal. But it’s an important topic, as well. As a result of the reading, I was able to talk to people who had no idea that mountaintop removal was a thing, or who didn’t realize how detrimental it is. And, something I am still in shock about–a woman in the audience pulled me aside after the reading and asked if she could use my essay in a class she is teaching. I cannot express how honored I am to have been asked. Of course I said yes–not because of the exposure of a classroom of students reading something I wrote (although exposure is always good!) but because maybe those students will decide to act against MTR as well.

Words feel small sometimes, especially surrounded by so much white space on a page. But they’re important. They have power. And I want my power to count for something.


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