On Writing Fic While Watching My Homeland Burn

It’s both unthinkable, and the only thing I can think to do.

Let me preface by saying that I’m safe. I’m in Western Europe, and the only sirens I hear outside my window are an occasional ambulance. I go for a walk outside without fearing for my life. But for six days now, I haven’t stepped outside without my phone and headphones, to make sure I don’t miss a call from my mother in Kyiv, because any time I speak to her can be the last.

It does, indeed, feel unthinkable to create entertaining content right now.

But here’s the thing. There’s little else I can do.

This isn’t the first time I’ve watched my home country erupt in flames while I was halfway across the continent. But back in 2014, the powers at play were different. The fledgling people’s revolution needed independent coverage and the world’s attention, and being an English/Ukrainian/Russian speaker with an internet connection was enough of a skillset to help.

These days? The invasion of my homeland is being covered thoroughly enough that the news I read in Ukrainian come up in English scant minutes later. My amateur journalism would make little difference. I’m neither a fighter nor a doctor, and until war comes to me, I’m not brave enough to seek it out. Right now, all I can do is be with my family, and be strong for my mother, who cannot bear to see me break down. That, and read the news.

But there’s a part of me, a stubborn voice somewhere in my chest, that’s been growing louder these past few days. Write, it says. Keep writing your stories.

At first, it was a purely self-centered urge. Even with my own life still safe, my whole existence felt increasingly fragile (no doubt a side effect of the continuing loss of my childhood home, and the looming loss of my last surviving blood relative). The urge inside me was one to leave a trace. Give proof that I existed. Even if all such proof would be an unnecessarily long story about two idiots in love.

That alone wasn’t enough, though. Under the continuing onslaught of bad news, late-night determination gave way to daytime exhaustion, and no words came from either.

Then there was yesterday. The worst day yet, horrifying both on its own and in its clear implications that the benchmark for horror was rising. I felt parts of my mind approach the breaking point that I’ve been trying to avoid. There’s an abyss in my head I won’t let myself slip into, because once there, I’ll be of no use to anyone, including myself, and a lot of my identity comes from being of use.

But also yesterday, as I teetered on that edge, I was given an unexpected reprieve. While trying and halfway failing at distraction, my partner and I ended up looking at content from a beloved fandom, and for a few minutes, it succeeded in occupying my mind completely. For just a few minutes, there were no horrors at the back of my mind. For the first time in a week, I laughed about something that wasn’t gallows humor.

For a very brief time, the escapism was pure and absolute. And it pulled me back from the edge of breakdown, and made me break eye contact with the abyss.

In Never Say You Can’t Survive: How to Get Through Hard Times by Making Up Stories, Charlie Jane Anders writes:

“People sometimes talk about escapist storytelling as a kind of dereliction of duty—as if we’re running away from the fight. That’s some garbage right there, because escapism is resistance. … Visualizing a happier, more just world is a direct assault on the forces that are trying to break your heart.”

I’m not vain enough to expect that the stories I write provide an escape to someone in a dark-ish place like mine, let alone anywhere darker. I don’t expect someone to read my work while huddled in a bomb shelter. In fact, I actively don’t want it: not because I would deny anyone the escape, but because I’d much rather the escapist potential of my writing went largely unrealized. I would like no one to need the escape from anything worse than a bad day at work.

But even that would be reason enough to keep writing. And what with there being no shortage of forces that are trying to break our hearts, I’ve no shortage of reasons, either.

It would be good to finish on this defiant note. It would also be disingenuous. Because sure, I’m feeling defiant, but I’m also exhausted by the recent days and terrified of the days to come. So it’s entirely possible that after talking the talk, I’ll find walking the walk beyond my current ability.

But I’m going to try.

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