The rare privilege of editing a national literary journal as an undergraduate (not to mention the daily promise of coffee) is enough to nudge my weary body out of my dorm room every morning and into the necessity of story. At first, it is the tender process of making Relief Journal that overwhelms me: the elusive connection suspended between writer and reader now becoming tangible. Writers trust us to listen, to lean in close, just as we trust them to move us, to illuminate uncharted nuances of the human condition.
Vulnerability for vulnerability.
Relief Journal provides space for us students to bask in the good, to wrestle with the ugly; it grants us permission to take inventory of our lives amidst the constant pressures and expectations of academia.
In the slow heat of summer, with a news cycle as blinding and gritty as a desert storm, I have felt the need to travel back to those weary, spring mornings when all I wanted to do was hit snooze. I chose to stay awake, chose to fall in love with the process of learning and unlearning through the profound experiences cataloged in the submissions we received.
In the time spent with every piece, from joy-filled stanzas to trauma-reckoning prose, my socialized notion of the other began to dismantle. There was only we, writer and reader: beauty seekers striving for healing and community. The relationship between writer and reader welcomes deconstruction, provides comfort and healing, and grows our capacities for love through our willingness to learn and unlearn on the page. It is, above all else, a necessary act.
In an age of agenda-building rhetoric, we have become increasingly comfortable in our polarity. It is often easier to make peace with our tendency toward complacency than to admit its undeniable harm; the acknowledgement of injustice requires action, and capacity for action is drained by the toxicity of polarity. The sharing of our stories not only cultivates compassion, but grows the life-giving connections that once appeared to be far beyond our reach. I found tremendous relief in the process of opening myself up to narratives shaped by world-views drastically different from my own.
Let us listen and make space for the marginalized voices above all else, for those who have endured abuse and been silenced because of it. When oceans of anger and grief won’t relent, when it seems only natural to separate from one another in a time of “us vs. them” mentalities, let us choose again and again to embrace each other in all of our complexities. Let us listen and make space.
If there’s anything I’ve learned as a malleable student of writing, it’s that, though they examine vastly different experiences, in the end our narratives can unite us more than they separate us. A willingness to embrace the fluidity and complexity of our existence in a world that has forgotten how to listen is the great, potential revolution of our age: it could become our collective relief.
Whitney Martin is a Taylor University senior creative writing major from Winfield, Illinois. After graduation, she hopes to find herself in the non-profit world traveling and teaching ESL classes.