Cornel West, writing and healing: Why I put on the "Minds, Means, and Materials" conference
The "Minds, Means, and Materials" conference will provide an opportunity to reconnect through writing's reflections
I have never really felt like I belonged anywhere. My father was an involuntary immigrant, mother the black sheep of her family. When I was a kid, my family moved to a small town in Michigan, away from family, friends and what I still consider my hometown. That hometown became one of the first hotspots in our U.S. coronavirus pandemic, which really brings me full circle in some ways. I have always looked for ways to feel connected, and writing, teaching writing have been essential to those efforts, not just to connect me with others via writing but to allow me to support others in their using writing to do the same.
The pandemic has hit so many people so hard, so hard that it is easy to forget or ignore anything that doesn’t feel like death knocking at the door or frontline workers with mask marks on their faces. But we are all struggling with feeling alone, disconnected, distant, in one way or another. We are all impacted—no whining here but, rather, an acknowledgment that we are all dealing with something because of our global pandemic. And that context has so many fewer potential release valves than usual, so we see a lot of anger, frustration, lashing out that we have never seen before. There seems no question that well-being is jeopardized. Communications limited. Isolation, separation, intimidation required. But, we have writing.
Too often, writing is reduced to mechanics and products. Too often, students learn all too well that they should know exactly where they will end up with their writing before they ever begin. These are realities in our current culture, but they are not everything nor even most of the importance of writing. Writing can be a kind of deep listening to ourselves, a quiet reconnecting with our less-obvious selves. Writing can be contemplative. It can also be a way to connecting with the world around us, by slowing down, looking carefully, being in a moment, and then another, and then another. We are much more familiar with the value of writing as a means of connecting with others, of wrestling with issues, of reconsidering what is familiar. Writing is social. But, before it is any of these things, writing is our listening deeply to our own minds, replying skillfully and thoughtfully to ourselves and the ideas and relationships to which we give life through writing. Writing, when thought of in these ways, is a means of well-being because it takes us out our isolation, out of the work-a-day and into the traffic of our minds among those of others.
Minds, Means, and Materials is about becoming, about writing contributing to that becoming, about well-being as part and parcel of that becoming, and no one I can think of exemplifies that as well as Cornel West. His work is scholarly and personal, spiritual and secular, social and personal, filled with joy and never without love for all. We need that right now. To take that a step further, Dr. West shows us just what well-being can be when it includes meaningful writing. He shows us what that work can do and be. In our conference next month, Cornel West will be the big draw, but there are so many others who are doing such important work, too. We will work hard to expand on these ideas through the conference, and we will add to them by exploring what well-being means for different people in different places in life, what writing and well-being mean to identity and intersectionality. Minds, Means, and Materials is about campus and community, self and other, about writing oneself and writing oneself within a world that is so challenging. But, more than anything else right now, it is about reconnecting with ourselves among others through writing, through well-being for us and those around us, about helping others to know us better and to resist all too familiar reductions of people to singular labels. I hope you can join us.