But if you write it down

Sendai memories

Yesterday, I caught up with Pepi Ronalds, a freelance writer, holding a Wheeler Centre hotdesk fellowship. Pepi was in Sendai during the 3/11 earthquake, teaching English, and since then has been using her writing skills to help make sense of what happened during, and more importantly after the event. Her piece, Memories are made in these, is compelling reading. Starting with her own experience, briefly, to give context of what must have been a very frightening and unsettling experience, (the earthquake lasted 6 minutes), she relates the stories of ordinary Japanese people she interviewed.

People who’s lives have changed. Irrevocably. Other’s who feel the responsibility, and have felt it almost from day 1, to document the earthquake, to maintain the experience, but also for people who weren’t there, to help them understand what happened, and what people went through.

Possibily the most beautiful part of the piece is when one of her interviewees says

‘After a year or two passes, people naturally, slowly, tend to forget. But if you write it down, if you put it into words, then the message lasts longer.’

Pepi is currently working on a book about the earthquake, recovery and memory. I am excited by this, as I am with anyone who takes the time and commitment to write about disasters and their impacts. Pepi’s short piece makes me hunger for the long form.

These accounts, like Sophie Cunningham’s Warning, are really important, because they document experience, and they are accessible to a broader public, not like research, or some of the dirge that I put out. Being accessible to the public, hopefully sparks an interest in understanding, in the same way we read a lot of accessible accounts of various war campaigns, (think Paul Ham, Les Carlyon)

The more we write, the more we understand, the more we understand, the better we will be prepared to deal with what will be thrown at us.

One thought on “But if you write it down

  1. Thanks John, I too am enjoying this early work – go Pepi!

    Have you read Rebecca Solnit’s A Paradise Built in Hell? From memory it was on a long reading list of yours. I’ve read a few books and reflections over the years (by no means lots though) and I really enjoyed hers. Particularly the earlier disasters (eg accounts of how people responded following San Fran earthquake in early 1900s).


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