IPAC Chat is a periodic series prepared by members of the board of the Manitoba regional group of the Institute of Public Administration of Canada.
This month’s post is prepared by long time IPAC Manitoba Board member, Bob Chrismas, MPA, PhD. Bob is currently in his 29th year with the Winnipeg Police Service, where, as a Staff Sergeant, he oversees units involved in community partnerships and engagement: Indigenous and newcomer partnerships, crime prevention, victim services, school resource officers and the Cadet program.
As a fledgling writer, I’ve felt compelled to share my experiences and encourage my friends and colleagues to pursue the same rewards that I’ve had the good fortune of in the first years of my writing practice. I say practice in the sense that yoga teachers say, it is a journey that you work at and never reach the end. Writing can be a chance at affecting public opinion, the discourse on important issues, with far reach now and long into the future.
On the influence of writing, Carl Sagan wrote eloquently, “A book is made from a tree. It is an assemblage of flat, flexible parts (still called “leaves”) imprinted with dark pigmented squiggles. One glance at it and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, the author is speaking, clearly and silently, inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another. Books break the shackles of time––proof that humans can work magic.” Many spoken on the reach and permanence of literature, but perhaps Isaac Asimov said it most succinctly when he wrote, “I don’t believe in personal immortality; the only way I expect to have some version of such a thing is through my books.”
Personally, I have felt and often preached to my friends that I feel compelled to leave some evidence that I existed, and to impose on arguments perhaps long after I am dead and gone. So, I write, blogs, articles, papers, book chapters, passionately pursuing the opportunity to duplicate the wonderful experience I felt pushing out my first book on Policing. My next one will be based on my thesis, on human slavery in Canada, and the third is in the gestation phase. Adding to the literature, I’ve found a privileged opportunity to give voice to others, and I was happy in the research for this piece to find that Albert Camus agreed when he wrote, “We [writers] must know that we can never escape the common misery and that our only justification, if indeed there is a justification, is to speak up, insofar as we can, for those who cannot do so.”
For these reasons, I’ve strived to make a point, anytime and in any platform available, hoping to contribute to the public good. Avoiding a rabbit hole, assessing the efficacy and accessibility of scholarly academic journals, I have come to favour open access platforms that can be shared freely, and without charge. In this same line of reasoning, I find the most rewarding formats are the ones that have the farthest reach; but I’ll take what I can get, and have written small and large pieces for peer reviewed journals, magazine and new pieces, news letters and blogs; platforms that are available to all of us and anyone can contribute if they want to put in the work.
My message is for those who have thought of it and do not know where to begin. I have the answer; just start. It is a process and a journey that any of us can embark on. George Orwell wrote, “When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art.’ I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.” There is no right way, and we each have our own unique voice that we can unlock through the work of learning. Woody Allen wrote, “If you’re not failing now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.” Like any art form, we all have a possibility of enhancing the talent we are born with through practice and work. Stephen King wrote, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There is no way around these two things that I am aware of, no shortcut.” He has also said, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” I would add that love of the work is something that can grow if we avoid the barriers and frustration of rejection. We need to stay true to our convictions and the influence we hope to achieve. There is no right or wrong way, as Ernest Hemingway postulates, “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” Sometimes, for aspiring writers, we need to put the pen aside for a few days and find in life the message we hope to create. “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing” (Benjamin Franklin).
My closing message for this piece, is to encourage you to give your voice a chance, if you feel it is a journey you want to go on. Through my graduate and post graduate studies, I have often heard that every thesis and dissertation is a brick in the great wall of knowledge (author unknown). I would extend this thought further, and add that every piece of writing, whether it is in the workplace newsletter, a Facebook post, or a 500-page book, becomes a piece in our collective knowledge. You never know when a seemingly small idea put to paper might become the seed that starts the growth of a forest with ten thousand trees. The last word goes to Henry David Thoreau; “Write while the heat is in you. … The writer who postpones the recording of his thoughts uses an iron which has cooled to burn a hole with.”