The Big Idea: J. R. Dawson

Home is where the heart is. Author J. R. Dawson is going through some big changes, and shares in their Big Idea how the new novel, The First Bright Thing, ties in to what they (and perhaps you) is going through.


A Spark is a very big idea in a very small way. 

A lot of Judaism is like that; little things will change the bigger things. Or maybe, the bigger things are the little things. There is holiness in a good cup of coffee. There is beauty in a simple sunrise at 6:00 A.M. that happens every single day, earlier than we’d like. Holding a door open, encouraging a friend to keep creating art, teaching a kid how to play Heart and Soul, cultivating the perfect playlist on your Spotify. These are all acts of light that can shape our broken world. 

There is so much light in my house. 

It’s one reason we moved in here. The bay window and how it makes rainbows over our pictures in the front room. The kitchen and how it shines in the morning when I’m feeding the dogs and making breakfast, the dawn coming up over the hill. We live in a city park, which means that beyond our fence is a green grass field full of foxes, bunnies, turkeys … there are kids playing in our mulberry tree and starting a pick-up baseball game in the clearing. There is kindness here. 

But I am so angry. No, I am hopeless. And scared.

No, I am angry. And hopeless. And scared.

We have to move.

I am currently three months away from having to leave the state where I was born, where I grew up, where I got married, where I raised my three dogs … where I wrote my first book … to find a state that has protection laws for my family. Nebraska, my home, is no longer safe. And I sit in a house that won’t be mine by winter. We have had our last Hannukah here. We have built our last sukkah in the backyard. The Shabbats are numbered. I painted my writing room walls with all my favorite flowers surrounding a Tolkien quote. “Where there’s life, there’s hope.” 

But that is going to be painted over soon, probably, by hands I’ll never know. 

My tired, little spark isn’t enough. I couldn’t save us. No matter how loud I screamed, no matter how much I wrote, no matter how much I loved … all the years I spent here loving a community, wanting this to be our home …

When everything looks like it’s never going to get better and there’s no reason but chaotic chance for anything, how the hell do we move forward? We sit here staring down a tunnel at climate change, uncertain elections, horrifying legislation, the barrage of domestic terrorism and God-knows-what-else to come. Every day for so many years it has felt like the world is so big and we are so small.

So what the hell do we do? How do we get up in the morning and keep tending to a home that we know will soon lock us out?

Well, Judaism tells me that it is a mitzvah to “repair the world.” There’s the old belief of these sparks, literal divine shards that have fallen to Earth and gotten stuck in everything and everyone. They’re buried deep, somewhere out of sight, and they are very hard to find. It’s our job to help find them. To release them. To cultivate them. And bring the light of the spark back to the world. 

The tagline of my book is, “If you knew how dark tomorrow would be, what would you do with today?” 

My answer is always, “Keep writing.”

It’s why I wrote this book. It’s why I still type things while my spouse is in the front room taking our pictures down.

So I wrote this story about a woman who is trying to repair the world with her art, with her friends’ art. And my little mitzvah in this mess was finishing The First Bright Thing and flinging it out into the world to see if maybe someone else would find something in it to help them. It’s just one book, it’s just one story. But it still exists, it’s still here.

Just like I am one little person. But I am still here.

And where there’s life, there’s hope.

That’s all I can be certain of. Even if those words are painted over on my wall after I leave, they once were there. I saw them, day in and day out during the pandemic. 

We are all still looking down a tunnel into who knows what. But even if we aren’t here someday, we are here now. 

I am so angry. I am so very scared. But I am still here. And so are you. We have our own sparks, and together, our light can’t be blown out. 

The First Bright Thing: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Bookshop|Powell’s

Author socials: Website

9 Comments on “The Big Idea: J. R. Dawson”

  1. I want to thank the writer for sharing their wisom fro Judaism, Tolkien (Which I should’ve know by heart anyway…) and that ancient belief.

    I might have something to share in return:

    Apperantly you’ll have to copy-paste that into youtube yourself to hear the song, but this song is contains my life motto.

    Well it’s aaallright, we’re going to the end of the line!

    It’s from back in the eighties, and even back then none of the men involved in creating it were young anymore. If you look at the video, you’ll notice that one of them Roy Orbison, died somewhere between recording the vocals for it and being able to appear in the video.

    It’s alright. We’re going to the end of the line. We are here on earth for a short time. During that time, we should find the love that we can get, and the love that we can give. And do all the good in the world we can in other ways.

    The fact that the world often sucks in ways it shouldn’t but we were powerless to prevent is not something to get obsessed about. Anything that can’t be changed should be endured. And ignored once you found your best solution, like your move.

    Life’s too short to worry like that.

    At the end of the line, we’re tallying up the final score. I’m an atheist, so I don’t have to worry about what a diety thinks. But said diety, if I can believe the Holy Books, would judge me by pretty much the same standards.

    Live life. Love, and be loved. Deal with shit the best way you can. And one day you’ll be dead and it won’t matter anymore.

  2. I wish I had more/deeper thoughts on this for JR (seems odd this one has so few replies), but I’m happy they are getting out of their state and going somewhere safer, even if it’s for sad reasons. I hope the move goes well and your new home wants you there.

  3. I’m sorry you have to move.
    We live in California and lately I’ve been thinking about where else in this country I could live. It is expensive to live here but other places have different costs to living there. Like dealing with the weather.
    But I don’t think I could live somewhere that is not working towards accepting all people as just people.
    Some people you like and some you don’t.
    But they are all just people.

  4. I was born in Nebraska, and I shook the dust from my feet decades ago, but it’s still sometimes embarrassing to read about Nebraska in the news.

  5. My heart breaks for all those having to flee persecution and fear-mongering within the United States. I hope that you and everyone else are able to find some of that fabled freedom for now, and that things turn around back in the direction of human rights as soon as possible.

  6. You are not alone. We’ve been contemplating the same thing, except we’ve been looking out of the country. May you find peace and may it dry your soul’s tears.

  7. It can be a terrifying time. I see the rise of fascism in countries that I thought were safe (including the United States and my home, Canada), and I wonder if humanity ever learns anything, or if the strong will always make the weak suffer. (“Always” being a relative term, of course, given that we may be in the process of making the planet uninhabitable for much life, including ourselves.)

    I also write. Humour. I write political and social satire that nobody reads, but it comforts me to scream my words into the void. I also write more traditional stories, some short, some novels. Like most writing, they have a brief moment and are quickly ignored.

    Years ago, I wrote an article for a magazine called CREATIVE SCREENWRITING where I spoke about the healing gift of laughter. It has always been my hope that my writing could lighten the burden of my readers, allowing them to escape into worlds that made them laugh, even if for a short while. I don’t know that I have succeeded, but I do know that the effort made my life worthwhile, even if it did not help anybody else’s.

    The world is big and we are but a small part of it. The best we can do is try – how the world responds is our of our hands.

    Best of luck in your new home. I hope you find much nachus there. :-)

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