Why Writing is Responsible for the Toilet Paper Shortage - Op-Ed Piece

How Writing Caused A Toilet Paper Shortage (Tolkien was right)


JRR Tolkien, a guy who wrote a book a long time ago, famously wrote: “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded [toilet paper], it would be a merrier world.”


Alright, so I tweaked it slightly.


According to a Business Insider article, the sudden frenzy over toilet paper rolls started in China, where an internet rumor informed the nervous public that toilet paper and respiratory masks come from the same paper source.


It was all downhill from there.


Although the rumor was false (read that again, for emphasis), Chinese citizens began buying as much toilet paper as they could.


Some for today. Some for tomorrow. Some for next week. Some for next year. Some for a lifetime.


People, apparently, just can’t face reaching for a square and… nothing.


All out.


What am I supposed to do then? What do any of us do then? It’s unthinkable.


Even armed robbers stole theirs, rather than risk just using a bidet.


Soon, the supposed “shortage” spread worldwide, but somehow the part about masks got lost in translation. What we’ve got here is a bizarre, frenzied, and rather inconvenient case of the game “telephone,” but instead of whispering the secret word in our friend’s ear, we’re posting all over the internet about all the toilet paper we’re buying.


Our giant game comes in the form of pictures, hashtags, and posts about the toilet paper “shortage,” and the result?


Yep, all gone.


This is Biblical proportions.


This is cats and dogs holding hands.


This is mass hysteria.


Digital literacy is "the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills,” according to the American Library Association.


In an era of widespread reading and writing, we would be well served to emphasize critical reading and writing, as well.


Writing online has serious material consequences, as the toilet paper frenzy demonstrates.


What you write—and read — on the internet matters.


The coronavirus is certainly a hardship, although introverts are finding humorous triumph in the situation.


Responsible people everywhere are staying home, remaining calm, and holding their loved ones close.


Perhaps they are reading a book they haven’t gotten to because of work, spring cleaning the guest room, or dusting off an old hobby, like playing the piano.


Perhaps, maybe, they are valuing food and cheer and song above hoarded toilet paper.


Tolkien’s admonition to value the simpler things in life is especially appropriate now when it seems that material things are more important than public health. Yes, it’s unfortunate that our sports and parades and schools are canceled. If you are out of work right now, I feel for you. (Since, in the end, that toilet paper costs money!) Times are tough. Morale is low. Let us not forget, though, that there are lives at stake.


Since I’m tweaking quotes today, here’s another one: Mark Twain, another guy who wrote a book a long time ago, famously argued that “the man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.”


Well, I’d add that the man (or woman, or child…) who does not read carefully has no advantage whatsoever.


What’s the difference between reading and reading carefully?


Toilet paper, it seems.


Bizarrely, writing is why your stores are empty. Writing is why you will just have to buy a bidet.


Tolkien also wrote:


“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”


So, what shall we do with the time that is given to us?


At a bare minimum, don’t believe everything you read on the internet; still, maybe this is an opportunity to do a little more. Today I taught an elderly person how to text her grandchildren so she can connect with them during the quarantine. They immediately sent her three memes about how there’s no toilet paper. In a popular novel (and recent film) about the German occupation of the island of Guernsey during World War II, villagers formed a book club that sustained them through hunger and oppression. Why form a book club during the Blitzkrieg?


Because words keep us sane; words keep us connected; words keep us growing.


As we tighten our belts and wash our hands, let us remember the words of Anne Lamott, another person who wrote a book a long time ago:

“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul… It's like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can't stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.”

The Italians have begun singing together in solidarity through their ordeal. Tolkien would be proud.

What are you doing to cope with the spread of the virus?

Let us know in the comment section below?

Also stay safe.

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Sarah Beach is a writer, editor, and researcher with an intense need for herbal tea. She writes about a variety of subjects, including social media, mental health, memes, and holistic wellness. Sarah is a graduate student in the field of Communication Studies and teaches rhetoric. She is also a registered Reiki practitioner and enthusiastic ukulele player. When she’s not writing, you can find her wandering aimlessly outdoors or watching period dramas.

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