The Fine Art of Manufacturing Hope
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Now, on with the show ...
I resist blogging or posting to social media when my mindset is at its darkest. I’ve been to enough rodeos to know that all moods are transient, the good and the bad. It’s a fool’s game to try to cling to and analyze life’s best moments, and it’s madness to give in to hopelessness and defeat.
However, reality is a long line that passes through all of our emotional gullies and circles our mental summits. It only reveals itself by degrees, and we probably don’t have enough winters in us to see it very clearly, even in the end. But it has intimated this much to me over the years: apathy is the enemy of good writing. And folks, I don’t care about some things as much as I used to.
I try, because I know there is still a great deal of good in the world, and that means there are good people in the world. But knowing and feeling are two very different things. The world has reached an abhorrent state that none of us can deny responsibility for any longer. I’ve felt my sense of national connectedness collapse a little more with every terrorist attack, mass shooting, electoral catastrophe, and social disgrace since at least September 11, 2001. The norm seems to be that if an adverse event doesn’t horrify me outright, the national response to it does.
There’s also a growing number of people whose primary goals appear to include vanquishing the arts, reducing intellectualism to a necessary evil, and renewing tolerance for bigotry and violence. Worse, they seem to be winning. I have no doubt that one day they will suffer for their ignorance, but then, so will we all—and stupidity’s flag-wavers will never attribute their suffering to its proper causes. No one comes out of this societal battle a winner, the way I see it. It is a war of attrition for attrition’s sake, and its blades are swung by the blind and the deaf, berserkers all.
None of this makes it any easier to write and publish regularly. I realize that much great literature has emerged from times of enormous strife, but I would challenge you to point me toward any work of lasting value that wasn’t fueled in some way by hope. The very act of putting pen to paper is a hopeful one. Hope that you’ll finish the draft of whatever it is you’re working on. Hope that it will be good enough to encourage you to polish it until it shines. Hope that an editor will then find it worthy of publication. Hope that it will appeal to readers and take you to the next rung of the ladder you’re climbing as a writer. I guess my question is this: Is hope itself running out of steam?
But if writing is dependent on hope for its fuel, it is also a way of pushing back against the darkness that threatens to swallow us whole. This is the great paradox the writer must contend with. Maybe it means generating a little of your own hope when it isn’t in abundant supply. That can be a heavy lift, but maybe there’s a reason we’ve been compared to priests.
The thing is, the world’s descent into chaos doesn’t really change a goddamn thing. Writers will continue to write because it brings us more pleasure than just about anything else in life. If I come across as being a little bitter, it’s because I am. I don’t suppose I really trust anyone who’s completely satisfied with the state of the world. But it’s the world I’m in, and therefore it’s the only world I stand a chance of fixing in some small way.
That’s what writing does, you know. It fixes things. It’s a tuneup on the writer’s ego, an adjustment to the reader’s perspective, and a mask for reality—because no one should have to look at the world’s true face exclusively; it’s too much of a good thing.
Do I care a little less about the world than I used to? Yeah, maybe—but maybe I care a little more about the things that truly make it better as a result.