Each year, in August, I finish teaching a workshop at the Vermont College of Fine Arts Writers’ Conference and then turn my attention to a new school year at Ohio State University. For teachers and students, hope springs eternal in autumn. A new academic year; a new beginning.
Writing is an act of faith and love—faith in the efficacy of the written word and love for the world and its people, no matter how imperfect. If we didn’t love—if we didn’t hope—why would we devote our time to moving words around on the page?
It seems to me that writers choose hope over despair each time they sit down to do their work. Even on the days when the work isn’t going well, writers choose hope. I saw evidence of this faith last week in my VCFA creative nonfiction workshop. People were writing about all sorts of unsettled and unsettling things, trying to give shape to chaos in hopes of better understanding experiences that are seemingly beyond understanding. These fearless writers, though, were intent on seeing what they could make of challenging material. A writer’s well of faith is deep.
It’s not an easy thing to keep choosing hope and love. The world presses in on us. From time to time, we lean toward pessimism and despair, and sometimes we lose our balance and fall into the chasm. Sometimes we wonder whether we’ll ever make our way back to solid ground.
Just because we choose despair one day, doesn’t mean we’ll choose it the next day or the one after that. There have been times in my writing career when I’ve tried my best to turn away from faith and love only to find it impossible. Sooner or later, I made my way back to the blank page. Gradually, the glorious world, along with the irrepressible desire to communicate and interrogate through story, made it difficult to turn away forever.
Young writers can be impatient. I know I was. I was in a hurry to see my work published, eager for that validation. At the time, I couldn’t see that the work itself was validation enough. The very attempt was worth the effort. The journey had its own worth. That’s what I wish for every student whose work I have the privilege to read. It’s what I wish for myself. I wish us all the ability to appreciate the journey.
As we approach the autumn, that time associated with the dying away of things, I take the opportunity to reconfirm my devotion to the craft. Each thing I write, no matter whether you end up seeing it or not, is one more chance for me to engage with the complicated world in which we live—that world that often makes no sense, that can wound us at the same time it can lift us up, that can bring us to our knees with its beauty and its ugliness, or leave us breathless with everything we know and everything we don’t. This world—this splendid, maddening world. No matter how far we may wander—how close we might get to losing ourselves in despair—I wish us a return to hope and love.