Faith and Writing
Shelovesmagazine.com proposes that instead of making a long list of New Year’s resolutions for the year, which people rarely keep, that you pick one word for the year. That word will be come your focus and a compass for your actions, decisions and priorities.
This suggestion struck a chord with me and I decided that if an appropriate word came to me, I would adopt it as my one word 2012. The word that came to me was faith.
At first I thought it would be appropriate. This will be the year that I believe that I can be a working writer. And if I believe, then maybe I will take the leaps of faith required for me to execute on my dream (like quitting my job). Choosing faith gave me a feeling of serenity for a few days. But I have a bad relationship with faith. We don’t trust each other.
However as a writer, or more accurately, a person who would like to write for a small amount of pay, faith may be required. There are few other pursuits in which one can work assiduously for many years, have reasonable talent, and yet still fail to achieve the goal of being published. I honestly think I would have a better chance of becoming a Supreme Court Justice or a brain surgeon than a working writer.
My husband promulgates the notion of faith. He believes that we all have a life’s purpose and that we just need to read the signposts to indicate whether we are going in the right direction. He believes, probably due to a lack of understanding of the writing world, that the signposts have pointed me in the direction of being a writer. He believes that I just have to keep working at it.
I am not so sanguine about the idea of faith and life’s purpose. I used to snatch up every Oprah magazine and book that promoted following your dreams, finding your bliss, believing that you can do anything, or whatever the catch phrase of the day was. Despite the promises of the cover or the dust jacket, none of these magazines or books ended up resonating with me beyond generating temporary feelings of hope. Now I pass Oprah by, and find myself entering bookstores looking for “the” book and coming out empty handed.
I turned to tarot cards for a while and they gave me brief reprieve from the abyss of no faith. I saw patterns in the cards and I believed that I could take guidance from them. I gave readings for a few years, and still do, and was shocked by what I could see in the cards for people I did not even know, an impending divorce, the illness of a child, a successful self-publishing effort. I tested the cards, demanding that I be able to pick the same card three times from a shuffled deck and surprising myself because I did (once). But I grew disillusioned and came to believe that the cards were just telling me what I wanted to see, or worse, nothing at all.
I question the idea of having a life’s purpose and following your dreams. Sure it works out great for some people. But there are a lot of people that end up disappointed. Otherwise most of us would be famous rock stars, business tycoons, wealthy writers or hockey players. The people who promote the idea of following your dreams would counter that the people that are disappointed did not actually do anything to actualize their dreams. But I believe many people work very hard towards their dreams and are still unsuccessful. Perhaps due to insufficient talent, bad luck or bad timing.
Maybe the ‘you can do anything’ industry is selling us a bill of goods that makes us less happy with our lives because it creates unrealistic expectations. Most of our grandparents worked crappy jobs in dangerous industrial settings and had no dream beyond a steady paycheck, warm bed, food on the table and Sundays off. The majority of the world’s population would be thrilled with that level of security.
Chris Hedges, in his book Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, outlines the rise of a culture of narcissism.
“Faith in ourselves, in a world of make-believe, is more important than reality. Reality, in fact, is dismissed and shunned as an impediment to success, a form of negativity. The New Age mysticism and pop psychology of television personalities, evangelical pastors, along with the array of self-help bestsellers penned by motivational speakers, psychiatrists, and business tycoons, all peddle a fantasy.”
Perhaps pursuing one’s dreams at all costs, no matter how outlandish, as the main route to happiness, is at best risky, and at worst selfish and egocentric. The Twitter hash tag #firstworldproblems is a reminder of how trivial many of our obsessions really are.
Which brings me back to my word for 2012: faith. Faith does not necessarily have to be in oneself or one’s ability to realize one’s dreams. It can be more of a faith in the universe. In his book Spiritual Envy: An Agnostic’s Quest, Michael Krasny talks about envying people who have faith because of the comfort it gives them. He further suggests that it is in the human heart to yearn for purpose. Krasny references a line from British writer Julian Barnes, who said, "I don't believe in God but I miss him." This resonates with me. No matter how much I yearn for faith or a God, it does not come easily to me. Too many bad things happen to too many of the world’s people for me to have the conviction I need that there is a guiding hand. What lucky straw did I pull to land me here in first world comfort, while so many people suffer?
But there is the issue of Pascal’s Wager which suggests that it is better to live with faith and assume that God exists because if you do and he doesn’t, you have lost nothing (indeed one could argue that living with faith even if God does not exist will make you happier), whereas if you live as if God does not exist and he does, then you could have lost everything. There are many problems with this argument that are pointed out elsewhere. But the point still remains, maybe there is more to be gained from living with faith, even if you are ultimately proved wrong, than living without.
Can Pascal’s Wager be applied to living with faith about following one’s dreams? That is not as easy because living with faith and following one’s dreams, particularly when it comes to writing, involves taking risks and does not necessarily involve losing nothing. Indeed if one were to go ‘all in’ with total faith, this could involve quitting one’s day job and writing full time. Most experienced writers would not recommend this. Yet, mastering one’s craft and achieving success could require this level of risk.
We hear about the writers that were rejected countless times before their work found an audience and vaulted the writer to success. We also hear about writers who diligently wrote at night or early in the morning because they held full-time jobs. These examples are held out by writers time and time again as the basis for faith and hope. But we don’t hear about the writers who were rejected countless times and never had their work accepted, or the writers who had breakdowns from overwork, or the writers who ended up divorced because they neglected their spouse.
Most of the time I just dip my toe in the pool of faith in following my dreams. I keep my day job, but write with moderate hope. The signposts that my husband refers to are far apart and hard to read. Good signposts hold my faith just above the ground on gossamer strings: moderate interest from an agent, a friend or relative telling me that they loved my novel and could not put it down, particular tarot cards, wonderful supportive writing friends, strangers emailing to say that they appreciate my writing.
Bad signposts dash that faith to the ground: critiques of chapters that I do not agree with, offers of more contract work in my day job (surely I a sign that is what I should be doing), successes of other writer friends, not hearing from agents, or publishers, or literary journals, friends asking (with good intentions) when the book is going to be published, 22 more reasons to stop writing, and the knowledge of how people live in many other parts of the world and the fact that I should be grateful, so grateful, to have the life that I do.
Faith may be my word for 2012 because 2012 may be the year that faith and I are finally going to have it out. I hope faith wins.
Photo Credit: David Gallagher via Compfight http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/